Arlene Sy
Art + Illustration


My journey as an artist chronicled in life events, thoughts, and musings.


The day my birthdate matches my age has arrived!

Yes, I've just turned thirty-three. That will only ever happen once in my lifetime.

Since hitting 30 not too long ago, I started caring less about each additional year that came by. It was only whenever the topic of one's age (and whether you could still “identify with a number on the calendar”) came up in conversations, or when I needed to fill out forms, that I'd begin thinking twice. It's definitely a refreshing, liberating change—to stop being conscious of my age, especially since I used to dwell on the numbers while I was in my mid- to late-twenties. (It was partly, even if I hate to admit it, a fixation on the "best age to settle down" and its derivatives.)

Age and numbers aside, I wanted to write about the things I learned (or un-learned) over the previous year. Some of these are art-related, while the rest I feel can apply to pretty much everything in life. If you are reading this, I hope this helps you in your personal journey, too.

Making art is both passion and commitment. But way more of the latter. I used to think that choosing to be an artist/illustrator, in and of itself, would make everything a walk in the park. Who doesn't like making a career out of what they love, right? In theory, it seems like there's nothing that can slow you down or hold you back. And yet, there's really a lot of work involved. I've faced several challenges again and again, which include things like getting up before 9 AM, to bigger things like structuring a weekday such that I can get done with more important tasks more quickly.

The latter part of 2015 was difficult for me. I became very nervous and anxious about my work for no justifiable reason (or perhaps many, many reasons all at once), and this caused me to remain in a creative slump for about half the year. I think I felt overwhelmed by various personal and work-related pressures. I started questioning myself and thinking about what would happen if I went back to a day job. I managed to slowly pull through with the help of my husband, family, and fellow artists who kept encouraging and supporting me, or even just asking how I was. Speaking of...

Having people who believe in you and your work makes a huge difference. Being part of a community is even better. I know I still tend to shy away at certain opportunities to be "out there," or get to know my fellow artists more, but I cannot stress enough how important a social support system is. For introverts like myself, I find it difficult to naturally reach out to people, but I learned that most of the time, all you really need to do is be there, to be socially present, if not physically present. I also learned that sometimes, all you have to do is just say hello.

Work on different jobs every now and then. I occasionally switch between illustration work and design work. Sometimes, I take on small layout and art direction jobs--when I do, it always feels so refreshing. Being able to dabble in design-related work ultimately also helps and informs my illustration work, in that I can always see things from a fresh perspective. Also, because both disciplines require separate yet similar problem-solving skills, it ensures my mind can afford to grow from one without sacrificing the growth of the other.

Make art regularly, but don't feel pressured to share everything all the time. Personally, I'm not in the habit of sharing my work to the public via social media on a daily basis. Since I'm a quiet person, my social media feeds tend to be that way, too--but that's not such a bad thing. Set realistic and comfortable goals for yourself so that the kind of success you gain is likewise something you are comfortable and happy with. Sometimes, I feel like disappearing from social media altogether—when this happens, I simply allow myself to unplug for a few days but remember to come back.

Have less things, acquire more memories and experiences. One thing you hear all the time but is always true! I've been able to significantly pare down my belongings, and I've donated about half of everything I used to own. Most of these things were clothes (not surprising), and a lot of paper-based paraphernalia like books, magazines, brochures. I am less sentimental now but only because I understand my relationship with things better. I'm now in the habit of regularly discarding anything I feel no longer resonates with my current beliefs, relationships with people. I now also consider the practicality of it all—whether I already own something similar, and whether accumulating more things will fit my vision of a tidy, well-kept space.

Side note: I'm so thankful I had the chance to read Marie Kondo's book last year. I'm not only proud of myself for finishing the book, but I followed through by donating and discarding a lot of my things! I know her "spark joy" philosophy's not for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.

Be kind, all the time. To friends. Family. Colleagues. Strangers. People who serve you--wait staff, baristas, cab drivers, househelp. And always remember to say "thank you." You never know what people are going through. At the same time, be kind to yourself. Lessen time with people who are generally negative or pull you down. Try to be around positive people, as much as you can.

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