🔎 In Focus: Nickey Huynh

An interview with the illustrator behind Niche Create, where we discuss cultural expectations, mental health, and creative inspiration

🔎 In Focus: Nickey Huynh

Notes from Jenn:

  • This In Focus interview is long. If you’d like to save it for a later read, you can jump ahead to the social media section (which likely opens in a browser window).
  • I stepped foot (ha) into a nail salon for the first time in three years and got a pedicure. I forgot how amazing massage chairs are!

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This relationship with the mother tongue is a difficult one to describe, and it doesn’t help that it’s constantly in flux. Many days, I feel guilty for not being able to hold a good conversation in Mandarin.
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In Focus: Interview with illustrator Nickey Huynh

As someone whose stick figures have not evolved in the last two decades, I’m always in awe and envious of those with art and illustration talent. For this In Focus series interview, I talked to Nickey Huynh, illustrator of Niche Create.

For the seven years leading up to the pandemic lockdowns, she didn’t create any art. Right before the lockdown, Nickey and her boyfriend had been exploring specialty coffee, taking workshops, and attending cupping sessions. When boredom hit, they learned about making coffee at home, and she bought a tablet, teaching herself how to do digital art. In university, she was majoring in fine arts but found that the courses didn’t teach her much about art. “I was able to translate some of the skills I remember from back then into digital art,” she says. “And then I started doing little commissions here and there for fun, and it kind of grew from there.”

Drawing inspiration from her love of miniature worlds, her first coffee sticker, V60 Minutes Coffee, models an hourglass with sand trickling down to the dessert scene below. From there, she’s created more mini worlds featuring the Aeropress, Origami dripper, and Chemex. She recently left her teaching job to work on Niche Create and study UX design. In this conversation (edited and condensed), we talked about cultural expectations, mental health, and creative inspiration.

Jenn: Creating tiny worlds, is that your guiding light, or do you have other things that also guide you in terms of finding things to create?
: When I looked at other, similar businesses that were on Etsy and other artists, they have a very, very specific theme and style in their shop. I'm all over the place; I create things that I want to create. I know for businesses, in a lot of cases, they do want to keep a similar theme so that their customers know what to expect. But for me…it’s where the Niche Create comes from: each person's not one-dimensional. I have so many interests in different niches. I obviously have the coffee pieces, but I also have things that have to do with fitness because I love lifting weights, going to the gym. So I have weight plate pins, for example.

five stickers with different colored origami drippers and mini world scenes in the carafes
Origami coffee stickers

When you were growing up, you were talking about how you weren't encouraged in your art. How did you find time, during class or in your non-homework time, to create? And were your parents okay with that?
I guess they didn't know because my parents were working a lot. You know, the typical immigrant parents, always working. I don't want to self-diagnose, but as an adult, I realized that I had a lot of ADHD symptoms. I used to always daydream in class. Or I'll sit there and I'll just picture stories in my head. I never created anything super formal because my parents were like, nah—because I said I wanted to be an author, too—and they're like, no, authors don't make money.

My mom said that, too.
That's why they're like, you can doodle, but that's not what you're doing for your career.

Then you said you went to university with an interest in art. Were they okay with that? Did they just change their minds between—?
It was interesting because my older cousin—I remember her messaging me, I’m so proud of you for being the first person to break out of our family's expectations. Because for her, she was trying to get into dental school, and she tried several times, but it wasn't for her. And now she's a nurse, so she's still in the medical field, which is totally fine with the family, of course. But for me, she was like, I don't know if, at your age, I would've had the guts not to go into science.

Eventually, I was just like, why does it matter what they think? And I'm still in a good place. The reason why they moved here is to give us better opportunities. And better opportunities mean you should also find a balance between being able to sustain a living and also enjoy your life. So if I'm able to make the money to survive and eat and live, what is wrong with what I'm doing to make that money as long as I'm not hurting anyone else?

“Not everything is about social commentary, but I like lacing it into there so that it's not just all in your face. The artwork itself should have some sort of function when it's out there, to actually make the change within the community.”

Managing creative work & mental health

Nickey started Niche Create partially as an escape from teaching, and getting shingles last year was a “wake-up call” for her. About leaving teaching, she says: “I can always come back if things don't work out, but it'll be really hard for me to change careers when I get older. I don't want to feel trapped. If I do go back to teaching, I want it to be a choice, not because I'm obligated to stay.”

Earlier this year, she was having panic attacks, and on her doctor’s recommendation, she went on medication.

Nickey: Then I also realized that it made me feel very muted. Obviously, it's lowering the negative emotions, but it also lowers the positive and a bit of the creativity. It was a big effort to get myself to work on things. I got off of it recently, and I feel like the Energizer bunny, so motivated. It was really good that I had that help when I needed it.

I would've said that the med probably wasn't the right one if it muted you.
When I first started taking it, it was good, because I was hyperventilating at least once a day. So it stopped that. Even my doctor was like, it doesn't have to be permanent; keep taking it until you're in a better place, and then you can get off of it. So that's basically what I did when I realized I didn’t need it anymore.

Do you have any rituals that ground you? Like if you're feeling really distracted or need inspiration?
When I quit my job, I didn't have a set schedule anymore. With my suspected ADHD, I just felt lost. It was so hard even to start one small task. I was just swimming in a cloud. What I do every single day is, I do 15 to 30 minutes—depending on how I feel—of yoga in the morning. I have a set schedule for the gym, so I at least have those to ground me. I do think physical activity is super important in terms of getting the creative juices going. Even when I work out, sometimes I'm like, ooh, this is a good idea.

It's okay not to draw every single day or every single, even week. If you need to take two weeks off just to relax, do it.

What do you do when you run out of inspiration? Or have you run out of inspiration yet?
I have had an art block. So sometimes I'll be like, guys, tell me what to draw, and it'll just be for fun. But sometimes, you just have to recognize that you can take a break. You don't have to be turning out creations all the time. Which at first, I felt guilty; it’s been so long since I drew something new. But it's the same with working out; you have to take rest before you can recover and charge up for the next workout. So that's what I found; it's okay not to draw every single day or every single, even week. If you need to take two weeks off just to relax, do it.

In your long-term goals, what is your five-year dream for your art business?
I would hope to have a relationship with people in my local community to house my artwork and get more of it out there.

And then if you're gonna think like 10 years out, what would your ideal be?
It's so hard to say because I know for most people when they have a business, they want to keep it growing, growing bigger, more profits every year. So in terms of 10 years, if I'm still doing what I'm doing now, I'll be very happy that it’s still around.

Nickey Huynh’s illustrations are sold in various formats, such as stickers, keychains, and pins on her shop Niche Create. She also takes commissions and wholesale orders. Follow along in her creative journey on Instagram @nichecreate. Nickey’s interview is the second in my In Focus series, interviews with creatives in and around the coffee industry. If you have suggestions on who you’d like me to interview next, let me know!

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🤳🏻 social media

Facebook released a new Pages experience that now lets you easily switch between personal and small business Pages.

TikTok added photo mode (which looks just like IG) and longer video captions.

Instagram is still testing Notes.

Twitter added new 3D Twemoji (Twitter emojis) stickers, ability to add various types of media in one post, and a full-frame video feed that looks like TikTok. It’s testing new product display cards. The short update on the buyout is that Musk is back to buying Twitter.

📤 digital marketing

👀 interesting reads

artful leaf outlines on left, "plant update" immediately to the right
I have a few stromanthe triostars. They take to propagation pretty well and I like to have them in different areas so I can test how they react in various lighting, soil mixes, and water scenarios. More importantly, is that I now have four decorative gourds. It’s my first time participating in decorative gourd season and I’m on the lookout for one more!