We chatted to multi-disciplined and multi-talented designer Sinead Yau to talk travel, the 60s and 70s and dreams of being a mortuary make up artist!
1. Vintage style has clearly influenced your design process. What is it about the past that captures your imagination?
My Nan was a young adult in the 60s and 70s and when I was little she used to let me try on her old dresses. My Nan’s house was like stepping into a time warp and I remember hanging out in her lavender coloured bedroom, admiring the floral patterned bed linen and towels that she had kept from that era. Looking at photos of my family, I always admired how much effort they put into their styling and makeup just for everyday outings. Past treasures such as book jacket covers, the smell of vintage shops, bold lined illustrations, curvaceous font styles to music had so much soul in comparison to some of those things today, and even though I didn’t grow up during that time, I always feel a sense of nostalgia.
2. Describe your perfect day.
Getting up early to a perfect, cloudless blue sky.
Having a clean and tidy house.
Eating a well balanced breakfast that gives me lots of energy.
Catching up with a good friend for tea and pastries and to see an art show.
Having an empty task list and laundry basket.
Having a good book that I’m really into.
Completing at least 5 pieces of creative work.
Being productive, so by the end of the day I have achieved the above.
3. You’ve recently returned to London after being based in Vancouver, Canada. You clearly love to travel. Where’s your favourite place in the world to be?
This is a tough one as I’ve travelled a fair but, but what I would mention here is the U.S. Historic Route 66 road trip I embarked on a few years back with my husband. It’s an unpredictable and exciting route, coined as the Mother road, which ran from Chicago to California from the 1920s before the Interstate Highway System was created. With the US laden with such rich biodiversity, your landscapes are always changing. We drove along parts of the scenic bypass between Arizona and California and within a few hours we witnessed big shaggy bear palms, colossal saguaro cactuses, a jungle of joshua trees, the red sandstone rock formations of Sedona and sand dunes on the outskirts. The art was something else too when we feasted our eyes upon the amazing Salvation Mountain, and captured the surreal loneliness of Bombay Beach.
4. If you had a time machine that could take you anywhere, where would you go and what would you do?
I would have to travel back the 60s or 70s era and see what it was like to fly in style. Flying was a major deal back then and the interiors of some aircraft were a stunning array of deep reds, rusts and rich pinks. I love textures, especially velvet, suede and dense teddy textiles. I could visualise plush rugs and swirly patterned carpets. I would opt for the Air Hostess life because their uniforms and accessories were simply gorgeous and their styling was quite an art form. I would probably touch down in Hawaii to check out the local tiki lounges, adorning hibiscus hairwear and sipping a Mai Tai or two. Soon after, jetting into the sunshine state of California where I would purchase pretty frocks for cocktail parties and private art exhibits, then spend a few mornings swimming in the warm pools of garden club resorts. Leaving the Joshua trees of Cali behind for Miami to party in a mid-century house with a sunken living room!
5. What gets your juices flowing as an artist?
Drawing inspiration from others motivates me to create. Instagram is an excellent platform for finding lots of creatives with different design styles. I really respect the work style of some of the small businesses and passionate creatives that I have been fortunate to find. This gives me the motivation to continue creating, knowing there is an audience, even if it’s a small following. Indirect sources of inspiration might come from a conversation I hear between two people, a shop window display or the name of a song that I’d love to illustrate. I try to find inspiration in everything but sometimes it can be overwhelming, so I jot them down in a notebook that I later visit. Other things that get my juices flowing are unfamiliar areas, astrology, anything cosmic, railside graffiti, street art, and markets; all of which are catalysts for creative output.
6. Describe your working routine – studio, kitchen table, caffeinated beverage of choice, music, silence?
I like working in inviting and warm spaces. Nothing like a charming cosy cafe with decent lighting to help maintain the flow of creating. Once I worked in a tiny damp office without a window, which was formerly a bathroom and to be honest I never got much done! When I’m at home working, I like music to be playing or a chatty podcast to make it feel like there’s a presence. And of course English breakfast tea!
7. We’re enjoying your 80s geometric-inspired illustrations, how did the idea for these come about?
When I taught Design & Technology in a London Secondary school back in 2012, one of the curriculum themes for my year 9 Product Design class was Memphis. I was fascinated by the bold colours, eccentric style and geometric shapes and drew much of my inspiration from the Memphis Design Group. My students designed and manufactured their own laser cut jewellery range complete with designed packaging and glass pendant. Currently I am teaching the same theme with my students in Vancouver, but this time with Memphis-inspired clocks.
8. What do you think it takes to make a good artist?
Finding a style that works for you and having an open-mind that allows you to accept failure when things don’t work out, which you can learn from. Experimenting with a range of mediums – a mistake can become a work of art. Sometimes a design opportunity comes your way that you’re not so keen on, but you’re still gaining experience and getting your design identity out there, as long as it doesn’t completely stray from your style. Being modest and humble about your work, and gaining inspiration from other creative practitioners, but also crediting them if you happen to use their work in any way. Being positive about your work and putting it out there even if you think it’s too weird or wacky.
9. Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people.
For a while in my early teens, I was obsessed with wanting to be a make-up artist for the dead. In general I always want to please people by ensuring I’m doing a good job, but with that, comes anxiety and pressure, so a way of relieving that feeling would have been to work on the deceased, that way they wouldn’t be able to tell if their winged eyeliner was a bit wonky.
10. What’s the last thing that made you say ‘wow’?
Probably a very common response but it has to be Stranger Things 2. I’m envious of those kids getting to act in one of the best TV series ever!
Secondly, in the world of luxury fashion I have to say I am super impressed with the way Gucci’s style has reinvented itself since Alessandro Michele became Creative Director. I’m not super into designer fashion, but I have splurged once in a blue moon when funds permit. The direction Gucci has taken in the past few years has really resonated with me, and even better that a few high street brands have echoed their style, which means it is more financially viable. I love the geometric patterns clashing with stripes, the pussy bow ties, lace bibs, pleats, coloured suede tassels, rainbow mania and antique gold hardware. It’s super groovy and ultimately so 70s, which is right up my street.