YUK FUN on running an illustrated apparel label
If you are an illustrator active on social media, you'll have probably come across YUK FUN at some point. It's is an independent illustrated products label founded in 2014 by design duo Lucy Cheung and Patrick Gildersleeves. We talked to Patrick and Lucy about running a creative business, collaboration, character design, work and life balance, sketchbooks and much more.
Tell us a bit more about Yuk Fun! How did it all begin? Also what does YUK FUN mean?
We are Lucy Cheung and Patrick Gildersleeves and we make and design fun, illustrated things together - mainly clothing but also art prints, tote bags, pin badges and we’ve done a little book too!
It all began in 2014 - Patrick was commissioned to do some illustrations to go on kids’ clothing and we just thought: why don’t we just do something like this ourselves?! Lucy had been making clothing as a hobby for a while before that so it just made sense.
The Yuk in YUK FUN comes from Lucy’s Chinese middle name Yuk-Foung and means “to bring” so we are always bringing the fun!
Tell us a bit more about your process and collaboration. How does working as a design duo differ from working as an individual? Do you have clearly defined roles of who does what?
Lucy usually comes up with the big ideas and figuring out which direction to take with our stuff. She also designs and makes all of our handmade clothing like our artist suits. Patrick does all of the drawing and illustrations.
Creating the designs is a collaborative process - we’ll always discuss what works well in a design or a commission as we go along. We share all the other tasks like admin, social media, screen printing etc.
Can you tell us how you came up with your iconic animal characters and what inspired the style of the label?
Wow it’s so nice having our characters described as iconic!
Patrick: The animal characters have come about from years of doodling in sketchbooks. My style has changed so much over the years but a big part of the evolution came about when we started screen printing clothing ourselves. I started to make the designs a lot bolder so they stand out on clothing and that’s often in the back of my mind when I’m drawing stuff.
Both: As for inspiration behind our style, we have a shared love of children’s books (Mary Blair, Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, Ed Emberley), Studio Ghibli animations as well as Japanese woodcuts and crafts (like paper cuts, embroidery and ceramics) from around the world.
How does a process of working on a new product or collection usually look like? Do you start with sketches? Which tools do you prefer when creating the motifs? Do you create your own sewing patterns?
Patrick: I really prefer sketching out ideas with a pencil or pen on paper - it’s only once the analogue sketch is looking good that I’ll scan it and perfect it digitally. Quite often an idea will spring from a drawing in a sketchbook. I’m always doodling and we’ll flick through my sketchbooks and Lucy will pick out something that makes her laugh or that she thinks will look good.
Lucy: We try to make clothes that we would both wear ourselves and often we’ve seen a particular shape or style that we like the look of that has inspired us. I start with a basic block pattern and alter the shape until it turns into something fun! I’ll sew up a sample to check the fit and keep altering the pattern until it looks good. For example we’re currently working on a Dora sweatshirt - I've made one sample so far but it’s not quite right so I’ll be going back to our paper pattern to make changes.
Launching an independent clothing illustration label in the digital age has its challenges, can you tell us a bit about those?
Running a business like this would have been impossible just a few years ago so we’re very glad we’re living in the digital age! One of the biggest challenges is definitely being seen. Most of the custom on our webshop comes from social media and it has taken years to build up our following. We’re always having to adapt to changes in the way Instagram and Twitter work which can be challenging but we try to have fun with it. Another tricky thing is deciding how much time to spend on sharing our stuff on social media and how much time to spend actually doing the work!
What’s your most favourite product in your shop?
Patrick: Our Screen Printing at Home book. I’ve never spent so long on one project and I’m really happy with how it turned out and the really positive response we’ve had from people who’ve bought a copy.
Lucy: I love our Artist Suits. They make good shapes when worn and have big enough pockets to fit a sketchbook in.
7. Let’s talk about sketchbooks. You regularly stream live drawing sessions on Twitch. Please tell us a bit about your sketching process. Do you draw from life? How do you find inspiration for your characters? Which materials and tools do you prefer and why?
Patrick: I usually draw stuff from inside my head until I come across a pose that I can’t get my head around which I’ll have to Google. Conveniently I mostly draw animal people rather than human people (rabbits wearing dungarees, dogs in jumpers etc.) so I don’t really need to be too accurate! If I get stuck for what to do I will scroll through Pinterest or old books looking for fun or interesting things to draw.
On our Thursday night stream on Twitch we take drawing prompts from our viewers which is actually great for coming up with fun new ideas and thinking outside of the box. Also drawing prompt challenges like Shaketember (run by Shake Bristol) are really fun. My favourite materials change over time but at the moment I’m happiest drawing either with a pencil or Posca pens. They’re kind of the opposite in that pencils can produce so much texture whereas Poscas can make lovely flat areas of colour.
Now that we all worked from home for over a year, do you have any advice for us in how set up a studio at home?
We’re very lucky to work from home in our loft studio so it’s a quick commute upstairs to work. Lighting is really important - it can be so depressing being in a gloomy workspace. It’s also very useful when photographing and sharing your work
Treat yourself to a decent chair - we recently got nice office chairs to replace the old chunky wooden chairs from our kitchen and it’s made a big difference. Lastly, give it a good clean/tidy once a week, it makes everything feel so much nicer!
Working from home, how do you achieve work and life balance?
With difficulty! It is very tempting to just work all of the time because our studio is part of the house. To be totally honest we are still trying to figure this out ourselves, especially now lockdown is easing here and we’re allowed to see friends and family again.
Do you have any advice for illustrators who also want to start a clothing label or just want to sell their merchandise on how to start and more importantly how not to give up?
Try to avoid ordering too much stock. Unless you have a massive amount of storage space at your disposal, you run the risk of having boxes of your merchandise that might take a long time to sell. We still have some T-shirts we ordered in 2015! A pre-order is good for testing something out. Don’t pay too much attention to what people other people think: go with your gut on what you think looks good.
As for not giving up, we’d suggest making friends in the illustration community who you can talk to/moan at. It’s really important to be able to chat with other people (both in real life and on social media) about how things are going. It’s very easy to flick through instagram and come to the conclusion that everyone else is doing really well (we’ve all seen those photos of huge piles of orders) and get down about it.
You are both specially focused on having a strong voice against racism and anti-Asian sentiment in the time of COVID-19. Why do you think it’s important for artists to address social issues and problems?
Talking about things that you believe in and what you stand for shows people who you actually are as a person. It gives people a reason to support you as an artist. We can all draw pretty pictures but what’s the point if you don’t believe in anything?
It can sometimes feel like you can’t make a difference but everyone has the power to change things. Something as simple as sharing a petition or a link to a fundraiser can make a real difference. You never know who you might influence however small or big your circle is.