#WorkLifeGoals: Abbey Sy on the #ABCsofHandLettering, Freelancing, and being a Savvy Social Media Creative

When TBC’s editorial assistant, Annicka Koteh, said that she contacted Abbey Sy for a feature on #WorkLifeGoals, I was excited but cautious. Abbey Sy is most definitely #WorkLifeGoals, so of course she has no time to answer questions from a small blog about interning.

So, when Annicka told me that Abbey Sy, artist and author of the #ABCsofHandLettering, graduate of Advertising Management from DLSU-Manila (our first DLSU feature here on The Border Collective!!), and 100% Chinese girl goals (you’ll understand why this is important in a few minutes), said yes to doing #WLG, I may have screamed into my pillow. May have. (And I may have gone overboard with featuring her Instagram throughout today’s post but meh, I love her.)

But that’s just a testament to how much I admire Abbey Sy. She turned her passion and skills into a full-time career she’s trailblazing here in the Philippines. I don’t think anyone’s attempted or succeeded at the scale she has in being an artist and author in the social media age. Abbey makes it look easy, even though we all know it’s anything but.

And that’s why Abbey Sy is today’s featured #WorkLifeGoals!

But enough from me, it’s time to let Annicka take the reins and introduce Abbey properly, right after I bring you guys up to speed.

My name is Justine Lara T. Chua, my partner is Betina Ong, and this is The Border Collectivethe Philippines’ premier internship blog that talks about all things resume, interview, and job hunting related for everyone under the age of 22. We write 4 different features here on TBC:

  1. Internship FAQ’s – where Betina and I answer all the questions you guys turn in anonymously to our ask.fm and Google Form.(Currently on hiatus as Betina works full-time at Unilever and I work full-time at Philip Morris.) (Start with our very first post here on the blog, 15 Most Frequently Asked Questions About Interning!)

  2. Intern-view – where we feature people who’ve interned at places we haven’t to talk about their experiences and internship journey! (If you know someone who should be featured, hit us up at bea@thebordercollective.com!) (Read our most widely read Intern-view yet, Rico Tiongson on Kalibrr!)

  3. Page Turners – where we recommend books we’ve read for any other ambitious college student to read when they want to spend their leisure time productively

  4. #WorkLifeGoals – where we feature people with amazing work lives to show our readers that there’s more than one way to make a career for yourself!

We’re on the second feature for #WorkLifeGoals today, thanks to Annicka Koteh’s hard work! She’ll be introducing Abbey Sy formally up next, so thanks for reading and hope Abbey Sy wrote something useful for you!!

Annicka: Hey there, dear readers! We’re back with our second #WorkLifeGoal who’s probably a familiar face to most of you, especially if you’ve taken stock of the growing typography/lettering craze over the past few years.

Here at The Border Collective, we got the chance to chat with one of its main faces (and pioneers!) in the Philippines. And now, we’re sharing her career advice with you!

With this, TBC humbly presents the incredible ABC! Sorry, we couldn’t resist being just one letter away from Abbey Sy, whose intricate, hand-lettered creations have traveled from her blog to her social media platforms, to her personally branded merchandise, and ultimately, to bookstore stands and your heart.

Because there’s no dismissing art visibly crafted with her passion and talent.

So whether Abbey’s work hits you from your Instagram feed or the pages of her books, know that you’re looking at a craft that’s been years of hard work in the making. More than that, you’re witnessing how Abbey also used her years of corporate experience to successfully build her freelance career—one that spans book deals, product designs, commissioned art, workshops, and lots, lots more. It gets harder and harder to keep track of what she’s done and doing, so what does Abbey have to thank for her phenomenal rise in the industry?

Interestingly, the answer lies in her business and marketing smarts. Abbey entered the freelance market not just with talent, but with the knowhow to manage the nitty gritty of things. Yup, she thinks that if you’re about to jump into the same world, you should come prepared, too. And here’s where we finally turn you over to her for an Abbey-centric take on that. Happy reading!

Going into college, what did you expect your career path to be like? Did you always intend to have an art-related career? 

Nope. I was intending to dive into Advertising and work as a digital strategist or anything involving social media (which I did, for 10 months). I took a business course (Advertising Management) so that would explain my fascination for anything business-related.


What jobs have you held prior to become a full-time artist & author? Did you pick up any insights from these that helped you when you decided to go freelance?

Does freelancing while juggling school count? I started taking freelance projects during third year college. I was also officer for an org at the time, and blogging on the side (more of a creative activity I liked doing at the time). When I was 17 I ran an online shop called “h.e.a.r.t.” and I sold handpainted tote bags online (during my first year in college). I think overall these all contributed to what I’m doing now. I learn something new for every experience and I get to apply that to my work now.

Why did you get into blogging? How did your blogging evolve over the years, especially when you realized that you had an audience?

I’ve always liked to write about my thoughts, in the hopes that in some other part of the world, someone else would understand how I feel or actually appreciate the work I put out. At the time I started Tumblr, it was 2010, one of the peak years of Tumblr. A lot of us from that 2010 batch are actually doing our respective things now and taking on our own careers. Anyway, Tumblr gave me an audience, from the first doodle I made (which was mediocre of course) to the time I landed my first client at freelancing.

In terms of evolution I would say I write things more concisely now. More of, I prefer sharing more helpful insights than talk about my life in general (although that sometimes gets posted, too, if I feel like it). Now that I’m an author I think of more ways to educate and teach my audience rather than just share stuff that won’t be relevant to them. It’s become less personal, that’s for sure. But it’s quite alright.

Did you have any apprehensions about becoming a full-time blogger/letterer, especially concerning financial security, considering the stereotype of “starving artists”? Did you face any opposition from your family or friends when you decided to do this?

Yep! I’m 100% Chinese, and this career path is not the “ideal path” to be honest. I really disagree with the concept of “starving artists”.
I think if you know how to make art that people will have an interest in purchasing, you’re covered in the financial aspect of making art.
I’m really into marketing / business operations, so I guess incorporating that into my work helps put it out there. Luckily, I was supported by family & friends to take this on. I told myself to try it for a year and, well, I’m now onto my second year of being a full-time artist. So, I’d like to think it’s working out.

Who are your artistic influences, and how do you find inspiration for your works?

I don’t have a lot of artistic influences. They’re usually generic – I like anything from the vintage era – retro type, retro colors. Anything nostalgic, historical – those are the types of art that appeal to me.
I look up to a lot of artists who not only make art but inspire others with their own journeys, such as Lisa Congdon and Austin Kleon. In the local scene, I collaborate and work with passionate + like-minded people, like Tippy of Googly Gooeys and Alessa of Life After Breakfast, so I consider them some of my influences as well.
My inspiration hunting process is very loose – mostly, I like referencing from films. I like picking out colours from films and incorporate them into my work, as well as type elements (if there are). Most of the time, I just like looking at vintage packaging and design. Anything with brown, I’m sold!

How did you get the ideas to start selling items featuring your art and holding workshops? What did it take to get these personal projects off the ground?

Realizing I had the platform and resources made me put these plans into actions. I’ve been delving into retail since I was 17 (well, online solo-preneurship if that counts) so I really just wanted it out there. But when I started, I didn’t expect it to be my full-time job (it was my weekend “raket” apart from working at an ad agency at the time).

Similarly, how was it like getting your material published by Summit Media? It would be great if you could walk us through the experience of creating your book and the like.

Towards the end of 2014, I was keen on writing a book. It had long been on my ‘goals list’ but I told myself to not pursue it (because it was hard to self-publish and all). Let’s just say the universe was very kind to (surprisingly) notice, and on my 22nd birthday week, I had been introduced to the Summit Books team and I said yes to their offer. It was the “dream project”, as we’d like to coin it. 🙂

Creating the book posed a lot of questions – mostly directed to myself. What was I thinking? Am I even good enough? Can I make it through the deadline? I can’t even write, why did I take on this project? (I had negative self-esteem for the longest time.) Also, I had just resigned from my day job and was adjusting to my schedules.

I can say that I was pretty clueless with managing my workload at the time I was writing the book – it was all so blurry. I can only remember getting to sleep more as I found my working pace during the second deadline. And if you’re asking, yes, I made it through all the deadlines. 🙂 And of course, it was all worth it.

It seems like a dream to have a creative career that one is passionate about, but are the biggest challenges that you’ve faced career-wise? What keeps you on your toes in this line of work?

There are a lot of facets to consider with pursuing a creative career. Again, there are also a lot of careers within the creative industry – you can be an artist, a designer, illustrator, writer, etc. You can work on your own, work with a team, work in a design studio – it’s pretty broad. But mine is an intrinsic one – I take care of my “brand”, build something out of it, and create products using my art.

In terms of challenges, I think the biggest challenges would be 1) trusting yourself and 2) being professional with work. Let me break it down.

1) Trusting yourself. It takes a great deal of trust and confidence to put your work out there for the world to see, more so for clients to hire you for projects. I learned the hard way – people have told me that I do good work, but it took me a while to realize that and use that strength to make things work for me.


2) Being professional. Oftentimes taking on a project would send me into a period of excitement – and while that is ok, it’s important to be professional and be responsible to do the work that is expected of you. Also, I always get mistaken for looking really young – so I always put my best foot forward at work – for clients to realize that hey, she’s making sense. She knows what she’s doing. At the end of the day, I just want people to respect and appreciate my work.

With all your projects, what’s a normal day for you like? How much of your time goes into planning online content, and to your other endeavors?

I used to “schedule” online content but now I loosely put my schedules together. Ok, normally, my week gets planned out on Saturday/Sunday (the week before). It can be a mix of meetings and paintings due at home. I also put in a day specifically for admin work. I always put in a free lunch or dinner to meet up with friends because it can get crazy sometimes. And I block off 2 nights for working out.

My online content gets plotted out during my extra time. I just have to remember which ones are due in specific weeks or what announcements I need to put out. Otherwise, I keep it on the fly (especially on Snapchat! lol).

That being said, how do you keep track of everything and manage your time?

A plain notebook with lists and lists of tasks, to-dos, and goals. And Google Calendar for my monthly events. Sometimes the Notes app on my laptop helps filter out ideas.

Where do you see yourself in five to 10 years, in your current field or otherwise? By then, what impacts on your industry and society would you want to have made?

I ~hope~ I get to put up a store with all my merch in it. And at the same time, still be writing books and making art. I can’t give concrete goals yet because to be honest, I have never thought about the future.
I like focusing on the now, and then allow myself to find ways to transport my current line of work to what it can potentially be – in the near future.

What advice can you give to aspiring artists and bloggers looking to achieve the same level of success and exposure as you have? Would you recommend jumping into freelance work immediately?

It’s not going to be easy. I wish I could tell people it is; but it’s not. Most of the work I dive into is not recorded on social media. I think, for the most part, it’s really important to know what you want and find ways to make it happen. I really encourage aspiring artists to just keep putting your work out there, keep improving, and become better. When I was younger I have always disregarded my artistic skills because at the time it felt so useless. Years later I realized that progress is really important and the journey to becoming an artist is definitely something each person get to keep for themselves.

I don’t recommend going into freelance work. I worked 10 months in corporate and it has given me a lot of discipline and drive to be efficient, now that I’m freelancing. It also pays to be trained by someone or be mentored. I think those have helped me grow more as a person and become more mature in terms of how I deal with work.

Additionally, would you like to discuss any personal projects, programs, or advocacies here? We would love for your passion to inspire others as well!

I’m working on multiple projects at the moment which I hope would help the creative community grow further. Coming soon! 🙂

And there you have it, Abbey Sy for our second feature for #WorkLifeGoals here on The Border Collective!! I wish I could share to you guys the short list for the next 6 features here on #WorkLifeGoals because Annicka has populated that list with people who are redefining career with a purpose goals. We’re all going to have to wait though, myself included, as she wraps up her time at Esquire before we can get to those next posts. But until then, let’s look at one more amazing post from Abbey Sy’s Instagram! ?


Up next here on TBC: I’m not sure what it’ll be yet, but I know that it’ll be up on Monday most definitely! I’m trying to push for a Monday – Thursday posting schedule, so that you guys know when to expect something new from us here! Tell us your thoughts on what you think we should post up on Monday next, so that we can get started because writing a post takes forever to ship out. 🙂

If you have anything you want to ask, say, or comment about to either Betina or me, email us at either justine@thebordercollective.com or betina@thebordercollective.com! For partnerships and business deals, you can email us at admin@thebordercollective.com! And if you want to get a faster reply, message us on The Border Collective’s Facebook page or on my Instagram @justineltchua, since I’m always posting there where I’m at around the country!

If you’re getting ready to intern for the coming first semester, we also wrote about things like preparing for a phone interview or doing a pre-interview prep. And if you want to have a better mindset on working smarter and not harder, read here about one of Justine’s favorite books that changed her life. But if you just want some solid resume tips, we wrote about unlikely resume value adders a while back too!

Anyways, thanks for reading, hope Abbey Sy wrote something useful for you, and see you on Monday!

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