“Haven’t you been dreaming about adventure?”
This was one of the quotes that caught my eye when I decided to indulge myself with the content that Instagram’s algorithm had recommended to me. The post, interestingly enough, was a winning entry on an official Disney contest that was promoting the then-new film Jungle Cruise. But that detail wasn’t quite what caught my eye; rather, it was the fact that it was designed by a former high school classmate of mine who I haven’t heard from in years.
I clicked onto the Instagram account. Its bio read:
Art by Amber Liu, 19.7k followers. Filipino designer in NYC.
Looking back into years past, I do recall Amber having a creative streak during her elementary and high school years. Although I didn’t often see her artworks then, I did know that she was fond of literature, even offering to lend me a Nancy Drew book when we are about ten. And even though it has been years since her departure from our hometown in Cebu, it’s been a delight to see that that hasn’t changed. Instead, her now flourishing Instagram account shows that her love of words — both spoken and written — hasn’t faded one bit.
At the age of 23, Amber has already more than begun an adventurous pursuit toward her passions. While taking up a communications design degree at the Pratt Institute in New York, Amber was also building her already vast Instagram assortment of stylized typography, which features inspirational quotes and song lyrics from popular artists and musicals. Her works have since captured the eye of many in the creative industry, even going so far as to not only be selected as a Disney Jungle Cruise winning entry but also be noticed by the official Hamilton team, who interviewed and invited her to make a digital sticker pack that is now available on their mobile app.
Since then, Amber has taken up a job as both a freelance illustrator and a professional digital and marketing designer, all while still running her IG account for fun at the side. With all of this in mind, Amber Liu shares with CHiNOY TV her experiences chasing her creative dreams, as well as her passion for words, art, and commitment to the social causes she believes in.
Your Instagram account @artbyamberliu has amassed almost 20k followers. What made you decide to start this art account?
When I was 13, I started to make these lyric drawings of my favorite songs and then posted them on my personal Instagram account. Eventually, I saw that other artists had separate accounts, and so I decided to make one primarily for art. It was honestly just for fun and to pass time. Until now, I still mainly make my illustrations for fun, and it’s a continuous learning process trying to figure out the ins and outs of social media. It can be overwhelming, but I love having this space to post what I make and being able to connect with people who see my art.
What drew you to art in the first place?
I was never into art as a child, but I love to read, so words have always been a big part of my life. I stumbled upon artists on Tumblr and Instagram who draw quotes in fun and creative ways, and I attempted to do the same. It was purely a hobby of mine until my family, teachers, and peers encouraged me to do more. They really helped me realize that there was a future there. I’ll forever be grateful to all the people in my life, past and present, who encourage me to keep creating, who show support for my art, and who are my biggest cheerleaders because I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t realize that I enjoyed making art so much that I wanted to for the rest of my life.
Your art style involves plenty of lettering and typography. Is there any reason, in particular, why you are drawn to this style?
Even before I started drawing, for some reason I would love to use different fonts for everything: papers, cards, school projects, nametags, etc. Like I mentioned, I also read a lot growing up, and I remember the Geronimo Stilton series where different fonts and graphics on the words are used to show what’s happening in the story. I started to love how the way the words were designed impacted the message.
But more than that, I’ve always loved the power words have, whether that’s through lyrics or books or poetry or even in conversation, and I love being able to interpret these words in a creative way. Since then, my passion has evolved from lettering into a broader range of different kinds of illustrations, but lettering is still what I gravitate to — [it is] my happy place.
Can you describe to us your artistic process?
My artistic process varies, depending on the project. It often starts from when I get a rush of inspiration, whether that’s through listening to a song, hearing a quote, seeing another piece of art, speaking to other artists, reading a book, etc. For example, if I listen to a new podcast, discover a new musician, or finish a new book, chances are I will probably make some sort of piece inspired by it.
There’s a very specific feeling of excitement I get when I know something is going to be an exciting and great project, and so I seek that out. From there I immediately write or sketch my ideas down — my sketchbook and Notes app is a mess of random thoughts and ideas! I then typically do a lot of research about the project to see where else I can draw inspiration from or what I can incorporate before beginning to actually create it.
Several of your works are inspired by popular artists like Taylor Swift and musicals such as Hamilton. What is it about music and lyrics that inspire your art?
I am ALWAYS listening to music. I make playlists for everything, and there are countless lyrics and songs that just resonate with me. A lot of my art stems from emotion and a lot of that emotion stems from music. Having this platform has given me the opportunity to use my skills to show the world how music resonates with me. In turn, it is a delight to see how my work resonates with other people. Art, in general, is just a constant cycle of inspiration and creation, and having the chance to be a part of that cycle is my favorite thing about being an artist.
You were invited to make a sticker pack for Hamilton. How did this happen, and what was it like?
Hamilton, which I had been a fan of for years, had just been released on Disney+, and I knew I wanted to make a drawing for it, but I couldn’t pick a specific song or lyric to draw because I loved so many of them. So I decided to just draw all of them! I made the Act 1 piece first, and it was featured on Official Broadway World’s Instagram and website. When I posted the Act 2 piece, somehow Hamilton and even a few of the actors from the musical saw it, and they reposted it on their page. After that, the Hamilton team reached out to me about creating a sticker pack and being interviewed as a feature for HamWeek. It still is surreal, but since then I’ve made different works inspired by Hamilton that they’ve featured on their pages, which is always exciting. They are lovely people to work with!
You became one of ten selected creators for Disney’s Jungle Cruise art contest. How was it like joining the contest, and how did you feel when the results were released?
When I first read about that project, I got one of those feelings that I talked about, where I immediately had an inkling of an idea and felt the need to bring it to life. I meticulously watched all the trailers and tried to include as much as I could learn about the movie — it hadn’t been released yet [at the time] — and came up with the sketch in an afternoon. Receiving the news that I was shortlisted was exciting in itself, and I don’t think it hit me that I was actually chosen until all the contracts were being signed! Ultimately, it’s one of my favorite projects that I’ve done because I got to take this piece of art — the movie — and use details and themes from it to create another piece of art. Practicing that process fills me with so much inspiration and motivation to create.
You also have plenty of slogans centered on social awareness. Do you have specific goals or messages that you want to achieve with your art?
My artistic style and my portfolio have a pretty broad spectrum, from books to posters to merchandise to infographics, and the goal varies for each medium and project outcome. Like I mentioned, a lot of my art is rooted in emotion, and often my art reflects what I’m consuming and what I’m reflecting on. I am still learning more about social awareness every day, but it’s enriching to share my journey and what I believe in through my art.
Ultimately though, my artistic goal has always been to create something that makes the audience feel something, and in particular to create empathy and cultivate connection. I love that there are different levels and ways to achieve this through different artistic styles. Whether I’m creating educational infographics and more socially conscious art or illustrating words from a song and a musical, I am reaching a group of people and hopefully evoking emotion and fostering a connection [with them].
One of your works as a freelance illustrator is the STEAM Education Project, which aims to encourage children to study science and other relevant fields with art. Specifically, illustrating for a storybook that’s going to be sent into outer space looks like a pretty unique achievement. How was that experience like?
It was technically an internship for a few months, where aside from the storybook, I created coloring pages for children to learn more about STEAM. I had not created art that was more scientifically driven before, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity. It was a project that also gave me a lot of creative freedom, and as someone who loves space-related things, it was so fun to explore that.
My favorite types of projects are when I am asked to take a form of media, whether that’s a story, a movie — like what I did for Disney’s Jungle Cruise! — a concept, a song, or even a relationship, and create something visual from it. This is a big reason why I love personal commissions and creating works for individuals. It gives me the chance to just be creative, be detail-oriented, and interpret things according to my vision. For this project, I was given the copy of the story and asked to just illustrate a book so I really ran with that, even down to making the main character look Chinoy!
In the Philippines, there was once a point where it wasn’t very common to see Chinoys pursue the creative path often due to family expectations or societal pressure. What advice do you have for young Chinoys who wish to choose this field?
I am very blessed to have a family that has always supported and encouraged my creative passions. I know not everyone has that luxury. However, I am really excited to see that become more accepted now, with people realizing that creativity and art are essential in most, if not all, businesses and companies, whether that’s in the form of product design or marketing. That knowledge and skill are valuable and often essential, and it’s my hope that that becomes fully accepted and respected.
In general, my advice to creatives everywhere is just to keep creating, and more than that, create things that you WANT to create. Because of societal expectations, it may be difficult to find and follow the path, but I also think it’s important to realize that there’s never ever one singular path out there. Every day, I’m still figuring out my own path. It constantly changes. I feel lost a lot, but I try to take things one step at a time. Imposter syndrome is real. I know, sometimes, it’s hard to have faith in yourself or your abilities, but I try to remind myself that it’s all part of the journey. Even if you find your creative passion when you’re 8 or 13 or 23, it is still valid. You are the only one who can feel that passion, and you are the only one who can do something about it.
I would also say to trust yourself. That feeling I was talking about when I get excited about a new project? It’s a gut feeling that is sometimes overwhelming where I just have to stop everything I’m doing and write this idea down or create this piece of art. It’s the same feeling I got when I was 13 and I made my first lettering work, and it’s a feeling I’ve followed ever since. It’s a feeling that’s changed my life.
When you find something you love, something that you can see being a part of the rest of your life, you don’t just let that go. Life is too short to not spend it doing what you love to do!