11 May 2015

A Discussion With. Abbey Sy

Abbey, or more commonly known as ABC, is a letterer and blogger who has grown and is still growing a strong online following from sharing her art and other passions on her blog, Le Reveur. Her unique hand lettering style that's as fun, classy and inspiring as Abbey herself, has caught the attention of many collaborators. This led to having her designs put in books, journals, camera straps and wallets just to name a few. She's even ticked off giving a TEDx talk from her list of life goals. Recently, Abbey has transitioned to being a full-time freelance letterer and designer under her Type by ABC branding. She also shares her process through conducting hand lettering workshops under Learn by ABC and sells designed paper products under Made by ABC.

With a brand moniker as ABC, it seems as though Abbey Sy was meant to be designing letters. Not one to just rest her laurels on talent and to wait for fate to present itself however, Abbey is a strong proponent of working hard and never giving up. Just how much so is what I found out about among other stories whilst sat with her at Local Edition in Makati City.

Hi Abbey! Can you give us a brief background of yourself?
Hi, I'm Abbey Sy, or more commonly known as ABC. I'm a letterer, life lover, adventurer and moment collector. My passions as a creative revolve around all things art and travel.

You post a lot about The Road to ABC can you describe what that is about?
It's a major project and I can't say anything about it yet but the premise is that I'm shifting now to pursuing full time freelance work and paying attention to what my brand is so I guess that's where Road to ABC is - transitioning from having two jobs to solely focusing on my work.

So can you talk more about the path to where you are now? Did you really plan on being a freelancer?
Not really. Um, ever since I was young I was really into drawing and doing all these creative stuff but I wasn't the best so I didn't really get into that mindset. That's why I don't like being credited for being like "super galing mo". In grade school, I was just a typical student. I was an honor student but not really the type who excelled in a specific field like dance, arts, sports, etc. I received a penmanship award but that was just random. They called my name, announced it and that was that. It didn't really stick with me. Since the sixth grade though, I've always been doodling and envisioned myself as a designer.

When I went to high school, I met new people and I met new friends who were writers and who can do this and do that. They inspired me to experiment more on art so I just created for fun and kept quietly working on my own thing. I wasn't doing lettering yet. It was just more of creating art for my journals. That's why when you look at my journals now there are a lot of entries because I've always written on journals, ever since high school.

In college, I was unsure of which course to pursue. Initially, I set out for a double major: a more research-based course and business management because I really wanted to learn about running a business. I ended up shifting to advertising though and found good opportunities that came from eventually accomplishing that.

And then what happened was, there was this weird four day long weekend for Independence Day and I was like "I'm so bored". So, I went on Multiply, bought four plain tote bags and painted on them. I really enjoyed that process and thought "what if I made this into a business?". It was just a random, fun, thing but I'm the type of person who wants to surpass myself. I always like to challenge myself so even though I thought that I couldn't do it, I just went out there and did it. So I launched H.E.A.R.T and my blog and then promoted my work online even if they weren't very good. I just tried and that was okay.

Then, I just continued creating and blogging for fun. After a while, I had opportunities to work with notable brands. That's when I realized that there was a chance for designing to become a full-time job. My lettering took off and I started getting more clients. Then, around August-September 2013, that was when the events, the bazaars came in so it was a push for me to really create work and sell. It came to a point where I was overwhelmed balancing everything but work was okay because it was very strategic so, in terms of plotting out my time lines and schedules, I was able to do it because my day job helps me do it. The challenging part was working long hours a day for two jobs.

Then, let's just say that I was offered a really big project early this year. A dream project - The Road to ABC. I worked hard and the opportunity to grow my brand presented itself so I dove in head first into the life of a full-time freelancer.

Have you had any notable mentors?
That's the hard thing. I didn't have mentors. That's why I'm getting interns because I want to teach them. As of now, I have friends who are older than me like Tippy of Googly Gooeys, who've been in the industry longer so I ask them for help in figuring things out and in dealing with clients. Valerie Chua, she's my cousin so sometimes we meet up at family events and we talk about these things. Coming from her it's such a different perspective of art. Other than that there really isn't much else.

Do you ever regret that you didn't have a mentor figure in the traditional sense of the word?
It's hard to say. I wasn't able to know a lot of people back then so it was hard to find a mentor. I was reading something about mentors which made me wish that someone approached me back then but I didn't find any. So for me, it was hard because everything was based on my own decisions. But if given the chance to have a mentor I would say yes because it really helps in guiding you where you're headed and someone who knows the ropes of everything.

How about influences. Can you name people who have influenced you to pursue your lettering? Artists whose work you look up to? What draws you to their work?
Some of my influences and inspiration are Valerie Chua, Anna Bond, Oana Befort, Jon Contino, Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevittt and Lauren Hom. Their works have a distinct style that inspires me to consistently move towards finding my own "Abbey Sy" style to my work. That, and they're doing my dream projects - do book covers, design for big brands, etc.

People who have encouraged me - most definitely, my closest friends and family. I also have a lot of creative friends - photographers, writers, illustrators - and they have definitely kept me going on as an artist.

Can you remember one of the first things you ever created? What makes it memorable?
I love music and doodling, and I always incorporate the two because music fuels me to create art. This doodle was created out of my admiration for Owl City and Sky Sailing and what makes it memorable was that it reached 1000 notes on the first night I posted it on Tumblr. It gave me a thought that hey, I do good art and people appreciate it!

Can you tell us more about your very first collaboration from sharing your works online? What was that experience like?
I don’t remember my first but my favorites would be the personal projects I’ve done with friends (such as Life in Transit: http://bit.ly/lifeintransit2014). Personal projects hold a special place in my heart and I always make it a point to work on it despite being busy. The fact that they’re personal means that I have a whole other level of dedication towards it.

Another favorite was getting the opportunity to work for Bianca Gonzalez (for her book) because it helped me add more variety to my work and reach out to more people by inspiring them through my art.

So, is there anything you've learned over the years that you would want to share with your younger self?
Learn to value yourself as an artist and as a person.

Did you feel that you were too critical of yourself before?
Until now. I'm trying to loosen up now. Let's just say that I come from a background where I wasn't really like one of those artists who were good from the beginning like the gifted child. I'm not that type of artist so it's really just this year that I can say that I'm really good at what I do.

From your blog, I read about pens and watercolor being your primary tools for lettering, do you have plans of exploring other mediums? What are they and why?
Not at the moment - I’m playing it safe. Besides, there are so much watercolors and pens I’ve been using, I don’t think I even have time to try out new materials. But I’m trying out gouache paint for a change (from watercolor) to experiment more on painting.

Can you walk us through your day? What's a day like for Abbey Sy?
I’m just going to be blatant about this - my day is never the same. Haha!

Usually though, it starts at 6-7am and I align my tasks for the day (if Mondays, tasks for the week). I have breakfast, then I start working. Mostly, personal creative work (painting) is done before lunch because daylight from my workspace is pretty superb.

Afternoons are usually my downtime. It’s either I (try to) take a break, I run errands or I’ll be in a meeting with a client / collaborator. Depending on what happens that day, I make it a point to do administrative work (check e-mails, plan calendar, monitor financial stuff) even for just 30 minutes. If I feel like I’m stuck in a rut (or if it’s leg day), I’ll hit the gym late afternoon and train.

I resume working on artistic pursuits after 7pm. This time I work on client stuff. I would occasionally slack off and check social media. If I get really tired, I take a 30 minute break and pace around the room before I get myself together again - usually I work until 1am or until my brain cells are completely murdered.

What is your favorite part about working on a new project? Conversely, what's the most challenging?
My favorite would be researching and filtering all my ideas into a single, solid concept - and of course the creation process.

The most challenging part would be, of course, the creation process. That, and then seeing the output and checking if it still ties to my original concept - and most importantly, getting client’s approval.

Other than lettering, what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about writing, but only for myself (personal writing). I also am passionate about travel and going on adventures.

Okay. Fast-forward: Where do you see yourself in five years?
It's funny because that's what I asked my interns for their interview and now I'm the one being asked. Hmm, I'm not sure. I'm actually still experimenting on things but real goal is in three years to get a studio and really build myself in the freelance world. Then on the side, I'll still teach. It's still the main three - Made by ABC, Type by ABC, Learn by ABC. My goal really is to share what I know. I think people really deserve that kind of treatment. My perception of art is that anyone can do it but not everyone can succeed so I'll just teach you, I really want to because it's meant to be shared but how you grow as an artist is up to you.

That's what I really like about you because unlike other some other artists who are more isolated about their process you're very open about yours. You post about them on social media and you hold workshops...
Maybe because I come from a background where I'm not the best. As much as I like to share, I also filter myself. I guess there are some artists who paint and then show their work. I'm not that type of artist. I prefer to be a rounded person who's known for not just being an artist but to inspire others. That's why when I was given the TEDx talk opportunity, I took it as a chance to tell people that I'm not what you think I am. Like I'm not really the best artist or something like that. I came from nothing and now I'm building myself so if I did it, you can do it also. My mantra is always be creating because you can't just sit there and wait for clients to email you. I'm at the position right now where clients are emailing me and I'm not running after them. Then people would say that it's unfair how I have a lot of clients and I'd say no, if I didn't put my work out there, I wouldn't get clients. It's more of creating your own future and luck will just come in. You can't just rely on things to happen.

What do you think about the current lettering/type trend in the Philippines? Where do you see it going?
I’d like to think the type community is continuously growing. And while it’s relatively a new art form (or a baby one if you may call it), I am positive that it’s going to be sustainable in the coming years. This is just the beginning of many great things for type in the near future.

Interview and photographs by Riell Santos


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