Joey Yu’s sporadic and colourful illustrations play upon on the mundane moments


“It’s cool to work hard,” are graduates Joey Yu’s words to live by. She needn’t tell us twice: the London-based illustrator, animator, curator and all-round creative talent is living proof of her five-word philosophy.

Joey grew up in what she describes as a “leafy suburbia in the outskirts of London” before moving to nearby Kingston to undertake her foundation course. “It was the moment that I heard tutors and students talking so genuinely and so passionately about art that I thought, this is something very rare! I’m sold! I want to be around these people all the time!” Joey laughs. “Anyway,” she continues, “leafy suburbia can be fun if you’re imaginative, and London was only 20 minutes away on the train.”

Joining her friends at Kingston on the BA course Illustration Animation (“which makes me sound like a bit of a lemon… but I genuinely just wanted to spend everyday in the same room with them and go literally creatively insane”), Joey approached her studies as a no-holds-barred creative battleground. “We cried, we crawled down staircases, I climbed in bins: I think we succeeded.”

For Joey, Kingston represented a whirlpool of creativity. “I also wanted to dip into every creative field possible, so studying something quite flexible seemed like the perfect three-year incubator for me to figure out how to do that,” she says. University also put Joey in direct contact with other students with diverse creative interests. “You’re having lunch with product and furniture designers, then you’re waiting for the loo with someone from fashion,” she explains. “I’ve learned so much from being around such diverse makers, and I think it’s really influenced the way I work.” 

Joey’s final project Anti Assimilation Wear demonstrates the graduate’s sponge-like ability to create across a rich tapestry of mediums. Translated straight from the pages of her sketchbooks, her loose illustrative style made its way onto textiles in the form of flags and garments. “It was a big culmination of everything I’ve always wanted to do — art direction, fashion design, performance, illustration, print, working with a big team. It felt like my chance to prove to myself what I was capable of on my own. I stayed up countless nights on a sewing machine in the kitchen, I had zero free time, but I loved every moment. Seeing it come together gave me an immense high. I love to draw, but equally, I love working and collaborating with other people.”

Her own creative process, Joey concedes, can be somewhat unpredictable. “I’m not sure about style, but my approach is very haphazard, unplanned. The whole collection of Anti Assimilation Wear was drawn on the back of a receipt, and I made it without pattern cutting. Although I have a stubborn personality, I feel creatively I never say no. I’m very sporadic: I hate the feeling of being stagnant.”

Joey works largely in sketchbooks which “vary in mediums, but I carry a massive pencil case with assorted materials that work well when travelling- gouache, felt tips, coloured pencils and paper. I like when things are a little messy”. Her illustrative work is often made on the move, playing on those mundane moments which are usually overlooked in favour of a mindless iPhone screen surf. “Anytime I’m not meant to be working is inspiring,” Joey says. “It can be on walks in the early evening, on the train, sitting with some friends, or at 3am in the morning. When people ask what I do when I have a creative block, I tell them not to work. Don’t get flustered — the answer is usually waiting on the other side of a good night’s sleep, or a long walk.”

With a wisdom which belies her years, Joey is keen to remind younger readers that “things have a funny way of working out". She continues: "In college, I hated art class because I used got told off for spending too much time decorating and laying out my sketchbook pages, and talking too much. Now I have been paid to do both those things! So from that: do you. Be quietly confident, but also being open to new things. As long as you do it with conviction, and you really truly care, you’ll find a way of making things work out.”

Supported by A/D/O

Founded by MINI, A/D/O is a creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn dedicated to exploring new boundaries in design. At its heart is the Design Academy, which offers a range of programming to professional designers, intended to provoke and invigorate their creative practice.

Share Article

Further Info

About the Author

Bryony Stone

Bryony joined It's Nice That as Deputy Editor in August 2016, following roles at Mother, Secret Cinema, LAW, Rollacoaster and Wonderland. She later became Acting Editor at It's Nice That, before leaving in late 2018.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.