River Artist Spotlight: Q&A with Susana Sanchez-Young
The visionary behind The Designing Chica on her multicultural creativity and massive river love.
Susana Sanchez-Young’s illustrations are almost musical: They are catchy, buoyant, and expressive. The East Bay-based mom of two is the founder of The Designing Chica and an art director at the Los Angeles Times. Her clever bilingual plays on pop-culture references are emblazoned on everything from coloring books and paint kits to stickers and wall art. Susana’s art is infectiously happy, and we loved teaming with her to celebrate American Rivers’ 50th anniversary — and the vibrancy of rivers. Find Susana on Instagram @TheDesiginingChica.
We are proud to offer a T-shirt featuring an original design by The Designing Chica for Hispanic Heritage Month, which will help support our longtime partners at the Hispanic Access Foundation.
What inspires your art?
My crazy, cultural upbringing inspires my art and my life. My mother is from Guatemala, my father is from Nicaragua, and I was raised in Hollywood. My parents taught me to love my culture, our music, and speaking Spanish at home. My hard-working mother and aunts and grandmother would take me to clean houses with them after school — houses of movie stars and directors and writers in the Hollywood Hills. There were enormous rooms filled with art and photography, and my job would be to dust and clean out the trash. I would take forever because I loved staring into canvases that were out of this world and taller than me. I would collect all the thrown-out newspapers and magazines, and I would take them home to create collages. I would admire the designed spreads from Vogue before I knew that graphic design and lettering was a career!
Tell us about The Designing Chica. Why did you start it?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I could not find nursery art that represented my bicultural family. I knew chicos and chicas like me wanted representation. At the time I was an art director and designer at the Washington Post, working late hours. I was stressed and tired with a hectic commute, but since I had design and illustration skills, I thought, “Why not create something for myself?” I became my own client! I gave myself more work, but it became therapeutic and fun. I created a type-driven alphabet design that I fell in love with.
Lots of people started asking me to make them custom designs and stationery for their children’s rooms. When my second child turned two, I launched The Designing Chica. Self-funded! I was still working 10-hour days, seeing my kids only in the morning and coming home after a two-hour commute at midnight. I was always exhausted, but excited to create because I had all these ideas percolating in my head. I would stay up late and I sketched and designed postcards with bilingual sayings. It became my passion, and my designs took off!
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What inspired you about this project with American Rivers?
I grew up going to Yosemite every summer and spending countless hours in the Merced River. I loved seeing fish swim around my ankles and trying to catch them! I loved collecting and throwing rocks, trying very hard to make each rock skip. I loved bird watching and seeing the birds jump into the water and flutter back out with something to eat in their beaks. I loved staring at the stream over my legs and how the colors would shimmer and change with the reflection from the sun. My siblings and I would splash around and just have a blast for hours. Being in the river as a child was my happy place. As an adult, nothing has changed. You have to pull me away from every river we go to as I can just stay and sit in the water for hours. This piece for American Rivers was inspired by those beautiful memories, made only possible by my hard-working immigrant parents.
What is your favorite river?
The Merced River in the Yosemite Valley is number one in my book! I take my kids to Yosemite every year now so I can relive my childhood memories, and to make new ones with my husband and children.
Lastly, what drove us to purchase our East Bay home seven years ago was a tiny river in our backyard. Every day I get to go outside and listen to the creek’s waterfall and it’s my little private paradise. Sometimes there’s a group of ducks floating along, and hummingbirds buzzing about. Deer come and go, owls and hawks are my outdoor pets, and I once saw a river otter swimming and splashing around like he owned the place. My little river is a beautiful sight to wake up to. The river gives me life!
Cartas de Amor
American Rivers and the Hispanic Access Foundation have partnered for a decade to spark dialogue and support Latino leaders making a difference in the health of our waters. Watch our collaborative video project, Cartas de Amor, to hear about the importance of healthy rivers to Latino people’s health, communities, and future.