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In conversation: My Linh Mac

Meet My Linh Mac (Millie), a talented multi-media artist, visual designer, and art educator based in Chicago. As we approach the celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Millie is excited to introduce her latest project, Co Tich Viet, a beautiful Vietnamese folklore children's book series created with hand-cut paper art. What makes this project even more special is that it is zero-waste, and all the materials used are recycled. Each book in this ongoing series is a testament to Millie's passion for unique mediums and storytelling, as she pours her heart and soul into creating intricate and colorful illustrations that bring to life the rich stories of Vietnam.

Insights of an Eco Artist Team

28 de abril de 2023

Can you tell us more about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career as a multimedia artist, visual designer, and art educator?

My introduction to art and recycling was rather odd. When I was a child, my mother worked in an office with a rebellious printer that consistently made mistakes and wasted a lot of paper every week. Because most of those pieces of paper had ink marks on only one side and had hardly been used, she felt horrible about throwing them away. Instead, she brought them home for me to play with. We made the most of color and black-and-white printed images by cutting them into small swatches and using them as templates for collages and other art projects.

My parents were raised in Vietnam during the Subsidy Period (1976–1986) when our nation's economy hit rock bottom following World War II, so they were taught that nothing – whether it be food, tools, or materials – should be thrown out. I guess hard circumstances influenced them to be creative, and they passed along to me the idea of seeing beauty and value in things that seem worthless to others. Making arts and crafts was the best part of my childhood and it didn't take long for me to realize this was ‘it’ for me.

What inspired you to create the Co Tich Viet children's book series, and why did you choose to use hand-cut paper art as the medium?

Homesickness was one of my main sources of inspiration. As I taught K–12 art classes, I saw an opportunity to reconnect with my culture via storytelling and educate my second or third-generation immigrant students who hadn't had the chance to learn about their Vietnamese heritage. My original approach for this project was using Adobe Illustrator on a drawing tablet. However, I quickly realized this medium did not capture the mystical and playful look that I wanted to create. I had my ‘aha’ moment’ when I browsed through old pictures from my trip to my hometown in Vietnam for inspiration. I decided to incorporate my favorite art mediums from childhood: watercolor and markers on recycled craft paper to portray the green landscape and historical symbols.

The First King-Page6 by My Linh Mac. Image courtesy of My Linh Mac.

Can you tell us more about the cultural and educational significance of the Co Tich Viet book series, and what message you hope to convey through your art?

The first book in the series, "The First King," was inspired by the "Con Rong Chau Tien" story, one of the best-known fairy tales and folktales in Vietnam about the country's magical beginnings. Through the story, which includes heroes, deities, and romance, we learn important lessons about how great power means great responsibility and sacrifice for the greater good. The story also highlights a very important chapter of Vietnam's history, as well as the one-of-a-kind miracle birth of 100 children.

The second book "The New Year Gift," is about the origin and symbol of the watermelon, which took place during the Van Lang period. With fewer mystical elements, it teaches us lessons about staying resilient, kindness, facing obstacles, and the importance of not worrying about what people say. Today's good deeds are the seeds of a fruitful life in the future. The tale also includes the customs and symbolism associated with the Vietnamese Tet celebration—the most important holiday in our culture.

The third book is on the way. The story is set in a different historical era but will continue providing moral lessons in a fun, lighthearted, and educational style.

How do you balance your artistic vision with the practicalities of creating art that is zero-waste and environmentally sustainable?

The challenge will always be there when it comes to balancing my ideal vision and practical outcomes, as every project is different in terms of purpose, scale, profit, and creative control. I try to make the most of digital technology while working on independent projects where I have complete creative control to minimize environmental waste. When working on projects for clients with specific expectations and strict guidelines, I prioritize researching and presenting eco-friendly alternatives. For instance, if the clients request mass printing, I can't tell them to print less but I can suggest/connect them to vendors that use recyclable paper and eco-friendly ink. Overall, I feel very lucky to have had such an early introduction to environmentally sustainable art and grateful that my field of work as an adult allows me to stay creative without causing environmental damage through digital work.

Image courtesy of My Linh Mac.

Can you walk us through your creative process for creating a new piece of art, from the initial inspiration to the final product?

I started every project by researching, and sketching. I’m usually a big planner but not really when it comes to making art. I let it come to me naturally and enjoy the process of making prototypes and trying different approaches to certain mediums. For example, with Co Tich Viet, I could have taken the easy route of buying colored paper from the craft store but I decided to do it the hard way instead with recycled paper. Sure, it took time to collect and dye everything myself using diluted ink markers (non-environmentally toxic) but the result exceeded my expectations. The colors looked organically authentic and not artificially vivid. Even when I couldn’t replicate certain shades with hand-dyeing, it was never an issue. Chemical dye color might last longer without fading but I can preserve my pieces by scanning and digitizing each page when it’s completed.

How do you approach incorporating elements from multiple creative fields, such as design, art, and technology, into your work?

I was inspired by small production studios where people have to step out of their comfort zones, wear many hats, and learn different skill sets to fill the roles for which the studios can’t afford to hire. I even adapted those practices when I started MMAC Visual Art & Design Studio in Chicago back in 2016. Over time, my side hustle in graphic design become my second main hustle and I started to get interested in creating work using skill sets from many creative fields. From there, I discovered my niche by coming to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each field and how one might be a supplement to what the other lacks.

Image courtesy of My Linh Mac.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your artistic career so far, and how have you overcome it?

I have had many challenges throughout my career, and most of them were expected as part of the learning journey. Like many artists out there, I periodically battle self-doubt and wander in thought with no real sense of direction. Being away from my family in Vietnam and living in the US hasn't made things any easier. But following my own advice and the lessons from my children's book—believing that pressure produces diamonds and that hard effort will be rewarded—really help me overcome obstacles.

How do you choose which exhibitions and galleries to display your work in, and what factors do you consider?

I invest a lot of time in research on exhibitions, galleries, and art organizations. My go-to criteria are 1) Credibility: How long have they been in business and what is the audience size and engagement level? 2) Lucrative gain: Meeting distributors, marketing agencies, and collectors who can help you find the perfect buyer is important. It’s crucial to pick the right place to meet the right people. 3) How the gallery invests in you: I learned the hard way to not work with galleries that exist simply to exploit artists by having them rent space for their work while the gallery puts in zero effort to close sales. It’s a big turn-off for buyers to see gallery staff who know hardly anything about the artists they’re supposed to be presenting and the artwork they’re selling. I might be better off paying for online ads to get more traffic to my website and skip the hassle of signing contracts and shipping.

Image courtesy of My Linh Mac.

As an art educator, how do you approach teaching and inspiring young artists, and what advice do you have for aspiring artists?

My all-time best advice for aspiring artists is: 1) Even when you’re done with school, the learning never stops. 2) Failure and fieldwork are your best teachers. 3) Critical thinking is not thinking if you let people tell you what to think.

What upcoming projects or exhibitions can we expect from you, and how do you see your artistic career evolving in the future?

As mentioned above, book number three of Co Tich Viet is on the way and I’m hoping the series will continue receiving love from the community. If possible, in the near future, I would love to expand the series to tell stories from different Southeast Asian countries.

Find out more about the project and the artist here.

Credits: Books poem writer Damien Saint Jackson.

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My Linh Mac is a Saigonsese multi-media artist, visual designer, and art educator based in Chicago. Mac is best known for her digital paintings, traditional oil paintings, and her series of contemporary ‘galactic / no brush’ paintings- Ranbu. As an accomplished painter, her works portray beauty in humble places with her signature style of deep and vibrant accent colors. While Mac’s paintings have varied genres, from conceptual, abstract, and figurative to contemporary, her digital and visual design works are commercial. Mac discovered nontraditional techniques bring further variety to her paintings through the use of color manipulation and the manipulation of materials and presentation platforms. Her niche is the ability to produce art within one medium that looks as if it were created within a different medium. Each of Mac’s artworks “speaks for itself”, her unique approach of combining elements and medium gives her the credibility of an inventive artist and visual designer. What makes her work stand out among young emerging artists is how she incorporates not only technical skills and knowledge from multiple creative fields of design, art, and technologies; but also, her personal experience and cultural exposure from different parts of the world as a traveler.

Mac’s multi-media artworks are represented by Angard Art Hotel, Brauer Museum- in Indiana, Queen Victoria Museum and Gallery- in Australia, Museum of Outstanding Design (MOOD) in Italy, Czong Institute for Contemporary Art (CICA) Museum- in South Korea, and many exhibitions, private collections across the United States and around the world. Through her creative works, she is currently a jury member of the International Biennial of Contemporary Art & Design for Lorenzo Il Magnifico Award & The Leonardo Da Vinci Award at Florence Biennale, Italy; Creative Communication Award (C2A) in Lost Angeles, Davey Award in New York, Creativity International Award, Brightness Illustration Award and more. In 2016, Mac established MMAC Visual Art & Design Studio with the goal of inspiring others through her art and assisting emerging companies, brands, and creative individuals in finding their identities and voices through her designs.


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