September 12, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Product Designer Avalon Hu Reunites with the Art of Illustration

What are you working on—on the side?

I liked doing illustrations since I was a kid, and picked it back up as a hobby from time to time. But, life happens, and my attention was needed elsewhere as an adult—I was never able to fully dedicate time to illustrating and push this hobby forward. At the beginning of this year, I decided to set a goal to invest in my illustration skills and be more serious about it.

I heard about the 100-day project created by Elle Luna a while ago, but never did it. When I saw that this year’s project was launching soon, I decided to pursue it as my side project to explore and express myself with illustrations.

At first, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I’d like to draw, so I was like, “why not something easy and fun for me to ease into the experience?” And that’s how I started to draw anthropomorphic animals. I usually picked an animal first, and then thought about what that animal would do if it turned into a human, or what it would look like in the human world. To give you some examples, I did a hipster lion inspired by my life in Brooklyn, a chicken ninja inspired by a catchy and viral “chicken attack” YouTube video, and a farmer duck lady inspired by the Union Square farmer’s market.

After continuing this theme for 20 days, I reached my creative limit and decided to pivot my project’s theme to exploring humans and nature, using more basic shapes and colors to construct simple and peaceful-looking illustrations. During this process, I noticed tremendous improvement in my drawings, and it’s really interesting so see how each time I pivoted my style, I struggled for a few days at the beginning, and then that style eventually matured and became stable.

With the momentum of the 100-day project, I continue producing more illustrations and push myself to try out different techniques at a sustainable speed so that I don’t burn out. You can follow my Instagram to see what I have been thinking and working on!

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

Since I have a day job, the only time I can work on my side project is during the early mornings before work and evenings after work. I realized that my creative process mostly consists of brainstorming and sketching. I make sure that when I have a good chunk of time, I use it to roughly sketch out ideas and then do the coloring here and there when I’m free. I think having a side project really taught me how to prioritize and be efficient about my time. It also helps me to be present and squeeze more time out of my day to strike a balanced schedule—one that allows me to focus on both work and my side project, avoiding creative burnout.

Why have a side project?

There are so many good reasons to have a side project. First of all, my side project helped me see how transferable the design process is across different forms and media. As a product designer at Adobe, my job is to solve problems and provide design solutions that fit user and business needs, and storytelling is very important in this process to make sure that we present a cohesive product experience. Illustration shares the same elements. Each detail—like shape or color—has its own purpose as part of the bigger picture, and as an artist, my job is to guide viewers’ eyes within the picture to tell the story plus spark new thoughts and emotions.

My side project also serves as a creative outlet that I have more control over. Since the nature of my day job is more team-based, there are many layers of ownership to my design projects, and I don’t necessarily have control over the outcome. With personal side projects, it is quite satisfying to make and execute a vision exactly the way I want.

Lastly, you never know where your side project will lead you. Since I started my 100-day challenge, I have had the honor and opportunity to appear at an Adobe Live show during the 99U conference this year, and a few of my drawings have been featured and used in the Adobe Illustrator Draw app. If I didn’t pursue my side project, I might not have encountered these opportunities. Getting back into illustration has been an amazing journey—full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Avalon Hu.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.