Interview with Drew – Creative Director at Stocksy

If you haven’t heard of DREW NG-HOW-TSEUNG before, you've probably already come across Stocksy United. Unlike other stock image providers, Stocksy has a truly original selection of relentlessly creative photos and footage. We sat down with Drew, Stocksy’s creative Director to talk about his career path and his role at Stocksy. Without further ado enjoy the following interview.            

How would you describe your childhood? Did your early experiences make your curious or interested in design or creativity in general?

Pretty standard beginnings for a graphic designer. When I was little I loved drawing: mostly weird monsters, fake tattoos on my friends, and mockups of video games that I wished existed. When I was a greasy teen crustpunk I think I might have loved the band logos, and badly screen printed patches more than the music itself. At the end of high school people would ask me what i’d be studying in college and I usually answered with a shrug. So I went to the guidance counsellor and she said “how about graphic design?”. I didn’t even really understand what graphic design was until my third year of university.

Could you describe your trajectory so far and the path you took to get where you are today?

In the immediate aftermath of 4 years of art school - I was feeling burnt out on design in a pretty naively cynical way, so I gave my resume to a friend to give to the cool coffee shop she worked at. But instead she submitted it to a local artist-run-centre who were looking for some design help - and that’s how my career started. Since then I’ve worked at small design studios and in-house for larger organizations with the usual fun freelance projects sprinkled in (ie. unpaid gig posters for indie rock bands). One of my early jobs that had a big impact on me was working as a teaching assistant for a university design program. I somehow wormed my way into this job that is usually reserved for masters students - but it was eye opening to see things from the other side of the lectern. Plenty of the students had loads of raw talent, but helping them mould that into real visual problem solving skills was crazy rewarding. It also forced me to reflect on myself at a time when I was getting comfortable coasting on a keen eye and good taste. Having talent is a lottery - but tempering it with sweat, curiosity, and kindness have been absolute necessities for my career.

Written by:
Filip Triner

Published
23.11 2018

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How did you take the leap into stock photography in specific and what interested you about it?

Like most things it was a right-place-right-time kind of move. An exciting job came up that me and a friend of mine both got recommended for. He was probably a better designer, but at the last minute he had a food allergy attack and couldn’t make the trip out of town for the interviews (I swear I had nothing to do with it). It was a huge shift from working with government and education clients, to marketing to other designers and art directors. They couldn’t be impressed with the same old cheap tricks that they’d used themselves. It was really fun to think up ways to inspire and impress other creative professionals.

How would you describe the changing landscape of digital stock media?

I’ve worked in stock photography for around 15 years - by the time I started the digital democratization of photography had already taken hold. Since then the tools have just kept getting better and more accessible. But just as important as the equipment, has been the creative communities springing up around social media platforms. So many sources of inspiration and education that were once hidden within opaque and insular artist circles are just out there for anyone with a little bit of will and focus. It’s scary and great and creates space for hungry new players - and sometimes leaves behind really talented people who aren’t adapting in just the right ways.

How would you describe the change in the photography style over the course of time in stock photography?

We’ve all been witness to the move towards more naturalistic stock photography over the years. As the medium has matured and peoples’ options have grown exponentially - it isn’t enough to paint with the same satisfactory but broad brushstrokes that were used in the past (remember those stiff boardroom images featuring a checklist of models?). There’s much more nuance and specificity, both with what buyers are looking for - and what creators are providing. But we also can’t just rely on what people say they need, we’ve got to have room to surprise them with photos and footage that they didn’t even know they could get.

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"They couldn’t be impressed with the same old cheap tricks that they’d used themselves. It was really fun to think up ways to inspire and impress other creative professionals."            

We know that building and maintaining a community is a lot of work. What values and practices are important to sustaining a community of artists?

One of the most unique things about Stocksy in this space is the open feedback loop we have with our artists. The Artist Relations team is super engaged with our contributors right from the application stage - providing meaningful feedback on submissions and guidance to those looking for ways to improve their craft. All parts of the organization also keep up with the Stocksy artist forums - which are buzzing daily with updates and questions and opinions. It sounds dorky, but it can be thrilling to be part of passionate (and sometimes heated) conversations between members of the community. This raw and open communication is a resource that the organization takes very seriously - plenty of smart insights and ideas can and have come from here.

Other than design and photography, what other domains do you take to for inspiration?

I am kind of obsessed with tattoo artists and culture. In the best interactions it’s a glowing collaboration between someone who wants to wear a piece of themselves on their sleeve, and an artist who is free to express their own creativity. Although its exploded in popularity, It has as part of its DNA an adventurous history of outsiders - and being the outsider can bring with it an intoxicating sense of seeing the world from an unusual point of view.

How would you describe the company culture around Stocksy?

I can honestly say I’ve never worked in a place where the people were so invested in celebrating each others’ achievements - creative, technical, and even personal. I think it’s created an environment where people feel safe to experiment, and challenged to keep pushing themselves and their work.

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What does the future hold for you?

I’ve never had much in the way of a life-plan for myself - most of that energy goes into the work! Long term, I’d love to get back into teaching at the post-secondary level. Short term, I just got my first motorcycle, so if you see me out on the road, throw me the wave!

Who are some mentors or heroes you look up to in life and work for inspiration?

To be honest i’ve stolen all the best parts of my personality from better people than myself. Some of them i’ve worked with: Sheldon Popiel, Xerxes Irani, and Brianna Wettlaufer come to mind immediately. Sometimes i’ve learned by watching them balance a thousand delicate details, and sometimes i’ve learned by straight up getting yelled at! Each of them have been incredibly generous with their insights and advice. Aside from people I know personally, I get pretty inspired by people doing weird culture remixes - from artists like Wayne White and Penelope Gazin, to a YouTube channel called TierZoo that ranks animals.

What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?

Oh man, that’s a heavy question! No creative endeavour exists in a vacuum - whether its building on, sampling, or raging against something that came before it. In our post-postmodern world, it can sometimes feel like we’re just reliving culture in ever accelerating cycles, but I’d like to be known as a person who has championed the new.

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DREW NG-HOW-TSEUNG, CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Drew is a guy who loves graphic design and would probably do it for free if nobody was paying him - luckily no one knows so just keep it between us, ok? His non-design interests range from the purchase of potato chips to the consumption of potato chips. You can follow Drew at: http://drewng.com/

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Credits: Stocksy

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