In a self-described "embarrassingly messy" studio (although we'd say creatively busy!) in Toronto, Stephanie Cheng makes magic with thoughtful lines, pops of colour, and balanced and meaningful white space, playing with shape, movement, and contrast. From the first prints brought into our Scout store—Stephanie's woman print series—to our growing collection of sports prints, including the Toronto Raptors and basketball and baseball legends, we love the special way in which Stephanie Cheng manipulates white space and colour to tell a story in each and every one of her prints. Recently, we caught up with Stephanie via email to get a little more information on her process and the stories and inspiration that feed her work, as well as the curvy path that led her back around to illustration. Sit down and get to know Stephanie with us in our next edition of our Five in Five series, featuring five questions answered by a maker in five minutes.
Erin: Let’s start from the beginning. What brought you here? What inspired you to take up illustration and screen printing?
Stephanie: It all kind of started at the very beginning. As a kid, I wanted to be an artist. So I spent most of my education in the arts—studying fine art in CEGEP (Quebec College), where I fell in love with printmaking, then obtaining a BFA in Design Art at Concordia University, where I thought I was going to become a graphic designer. Instead, I left Canada and worked as a merchandiser in the USA. After a good five years of being out of university, I slowly found my way back to screen printing, taking it up as a hobby. To make extra cash, I would do graphic design for as many friends as possible. Soon, I was filling my time with gig poster designs, which naturally made sense to screen print—the two go hand-in-hand historically. Illustrating posters became increasingly more interesting, and graphic design kind of took a back seat. What I really like to tell younger people is that you never know where your path will take you—you might take a detour from your original career path and somehow find your way back, and that’s OK!
E: What is the best part of your creative process that gives you pure enjoyment?
S: Screen printing for me is quite transportive. My mind will blank, but I’ll be hyper-focused and my body just kind of takes over. I equate it to high-level sports mindfulness. HA
What I enjoy the most about my creative process would probably be the exploration of colour and form. I love negative space—reading between the lines, or shapes in this case.
E: At Scout, we like stocking products we feel are thoughtful and positive additions to our customer’s lives and your designs are part of it all—and often fly off the shelves pretty quickly (especially those Raptors prints!). How do you choose what to illustrate next?
S: I’m always inspired by popular culture. I find it fascinating what different groups of people gravitate towards and for what reasons. I like to observe, I guess.
E: Keeping on the topic of travel, tell us your favourite travel memory or the places you’ve been. Have you left any prints or artwork along the way?
S: I was fortunate to visit Mexico City with some artist pals (Jess Dickens, Jackie Lee and Christine TeBogt), and we came across a cute risograph print house—Macolen. We got to talking with the owners, who persuaded us to submit some art for a print share. They print 50 copies, 25 to sell in store and 25 for us to keep. The sales they make off of our prints offset their production cost. So we quickly returned to our Airbnb, had a pen club party and sent in our artwork to be printed. We even got to sign and edition them! So this tiny risograph print house in La Condesa neighbourhood carries some of our work! When I travel I also always leave a small print or tea towel for my Airbnb host as a thank you.
E: You’ve designed a lot of gig posters to date. Can you share a little bit about how you got your start in this area? What’s your favourite poster to date (or top three if you can’t choose just one!)?
S: I had/have a lot of friends in the music scene, so when I was trying to build a portfolio, I would offer to do gig posters for free. Slowly but surely, through word of mouth, I was getting more and more business. After many years, I had a pretty good catalogue of posters and was approached by some promoters in the US to create some art—and now I get to do some pretty fun prints for some great artists through Live Nation. Courtney Barnett would be my first love. I felt like I had really turned a corner with that poster design. And then Lizzo, being the most recent—she is such a force and positive for young people, and I felt that while illustrating the print.
Find Stephanie's work online at stephaniecheng.ca, or follow Stephanie for behind the scenes highlights, travel photos, aesthetic inspiration, and snaps of her prints in their new homes across the globe @iamstephcheng. A selection of Stephanie's screen printed posters and tea towels are currently stocked at our Leslieville and Roncesvalles locations, with a couple posters available in our online shop as well. As always, we suggest calling ahead if you're travelling a distance to make sure we have what you're looking for in stock at our shops. Visit our About Us page to access our phone numbers and location information.