Frequently Asked Questions - that yearly college assignment
For aspiring artists
1. What's your story? Where are you from?
I was born in Taipei Taiwan, lived in Tokyo for a couple years as a wee little one (my family had traveled overseas for my dad's financial job), and then I grew up in Central New Jersey until I left for college in Baltimore. After, I did a brief stint failing spectacularly as a freelance illustrator/game artist in Brooklyn, NY, before being moved out to San Francisco to continue working in the Games industry (and still freelancing for illustration on the side!).
2. Tell us about your aesthetic.
I've heard my work described as looking like an organic graphic novel. I guess it's sort of like Art Nouveau meets comic books; lots of wavy lines, and a bit surreal. Lots of Asian influences from China and Japan thrown in because we grew up with brush ink art and wood block prints in my household.
3. What is your favorite medium and why?
If not Hi-Tech pens with the thinnest pen tips possible, I absolutely love working digitally in Photoshop. More recently experimenting in Autodesk’s Sketchbook. It's genuinely helped my own illustrations improve ten-fold over the years because I can correct and experiment as much as I want without wasting heaps of paper or illustration boards. Also fantastic to make quick edits for a client's super short deadline. A lot of times viewers have said they didn't believe my work was digital so I like to think I'm doing a good job to make it look traditional!
4. What is your artistic process like?
I tend to think a lot before my pencil even touches paper, especially for editorial illustration. I can agonize over themes and concepts for days, and others I'll dive right in when I have looming deadlines, just trying to do a lot of problem-solving. If it's related to an article or story, I list out words that can relate to the themes conveyed in the text, and then imagery that can relate to those words, followed by LOTS of research. I draw thumbnail sketches physically in a paper sketchbook. I've found if I try penciling in quick compositions digitally, I zoom in and start to focus on all the extraneous details and it just hinders the process. I shouldn't be focusing on details so early on, if I haven't even nailed down the overall composition. So illustrations have to start off the traditional analog way. After thumbnails, I'll lay out the sketch in Photoshop, using a lot of reference, make edits, and continue from there. I usually put in very loose colors at the beginning as well, and then start on the line work. Most cases I can see myself drawing over an initial sketch about four times before coming to the final. There's a heap of anxiety thrown in for a good stretch of time on each piece, where I think to myself, "what the heck am I doing," and "this looks terrible, I hope it all comes together in the end."
5. Who and/or what inspires your work?
I'm really in love with a few Golden Age illustrators and painters; these days I try to look to the past instead of current-day illustrators for inspiration. Alfred Joseph Casson's landscapes, Henry Clarke's book illustrations, Alphonse Mucha and Erte, for their line work and patterns, among many others. I'm greatly inspired by other contemporary illustrators working today as well, but I see them more as colleagues (and friendly competition!). I try to find a balance between the old and new. Also of course, massively influenced by Chinese/Japanese work (ink blocks, landscapes, you name it). This is partly because I'm bi-racial, and as I said before, it was all over my household growing up.
6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?
Art is literally my life. It's what drives me most days, forces me to push my limits on thinking about most aspects of who I am, what I want, how I live, and it genuinely feels like it gives me a bit of extra insight into the world around me. I'm capable of attempting to put what appears in my mind, down into a physical image, and in turn, allow others to see what I'm thinking, or what I'm feeling. Not many can do that, so I consider myself very fortunate. I like to think of illustrators as world-builders. We allow others to understand sometimes-almost-intangible concepts, and let them into our minds and processes as a result.
7. Where did you study?
I earned a BFA in Illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. The rest has been self-taught since, with LOTS of online tutorials thanks to Youtube and art forums. Back in High School and college there were scarce art forums to choose from - definitely not the case today. I’m very fortunate to have studied at MICA because their Illustration program focused heavily on the business aspect, so I’ve known from day one how to write a contract, and protect my work.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully getting further along with a personal graphic novel that I've re-written about seven times, and redrawn the first 10 pages three times now. I'd like to see myself overcoming my fear of failing and just forge ahead on such a large project already. Just get it out of my head, and get it over and done with!
9. What about in ten?
Maybe living in another country?? I can't imagine staying in the same location for much longer (San Francisco is the longest place I've stayed put since leaving home in New Jersey 16 years ago). Hopefully making a living completely from my own artwork, but then again I really do love working on games. So I suppose reversing my current position - it'd end up being: Full-time work on my own projects, and dabbling into game art on the side. Plus traveling! Gotta see more of the world and draw or paint while overseas some more.
10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?
I think it's incredibly rewarding that I get the opportunity to do what I love most in the world for a living, and I hope to simply share that passion. I always hope to bring others together. Illustration can evoke emotions in people, let them see from different points of views, bring more diversity into peoples' lives. I hope to visually show stories about those that are unable to tell their tales.
11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?
Ugh, this is tough.. can I say dim sum? Like, ALL the dim sum? I could go for that almost any time. You know char siu bao, xiao long bao, siu mai, har gow... list goes on and on!
12. Favorite book?
Honestly, far too many to choose from. Harry Potter is always up there, along with a score of graphic novels like Local, This One Summer, Blankets, and the list is just gonna keep going and going...
13. Favorite genre of music?
Indie rock? ....Is that a proper category? Dance-Punk?? ...I'm never good at categorizing these things! I can go from listening to Scottish bagpipes to Jpop, classic Rock, cheesy love songs, and everything in between in a single day; it really depends on what I'm working on at the time.
14. What are your hobbies?
Playing video games (and dying a lot in them), board games with my husband where I suck at reading the rules properly, cooking successfully unlike video and board games, and raising 20+ plants as well as a very fluffy cat.
15. If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
That's... a really good question. I think a lot of my life has been driven to squash negative words thrown my way of choosing a creative career (like, what will I do for actual money, and I'm just going to struggle as an artist, etc etc) so I didn't think of much else aside from, "I'm going to prove you wrong and do what I love which is drawing." Perhaps writing! BUT I really gotta say, when I was little I'd have liked to be a strong Sailor Soldier like Sailor Moon if a talking cat ever happened to visit me, with my own sparkly transformation sequence and special attacks. A girl can dream.