Renowned for her illustrative typography, Deanne Cheuk entered the professional art scene at age 19. Before long, UK Style magazine “The Face” named her one of the top 50 creative minds in the world. Her work is expressive, colorful, intricate, and mesmerizing; capturing a liberated wonder reigned in only by expert precision. An aesthetic to make any talent envious, it’s earned Deanne commissions by impressive clients such as American Express, Microsoft, Target, and MTV. Now, she’s made her prints available on clothing, wall art, and phone cases through her brand new Threadless Artist Shop. Read on to learn about this celebrated artist, her childhood in Australia, and the wallpaper that changed her life.
Hi, Deanne! Welcome to Artist Shops. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I am an art director and artist living and working in New York City.
By 19, you were a college graduate with your first job as an art director at REVelation magazine in Australia. How did it feel to be that accomplished at such a young age?
It’s not like I was getting paid a lot of money so I still felt young and broke, but I absolutely loved my job, and from that experience I learned how to put together and publish a magazine on a shoestring budget. After working there for three years I branched out and published my own magazine from Perth, called ‘Mu’ magazine. I created five issues which were distributed worldwide successfully until I moved to New York in the year 2000.
Why do you believe your youth in the industry worked as a benefit for you?
The greatest benefit of youth for me was functionally getting away with lack of sleep; I was working 16-20 hours every single day for many years and thrived on it. It never crossed my mind to catch up on sleep. After the age of 30, I couldn’t physically do it anymore. Apparently when you are very old the same cycle happens again because certain sleep neurons die off.
What was your childhood like, and how did it influence your future path as an artist?
I grew up in Western Australia on the Swan River in a beautiful old white stucco-fan-textured house, where every room had different patterned wallpaper, carpet, and linoleum. I still have dreams about that house. Before those “Magic Eye” patterns existed, I used to stare into the wallpaper and carpet and see other patterns. That’s where everything started.
You grew up in Perth, Australia and now live in NYC – two extremely different places. In what ways do your experiences of these opposite cultures show up in your work?
Mainly in my work ethic. Growing up in Perth my friends and I made our own ‘zines, flyers, clothes, shows, collaborations, etc. We didn’t have access to what we wanted there, so we made what we didn’t have. That shows up in my work now because I’ll take on anything that needs to be done, however big or small; I’ll figure it out.
Assumably, your position at Tokion was the first time you had to adapt your creative vision to that of a client. How did this role expand, evolve, or alter your identity as an artist?
That was my first big full-time job, but I had worked as a designer before that. During breaks from University, I took on part-time assistant graphic designer roles anywhere that would pay/hire me. When still in high school, I interned at an advertising agency before I really understood graphic design. I wasn’t trying to build my resume; I wanted to learn. I’ve always been acutely aware that as designers, our role is to satisfy the clients’ needs. I don’t get hung up on rejection.
You were named by a UK style magazine “The Face” as one of the top 50 creative minds in the world. What do you believe you do differently as an artist that distinguishes you from the rest?
That piece in the Face was mostly linked to the ‘zine I was publishing at the time, “Neomu”, which was quite different than anything else out there. It was mini; I requested the smallest size and perfect-bind from the a printer, and at the token price of $1, it was cheap, with proceeds donated to charities. I had come up with a manifesto one night after becoming frustrated with design books costing $50+ for only a few pages that I liked/wanted, and wondered, “Why can’t someone publish something that is free or cheap and inspiring on every page?” I wanted to subvert notions of publishing and profitability, and that became my manifesto for “Neomu”. I published eight issues that became successful in that they came from an honest place; I wasn’t trying to achieve fame or fortune, I truly wanted to spread inspiration and it achieved that. I still plan to finish the series with two more issues one day. Unfortunately, most of the bookstores that sold it the first time around are no longer open. Anyway, at the time, that project was definitely a point of difference for me as an artist.
What’s your typical process like when it comes to a piece, and what is your biggest source of inspiration?
With my commercial work, it all starts with client conversations and then the requisite sketches and rounds of revision until approval. With my personal artwork, it’s less organized. I constantly collect ideas and inspiration in my mind and soak it all up until something brews in my head and is ready to cook.
You seem to do it all – print, typography, pattern, collage, illustration. What steps did you take to push the boundaries and reach the true potential of your talent?
I’ve been working for over 20 years now and I’ve tried to focus on different areas at different times, but I’ve found it very difficult to pick just one type of design that I want to do continuously. I really enjoy the challenge of doing all kinds of projects at once. My agents at hugoandmarie.com do an incredible job of managing my work for me.
What are you most proud of as an artist?
It’s impossible to choose just one, but my book “Mushroom Girls Virus”, a collection of my Mushroom Girls style artwork published in 2004 (and sold out immediately), is still a favorite thing of mine.
When you daydream, where does your mind wander?
Underwater. Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia is one of my favorite places in the world. Last time I was there I wished I was a fish.
In regard to pursuing a life of art, what’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve received?
I can’t think of any great singular advice I’ve received; I still learn so much every single day from the people/clients I work with, including the way other people handle themselves and their careers in a professional way – everything from demeanor, language, execution of work – and how others manage their work/life balance. You can only learn from experience. Someone said to me once that “relationships are always a mirror”. I think that’s good to keep in mind.