On our latest installment of Forces of Nature, we connect with artist and designer Steph Shue Yan Lau. Based in Brooklyn, Steph's distinctive work explores the spectrum of what is natural and artificial, biologic and mechanical, soft and hard. Her extensive list of collaborators includes Maison Martin Margiela, Lady Gaga, Warp Records, Spotify, and more. In this interview we discuss the creative process, searching for beauty in unlikely places, and the constant journey of personal development.
What does your workflow currently look like as an artist and designer? Can you walk us through that creative process?
It’s constantly shifting depending on the task. Generally , I start with the keywords I’ve gathered from meetings or client briefs. Then I go into researching, brainstorming, and finding the right references. Ultimately, landing on a neat thumbnail drawing is very important to me! It kind of keeps the tactility of my work regardless of the medium I end up using.
When working with clients, I prefer to be super clear and provide a structure for us to work through. I find that having strong logistical constraints allows me to fully relax in the creative process. People underestimate how much energy is spent on simply “vibe checking” when you work with a new creative.
It’s completely different making work for myself or close friends! And sometimes, the best work can happen within hours from inception to completion. There’s too many variables, so I can only do my part to be as prepared as possible.
I'm learning to be patient and nurture the creativity within myself, rather than expecting it to be a muscle I can flex on command.
How do you connect to nature? What was a specific moment that reminded you that you are part of the natural world?
I try to go on a daily walk around my neighborhood. Everyday, I notice something new in the greenery surrounding me. It’s endlessly inspiring and humbling to observe these little things.
Since I spend most of my time in NYC, the last immersive nature experience was when I went camping in the beginning of summer. That’s when I truly grasped that I’m nothing more than another critter in the wild lol! It made me reflect on my own dependency on technology, and how I can exist with ease and comfort without it.
How do you find balance between the multitude of things that you do? Is there a universal theme underneath it all?
The search for balance is a lifelong process, and my confidence in that comes in waves. What brings me the most comfort is acceptance that things will never be perfectly balanced, you’re always gaining and losing some. For the past few weeks I’ve been feeling very imbalanced, so I’m telling myself that it’s okay to ride with the wave and see where things take you.
This is really basic, but it all comes down to my interest and search for beauty. Whether it’s creating and observing beauty in the fantastical or grotesque, I’m constantly intrigued by how our ideals of those things seem to vary over time and between cultures.
03. Tradition + Routine
What is a tradition you honor from your heritage? What is a new habit you're just starting, or sticking with this month?
I grew up in Hong Kong so my background is Cantonese Chinese. I wouldn’t call it a tradition, but I recently visited my traditional Chinese medicine doctor in Chinatown after 4 years. It was refreshing and reassuring to hear his perspective on my myriad of problems! Speaking of balance, it was a reminder that mind/body/all our habits are intertwined. I really like the holistic approach to TCM, the idea that our body is a connected ecosystem working tirelessly in harmony. It’s the little habits that shape our beings! When we zoom out, we’ll realize many of our problems are not isolated.
What's challenging you right now? How are you rising to meet the challenge?
The past year is the most connected I’ve felt with myself as a person. But with that, I find that my output has decreased significantly. Which can be alarming when you’re a freelancer.
My ongoing challenge has been distilling my creative expression. Honestly, I’m at a point where I feel very dissociated with my output. I realized I became very driven by the demand of specific types of work that comes my way. While those works are all still parts of me, I’ve grown as an artist/person in the past few years. As a result, my interests and the multitude of ways I express myself have also shifted.
So the short answer is I’m trying to get better at making decisions and simplifying my work in different ways. And to face it I’m just trying to be more open, to allow myself space to think differently.
What gets you moving everyday? Is it physical exercise, creative expression, social engagement? Tell us about your chosen method of being active.
I’m constantly on the journey to becoming more physically fit, haha! I try to stretch every day, either first thing when I wake up or before bed. I’ve also started training virtually with the wonderful Thea Hughs earlier this year, who has really kept me on track!
Growing up and until recently I have always been a very closed off and isolated person. So choosing to check in with someone in my life everyday is also a mode of activity. Spending time to examine my own mood, then verbally expressing them are also ways to be active, it’s been tiring but it’s very rewarding.
What creative media are front of mind for you right now? What’s one work you’d share from your reading list, Netflix queue, etc.?
I’ve been reading an Australian historical fiction called Picnic at Hanging Rock. I’m halfway through and it’s a perplexing read.
To balance things out from the eerie and gothic, I just started the K-drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo on Netflix!
Koa x Steph Lau Sticker Collection
We worked with Steph to create a series of illustrated stickers celebrating our ingredients and the natural beauty and spirit of Hawaii. Check them out here.