June 11, 2016

Pride, Work, and Necessity of Side Projects: Drawing, Knitting, Writing, more by Yen Ha

What are you working on—on the side?

I have many side projects—a lunch blog with my business partner, two monthly book clubs, writing short stories, but mostly I like to make things. I make knit scarves, line drawings, winter wool hats, leg warmers, large-scale landscapes and postcard-size sketches. I make things that can be worked on and stored in the small spaces of a city apartment with two kids. Several years ago, a friend asked me to contribute to a book called “Outside the Lines, Too.” She was curating a coloring book filled with drawings by creative people—street artists, designers, illustrators, animators, etc. It was her second one, and until she asked me, it had never occurred to think of myself as an artist or a creative. Since then, I have spent a lot of time drawing. I’ve produced large-scale pieces that reside in private collections as well as small pieces, several of which are on display at the Picture Room in Nolita, an outcome I would have never imagined.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

When I first started drawing, I went to Staples and bought a stack of cheap copy paper and a pack of Sharpies. I left them on the kitchen counter. While I ate breakfast with the kids, I’d pick up a marker and draw. While they washed up and made their lunches, I’d draw another couple of lines. Then when I got home from work, I’d draw more lines while waiting for the water to boil or the rice to cook. After the kids went to bed, I spent another couple of minutes, until at the end of several days I had a drawing. The impermanence and cheapness of the materials helped me move beyond the idea of creating “ART”, and instead, let me explore ideas as they came to me. And even as my drawings have become more complex, because my studio is the dining room table, which has to be cleared every night for dinner, I work in media that can be easily put away. I draw in small increments so I won’t feel overwhelmed by the blank page and then stitch the pieces together to make larger pieces. I also stopped watching TV to have time to draw. After dinner, I sit at the table, drawing, listening to my husband watch TV in the next room.

Why have a side project?

Having a side project, or in this case, many side projects, keeps my mind nimble. It gives my brain a break from the daily challenges of work by providing a place to explore different facets of creativity. Instead of thinking about space as related to openings and walls, I think about space as formed by a series of marks or a stream of words. For me personally, there is also something very immediate in drawing and making that isn’t found in architecture. I can feel a sense of accomplishment that doesn’t take months or years to achieve. And more than that, I’m doing something physical and tangible with my hands. We all spend increasing amounts of time with screens and having a place away from that strengthens my ability to think about the challenges of architecture with fresh eyes. Thinking creatively depends on being able to see outside of the problem in front of you, and I believe that having side projects gives the brain the freedom to travel new paths.

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Diptych courtesy of Yen Ha.

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Read more about the joy of side projects, including the collaborative drawings by Sonia Yoon and Erika Dufour.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

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