Sophia Chang is an artist from and living and working in New York City. As a recent graduate from Parson’s Design School, she’s young — very young. Certainly younger than one might expect when looking at the array of impressively high-profile clients accrued, and then shown off with artful style, on her website “esymai.com” — the likes of which include Anthony Bourdain, Talib Kaleb, and, on the corporate plane, Nike and Dr. Pepper, to name just two.
Relatively fresh in the business, as far as distance from school goes, Chang’s skills have clearly elevated her far beyond the generalized post-grad sob story the world has become accustomed to. No moving home to the parents here. No existential crisis-defined decade of finding her feet. Her feet, as all appearances indicate, are planted firmly in the New York earth like one who seems to have grown out of the soil there.
“Being born and raised in Queens has really influenced me as an adult. We were all heavily influenced by hip hop,” Chang said. “I spent most of my free time in high school playing handball at the local parks, watching music videos at my best friend’s house and stuff like that. I always drew, and everyone knew I was a good artist, but I didn’t do it 24/7. Only in class when I didn’t feel like paying attention to the teacher.”
Obviously, Chang has come a long way from casual, in-class doodling. The art that now covers her website is stylish and pulses with a colored vibrancy associated with hip hop and New York street life.
Chang, for example, has a number of portraits of Anthony Bourdain — a cynical, wizened and bemused face most of us are well familiar with from his Travel Channel show “No Reservations” — up on her website. Her depiction of Bourdain swerves far from any attempt at realism, and yet through the colored stylization is, quite clearly, a strong impression of Bourdain’s not unmemorable personality and feature. That is, through the lining and moderate abstraction is a very detectable and potent artistic interpretation of a man, and something about it is distinctly “cool,” to use the word vaguely.
Her creating Bourdain portraits was no exercise in fandom, of course. She produced the pictures as a series of poster illustrations for the summer 2011 season of “No Reservations” (you can check them out on her site).
When asked how it feels to have made it “big” in the industry at so young an age, despite her clear victories Chang politely declined to acknowledge any aggrandized sense of her own accomplishment.
“I have not made it big at all. Look at all the other people who are giants in this industry, such as Jeffstaple, Lanie Alabanza, James Jean,” Chang said, referring to the design and illustration industry. “These are all people who worked hard to be doing what they’re doing. They lost hours of sleep, they did internships and studied under masters to get to where they are.”
Still, Chang’s early success is undeniable. In a world of struggling artists and unemployed graduates, she is one success story among many less cheerful narratives. But naturally her success is no accident. She, too, worked hard. And more importantly, she has talent.
“I started early. I did a lot of internships when I was in school. I commuted daily, I worked a part-time job at Journeys and Puma, did internships and worked on side freelance projects,” Chang said. “It wasn’t easy, but it helped to build a foundation for myself. Each of these internships were self-sought and worth more than any money I can make.”
“Once I graduated,” Chang added, “I was already freelancing with jobs that were passed along by these guys, and I was able to get the ball rolling. So really, I’m not making it big at all. I hope to be on my way to ‘making it.’”
Living in and being from New York has its advantages, but what Chang has achieved, as many aspiring artists and designers should note, she’s done through her own steely agency. As she said, in advice, “If you want to something, go for it.” So far, it’s working out for her.
JAMES O’HARA can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.