Naiise Conversations - Introducing Shu Han Lee
In today's fast paced world, it's not at all uncommon to meet people wearing multiple hats. The first time we met Shu Han at NONG, she was participating in a cook off. The next time, she was conducting a food cooking & styling session for Honeycombers. The third time, she was introducing us to her range of self-designed Mee and Kueh tote bags and prints. What can we say!
Meet Shu Han Lee, graphic designer, cook book author, food stylist and home cook all rolled into a lively, brilliant individual.
1) Who is Shu Han Lee and how did Mummyicancook, and your collection of prints and tote bags, come about?
I grew up in Singapore, a country known for its amazing food (and 55-storey high infinity pools), and continued our nation's obsession with food in London, where I wrote about food that's seasonal, British, yet Singaporean at the same time, influenced by the comforting flavours of home and my old weekend job managing a farmer's market.
Mummy, I can cook was the original name of the photo album where I posted pictures of my attempts at cooking in that very first semester away from home, a way to assure my mum that I was surviving.
I was also studying graphic design at Central Saint Martins College, so by some inevitable force, I ended up twirling noodles, sprinkling coriander and rescuing wooden boards from the dumpster to make food look beautiful. By that same inevitable force, a lot of my design projects feature the edible, and that was how the collection of prints and tote bags came about.
2) We love your food and designs. Can you describe your signature style - from cooking to graphic design?
I hate complicated / complicating things, and that comes through in both cooking and graphic design. With food, I like to start with good produce, and then not mess around with it too much. Good locally-grown produce is something that I came to appreciate only after I moved to London. I never could eat tomatoes raw in Singapore; they were sour or tasteless and had a mealy texture from being in cold storage. Then I had a tomato, in summer, from one of the guys I work with at the farmer's market in my first year, and it was like "WOW." So that's something I try to do as much as possible in my cooking, to use what is seasonal and local to the place I'm at, from people I trust and hopefully sing to their cows and/or plants, while very often still using the Asian techniques that I'm familiar with. With design, I like to think how something could be made easier for someone to understand. I don't think design should be about embellishing things with flowery type etc., but taking away what doesn't need to be there.
With the MEE and KUEH designs for example, it's about identifying the key elements like shapes and colours, and then stripping the rest away of the information away to leave you with something that's simple enough to be classified and identified. Yeah, geeky.
3) Who is the person who would be hanging or wearing your prints?
A foodie/ a geek/ a tourist trying to make sense of our crazy Singaporean food culture
4) What are some of the driving influences in your designs?
Uh, food. Ha ha.
5) Best and worst thing about being a designer?
Best thing: Job/ life satisfaction. I love what I do.
Worst thing: The pay.
6) Describe an average day in your life.
Right now I'm waiting for my work visa to be approved before I return to London, so I'm just having fun doing a lot of random temp jobs/ projects. Every day is very different. A productive day last week went like this: Wake up, check emails, do yoga, have brunch, head to NONG, harvest hibiscus to make agar agar, photoshoot, head home, edit photos, write and send article off to Honeycombers, draw initial logo ideas for a freelance project I'm working on, send off final artwork for another freelance project I've finished, meet friends for dinner, meet other friends for drinks. A not productive day last week went like this: Wake up (late), have brunch, check emails, check facebook, check instagram, do yoga, have dinner, watch youtube, make to-do-list for the next day.
7) What is it like being a designer in Singapore?
4 years ago, I would have said shit. But the past 5 months in Singapore have really changed my mind. The design scene here is really picking up. There are so many young designers that are so passionate about their craft, doing such amazing work, and really rocking the local scene here. I also find it very encouraging that a lot of Singaporean designers are really feeding into the local culture for ideas; that makes Singaporean design very unique and very fun. That said, it's still very new, as compared to cities with a more established design culture, but that's what makes it especially exciting. I actually hate that I'm not going to be here; but I will be back soon enough I hope.
8) Why is design important to you?
I get bored very easily and design keeps things fresh and fun.