September 20, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Designers Rashi Birla and Nicklesh Soni share Photo Essays about Their Wanderlust

What are you working on—on the side?

Found Nouns is our discovery of the people, places and things along our travels. We use a combination of photos and words to create photo essays that share those discoveries. Sometimes, they are very specific, about a person or a favorite meal, and other times can be about several days in a region or city.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

We spend so much our time traveling taking photos and journaling, that focusing our creative energy on Found Nouns allows us to create something more rich and beautiful. During down-time abroad, we begin editing and writing, which forces us to slow down and reflect upon our time in that place. We both take the photographs, but Rashi takes on the heavy lifting of editing, while Nick writes, designs and curates the website. When we are not traveling, we use the time to catch up on the backlog of photos and posts that have piled up.

Why have a side project?

It’s important for both of us to always learn new skills, and Found Nouns is so closely related to our design work—this side project has taught us complimentary skills that we use more and more in our regular jobs. It’s an opportunity for both of us to experiment without worrying about failure or deadlines. Most importantly, it’s a chance for us to work on something together, which we don’t get to do much in our daily lives.

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Diptych courtesy of Rashi Birla and Nicklesh Soni.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Please consider supporting Design Feast
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September 15, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Stationery Enthusiast April Wu Explores the World through Urban Journaling

What are you working on—on the side?

My side project, Penguins Creative, evolved from my doodling habit since high school. I was always drawing little illustrations of penguins and my daily life. In 2014, I committed to a one-day-a-page journal since 2014 called the Hobonichi Techo. In this journal, I would doodle, sketch, paint and utilize crafting materials to document adventures and explorations from my daily life. From this process, I’ve cultivated a formidable following of friends and audience that like to see my daily scrapbooking, sketches and journal entries in my diary. Penguins Creative became my platform to showcase my passion for urban sketching and creative journaling—together I dubbed it Urban Journaling—exploring the world through writing and art.

At Instagram, I realized that there are many people who are interested in the same thing as I do all over the world. I decided to see if I could meet people offline to share this passion. Soon, I began reaching out on the internet and hosted many meetups around the world to engage and play with like-minded stationery addicts, including Taipei, Tokyo, Boston, New York, Seattle and Chicago.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Just like people who would find jogging or other activities therapeutic, my meditation lies in art and crafting. The creative flow I get from each session of journaling or urban sketching is profound and energizing. I make time to go out and sketch with friends each weekend at different parts of the city, making it a social event as well as an art break. Every night, before I sleep, I dedicate at least an hour to write in my journal, dressing up the day with little quotes and interesting tidbits I found. In my travels, I try to incorporate my passion for stationery into my itinerary and share it with my followers at Instagram.

Why have a side project?

The fun thing about a side project is that it is not serious as work. Just like what people say about work-life balance, a side project is something that you do for fun, that you play with. Through Penguins Creative, I discovered that being passionate about something also makes you bold and adventurous. In my meetup experiences, I learned to chat with strangers and share new ideas. Engaging with friends around the world is my biggest takeaway from this side project.

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Diptych courtesy of April Wu.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

September 14, 2017

Graphic Novelist Meags Fitzgerald is Building a Self-Fulfilling Career from Scratch

Illustrator and Art Director Meags Fitzgerald’s output in drawing and publishing is tremendous, including the nonfiction graphic novel “Photobooth: A Biography” and a fantastic series showcasing her ambidrawing talents. Here, she tells more about carving her creative work lifestyle—her way.

How did you arrive at desiring to become an artist
who makes her art her life’s work?

This was always the dream for me, and I never seriously considered doing anything else. Everyone else in my family were employed in conventional, 9-to-5 type jobs. They were supportive of me but also afraid, because they really couldn’t see the path I was on. I sought out advice from role models and mentors, who led me to believe that I could make it in this tricky industry. The early years were really difficult, for a long time I made essentially no money and the stress that causes affects your health in real ways. I could see that my friends and family doubted my career choice, but I had to keep believing that I was the exception to the rule. I stubbornly believed that I was “going to make it.” (Whatever that really means.)

It wasn’t until my first graphic novel was released (below) that I could detect that people’s attitudes towards me had changed, and though I was never after their approval, everything does become easier when you don’t believe there is resistance all around you. I’ve been self-employed for eight years now, it gets easier every year in that I don’t have to hustle for work like I did, but more difficult too in that there’s more expected of me, the jobs are for higher-profile clients, and I have to continually find ways to keep myself feeling challenged and excited by what I’m doing.

What methods/activities did you activate to help you actually start working and living your passion? Because “Just do it” is easier said than done.

I left my house and met real people. It seems like a silly thing to say, but these days, I think we expect everything to take place online—we forget the value of in-person connections. I would never have got my first chances, if it weren’t for friends and acquaintances thinking to hire me for some small poster or t-shirt gig. All my early jobs were based on being a present member of my community (like attending tons of comedy, theatre and music shows), and therefore, being at the front of people’s brains when opportunities came up. I’ve had very little success with ‘cold-calling’ art directors by sending them a link to my portfolio. It’s true when they say “it’s all about who you know.” I think a lot of artists coming straight out of school think that your portfolio is the only thing that matters, but clients and art directors can choose to work or not work with you for a multitude of reasons. It’s important to let your personality shine through!

With “Art is long, life is short” in mind, how do you keep yourself to task in productively honing your craft and getting things done?

My greatest struggle is balancing my time between the client work that pays my bills and the work I’m doing for myself. My own projects will ultimately do a lot more for my career than the client projects, but the pay-off for them can be years down the road. It’s so hard to prioritize my own work when a fun, paid project is waiting right there to be worked on.

I hope to always be advancing my skills, if I wasn’t, I think I’d lose interest in illustration work pretty quickly. One trick I have is to set a personal challenge for every client project. Whether it be a technique I’m rusty at or taking an unconventional approach to the composition, I want to take all the opportunities I can to keep improving.

What experiences do you carry with you that empower
your work moving forward?

Firstly, I try to pat myself on the back every once in a while. It’s so easy to take a rejection letter too much to heart or scrutinize your own work and compare it to the work of artists who’ve been at it for ten years longer than you. If you’re attempting to be a self-employed creative professional, you’re in a perpetual state of risk-taking and that ain’t easy. I heard something once, (I don’t think it’s an attributed quote, just a nugget of wisdom) that goes “I’m willing to risk the usual so I don’t have to settle for the ordinary.” I’ve always known that I didn’t want an ordinary life so that notion helps drive me. I believe I’m worth investing in and that my career/life is worth taking some risks for. Inevitably that path will be bumpy and uncomfortable at times, but that’s when you summon all your grit and remind yourself why you’re doing this.

What is your vision of satisfaction and growth,
as it relates to your livelihood?

I’m pretty fortunate right now in that I can be selective about the projects I can engage. I choose to only work on things that really interest me or are for cool clients whom I have shared values with. Professionally speaking, I’d like to do more art direction and eventually phase out most of my illustration work. Personally, I’d like to own either my home or studio space. As both an artist and as a single woman, it can be so difficult to buy your first place. I’ve always wanted a space that was really all my own, and I think it would feel like an amazing accomplishment to pay for it with a career I built from scratch.

What is the one tool that helps make your work more accomplished and pleasant, as a result, making your life good?

These Pilot Japanese brush pens are my secret weapon. They’re so helpful when I’m on the road or need to knock out an illustration really quickly. I buy them in bulk from Japan about twice a year!

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All images, including photography by Alex Tran, courtesy of Meags Fitzgerald.

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Check out Meags Fitzgerald on Patreon to support her work.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 90+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

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September 12, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Product Designer Avalon Hu Reunites with the Art of Illustration

What are you working on—on the side?

I liked doing illustrations since I was a kid, and picked it back up as a hobby from time to time. But, life happens, and my attention was needed elsewhere as an adult—I was never able to fully dedicate time to illustrating and push this hobby forward. At the beginning of this year, I decided to set a goal to invest in my illustration skills and be more serious about it.

I heard about the 100-day project created by Elle Luna a while ago, but never did it. When I saw that this year’s project was launching soon, I decided to pursue it as my side project to explore and express myself with illustrations.

At first, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I’d like to draw, so I was like, “why not something easy and fun for me to ease into the experience?” And that’s how I started to draw anthropomorphic animals. I usually picked an animal first, and then thought about what that animal would do if it turned into a human, or what it would look like in the human world. To give you some examples, I did a hipster lion inspired by my life in Brooklyn, a chicken ninja inspired by a catchy and viral “chicken attack” YouTube video, and a farmer duck lady inspired by the Union Square farmer’s market.

After continuing this theme for 20 days, I reached my creative limit and decided to pivot my project’s theme to exploring humans and nature, using more basic shapes and colors to construct simple and peaceful-looking illustrations. During this process, I noticed tremendous improvement in my drawings, and it’s really interesting so see how each time I pivoted my style, I struggled for a few days at the beginning, and then that style eventually matured and became stable.

With the momentum of the 100-day project, I continue producing more illustrations and push myself to try out different techniques at a sustainable speed so that I don’t burn out. You can follow my Instagram to see what I have been thinking and working on!

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Since I have a day job, the only time I can work on my side project is during the early mornings before work and evenings after work. I realized that my creative process mostly consists of brainstorming and sketching. I make sure that when I have a good chunk of time, I use it to roughly sketch out ideas and then do the coloring here and there when I’m free. I think having a side project really taught me how to prioritize and be efficient about my time. It also helps me to be present and squeeze more time out of my day to strike a balanced schedule—one that allows me to focus on both work and my side project, avoiding creative burnout.

Why have a side project?

There are so many good reasons to have a side project. First of all, my side project helped me see how transferable the design process is across different forms and media. As a product designer at Adobe, my job is to solve problems and provide design solutions that fit user and business needs, and storytelling is very important in this process to make sure that we present a cohesive product experience. Illustration shares the same elements. Each detail—like shape or color—has its own purpose as part of the bigger picture, and as an artist, my job is to guide viewers’ eyes within the picture to tell the story plus spark new thoughts and emotions.

My side project also serves as a creative outlet that I have more control over. Since the nature of my day job is more team-based, there are many layers of ownership to my design projects, and I don’t necessarily have control over the outcome. With personal side projects, it is quite satisfying to make and execute a vision exactly the way I want.

Lastly, you never know where your side project will lead you. Since I started my 100-day challenge, I have had the honor and opportunity to appear at an Adobe Live show during the 99U conference this year, and a few of my drawings have been featured and used in the Adobe Illustrator Draw app. If I didn’t pursue my side project, I might not have encountered these opportunities. Getting back into illustration has been an amazing journey full of surprises, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

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Diptych courtesy of Avalon Hu.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

September 10, 2017

Eager to Make Ideas Happen: Rachel Happen Brings Her Dancer’s Sensibilities to Business

Rachel Happen built a professional bridge from her roots in dancing to the domain of business. Here, she elaborates on the choreography of her multidisciplinary career that carries two distinctive skill sets.

From ballet to modern dancing, wow! How did you become passionate about dancing?

I started dancing at such a young age that can’t really remember the process of falling in love with moving. It’s been a constant for me. I would say, more than moving to music, I’ve always been fascinated with how we move our bodies to express. Observing how people move is like listening to a language everyone can speak.

Do you still practice dancing? How do you keep this up?

I do! I now train in Hip Hop and attend a circus school. I take two Hip Hop classes every week and have been for the past two years. Unlike ballet and modern, Hip Hop is learned through imitation. Instead of doing a series of exercises to learn a movement pattern or body isolation, we just learn choreography, and pick up on the moves that make up the bigger piece simply by doing them. It’s a cool experience because my brain already knows how to learn choreography, but I have to consciously re-learn a bunch of details, like how to hold my hands, and that’s a challenge.

Circus school is an even bigger challenge! I train hand-balancing and fixed trapeze at Night Flight Aerial in Portland. I’m slowly building up my upper body strength to be able to do more tricks. I like how different “mastery” looks in circus than in dance, and how anything that amazes or awes is excellent, regardless of what other tricks other performers are doing or have historically done.

From dancing to business, double wow! What nudged you to go beyond the world of dance into the business world? Was there an experience that compelled you to start your path in business?

Creative frustration pushed me to dive into business. I was tired of performing in theaters for groups of my peers and other dance-insiders. I felt like my work would never reach a larger audience, or touch anyone who didn’t already consider themselves a part of the dance world. Creating products that anyone could buy felt freeing, like an opportunity to shed a lot of insular trappings of dance and make art and put it out into the world.

The debate persists on the MBA degree and its programs, 
its status, value, et al. Having an MBA, what are your thoughts on getting business-schooled?

I think getting an MBA is exactly as useful as going to art school. It’s an investment in yourself. As a creative person, business school was an opportunity to swim in an intellectually challenging environment, surrounded by people with very different world views and career aspirations, and see if I could be who I was and be valued. It was a chance for me to find my footing as a “creative person” who lives in business world, instead of becoming a “business person” in business world. Business school is like art school in that it gives you time and space to figure out what matters to you and how you want to make a life of that passion.

What from the dance-world remains a regular, 
even frequent, influence on your life and work?

More than any one luminary, I would say the constant pulse of newness that comes from the dance community, and particularly from Hip Hop, is an inspiration for me. When I shifted my professional world to be more business-focused, dance became less of a conceptual output and more of a conceptual input. It has become a place I go to get ideas and have experiences, instead of a medium I use to make a point. So it’s the dancers that I dance next to every week that keep me grounded, that inspire me with the ways they make the choreography their own, that show me how emotion and meaning can come—wordless, but still nuanced—from the way we move ourselves. Dance is how I stay present.

Was there an empowering concept from the business-world 
that’s becoming an influence on your life and work?

I was quickly drawn to Design Thinking and Human-Centered Design when I started researching how creativity was cultivated and applied in business. The principle of leading with empathy and appealing to people’s people-sides felt so intuitive and natural. I’ve coached Design Thinking for my alma mater, Cornell, and continue to draw on the practice of beginning by seeking to understand the people behind the business, opportunity, challenge or whatever you’re trying to get a handle on.

How do the disciplines of dance and business 
mesh to your advantage?

Knowing that I will always stand out (as I now do in both business and dance settings) makes me unafraid of looking foolish.

While getting your MBA, you worked at SYPartners. Fan of them and their work. Can you elaborate on this work experience? What qualities of their work culture did you cherish, even admire?

Interning with SYP was a fantastic experience. That was a formative summer for me; I met so many amazingly intelligent and empathetic people, and had the chance to practice voicing the softer notes of empathy, aspiration and emotional intelligence in unfamiliar business contexts. The biggest lesson I learned from SYP is to take the time to say what you mean. Be patient and persistent until everyone reaches understanding.

Paper prototype by jigsaw puzzle start-up Baffledazzle

Plywood version by jigsaw puzzle start-up Baffledazzle

Final design by jigsaw puzzle start-up Baffledazzle

Then after business school, you founded jigsaw puzzle start-up Baffledazzle. Wow-to-the-nth-power. When you “decided to start 
a jigsaw puzzle company to make the puzzles that dedicated puzzlers deserved,” how did you capture your vision of a jigsaw puzzle company and visualize it—Did you maintain a journal/log of thoughts, sketchnote, et al.? If Kickstarter didn’t exist, would you have still chased this ambition?

When undertaking a new project, I find that I make better progress if I just start! So, I don’t actually remember the moment that I decided to start a puzzle company, I just remember starting to design puzzles! My first puzzles were really horrible. The scale of the pieces was wrong; they were extremely fragile when cut, and the designs had a Frankenstein’s monster quality to them. That gave me a starting place. I could see what was wrong. As I worked to redo those initial designs, I started to think about how I could bring these puzzles to life, and why I had wanted to create them. I do keep a journal of ideas, though most of them are conceptual starting places more than visual puzzle ideas. I do a lot of research before I begin to design a puzzle. Since Baffledazzle puzzles are about discovering something new (maybe a rare species of animal, maybe an influential moment in art history, maybe a very old game from Jordan that you play with raw eggs, etc.), I believe every aspect of the puzzle should lead you in the direction of that discovery. So I’ve gone from act-first → think-later, to think-first → act-with-intention!

I do think I would have created puzzles with or without Kickstarter, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it as quickly, or to the same high quality. I would have had to contract the laser work out (personal laser-cutter below) and wouldn’t have had the same opportunities to experiment and dial in the manufacturing process.

All your pursuits and activities in dance and business easily paint the picture of tirelessness. How do you self-care?

I had to think about this one! My mental model for self-care is different from how I usually see that phrase used. I guess I think of self-care as how I prioritize my time, and I usually care for myself by cutting things out, not adding things in. I’m diligent about weeding out pursuits, jobs, relationships and circumstances that drain my energy. Though that felt ruthless at first, I was much happier and more at peace without those stressful influences.

Do you use any software/Web-based tools to help get 
organized and get things done? If so, what digital tools do you highly recommend?

Actually, I prefer to make paper charts to stay organized. I like the tactile pleasure of using a sticker to mark something as complete. So much of my work is screen-dependent that I like to keep things analog when I can!

How would you describe success?

It’s a balance point, not a destination. Success is being confident enough to value your own work, but hungry enough to continue to make yourself and everyone around you uncomfortable. That’s where the good work gets done.

How does the city of Portland, Oregon, contribute to your work? What makes it special for startups/business/creative community?

Portland is an incredible place to live and work. I’d say its urban planning is probably what makes it so loveable! It’s easy to walk where you want to go and passing things on foot is the primary way that I discover new creative happenings, businesses and events. It feels like the city was built at a human scale. But moreover, people who come to Portland come for its personality, which makes for a really cool community.

Must say: Fascinated with your last name. You make ideas Happen. Ta-da! Recalling Scott Belsky’s book “Making Ideas Happen.” You should write a book with a more proactive title: Make Ideas Happen. Any memorable story regarding your last name? Has it benefitted job interviews?

I love this idea! I also love last name jokes. I encourage them! I do think it makes my name more memorable as people tend to call me by both my first and last name. I like hearing the different slogans that people come up with for me, too. I’m fascinated by how the word “happen” can be either active or passive—you can make something happen, or it can just happen—but everyone always interprets my last name to be active. I like that!

• • •

All images courtesy of Rachel Happen.

• • •

Read more from Design Feast Series of 90+ Interviews
with people who love making things.

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September 7, 2017

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Illustrator Liz Fosslien and Designer Mollie West Duffy Advocate Emotion at Work

What are you working on—on the side?

Our side project is an illustrated book (working title: No Hard Feelings) that aims to make it OK to acknowledge emotion at work. The problem with the idea that emotion does not exist at work is that humans experience emotion constantly, independent of time, location or task. Of course, there are large differences in how individuals react to emotion, but emotion itself cannot be turned off. More importantly, emotions can serve as valuable guideposts for decision-making. We should not want to turn our emotions off.

Our goal is take an affectionate but deeply researched look at how emotions profoundly affect key aspects of our professional lives and gives readers a framework for better understanding and embracing emotions at work. Each chapter focuses on how emotions impact a different part of work: from teams to health to communication to motivation. Every chapter includes a combination of business case studies, personal narratives, research studies and illustrations, and shows readers how to become more effective by improving their workplace emotional fluency. At its core, No Hard Feelings argues that if employers and employees can become comfortable communicating emotions and acknowledging the emotions of others, we can all be more authentic, productive and fulfilled in the workplace.

How do you manage to work
on your side project(s)?

Mollie: I get up around 6 or 6:30 most mornings to write, and then work on the weekends. It takes a lot of discipline, but it’s fun work, so I enjoy making time for it.

Liz: I have a more flexible schedule (I usually work from home and take on a variety of freelance projects), so finding time throughout the week is easier. But generally, I strongly believe that we make time for what matters to us. So the best way to find time is to pick a side project you deeply love. If you’re obsessed with the thing, you’ll go to bed thinking about and wake up excited to work on it. It’ll become less “how do I find time” and more “how do I stop myself from working on this so much!”

Why have a side project?

We both find it to be incredibly rewarding and fun. It engages a different set of muscles than we use in our other jobs. It’s also something that is uniquely ours—we aren’t doing it for anyone else. We are writing the book that we want to read!

A side project also acts as job therapy. When work is frustrating or hard or simply dreary (which even the best jobs are at times), burrowing yourself in your side project is a lovely outlet and escape. It's a BEAUTIFUL and cathartic thing to want and work on something for yourself that originates from you.

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Diptych courtesy of Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy.

• • •

Read more about the joy of side projects.

This series, devoted to side projects, is delivered in association with Chicago creative agency 50,000feet—dedicated to helping brands and businesses soar.

Please consider supporting Design Feast
If you liked this lovingly-made interview, show your appreciation by helping to support my labor of love—Design Feast, which proudly includes this blog. Learn more.

September 4, 2017

From Comics to Video Games: Freelance Illustrator and Programmer Alicia Feng Keeps Herself Grounded by Making Art

The visual compositions and sheer prolific output of Alicia Feng’s artwork, straddling between classical forms and those enriching the visible language of comics, got my attention. Here, she elaborates on her drawing and illustrating habits, in addition to the uplifting value of having an audience.

I happen to encounter randomly this pattern of medical students going into the arts. What compelled you to leave pre-med to your current creative destination as an illustrator and front-end developer for websites and games?

As mundane as it sounds, I think it was less of something “compelling” me to the arts as much as I just “fell” into my current career path. Coming from a heavy STEM background, I actually started off strictly wanting to keep art separate from my study/work life, having art as a therapeutic hobby. Clearly though, that plan fell through when pre-med proved to not be a great fit, despite my deep interest in the sciences and all the work I invested up to that point. I was pursuing psychology at the time with a computer programming minor (both things I never touched upon in high-school but had a low-key interest in, thanks to various works of fiction) and decided to stick with these two areas after I fell off the medical track. College was a bit of a scramble after being left with a patchwork skill-set and a lack of direction, but I still managed to pick up internship work with what I was learning, which ultimately helped land me a job after graduation. At the moment, I’m still feeling things out as an illustrator, designer and developer, but I’m extraordinarily grateful that I’m still able to work within my interests.

How did you arrive at wanting to pick up 
a drawing instrument to draw—and keep at it?

So my earliest memory of drawing was when I was about four when I tried to emulate the concept sketches I saw in a Bambi art book my parents got for me. Disney and Pokémon were definitely the biggest starters for me. After playing Pokémon Crystal, I tried sending the developers (Game Freak) some original Pokémon designs with my parents’ help. I took a few foundational classes and entered a handful of art contests during the time my parents took trying to explore my skill-set, but ultimately art became an outlet to relieve stress, especially during middle-school and high-school. This resulted in a quite a lot of “vent art” ha-ha…I’m not entirely sure what kept me posting during this turbulent time, but seeing people respond positively to my work was very encouraging. I think that’s what ultimately helped give me the confidence to properly brand myself and move forward with my art when I started college.

Can you give a tour of how an idea, for an illustration, gets real?

Oh man, this is a tricky question. My process is incredibly flexible to accommodate how fickle I can be with my own ideas and tools, but for the most part (digitally, at least), I draft out a piece’s concept first.

Usually, I create a vague prompt for myself consisting of a handful of items that I would like to see in a piece together for both aesthetic and thematic reasons, then come up with a general mood. For example, “Ambrosia”—I wanted to capture the feeling of haze and resignation while remaining bright and vaguely tropical.

Before I go in and gather any resources, I go into Photoshop with a large brush and small canvas to sketch out a loose idea of what I want. Focusing only on feeling and form, I use both the brush and eraser to “carve out” my sketch until the shape it takes feels interesting enough. After that, I pull together a reference dump if needed, based on what I can find from Google Images and/or my personal stash, then go in with a smaller brush for a cleaner sketch. From here, I make the decision of whether or not I want to do line-art plus cell-shade or paint.

Hope that’s clear! It’s kind of difficult to explain (there’s a lot of points where I break away from my own procedure), so here’s an animated step-by-step sequence of realizing my latest illustration:

Being “self-taught,” how do you practice drawing in order to feel competent and confident at doing this skill? Are there resources you recommend for the emerging artist/illustrator?

Life drawing is stupidly important no matter what stylistic choices you go for—I can’t stress this enough. You don’t have to copy what you see 1-on-1 and do hyperrealistic still lives on repeat, but that repetition is an incredibly useful investment towards making drawing more fun. Gotta commit things to memory! The less time you spend trying to figure out how to draw something, the more time you can put into experimenting and actually getting the piece done.

Art books are an impulsive buy for me at this point, so I have a good number of reference books lying around. Anatomy: A Complete Guide for Artists by Joseph Sheppard is incredibly handy, especially for artists looking to improve their anatomy, but I think it works even better when supplemented by a more technical text such as Gray’s Anatomy by Henry Gray. Sites like Quickposes and Posemaniacs are handy if you don’t have access to a live figure drawing session, as are reference creators like SenshiStock. In general though, I like browsing fashion pics and game concept art collections for inspiration and study opportunities.

Enjoy a lot your online sketchbook and instagrammed iterations—“scraps”—of your sketches. Do you go through sketchbooks a lot? What’s the average lifecycle of filling in a sketchbook with visual ideas/notions from cover to cover?

Sketchbooks take me anywhere between 3–6 months to finish. I got through them fairly quickly, so getting gifted them is quite nice ha-ha.

The envisioned worlds that came quickly to mind from looking at your work were Robotech, Blade Runner, Vampire Hunter D, among others. What is your go-to mashup of creative and storytelling influences and why?

Ha-ha, I’ve actually never seen any of those! My media go-tos though definitely lean towards anime/manga in the cyberpunk genre, Akira and Serial Experiments Lain are probably the two I refer to the most. Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent), Maasaki Yuasa (Kaiba, Cat Soup), Taiyō Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong), and Asano Inio (Oyasumi Punpun) are other big influences that contribute a lot to how I’ve developed my style.

Video games are another huge influence for me. There’s too many to really list out (I’ll outline this in another question later anyway), but folks like Jen Zee and Masahiro Ito definitely impacted my art a ton.

In terms of more traditional influences, I often look towards Gustav Klimt, Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas and Egon Schiele for inspiration. This is very outdated but I made a list of my online influences.

Did practicing illustration influence you to also pursue
computer programming for websites and games?

It definitely drew me to games at the very least! I spent a good chunk of time in high-school on sites like Newgrounds and was drawn to a lot of the short, experimental flash games they had on there. Despite their simplicity and their technical limitations, a lot of them were visually distinct and had interesting gameplay/story mechanics that opened up my idea of what games could be. I hold indie titles near and dear to my heart, because they helped inspire an accessible vision of what code, storytelling and art could accomplish together. Code, in particular, is getting more and more accessible to self-starters these days—instruction’s always good but it’s amazing how much you can pick up on your own now.

Are there games that you admire? What are they?

Hard picks, but here’s some that have really left an impression on me:
  • Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer
  • Bastion/Transistor/Pyre (literally everything by Supergiant Games)
  • Bioshock by Irrational Games
  • Yume Nikki by Kikiyama
  • The World Ends With You by Square Enix
  • Soma by Frictional Games
  • Nier: Automata by Yoko Taro/Platinum Games
  • Silent Hill 4 by Team Silent/Konami
How is creativity and art a coping mechanism
in these turbulent times? 

Drawing’s always been a stress reliever for me; it helps me refocus. It’s really easy to feel lost and hopeless these days with everything that’s going on in the world, so I’m very thankful that I have art to keep me grounded. I’m also incredibly grateful for the platform it’s given me—having reach definitely makes it easier to organize things like drives and donations and give support to others who need it. I hope my work gives other people the comfort they need too.

Is there a part of your work that is particularly trying,
and how did you deal with it?

For the longest time, I struggled with the lower half of the body, particularly the relationship between the knees and ankle, as well as the pelvis. I was able to draw legs isolated from the torso, but putting them together for a pose often proved to be too difficult. In fact, it’s part of the reason why I started drawing so many floating characters—it was easier for me to wrap my head around full bodies in suspension over bodies that were standing and grounded. Commissioned work actually helped a lot by forcing me to draw characters and poses outside of my comfort zone. With enough practice and persistence, I eventually internalized how the body should look. I still have trouble with the lower body, but drawing full-body poses has definitely become a lot easier.

What is your vision of satisfaction and growth,
as it relates to your career?

I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with my work. I crave change too much to really settle for something like that. I do know though that, other than keeping my work feeling fresh, I want to remain as accessible as I can to folks that follow my work. Despite the huge number of resources that can be found on the internet these days, I know how difficult it is to identify and gather what you need to grow when you’re just starting out as an artist, especially if you lack the support. Wherever I end up with my art career, I want to be able to ease that initial friction for as many people as I can.

What keeps you going as an artist/illustrator?

Art gives me a lot of personal comfort as I’ve mentioned, but ultimately all the kind comments and positive reception I’ve received over the years are definitely what keeps me going. I didn’t have a ton of that growing up, so it definitely means a lot.

How do you get the word out about what you do?
How do you attract people to your work?

I just got very lucky. Despite user-name hopping a ton early on, I made some great friends that helped me warm up to socializing online, and I guess as I improved/became more confident and posted more work, it drew in more people. It definitely helps to learn and strategize around each platform’s strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, I think it boils down to the company you keep and who’s willing to support you. So—I’m eternally grateful for everyone that’s stuck around.

What is your workspace like? How does it contribute 
to doing the quality of work you want to do?

Well, I can’t say I’m the most organized of folks. I multitask a lot, so my desk is often a cluttered mess of whatever I’m working on at the moment. Since I get home fairly late and have a very limited window to draw, I think that my style’s adapted to be faster and looser to accommodate the nature of my schedule.

Cleaned my desk recently (above), so it’s not as chaotic as it could be—normally I find myself working in a tangle of wires, papers and pens.

Do you have a spirit animal? Do tell.

Well, most of my active user names are crow-themed, so. Probably that.

From all your visual creativity activated and shared, plus studying psychology and computer programming, no surprise that you’re “perpetually tired.” Are my assumed sources correct in rationalizing why you’re perpetually tired or were you referring to something else? To your health!

Considering I’m an already low-energy individual juggling what’s essentially two full-time jobs (product design/programming, freelance) between New York and New Jersey every day, I think you’ve got that pinned down. Trying my best to better take care of myself though!

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All images courtesy of Alicia Feng.

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