From starting your own brand, being an artist and a working professional, and to following your dreams no matter what anybody says, Jolene Ung (JU) has got the answers.
Where are you originally from?
JU – Was this an ideal place to grow up for someone as artistic as you? JU: I was born and raised in Long Beach— I currently reside there as well. Honestly, I was so busy growing up and spending so much time in other cities, I didn’t really come to appreciate Long Beach until more recently. I can say, however, that I’ve always appreciated living in a “melting pot” city, especially since my home life is similar. There are so many different ethnicities, cultures, kinds of people, different areas— it has definitely subconsciously contributed to my overall philosophy and way of life. For someone growing up in Long Beach now, I think it’s a wonderful place, especially for creatives. There is a whole community that celebrates localism and creativity.
How has since settling down in Long Beach with a full time job helped/hurt your art business? Do you feel like it has given you more opportunities to create?
JU – Honestly, I’ve never wanted to be an artist for a living. I know that probably sounds weird, since to most people, that’s “living the dream”. However, I never wanted to put that kind of restraint on my work. What if I had a deadline and I wasn’t inspired to make anything? What if I couldn’t create for a specific request? I don’t think I could handle that kind of stress, and I think my passion would diminish. My creative life needs to breathe. That being said, I think settling down with a full time job has helped. Practically, I have the means to invest in what I need— art supplies, workshops, etc. It also creates a nice contrast for me, so art becomes my therapy when I get home and need a mental break.
Your art is gorgeous! Take us through your process of creating…
JU – Thank you so much! My creative process can differ from project to project, but for me, everything begins with inspiration. I can be inspired by a range of things— the veins I see on a leaf, a beautifully written verse in the Bible, the way light shines through a window, song lyrics, or even art by another artist. I usually have to sort of analyze how I feel about what has inspired me— am I sad? Does it make me feel warm? What colors do I associate with it? I make my artistic choices based on the answers to those questions. Sometimes I have an automatic color association, or a concrete mental image (usually due to a more literal interpretation of what I have been inspired by), so I work around what I’m sure about first. When I create, I’m basically trying to convey how I feel and what goes on in my head related to my inspiration.
You made the decision to change majors during college— from wanting to be a scientist to being an artist, can you offer some advice to those who may be going through the same thing?
JU – Don’t let your fear of the unknown overcome you. It’s normal to feel some kind of fear or apprehension when you are forced to make an unexpected change, or when you feel like your path is going a certain direction without your permission. Just don’t let that fear overcome you— remind yourself that everything is unfamiliar the first time. Your first day of school? Terrifying. Your first time driving? So scary! But you didn’t let those feelings stop you because you realized what you would gain by pushing through. In a thousand years, I never could have foreseen myself switching to study studio art, even though I’d essentially been an artist my whole life. I was not informed about the art world, so it was extremely foreign to me. Luckily I had the support of people close to me, so the fear of not knowing paled in comparison to the support.
Who are a few artists that have really provided inspiration on your own art?
JU – When I was much younger, I remember being highly influenced by Vincent Van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee. I was by no means exposed to the entirety of their work, but from what I saw, I really loved their sense of whimsy. I thought they played with space, color, and shape in such an interesting way. A lot of my earlier art was directly influenced especially by Kandinsky and Klee. More recently, I have been extremely influenced by musicians and bands. I’m not sure if it’s purely the music itself, or if I’m fascinated by the way they can, in a sense, do what I’m doing. They organize noises and sounds to convey feeling and imagery, and I think it’s incredible. Sometimes I’m inspired by lyrics and the pictures the singer has painted, but other times I’m inspired by the actual sound or vibe of the song. I’ve recently been super inspired by the aesthetics and sounds of Børns and The Naked and Famous.
You’ve started your own business, Quirks & Smirks, do you mind telling readers what your business encompasses?
JU – Yes! Quirks & Smirks is my brand. It started in late 2014 as an Etsy shop, but it really picked up in early 2015. A little history: For many years, I had multiple friends who told me I should make greeting cards. I played around with the idea so many times, but eventually bit the bullet and committed to an Etsy shop. It started with just greeting cards that I had drawn, but now I’ve included art prints, custom art, tote bags, buttons, and even some t-shirts. I wanted to create products that were unique and quirky, but not necessarily in line with the current trends. I think there’s a demand for vulgarity and coarseness with greeting cards, which I’m not a huge fan of. Sure, they’re funny, but I think we should at least try to preserve the sentimentality of traditional cards, especially in a society full of impersonal relationships and technology. So whenever I want to create a new product, I consider my customers, but I also consider what I personally like. I try to find a common ground where I can make people happy but can also express myself in an interesting way. That’s basically what you’ll find in Quirks & Smirks!
When you’re not busy working or creating, what are a few things you enjoy doing?
JU – I am known by my friends as a foodie, and I’m also crazy about coffee. I’m big on trying new foods locally, as well as finding the best coffee. In the same vein, I absolutely love traveling. I’ve been really lucky the past few years to be able to travel so much and be inspired by so many amazing places. Another activity I thoroughly enjoy is definitely going to see live music. As I mentioned earlier, I’m highly inspired and influenced by musicians and bands, so seeing them live is such a privilege. I have also been incredibly lucky to have met almost all of my favorite bands and share my art with them. Creatively-related, I do like watching films, dabbling in other mediums (like photography, or charcoal), and taking workshops to learn new skills.
Why is it so important to shop small & locally?
JU – One of the most prominent aspects of shopping small is the personal nature of it. There’s something so special about realizing that whatever you’re buying hasn’t been mass produced, it has been crafted in a much more personal way, most likely by a very passionate person. By shopping small, you are supporting someone’s passion, making someone’s dreams come true. In addition, by shopping locally, you are supporting the people in your city and building your own local community.
Can you offer some words of advice on chasing your dreams, starting your own business, and not letting anything get in the way?
JU – I’d like to preface my answer with some background. In 2008, my dad experienced a massive heart attack out of nowhere. He went into full cardiac arrest and suffered some brain damage as a result. The doctors told us he would be in a coma for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he has made improvements and is now in a minimally-conscious state. This was a huge event in my life, and it has really shaped my philosophy on chasing dreams. I realized that we don’t have control over so many things, and sometimes we make plans that we can never accomplish. It’s so important to grab opportunities while you have them, and remain yourself while you do so. The concept is kind of cliché, but I think it’s important to live without regrets, and it’s also important to stay yourself. Be sure to take constructive criticism from those you trust, but also be sure not to compromise your own ideals or goals. That being said, I think it is also very important to be wise in your decision-making. Some people use “chasing your dreams” as an excuse to be reckless, then get upset when things don’t work out. I don’t think there should be any shame in having a back up plan, or taking small steps at your own pace. Chase your dreams, but be smart!
Where can we buy your beautiful pieces of work?
JU – My Quirks & Smirks products are available on my Etsy shop here. I don’t have every single piece of art listed, but I am usually willing to do custom art and/or print orders for any of the art I’ve posted online! My cards are sold at three local Long Beach shops: MADE in Long Beach, MAKE Collectives, and Fingerprints!