We had the good fortune of connecting with Xiao Qing Chen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Xiao Qing, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I think risk is inevitable in life. Takings risks means making changes, often unconventional choices. Change is not always comfortable, but it is necessary for growth. A piece of advice I have gotten over the years through reading, specifically from the book “Creative Confidence”, by Tom and David Kelley, is that we need to allow ourselves to fail, and fail faster. Throughout my life and career as a designer and illustrator, taking risks, big and small, has contributed in every step of growth. Recognizing opportunities out of my comfort zone is the most common occurrence of risk-taking. Oftentimes, these opportunities provide the best learning experience for me. We do not know what we do not know, and these often contribute to the fear of not taking the leap of faith in most cases. I cannot say I have pursued every risk being presented to me, but I have made risky choices along my career that has led to paths I could not ever have planned for, particularly my current work as a concept designer with Walt Disney Imagineering. Sometimes, risk-taking means turning down offers and requests to what may seem like bright opportunities as well. I think it comes down to maintaining a healthy balance of pursuing opportunities versus basic life priorities like giving time to people and health.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a concept designer currently working with Walt Disney Imagineering. I am standing on shoulders of the giants in this creative industry. Growing up in Malaysia wanting to be a doctor, I was well aware that a career in art and design is quite unreachable then. However, some turn of events later, with some right combinations of luck and work, architecture school was a feasible choice of education for my family, and that was what I thought I would become out of high school. Long story short, it opened my eyes to a world I have never been able to see before, and led me to study Advertising and Graphic Design instead, and later on, pursuing illustration in America. The education background I have had most probably provided me chances to dip my toes in different ways of designing and solving creative problems, hence the versatility and adaptability in my career, from designing ride show sets to posters designs. The opportunities to learn from people on any given assignment is what excites me the most. Some days I lost focus in this, but when I do wander off I notice the difference in joy in my work, and that affects how I can engage other people in my work. I find joy in learning, and only with this I can persist. The fluidity of creative process need to fuel off of persistence when so much of my career is about reiterating, redoing concepts, reworking ideas with teams. It is not always the case, that a work presents itself as exciting, so having other means of fuels really help keep me grounded. Urban sketching is one of the way I resort to the most. As I observe and put pen on paper, I also have gotten to talk to people of all walks of life more, notice the place I am in, being present and mindful about the people I want to create for, and the kinds of stories and experiences I want to add to this world. I consider myself lucky in a lot of ways, and although my journey is not without challenges, I would not say they are anything uncommon. The struggle to maintain a legal work status in the United States is one I share with a lot of my peers; the inability to physically be where family is when they need me the most; challenges to find meaning and purpose in day-to-day work is perhaps another common challenge; trying to find my own artistic voice while being able to fit into a required style…among many. I suspect these challenges will be there, no matter how big or little they are in different phases of my life, and new ones will present themselves when the time comes. My career will always be a work-in-progress, and these challenges pushes me to be a better designer, one that could tell engaging stories and designs that make our lives a bit easier.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Some absolutely drool-worthy food spots to bring them to would be Proof Bakery in Atwater, Anajak Thai in Sherman Oaks, Bone Kettle in Pasadena, All Time near Los Feliz, Mother Moo’s Creamery in Sierra Madre, taco trucks, Ham Bat Sul Lung Tang in Koreatown, korean barbecue places, Spoon by H, and of course for tea and coffee, Intelligentsia, Motto Tea and Copa Vida in Pasadena. As far as places to visit, if weather permits, assuming we are all safe from a global pandemic, I would have taken them for a hike to the Griffith Observatory, Huntington Gardens, the Getty museum, LACMA, Eames House, the Norton Simon museum, hiking trails along Malibu, and if time permits, a drive up to Big Sur too along the scenic route. Being Malaysian, Disneyland was never an option to visit, not until I became an intern with Walt Disney Imagineering at the age of 27. If it is not for Covid19, Disneyland would definitely be the top of my list for an American experience too if my best friend is visiting from Malaysia. I find a lot of wonderful creatives in conventions like Designer Con, art bazaars like Jackalope, and LA Art Book Fair, wonderful places to meet local artists and designers. These would be places I would like to bring my best friend to as well.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My life thus far is only possible with the unconditional love and support of my parents. My parents fought and worked hard so their children could have the best education that they did not have. Both my parents grew up working since a very young age, in a time and place where putting food on the table takes priority over anything else. They provided for me and my brother the best way they know how. For the loving family they built and their trust in me, I am eternally grateful. To my mentors — Thomas, Erika, Eric and Justin, thank you for believing in this confused kid in my formative years of college education. To Professor Bashri Sulaiman — you may not ever read this, but your wise words when I chose to pursue a different path than architecture will always guide me through life. To all the Imagineers making magic in the House of Mouse, I cannot ask for a more inspiring team to be working with every day.
Xiao Qing Chen