Meet My Art Friend: Camey Yeh
On morning pages, paying less attention to social media, and more
Welcome to the second edition of Meet My Art Friend! You can expect a new interview with a fellow artist every month or so, right here in this newsletter.
Today we are joined by artist Camey Yeh, who also goes by Tropical Spaghetti!
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Meet Camey Yeh
CYOO: When did you start making art, and when did you start dedicating yourself to an art practice?
I always loved drawing as a kid and through junior high. But in high school, I started feeling discouraged from high school art classes. In college I studied architecture, and after I had my first design studio, I realized I liked making models and drawing came a lot more naturally to me.
In 2014, I started getting into painting with watercolor and gouache. I'm a serial hobbyist so I was pretty intense about it for nine months, and then it kind of petered out. Then in 2019, I had a conversation with my friend about feeling pulled to a more creative path. I started using Procreate, drawing way more consistently, sharing what I was drawing on Instagram, and feeling really excited about making art. Then in 2021, I left my job to actually give pursuing illustration a full shot.
Amazing. And what is your work about? Your artist statement, so to speak.
I would say my work is playful. It's silly, slightly subversive. It's really inspired by all the feelings that I experienced as a double Aries and a Cancer rising. Also, relationships and culture, whether it's pop culture or being Taiwanese American. Yeah. I hope my art brings joy and connection to people and resonates across age groups since we all have these shared feelings and experiences.
Was there any moment or piece you made where you felt the shift of considering yourself a “real artist”?
The first time I actually drew about my feelings. I felt there was a real difference in when I was drawing cute funny doodles compared to when I started drawing from deep, vulnerable feelings that I was experiencing at the time.
When I started with my creative mentor Lindsay Stripling, she was really encouraging me to probe, what is true to you? How do you see the world? What are the things that you're experiencing? So I started at a surface level of funny observations. But then I think there was one comic that I had drawn: today I felt lost, but I tried to give myself what I needed. That was the first time I was vulnerable about things that, you know, didn't feel so good. That was the first moment where I felt like people were connecting in this very vulnerable way that was beyond just “Haha yeah, I'm on my phone all the time, too.” There was something there that resonated more for people.
Lettering is a big part of your work. How do you balance text and image in your artwork? Which usually comes first in the process?
I journal every morning, so a lot of my work is inspired by my morning pages. I’ll write down random phrases that capture how I’m feeling and try to incorporate humor.
There are things I enjoy drawing, and it’s the random pairing of two different things that make a piece interesting for me. I’ll be washing dishes one day or walking down the street and have an observation where the imagery and the writing come together. I'll have a sentence in mind and then rework that sentence in my sketchbook or try to think of new ways to write it that might be funnier or more to the point.
It’s interesting, I’ve always loved writing but never thought of myself as a writer. But it's definitely come into play a lot more as I find my creative voice.
You recently signed with a literary agent! Tell me about the process of connecting with her.
Yes! She reached out to me and asked if I had ever considered working on children's picture books. It was a really great moment, because working on picture books has always been a dream of mine. A lot of my work is playful, young, and connected to my inner child, so I was very excited to hear from her.
My agent was one of the first people who reflected back to me that I could be a writer. She said she really enjoyed my voice and sense of humor in my work, and it was one of the first times I felt seen in that way. A lot of people think I just draw really cute art, so it was really cool to have someone in the industry be able to be affirm that I have a voice and a point of view. We're working on some exciting projects that I will share more on my Instagram when I can!
What's been the most challenging part of shifting from single Instagram posts or art prints to longer term projects?
There’s more storytelling with bigger projects, especially if there are multiple pieces of art. On Instagram I’ll try to tell a story in one image, so it has one idea and one concept. With a bigger project, you really have to go deeper and think of world building and the overall story. You start introducing characters and fully fleshing them out with different reactions and relations.
As someone who loves to play around with different ideas, my brain moves pretty fast. I like bouncing around different color palettes or shifting to new ideas. But when you have a bigger project, you have to commit to the established parameters and there's a real discipline that you need.
Sometimes it gets kind of boring, and you want to do something else! But to see the whole vision, you have to commit to something. And there's a lot of cool magic that happens when you do that, because you end up pushing yourself in different directions.
What do you do when you feel uninspired or don’t want to make art for a bigger project? How do you find your way back in?
A question my mentor and I talk a lot about is, "How do you make this feel as luxurious as possible?” What would make sitting down to do this feel good? Is it cozy clothes? Is it a mug of tea? It’s those small moments that can make an experience of sitting down to work feel better.
We also talk a lot about the carrot. What is a little reward you can give yourself? It doesn't have to cost money. It can just be saying, okay I'm gonna work on this for 30 minutes and then I can go for that walk that I've been wanting to take. Having some form of ritual that feels really good makes a difference.
What are some rituals you have for art making?
I’ll make a matcha, set a timer for 45 minutes or so, and play some music. I’ll usually play chill hip hop music (playlist below), or if I really need to perk up I’ll play some Taylor Swift and sing along as I draw.
Social media has been a big tool for finding your audience. What's your relationship with social media now?
It’s definitely complicated. In the beginning [of my art career] it was cool to share a piece of work and see how people would respond. But then I would start to feel like I needed to make something new every day. That was really limiting to the depth of work that I wanted to do, and it wasn't doing me any favors in terms of my creative practice. Exploring ideas takes time.
Still, I do love social media for connecting with people and sharing bits of my life. Right now, I'm trying to pay less attention to the stats that might feel stressful when social media is connected to your career. I’m focusing more on sharing when I want and what I want.
Working on bigger projects has been really, really good because now I’m limited in terms of what I can publicly share! It’s also encouraged me to think more creatively about what I want to share, and also to chill out and trust in the process. You accept that it doesn't really matter if you're losing followers. There are so many amazing illustrators out there with full careers beyond social media. It's simply one expression of the way one can put their work out into the world.
Thanks so much to Camey for chatting with me! You can find her on Instagram where she frequently shares her colorful, stylish outfits of the day, and purchase her artwork on Etsy. Stay tuned for more details on her future projects—we are so excited to find out more! And if you have any questions for Camey, leave them in the comments :)