Artist Feature: Kathrin Teh

Kathrin Teh was in a funk. So she designed a funky bag.

Joss Arnott // Staff Writer

So how do you create? How do you make something new when your whole world is spinning out of control? Second-year IDEA School of Design student, Kathrin Teh,  accepted the chaos and created new boundaries.

Before quarantine, Teh could clearly separate her work from her personal life. But like many other people, the line that kept her life neatly segregated disappeared abruptly during quarantine. For many weeks, Teh struggled, and her work suffered. She wasn’t proud of her designs, and she knew that she needed to make a change. “It was hard to establish when it was time for me to work and when it was time for me to relax,” Teh said. 

Her solution was to recreate that separation within her own bedroom. She was finally able to focus by turning her desk into a space exclusively for work, and this let her reclaim her personal time. “I had to accept that this is the way things are going to be now and that there is nothing I can do to change it,” Teh said. “It’s better if I learn to adapt instead of mourning what I’ve lost.” 

Once Teh managed to adapt to her new reality, she had to find inspiration. She looked to last summer, when Teh visited Japan. It was the first time she’d been anywhere by herself, and she went for a month. She doesn’t speak any Japanese, but that didn’t stop her. “I was really inspired by the graphic design,” said Teh,  “a lot of it is really cutesy but also playful and I wanted to emulate that [in my work.]”

For the city-themed shopping bag that she designed for coursework, Teh drew her inspiration from Kyoto. The bag— which recently won an award in Applied Arts Magazine—features a logo designed by Teh alongside images she took in Kyoto of the Fushimi Inari Shrine. “The [orange] colour I chose is really prominent throughout Kyoto,” she explained. “It’s everywhere—it’s on shrines, it’s on lampposts, it’s on street signs—it’s everywhere.”

After Teh broke out of her slump, she was eager to keep designing and has kept  creating new things over the summer. Her goal is to design at least one new thing a week.

Teh’s process is to initially sketch out ideas for everything, from new brands of tequila to space agency posters in a drawing pad. After Teh decides on a name for her new design she figures out the brand’s identity, which comprises themes Teh wants to incorporate and embody in the design. Teh then needs to figure out exactly what she’ll need to incorporate into her design to make them as accurate as possible. Once Teh’s done this, she brings all of her research and sketches together and finalizes her concept digitally with Adobe or other apps. Teh’s large portfolio is a testament to her work ethic, while her simple yet playful designs speak to her travels in Japan as well as her own personal style.

“Graphic design is really everywhere, it’s in everything that you see,” Teh mentioned as she recalled one of her first art classes. “It’s a very integral part of our society.”

The work that goes into creating even the simplest of designs is something most people rarely take the time to think about, but the ability to create a design that sells requires not just skill, but hard work and diligence. 

See other artists features, like our feature on Coralie Mayer-Traynor, here.

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