We live in a world of our own creation. Then who better to shift our reality than an artist? Step into my world.
I was born an artist.
But I wasn’t just your typical Picasso who could draw a line and turn it into a work of art. I’m an artist of stories and ideas.
One morning, as my father left for work, he set me a task: he wanted me to give him a finished painting by the time he got home that afternoon. I was definitely daddy’s little girl, and had no intention of disappointing him. I wasn’t just going to finish a painting, it was going to be grand. He would be so pleased.
I set myself on a painting that was half my height, and I began painting our house. I tried to get each line perfectly straight, and I made sure that each room in our house had been accounted for. It had to be just right, and my hands were not the most steady. Very frustrating.
I painted in the stairs, I painted the rose garden out front. And then I started painting in the rooms, very, very carefully.
I worked diligently for hours, but then, suddenly, I heard the door downstairs and my father was already home. I was still painting in the rooms, and had a long way to go!
I quickly decided to paint in a little bit of each colour I was planning into the middle of each room, before he got upstairs. And just as quickly, I constructed a plausible story in my head for him about why the painting looked “incomplete”. As he came into the room to take a look, I explained to him that it was our house, but it was currently being painted afresh, and this was a painting of the renovation process. It became the House Painting.
I was three years old. And this painting still hangs on a prominent wall in his bedroom.
My parents both encouraged me in my artistic abilities. My mother diligently took me to after school art programs when we lived in New York City in the early 90s, giving me every chance possible to learn more, do more, try more. She even entered me into a city-wide art competition for kids to raise awareness about drugs, and teaching them to say no.
I was 8 then. And I won first prize.
Looking back, that was my first piece of graphic design. There were illustrations on either side of a central axis: on one side, a variety of drugs and needles with sad people, and on the other, all kinds of tasty food and drink with happy people, and a simple slogan that encouraged you to choose wisely.
These days, not much has changed, as I created and build a brand called Plant Rich, which aims to offer people an informed freedom of choice about putting the right things into their bodies and choosing a lifestyle that’s better for them, as well as for their environment. (visit www.getplantrich.com)
Because I believe that it’s artists who make people aware of their choices, and help them live more conscious lives.
It wasn’t until high school that I finally got to focus on art & design as a major subject, rather than as an extracurricular activity. And though I was only 16, my approach to art was always conceptual, always trying to say more than it did at surface level.
Whether the medium was oil paint, watercolour, or screen print, I was always telling a story behind the artwork. I wanted to draw the viewer into an alternate universe where he could abandon his rules and try on mine for size.
I wanted to show him the world the way I saw it, or the way it could be. I wanted us to identify with each other.
For me, art has always been a study and an observation of life, out of which a clear and honest perspective emerges, showing us the natural direction to move forward in. And it was a chance to share our perspectives with each other, so we could choose together, as a human tribe — because we exist as a collective, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
I returned to NYC for my undergraduate studies at Parsons School of Design. And while I chose Communication Design (CD) as my major, I kept experimenting with different media, from book design to web design, from information design to broadcast design, from package design to advertising — and I kept sneaking into drawing and painting classes in the Illustration and Fine Art departments, unwilling to let go of my observations of life, in spite of my more practical choices moving forward.
During my senior thesis, my guiding professor helped me realise my natural ability for identity design. ‘Corporate identity’ was the only class I hadn’t taken during my years in the CD department, mostly because I couldn’t see myself in the word ‘corporate’.
My senior thesis was a concept and branding for a Museum of Type+Image, intended to showcase communication design as prominently as other forms of art, to elevate this very functional form of art to the stage it deserved. While communication design is often used for a very particular goal, usually to make sales, the creative process involved in making successful verbal and visual stories that resonated with people were no less works of art than the incredible paintings hanging in the Museum of Modern Art.
To continue exploring and experimenting, these days, I’ve flipped my approach. I have started taking art out of the museum or gallery, disguising it as branding and design, to make it more accessible to the average Joe on the street that might not have the time to walk into a museum. Why should he miss out on the inspiration and positive influence of creative minds that have carefully considered and projected the trajectory of his everyday life, and have the means to help him consider a change in course to improve where he might end up in his life? (And when was the last time that you looked at art as such an opportunity, anyway? Perhaps no one has, since the Renaissance.)
If the short term goal of commercial art and advertising is to make a sale, the long term goal of art that is widely accessible to the masses, be it music, film or design, is to show us our aspirations, and give us a chance to make a change in our lives, as individuals and as a collective. But if you don’t get the short term goal, you can’t possibly get the long term goal. Every journey has to have a beginning, to get to the end.
Unfortunately, not every artist, commercial or otherwise, considers the long-term impact of their creations.
But why branding?
I started my career as a graphic designer, helping artists, businesses and organisations communicate their ideals and values in a way that inspired loyal support and commitment. As my professor had projected, I ended up specialising in identity design and branding. It excited me to apply all I'd learnt about people and cultures from a life of growing up in my parents' diplomatic life, and to look at an idea from both, up close and far away simultaneously, by considering how it might evolve into its future. Crafting a brand concept that is at once, clear and succinct enough to be easily digested today, yet broad and encompassing enough to allow it to grow into its evolved self tomorrow, is not simple. But it’s also not impossible.
Branding is just like telling a story. The best stories have a deeper, underlying message that stirs something inside you.
But the story itself carries you on a journey, from moment to moment, unfolding with each step in the shoes of the main character, allowing you to step into his universe and feel his very real emotions and desires as if they were your own. By the time he is caught up in his major struggle, you are too emotionally invested to walk away, and you want to see him succeed, because his success will give you faith in yours.
And by the time he makes it to the end, his lessons have become yours too. There’s no need for you to traverse a dark sea and monsters and dungeons, in order to gain a life lesson. There’s no need for you to be subjected to a teacher shaking her finger at you to learn the lesson either, once you’ve experienced the hero's feelings like they were yours, and been there, by proxy. You’ve been through his journey, in his universe, and somehow, you’ve seen and felt his final destination as if you were standing there yourself.
Nothing is more powerful than first-hand experience.
Our life is limited by our inability to be in more than one place at a time, but the power of our minds, our hearts, and our imaginations to temporarily step into an alternate world, and experience it risk-free, is the reason why film and video games and novels continue to be the most treasured mediums of our civilisation. We desire to live more than this one life, and we desire to make our one life as incredible as it can be.
Most people don’t realise that branding isn’t about advertising. It’s about the the story of your future. A brand that you choose today represents the story of what your future life could be, if you invest in the short term. It doesn’t just sell you a short-term fix, it creates the very real possibility of long-term satisfaction and fulfilment.
It’s like looking into a telescope with just one eye, but being able to see millions of stars and vast space far, far into the distance, and imagining yourself there, not here.
Your brand is the telescope that connects your very tiny ‘here and now’ with the very vast and immense possibilities of your future perfect world.
And I am the artist that makes that telescope for you. That telescope can take different forms and sizes. Sometimes, you hire me to show you the story you want to see. And other times, I find an opportunity to show you the story I want you to see. One is called “branding”, and the other is “art”.
You might ask why. Why do I do this? Why do these stories matter, why does the projection into the future matter today? Won’t we get where we’ll get, no matter what?
I believe that our future begins today.
I believe that the seeds we plant now will yield the fruit we’ll eat and the trees we’ll make our homes in tomorrow. Our only influence occurs in the here and now, because we can only be in the here and now. But right now is all that matters. Because each drop of water in the ocean leaves a ripple, whether or not we can see it with our eyes.
Our stories form our identities. Where we came from, where we are, and where we are headed, help us to identify our paths, our friends, our choices. Which story do you want to believe in? Which story do you already believe in? Who do you associate yourself with? What future do you choose to have faith in? And where is your story leading you?
The power of our stories, of our ideas of our future, is as hard to grasp as the size of the universe. We live in the world we create for ourselves. Our story is our identity — and the only real difference between two people who have seemingly grown up in the same environment and lived through the same things.
Identity is at the heart of all I create. Asking the question of what we believe in, what we choose, and what we want to create in the world is the core concept of our entire existence as human beings. Whether it’s a brand, an art installation, or a painting, the question is always the same: Who are we today, in the here and now? And where are we headed?
I’m an artist of stories and ideas.
I love the journey, the adventure, the discovery of something previously unknown. I love directing people towards the possibilities that only exist as soon as they have been conceived of. I love learning that the world, and all the people in it, are capable of much more than I alone had thought possible.
I love the possibility that comes with the infinitely changing nature of the here and now.
Who are you, in your here and now? Would you let an artist into your world and guide you towards your perfect future a million miles away, consciously, not subversively? If we each set our future trajectories towards our perfect world, consciously, graciously, collectively, what can stop us from creating our perfect world, starting in the here and now? What power to change the world is greater than the power to create the collective story of the world that we believe in, and choose to live in?
Our reality is shaped by our perception, and as long as we remain human and true objectivity evades us, the two are as indistinguishable to us as two adjacent cells in our bodies.
This is my identity. I was born an artist of stories. I have the power to change the future of the world with what I can create. Come and take a look inside my perfect future. It might just help you set your own course.
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