Meet a Mintie: Gakemi Art + Design

Nam of Gakemi Art + Design broke out onto the Minted scene in December 2008, and has since then, been a steady presence in design challenges and the forum, offering her fellow designers constructive feedback and warm wishes. We’ve long been admirers of her too-cute-for words children’s designs and delicate, pretty flower illustrations and thought it’d be fun to reach out, and take a peak into the life of one of our designers in the great white north (hi, Canada!).

Nam and Gabriel

How did you get your start in graphic design?

When I was in grade 3, I remember drawing people, flowers and objects from encyclopedias. I was always interested in art, and people who knew me, knew me for my art. Growing up, our family didn’t have much and asking my parents for things like art supplies was unheard of so I drew and doodled on any surface, covering the inside covers of books and pages in those encyclopedias. I took visual arts throughout high school and sold my first two drawings: a picture of goats and one of a house – all for $200.  Not bad when you consider it paid for all the paper and pencils I needed for art classes. I didn’t really consider design as a career until I returned to college and graduated from architectural technology which gave me tremendous exposure to AutoCAD, 3-D Viz and Photoshop. From there I taught myself Illustrator with the hope of grasping typography and creating my own fonts.

I’m curious to know about how you taught yourself Illustrator and how you have developed your typography skills.

The first time I used Illustrator was to convert architectural floor plans from AutoCAD into marketing materials in Illustrator and InDesign.  Most of the learning was through reading user guides as I go, and practicing through trial and error.  Soon after discovering the Minted Design Challenges, I taught myself by reading website illustrator tutorials, Adobe Creative Suite WOW books and watching video tutorials.  When I’m confident with the skills, one of my goals is to design my own fonts.  Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find the time to create them, but when I do, I would love to use it for the Minted Design Challenges.

You wrote a really funny and honest “you know you’re addicted to Minted” forum post that has me wondering about how designers who are juggling jobs, families, and regular life manage to also produce so many original designs.

Being creative is an everyday thing, working constantly and absorbing everything we see, hear and touch. I keep a doodle pad and a pen handy to write and draw when an idea comes up, however most days it’s a blank canvas.

Juggling family and career still leaves room for plenty of play

The reasons behind the whole Minted design addiction, is an escape from our daily struggles. Creativity, like an addiction, is a habit that you work hard to maintain, being enabled by others, pushing the envelope and making sure you devote the energy to your pursuit.

Illustration by Gakemi Art + Design

Did you grow up in Canada?

My family came from Vietnam thirty years ago and yes it was a cultural shock.  Having lived in subtropical temperatures areas and suddenly plopped into a prairie town in the middle of a bleak Canadian winter, the thermometer flirting with minus 30 degrees Celsius, it was not, shall we say, what we expected.  We eventually moved to a small town in Ontario known as the Tomato Capital of Canada where they make Canadian Heinz Ketchup (yes, there is a difference). My family remains there but I moved to Toronto ten years ago.

Which designers do you really admire, and what do you love about their style?

Charley Harper: love his stylized illustrations and composition of wildlife and nature.

Illustration by Charley Harper

Charles Eames: love his avant-garde design in furniture.

handsome chair + ottoman by Charles Eames

Amy Butler: love her fresh, modern surface designs using pretty colors and intricate patterns.

Can you describe your creative process?

Research, seek inspiration from other works, sketch and put in the Illustrator. The old adage is true: it is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!

Designing is a family affair

My favorite food for the creative mind: Coffee and two slice of whole wheat bread with loads of nutella, bananas and fresh whipped cream.  I discovered this while I was pregnant with my first baby.  Yummy!

I’d really love to hear more about your fine art, especially in regards to “Chic Poppies” and “Yellow Peonies.”

Chic Poppies” was designed purely through experimentation with different watercolor brushes in Illustrator.  I love how it turned out because it was bold and beautiful – very pleased to see that it was a winner in the Personalized Stationery Category.

"Chic Poppies" from the Keep In Touch Good Housekeeping Challenge

Yellow Peonies” as you may not know was digitally enhanced to look hand-drawn.   I took my DSL camera for the first time and shot a couple of the peonies in my neighbor’s garden.  They were so pretty that I couldn’t resist using it for the Seasonal Save the Date Challenge.

"Yellow Peonies" from the Seasonal Save The Date Challenge

Where do you find inspiration?

My inspiration is everywhere – home décor, clothing, magazines, children’s books, design blogs (print and pattern, grain edit, design sponge) and websites (childrensillustrators,  Being a Mintie also exposes me to other designers who are likewise focused and full of creative energy which I use to infuse my work, taking their thoughts and feedback to move my work forward.

You have such a nice touch with children’s designs. Do you think children’s designs are particularly easy or challenging to design?

I’m a big sucker for cutesy children’s designs and illustrations and to able to illustrate for the valentine challenge was so much fun.  “Bee my honey” and “Owl be your Friend” were both inspired by my love of wildlife and nature.

"Bee My Honey" from the Be Mine Valentine Challenge

In my opinion, children’s design is suggestive.  Some people will say it looks easy, but if you’re able to exude an emotion of innocence in children’s design, then you’ve got it.

A few favorite children's book illustrators

Illustration Credits:

Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are?

Ian Falconer: Olivia

Cicely Mary Baker: Flower Fairies

Dennis Lee & Frank Newfeld: Alligator Pie

Shel Silverstein: The Giving Tree

What trends have you been noticing lately?

Ink hand-drawn illustrations, retro modern style and typography collage.

Who in the community do you admire? What do you like about their style, participation etc? How have they motivated or influenced you and your own work, if at all?

Oscar + Emma, Kelli Hall, Design Lotus. These designers are distinctive in their own ways.

Karly Depew/Oscar + Emma is exceptional for her typographical and delightful illustrations.  She is very confident with her style – modern and sophisticated.

Kelli Hall – love her stylized cute animal illustrations.  She has a signature style in which I find very hard to achieve – that is simplicity.

Amy Ehmann/Design Lotus – love her bubbly personality, energy and burst of creativity in the community.  She has an all-round style from bold to sophistication.  What makes her stand out from the others is her passion and resourcefulness in helping others to design the better.

Which of the designs you have for sale on Minted is your favorite and what was the inspiration for it?

I love Bright Lights NYC.

"Bright Lights" Holiday Photo Card

My husband and I were in New York City two years ago without the kids.   I don’t think I could have come up with an idea so visually satisfying if it wasn’t for the visit:  bright lights, beautiful skyscrapers and glamour.

What tips or advice do you have for designers who are new to Minted’s design challenges?

  • If you’re an amateur designer, learn and understand the elements of design and typography (this is my constant struggle).
  • Develop your computer graphic technical skills well.
  • Participate in the critique/comment phase or forum – let other designers know who you are and vote.
  • Research previous winners and learn from the masters.
  • Keep learning.

Find more of Katherine on her blog.

  1. Nam – Your comic illustration almost made me pee my pants! I know TMI… You’ll never know how relieved and encouraged it was to know I wasn’t alone when I first read your “you know you’re addicted to Minted” forum post. Too funny! I’ve always loved your – bright lights design. Thanks for the props!

  2. Alison

    I so adore Charley Harper too. Cincinnati native! This was such a great interview. I love hearing from someone so creative with such a technical design background.

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  4. Maria Estigoy

    Love you Nam! Not only are you a great mentor of mine your illustrations kick a**. I hope one day we can meet up and have our kids play together.

  5. Sandra Pons

    So nice to get to know you Nam. You are a wonderful asset to the Minted community and your kids are adorable!

  6. Nam

    Very delighted with the interview and thank-you so much!

  7. Karen Glenn

    So fun to ‘meet you’, Nam! You are a very talented designer 🙂

  8. jigarvaghela

    Very interesting blog.

  9. Katherine

    Nam, you were fun to chat with. Love your illustrations.