Creative Couples: Sean & Anna

24 November 2009


We continue our weekly interview series about creative couples, and their experiences balancing a professional and personal lifestyle under the same roof. This week’s creative couple is Sean Auyeung and Anna Corpron, a husband and wife super duo known as Sub-Studio, a multi-disciplinary art and design studio based in New York City.

From hand-printed stationary, collaborative illustration projects, jewelry design and their fantastic blog they’ve kept themselves pretty busy in their home in the East Village. They both come from architecture backgrounds, but bring their personal interests to play in their highly collaborative projects.

How did the two of you meet, and how long have you been together?
S: We met in architecture school at Cornell. Specifically, in freshman math class. I sat in front and Anna sat in back. She says she remembers me because I used to fall asleep with my eyes open. I remember her because she wore a bindi. We were good friends all throughout college and started dating in 2003 after graduating. We were married in the fall of 2007.

A: We met in college at Cornell University, where we were both students in the five-year undergraduate architecture program. Like Sean said, one of my first memories is of him falling asleep in the front of the math class we were both in, with his eyes open (it’s a pretty creepy spectacle!). We didn’t actually start dating until after we graduated – we were really good friends throughout college and in our last summer there I hired him and another friend to help me with a book I was editing and designing for Cornell’s architecture program. That was one of the first times that we worked together and was when I realized that Sean might be more than a friend. We’ve been together now for over six years, and married for two.

In London

What’s it like working with your better half?
S: It is sometimes difficult to balance being professional with being married. It’s easy to say ‘hey, stop what you’re doing and look at this with me’, but you would probably never do that with a regular co-worker. Other than that, it’s great to share similar interests and ideas because our best work comes from each of us bringing our ideas to the table, brainstorming over them, having that eureka moment, and then taking it from there.

A: Like anything worthwhile, it’s at times difficult and frustrating, but mostly awesome and rewarding. I love how creative and talented Sean is, and we have a great synergy when it comes to developing ideas and projects. It also helps that we went through five years of architecture school together – we’ve developed thick skins and the ability to critique one another’s work in a constructive manner. I actually think that is pretty key to working together – knowing how to communicate your ideas and criticisms in a loving and constructive way, and being able to not take someone else’s criticisms personally.

Nursery Rhymes – A two-color screenprint based on three of our favorite nursery rhymes.

Can you describe your creative workspace?
S: We work out of our apartment so it’s pretty cluttered. We have our desks set up side by side and the rest of our gear (silkscreens, flat files, packing stuff, etc.) is scattered around the apartment in every possible space we could find.

A: We work out of our 400 sq. ft. apartment, so the best descriptor would be cluttered. We’ve pretty much utilized every square inch in our apartment. I’m actually the messier person, but sometimes living and working in the same space makes me crazy.

What are the benefits of living/working together?
S: I still have a day job as a designer/project architect for a small firm in NYC, so I’m only working at home part-time. But, being married and also working together is a great thing. It’s hard to always get along because we have differing opinions, but because we’re married we can be really honest about our work together. We rarely work on a project that doesn’t involve both of us on the design and criticism levels. The end product is always great to see because it’s a product of both of our heads.

A: If I come up with a crazy idea in the middle of the night, Sean is always there to bounce ideas off of. It’s also just a lot of fun to be in both a personal relationship and a creative relationship with the same person. It’s awesome to be with someone who really understand and shares my interest in design and creativity, and to be able to create new things together. Who else could I have dressed up as butter and an ear of corn with for this past Halloween?

Butter & Corn

Any disadvantages?
S: In the beginning of the business, Anna was still working as an architect and we had to put Sub-Studio time in at nights and on the weekends, which put a big weight on our relationship because we spent all our time working instead of being a couple. Even though it’s our own work, we have to make sure we put it away at night and get back to being a regular couple.

A: It’s easy for work to bleed into your personal time/your time as a couple when you are working both together and from home. After failing miserably at separating the two, we’ve had to be very careful to set up boundaries and rules about when and how long we work. Even after having worked together for almost four years now, it’s still something that we are trying to find a balance in.

Visible:Invisible – One of our first ever collaborations together. The Visible:Invisible series of photo-illustrations envisions a world of creatures parallel to ours. Living next to us in our physical world, but beyond our human senses, the creatures live their lives and carry out their individual rituals.

Has your work changed as a result of living/working together, if so how?
A: I think that we tend to influence one another with regards to what is inspiring us at the moment, and that obviously has an effect on our work.

S: In school, we always valued the critical eye of our friends because the work gets better the more people ask about it and pick it apart. Our graphic design work through Sub-Studio isn’t as conceptually-driven as an architecture project might be, but having someone give critical input is a great thing. Having those discussions just gets your brain working and it helps us both be more creative.

2010 Pocket Calendar – Our first-ever calendar is based on traditional fortune cookie messages that have been updated with a modern design. There are 24 different proverbs (okay, some of them are more like random sayings) to help guide you through the next year.

Are you currently collaborating on anything at the moment?
A: We collaborate on pretty much everything that comes out of Sub-Studio. The biggest project that we’ve collaborated on recently is a new business called The Working Proof – an online print gallery and shop with the mission of promoting both art and social responsibility through a series of limited-edition prints. A portion of the sale of each print is donated to the charity of the artist’s choice. Otherwise, through Sub-Studio we have a set of prints that we are finishing up, and once the holiday season is over, we have to gear up for the National Stationery Show in May.

S: We collaborate on everything! Other than our design blog, Sub-Studio has taken a backseat to The Working Proof this past year. But now that Anna has gotten that up and running, we are concentrating on coming up with a new series of prints. I am looking forward to the day that we can collaborate on an architectural project together, but that will have to wait until we find clients who want to build.

Greasy Grimes – Our contribution to a limited edition, letterpressed Old Maid (renamed Enterprising Maidens) card deck. Greasy Grimes was drawn as a double portrait inspired by a standard face card. The two opposing sides of the card represent the inner and outer character of a single person in two different forms. What is more desirable, inner or outer beauty?

Any advice for future creative couples?
S: Try to work cooperatively and not competitively. We both come in with our own interests and ideas, but we work on them together.

A: Like I said before, make sure that you are communicating in a constructive way, and understand that collaborating consists of a lot of give and take. While your final idea may not be exactly how you initially conceived of it, most of the time your ideas will come out better because of the back and forth. Two heads are definitely better than one!

Thanks Sean and Anna!


24 November 2009, 11:02 am briana says:

Such a fantastic interview. Every word spoke to my personal and professional life. It’s great to know that other people have the same issues about when to be a couple and when to be co-workers. Its a strange (but very rewarding) lifestyle. Cheers to Sean and Anna. They’re awesome!

24 November 2009, 2:08 pm Dusty says:

Fairly new to the site. Great interview. Is Creative Couples a series? If so, where do I find the past features? Thanks.

24 November 2009, 2:51 pm Pete Barnett says:

hey dusty – we’re just working on a “features” section now, where we can group all of the Creative Couples interviews. should be together soon. thank you!

24 November 2009, 3:14 pm Looks Good To Me » Blog Archive » Feels Good: Creative Couples on TSA says:

[...] Read the full Creative Couples post on Sean and Anna right here. [...]

25 November 2009, 11:22 am Pikaland says:

I love Anna and Sean. It’s wonderful to read up on other couples who work together — my husband just went freelance too, and I need all the advice I can get! Also, they’re spot on about spending time together as a couple. I’ve made the mistake of working too hard when I first started out too!

25 November 2009, 7:01 pm Dusty says:

Cool deal Pete. Thanks for the reply.

28 November 2009, 12:24 pm Michael Wandelmaier says:

Loved this article! My girlfriend (illustrator Jessica Fortner) and I are also creative types living and working together, and we both recognized so many parallels between Anna&Sean and us.

I think the reason it’s become increasingly common for couples to choose to work together at home (often in addition to day-job careers) is that it’s natural to draw inspiration and strength from your partner. Couples working as designers, illustrators, arthitects, etc… tend to live their work anyway and can’t help but gravitate towards working together.

Can’t wait to see more from this series!

Michael Wandelmaier & Jessica Fortner

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