About this Q&A
I often get emails from students and aspiring illustrators seeking advices or simply interested in what I do. As much as I love to answer every one of those questions, my busy schedule prevents me from doing so. So I decided to complied this page with the most frequently asked questions. I hope this will be of some help to you, good luck with everything and keep drawing!


BACKGROUND
Why NYC?
I moved to NY for the job opportunities, as most of the big publishers and advertising agencies are in the city. I stayed in NY for the community. Freelance illustration can be a pretty lonely job, and artists are naturally talented in getting into their own heads. So it's quite important for me to have people who speak the same language around. The American Illustration, Society of Illustrators NY, ADC and other events + hang outs make this possible. There’s no place like New York. It is an inexhaustible source of inspiration, with its world class museums, restaurants, music and cultural events.etc.
What would be the difference for you being an illustrator in Hong Kong VS NYC?
It would be a lot more difficult to make a living solely on illustration in Hong Kong - most of the illustrators I know there have a second job as graphic designer or art teacher. There isn’t much of an editorial illustration market there neither. For the publications that actually use illustrations, their budgets are much lower compared to the US due to the small circulations. The concept of illustration is relatively new as well. When people ask me what I do for a living, I just tell them I draw as the word “illustrator” often invite blank stares...
How have the realities of migration impacted your work as an artist?  
Living in a foreign land forced me out of my comfort zone which allowed me grow as a person and as an artist. The disorientation of cultural shocks allowed me to examine familiar things with a fresh pair of lenses. All these helped me think out of the box and come up with visuals which combines Eastern and Western metaphors. After All, the life of an art piece comes from the artist’s own experiences. 
Was illustration something you always knew you wanted to do?
I have always loved to tell stories and communicate ideas with drawings since I was a kid, but have not heard of the term “illustration” until RISD. I entered the school with much passion about art but the vaguest idea of what I will do upon graduation. During freshmen year, I actually declared major in graphic design but later realized what I had in mind was really illustration.
What was your biggest struggle as a student?
Finding my own voice was the biggest struggle at RISD. Since I didn’t have any formal art training until RISD, I was very overwhelmed by the influx of new knowledge. I was very anxious to metamorphose into a “professional” artist. And as I didn’t know how to, I started making a frankenstein body of work which were inspired by different artists I love. For the longest time, I confused artwork that I adore with artwork that’s true to myself. 
Did you find not having formal training before RISD disadvantageous, or is it unimportant in the long run?
Without formal art training made it a bit harder for me during freshmen year. Especially during class critics, when I had no idea what the technical terms mean or which master was which. But in the end, it doesn't really matter. When it comes to artistic development, everyone starts at different places and travel at their own pace
anyway. Curiosity and readiness to admit what you don't know is far more important.
  
What are the benefits of going to art school besides the teachesr and the education?
The name of RISD definitely helps on a job-hunting cv. In my case, the alumni and industrial network was valuable, but most importantly it offered me a tight group of friends whom I can go to for honest critics and constructive feedbacks. No friendship is as pure as those
of fellow schoolmates, cherish them!
When and how did you land your first commission?
 A classmate commissioned me to do a comic stripe and paid me generously in candies in third grade. If we are talking about professional commission, I was hired by SooJin Buzelli, creative direction of Asset International (publisher of Plansponsor, Plansponsor Europe, Planadviser and aiCIO), during my junior year in RISD. I was 20. My portfolio teacher Chris Buzelli is the husband of SooJin. I did a piece for Chris’s class which caught the attention of SooJin. She then decided to print it in her magazine (thank god). That’s how we started our 6 years and counting working relationship.  
Can you highlight any mentors or people that inspire you?

The most influential person in my illustration career is my RISD portfolio teacher Chris Buzelli. Not only do I owe my first published work to him. Chris reminded me why I like to draw in the first place when I was distracted by school grades, competitions and trying to “draw professionally”. He pointed out to me that" style is merely one's habit of drawing, everyone is born with a unique style as everyone is born unique". This made me realized being honest to oneself is the key to bring out the unique voice in one’s work.
My life role model is my mom. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution, she managed to self-teach herself while working at the Communist labor camps, and eventually got into college when the school system was restored. My mother has worked many jobs in her life, some are more humble than the others but she has always given her best and excelled at every single one of them. At age 40, she decided to go back to college and get a Chinese Medicine Degree which took 10 years to complete. Everyone told her she’s too old to make such a drastic career change but now she’s a renowned doctor. She has raised me to dream the impossible and be a woman of action. I would be very happy if I turn out to be half the woman she is.  


BUSINESS 
What kind of promotional activity do you do?
My agent sends out mailer and e-mailer blasts for me. We both promote via social media. For the handful of ‘dream clients’, I target them by mailing them personal notes, cold-calling for portfolio reviews and introducing myself (shamelessly) to them at illustration events and openings. I also enter major competitions (American Illustration, Society of Illustrators NY Annual Competition, Communication Arts, SPECTRUM Fantastical Art.etc), which proved to be quite an effective promotional tool. Recently I have started giving public talks at events hosted by Society of Illustrators NY, ICON and Ovilgy HQ.etc, this allows me to show my work to fellow illustrators and ADs. Above all, being published by the New York Times and the New Yorker may be the best (accidental) promotion I have ever done. More clients came to me because they have seen my work on these publications than from any other promotional effort. 
Is social media important in promoting your work?
I would say so. The best thing about internet promo is that it allows the interaction to be a two-way street, allowing the clients to discover my work. Social media
is the ultimate snowballing machine, through reblogs and retweets, my work can been spreaded to the most unexpected places and seen by the most surprising clients.
Also the online followings has benefited my print sale, which helps pay the bill so I can be picky with the assignments I take on.
Why do I need portfolio reviews if the clients can see my work online?
Internet promos are great but they is no match to personal connections. There are so many talented illustrators for an assignment. Often who gets the job depends on who comes to the art director’s mind first. With a face and (hopefully good) personality attached to the work, the impression an illustrator has on an art director is much stronger. 
Any tips on portfolio reviews? 

It’s important to research the clients and tailor the portfolio according to their interest. For example, it would be silly to have an entire portfolio of dogs if I was to meet with a magazine that features only cats. Illustration is about visual communication and problem solving, so I try to demonstrate both conceptual and stylistic ability in the work I show.

What do you like most about being a freelance illustrator?
Getting paid to do what I love. Also the freedom of working from anywhere and at anytime.
Is freelancing for everyone?
No. Freelance illustration is more than a job – it’s a lifestyle.
A freelance illustrators wear many hats - the studio CEO, an artist, an accountant, a PR as well as a studio janitor. One needs to be very discipline on working and, resting. For me, sometimes it becomes impossible to separate work and personal life. I often have to cancel plans because of rush jobs and revisions. Also, without any official office hours and holidays, it’s very easy to overwork. Also, freelancers are attaching their names to the work they are selling, which is the product of one’s thought processes, habits, taste and preferences. This makes it quite difficult not to take things personally when the work is not going well or rejected.
How did you stay and work in the US being an international alien?
I was able to obtain the O-1 artist VISA during my one year OPT. I hired a VISA broker to help me better present the evidences and strengthen my case. It costed quite a bit ($5-7K) but I would recommend it if you can save up that amount, as the process is quite complicated. Besides all that jazz such as supporting evidences and recommendation letters (see the details on US citizenship & immigrantion website), you would also need a sponsor - someone who contracts you work in the States. In my case, It's my agent.  
What do you think is the future of illustration?
From tapestries to tablets, the media may change but I think illustration will always be around.

Offer one piece of advice to a new illustrator.
The ones who eventually make it are not necessarily the most talented ones but the most persistent ones. “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.” - Paul Arden.

ART 
Although you’ve emphasized the importance of ideas over style, your work has a very distinctive look. Do you feel this has any bearing on the types of projects you’re offered, and if so, is this a good or bad thing?
It definitely does. Obviously if Time magazine wants a realistic portrait of Obama, they are not going to come to me. And that's ok, as I am not interested in doing realistic portraits. There are all kinds of jobs out there for all kinds of artists, it's physically impossible
for one person to do all of them. All of my clients may add up to be less than a couple percent of the entire industry and that's enough to keep me more than busy. It's good to be mindful to your client's need but it's more important to be aware of what makes yourself happy. No one goes into art for money or power, we do it because we enjoy it.
Don't sacrifice the joy of art-making for the market , otherwise it's hard to have a long and sustainable career. One just need to figure out his/her niche.

(And don't get me wrong, style is important too as that's your brand-what makes you stand out to art directors, as well as the vehicle to carry your idea. I like to emphasize ideas as many students tend to overlook that.)
“It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be,” is a quote you frequently reference. What sorts of goals did you set for yourself to get where you are now?
I didn't have concrete ambitious goals such as, " I must win this and that award before this age!". Rather, I have always had the abstract desire to be the best. The beauty of an abstract goal is that it's flexible and adaptable. It can be the best of this week's assignment, the best of the class, of the school, in the field.etc. The last thing you want would be being discouraged by seemingly impossible goals. It's much better to focus on getting every baby step right. Then before you know it, you are already on top of the mountain.

Often dreams seems impossible because they are indeed impossible, from our current position. For example, picking a flower on the edge of a tall mountain would seem impossible to me while standing down in the valley. But after I climb the mountain and come to the cliff, I would realized there's actually a hidden path leading to the flower, that I couldn't see before. The artistic journey is a dynamic one, one's ability, understanding and view on the world changes as one changes. As we learn and experience, previously deemed impossible goal/obstacles would no longer be impossible.

We would never know when opportunities may present themselves to us, but if one is always striving to be at his/her best, one would be ready when the opportunities come.
How do you come up with ideas for an assignment?

When I get an assignment, I would read through the material a number of times to understand the main point. I would underline phrases that give me hunches or jot down words that come to mind while reading. After I get a good understanding, I like to stay away from the given material and work alone with the hunches and elements extracted – this help me to free my mind from the literal images and obvious metaphors. I would explore and develop the hunches until I get chemistries, stories and scenarios that work for the concept. If I have some extra time, I like to do something unrelated to art and forget about the assignment, such as taking a walk or taking a shower. I have noticed that some of the best ideas come to me when least expected. Sometimes it’s very helpful to think backward, especially with more abstract concepts . I like to think of the kind of imageries I am in the mood of and see if I can make them work with the story. I like this approach because this makes the piece that much more personal and fun. 

Do you ever find yourself obsessed with the subject of an article after doing an illustration for it?
Certainly. One of the nice things about being an editorial illustrator is that we are forced to read things we normally wouldn't pick up. I hated finance and economy when I was in high-school, mostly to rebel against my father, who worked in the industry. Emo teenager Victo thought money was filthy and went into art school. Ironically most of my early clients were trade/business magazines. After reading many articles and doing research for the projects, I grew more and more interested in the subject matter. Now I read financial books for leisure, love the NPR Money Planet program, and my friends would tell you I am huge geek in credit scores and NY real estate.

What's your process?
I use more all less the same techniques in all my work. I draw the lines with nib pens, sometimes with brushes or rapidograph pens. Then I create layers of textures on paper with various media (pencil, charcoal, crayon, paint…). I then scan them in and
do the composition and coloring in Photoshop.
How long does a piece of work take on average?
This really depends on the nature of the assignment and the involvement of the client. I have worked with 6 hours turnaround for the New York Times and 3 months deadline for Tiger Beer Advertisement Campaign. For the most part, I am comfortable to create a full size full color illustration in 4 days to a week.
 
What has influenced your design and its aesthetic?
Asian influences when I was growing up. Living at different countries, traveling, reading, being around other creatives. It’s hard to pinpoint one or two things as I think my work is an extension of myself and my experiences. 
What countries have you lived in? What are some books you are inspired by?

Hong Kong, Mainland China, Britain, Japan, America. I think my work reflects my love for sci-fi and fantasy books, some of my favorites include Lord of the Rings, American Gods, Snow Crash, Game of Thrones and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I am also a big fan of stories which are rich in metaphors and symbolisms, from Greek metrologies, Aesop’s Fables, Chinese Fairy Tales to books like 1984, Brave New World, The Metamorphosis and Steppenwolf.
Looking at your works, there are a lot of elements to take in. Do you suggest people taking it as a whole and zooming in on the smaller details or vice-versa? 

I think people should look at them in whatever ways that’s natural and intuitive to them. After a piece is finished and exhibited, it takes on its own lives and interact with its viewers in ways which I can’t control.  
How do you strike a balance between your artistic sensibilities and producing commercial art?

I try to treat every piece like a personal work, sneaking in small details that makes me happy as I believe great work comes from honest work. If I am interested in what I am doing, hopefully that passion would translate. Of course, there are times when clients have very specific requirements which I do not agree with, I would try to let them see my point the best I can. If it doesn’t work, I have to remind myself that sometimes a job is a job and distant myself from the piece and find other creative outlet so I wouldn’t take it too personally when the piece is “sabotaged”.
How does/do social media outlets (Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram) affect what you create and do you find yourself thinking about your audience while creating the work?
I really appreciate the following but I don't think about social media when I work. There really isn't a point to think about it as social media is quite unpredictable. Some of my okay work went viral while some of my proudest pieces, or award-winning pieces never picked up the momentum. There are so many factors contributing to this uncertainty - the posting time, who's reblogging, the artist's internet persona, pop culture references, etc. Internet popularity, in my opinion, is not directly proportional to how great an artist is at all.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned about being an illustrator?
The biggest and hardest lesson to learn about myself is that - no matter how hard I try, I can’t knock every piece out of the ball part. I looked up Joe DiMaggio’s slugging percentage and it’s somewhere around .5-.6, which made me feel better. The improvement curve is like a stock with potential, it goes up and down but hopefully will keep going up in the long term. 
It used to be a lot easier for me to experiment when I was starting out, as there's nothing to lose. But now, with external and internal expectations, I have to keep reminding myself that failure is just part of being human. This helps me move on from the less successful pieces.
Do you think art can be a means for social change? If so, how?
Definitely, good art do not tell a story but “paint” it with vivid colors. While using art as a mean of communication, the ideas are appealed through emotions . As a result, audiences not only understand the messages intellectually, but emphasize with their hearts. That is why art is so often used in political propagandas and commercials. For the same reasons, art can become a powerful mean for social changes.
What is your least favorite thing about art?
Hype.
What is your most favorite thing about art?

Its ability to convey emotions, communicate ideas and arouse empathy beyond the barrier of language. 

Do seasons affect what you're making?

Not really. But I am definitely less productive from late October to New Year’s. All the food, wine (and hangovers) from the party season makes it harder to focus.

What is the weirdest 
thing you’ve been asked to illustrate?

I was once hired by a nurse magazine to illustrate an article about 
the difficulty/embarrassing incidents happen in hospital. So of course 
there was a story of a feces-obsessed patient, he liked to steal his
 own poop and hide it when the nurses weren’t looking. One time the
 nurse found a brown matter under the patient’s pillow and thought it 
was a left-over brownie. it wasn’t. Unfortunately the magazine wanted 
a more tasteful approach which wouldn’t gross out the readers, so I
 didn’t get to draw too many poops. 


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