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Meet Trailblazer Monica Kang

Today we’d like to introduce you to Monica Kang.

Monica, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Ever since I was young, I enjoyed visiting art museums and being in awe of different kinds of paintings, illustrations, etc. A random memory of the museum I have is a time when I went to LACMA with my mom around the age of five, and I became so mesmerized by a painting, I slowly reached up to touch the brush strokes and got in trouble by the security guard haha. I loved to create and would do anything from putting together collages to illustrating my own books to making cards for friends on their birthday and more. Also, I was a huge stationery hoarder which has some influence on the type of work I enjoy doing today.

When college app season came around, I never saw myself becoming an art major, partly because of how competitive it could be and the question of stability. Despite that, my parents were always supporters in me pursuing my passions. A huge part of my creative side comes from my mom, who is also an artist. I have always looked up to her because she took such joy in going to a job doing what she loved, so it motivated me to strive for the same feeling of joy as well. Fast forward five years, I was graduating from CSULB with a BFA in Illustration. Since then, I have been using my illustration background to work as a designer at companies and doing freelance projects on the side. My dream was to own a stationery store so I recently launched a brand with one of my best friends called Totato Studio in hopes to bring that dream into fruition.

Has it been a smooth road?
It seems like the more experience I am gaining in this field, the types of challenges I am facing are changing. For instance, when I graduated college, I struggled with honing in on my style and discovering my identity as an illustrator. I worked in different kinds of companies that required various styles, so I became lost in what MY style was. Currently, I would say my style is still evolving, but I have become more confident in creating things that I enjoy so my style is starting to come along with it. At this point in my life, an obstacle I have is being better at managing my time and figuring out a work-life balance. There are days after work where my creative brain is just so fried- I do nothing but binge watch shows all night. When that happens, it becomes difficult to stay motivated. I am struggling with the idea of complacency, but try to constantly look for ways to grow my skillset.

My advice is keep creating what you enjoy and study the works of people you admire. Surround yourself with inspiration, but do not let that turn into comparison. Make friendships with women who are doing the same thing and support each other because it can come a long way! Stay humble and always look for ways to grow and remember that everything will come in its time.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My current full-time is a designer at a product-based company called Smoko. I do everything from product design, character design, graphic design, and sometimes social media. It is amazing that my illustration background has allowed me to use my skills in such a wide range. I feel so proud whenever I see a character I created from scratch being turned into an actual product and being released into the world for others to enjoy.

When my corporate workday is over, and am not feeling brain fried, I try to focus on things for Totato Studio. Totato Studio was a passion project that my friend and I turned into a brand. We create stationery products with a quirky twist. Our goal is to put out stationery that is not just cute but also holds a deeper meaning. Our purpose is to create vulnerability and cultivate a community with like-minded people. It’s still growing, but we’d love to turn this into our full-time one day.

I would say a unique skill I have is being a multi-disciplinary illustrator and designer. When I look at the bigger picture, having experience in the different processes of design helped me understand the different factors that go into creating something. This knowledge was a huge help when I co-launched Totato Studio.

All in all, my objective as an illustrator and designer is to bring joy or invoke some kind of emotion through my art.

We’re interested to hear your thoughts on female leadership – in particular, what do you feel are the biggest barriers or obstacles?
I cannot speak for all females, but an obstacle I am facing is the ability to be vocal and advocate for myself. Growing up, I have always had this mentality where if you just keep your head down and do good work, you will get recognized and acknowledged for it. I often hear this from many other women that share my mentality as well. I am learning that is not the case and we need to be more vocal without hesitation, but I can see this being a potential barrier to grow as a leader in any industry or community.

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Image Credit:
Monica Kang

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