Abbey Sy describes herself as “an artist, author, shop owner and content creator currently based in Manila, Philippines.” Abbey’s art varies from digital art to traditional. She does calligraphy and paints in watercolors and acrylics, illustrating outfit inspiration and sights from foreign lands. With her published book and social media platforms, she provides journaling ideas and ways to make your planner more authentically you.
She has turned her talent and passion into a successful business, but that doesn’t happen overnight.
From the beginning
“I was always the kid who loved drawing and didn’t like socializing as much, so at a young age I started to develop my interest in art through drawing and writing,” she said. And sticking with her interest from when she was younger paid off.
That, and finding a community. It has been said that success is being at the right place at the right time. And it seems that combined with her talent, Abbey struck gold, starting with her Tumblr page way back when and growing her following from there.
“For some reason, a lot of opportunities opened up from the Tumblr blog I made during my first year in college. The internet was such a foreign thing back then, but it was great to have found like-minded people who understood my work and followed along my journey. After Tumblr, I started my Instagram and eventually, YouTube. Currently, I’m focused on building my Patreon for my creative community.”
On top of that, Abbey has published books that are sold locally and internationally. Her first book titled, Hand Lettering A to Z: A World of Creative Ideas for Drawing and Designing Alphabets, came out in 2017 and was a smashing success, earning her the title of best-selling author. She released three more titles. The ABC’s of Hand Lettering equips you with the basics to creating creative styles that embody your personality.
The Complete Photo Guide to Hand Lettering and Calligraphy: The Essential Reference for Novice and Expert Letterers and Calligraphers inspires and instructs with beautiful photographs that were taken by the author herself. Her most recent book, Hand Lettering A to Z Workbook: Essential Instruction and 80+ Worksheets for Modern and Classic Styles-Easy Tear-Out Practice Sheets for Alphabets, Quotes, and More, is a great collection of a variety of drills, definitive examples, and practice sheets for a variety of modern lettering styles, flourishes, and other decorative elements. Motivational and inspirational quotes are also found in the workbook to encourage you to stay on your creative journey.
The age of social media
And with 126K Instagram followers and 29.7K YouTube subscribers and counting, we’d say Abbey is pretty famous. Yet, she said, “I don’t like coining myself as a famous person. I’ve always been allergic to it especially when people from my past life suddenly start conversations with me so they can brag they know me or anything.”
Despite that, or perhaps because of it, she’s remained true to herself and everyone who’s been true to her. “My social circle is very small. I only trust a few people, and they’ve helped pull me out of very dark places. a\And they’re the reason I’m able to be my best self at work. My family is very chill about it. I think they got used to it over the years.. But at the end of the day, I still think I’m a regular 28-year old at home. But when they find me on the Internet — it’s a different story.”
Social media has swept the world, and while it was once used as a space to connect with friends and relatives and keep them updated with your life, more and more people use social media to market themselves, their products, and their brands. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to be seen and stand out, but Abbey seems to manage it with ease.
Her feed is always on point, her content is always on-brand. It takes talent to perfect content like that.
“My current favorite would be Patreon because it’s a combination of all platforms and I get supported by my patrons to do the work that I love — without the algorithm hindering me from reaching more people.”
But as a true entrepreneur, she loves pushing herself and her audience, saying, “Process-wise, I used to enjoy YouTube because I’m a filming noob and anything that requires me to step out of my comfort zone is fun.”
But she makes sure to adjust when new platforms arise. She’s recently started making TikTok videos “I never thought I’d like TikTok, but it’s actually fun! I get to play around more with my art and it’s just been a week since I started but it’s been great. Can’t wait to make more fun stuff on there and inspire other people to pick up their art materials.”
The creative process
With a mantra like “Always Be Creating,” people must think that she’s a never-ending fountain of ideas and creativity, but that’s not the case. “I think most people have this idea that the creative process is something you switch on out of the blue. Personally, I think it’s important to just start and let things come as they are,” she mused. “I mean, it may look like I create 24/7, but I don’t. Most days I’m doing admin work or packing orders or answering emails, which is around half of my job. If you can’t create today, you can try tomorrow. One day at a time and small steps every day.”
That being said, her art showcases things that inspire her, like her travels which feature heavily in her designs. But given the worldwide lockdown that has been implemented since 2020, her jet setting has been grounded. “Travel has always been an essential part of what I do, and since the pandemic happened, I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that the farthest I can go is from my house to my studio. Lately, I’ve been time traveling to the 1960s while watching films and series in the mid-century era. Call it escapism but it’s been keeping me afloat for the past months!”
Aside from visiting new places and experiencing different cultures, this young artist has also taken inspiration from various people. “I used to idolize so many people to the point that I want to have their life, and as I got older I realized how unhealthy this mindset was. So I don’t really have specific people I look up to that are on the top of my head.”
Instead, Abbey has learned and grown, thanks to the people who motivate her. “I do have a lot of people in the creative industry I respect,” Abbey noted. “From podcast hosts I listen to, entertainers, musicians, scientists, artists who have innovated the way the world looked at art — these people have inspired me to be brave and take risks in order to live my fullest life and do the best I can.”
Abbey’s known for her hand-lettering and journaling. She has written books, given TEDx talks at her alma mater, Saint Jude Catholic School, as well as in UP Manila. She also makes videos that help people on their creative journey and gives a bit of life advice every now and then. She’s been know to do some art commissions and brand partnerships as well. So, what’s next for her business?
“The core of what I love doing as a creative person is really running a shop, so I plan to stay on that lane and keep creating stationery and making art tools accessible to everyone. As someone who loves stationery, I enjoy the process of designing them and putting them out there.”
Changes and challenges amid the pandemic
She has stopped putting too much pressure on herself, though.
“I stopped setting goals since the pandemic happened. My goals are mostly small scale, like hire a team for my community — which I’ve recently done — expand the product offerings at the shop, make better content online to reach the right people.”
“I don’t have any personal goals. I think I just want to hopefully graduate from my anxiety but I’m not rushing it. I’ve also been doing yoga so I just want to be more consistent — nothing concrete, really. I got tired of setting too many goals in my early 20s,” she added.
Being your own boss comes with its own set of challenges, and separating work life from home is probably one of the greatest struggles. Abbey’s been dealing with that for a while, so how does she balance her home life and her work life?
“My office!” she exclaimed. “I’m so grateful the office was finished by January 2020. I had to stay at home from March to June but after that, I’ve been going to the office on weekdays so I can really focus on work and admin tasks,” she explained. “My room has been a space for me to literally sleep and rest in, so I never bring my laptop home. Simple separation but definitely a big difference for me.”
Running a brand as successful as hers would take a lot out of anybody. To unwind, Abbey said, “I like to cook. I’ve always loved cooking but had a love-hate relationship with my weight and eating habits, but as I got older I’ve been more comfortable with it. I cook on Sundays for my family and mostly cook my meals in the office to save on takeout money.”
“I also like organizing if that’s a hobby? I like setting up my spaces and refreshing my desks every few months. It really makes a huge difference in my creativity and productivity,” she added. Her social media posts are proof of how immaculate she keeps her workspace.
Advice from Abbey
Offering more advice, particularly on how to turn one’s passion for art into a source of income, she said, “Starting an art-based business is quite a risk, but with the prevalence now of this business model it’s a bit easier to get in, albeit more competitive because of more artists coming in.”
“Remember at the end of the day that you have to root for yourself, and put out the work that matters not just to your customers, but to you. Again, don’t do things because others want you to. Find a compromise and it will work out.”
On starting a business, she suggested, “My advice is to find your ‘why.’ I know it’s something many people have said. But I noticed that many people start a business just because it’s trendy or it’s something that draws in a lot of money — and as a business owner I see right through those. There’s no heart. If there’s a reason for your business and why you connect to it on a deeper level, it just has more purpose and you’re most likely to sustain it better.”
If Abbey can achieve success by following her passions, so can you, and if you need more inspiration, these sister from Aegyo Cakes talk about their success by sending love amid the pandemic via customized cakes.