Creative Capital: How scrapbook journals put this Malaysian on the world map
Kuala Lumpur native Tercia Goh embraces the digital and analogue worlds as a digital strategist as well as ruling the realm of scrapbook crafting as the "journalling queen".
Tercia Goh has been heralded by various Malaysian publications as their nation’s "journalling queen". People unfamiliar with the passionate hobby community built around scrapbook journalling might be scratching their heads reading that. But they need only take a quick gander at the images Tercia has posted on her super-popular Instagram feed @skybambi to appreciate the complexity, beauty, and passion that fuels her craft.
Tercia is one of the most popular journalists, not just in her home country, but in the world. She has garnered fans from all over the world – fans who are so committed that they will jump on a plane or train to hang out with Tercia at one of the journal community meet-ups she organises.
This February, she launched The Companion, possibly the most beautiful leather-bound journalling kit on the planet. With each release, it sells out instantly and currently, there are over 200 people on the waiting list for one of these.
HI TERCIA, WHAT GOT YOU INTO SCRAPBOOK JOURNALLING?
I can’t pinpoint a specific moment or trigger, but I have always been a very sentimental person. As a child, I would keep sweet wrappers, ticket stubs, cinema passes, drink coasters and basically anything tangible that had emotional value.
I also loved writing, sketching and doodling in notebooks – a habit my grandmother nurtured in me. She bought me my first colour pencils to keep me busy. These little habits collide into what would become scrapbook journalling – a mix media of a visual journal and memory archive.
YOU WERE JOURNALLING EVEN AS A KID. HOW DIFFERENT WERE THOSE JOURNALS FROM THE ONES YOU PRODUCE TODAY?
I would say that I have come a long way from just scribbling to embellishing my pages with a little more finesse. Before iPads existed, I was given art supplies as a child to keep me busy and distracted. That was one way to keep me out of trouble!
These days, the purpose is more meaningful. As a digital strategist, journalling helps me balance the digital and analogue worlds. It’s how I tune out from the noise and tune in to myself. Putting thoughts on paper is like having an internal conversation. It is a way to slow down, to be mindful and meditative, something which is increasingly important in the fast-paced world we live in. It's an outlet for a meaningful pause. One thing remains though, and that is the joy in the creative process.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH SCRAPBOOK JOURNALLING? IS IT METHODICAL OR ORGANIC? WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS LIKE?
I would say that my approach is fuelled by feeling. What do I want to convey today? What am I grateful for or fearful about? These are some of the things that determine the outcome of my journal entries. Some of my journal spreads are thematic. For example, I might feel like going floral one day, and then renaissance the next, followed by a retro theme. I like to keep things fresh and try out new styles, craft projects and tools.
I lose track of time when I am in the journalling zone. On a good day, a spread can take less than an hour. On a day when I experience creative block, it may take about four hours and a few glasses of wine to complete an entry.
If I am travelling, I try to plan ahead and pre-design my pages to reflect the destination I am going to. That way, I can journal on the go without having to carry too many unnecessary supplies. If I have access to all of my journal and craft supplies, I let things flow organically and reach for my favourite pens and ephemera, and let my pages speak to me.
YOU HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE FOLLOWING OF 61,000 ON INSTAGRAM. WHEN DID YOU REALISE THAT SCRAPBOOKING WAS BECOMING SOMETHING THAT YOU WERE KNOWN FOR?
My first picture on Instagram was a flea market sign in Melbourne in the summer of 2007. It was a rather random and thoughtless snapshot. I started late, but early enough at a time when algorithms did not dictate one's reach and engagement. I remember the excitement of hitting 100, then 1,000, 10,000, 20,000 and so it goes. Mini milestones.
But I’d say that the turning point, when I knew I had something going, was when I started freelancing. I gained more clients through Instagram than I did on LinkedIn. Publications, brands and businesses started approaching me for digital consultancy and commissioned work.
Aside from working with numerous cult status brands like Galen Leather in the journalling community, some of my most memorable collaborations include Cartier, Hermes, and the recent feature in Conde Nast Italia – which, to date, has been the highlight of my journalling journey. As an avid traveller, this was a dream come true.
ANY FAVOURITE CITIES FOR STOCKING UP ON SCRAPBOOK SUPPLIES? WHAT ABOUT FAVOURITE DESTINATIONS IN GENERAL? WHERE’S THE ONE PLACE YOU WANT TO GO TO MOST ONCE WE CAN ALL START TRAVELLING AGAIN?
I am fortunate to have cultivated a love for travel, thanks to my globe-trotting parents. We would go on yearly family trips around the world almost every year. My favourite cities for stationery shopping would be London and Paris. I love scouring antique markets for vintage finds. Old-world Victorian and Parisian stationery is hard to come by in Asia.
I often stock up on vintage books, brass ink wells, dip pens, postcards, nibs and nautical maps. They make fantastic embellishments, home decor and photography props. Not the easiest of things to lug back home but one must suffer for one’s craft! Walking into my writing room is like entering a different era.
Now that travel is more selective and not as accessible, the No 1 destination on my travel list would be Budapest to visit Bomo Art, one of the most beautiful stationery stores in Europe.
WHAT ARE SUNDAY SCRIBBLES SESSIONS AND ARE YOU STILL HOSTING THEM?
It all started right here in Kuala Lumpur about 20 months ago. We have a very strong community of journallers but we’d never met each other and only interacted via social media. I thought to myself, why not meet up and put a face to these Instagram handles? And so it began, a humble group of nine to 15 of us would meet up once a month. I wanted it to be as inclusive as possible so there is no entry fee or registration required, though we try to keep things intimate.
I’ve also organised pop-up Sunday Scribble sessions whenever I travel to London and Melbourne. The first time I did one abroad, I thought it would only attract a handful of people so it was really humbling when 12 people showed up. Some even came in by plane and train from as far away as Italy, Denmark and Germany. The effort some would go through to meet up was just incredible!
Journalling is a very solo experience, so it is quite amazing to gather. That sense of community to connect with like-minded people makes each meet-up special and even emotional at times.
Due to the pandemic, we’ve not been able to meet in person, but I've started weekly Sunday Scribbles Zoom sessions and these have an even greater reach and accessibility, with participation from an elective and diverse international group. I am so grateful for them and it’s something I look forward to every week. I found my tribe and they’ve become my second family.
TELL US ABOUT THE COMPANION. IT’S A BEAUTIFUL PRODUCT.
The Companion started off as a passion project and was born from a personal desire for the perfect craft carrier. I have long been searching for one but despite trying out many options, nothing quite fit my needs. I had a mental wish list, but I never really gave much thought to actually designing my own.
It wasn’t until two close friends nudged me that I flirted with the idea. One of them had contacts in Yogyakarta and they are known for their quality leather and craftsmanship. So, on a whim, we booked a quick getaway and flew over on a leisurely trip to meet a few artisans. Even if nothing came out of it, we would have had a good holiday.
Beyond my wildest imagination, everything changed from then on. The artisans showed me samples, sat with me and digested my ideas, designs and passion. The synergy was amazing. Everyone jumped on board from the get-go. In less than three months, I had prototypes and in the next six months, I proceeded to sell out at every small-batch release. I could not believe it!
It has been a whirlwind journey since. I went with gut and gusto, and without an e-commerce platform. Every sale and transaction happened through Instagram via @Skybambi_Stationery. The support has been rather overwhelming.
Since then, I have expanded my range to include wooden ink shelves, writing boxes, and wax seal handle designs. The great part of having your own brand is that you get to create, keep and use the things you’ve always wanted.
Sales has been good, despite the pandemic. The crisis has caused more of a logistical issue rather than a sales one. Production came to a standstill at one point but demand was still high. Things are running smoothly again and I currently have about 250 people on the wait list.
Because everything is handmade, production takes time. I am not keen on mass producing my products at the risk of compromising on quality. Most of my customers are from Europe and America, with a decent number of orders from Asia as well.
YOU ARE ALSO A VERY WELL-ESTABLISHED CONTENT STRATEGIST AND DIGITAL MARKETING CONSULTANT. HAS YOUR FAME FOR JOURNALLING STARTED TO OVERSHADOW YOUR OTHER PROFESSIONAL ROLES?
Actually, my roles are very complimentary to each other. I would say that it has been a great advantage to understand the digital and social sphere. Skybambi started with no expectations. It was just a nickname. I didn’t set out to create a brand, so this is as much a surprise to me as it probably is to my family, who till this day, still can’t figure out what my deal is.
Being able to create my own content through my passion for photography and videography has definitely helped showcase a skill beyond just understanding the digital aspect of my work. In fact, Skybambi has become a portfolio for potential clients. So I would say they both go hand-in-hand.
AS A STRATEGIST AND HEAD OF CONTENT AT ZAFIGO, LET ME ASK YOU: IN A TIME WHEN WE CAN’T TRAVEL AND CAN ONLY DREAM OF IT, WHAT SHOULD ONLINE TRAVEL BRANDS BE DOING?
Businesses have a bigger role to play in this current climate, and adaptability has to take into account the impact on the community.
Brands need to embrace change and tap into creative solutions, rather than rely on the usual playbook. We live in an unprecedented and confusing time. In a climate where travel-related services may no longer be required, travel brands need to expand and evolve to remain relevant. In many ways, it is an opportunity to reset and reinvent.
In the case of Zafigo, which is a women-centric platform that empowers women to travel better and safer, we had to be quick to pivot from lifestyle articles to timely COVID-19-related information. We became almost like a newsroom. We had to keep our finger on the pulse. It was equally important that we were disseminating information that was relevant and factual.
As an online travel magazine, not being able to travel was the least of our problems. We had to figure out how to navigate this new world. We strategised on bringing the outside world into the living room as many were forced to stay home, and we did that through online experiences. We provided free workshops to upgrade women's skills and enable them to earn extra income from home, interviewed captains of the industry to provide valuable insights into the future of travel, and published a series of downloadable e-zines.
TELL US ABOUT #GLOBALFOOTPRINTS.
#Globalfootprints is an on-going personal travel photography project. Not one to post selfies, I opted for point-of-view pictures of my feet instead. I realised that there was so much beauty in the world, and literally, right under our noses. I’ve taken pictures standing over manhole covers in Tokyo, mosaic tiles in Morocco, floor art in the Vatican City, and John Lennon’s memorial in Central Park, to name a few. It’s a personal journey of the footprints I left through my travels.
WHAT’S THE FUTURE OF SKYBAMBI? DO YOU SEE IT AS SOMETHING THAT CAN BE TURNED INTO A FULL-TIME PURSUIT?
That’s a very difficult question to answer as at the moment, I have the best of both worlds. I enjoy my day job, which is changing rapidly due to the current climate; on the other hand, I remain very passionate about the stationery business and am involved in every little aspect of it.
Having said that, I do harbour the dream to own a little store one day, where I can potter around with all the things I curate, and a space where I can create new projects. I also hope that it’s a place where our community can congregate to share ideas and hold workshops in appreciation of the analogue world. Fingers crossed that one day, that’ll come true.