Artist Spotlight

Abbey Sy expresses herself on paper

Abbey is an artist and author from Manila, Philippines. Throughout her creative career, she has worked on freelance projects, has written and illustrated best-selling books such as The ABCs of Hand Lettering, The ABCs of Journaling, and Always Be Creating: A Field Guide To Living a Creative Life. Her first international title, Hand Lettering A to Z, has been translated to nine languages. She has given two TEDx talks, spoken in Graphika Manila, and facilitated workshops on creativity and making things happen. Currently, she runs Shop Abbey Sy and manages her art club on Patreon. With her Always be Creating mantra, she hopes to inspire others to unlock their creative potential and move forward with their creative journey.

What is art journaling to you?

Art journaling to me is all about expressing yourself on paper; regardless of what medium and purpose and style. Ultimately, these little decisions of materials being used, styles and layouts being applied and the motivation behind creating a page is what makes me unique, and everyone else flourish in their own creative ways.

What does community do for your art?

It helps me share what I know to others, and also find common ground and similar experiences with other people. (e.g. when you find people who love fountain pens as much as you do…these are my people!)

How do you live a creative life? How do you incorporate journaling into that?

Journaling, for me, is an important aspect of living a creative life. It allows me to be more aware of where I am and what I’m doing at certain points in my life — AND by documenting, I give myself something to remember by and be grateful for about my life.

What does your creative space look like? Where do you journal?

My creative space always has to have my stack of journals, a candle, some pens, and stationery. I journal where I work; I set aside time for work (of course) and once that’s done, it’s time for play and time to take out my stationery and start journaling.

Do you have creative routines?

I try to either make art in the mornings or the evenings, depending on the season and how my workload is. But I always, always, ALWAYS journal on the weekends — it’s my non-negotiable activity. Usually Sunday mornings. The rest of the week I just add it in as I see fit.

What is your favourite art journal page that you’ve ever made and why?

I have a lot! But for this year, I specifically made a 2022 vision board and wrote about it at the start of my journal so I can always look at it in case I feel lost with life. 

What is your biggest barrier to creating? And how do you overcome that hurdle?

Insecurity has always been my biggest barrier. Or sometimes I have episodes where I hinder myself from creating because my mental health is not doing okay. Usually I try to overcome that hurdle by doing warm ups or going on artist dates (like watching a film, organizing stickers…small activities) so I can keep the creative energy going somehow.

Have you ever made something you don’t like? What did you do?

Sure, I have!

I just end up throwing them. I think there’s always a misconception that you shouldn’t throw out work you made; but for me there’s a liberating feeling of getting rid of something and starting again. It’s very freeing for me.

At this point in my years of creating, I’ve thrown out maybe 50% of my artworks. I kept some because I want to remember those days that I didn’t like what I did; or there was a specific thing I learned from making that piece (that would lead to making better ones).

Of course, for journaling, it’s a bit more different because it’s inside the pages of an actual journal. Sometimes I will tape the pages or cover it up. Or I just leave it there because I like the idea that not all pages are great. That’s just how I think a journal should be — no filter.

Have you ever been through artist block? How did you return to your work?

Definitely! I’ve had it every few years. Usually doing something else (I got into reading books, writing and watching films in recent years) has helped me overcome it.

How has Get Messy impacted your creativity?

I always love seeing posts from Get Messy because they allow me to think outside the box — I’m always so used to seeing a particular style of journaling, and of course, doing the style/s I’m accustomed to, but seeing others’ work and finding inspiration from that helps me fill my creative cup all the time.

Abbey is one of the incredible teachers at Get Messy. She shares her art and her heart in the Season of OK.

You’re invited to embrace the messy middle and join the best art journaling community on the internet.

What journal do you use?

I’m using a journal I made called The Diarist, as well as a Traveler’s Notebook system. These are my two main outlets for documenting life as it happens.

What is your one *must have* supply?

A fountain pen! My favorite pen from my collection is my Pilot Custom 823 in Amber, F (fine nib).

What do you make when you don’t know what to make?

I always end up going back to my hand lettering roots and drawing letters if I have no idea what to put on the page. Works all the time.

What is the most important (non-tool) thing to your creative practice?

Being in the flow of creating. I feel uncomfortable forcing it; and I’m well aware that it’s not something I have in me all the time (the creative energy). So I try to save it for when I create.

Who are your favourite Messy artists?

Caylee Grey (OF COURSE), because her “Get Messy” philosophy allows me to not be afraid to make mistakes. I also love Mits / mylifemits’ style, it’s very simple and creative and I love how she experiments with different materials. Jane / janethecrazy is also someone I love watching journal, she’s amazing.

What’s the best art advice you’ve ever received?

Creative work has seasons. This was from Austin Kleon’s blog post, and it’s made me realize how there is a time for everything, even in the creative sense.

Advice to new art journalers:

Just start, and show up when you can.

Find common ground with other creatives

Join the community