Crafting like a pro

Senior Art Director Nicole Ngo has serious creative skills. She’s crafted everything from homemade Halloween headpieces to a cardboard replica of her car. Read how she unwinds from her day by flexing her creative muscles.

Prior to lockdown, how much did you like crafting and how often did you craft?

Oh, I loved crafting before lockdown. I was never really able to dedicate as much time to it as I would have liked, though. But any chance I was able to get to myself, I would be crafting, or planning my next project. I think it’s a great hobby; it keeps me busy in a good way. It keeps my motor functions afloat and is a form of therapy for me. It’s kind of my creative outlet outside of what I do on a regular basis at closerlook. And it’s really enjoyable because I can do it by myself.

Did you always love to craft?

Oh, absolutely. I think I got it in my genes from my dad.

When my dad first moved to America from Vietnam, one of the first jobs he had was drawing comics for the local newspaper while attending college. He’s always been a doodler and he’s always been really good at fine art. He’s also a maker–a creator, builder, constructor–all of those kinds of things. So, I think I get that inherently from him. I do distinctly remember one year for Christmas getting one of those kid’s clay kits in my stocking. I’m sure it was just something small from the dollar store that my mom saw and thought, “Oh, she’ll love this!” and I remember playing with that constantly. I think that’s the first time I ever realized that you could mix colors together to create another. I mean, that clay got everywhere–on the carpet, on my desk, on my walls. But I very distinctly remember that being the first time that I realized I can make something out of something else.

Would you say that your dad and those kind of first memories really inspired your passion for art and creating things and led you toward design?

Yes, definitely, yes. I think it was always very much a hobby, and it wasn’t until later on in life that I realized that that sort of crafty and maker hobby could actually translate into a design-centric career path. Before, I didn’t really realize that they kind of went hand-in-hand together. And the minute I had that realization I was like, “Oh, this is it.” There was no doubt in my mind that this was what I wanted to do not only as a hobby but as a career path and for the rest of my life, really.

How much time now during the week do you spend crafting?

Oh, gosh. I guess whenever I’m not working, I’m either catching up on Netflix or crafting. I like to do a little bit of everything and sometimes that results in a lot of started projects and not a lot of finished projects.

But I would probably say I dedicate at least an hour and a half every day to something craft related, whatever that may be, and on weekends, probably a little bit longer. One of the great things about some of the projects I work on is that I can just sit on the couch and watch TV while working on it. I can watch re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries while bedazzling some random object in my apartment or cross stitching or painting something!

Do you feel like that hour and a half then that your spending is kind of like a day or time to wind down after you’ve been staring at a screen?

Absolutely. Yes, one hundred percent, that’s definitely my time to shut off from my digital world, my phone, my computer, my email, and just focus on one little thing. A lot of things I do involve small, tiny pieces like little stitches or tiny little gems. It’s therapeutic for me in a way to do that repeated motion and wind down a little bit by doing so.

What are your some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on and then what are some of the projects that you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?

Oh, boy. So, this is kind of silly. But earlier in the year, we had one of our first work-from-home Beer O’Clocks that was themed “Drink, Talk, Learn,” and I decided that my topic was going to be on the Chicago express lanes and how they work. And I was thinking that I wanted to do something more.

So, I thought, I’m going to build a wearable replica of my car. This was right in the beginning of lockdown so going to the store to buy supplies wasn’t really an option. I remember very specifically spending about three hours one night after work, finding old Amazon boxes, old packaging around the house and making my car out of these boxes and painting it all just for this two-minute presentation during a Beer O’Clock. I spent the time constructing and painting it, and I made it wearable. I even created a little replica of my license plate. And it was just one of those moments where I made it, I was very proud of it, and it was so silly, but it made me happy when I looked at it.

I loved it so much because it was just a really fun thing that I did from recycled materials during a time that was super, super stressful for a lot of people, including myself. To be able to just sit there for three hours and cut and glue cardboard together like I was in kindergarten again was just really, really fun for me. And it’s probably one of my favorite sillier things that I’ve done this year.

I also ventured into headpiece/crown making this Halloween. That was super exciting for me because it was a wearable piece. They look-and I may be biased here-but they look more professional than some of the other projects I’ve done. It’s really fun to have an idea, do the research and source the materials to be able to bring that to life. A lot of my weird random knowledge on how to build things came in handy.



What’s the difference between the creativity you get to use when you are crafting versus the creativity at work?

They’re both very creative jobs. I think that the certain type of creativity I need to tap into during work is just a different level. I do have restrictions and I turn all of those into something that still looks good. That’s a creative challenge. The creativity I tap into with my personal projects is just fun. There are no limits there! I can make a macaroni necklace if I want to, or paint a picture of a pig and title it as “horse” because I don’t have anything or anyone telling me I can’t.

Are there any kinds of crafts you don’t like?

I’m sure there are! I’m one of those people who will just be minding my business scrolling on Instagram or reading news articles, and I’ll see something creative, and I will try it. I don’t particularly think I need to be an expert in any sort of craft. I really just like to try everything out. It’s mostly for myself to know that I can do it or that I can figure out how to do it. So, while I have crafts that I lean towards more, I like to try a little bit of everything because I like to figure it out. I like to see things and see how people have done it and give it a go. I’m sure there are things that I don’t know how to do or haven’t tried yet, but I will always give it a go!

Do you have any movies or music that you gravitate toward while you’re crafting?

I love a good lengthy true crime podcast. I’m super into true crime and murder mystery! If it’s more of a sit-down-on-the-couch project, I’ll throw on a movie or a show that I can listen to in the background. More than likely re-runs of Dateline, 20/20, Unsolved Mysteries. Basically, more true crime.

Do you have like a playlist or a true crime podcast that you would recommend?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve got a plenty of true crime podcasts that I could go on and on about. One of my favorites is “Sword & Scale.” It’s quite intense, though. So, if you don’t really like the intensity of true crime, that one might not be for you. “My Favorite Murder” is always a crowd favorite. It’s definitely just more conversational, a little comedic. So that one’s nice when I kind of need a break from the more intense stuff. There’s also another one called “True Crime Garage,” which is really great. It’s two men who drink beer in their garage and talk about true crime. I mean hey, I’d love to do that!

You’re a big holiday person. Do you like Hallmark movies or holiday music?

Surprisingly, as much as I am a holiday person and I do love the holidays, I actually do not enjoy holiday music or holiday films aside from the classics. I will watch the classics all day, every day. I can’t do the new ones. I try to watch new ones every year, and I just can’t do it.

Do you have any advice for people who might be scared to buy a bunch of supplies for a craft that they’re not good at, and how are some good ways to get started?

Definitely start small. A lot of the easier projects you can teach yourself and do at home, like macrame or like cross stitching. You can find really simple kits to purchase for a fairly good price that provide you with everything that you need to learn, start and complete a project. That way you can dip your toe in the water and give it a try. And if you like it, then you can make that investment per project as you go.

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