Fern Choonet

We caught up with illustrator Fern Choonet about the highlights and lowlights of freelancing, the importance of being genuine in the design industry, and some great tips for connecting with design events in Tokyo.

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

I’ve loved drawing ever since I could remember. I didn’t grow up in an artistic family but for some reason, both my sister (Fai of Studio Cosette) and I are in the creative industry. I took ballet lessons for about 10 years and in between breaks, I would ask the staff at the school for pencils and papers to draw on. It was too often; they had to beg my parents to buy me a sketchbook. Also in school, I used to doodle on textbooks, desks and class walls — I got detentions a few times.

What are some of the best and worst parts of your job, day-to-day?

My favourite things to do are the actual creating illustrations and painting process. I paint traditionally by gouache and assemble everything in Photoshop. The painting itself is so soothing and resembles meditation to me, I love it a lot!

Although it’s super important, admin work and the infinite loop of self-promotions are not always my favourite. I have come to terms that it comes with the job and it helps me to meet new clients and take on amazing projects.

Design work by Fern Choonet The Design Kids interviews Fern Choonet work-2

What are your three must-read design books, blogs or podcasts and why?

Austin Kleon’s 3 books: Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work and Keep Going.

Tom and David Kelley’s Creative Confidence.

Tom Froese’s skillshare and youtube videos.

I think these are solid recommendations for anyone starting, stuck or already established in the creative industry. There’s a lot of genuine advice from pricing, self-promoting, design thinking to connecting with people in the industry.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My final year thesis professor, Paul Dallas, gave me the best advice that I still take to heart. On the last day of class, he said “Be nice, it’s a small industry.” I think it’s true in any industry, but especially in the design industry. Besides from having a strong portfolio and good work ethics, you should be genuine and nice to people you come across. In Asia specifically, I find that many clients tend to want to get to know you first before wanting to work with you to get a sense of what you’re like as a person. It’s been a really useful and heartfelt advice I always keep with me.

Design work by Fern Choonet The Design Kids interviews Fern Choonet work-4
Design work by Fern Choonet The Design Kids interviews Fern Choonet work-4

Be nice, it’s a small industry.

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?

Honestly, it’s been a long road of trial and error for me. I think that my style is still evolving and will continue to. When I started out, I tried experimenting with different mediums; oil, watercolour, digital, and ended up with gouache. I can’t draw likeness very well, and it’s always been my weak point, so I decided to work my way around the things I can’t do and focus on things I can do, like using bright colours, making wonky drawings and turning them into my own style.

My advice for someone wanting to find their style is just to experiment, try different things and see what you like best. Also, make works that you really like. For a long time, I tried to make illustrations that were not me, but what I’d like to be seen as, and it clearly showed that I was trying way too hard. Now, I draw things just because I like them and they always turn out so much better.

If people wanted to know more about design in your city, what are the top blogs, organisations or events they can read up on?

Pechakucha Tokyo: this is a global event, but Tokyo is the birthplace of Pechakucha. It’s really worth checking out.

Canvas: A platform for Tokyo based artists and designers. I have met a lot of cool people and connected with many Tokyo based clients through their site and events held by Canvas.

Almost Perfect: Run by illustrator friend of mine Luis Mendo and his wife Yuka Okada. They’re a lovely couple that runs a gallery and artist residency in a 100 year old rice shop turned creative space.

Spoon and Tamago: Always a good site to check out design related news and events happening in Japan.

Design work by Fern Choonet The Design Kids interviews Fern Choonet work-6
Design work by Fern Choonet The Design Kids interviews Fern Choonet work-6

Where to find Fern Choonet online.

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