Annie Chen on Taking Risks

by | Jun 28, 2024

Annie is a self-taught, multidisciplinary artist from Vancouver and Squamish. She founded LEMONNI, an art and design studio, in 2013 to infuse homes with happiness through patterns and colours. Her style, described as whimsical and reminiscent of the 60s, features motifs with crisp lines and a soft retro palette, often inspired by nature and animals.

LEMONNI embodies Annie’s fusion of Eastern and Western influences, reflecting her Taiwanese roots and Canadian upbringing. Born in Taiwan, she immigrated to Canada at 15, initially pressured into conventional career paths. However, her time in London post-university allowed her to explore her passion for design, leading her to establish her studio. Since then, she has collaborated with renowned brands like Crate & Barrel and LG, showcasing her artistic flair through diverse projects, from product design to mural painting.

Tell us a bit about your capsule collection. Why did you choose the patterns? What was your inspiration behind these patterns?

I chose these patterns because I’ve personally incorporated them into my home decor, such as bedding, pillowcases, and rugs. They are statement pieces that also effortlessly complement other decor items. These designs draw inspiration from my love for nature and animals. To bring these concepts to life, I used my imagination to interpret my ideas with simple outlines and geometric shapes. Additionally, my style is heavily influenced by mid-century modern design, a period I greatly admire.

How and when did your brand and creative journey come to life?

I created Lemonni in 2013 when I was selling small-run textile goods featuring my own pattern designs. Soon after, I realized I didn’t enjoy the production aspect and wanted to focus solely on design. So I went to New York and exhibited at Surtex, the biggest art licensing trade show in North America. That marked the beginning of my surface design journey.

Tell us about some highlights in your career.

The many firsts are definitely highlights that I’ll remember forever, such as seeing my designs come to life for the first time, participating in a tradeshow in NYC, and creating my first mural. Another significant highlight is my solo art show, which marked an important milestone for me.

What inspires you on a day-to-day basis?

My dogs. Much of my inspiration comes from my observations, and they teach me to slow down my pace, pay attention to my surroundings, and live in the moment. They also bring so much joy into my life, which is essential when I aim to create something that brings people joy.

What would your advice be to your younger self, knowing what you know now about your career and journey? And to anyone else who is starting out as a creative?

Do not seek others’ approval or validation. Set your own goals and don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone’s creative journey is different, so comparing yourself to others is pointless.

A creative career is like a marathon, not a sprint. Focus on your own path and trust in your process.
Which people or books have had the most influence on your creative growth/inspiration and why?

Orla Kiely made me fall in love with patterns and inspired me to design my own. I love how her work is simple yet so timeless and tasteful, and just looks great on anything. When I learned about her brand, I told myself that one day I’d like to do something similar.

Talk about one of the biggest failures you’ve had. What did you learn from it?

I might’ve said “no” too many times to potential opportunities due to budget constraints, schedule conflicts, the scope of the project, etc. In some cases, I wish I had tried harder to make it work or take more risks, as it might have led to something bigger or better. Sometimes the value is not monetary but rather a key to opening more doors. So now I try not to burn bridges right away, even if it doesn’t look promising.

What does a typical day in your week look like?

I live in Squamish, a small town an hour away from Vancouver, and share a studio in downtown Vancouver with my partner and our friend. We commute to the city 1-3 times a week, depending on our schedules.

On studio days, I focus on computer-based tasks like writing my newsletter, updating my website, handling emails and managing accounting. Due to limited natural light in the studio, I avoid creative work like painting there – it’s just a personal preference. My partner and I share the dog-walking duty, so it’s usually a short walk around the neighbourhood after lunch. 

After the dogs are settled, I continue to check off a list of tasks I need to do that day. My partner, Hubert Kang, is a photographer and my friend, Carson Ting, is an illustrator, so when we’re in the same space, we often chat about art, life, business, technology and everything else. It’s a valuable network for me because we get to exchange tips and ideas and learn from each other.

If it’s a WFH day, mornings are for administrative work. If it’s my turn to walk the dogs, I’ll take them out after lunch for half an hour to an hour. Afterwards, I focus on creative projects such as painting or designing. I especially love it when the afternoon sunlight spills into my room. My work hour usually ends around 6 and I’m off to cook dinner. If Hubert cooks, I might work a bit longer until dinner is ready.

If I haven’t completed my tasks during the day, or have looming deadlines, I’ll continue to work after dinner until bedtime. Otherwise, we hang out in the living room after dinner, play with our dogs and watch some TV. 

Check out the LEMONNI collection!