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Meet Sandy (Wu) Nguyen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandy (Wu) Nguyen.

Sandy, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My name is Sandra but my friends call me Sandy. I’m an artist, illustrator and graphic designer based in LA.  I hope that reading my story will inspire someone to explore their creative side – even if that means exploring it for the first time.

I am the daughter of two immigrants from opposite sides of the world. My mother is from Mexico and my father is a refugee from the Vietnam war. Growing up was difficult as we were poor, but my parents worked hard to give me and my siblings a good life. I knew how hard it was for my parents to navigate the world without a college degree, so I made it my life goal to attend a top University and make them proud parents of a doctor.

UCLA graciously accepted me (go Bruins!) and I enrolled as a Biology major. I soon realized medicine wasn’t for me. I pivoted my degree to a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology. Having absolutely no idea what I wanted to do “as an adult” and possessing no real “skills”, I started working as an admin at a financial management firm in Beverly Hills. If there was something I was good at, it was organizing and cleaning.

That began my six years in the world of entertainment finance management. Business management ended up being something I was exceptional at. Before I knew it I had my own clients and was on the Advisory Board for the firm. It was a struggle for me to come to terms with the fact that being good at a something doesn’t mean you should be doing that for the rest of your life. My mentors and coworkers at Freemark Financial were close, like family, but deep-down accounting didn’t drive my curiosity. I was consistently anxious and could never express myself creatively. I was making money, but did it really matter? I started looking inward and asked myself, when the last time I enjoyed learning? I realized it was when I studied Anthropology at UCLA. So at 25, a quarter life crisis led me to look for new career options in the world of UX design.

I immediately enrolled myself in General Assembly’s ten-week bootcamp and quit my job. Once I finished the program, I realized I was in no way ready to apply for jobs as a junior UX designer. UX design came intuitively to me because the basis of UX is rooted in anthropological study. But it seemed most successful UX designers had at least some background in graphic design, and I had not done any since high school. I needed more practice.

I was determined to teach myself the entire Adobe Creative Suite over the course of the next year and found a job at 72andSunny in their finance department. The least I could do was surround myself with creatives while pursuing my dreams. I found designers like Zak Bam, who is now a lifelong friend, that would let me shadow him while he worked. I took a calligraphy workshop with Gemma O’Brien and fell in love with calligraphy. I learned that Designers, Illustrators, and Hand letterers could have their own agents! This was something I never knew was possible. I vowed to myself to be creative every single day. During this year, I also fell in love with the Adobe Creative Suite (particularly Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop). 72andSunny was not too fond of me switching from finance to creative, so I thought it was time to move on.

I created my own brand as a case study, makingmirrors.ai (.ai is a play on the Adobe Illustrator filetype). I used my skills in business management to set up myself for success. I created a bunch of work that I thought clients would gravitate toward. I even created my own imessage sticker app, Sandy’s Stickers. I often would go to the UCLA design library to study textbooks on typography, grids, color theory, and design systems. I am a firm believer that you can teach yourself anything if you have the determination. I am constantly reading books, teaching myself new crafts, and learning from anyone that will give me the time of day.

It has been three years since I created makingmirrors.ai. I now have my own clients, two murals (Labobatory in Pasadena and Woodsboss Brewery in Colorado), and currently working on my own font. I love working with the non-profit Elimu Girls, which provides scholarships and sewing machines to girls in the coastal towns of Eastern Kenya. I helped them launch their website last month, you can check it out at ElimuGirls.com!

My partner, Eric Wu, has been relentlessly supportive of my career change. He proposed in Tokyo, Japan in March 2019 and our wedding was postponed indefinitely due to COVID19. Over the past three years he has been teaching himself coding in Unity and is currently in the process of preparing for interviews after releasing his own virtual reality basketball game, Hooplord (available on Steam).

On March 1st, before the COVID19 pandemic, was the first time I was able to participate in a public gallery showing of my art. Hundreds of people showed up and I was able to sell a few pieces. After that day, I feel like I can finally identify myself as an artist.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I’ve struggled to find mentors in design and the art world. Coming from a place with no connections, networking, or formal education, I’ve been putting myself out there as much as I can just to find peers. If you are reading this, reach out! Let’s be friends.

I also struggled a lot in the beginning with not knowing my worth. I think I still struggle with it to some extent. There were a lot of free gigs I accepted while I was still learning, where I look back and see that I was definitely being taken advantage of. In those formative times, I learned very quickly and didn’t make any significant income from art or design. I think for me, it was a necessary learning experience. I work at my old business management firm as a consultant to pay the bills. Working two (sometimes three!) jobs at once hasn’t been easy, but I really think it’s starting to pay off as more of my time is spent focused on creative jobs.

makingmirrors.ai. – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition
makingmirrors is a boutique design studio based in LA. We build meaningful and strategic brand identities, websites, and print solutions for growing small businesses. I collaborate with business owners to create aesthetically pleasing end-to-end user experiences for their brands. Together, we create a complete team. You with your experience and professional understanding of your ideal clients, and me with my blend of design, business, development, and digital marketing expertise. I am here to provide you with the professional support and guidance that you need to elevate your brand. I think my financial background really gives me a unique perspective to any project.

I love using the latest technologies to create art. For example, my Labobatory mural was planned on my iPad using vector format drawings, so the characters and icons that I used can be infinitely scaled to a 15 foot by 15-foot mural or to a 3 inch by 3-inch sticker. Same goes for all my art, they are all vector based which allows infinite scaling and printing.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I wish I started drawing every day earlier. Drawing is really a hard skill that really needs to be practiced every day. I think at the beginning of my career, I wasn’t as serious about drawing. Now I know the importance and wish I practiced every day, but you got to start somewhere!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photos by my sister, a professional self-made photographer :). https://chrystalnguyen.com/

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