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Conversations with Connie Cheng

Today we’d like to introduce you to Connie Cheng.

Hi Connie, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I currently work as a full-time artist/designer and part-time gigging musician/teacher. As a kid, I always had artistic inclinations and was lucky enough to be put into art classes and piano lessons. Of course, as an Asian kid my parents expected me to have a realistic idea of what I wanted to do with my life and get a practical job. My dad sat me down as early as 5th grade to discuss my future plans!

It was always hard for me to believe that I could have a life being an artist or musician, I went to college and ended up with a B.S. in Accounting, started working as an undergraduate finance associate at Disney during my junior year of college, and upon graduating in 2016 I somehow managed to land in the Disneyland art department in a very small, temporary role. Eventually, through hard work and much learning, this grew into a full-time job, which I still hold.

Now about the music side of things — I’ve always loved to play and sing but was mostly too scared and unknowledgeable to do anything about it. In 2018, I went to my first jazz jam, where I sang with live musicians and I just fell in love. Since then, I’ve met many new friends, taken private lessons, studied music at my local community college, and just kept pressing on. I still consider myself new in music, but now I’ve got some experience under my belt, a few recordings, and I’m working on more recordings as well as live projects!

My life requires a lot of balance and it’s been a continuous process to streamline all my activities and forge the path that I want… but even with the crazy rollercoaster of ups and downs, I have to say it’s been overall lovely.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Anyone close to me will know it has not been an easy road. I think any creative will have many problems to solve- there are practical issues (how do I pay the bills, how do I have time to work on my art), and artistic issues (technique, what do I have to offer) and so much more. For me personally, I have so many interests that energy management and focus have been two things for me to contend with. I also had big issues with negative self-talk and self-doubt, which made it difficult to even practice at times. The road has required much internal personal work as well as outward actions. Sometimes you get two birds with one stone when you talk with the right person that says just the thing you need to hear, or an opportunity comes that allowed you to gain experience and confidence in yourself.

There are always many decisions to be made- between good and bad, good and better, better and best. For me the answers also change depending on my situation at that point. The questions I’ve been answering are still largely the same– what do I want to spend each day doing? How do I make that work- financially and otherwise logistically? What do I really want to say, artistically, over my lifetime? What technical issues do I have around this, if any?

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
As a broad stroke, I am an artist/musician, but the nitty gritty is a bit more complicated. As an artist, I work full-time as a scenic designer but would consider myself a kind of generalist when it comes to graphic design, illustration, etc. I wouldn’t say I am a heavyweight in any one visual discipline. I have done freelance work from graphic art to photography.

In music, most of my gig experience is in straight-ahead jazz. I recently released some music on Spotify just to get my feet wet, and am working on some new projects now.

I’m most proud of the unique collection of skills I’ve acquired and my particular visual and sonic style that has come from personal exploring. There is so much journeying to do in the creative arts- one journey in working on your technical chops, which can be really exciting and challenging, another journey in consuming art and developing your own preferences, tastes, and understanding of different genres, and then hopefully, another journey in which you can really work to experiment and merge your technique and tastes to create a unique point of view.

Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
Finding a mentor can be tough and there a few ways to go about it. First, there are many different types of mentors. Some will be more emotionally supportive than others, some focus on technical guidance, and some focus on career guidance, etc. It’s always great to talk to different people you admire or that are ahead of you in any path and just start listening to their challenges and solutions. Try to discover what kind of help you need.

Second- in both music and visual art there are plenty of mentors out there, and often they need to be paid. If you’re strapped for cash this can be tough- on the other hand, since they are offering their services, you don’t need to chase them down; simply sign up for your spot. Lots of amazing folks on Patreon offer mentorship/feedback as a paid service. I’d also look into taking private lessons, classes, or community college classes (plenty of amazing teachers at CC’s)

Third- if you have a question for someone you admire regarding their journey…just ask them! You’ll probably be able to feel if they want to talk more or if they’re a bit too busy… and then the relationship starts from there. Support them, go to their functions and events, and just be interested in learning about what they do.

Fourth – You can have different mentors for different things. Creative paths can be unconventional, even within the creative space= example- it is easy to identify the experts in your desired lane, but if you have a mix of skills that you’d like to navigate, I think it can be done but since you’re forging your own path it will be hard to find someone who knows enough about everything you’re interested in AND knows you well enough to give you the right guidance or feedback.

I think all the above advice is applicable for networking as well, so I will continue:

Fifth – don’t forget to look within your peers or people close to your age. I’ve been surprised in what I have been able to learn from fellow students- even if it wasn’t discipline-specific, sometimes discussing challenges/ideas with others has led me to new conclusions or even just more clarity in my own thinking.

Sixth – Be interested in other people. This is somewhat redundant, but all the folks I’ve seen who were best at networking (I do not include myself on this list) were people who showed interest and support for others.

Seventh – Just be open… again, somewhat redundant, but you never know who will be in a position to help you, and you never know just what awesome thing someone could show you.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Image of me with guitar was taken by Emmaline Kim

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