Cathy Sison on the Shillington Diversity Scholarship, moving to New York and turning her creative interests into side hustles
Graphic designer, Art director & Calligrapher based in New York. A lover of design, type and photography, Kyashi is also a teacher at Shillington College of Design, after hours you can find her curating words and positive affirmations on @kyashi_writes
Mon: Hey Cathy! What’s up, why don’t we start by hearing a little bit about your creative background?
Cathy: Hi Monish! Thanks for this opportunity, super excited to be a part of this.
I honestly don’t know how far back you want me to go, but I’ve always been a creative kid, to the point that my mum constantly reminds me that my creativity happened in the home as I was inspired to graffiti our living room walls. I was obsessed with all things anime and Disney growing up, that I found myself learning animation and illustration first before discovering graphic design.
I studied in Melbourne Australia first at Holmesglen Tafe then Monash University and got my Bachelors Degree in Communication Design. I started working in small design studios and then found my feet as an in-house graphic designer for Hairhouse and then as a Senior Designer and Art Director at Thankyou.
Mon: What made you make the move to NYC?
Cathy: Hand on my heart I can say it took me 7 years of manifestation and hard work to move over to NYC (that’s no lie) I was obsessed with New York ever since I visited for 3 months in 2013. I really got a taste of the city and I knew I was meant to be there somehow. Fast forward to 2019 and through my design contacts back home in Melbourne I was connected with the Global Director of Shillington and he saw something in me and offered me a role to teach design. I couldn’t refuse!
Mon: How do you think the creative industries in Australia and the US differ?
Cathy: It’s definitely more competitive, and you’re dealing with higher numbers in terms of creatives. I think we can forget how small Australia is, let alone the Melbourne creative community. I kind of miss that actually because you really knew people and were able to collaborate a bit more. In New York you have to go above and beyond to get your name out there but in saying that there is a vast amount of opportunity here.
Mon: You’re currently the Head for Shillington college here in New York, what got you into teaching?
Cathy: I guess I fell into it, I knew I always wanted to teach design, I just didn’t know when or where. This opportunity came my way and I knew it was a sign, it was also the pivot I needed in my career. I worked at some amazing agencies and companies, but there was always a part of me that wanted to give back and this just felt right.
Mon: You've been a strong advocate for Shillington's Diversity Scholarship. What's the program about and why do you think it's so important?
Cathy: The Diversity in Design Scholarship is an opportunity open to aspiring designers from underrepresented groups. What do we mean by underrepresented groups? Applicants can self-identify in their application. May include but is not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes.
I’m a big believer in creating a diverse space in the design industry, and as my position as Head, I feel it’s also my responsibility to keep advocating for this. This was something I didn’t have when I was studying or growing up and I wish this program existed. The opportunity to allow design to be more open and inclusive allows the industry to evolve and grow for the better.
Mon: What creative skills do you think the next generation of designers need to be learning? Is having a tight portfolio still king?
Cathy: It’s two things for me….
1. Have a great portfolio that showcases your skills, don’t feel intimidated that you don’t know or haven’t worked on big projects yet, your skills and portfolio will evolve. Make sure your portfolio is an extension of who you are and what excites you as a creative, which leads me to number 2…
2. Be a good kind human (I know that’s not quite a creative skill) The key takeaway is are you employable? Can you work in a team, how do you treat new clients, what makes working with you great? The creative industry is tough but it’s also small, so really look at how you treat people, no one wants to work with jerks :)
Mon: How did you start Kyashi writes?
Cathy: It came out of pure boredom on the train one day, I was living out in the suburbs and my train ride to work took about 45minutes. I didn’t have a car at the time, so I just used that 45minutes to read, listen to a podcast and then found writing and sketching was a nice creative outlet.
Mon: Where do you get the ideas from for the copy in your quotes?
Cathy: A lot of the quotes come from everywhere mainly my head as I would like to be a poet but will never claim to be, but I love hip-hop lyrics, cheesy romantic movie lines, or Oprah she’s the keeper of all amazing quotes.
Mon: What advice do you have for creatives who want to turn their hobbies into side hustles?
Cathy: Do it without thinking of the end goal.
I think what made Kyashi a success was that it truly gave me so much joy that I would spend weekends, lunch-breaks just having fun with it. The more you obsess over your hobby the more people will gravitate towards it, the clients came and then soon you have a certified business. But start and have fun with it, that would be my advice.
Mon: I also know you’re into photography, anything you’ve had a particular interest in shooting lately?
Cathy: I am, another little hobby that I would love to turn into a career one day (fingers crossed).
The main reason I moved to New York was the environment itself is so inspiring, there is never a dull day. I’m constantly being stimulated by the people, the buildings, the sounds and the constant pulse of the city. I like shooting the little quiet New York moments which is rare but it’s there, like a couple holding hands, or when the sun hits the city. I’m constantly trying to capture those rare moments.
Mon: Favorite calligraphy quote you have posted this month?
Cathy: I haven’t posted in awhile, due to my hectic schedule at work, but I’ve always loved this one…
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