Latest Project: Draguignan, Saint Hermentaire, the dragon, and Atlas Obscura

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

In 2013, in the middle of my Home trip, I took a quick trip to France with my brother and cousin to visit family in their tiny town of Draguignan. It was a much-needed break after going through the eastern coast and southern states of America and getting to visit family, who happened to love the beach, was nice. Unfortunately, my brain never turned off from ethnographic interviewing mode and I asked my cousin’s husband, who grew up in Draguignan, too many questions.

For instance, why is Draguignan’s coat of arms a dragon? Why is there dragon imagery everywhere in Draguignan? Why is Draguignan surrounded by a lot of cities named after saints?

A mural in Draguignan, France, depicting a couple landmarks in the town, including the Dolmen Pierre de la fée, a Celtic structure on the bottom left, the clocktower, the church, and the red coat of arms in the top right.

Well, it turns out, Draguignan got its name when Saint Hermentaire pulled up and murdered a dragon to free the people. I found this endlessly fascinating. I mean, why wasn’t the city named after Saint Hermentaire, like how its neighboring cities of Sainte Maxime and Saint Tropez are?

I always wanted to document it somehow – it was in my Notes app since 2013. I took this picture of the city with some undetermined future project in mind, I just knew I wanted to put a dragon in there.

 
 

Predictably, this project kept getting pushed down and down, because of the second leg of my Home project, then because I had to find a job.

Fast forward to the spring of 2019 and Atlas Obscura puts out a call for submissions to get a $15,000 grant to go on a journey to learn, explore, and grow. This seemed like an amazing opportunity to really dig into my unknown passion for etymology and the folk stories that they’re based off. I spent weeks writing, rewriting, and editing my essay to get it just right. I consulted friends to read it and give me feedback, and then I rewrote and edited it some more. I submitted my mission a day before the deadline and heard back the next day:

Hello,

Thank you for submitting a proposal for Atlas Obscura’s First Journey prize. It was an absolute pleasure reviewing so many excellent, inspiring journeys. Unfortunately, your proposal was not selected as a semifinalist. We do hope you get a chance to make your journey.

Yours in Wonder,
Atlas Obscura

It stinks not even being long-listed, but I was really proud of my writing, so here it is in full.

While visiting family in Draguignan, France, I asked my cousin why there was so much dragon imagery around this village. He said back in 400 AD, the tiny mountain town in southern France was constantly terrorized by a small, but fierce, dragon. A bishop, now known as Saint Hermentaire, slew the lizard and freed all the villagers, and that's how Draguignan got its name.

This tale stuck with me because as an advertising art director, I've been telling the same brand stories about antacid tablets and nasal strips for years. Sadly, my 30-second commercials won’t be passed down generations like Draguignan’s origin story. Those kind of tales are fragile and rely on oral traditions to keep folk history alive.

My parents told me about some Vietnamese folktales growing up, but not enough to have a deep, emotional connection – a majority of the stories I know are from the West. As I journey across Southeast Asia, I want to find more cultural and traditional history to help people see the richness in regions not often represented in the States.

These stories are sometimes hidden in plain sight in the etymology of the city's name, or featured by the city's folk art, statues, temples, or plaques. Other times, they have to be hunted down by talking to the locals and listening to their oral history.

After gathering these stories, I'd like to preserve them in writing, and visualize them with videos, photographs, and illustrations.

Spreading these folk histories to the Atlas Obscura audience will help preserve them, and broaden the readers’ minds and understanding of Asian cultures in the most human way possible – a story. 

Thank you.

So here I am in the summer of 2019, slowly working on personal work on the docket, thinking about how instead, I could’ve been traveling around Southeast Asia for three months on a new project that I’m passionate about. I never got to share my vision with Atlas Obscura, but while I have you, here’s the Draguignan dragon.

First I started with the image and a sketch on my iPad. I have a particular way I always draw dragons, but I had to check how this particular dragon has been depicted throughout art and adjust it, because this little guy was always a little menacing, at various sizes, with a curly tail, two legs, no arms, wings, and two horns.

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I wanted to explore new ways and styles to illustrate while keeping my look, so I experimented with new Kyle brushes (dry media pastels this time) and ways to outline and draw.

Draguignan, 2019. Digital
(Click to enlarge)

Though I didn’t get the $15,000 grand prize, or even the $500 runners-up prize, I’m still happy with where I ended up, and the winner is very deserving and will have a great journey.

Anyway, if you want to donate to my journey to do that other thing I wanted to do, here’s a button to drop some pennies in until I get $15,000.

#Lets Get Nathan Hoang $15,000 to go to Southeast Asia to do that Project!

A huge thanks to Casey, Conor, Trent, Paul, and Mark for reading and rereading my essay for me. Y’all are exempt from donating $15,000 to me.

Latest Project: Scrap Medal (dot) com

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

According to DNS records and receipts, I owned the url ScrapMedal.com since September 2011. My best guess as to why I ever thought to buy it when unemployed, living in New York City was because I was just buying a bunch of URLs to make single-serving Tumblrs and this one time when I was working as a dental assistant during the 2008 recession, a woman came in and asked if any of us had any scrap metal and I was like, “Oh yeah, I do,” and her eyes lit up and I took her to my car and popped open my trunk and I showed her a bunch of broken rear suspensions because at the time, my car kept falling apart and I didn’t want to just throw it away, I wanted to scrap it properly and she was like, “What is this?” and I was like, “Car parts,” and she meant, “Oh, I meant…like…gold,” and I was like, “Oh no…I’m not going to give you gold.”

I thought she was looking for scrap metal like the legendary, hometown favorite C&D Scrap Metal guys who advertise during Houston Rockets games, whose tagline is, “We’ll pay you in two-dollar bills!” I don’t get the appeal of getting paid in $2 bills, because you can get them at the bank, but their ads are the best and I wanted to get paid in $2 bills for my rear suspensions, so advertising works.

Anyway, that’s how I ended up with the url ScrapMedal.com.

I sat on it for six years, trying to find a use for it. I tried to pitch an idea to the agency to melt all their Cannes Lions to make a giant sword, but it didn’t move forward. So there it sat for two more years, just forwarding to nathanhoang.com with no home.

Finally, just days before I was set to move to Amsterdam for a few months, I gathered up my trophies, medals, and certificates, and quickly took pictures of them in the apartment.

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I wrote about all my wins and accomplishments (I hated that) then quickly made a logo.

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At last, after at years of cybersquatting, instead of forwarding to nathanhoang.com, it now forwards to nathanhoang.com/scrap-medal.

Latest Project: Ego's Houndstooth

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I learned about tessellations in the fourth grade and got to make my own as a class assignment. I loved my creation so much because it had a squiggly mouth and a squiggly tail and little arms and feet. I explored the houndstooth tessellation a couple times as an adult in my projects like when I made pattern playing cards or drew one of Ego’s Deck Dreams, but I never understood why it was called “houndstooth.”

I also never found adequate satisfaction with my houndstooth exploration, and decided to try one more time. After a false start in January, I got back into it in March because of the excitement building around my in-agency gallery show, Ego’s Dreams. This time, not as a joker or deck dream, but a shirt.

It wasn’t going to just be a plain houndstooth t-shirt, though. It was going to be one where the teeth get yanked off by a hound. I don’t know if Ego ever did this with anything that wasn’t food, but if there’s internet content I love, it’s dogs feeling shame for tearing up the house.

So I started with one of the houndstooth shapes I drew before and pasted it into a new document (I think this is how a lot of chefs make their stock, right? I have no idea) and then pulled down a bunch of houndsteeth and warped them all individually. There is not a single repeated houndstooth in this pile.

I was watching  You  at the time on Netflix. It’s not a good show, but it got me through.

I was watching You at the time on Netflix. It’s not a good show, but it got me through.

Next was to draw this dog. Drawing Ego as the culprit, even though she’s a good girl, was hard for some reason. I couldn’t get the shapes and angles right in Illustrator so I had to freehand it on Procreate and import it in.

Trying to draw a dog in Illustrator while watching simultaneous Houston basketball games (one in NCAA March Madness, and there other in an NBA regular season) is hard.

Trying to draw a dog in Illustrator while watching simultaneous Houston basketball games (one in NCAA March Madness, and there other in an NBA regular season) is hard.

From there, I drew her from two perspectives. Front and back.

1) The red dog on the upper left was the first version. 2)The red outline was imported from the freehand sketch. 3) Then she was outlined and refined to get the proportions and curves right. 4) Then I flipped her and drew her from the back.

1) The red dog on the upper left was the first version.
2)The red outline was imported from the freehand sketch.
3) Then she was outlined and refined to get the proportions and curves right.
4) Then I flipped her and drew her from the back.

Then I had to make sure it was good in the t-shirt template. (These images are from Printful’s mock-up generator).

I had the produced shirt in my possession for months but never found a day to wear it until my last day at Grey New York, when I decided to debut it.

I have no documentation of it, unlike the time I wore my Love Yourself dog shirts, except I just remembered I was inexplicably locked out of my computer that day so I snuck out to the Poster House after lunch and took some green screen photo booth pictures at their museum. So I do have pictures of it. Here you go.

Since I’m cursed with doing things in threes, I suspect two more different iterations will be made at some point.

Latest Photos: Washington State

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I’m really liking this part in my life where I accidentally revisit all the parts of America I glanced over while on my trip, like that time I went to Albuquerque with a personal, local tour guide, or when I got to go to St. Louis and film a commercial inside the City Museum.

This time, I got to go back to Washington state for a wedding in Spokane. But while in Spokane, why not visit my good friends Joseph and Yuwi in Seattle, and hike Mount Rainier a bit, and then rent a car and visit that weird Bavarian town in the middle of nowhere two hours east of Seattle, and then finish the drive to Spokane in time for the wedding? Then why not spend an extra day after wedding to keep driving east to go to C’oeur D’Alene, Idaho, and maybe that weird rest stop/gift shop/motel in Montana that was advertised all over the interstate like a Buc-ee’s, Silver Dollar 50,000$?

There’s no good reason as to why not, so I did all that.

Shout out to Joe and Yuwi who are accidentally building a Noah’s ark, collecting two of every animal in their apartment, yet still accommodating me. And David and his wife Kristin for that wedding in the mountains. And when my BBH pal, Brian Moore tweeted how he was on an episode of Reply All and then I was listening to that episode, and in the middle of that interview, I ran into THAT VERY BRIAN MOORE in the book store. And to Oscar for begrudgingly hiking, despite hating every bit of it after the first half mile. And Jacob for riding a baby gondola despite hating heights. And the Toronto Raptors for doing that.

Latest Project: Bookplate

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Sometime in the late 2000s, my friend Camille told me how she usually reads books. Not like read read, but how she archives books.

Up till that point, I had only wrote a short, jokey review on goodreads.com and if I was up to it, write the biggest takeaway I got from the book on an index card and stuck it under the inside cover.

Camille’s method was to take an artifact of the time of when you read it, like the bookstore receipt, perhaps, or a café napkin and that would be your bookmark. Then on the inside cover, write the date you finished the book. It all gives context to where you were mentally, physically, and emotionally, when you read the book in case you ever want to go back through your library to reread it.

We were supposed to make bookplates together at some point but we never got to it. She likes paperback, I like hardcover, what are you going to do.

Also, bookplates scare me. They’re so permanent. My parents have a big, vast, library, but they don’t really have a bookplate – they have an embossing stamp. It’s subtle, sleek, and very cool. My mom got me a bookplate ink stamp as a kid from the book fair, but the thought of desecrating a perfect book with an ink stamp seems awful to me. I don’t even use a pencil to solve a maze in activity books, I just use my eyes.

But then after seeing Casey Neistat “destroy” his belongings with a Sharpie, and living with my roommate Casey (another Casey), I began to understand that things are just things. I always did Camille’s archival bookmark method, but then I slowly began writing behind book covers with the date I finished it.

Anyway, I recently bought a physical book for the first time in a long time because it wasn’t available in any electronic formats. This time, in addition to the bookmark, and date finished, I also added date bought, so it wouldn’t seem like a was too slow of a reader. (I am.)

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Then I remembered those bookplates I was supposed to make but never got to.

So I made some stickers from StickerApp and it works ok. It can smear and it doesn’t have enough room for me to write my biggest takeaway or a jokey review of the book, but I was able to add a third date, marking when I started reading, because I am obsessed with documentation.

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Latest Project: Ego's Dream Gallery

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

When I first started at Grey in 2014, my desk was right next to a conference room that had floor-to-ceiling glass panes and a giant bed in it. The agency lore was that when Grey moved their office to Flatiron, a bed was errantly delivered to them and they just kept it.

Since then, it has changed into an Instagram sideways installation room, a room with a couch and a Playstation, and most recently, an art gallery featuring stuff people in the agency do outside of the agency, called Outside This Box.

Through the grapevine, my partner Conor threw my name over to Denise Da Curator, to take a look at my stuff and she loved Ego’s Deck Dreams. And then to tie the show together, Denise wanted to include Ego’s Delft Dreams, the accidental sequel to the series that showed Ego’s new life as a Dutch lady.

As a simple request, Denise asked if I could supply, like, maybe a few more paintings of Ego. Something both she and I knew could be done very quickly.

So during jury duty where I sat in one giant room all day while the mounted TVs were playing fried, bootleg episodes of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America, that were manipulated so that YouTube couldn’t detect a copyright infringement, I drew Ego a bunch of times, and was never picked to even have the possibility of being picked to be a juror.

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Then I went through my usual process routine of importing the Procreate files into Photoshop while watching something in the background, this time was the University of Houston playing, winning, and advancing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

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Next step was to help Denise Da Gawd hang the prints up and after it was all done, I couldn’t stop thinking how good it all looked. Not just the art, but the print quality (shoutout to Joe in the Studio, best in the biz) and the selects that Denise told me she carefully pored over to get the tone and vibes juuuuuuuust right, and the color story that you get walking through the former bedroom and seeing every piece.

So if you happen to be by the International Toy Center in the late spring months of 2019, pop in and see if I’m around and I’ll get you a guest pass to come up to see it. It’ll be weird, but you just have to act natural, ok?

(And don’t get it confused with the Grey Art Gallery down by Washington Square like I did when I first started.)

Latest Project: @Grey Instagram (Part 2)

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Almost two years to the week after my first takeover of Grey’s instagram, I decided to do it once more. I was asked if I’d do illustrations again, but I didn’t have the time. But I did have a 3D camera. Last takeover’s concept was setting up your out-of-office message while you get ready for the summer. Some initial themes I wanted for this takeover were:

  • Wish you were here

  • Goodbye New York, or Why I’m Leaving New York, or New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

  • Sad dogs tied up in front of restaurants and stores

I ended up going with none of those and just took my camera out for a walk, and did it live, as they say.

Below are images from my Grey Instagram Takeover™. Please note that the guidelines say that any posted images need to be achromatic (GREYscale), but I asked, “How bout not.” And they were like, “Sure.”

Below that are outtakes I wish I could have posted but couldn’t or chose not to.


Takeover May 14-19, 2019


Outtakes

I contemplated posting old 3D, stereographs of my travels to Albuquerque and Bangkok and wherever, but the streets demanded fresh content. I forgot how fun walking around New York with a camera was. I accidentally walked through an Alan Yang rally in Washington Square Park; ran into my barber at her new location during my lunch break and popped in for an impromptu trim; saw soccer games from leagues to pick-up, shirts-versus-skins game; ran into my friends I hadn’t seen since they got married; and all that weird, charming New York City stuff you see when you walk from Flatiron to the 9/11 Memorial.

A lot of people stopped and ask me what kind of lens I was using. Like a lot. But my favorite was a guy who was hanging out with his girlfriend at the Sara Delano Roosevelt Park by the soccer fields. After explaining the dual lens to him, he thanked me and said I should hurry up and get that golden hour light.

When I leave New York City, these photos will take me back and make me wish I was still here and I might never know what that weird orange pipe coming out of the sewer is. Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.

Bonus: I got to post this on the Grey Instagram story. By far my greatest work there.

 

Latest Project: Five Boro Bike Tour 2019 (What I Talk About When I Talk About Biking 40 Miles In The Rain Only To End Up Back Where I Started)

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

I’ve been affected by the Five Boro Bike Tour a couple times in the eight years I’ve lived in New York: once when I was living in East Village and was invited to a post-race lunch nearby where my friends were celebrating their medals and I ended up paying way more than what I ordered because it was a big group and it was easier to split the check than line-item the receipt and that’s when I said I’d never eat in a big party with them ever again, and another time when I was on my way to get bagels in Greenpoint and the road ahead of me was closed and people were cheering with cowbells and stuff. It didn’t affect my ability to get bagels at all, I just felt like they were cheering me on as well.

The Five Boro Bike Tour was always on my to-do list, and since I fell in love with the Dutch’s bicycling culture, and since I could easily access my bike at my new Bed Stuy apartment, and since I realized I never spent meaningful minutes on Staten Island, I decided 2019 seemed like a good year as any to get it off my list.

While working on an NYC parade r map project, I traced the Five Boro Bike Tour route and it seemed like a doozy but also really fun.

While working on an NYC parade r map project, I traced the Five Boro Bike Tour route and it seemed like a doozy but also really fun.

The weather app had been predicting rain on May 5, for ten straight days. On the morning of the race, it was accurate for once, and it was raining pretty hard. There was no way I’d do this, I thought, I didn’t even really eat dinner the night before. And if lightning began to strike, it was all off.

I checked social media to see what people were doing, if anyone was even going, and if it was even worth it. I scrolled across a post by Al Roker, getting ready to bike these 40 miles across all five boroughs in the rain.

There was also no way I would let a man who shit himself in the White House do this thing while I lay in bed under the covers, especially after paying the registration fee. So I suited up, wore as much waterproof stuff as I could and hurried off to get to downtown Manhattan, cause my wave was about to go and they begin to shorten the route for traffic purposes later in the race.

I ran into a woman on the Fulton Street subway platform who leaned over to take a look at my hat and asked if I went to University of Houston. She did, too, class of 2007. That’s when I knew it was going to be a good day.

The tour started off nice and pleasant despite the rain, and people were cheery up until we got into Harlem, I think. That’s when reality set in for a lot of people, including me, that we were barely past the quarter way mark of the 40-mile race. My 3M rain jacket, light down vest, water-resistant sweatpants, and waterproof hiking shoes all eventually reached their saturation point and I was just one with nature.

There wasn’t much to do in the four hours, except to pedal the path and enjoy the occasional bands set up along the route to keep the good vibes going, so I had a lot to think about, like how when I still lived in Alief, I used to keep running diaries to keep track of my route, time, diet, and thoughts, on Google Maps.

Just to be clear, though these maps say “suicidal thoughts,” I never really have had genuine suicidal thoughts in my life. They were more expressions in the moment, like “I’d rather die than run right now.” A bit dramatic, I know, but just an expression.

After enough casual mentions and talking like this, one of my best friends asked me if I was serious because it concerned her, a continent and ocean away. One of my other best friends has real suicidal thoughts and it gave me pause and made me realize maybe I should stop being so cavalier about it.

And near the end of the Five Boro Bike Tour, almost onto Staten Island, at the crest of the Verrazzano Bridge, by far the toughest part of it all, was a sign that simply said, “Life is worth living.”

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After getting off the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, I could hear the big party going on at foot of the bridge that indicated the race was over. I couldn’t tell if I was a crying or if it was raining, but I was overwhelmed with emotion. I think I wanted to cry and was very close to it, but was also very cold, very tired, my legs were very cramped, and if I did cry, I’d lose even more vital fluids.

But I finally did it.

After I got the official medal and an emergency blanket, I realized there were, like, three more miles for the actual 40-mile finish to get onto the Staten Island Ferry. And by the greatness of my cousins who live in downtown Manhattan, I was able to shower, change into clean, dry clothes and get home safely.

Anyway, I wanted to dedicate the medal and my ride to all my friends who are suffering with mental health conditions who couldn’t be there with me. It’s physically tough to do a bicycle ride, sure, but to live with something that’s invisible, often overlooked, and stigmatized is much, much worse. I love y’all and whenever you’re up for it, we’ll get dinner to celebrate, but in parties of four or less, cause anything above that is just easier to split the check than line-item the receipt.

Be good to one another and check in on your friends from time to time.

Latest Updates: July 2017 to February 2019

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

My favorite podcast episodes are ones where they’re like, “We did this great reporting on all these stories and we just wanted to touch base, check in, reconnect, and update you on all these stories.” So that’s what we’re going to do: go far back into the /latest where updates would make sense, I’ll give a brief recap on the project and what the latest update is and will skip the ones that I’m too scared to start up again because it’s too daunting.

These updates are in chronological order, which is the opposite of the blog, and it’s strange that we’re forced to read things in reverse chronological order like that, but it worked for Memento, so I guess.


Summer Pattern 2017 (Birds and Bees)

RECAP: In the summer of 2017, I made two patterns, birds and bees.

UPDATE: I put it onto two bags: one where each pattern covers the entire canvas on both sides, and one where the pattern is shaped into a pyramid for the birds and a hexagon for the bees. After getting the two bags, I liked the minimal one more and put that in the shop, and gave the full-bleed bag to my mom cause she likes almost everything I make.

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Laser Chat

RECAT: I rescued a mass-produced painting from my apartment building’s trash room and painted a cat on it. I then rehung it in the building elevator and then it went missing.

UPDATE: My friend Mike took it because my other friends, Joe and Yuwi, couldn’t fit it in a box when they moved to Seattle!

 
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Ego on a Canal Boat

Recap: I painted a picture of Ego riding a canal boat leaving New York to go to Amsterdam and I cried so much.

UPDATE: I printed this out and gave it to her! Unfortunately, I didn’t think ahead and printed this out in imperial measurements so when Mark tried to frame this, he had to squeeze it to fit a picture frame measured in centimeters.


Latest Project: Frieds of March 2018

RECAP: I made an event called the Frieds of March

UPDATE: My work friends and I went around East Village. I don’t know why I didn’t document it thoroughly as I tend to document these sorts of dumb ideas, but I do have, like, eight different photos of me wearing a cat sweater with Pinot when I got home.


Line Star State

RECAP: I refreshed a previously designed version to make it cleaner and added another iteration that features a heart.

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UPDATE: I put the flag onto a hat and gave it a really cute name. That’s for sale, too.


Mud

RECAP: I made a painting of my favorite coffee place of all time using their own coffee.

UPDATE: They have (had) two other properties (RIP Mud Truck), and because I’m obsessed with doing things in threes, I rounded out the series.


Cats of New York

RECAT: I made a toile du jouy pattern featuring different cats of New York and called it, Cats of New York.

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UPDATE: I took my toile du jouy pattern featuring different cats of New York and made it into a sweater called, Cats of New York. Also in the shop.


Oriental Tailor Shop since 1976

RECAP: I made some ads honoring my parents and their shop they’ve owned since 1976.

UPDATE: I was going to buy ad space in a local magazine but that was going to cost a lot of money so I printed and frame them. I don’t know where they put them, I didn’t see it in the house, and I didn’t get to visit the shop when I went home for Tết, but I did find this jacket I used to wear in high school with my mom’s embroidery on the inside cause I used to lose stuff a lot. My dad wears it now.

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Delft Ego

RECAP: I drew a bunch of Delft-inspired tiles featuring Ego and her new European lifestyle.

Update: I visited Ego in November 2018 and gave these tiles to her! I also printed it onto a sweater because I guess I’m obsessed with all-over print sweaters now.

I also had a chance to go to the actual city of Delft where these traditional tiles are made. I learned that the tiles aren’t actually painted with any particular blue paint, but rather with cobalt oxide and when it’s heated in the kiln, that’s when it turns that Delft blue. Wow!

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Lắc Bầu Cua (2019 Year of the Pig)

RECAP: Tired of looking at the same, ugly game board we traditionally play during Tết, I made my own, which includes three dice.

UPDATE: I printed two boards, one for each side of the family. They loved it and I made a gambling profit for once. I also got an ovation from my family, they were so happy.


The Đặc Biệt Longevity Sweater

RECAP: I designed a sweater based on the dinnerware I used growing up.

UPDATE: The sweater was a hit. It wasn’t immediately clear to some that it was based on that bowl I’m cradling in my hand, but the rumors spread. I was also asked where I bought this and I said I made it, which impressed them twice over (after the custom Lắc Bầu Cua board), and my family was also impressed that I knew how to spell words in Vietnamese.

This isn’t for sale yet, but it will be soon. Won’t make an update post for that, don’t worry.

Latest Project: The Đặc Biệt Longevity Sweater

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

When I was at Leo Burnett New York, I sat next to a Japanese designer and one day, he had an epiphany and told Skyler and me, “I just realized why I like Chipotle. It’s because it has rice! So good, man…so good.” Years later I realized that was true for me, too. I’ll eat anything if it has rice: burrito bowls, pilaf, halal chicken over yellow rice, Rice Krispies Treats, anything. And though I’ve never tried “cauliflower rice,” I’d give it a shot.

If you grew up in a Southeast Asian home or ate in Chinatown or went grocery shopping in an Asian market, you surely saw on one of these ubiquitous patterns, adorned on plates, bowls, spoons and chopsticks, sometimes referred to as a longevity pattern. I mean – I ate all my rice out of this bowl my whole life. I don’t anymore, but I do get nostalgic for them. And that’s when I had an idea:

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THIS, I thought to myself, NEEDS TO BE ON AN ALL-OVER PRINT SWEATER.

And as I thought that, I accidentally shared the thought with a friend. And like any song that gets stuck in your head, the only way you can get it out is to express it, or in this case, put it on paper and eventually design the whole thing and get it printed and made into an actual thing that you can hold in your hands.

So that’s what I did.

It took a while, to clear the other projects off my to-do list, but with Tết looming, I skipped my usual Procreate process and went straight to Photoshop via Astropad Studio using Kyle’s brushes. I tried to find an Asian movie or show to watch to help me get in the right headspace, but the closest thing available was Murder on the Orient Express (2017), which was…fine.

Getting the balance and spacing between all the pattern lines was tough and took a while, and after fudging and shifting them around, I got it in a good place. Now I just had to do it three more times for the backside, right arm, and left arm templates. I decided that instead of just using the same front.psd file for the other three templates, I’d retrace it, because although this sweater is inspired by the “longevity” pattern, which is a mass-produced to the point that ensures its longevity long after this planet melts and drowns, each side has to be special.

I also wanted to replace the Chinese character in the center which said “longevity,” with “đặc biệt” (“special” in Vietnamese), because anyone who wears this is đặc biệt.

 
 

If you’ve ever seen a longevity plate or bought a Supreme one for $100, you’ll notice that there are other floral accents on the edges. I couldn’t put this flower on the sides of the sweater because the template has bleed, trim, and safety areas, so I painted them onto the elbows, and that’s how we ended up with this look:

And before we have a bad reaction to the cultural appropriating model, the sweater website uploads my images onto this stock man’s body so I can see it mocked up.

It’s strange. I was never big on AZN Pryde [sic] when I was growing up in middle school, but I thought the song “Got Rice,” was pretty good, and that was probably the closest I got to showing pride in being Asian. So the recent uptick in Asian-inspired projects has been out of the norm for me. It’s either because of the current political climate where the Trump administration wants to limit refugees and end birthright citizenship; or the smash hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians; or growing older and realizing that I have to understand my culture and traditions to pass it on to my cat or dog or whatever; or maybe it was after watching Ali Wong’s last stand-up special.

It’s hard to tell.

Latest Project: Lắc Bầu Cua (2019 Year of the Pig)

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Growing up, my dad’s side of the family brought all the games to my childhood. My aunt taught me how to play xiangqi (aka Chinese chess), tiến lên (aka VC or 13), and the perennial lunar new year game, lắc bầu cua.

Now if you don’t know how to play this game, it involves a three six-sided dice and a mat. Players put their bets down on what they think the dice landed on and they get paid out one-to-one. Oh, and the dice actually have animals instead of numbers. So you’re betting on animals like a deer, rooster, fish, crab, shrimp and also a random gourd. Not sure how a gourd convinced people that it deserved a spot but it’s in the name. I mean, the literal translation of lắc bầu cua is “shake gourd crab.” (The game goes by other names, but this is what I called it growing up.)

IMG_4165.jpg

Anyway, I spent a lot of time during Tết playing this game and it never struck me how ugly this board is. And it seems like this exact board is ubiquitous among every Vietnamese household. If not this one, then another one of the two, which are just as ugly.

Tired of looking at this thing, I decided to make my own. So as usual, I started with a sketch in Procreate.

Then I traced it in Photoshop via Astropad Studio using Kyle’s Halftone Brushes.

It’s a good start, but when I worked on the Nicorette pitch, I learned that smoking is actually really cool. I knew that when I read comic books in the 90s, and I knew that when I drew a bunch of animals smoking a cigarette all over my Nicorette brief. So I added some much needed swagger to these guys.

Oh hell yeah.

As a present to my families, I ordered these boards and dice for the coming new year, and I’m also considering making this an annual tradition. Will it be available in the /shop? Find out in the Year of the Rat!

Latest Project: Polar Bear Plunge

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Every year, I say I’m going to take the train out to Coney Island and jump into the water for the Polar Bear Plunge, and every year, I wake up on New Year’s Day and think, “No, not this year.”

2019 is weird, though, because after some soft nudging of my good friend and Bronx native, Yuwi, I actually, truly, earnestly considered it. And through the luck of not partying the night before, not having a large to-do list, a relatively close commute, and rising global temperatures at a catastrophic rate, I put on swim trunks, packed a backpack of dry clothes, and went out to Coney Island for the 2019 Polar Bear Plunge.

When it was my wave’s turn to go, I walked down the beach towards the ocean with a ton of other people also out of their minds, flanked by people cheering, and a steady drum beat that sounded like a gladiator walking into the Coliseum, and all that distraction was nice because the Atlantic Ocean just kinda crept up and the next thing I knew, I was knee-deep in ice-cold water.

I went in and out of the Atlantic several times to get more pictures after warming up my toes and eventually dunked my body in after finding a group of people who looked like they wouldn’t steal my bag of clothes and camera.

When I finally got back home, I was asked if I felt anew, fresh and reborn. And as corny as it sounds, I did. If I could dunk myself into the Atlantic with thousands of other strangers, I could do pretty much anything, which is the real “if you can make it here you can make it anywhere,” if you ask me.

Latest Project: Delft Ego

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Someone told me I was obsessed with Ego. Multiple people, actually. And I don’t know, maybe I am, but Vincent Van Gogh did a bunch of self portraits and no one ever said he was obsessed with himself.

After visiting her in June (and consequently my best friends Mark and Bonnie), I was so inspired by her new European lifestyle, like how she slimmed down, eats food measured in the metric system, and can sleep in the sun under a skylight. I even think she barks in Dutch now, with a lot of throat sounds and extra vowels, like “baark” or “van woouf.” Did I want to move to Amsterdam now? Did I want to bike everywhere? Was I prepared to get yelled at by Duolingo on a daily basis?

These are all questions I asked myself on the seven-hour journey back home as I drew Ego living her new life in the style of traditional Delftware, like the ones I saw at the Rijks Museum.

Ego Delft (Process)

I spent 2 weeks in Amsterdam and this is what I was able to come up with, representing the quaint, Dutch life.

For reasons, most likely related to what I went through with the Cats of New York pattern, I let this sit on the shelf for a couple months. It wasn’t until on my flight to Albuquerque did I decide to try to refine it.

Drawing Ego nine times was easy. I’m “obsessed,” after all, the thing I had the most trouble with were the flourishes. Should they be simple and minimal, or ornate and flowery? And making sure the Dutch scenes weren’t culturally insensitive was another concern, but I’d be upset if museums didn’t allow dogs into their halls, honestly.

Ego Delft (Process) v1.1

Using Procreate’s new feature where it can reflect what you draw in quarters, sixths, or eighths made this question much easier to decide which direction I wanted to go in. Sure this new round of tiles is super ornate, but perhaps gaudy and distracting from what you’re supposed to look at: Ego.

And plus, if I was going to redraw each tile from beginning to end without duplicating the corners nine times and only filling in the center circle, my hand would fall off. So late in October, to get in the Halloween spirit, I watched Beetlejuice for the first time and began painting simple corners.

With a future return trip to Amsterdam to see Ego just a month away, I needed to finish these quickly so I could send them off to print onto tiles so I could gift them to her for Thanksgiving. I watched Youtube tutorials to get the painting technique right, studied pictures I took from the Rijks Museum and from Google, to get the color and shading right, then used the Luna Display and went in.

ego-delftware_comp_1500x_181029_nh_v3.2_lr.jpg

When I’m back in the Netherlands for Thanksgiving, Maybe I’ll go to the city of Delft and do a painting course to see how close I got with digital compared to physical, and maybe I’ll do a tile of Pinot, and maybe people will finally recognize that I’m obsessed with both Ego and Pinot. It’s dialectical.

Latest Project: Oriental Tailor Shop since 1976

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

In 2005, the City of Houston, just after inviting Hurricane Katrina victims in, had to prepare for their own terrible Hurricane Rita just weeks later. I helped prepare the home against high winds the best I could by taping a giant, meaningless X on the window and my mom brought all the precious photographs of childhoods and portraits, imported from Vietnam, to the second floor and placed them in the linens closet, so they would in theory, be protected by all the bath towels.

Nowadays, we take pictures for granted. You can take a five photos of the same exact thing and keep them all because digital space is boundless and you can recall them anytime because everything resides inside of at least four different clouds. But no, not these photos my mom saved. If these portraits of my grandaunt were ruined by floodwaters, they’d be gone forever except in our memory and can only be exported to a forensic sketch artist.

After Hurricane Rita turned out to be highly sensationalized (within the City of Houston), I decided I’d never want to lose these pictorial memories, not just of the pictures of my childhood and when we went to Disneyland, but of my parents, aunts and uncles when they first came to America in 1975, so I went to work and began scanning every photo album I could find.

I’d go through the photo albums and flip page after page of my sepia parents living their new American life in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1975, wearing three-piece suits, going on road trips to Memphis, Washington DC, and San Francisco. Every now and then, I’d see pictures of them standing in front of the business they opened with my aunt and uncle in 1976, Oriental Tailor Shop.

Now listen. We all know that you can’t say “Oriental,” and I 100% can, but the 70s were a different time when anyone could say “Oriental,” and that’s the name my family chose, so we just gotta go with it. You can mouth along if you want.

In the oral family history, my parents heard there was a big Vietnamese population in Houston, so they put my big brother in a car, moved down south and opened a new Oriental Tailor Shop in southwest Houston. This tiny shop is where I spent my childhood. Where I’d play with wooden blocks and watch Sesame Street and do homework and play with Battle Beasts on the sewing machines and get in trouble for messing up their table settings.

I mean, I can go on and on about how much Oriental Tailor Shop means to me, but I don’t think I could ever do it justice. There’s a little mat my parents keep around that my brother and I napped on. It’s where my brother and I were reading Garfield on the floor and my dad walked by and drew Garfield freehand almost one-for-one and I never saw him draw anything ever again, so that was quite a flex.

You get the idea. I grew up here the way JFK Jr. grew up, hiding under the Resolute desk while his dad was doing stuff.

My parents watched my brother and me grow up in the shop and looking back at these old photos, I can now see how much my parents grew in their own shop. It’s remarkable how they opened a store in Little Rock with the English they learned in Vietnam, and stayed on top of fashion trends from the 70s to the 2000s (which I think is the weirdest sartorial decade), to today.

Earlier this year, my mom told me that my dad would be retiring in 2019. That caught me by surprise. No, not my dad. I’ve seen a lot of my favorite basketball players retire, but not my dad, who can draw a perfect Garfield without tracing.

Seven years living in New York away from family can really sneak up on you, I guess. It’s bittersweet, and no one deserves it more than my dad (my mom deserves it as much, truthfully), whose number needs to be hung in the rafters of the Town and Country shopping center.

Thinking back, after many years of being in advertising, studying from 2005 to 2007, looking for an advertising job from 2007 to 2011, to working from 2011 to today, I never once thought about making any advertisements for Oriental Tailor Shop. I’m not sure why and I feel guilty! So I got to work.

The concept was to take old photographs from antique stores, sew on sequins, or embroider them, or do some sort of art and craft on them. But then I realized I had an entire cache of old, personal, vintage photographs that told a better story of how they’d been around since 1976 and seen fashion cycle in and out and evolve and innovate.

In addition to all of that, they could have helped innovate dress pockets, too! How’d it take so long for someone to sew on pockets onto a dress? I don’t know. But I’m certain my parents could have done it then years ago. I’ve seen them make, fix and adjust so much stuff that I know anything is possible. My mom made my pumpkin costume FROM SCRATCH. Oh, and she also made the clown and dinosaurs costume from scratch, too. They can make anything they want.

So these are the ads the address those facts about Oriental Tailor Shop:

The choice to use old photo album pages as the background was to show the history of the shop, and since this was its last year, it’s meant to be a retrospective as well, add a sense of nostalgia while showing how fashion-forward they are.

I started with my dad’s picture since that was both the easiest to photoshop. The tricky part was figuring out which part of the suit was going to be altered. Here are the different options:

Ultimately went with the lapel because that’s what’s hot in 2018.

Next was the picture of my mom in a green dress. I knew I was looking for a picture of my mom where her hand would be on her hip or something, but this was the closest I could find.

Bending my mom’s arm inward and into a make-believe pocket was tricky, but that’s a hand in a dress pocket, all right.

And finally for the last piece, and third piece, I wanted to keep the embroidery aspect from the original concept, but didn’t have time to learn how to master the craft, so had to resort to Photoshop instead.

The first thought was to make it a dragon wrapped around my mom’s jacket but thought that might be too much for my mom, so I made it into something a little more Vietnamese. In a vertical layout, it was hard to see exactly what was altered in the image, so then I had to move my mom inward to crop out that car.

I did some research to buy some full-page ads in some local papers and magazines but turns out, that’s like thousands of dollars, so I’m getting them printed at Adorama and giving this to them for Christmas instead.

Oriental Tailor Shop! If you’re in town, swing in and say hello!

Latest Project: Cats of New York

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

Back in March 2018, a couple months into a new phase of my life, one without Ego and seeing the Pulaski Bridge cats on my morning commute, but instead with Pinot and seeing Brooklyn Library cats on my evening commute, something struck me to draw a bunch of cats of New York.

This diary entry is going to take you on an odyssey, so please grab a snack and buckle up.

I started at Grey in 2014 and one of my favorite things about the office was the wallpaper in the meeting rooms. Sure ad agencies are quirky, but this wallpaper was cool because it’s a modern take on toile du jouy featuring something I’d heard about just months before. Since then, I always wanted to try my hand at a toile pattern, especially after the Museum of Art and Design had a 3D version of one.

Chinatown Toile  by  Dan Funderburgh  Seen at Grey New York

Chinatown Toile by Dan Funderburgh
Seen at Grey New York

Fast forward back to March 2018, I came home from my walk home and started thinking what felines are present in New York City. Bodega cats, of course, they’re the best. The New York Public Library lions. I really racked my brain on this one. Maneki-neko? Yeah, definitely.

Anyway, I started drawing them out in Procreate.

Cats of New York (Process)

Every now and then I’d open up the file and try to noodle around and figure out how I’d fit these cats together in a toile de jouy style and it was just really difficult in the Procreate app because I was mentally shackled to how Photoshop works. In June, during my seven-hour flight to Amsterdam, however, I was determined to figure it all out. Except I started missing Pinot, my roommate/best friend/business parter/Albuquerque native/cat lover’s cat. It’s a weird feeling of infidelity knowing that you’re flying across an ocean to see a dog you missed so much while also missing a cat back home a lot.

JJ, one of my best friends in elementary school, grew up with both a cat and a dog and that blew my mind. I read Garfield with my brother as a kid and it was always truth that dogs and cats cannot cohabitate. I’d always wanted a dog growing up and the only cat experience I had was a neighbor’s cat who’d hang out on our driveway. But Pinot was exactly the animal I needed as a transition with Ego living on a different continent.

So as someone who is constantly crippled by multiple forms of guilt, I drew out Pinot in most of the nicknames Casey and I’d given him.

Not pictured but should’ve been: Peanie Baby™

Not pictured but should’ve been: Peanie Baby™

And before I knew it, it was time to put our seat back and folding trays in their full, upright position. I was nowhere near finishing the Cats of New York pattern, but Cat of Putnam Avenue was in pretty good shape.

No fear, I still had a seven-hour return trip back home. And it’s not like there were more nicknames I could’ve put in Pinot’s piece. So I opened up the Procreate app and…instead began doodling Ego living her new Dutch life. I mean, it’s only fair. I had to get it all down while it was fresh in my mind. And then, of course, per FAA regulations, I had to put my iPad away cause I was back in New York.

This was all part of the plan, though, you see. In May 2018, I backed the Luna Display, by the people behind Astropad (an app that turned the iPad into a Cintiq), on Kickstarter. So I waited for my Luna to come in. And then it did. And then I just waited. And waited and waited.

I had another flight in September, this time back home to Houston, so I used that time to finally, finally work on the Cats of New York pattern. Except I also had the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man on, and I ended up watching that instead.

No fear, however, because there’d still be the four-hour return trip home. Except again…instead…I drew my friends’ pets who passed away.

The key to solve stress-induced procrastination, it turned out, was to put yourself in a situation where whatever you had to finish was much less stressful than whatever was happening around you. For instance, writing an article a day before deadline is stressful, yet somehow the apartment always seems so much messier at the same exact time. However, if you absolutely had to clean your apartment in an hour, there’s always an extra minute to fire off a really good tweet about your Lyft driver the other day.

The thing I had to finish (Cats of New York) was stressful because the end of the year was close and I still didn’t do my annual summer pattern. And the only thing more stressful than that and able to distract me back onto my work is the 2018 Midterm Election Night.

So with the returns up on the screen, I distracted myself with tracing the cats I drew on Procreate, in Photoshop via Astropad Studio.

My dinner on Election Night was a four-piece at Popeye’s. I ran out of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup back home so I had to stop by the bodega and pick up regular ketchup. Their credit card minimum was $5 so I bought ketchup, ice cream, some M&Ms, and these Arizona fruit snacks which were kinda gross, except their credit card machine wasn’t working so in a move that I’d never once experience in my entire time in New York, the bodega guy said, “Oh it’s fine, just pay me back tomorrow on your way to work.” An Election Day miracle.

My dinner on Election Night was a four-piece at Popeye’s. I ran out of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup back home so I had to stop by the bodega and pick up regular ketchup. Their credit card minimum was $5 so I bought ketchup, ice cream, some M&Ms, and these Arizona fruit snacks which were kinda gross, except their credit card machine wasn’t working so in a move that I’d never once experience in my entire time in New York, the bodega guy said, “Oh it’s fine, just pay me back tomorrow on your way to work.” An Election Day miracle.

First I had to test which brush was best for the desired effect, so I drew the library lion a few times and landed on Kyle’s Ballpoint Pen Brush.

For the next six hours, as the polls closed and races were called, I kept outlining, crosshatching, and occasionally looking up to see what the count was.

And just as the Pod Save America bros were wrapping it up, I finally put my pencil down. I finished the Cats of New York. It wasn’t exactly in the spirit or design of a traditional toile de jouy pattern I initially sought after, but gosh darn if I wasn’t proud of it.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 12.00.25 AM.jpg

The next challenge was to make it into a seamless and tileable. In the pattern above, you can see the Cats on Broadway are aligned horizontally, but staggered vertically. Though the desired end result is visual randomness without seeing a clear seam of where things are repeated, it still has to function as a tile, if it were to be produced into wallpaper.

So as I had initially assumed on that first time I gave up, moving things around as a group was much easier in Photoshop. And that’s how I ended up with the 2018 pattern, Cats of New York.

Mission Accomplished.

Except then I realized I totally forgot about one more cat of New York that I never wrote down and so in a panic, a couple days later, I went through the whole process again: Draw the lion in Procreate, import to Photoshop, open up Astropad Studio, trace and crosshatch on Photoshop, and rearrange everything AGAIN, except this time with Escape from New York on instead of the ABC News.

And now, at last, my 2018 pattern: Cats of New York.

Featuring:  NYPL Lion; Pinot as a Bodega Cat; Maneki-neko at a Chinese restaurant;  Cats  on Broadway; Bryant Park’s Le Carrousel cat; Lunar New Year Parade’s Lion Dance; off-brand Garfield Thanksgiving’s Day Parade balloon; Katz’s Delicatessen

Featuring: NYPL Lion; Pinot as a Bodega Cat; Maneki-neko at a Chinese restaurant; Cats on Broadway; Bryant Park’s Le Carrousel cat; Lunar New Year Parade’s Lion Dance; off-brand Garfield Thanksgiving’s Day Parade balloon; Katz’s Delicatessen

The end.

Latest Project: Balloon Fiesta 2018

Added on by Nathan Hoang.

After I did my Home project, the most frequently asked question was, “Which state was your favorite?” And the answer, excluding Texas, was always North Carolina and Oregon.

But if you asked me which state would I want to return to, New Mexico would’ve been high on that list, partly because last time I was there, Ted Cruz shut down the government and I couldn’t go to White Sands, and partly because it’s just a nice, beautiful state that I didn’t get to spend too much time to eat all their chile.

So when my roommate/best friend/business partner/Albuquerque native told me she was going back for the Balloon Fiesta, almost 5 years to the day I was last in New Mexico, I invited myself and we went on an adventure.