An Interview with Soon Cho
If you’ve found your way to this website, then it’s more than likely you’ve already had a glimpse into the joy of Soonness’ puzzles.
As I was getting back into jigsaw puzzles during the pandemic, I happened to find Soonness when fellow puzzlers on social media started posting links to the Kickstarter page for the Gradient Therapy Collection. I was instantly captivated by the puzzles’ exploration of color progression. Unlike many more conventional gradients, the Gradient Therapy puzzles had something just a little bit outside the box (in the case of Magic Box, literally outside the box). Since the launch of the Gradient Therapy puzzles, which were the follow-up to Soon’s first collection of Life puzzles (Forest Life, Marine Life, and Arctic Life), it’s been exciting watching Soonness grow in its ambition to produce fine-art puzzles, in a more sustainable format, through an entirely new model, the PNP (“Pick and Preorder”) events that began in June 2022 and are soon to begin their third round with a new selection of three prospective puzzle designs, which will be available to preorder from January 26-31, 2023.
"It’s been exciting watching Soonness grow in its ambition to produce fine-art puzzles, in a more sustainable format,"
The concept of PNP is a unique one. In the run-up to the event, a unique set of artworks is shared with puzzlers, and then during a limited window of time, you can preorder any that you would like to purchase. If a puzzle – or puzzles – from the current event meet a minimum threshold and are approved, then those are produced and shipped. Those that aren’t approved have their orders canceled (meaning, in that case, no payment is charged). For a design that isn’t approved, it is possible to tell Soonness that you’d like to see the puzzle again in a future event, and if there’s enough demand, it’s possible that that design may get a second chance (as is the case with one of the designs in the upcoming PNP this month!).
I’ve been loving what Soonness has been doing with PNP, so it was my pleasure that Soon Cho, the founder of Soonness, agreed to do an interview with me in anticipation of this latest round of new PNP puzzles. Having founded the company during the pandemic in 2020 out of a desire to turn her own artwork into puzzles, Soon quickly realized that there was a high level of unpredictability in determining what made a bestselling puzzle and decided to find a more sustainable model, both for her business and for the planet, by launching PNP. “It’s hard to compete with big brands, who have the ability to place large orders and get the costs down,” she told me, “so I wanted to do my part by creating more limited-edition and unique puzzles that people could treat themselves with.” Even though the limited-edition nature of the puzzles means that the potential for profit is also limited, it’s a direction that Soon has chosen partly as a means of encouraging sustainability through her puzzles.
“so I wanted to do my part by creating more limited edition and unique puzzles that people could treat themselves with.”
Since her early collections, Soon has been making an effort to improve her puzzles incrementally, in step with her manufacturing partner. These improvements include Soon’s drawing new, unique die-cuts to solve problems with false fits, as well as adding in more unique shapes, improving print quality, and introducing plastic-free packaging, an aspect that Soon has been requesting since the very beginning but which her manufacturer has recently introduced thanks to sustained demand. “Last year,” Soon says, “they finally invested in setting up a machine that would use paper bags to pack the puzzle pieces.” Also, for the protection of the box, Soon has devised a cardboard box within the larger shipping box to protect the puzzle box during transit, so that puzzlers receive a pristine product in a recyclable package.
All of this attention to detail speaks to why the limited-edition PNP model is so special. That not every design is approved during the event means that those which are produced can be made with the utmost standard of care. “If I don’t see a lot of demand for a puzzle,” Soon says, “it will lead to excess inventory, since I cannot order less than the minimum that the factory has set. It is the saddest moment when I have to cancel puzzle designs and send disappointments to the customers who have ordered and the artists who have participated. It is the reality of the market though – even if there is positive attention but people don’t buy, we still have to operate the business.” Even if a puzzle design isn’t approved, Soon says that the events also help to expose artists and their work through the process. Personally, I can attest that this works, as I’ve come to be exposed to a number of new artists through PNP whom I would never have found otherwise.
When choosing artwork, Soon has a number of factors in mind, including whether a design is unique (something puzzlers may not have seen before) and an image that will be fun to puzzle, as well as the work ethic of the artist and the positive message of their work. In addition, since Soon is Asian herself, she wants to fill a gap in the jigsaw puzzle market and include Asian aesthetics and the superflat genre (Japanese art that embraces flattened forms inspired by graphic art anime, fine arts, and pop culture).
One artist in particular has become a kind of “fan favorite” through PNP. Her name is Rowon, and she’s also a social media sensation, having racked up over two hundred thousand followers on her Instagram, where she posts her incredibly detailed cute and colorful illustrations, which elevate and illuminate the magical nature of everyday life. The puzzles Supermarket and Girl’s Room were both approved during PNP events in 2022, and a brand-new Rowon design will be part of this next event. Soon chalks up the broad appeal of Rowon’s art to the “nice human touch (brush strokes and pen marks), with so many fun details. It’s also colorful – it basically has everything that puzzle art needs. Not only that, she has developed her unique style (through hard work) that not many people can copy. Her puzzles have been doing well and she loves collaborating with us, so you will see many more Rowon designs in the future.”
Soon feels that the boundaries between fine art and jigsaw puzzling are happily blurred nowadays, especially since fine-art puzzles are becoming more prominent within the market and are finding their way into frames (and onto walls) thanks to happy puzzlers. She hopes that the therapeutic act of assembling a puzzle will be one that connects Soonness’ customers, whether they are piecing them together by themselves or with family or friends. When she sees one of her puzzles framed, or treasured by puzzlers, “all the challenges I face disappear,” she says. “Whenever I am exhausted running the business alone without financial stability, the puzzlers make me feel like I am not alone.”
That’s exactly the feeling I get when I’m connecting with other puzzlers – either in person, or on Instagram – and we click over our love for a particular puzzle or puzzle brand. One of those that I’ve talked about most with friends is Soonness, and now here we are with another chance to revel in three brand-new PNP designs and “geek out” over which we’re excited to see turned into puzzles. As Soon puts it, “If you’re a puzzler who believes in our sustainable values, and want to support independent artists to keep creating, the PNP event is for you. You will own one-of-a-kind puzzles you can cherish – or pass on – and which will give you joy in your heart.” I couldn’t have said it any better myself!
“If you’re a puzzler who believes in our sustainable values, and want to support independent artists to keep creating, the PNP event is for you."
The next PNP event, featuring three brand-new puzzle designs, will run from January 26-31, 2023 (beginning and ending at 12 PM EST). You will have 6 days to order each artwork. Only the puzzle designs that meet Soonness’ minimum order quantity will be produced. The artists and artwork will be revealed on soonness.com and at @soonness on Instagram!
Get to know the Author: Richard Patterson
Richard (aka Piece By Piece Puzzler) is a puzzle Instagrammer and YouTub