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Episode 87: Bringing Delight with Chie Tamada - Hand Lettering Artist

Today we're joined by hand lettering artist (and athlete) Chie Tamada! Chie talks about meshing athletics and the outdoors with her creative pursuits, how she approaches brands, and how she feels about talking $$ with clients. Be sure to check out her Instagram to see her incredible work in action!

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Episode Transcript

Iris: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Outside by Design. I am Iris broadcasting to you from WHEELIE here in Whitefish, Montana. And today we have an amazing guest - and a very unique guest - today on the show we have Chie Tamada and she is a lettering artist. She is also a runner, a biker, a swimmer, and she uses those athletic pursuits to inspire her hand lettering.

And she joins us today on the podcast to talk about the financial side of creativity, how she meshes creativity and her athletic pursuits, and how her art shares positivity with the world. I highly recommend that you go to Chie's Instagram before listening to this podcast, unless you're driving, then I forgive you. But it is @chie.tamada and check out her lettering. It is incredible. You'll be mind boggled that this is hand lettering. And without further ado, let's get to Chie.

Lisa: Alright, Chie, thank you so much for being on our podcast today.

Chie: Yeah, of course. Thanks Lisa.

Lisa: And the first question we ask everyone is to describe where you are and what you're looking at.

Chie: Oh, I am in my room right now in an apartment in San Francisco. And the thing that's sitting right in front of me is a clipboard with like a mood board that I put together a couple of days ago. So that's what I'm looking at. Keeps me inspired.

Lisa: Yeah. How is living in San Francisco going right now?

Chie: It's... it's all right. I'm living in the Mission Bay area, so it's right by the Embarcadero with the waterfront. So being able to, you know, just go quickly outside on runs and stuff has been really nice with a great view. But yeah, with the latest pandemic it's been kind of crazy, long lines everywhere, just cause there's so many people in such a compact space. But overall it's sunny. Can't complain.

Lisa: Yeah. I'm super curious about your story and how you became a lettering artist.

Chie: Yeah. I'd be more than happy to talk about that. So yes, I am a lettering artist, illustrator, designer. My background though is actually not in the creative field. So when I was younger in school I studied engineering. So I was going more for like, the technical route. And that led me into getting into the tech scene, actually, in the Bay area.

So I grew up in Los Angeles, went to UCLA, moved up to the Bay area to start working full time. Although I graduated with an engineering degree, I ended up working as a program manager. So I'm doing more of the coordination, operational side of things. And while I was working at my first job full time, that's when I found myself with a lot of free time in the evenings and weekends, because I left my friends and family down in LA. And that gave me a lot of time to kind of poke around and look for a new hobby to pick up and lettering just happened to be the thing that I was interested in at that time. So I started out doing more calligraphy-related things, that was catering more to the wedding industry, I'd say. So I had friends who were, you know, planning their upcoming weddings or friends of friends thatreached out to me to do like smaller prints.

And then since then I pivoted a few times, I started working with like local coffee shops on some designs or murals, and then eventually carved my way into doing more lettering. I broadened my scope just so I can work with larger businesses and do like more branding and large scale murals and stuff. So all self-taught, you know, trying to spend as much time outside of my day job learning about more of the technical stuff between like graphic design and lettering and stuff, but that's how I got into it.

Lisa: And your client list has Google and Facebook, the Washington Post, Coalition Snow. And I find it really fun that you're able to work with corporations like Google and Facebook with such a juxtaposing style that's so personal and hand drawn and uplifting. Like how... how are you kind of bringing your own vibes into corporate work?

Chie: Oh, thanks. Yeah, I... I feel like my style for lettering does look a little bit more on the hand-drawn side. So with lettering, it can be, you know, like very tight, like a tight design and all of that, but it can also be more fluid hand-drawn sorts of things. And I feel like I gravitate towards more of that. Maybe that's because everything I did is self-taught or maybe it's because I just, you know, grew up enjoying hand drawing things or like painting things.

But yeah, I've really enjoyed being able to apply that into some of the work that I've done.And I try to make it so that it gives it like a personal flair. It doesn't have to be, you know, pixel perfect or anything. And that makes it a little bit more fun and natural for me. So I'm... I love that, you know, some of my clients have been able to fully embrace that and like, appreciate that side of the lettering work that I do.

Lisa: Yeah. And I love that you kind of make it your mission to spread positivity through lettering. And I'm curious, like, why is that important to you?

Chie: Yeah. I’d say I'm generally a very positive and optimistic person. When I talk to a lot of my friends I'm usually the one that's like super bubbly and trying to uplift people.

And even during my day job. So I currently work at Facebook right now as a design program manager. I play more of a supporting role. I'm just trying to like, help people, make sure that they're unblocked and are able to do the best job that they can do. And so overall, yeah, positivity and creativity is something that I just want to like continue spreading towards the people around me.

And I also feel like, you know, there are some creatives that might gravitate towards designs that are a little more darker and stuff, but I just like bringing like happy thoughts and just positive sentiments to like people's minds. So my hope is that whenever they come across a piece of work that I've done, they feel a little bit more delighted. Hopefully it gives them a chance to like smile or want to share it with other people as well.

Lisa: Yeah, your work is so beautiful.

Chie: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Lisa: What... what for you... I really like another kind of juxtaposition that you have, which is this connection between creativity and identifying as an athlete and how do those two worlds interconnect for you?

Chie: Yeah, so that came about... about like a year ago. So. I feel like I sort of went through a moment of crisis maybe, earlier last year where I was trying to figure out like, what's my style and what... how can I differentiate myself as a lettering artist? Because if you go on Instagram or Pinterest, like lettering has become a really big thing in the past few years. I've been doing it for about five years. There's people who picked it up more recently and people who have been doing it for years and years. But there's a lot of content out there. And so last year I was trying to figure out how to make myself look a little bit more different, to stand out.

And one of the things that I thought to myself was, well, I identify myself as a lettering artist, but I also exercise like basically every day. I grew up swimming when I was younger and I did it competitively, kind of dropped off once I went to college. But afterwards I picked up triathlon racing and so I continued swimming, picked up long distance running and cycling, and I've also enjoyed doing like other outdoor activities like hiking and snowboarding and all that. You'll... you'll always find me outside some part of the day. And so I felt like that's something that I should embrace rather than just like suppress it, because it doesn't have anything to do with lettering per se. So that was a point where I was like, you know what, I'm going to make it more clear to my audience on Instagram and also to the people that come across my work, that that's also something that I'm passionate about. And when I thought about it, you know, there's plenty of people, businesses and brands out there that need good design. And I figured that would be like a really good opportunity to match the two.

Lisa: Mmm. How do you find the, kind of like your athletic process and endurance ties into the amount of attention to detail and like kind of your artistic style?

Chie: Hmm, that's a good question. I've... so it's really interesting because recently I've gotten into listening to a lot of podcasts interviewing athletes. And before I was listening to just a ton of creative podcasts, so I'm trying to like, see similarities between the two and endurance and consistency are like themes that keep coming to me. And I feel like that applies to both artists and athletes. Like you need to be consistent in training and maintaining good health and wellness and all that if you're an athlete or just someone that wants to be healthy overall. But then as a creative, you also have to be very consistent with, you know, practicing, going through all the foundational steps and putting out work so that you can continue to improve. So those are things that I've noticed and... in terms of like, you know, tying it back to positivity and all that too, I feel like I could apply that in both my athletic side. So just like encouraging other people to also be healthy and getting people excited about, like, doing fitness workouts and stuff at the same time, making people realize, like, flexing their creative muscles can also bring positivity to their world. So those are things that have been bubbling in my mind recently that I'm really passionate and excited about.

Lisa: Yeah. And just the amount of physical endurance it takes to paint a mural.

Chie: [laughs] That's true. Yeah. Yeah. You're standing like for hours, your arms are raised. Yeah, that's a lot. You have to carry the paint on the ladder.

Lisa: Yeah. How… do you think about your artwork while you're training or running or cycling or swimming?

Chie: Yeah, I guess like... because I mentioned, I listened to these like both creative and athletic podcasts, sometimes listening to the other thing while I'm doing the other activity. So like, when I'm running, I'm listening to creative podcast. Or when I'm walking around the neighborhood. And then when I'm also lettering, like, at my desk, I'll be listening to athletic podcasts. Just to give myself inspiration in both worlds. So in a sense, I am thinking about the other thing, I guess.

Oh, another exercise that I did the other day... exercise, ha! So I was riding around San Francisco and I was, you know, going through the neighborhoods and notice some walls that are boarded up because of, you know, the, the riots that have been going on and stuff.

But then also realized like, “hey, that would be a great spot to have a mural!” And so just like thinking of ways that I can apply my lettering, whether it be, like, murals or like, mockups of murals or even pasting stickers of some designs that I've done in the past is like a way that I bring in my creative stuff into my fitness workouts.

Lisa: That's cool. I love that. And then it kind of like merges those worlds for you internally, and then that's kind of so consistent to your external output.

Chie: Thanks. Yeah. I've been having a lot of fun with it and I can't believe that I wasn't letting myself do that for so long. Yeah, it's been, it's been cool.

Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. How, how do you work with brands in the outdoor industry... kind of in the same way that you were able to embrace that within yourself as an athlete. Like, how do you bring letterform and like really, really, really high end design into a brand?

Chie: Yeah. So last year was when I went through the stage of like accepting that I wanted to work with all these like outdoor industries and stuff. And I think early this year was when - or maybe end of last year too - was when I started to like strategize what kinds of brands I want to work with. And so the sports that I'm really interested in are like, running, cycling, swimming of course, but then also rock climbing. I enjoy hiking and snowboarding. And so those are like the main buckets that I try to think of when I'm lettering. Either, like what sorts of gear or like merch can I apply my lettering too? Like, what are things that these brands may need in terms of like campaigns that are coming up and stuff? So I do a lot of brainstorming by just like looking at their Instagram accounts or like even their websites to just get ideas on what they have out so far. Like, what things maybe I can improve on or offer to them.

And then... I tend to do all of that, just like personally. So it's all like, little sketches in my notebooks or like Google docs with just the ideas listed out. And I try to let those soak in before considering like, just reaching out to them either by DMing them on Instagram or like, doing some research, finding potential contacts that might be willing to talk to me.

But, yeah, it, I like the whole phase of just like researching and brainstorming, like, ideating. It's super exciting to me. And there's a whole world out there of like outdoor industries. So that's very exciting.

Lisa: It is. And I saw that you did some lettering with climbing talk.

Chie: Yeah, I did. That was for global climbing day. So that type of lettering is called tactile lettering - basically like using objects rather than like pens or like a computer program. So there are some artists that do phenomenal, tactile lettering with like food or flowers. But I think like last year global climbing day was coming up and I was like, I could draw on like concrete with chalk, cause I've done chalk lettering before. But what if I just like grab a whole bag of chalk and start forming the shape of the letters with the chalk? Like, that may be interesting. So I did that in the garage of my apartment complex, just sitting there for like hours trying to get the letters together, but it turned out pretty cool.

Lisa: I think it turned out really cool. How did... how did you like gather the chalk without like sneezing it away?

Chie: Oh my God. I was so scared of doing that. I was using a small, like, paintbrush, I think. Yeah. That's all I used.

Lisa: I just - to me, that goes back to endurance. I'm like, that sounds really, really tedious to have it… have it look so perfect.

Chie: Yeah, it took a long time. My neck and shoulders were definitely sore ‘cause I was just like crashing down for hours, but it was worth it. Got a good photo out of it.

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Iris: I love how Chie doesn't stop with just hand lettering. She takes it fully to tactile lettering, like her project with the climbing chalk. That is such a great way to mesh all of her interests together. The outdoor side of her and the creative side of her. And of course this is the creative outdoor podcast. So what a perfect mix.

And next, Lisa of course asks Chie about her relationship with money. We've been talking about this a lot this season on being a creative and having to manage your own money and negotiate. And let's hear what Chie has to say.

Lisa: And how do you as an artist kind of navigate the business side of creativity. Is that just as fun as the work for you or something that... I don't know, that's less fun?

Chie: I think there's like pros and cons to it. So I definitely have fun with the strategy side of things. You know, trying to think of like, potential clients and how to reach out to them and also how to communicate like the value that I can bring to them, how to pitch ideas to them and stuff. Like, those are all things that I'm super excited about.

The challenging parts about owning a business is, you know, all the email back and forth and like the legal stuff with the contracts and pricing and everything. And that's just something I feel like comes with time and experience.

And if you are a solo creative, or an entrepreneur, that’s just something you have to like, learn, continue to make mistakes and improve upon. So it goes back to the whole endurance thing, I guess. But, you know, just trying to like make sure that I learned from any of my mistakes so that I don't do it again and just improve the business. Yeah, it's hard, but it's also rewarding.

Lisa: Do you find it hard or easy to talk about money and explain the value of your creative services?

Chie: Oh, it's so hard. It’s gotten easier. You know, like after having years of experience, you start learning from the people around you, like, how much you're supposed to be charging or like how much other people are charging. And that, you know, the skills that you have are like super valuable and stuff, but when you're just starting out, no one teaches you those things. Even if you went to art or design school, they don't teach you those things. So it's really difficult in the beginning, but I feel like… yeah, it just comes with experience and also having like a community that you can trust, that's willing to support you. That makes it so much better.

Lisa: I agree. I love negotiating.

Chie: Oh yeah?

Lisa: Yeah, but... I do, but, yeah, it used to be something that would stress me out. And then I realized, you know, that that negotiating is just basically like two people setting really clear, I don’t know, intentions and meeting those needs. So I don't know. I started to really love it.

Chie: Yeah. Yeah. And the more experience you have, I feel like the better you get in negotiating too, because you start to realize like how… that all those years of experience actually helps make the case that, you know, your price is... the price that you're offering is something that the client should agree to. It's not like, you know, the designs or like the creative that you're offering to them just came out of like a couple hours of work. It's like years of experience.

Lisa: Absolutely.

Chie: Yeah.

Lisa: Absolutely. Or if something takes you an hour, it took you 10 years to learn.

Chie: Exactly.

Lisa: Yep. Yep. Yeah. What's your favorite artistic medium when you're lettering?

Chie: So usually I just start everything off with pencil sketching. So I know a lot of lettering designers or illustrators either can go straight to the iPad and sketch out their designs or they can like go straight to Illustrator or something and put stuff together. But I can't do that. I feel like when I'm brainstorming illustrations, I like immediately pull out my notebook and start pencil sketching. And that's also usually like the really fun part, ‘cause I can just, you know, draw things without having people judge me or anything. It's like all in my notebook. And you can erase things easily too. So that's my preferred choice when I'm like starting out designs, but if I'm doing something that's more final, I feel like doing murals is, very rewarding and exciting medium as well. Just because the scale that we can design things. It's like, so, so much bigger and the amount of people that can come across your work, because it's either in a public space or in a workspace, it makes it last so much longer than just something that like a digital illustration that goes on Instagram. So I think those, like, murals are something that I'm passionate about as well.

Lisa: Yeah. How do you go about getting mural projects? Do you just go into a space and say, “I could paint a mural there”?

Chie: So that's one way to do it. Yeah. Like, a friend of mine recommended, like if you see a mural or like a potential mural that you can design on a blank wall, like just draw something and mock it up on Photoshop and then show them, the owner or whoever owns the wall.

And they'll just get so excited about it because they can visually see, you know, the potential and how great that wall can end up looking. I think, yeah, you can reach out to the business owners. You can also, like, create mockups using... what do you call it? Like those stock images, too. So I've seen some designers do that, where they do illustrations on their iPads, but then they find like stock images of blank walls and then apply it on that.

And that could also just like end up getting that artist like, more mural projects, because potential clients end up seeing it on their Instagram and stuff and they're like, “Oh, I like that. I want you to do something similar to my wall.”

Lisa: That's a really fun way to go about it.

Chie: Yeah. Yeah. And you don't have to like go through the actual physical labor of painting the wall.

Lisa: Right. Do you use a projector?

Chie: I do, I do. Yes. So my very first mural project that I got, it was actually a chalk mural, but it was for Google and I was like so stoked about it because I was still such a newb with lettering and everything. But, you know, it was like, this large client reached out to me and it was a huge project. I was excited, but I had no mural experience, like, whatsoever. So I didn't use a projector. I didn't know about that. And I just hand drew and hand measured everything. And it took me so long. And I think like a week after I finished that project, I found out about this like projector that exists in this world. And I was like, dang it.

Lisa: [laughs] Yeah. And Google's like a really reputable first client, like first mural. That's kind of high pressure.

Chie: Yeah! I know, I know. I was like taking so long, but you know, it had to look good. If I had the projector probably would have saved me like half the time, but it's all good. It's a learning experience.

Lisa: It's true. It's true. Are you, as you evolve as a designer and as, I don't know, as you... as you are really building up a following that supports you on social media, are you finding that you are tempted or that you are using your lettering to spread positivity, but also to spread perhaps like political opinions, like, are you getting into that? So like social justice or evolving there?

Chie: Yeah, definitely. I feel like as creatives, you really have the skills and the opportunity to bring something to the world that not only appeals to the eye of like the general public, but can also be visually put together so that it’s easy for people to understand. And can like make a good in their brains, I guess. Just making something that's like a little bit more memorable than a printout of something, you know? So in that sense, like I think lettering artists, illustrators, all of that, can make a huge difference.

I think in the last few weeks, like, you know, it's been crazy, times, but I've really been trying to kind of step back and I've been a little bit more quiet on like posting all those messages about social justice and stuff. And the reason for me is because I am the type of person that has to like step back and like, do a lot more research before I feel comfortable, like sharing out my opinions. And I think that goes along with like the way I typically brainstorm for projects and stuff. I can't just like jump into things immediately and I need to let ideas soak in. So that's one of the reasons why I've been a little bit more, off the scene, I guess, but yeah. That's coming.

Lisa: Yeah, we will follow you for sure. Yeah, because I think, I think the level of just... I don't know, authenticity and positivity that you bring to social media is... I don't, I'm just really excited for what you have to say.

Chie: Oh, thanks.

Lisa: Yeah. Is there anything I haven't asked you that you would like to share with our audience?

Chie: Oh... I enjoyed all the questions you asked me. So I don't know there's anything in particular that I want to share in addition to that, but yeah. Just like, working on passion projects right now, in addition to like doing all the research and stuff too. And I feel like at this time, you know, COVID’s going on and all the protests that are going on and stuff, and it's like, a really challenging time for people I think too... and one of the most important things I think is to just like, take care of yourself. Cause I feel like if you don't have a good grasp of like, how you're feeling mentally and physically, then it's hard to help others.

So while I'm trying to digest all the things that are happening outside, I'm also trying to give myself some space to do creative things that make me happy so that I can like continue to bring those positive messages to the people around me. So I'd recommend others to do the same too, if they are interested in like, the creative space and all of that.

Lisa: Awesome. Well, those are good words of wisdom. Cool. Well, thank you so much for your time today. And where would you like us to send people to follow you?

Chie: Yeah. My Instagram is usually the way people can contact me. It's @chie.tamada, so at C H I E dot T A M A D A. And if people want to see my work on my website and they can just go to

Lisa: Cool. Well, thank you again for your time. And I have really enjoyed talking to you and hopefully we'll get to collaborate on something someday.

Chie: Oh, I would love that. That'd be awesome. Thanks so much, Lisa.

Iris: Thank you so much Chie for being here today, we are so excited to get to know you and we hope to work with you sometime soon. To all our listeners out there, thank you again for joining the Outside by Design podcast. If you can do us a favor, please go to your podcast app and leave us a review. Or you can recommend this podcast to someone, you know, who might be a creative in the outdoor industry. We really, really appreciate it.

You can find transcripts and more information about the show at That's like a bike doing a wheelie, and you can find us on Instagram @wheeliecreative and let us know who you'd like to hear on the show. And with that, we will see you next week. Thanks for being here.

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