This Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked five teachers from the Skillshare community to identify a word of personal significance from their culture and create new artwork based on that word. We invite you to experience these powerful introspections in our month-long series and celebrate these creatives by learning more about their respective backgrounds.

Discover how a word, a memory, a tradition can manifest into something uniquely meaningful for each individual — and maybe even spark your own idea along the way.

Meet Jennet Liaw

Jennet Liaw is a graphic artist based in New York City whose upbringing in a trilingual household sparked a gift for unearthing meaning in the everyday. In her Skillshare Original, Digital Illustrative Typography: Playing With Adobe Fresco, Jennet elaborates on her “split persona” as an illustrator: she’s as comfortable painting large-scale murals as she is designing packaging and apparel for big brands — all mediums benefitting from her unique approach to illustrative typography.

Previously a designer at Nike, Jennet currently runs her studio as an independent artist collaborating with brands like Adidas, Puma, REI, Harper Collins, Netflix, Airbnb, and Apple. In our conversation, she discusses reconnecting with her Taiwanese heritage, cultural assimilation as a first-gen Asian-American, and how calligraphy has shaped her deep and abiding love of iconography.

What word did you choose to share? Can you define it for our community and tell us why it holds meaning for you?

I chose the word yuán (緣), which is a pretty ethereal concept for how readily it can be used in conversation. Instead of saying so-and-so is “in your life for a reason,” in Mandarin you would say, “you two have yuán.” It’s also broad — from the natural affinity between friends to star-crossed lovers to the fate that brought two strangers to sit next to one other on the L train — all these relations can be labeled as yuán. 

I chose this word because it reminds me of how small we are, relative to the coincidences that lead us to play parts in each others’ lives. It’s beautiful that a word exists to remind us that we’re all where we are, largely by chance. 

“It’s beautiful that a word exists to remind us that we’re all where we are, largely by chance.” 

Tell us about the final artwork: why did you choose to convey the word this way?

Even the simplest Chinese words have inherent depth, because not only is each word compounded (a random example is the word for “circus” which breaks out into “horse-show-group”), but every character itself is made of meaningful symbols that interact with one other. So It seemed right to personify these character elements as brush strokes sprites, eager to cross paths with one another and recognize the yuán that led them to form the word together, very meta.

How has your heritage influenced your creative process and style?

Though I grew up trilingual, I can barely read or write any Chinese. But my Taiwanese parents did introduce me to calligraphy at a young age — the symbology of these characters inevitably influences my love of iconography, and overall, growing up with the language has led me to always pursue the belief that deeper meaning can be embedded in any basic thing.

What are ways our community can celebrate the creative contributions of API makers and artists this month?

I think a lot of API creatives here in the States aren’t accustomed to drawing from their rich heritage to advance their work — ‘assimilation’ was the name of the game for many first generation kids on the path to success.

An onlooker may assume I knew how to write yuán and recite the definition easily but that wouldn’t be true. I had to confirm these with wikipedia, and my mom — and I’m glad I received the opportunity to do so.

Giving API creatives opportunities in the mainstream arena to share their hyphenated culture triggers them to reconnect with potentially severed roots, and paves the path for them to contribute more richly to the entire creative community in the long run.

Join Jennet in Class!

Digital Illustrative Typography: Playing With Adobe Fresco

About the author

Evan Neuhoff (he/they) is a non-binary Filipino-American writer living in Houston, Texas. Evan writes at the intersection of gender and racial identity, generational trauma, and the queer experience.

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Evan Neuhoff