Rachel Chew, Designer, Illustrator & Letterer

We got to know Rachel at our recent Un-Conference, where she and the team from Milligram Studio (Melbourne-born stationery and lifestyle products that deliver measured design and beautiful utility) wowed us and all our attendees by hand-foiling their notebooks with a personalised monogram. Based in Melbourne by way of Malaysia, she also happens to be a very talented designer, illustrator and letterer with a beautiful approach to both her work and her life. Thanks for sharing Rachel!

What do you do?

By day, i'm an art director at NoteMaker and its parent company Telegram Co, where with my team we manage design and products for the brands. I’m also the lead designer at Milligram Studio where I oversee the brand’s visual identity and product design. And then I moonlight as an illustrator and designer.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

Carl Sagan once wrote that ‘we’re living on this pale blue dot, a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam’. I try to remind myself of this and remember to take a step back and breathe. Perspective changes everything.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

* Prior to this role I've lived my whole life in Malaysia. A few months before a planned holiday to Melbourne in 2012, a friend in Melbourne emailed me and said, hey I think this job might suit you. I had a look and thought yeah why not explore the possibility. To my surprise I got a call and that lead to an interview when I got to Melbourne. And three days later they offered me the role. I’ve been here since. I think I was in the right place at the right time.

* Packing and leaving ‘home’ was really hard for me. It put me out of my comfort zone, personally, and professionally. But it was a challenge I had to embrace. I've adjusted and love it here now. The concept of ‘home’ to me is more fluid. It’s not so much geographic, but definitely more about the people I surround myself with.

* Like many designers or illustrators, I’ve questioned the quality of my own work. To find out, and for the sake of my sanity, I entered a couple of design competitions that I had always found inspirational for their quality and standard. Having my work recognised and awarded by The Type Director’s Club and Communication Arts was a huge boost for me, to encourage me to continue to pursue this path. It gave me confidence with my work and where I want to go as a creative.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

We recently launched Milligram brand and are preparing for the opening of our first retail store. On the side, I'm working on a couple of hospitality brand projects which are fun.

What is your dream project?

Illustrating for the New Yorker and the New York Times. I love the op-ed pieces for their conceptual and visually simple approach. I think they would be an enjoyable challenge to work out. A food-related publication would also be on the list. And a science magazine. So many dream projects!

What’s something surprising about you, that we might not know?

I have a twin sister and her name is Rebecca Chew. She’s an art director and photo editor in Malaysia.

What places are important to you?

Home and studio is the best of both worlds for me. We are currently renovating to create a place for both. It’s been a test of patience, process and finances to see this happen. But it’s nearly done. There will be a large north facing facade and I think it will be a lovely space to enjoy and work.

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

When I first watched Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express in 1994 (totally giving away my age here), I fell in love with everything about it—the music, the opening sequence, the cinematography, colours—and especially the movie poster. It was a very 90's styled collage poster and from then I started making collaged artworks from magazine and newspaper cutouts. I was only in primary school at that time and the movie changed me. Later when we had a computer, I started making digital collages with MS Paint and of course, the discovery of a pirated copy of Photoshop blew my mind completely. It was life changing.

What are you listening to, reading, watching of late, that is inspiring or entertaining you?

– Sylvan Esso and Robyn for good working music.

– Cocteau Twins for nostalgia.

– Planetary Society podcast for learning while working.

– The New Yorker for good writing and illustrations.

– Truman Capote's In Cold Blood for leisure. I love crime stories.

– Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman just because. I've read this book of short stories many times and I still come back to it every now and then.

– I can't wait to dive into the Cipe Pineles' newly discovered recipe book.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

Sonya Dyakova.


What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

That it's ok to let go. I think I've held on to things or done things because the alternative seemed too scary. Full of unknowns and what-if questions. But embracing it has opened up so many options and opportunities that I never could have thought of before. So you just have to do it. Don't let daily expectations like having a constant job or social expectations weigh in on the decision. Let it go. Let go of what you think you know now to embrace what you could know.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

I think I'm fortunate that a majority of my colleagues are female. I've always wanted to have a mentor who I could discuss things with but sadly haven't found the right person. My sister has always been my go-to support and since she's also in a creative role, our journeys are very similar and we both cry and laugh together, albeit being in different countries.

Can you share a creative experience that you have found defining?

When I first watched Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express in 1994 (totally giving away my age here), I fell in love with everything about it—the music, the opening sequence, the cinematography, colours—and especially the movie poster. It was a very 90's styled collage poster and from then I started making collaged artworks from magazine and newspaper cutouts. I was only in primary school at that time and the movie changed me. Later when we had a computer, I started making digital collages with MS Paint and of course, the discovery of a pirated copy of Photoshop blew my mind completely. It was life changing.

RachelChew_5.jpg

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

I think I'm fortunate that a majority of my colleagues are female. I've always wanted to have a mentor who I could discuss things with but sadly haven't found the right person. My sister has always been my go-to support and since she's also in a creative role, our journeys are very similar and we both cry and laugh together, albeit being in different countries.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

That it's ok to let go. I think I've held on to things or done things because the alternative seemed too scary. Full of unknowns and what-if questions. But embracing it has opened up so many options and opportunities that I never could have thought of before. So you just have to do it. Don't let daily expectations like having a constant job or social expectations weigh in on the decision. Let it go. Let go of what you think you know now to embrace what you could know.

What is one facet of your field that you want to see change?

I'd like to see more mothers in creative share about their experience. I think that women often feel like they will lose their job security when they start having kids. A woman's career is often seen as a sacrifice, something expected for a woman to give up/put on hold when she has children. I'd like to see that changed.

What do you want to be asked about that no one ever asks you?

What's my comfort food? Indomie mi goreng with a fried egg and shichimi togarashi.

How can we find our more about your work?

Folio: www.rachelchew.co

Instagram: www.instagram.com/@rachelchew