Custom watercolor invitations from a local artist

In a modest, light-filled studio overlooking East Gay Street, Yao Cheng of Yao Cheng Design creates stunning works in watercolor. Though Cheng, who lives in Hilliard with her husband and their 1-year-old son, has been painting and drawing since childhood, she didn't start working in watercolors until after college. Her design studio, founded in 2012, originally focused on art prints, greeting cards and the like. But when Cheng's friend, lifestyle blogger Erin Souder of Earnest Home Co., asked for her help styling invitations for a photo shoot for wedding blog Style Me Pretty, Cheng dove into the world of bespoke, or custom, wedding invitations. From there, collaborations with Minted.com and other stores followed.

We sat down to talk with Cheng about her business and the inspirations for her unique designs. (Cheng had so much to share about her work that we couldn't fit it all here; head to cbuswedmag.com/YaoCheng for more photos, questions and answers.)

Tell us about your jump from art prints to custom wedding invitation suites.

Erin Souder approached me and said she had a styled shoot with Style Me Pretty coming up, and she was wondering if I could contribute some wedding invitations. I had always thought about it, because my work is very floral-oriented, and I always loved stationeries. That was in 2013, a year into my business.

So [my first invitation suite, the Ingram collection] got published, and that gave me incredible exposure, actually. Then the projects kind of started rolling in, and I did more and more. That turned into collaborations with Minted—I have two suites through them—so that gave me more exposure in a different market and a different customer.

Did you offer collections from the start?

I did bespoke for a while; I actually only launched collection [pre-designed invitation suites] last year. I realized how much I really do love designing wedding invitations.

Do you tend to have more bespoke or collection clients now?

Right now, they do gravitate more toward bespoke; I think it's because I've been doing it longer, so I'm more known for that. But we're really trying to push for the collection suites, because I think, in the end, it's a faster turnaround for brides, but they still get the bespoke feel. And a lot of times, we'll have a collection bride, but then in there will be speckled a couple of bespoke pieces.

And that's great in terms of budget; clients can get the collection price, but upgrade it with a few custom pieces—like your gorgeous maps or programs.

Yes! I think things have become so digitized; we get a lot of inquiries now for digital invitations. And I really shy away from that, because I think there's something so special and traditional about paper. It's something you can hold in your hand, and we control the quality, and it feels more like art. I love that about our work.

Who is your ideal client?

I love having people who know what they want; they have a vision. [It's important] to know what you want, but be open to why you've hired this person to do this for you, because I've also had brides who have been very stressed about making sure that every aspect is right. But that's why you hire people like me, so that I can take that stress off your shoulders and make it beautiful and perfect for your day. And I love doing it! I think it's really fun.