Creators Series: Ashley Leung C’16


Creators Series: Ashley Leung C’16

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Editor’s NoteDue to tech issues, we were unfortunately unable to share this piece last spring, when the interview took place and Ashley was a senior in the College. Ashley is now an Associate at C Space, and we are delighted to be able to share her story! 

Ashley Leung has no selfies on her Instagram, and if you do, sorry — you are not getting her follow request. The College senior prefers concrete stairwells, succulents, and vintage furniture both to reflect her life and inspire it. As the former Creative Director of The WALK, Design Director of 33 to 40, and a graphic designer for various Penn organizations, Leung has developed a sophisticated eye for taking the world in and churning an artistic creation out.

Yet this isn’t all work and no play for Leung. By keeping her projects outside her major, Leung said she stays excited for creative ventures and avoids feeling burned out, while still landing incredible internships and jobs. For all the creatives out there, hear how Leung used Penn’s community to launch her career, without the pressures of consulting or one-track majors getting in the way.


The WALK: I was looking at your website earlier, and it is stunning. You seem equally talented in photography, graphic design, and art direction. Do you have a favorite?

Ashley Leung: I would like to combine all three, but I definitely really like photography now. I think photography gives you a different mindset, especially when you are walking in the city, taking photos of things. You notice the little details, and I think that affects your mindset, not just in the photos but in your everyday life.

I used to not be in photography at all, but I studied at Parsons my sophomore year summer. It was so refreshing. I hung out with art school kids, no Penn people. Penn people are very goal oriented, and [Parsons students] also had goals, but they were able to appreciate where you are right now, and I felt that was so valuable.

Ashley Leung 2 Ashley Leung 1

W: And now must be a very exciting time for you — you are about to graduate. What’s next?

A: I definitely am not going to go back to school. I’m so not an academic. When people ask me, ‘Oh are you going to grad school?’ I’m like, ‘No I would never do grad school.’ I’m done; I want to work. I really like working, like last summer at the New York Times. I had so much fun, and when I got back I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing here?’ I can’t take tests and write papers. It’s all artificial. In an internship you are working on projects, and you get to see what you do really tangibly.

W: What other internships have you done in the past?

A: My first internship ever was at this really small advertising firm in the summer in Philly, and then last year at the New York Times, I did like brand planning and marketing, so that was like corporate America. But it was really fun. And then after graduation I am working at a branding agency [C Space]. It is just like market research, but also I will be do something graphic design related.

W: How did you get into graphic design? Is it related to your major?

A: I’m actually PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics). I think I got this major by process of elimination because I first was an architecture major, but then I was like, ‘No I do not want to be an architect,’ and then I wanted something with econ because I feel like that is practical and important. I have taken a lot of graphic design classes for fun because that is something I really enjoy. When I realized I didn’t want to do architecture, I wanted to explore something else.

W: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

A: I’m really into things with a lot of negative space and super anti-design. There are so many rules you learn about design, and I think it is most interesting when you break them and it looks cool. Also I am really into font and…I feel like there is this modern aesthetic where everything is like sans-serif and really clean, and I think it is interesting to go back into fonts that are a little more decorative and old school.

W: Do you have a similar taste in fashion?

A: I definitely am more minimalist but also eclectic. It definitely has changed. I used to be really into thrift stores, so I used to wear crazy stuff. Also, a lot of my clothes are from my mom’s. I have mom jeans that are legitimately my mom’s, and my favorite denim jacket is my mom’s from the ‘80s. But that shows that really classic pieces will never go out of style.

W: You have worked closely with fashion as the former Creative Director of The WALK Magazine. What exactly does that position entail?

A: It’s coming up with the concepts for the photo shoots, and then coming up with the locations, what the styling should look like for that, and then the models, so everything should be coherent. It’s a lot of logistics too. If you want to shoot somewhere downtown, it’s like how is everyone going to get there? What time is everyone going to get there? Actually, being creative director has really helped me with time management and sending out lots of emails and making sure everyone knows what they are doing and what time they are supposed to be there.

“I think being creative is being able to work with the box or the conditions.”

—Ashley Leung

W: And it seems like you have to be prepared for things not to go as planned?

A: It will always turn out really well but maybe not exactly as we imagined. One photo shoot we were supposed to shoot at Penn Park. It was during the winter, and we wanted to use the turf fields, but the day that we get there all the turf fields were taken because games were going on, so literally we found these little grass pieces of turf-like squares, so we dragged them together to make like a turf island. I think that was like the worst case scenario like, are you kidding of course there would be ten softball games going on today.

W: And you also helped direct and layout the coffee-table style publication 33 to 40 with senior Bryan Choo and freshman Alex Fisher. Can you tell me a little bit more about the concept.

A: For us, we describe 33 to 40 as a ‘time capsule’ of Penn culture now — it is part yearbook, part street style, and includes a lot of contributions from students all across campus. We want to show how there is no singular Penn experience but one that is created by the combination of individuals that all make up Penn.

W: That sounds like quite an undertaking! How do you find time to balance all of these different projects in addition to school?

A: I think it is prioritizing what you think is important, and also not taking on too many projects because then you won’t enjoy everything. So just give yourself enough time to be inspired and experiment with things and not just doing things on a deadline.

W: I think for those wanting creative careers, there is this pressure to take on a lot of projects because there is no set path or major for security. Have you found employers to be really particular about your major or experience?

A: I say major in what you are passionate about. At Penn, it is very easy to think there is like this path to be successful. I think at one point I was like, ‘Maybe I should go into consulting?’ But there are other ways to be successful. And I think it’s always important to keep on doing things, even if you are not majoring in fine arts. Taking classes and getting involved because meeting people with similar interests and wanting to create things together is really fun. Also, when applying to jobs, communication is really important. Yes you have to be a good worker, but being able to speak about it or articulate what you have done and why it is applicable.

W: What’s one things you have learned on the job?

A: When they say, ‘Oh be creative, think outside of the box.’ I think being creative is being able to work with the box or the conditions. What can you do with that? You can’t just be like, ‘We will change the entire thing.’

W: Have you always been creative?

A: I don’t think there ever was a moment when I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ And I don’t think taking classes helped at all. I remember when I was younger in elementary school I was in this art class, and it was fine arts and pastels, and I could not do it all. I was horrible. I remember one time a teacher showed my pastel as the bad art, and that like scarred me, but obviously I have moved past that.

—Emily Cieslak

Image by Ashley Leung

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