Meet the local who’s capturing the beauty of Vietnamese-American culture

Seattle Restored revives Seattle neighborhoods with creativity and commerce, calling on local artists and entrepreneurs to reinvigorate our city by activating empty storefronts. These pop-up and art installation activations benefit neighborhoods, small businesses, artists, and property owners by creating vibrant and engaging streetscapes that encourage the public to visit downtown Seattle and support local businesses and artists – particularly Black, Indigenous, and other entrepreneurs and artists of color.

Hi, Stephanie! Tell us about your business or artistic focus.

Stephanie Mai Designs makes paper goods for all moods. I also focus on capturing the beauty of Vietnamese-American culture. Much of SMD’s handcrafted art prints and stationery center around food. Food and art are mediums in which I continue to express my love for culture and heritage to my community and beyond.

What’s a project you’re working on, and how can our readers help you with it?

My career as a part time freelance artist and designer started back in 2016 when I started my first small business. I have always had a passion for combining entrepreneurship with creative endeavors, so starting an online art shop was the perfect way to dive into this role. Creating designs based on community and culture is incredibly important to me. I hope to tell a story through my work and connect with my audience on an emotional level. While I am not in the position to make my creative small business a full-time career yet, I am still passionate about scaling my small business to the point of sustainability — this is why I am excited to collaborate on the Seattle Restored project.

Seattle Restored is a tremendously impactful project on our community and provides a wonderful opportunity to connect with the community that I want to serve and with whom I am familiar with. I prefer to stay local and give back to the community that gave me so much while growing up here in Seattle.

One of the big things I care about are small businesses, away from all the politics of what it means to restore Seattle. On the most basic level, art is a great way to unite and connect communities as well as a powerful way to connect small businesses. As a creative entrepreneur and a lifetime Seattleite, I am excited at the opportunity to support my local neighborhoods and small businesses. I hope to work with Seattle Restored to enhance our city streetscapes and encourage more visitors to explore our art and businesses.

Seattle’s art scene is thriving partly because as a city we make so much space for creativity to thrive (museums, art walks, galleries, etc). Within Seattle’s art scene, I am known mostly for my colorful digital designs and ink sketches uplifting community, creativity, and culture. I draw a lot of my art inspired by my home — the Pacific Northwest, Vietnam, and everywhere in between. They are two ends of my identity and I like bringing them together in my art to fully encompass my creative direction. Collaborating with Seattle Restored is a wonderful opportunity that also gives me space to tell stories and connect with other creatives who share the love for our city.

My goal is to contribute to the thriving art scene in Seattle. I want to create art for Seattlelites like myself who wish to see more art that celebrates their culture and community. I hope to share these creative expressions with Seattle Restored and start conversations. My goal is to create more work that celebrates all the things that make us unique.

You can order these two prints – and dozens more – on Stephanie’s website. At left, Astro Latté Girl; at right, Asian Fruits Grocery Run. (🎨: Stephanie Mai)

What’s the most rewarding part of your artistic pursuits?

Most of my friends and family describe me as a social person — I really enjoy building relationships and supporting other creatives. Collaborating with other creatives and telling stories through art is another means of connection. Cultivating a creative small business is an opportunity to learn from others as much as it is a chance to offer a variety of unique goods to customers curious about art. It gives me a chance to connect with other artists with similar visions as me.

Not only does creating art build camaraderie and connection, it is also a fun way for art lovers to share this connection with their community as well. One of the things I love most is fostering these relationships with art by creating pieces that deeply resonate with people on a deep emotional level.

What are you looking forward to this year?

So many things! I am continuing my creative collaborations with Seattle Restored, the Wing Luke Museum, Amazon, and other Seattle small businesses. I’m incredibly grateful for these opportunities to share my artwork and explore new channels for creative storytelling.

On top of that, I am super excited to marry the love of my life this summer (and plan DIY wedding projects)!

What brings you most alive about working or living in Seattle?

I’ve lived in the shadow of Seattle all my life. I grew up frequenting Little Saigon, South Seattle, and the University of Washington area. My creative journey took me throughout the Greater Seattle area as a fledgling artist to a professional designer today. Seattle is where I’ve built my network and my community — it is where I wish to give back and support. Seattle has a truly vibrant art community with such a rich history that I love to immerse myself in.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?

Visit the local cafes! There are so many wonderful little galleries and libraries that celebrate the work of Seattle artists. Not to mention, they serve a mean cup of joe. Some of my favorites include Hello Em Cafe in the International District and Tea Republik in the U-District.

What’s your favorite Seattle Restored pop-up or art installation and why?

I love Nikita Ares’ installation for Seattle Restored. I absolutely love the vibrant, energetic colors Nikita uses in her work. Her exhibition is a joy to behold, and viewers can’t help but engage with her art.

➡️ Read more about Stephanie Mai and check out the full details about her Seattle Restored art installation on the Seattle Restored blog.

By The Evergrey Creative Studio
The Evergrey Creative Studio helps clients big and small engage locals, through campaigns that use creative marketing, storytelling, events, and activations to build community, conversation, and impact.