The SHHO is built upon young, talented, driven minds. Look no further than Flushing, Queens to find these exact qualities in 22 year old illustrator/designer Sophia Chang. Its always exciting to meet like-minded individuals doing big things with their lives and loving every minute of it. Having done work for Anthony Bourdain, Complex, and UNDFTD, Sophia is definitely making her mark. She brings a New York City paced drive to her work, a definite hip-hop influence, and as much ambition as anyone you’ll meet. Enjoy this conversation with Sophia Chang.
What did your parents want you to do?
Ummm, doctor/lawyer. Every year my parents helped pay tuition and they’d be like, “Sophia! Sophia! It’s never too late. You can still be a pharmacist right now! You can start all over again if you wanted to.”
How did they react to you wanting to go into the arts?
My mom’s very supportive. My dad’s just like, “Uhh, I guess if you want to do it, it’s cool.” I think right now I’m in that phase of just trying to prove myself, in terms of getting a good job. It really bothers my dad that I don’t have insurance, that I’m a freelancer. And I think it’s also because they came from Taiwan and coming to America it’s really important to get a good education, get a good job, stable job, stable income. That’s what they’re used to. But times have changed.
What was it like growing up in the mean streets of Flushing?
(laughs) Growing up I hung out mostly with Koreans. In Flushing there are a lot of Koreans, Hispanics, a few black people, couple white people, couple Jewish people, couple Italians, but a lot of Asian people. It’s heavily Asian infested. Style wise, I had my Air Force 1s. Girls had door knockers, bamboo hoops. I had my hair gelled. Girls would wear name plate chains, jersey dresses, color contacts, dyed hair. I used to hit up Jamaica Ave. with my homegirls. We’d go there for Enyce, Jimmy Jazz, and we used to have a Dr. J’s but they closed. Oh, Timbs field boots…had to have the different colored field boots! Air Forces, Dunks, Baby Phat, Enyce, Mecca, all that. That was hot for a minute.
What was your introduction into illustration?
My entire life I drew. And drew and drew and drew. My parents used to enter me into Chinese art contests and I’d win. But I grew up wanting to be a fashion designer so bad. I used to tell all my friends in elementary school that I was going to be the future owner of Christian Dior! Then when I got into college…I didn’t really know anything about art. I went to museums and shit for class trips, ya know? But I didn’t really know art at all. So, when i went to school at Parsons, the first year you’re there you have to take all these foundation classes. You can’t jump into your major at all. I started seeing the people in fashion, they way the dress, their whole steez, the teachers…it was crazy. Everyone was out to impress each other. It’s mad expensive to buy materials for work. I just realized I don’t want to make clothes. Essentially, I just realized I wanted to draw. I didn’t even think like how I’d make a living out of it. I knew I was good and I had confidence in my work, so I said let’s try this out. So, then I entered that major, took use of my resources, and just jumped into the game.
Earliest memory of drawing?
Drawing…? I really liked the TV show Gargoyles. I loved that show. Oh, Ren and Stimpy! I loved how they would do close ups of Ren’s face and it’s all gross looking. I actually met the artist at this comic convention. He did a drawing for me actually. I should frame it. Also growing up Taiwanese, my parents would always send me to after-school on the weekends. So, I went to Chinese school on the weekends and I’d learn all this SAT and math stuff, which never helped! But I never got to watch Saturday morning cartoons, Animaniacs, or anything like that. I also loved dinosaurs. I’d always draw dinosaurs. Oh, something that actually helped me with drawing, especially with portraiture…when I was younger, my parents would always have these Chinese newspapers lying around and they’d always have these celebrity photos in them. I would just take a pen and outline their faces for fun, not in terms of learning how to draw a face, but just cause I was bored and I think that actually contributed to my line quality. It helped with understanding facial structures and body positioning and stuff like that.
Do you consider yourself a design/illustration nerd?
Nooo! I mean, I know a good amount I guess. I don’t know! You can’t ask someone to categorize themselves as a nerd. Like a hypebeast is never gonna say they’re a hypebeast, hipster is never gonna really say they’re a hipster.
How were you introduced to hip-hop?
I never realized how big hip-hop was to me, growing up, until more recently when I started thinking about it. But I remember the moment when I discovered the radio in my life, really distinctly. Me and my mom were chilling in the basement and we’d always have this boombox on because she would always be listening to these talk shows. I remember one day I finally switched the AM to FM, and this was like years that it was on the AM! So, finally when I switched it to FM, I was maybe like nine years old and the dial was directly on a hip-hop station. And I just fell in love. Then in junior high we started to listen to Ludacris and all this other kinda stuff. But prior to that there was TRL, BET, and my parents hated when I would turn to BET or Soul Train or something. But I always just naturally gravitated towards R&B and Hip-Hop.
So, what was your Parsons experience like?
Parsons is a great school, a great name, great history. But the fucking people who go to that school…are insane. These girls would strut into class with 4″, 5″, 6″ inch heels, with a fur coat on, without their homework done, and they’re probably all coked up or something. They don’t do their work, they’re wasting the instructor’s time, they’re wasting their classmates time. The instructors are great and the curriculum is great. There’s a lot of politics in all schools but the student body (at Parsons) was just ridiculous at times. And a lot of people think that art school is the easy way to get out, like to just get a degree, but it’s not like that. There’s a lot of people who really want to learn and because the classes I had were so small, everyone’s contribution really mattered. Whenever i tell people about Parson’s I just tell them you need to hustle, you need to make use of your resources…we have a great library, labs are amazing. Also, audit classes that you’re not even enrolled in, get to know your professors, chill with your professors, because they definitely have a lot of knowledge to drop on you.
Tell us about the experience of meeting Jeff Staple and being taken under his wing.
I was into Staple Design in high school and my college friends were all raving about him, because everyone was still into streetwear ya know? One day I was getting home late from school and working, and I was on the train and I see him on there. This was when I used to live in Bushwick in Brooklyn. I was like, “Oh shit, it’s Jeff Staple!” Anyways, we got off at the same stop and I ran up to him and asked him, “Are you Jeff Staple?! I’m a huge fan!” I usually don’t whyle out when it comes to celebrities or anything but when it comes to designers and artists, I just get into groupie mode. But I just said whatup, I didn’t have a business card or anything. Then next thing I know he was teaching a course over at Parson’s. It was a joint course with Parson’s School of Design and Columbia University and you have to go through a series of interviews to get in the course and I was able to get in. So, I was in a class with him the entire semester but I never spoke to him. I was so intimidated. I didn’t know what to say and if he said something back, I wouldn’t know what to say. I was just really nervous. But after the course was finished I was like, “Man, you’re such an idiot. You should have made use of your resources. When are you gonna be around him ever again?!” Then I just hit him up out of nowhere and told him I was in his class and that I did illustration and to let me know if I can contribute in anyway. He didn’t really respond for about six months later and then he asked me to contribute to the graphic tee line for Staple Design. That experience was good, it was chill, and from there I think that started our professional relationship. Then through that, other creative opportunities came around and he sort of became my creative mentor in a way. This only started recently. He helps coach me a lot on my career and with business, because he’s really good at business affairs and things like that.
How do you stick out in a field so saturated with talent?
Well, I think everyone is like I’m gonna be a painter, I’m gonna be this, I’m gonna be that, but it’s really all about what your work shows. I’m pretty confident in my work. I’m pretty confident in the hustle. I know I have to keep striving and working hard, otherwise I’m not gonna meet my goals or go anywhere. I’m always trying to move. I think it’s that New York mentality where I’m always moving, walking fast, going places; in terms of my career, I feel the same way. I mean yeah, it’s fucking saturated. It’s New York City. It’s one of the biggest cities ever, but it’s how you put yourself out there. It’s how you sell yourself, when you do interviews, how you promote yourself on the side. I mean, you might have a full time job but you still gotta work on the side. I believe in that constant movement and attitude to improve yourself.
As a female in this industry do you feel you have to exert yourself as a “bad ass bitch”? I see that a lot in young female artists.
You know what’s really funny? As I’m growing more in terms of my career I have a number of concerns. One is that I hope people don’t think I got to where I am because I slept with a bunch of people, because I’m sure that’s really easy. And if I were to, which that sounds really disgusting, that probably would escalate my career like crazy. But in terms of me being me, I sell myself in terms of my personality and with my work. I think that’s enough to speak for itself. But I’ve had people tell me recently, from people who have been in the industry for a while, like, “Oh Sophia, you’re kinda good looking. You should totally dress nicer,” or, “Just look nicer and be nicer to other people so they will help you in your career.” I’m sure that would help but I feel like I’d be lying to myself, because that’s not me. I don’t really dress up at all. This is me with my makeup on, but I never put makeup on normally. I’m comfortable with me. This is my personality, which should be enough, and this is my work and you know, take it as it is. If you don’t wanna fuck with it then whatever.