Last year I did a 2021 year in review. I explained how I went from bedridden curmudgeon to a writer and illustrator. If 2021 was the year I started digital art, then 2022 has been the year I went all out trying to monetise it.
I'm always anxious about financially supporting myself. I miss the stability of a monthly salary. I miss the stability of a healthy body. The combo of being an artist whose income fluctuates month to month and a sickly hag whose health flares means I get nervous about how much is in the bank for rainy days (and even sunny days). Therefore, in 2022 I focused on achieving financial stability... whatever that means.
Along the way, I realised that I had an issue with the word "enough". I worked on rewarding and wonderful projects in 2022, many from which I profited nicely, but I never felt like I was doing enough or had enough to feel satisfied. This year, I broke through a wall. I took a step back and realised that I'm okay with what I already have, I'm okay with what I've already done, and I'm okay with who I already am. If I earn, do, or become more, then great, but if I don't, then I'm just as satisfied.
With that in mind, let's get into some highlights from 2022.
Partnering with Lion Rock Press
I met the wonderful Claire Yates from the Lion Rock Press in December of 2021 when I was pushing my book The Hong Konger Anthology into more stores. The LRP team consigned my book but also offered to do all my open series prints. Prior to teaming up with the LRP, I used a print-on-demand service to print and ship my open series Hong Kongers. The main issue was, these prints shipped from Riga. Yes, as in Latvia.
Licensing my prints to the LRP to print and ship was a game changer. No more customer service issues about prints stuck in Latvian customs. No more long delivery times. No more sub-par packaging. The Lion Rock Press elevated the game not only for prints but also for merch. Within a year, we also made a 2023 The Hong Konger calendar (buy one get one free for HK $350) and boxsets of greeting cards ($150).
Working with the LRP team has taught me so much. They are meticulous experts, and as someone with no professional background in retail and printing, their guidance and insights were invaluable.
Exhibiting at the Affordable Art Fair with Young Soy Gallery
In August, I exhibited The Hong Konger at the Affordable Art Fair. All six of my prints sold out within four hours, so Young Soy started using my book The Hong Konger Anthology to sell more. I was giving a Make Your Own Hong Konger workshop while all this was going down so had no idea until after the workshop ended.
I also made The Hong Konger Wall mural at the whole Affordable Art Fair. I drew 216 real people over two months doing the finger heart in profile. It became a fan favourite during the Fair and the 216 Hong Kongers were able to download their portraits for free. I even made friends with many of the muralites, hanging out with them in Hong Kong and even San Francisco (hey Elmy!)
Collaborating with Sophia the Robot on NFTs for the Women's Foundation
If you've ever heard me speak about NFTs, you know I'm a sceptic, but I couldn't pass up the offer to work with Sophia the Robot on a collection, especially if I could also justify that it was for charity. Hanson Robotics' AI Robot and I co-created NFTs with me, the human, using digital art and her, the robot, using fine art.
The feature piece from the collection, $OPH, sold at auction on Sotheby's for HK $82,200, and the full collection of $OPH, Stamp Beauty, and Stamp of Approval exhibited at the Digital Art Fair in Central. We raised money for The Women's Foundation through sales of the NFTs, some of which would go to the charity's Girls Go Tech programme, which empowers and trains young girls in STEM and computing.
Publishing my first children's book as K11 ARTUS's Artist in Residence
I stayed at K11 ARTUS for 12 days in January as their Artist in Residence. I was supposed to create art, maybe some more Hong Kongers or something, but in the end, felt so inspired by the stories behind the artworks and sculptures at the residence that I decided to write a children's book.
The Heist of Hooded Light launched in October and tells the story of two young guests to ARTUS who help solve a mystery surrounding one of the actual sculptures on the premises. This was my attempt to increase Hong Kong representation in children's English-language literature. The book is available for free here or in paperback and hardback forms on Amazon.
Becoming a Young Change Maker Award finalist for the American Chamber of Commerce's Women of Influence Awards
I got nominated for the Young Change Maker Award in September but wasn't sure it would lead to anything. I try very hard not to fixate on awards or trophies since I used to be very "title-oriented" and thus anxious. However, I was taking a break in September from a busy summer doing commissions and the Affordable Art Fair, so had time to pull together an application.
I was chuffed to get an email saying I had been shortlisted, then even more chuffed when I saw it was alongside my good friend Stephanie Ng from Body Banter and the ridiculously talented Bailey Cherry from ReBooked.
Launching a new donation program
In December, I started co-sharing a loft space in Wong Chuk Hang. Given that I used to live way out in east Kowloon, having a space closer to Central allowed me to start hosting exhibitions in my own studio space. Without relying on galleries or third-party brokers to exhibit my work, I was able to launch a new initiative where I donate 20% of independently sold Hong Konger to local Hong Kong charities. Within a week of its launch, collectors of The Hong Konger had raised over HK $67,000 for local communities.
Moving to San Francisco
Here's the biggest milestone of 'em all! I moved 16 hours back in time and 6930 miles west and now live with my partner after two long Coviddy years apart. Why on earth would I do that? Because it ties into the whole "enough" thing I wanged on about earlier.
I know I look able-bodied and energetic, but that is largely a front. I am in bed 3 to 4 days a week because of my autoimmune and chronic illnesses. While I love Hong Kong, it is not a city built for disabled people culturally, socially, or physically. I know I could stay and make HK more accessible, but staying isn't a pre-req to doing that. I'm only helpful if I'm healthy, so I'm going to be healthy gosh darn it.
Most of the time, I am a face behind a screen. A lot of social activity is inaccessible to me, so many social engagements happen over Zoom. In 2021, I realised that since I'm always behind a screen anyway, why not reunite with my partner in a city that is far more accessible and accommodative of my disabilities?
I do feel the pressure to be "in it to win it", to show my face and build my brand in my hometown, but when I focus on the toll that takes on my body, I am reminded of how much more important it is to be healthy and take pleasure in the little things of my quiet life rather than push myself in pursuit of I'm-not-even-sure-what.
And as 2022 tick-tocks into 2023, I'm working to be grateful for the opportunities I had to do all the aforementioned cool shit. It's a privilege.
Update: Spencer (my partner) just read this and said, "This is nice, but I'm surprised you didn't highlight any of the lows." A very strong point given that Spencer has seen his fair share of my freak-outs, stress bouts, and cry-it-outs this year. I guess this addendum is to acknowledge that a.) there were definitely lows; this wasn't a smooth sailing year, but b.) for someone who usually fixates on the bad, I'm pretty pleased I forgot to focus on the negatives while writing this.