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!
What are the influences of growing up in Hong Kong?
Chris Buzelli once told me this “ Style is overrated. Style merely means one's habit of drawing based on one’s own experiences. Therefore everyone has a unique life.”
I grew up in Hong Kong until 18, my parents still live there and I will always see it as home. I was exposed to Chinese art and craft from a young age, such as Nian Hua, Gong Bi Hua, and Lian Hua Hua. Unknowingly I have developed a keen taste for intricate lines and vibrant flat colors which led to my discovery of Japanese ukiyo-e, Art-Neurvo art, Chinese and Russian Propaganda posters and Golden Age illustrations. The energy, colors and dense urban textures from Hong Kong have also worked their ways into my work.
How have the realities of migration impacted your work as an artist?
Being in a foreign land forced me out of my comfort zone and routines. The excitement of the new place, as well as the disorientation and discomfort led me to reexamining the familiars and the mundanes with a new pair of lens, this helps me think out of the box when creating. Being emerged in multiple cultures also granted me valuable arsenals of both Eastern and Western thinking, stories, philosophies and metaphors to draw inspiration from.
Why did you move to NYC upon graduation?
I moved to NY for job opportunities, as most of the big publishers and advertising agencies are in the city. I stayed for another 6 years 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.
Why did you move to LA?
What would be the difference for you being an illustrator in Hong Kong VS NYC/LA?
From what I can gather, 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...
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.
AS a Student
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 artists people were referencing to. 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 we don't know is far more important.
What are the benefits of going to art school besides the teachers and the education?
The alumni and industry 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 did you first start drawing and creating artwork.
I first started drawing when I was really young , though I'm not sure those drawings can be counted as artwork. My parents were really busy and I had pretty lonely childhood being an only child, so I began drawing to keep myself company an to stay amused while I was on my own.
What is the exact moment you decided to become an illustrators artist?
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 first declared major in graphic design, but when I happened on a presentation by the illustration department, I thought to myself, that’s what I want to do.
How did you get started in the art world?
A classmate commissioned me to do a comic stripe and paid me generously in candies in third grade.
If we are talking about professional commissions, I first got hired when I was a junior at RISD, SooJin Buzelli, a well regarded creative director and conveniently wife of my professor Chris Buzelli, saw my class work and decide to print it in her magazine. This strike of good luck resulted in a wonderful working relationship of 9 years and counting, as well as a portfolio with some published work by the time I graduated. SooJin has also graciously introduced me to Irene Gallo, creative director and publisher at Tor.com, and that's how I started branching out into the SFF industry.
Upon graduation, I took my portfolio to AD Aviva Michaelov at the New York Times, she became my second client. After working with the Times for a couple years, Aviva recommended me to AD Jordan Awan at the New Yorker, this landed me an interview and the opportunity to work with this prestigious magazine.
Through working with high-profile publications, building an online following and winning competitions, I gradually built up a name and started attracting other editorial as well as book and advertising clients.
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.
Being a freelancer is very much like being an entire company, at least in the beginning, there are many hats to wear: CEO, Artist, Marketing person, Accounting, PR and Janitor. That means the day to day is not always sugar and spice and everything fun, some days I have to spend more time answering emails and reading through contracts then drawing.
The freelance lifestyle also demand a lot of self-discipline, in both work and play/rest. It's been challenging for me to separate work and personal life, especially without official clock in and clock out, weekends and holidays. Sometimes I have no choice but to let my social life take a back seat, cancel plans with friends due to rush deadlines or revisions.
The hardest thing about freelancing is probably the toll on one's self-image and emotional well being, especially after one is cooped up alone in the studio for days, and sleep deprived. Freelancers attach their names to their work, which are extension of the artists' taste, experience and preferences, so it's very difficult to not take things personally when the project is not going well or when the work is being rejected. It's not uncommon to feel both moments of grandeur as well as doubts and depression during one single project. Therefore making an effort to socialize and be part of a supporting community is very important. I found sharing a studio with other people has helped a lot.
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 in 2010) but I would recommend the professional help 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.
ON Being A Female And An Artist
Do you feel that one's gender determine one's work?
Does being Victo Ngai determine Victo Ngai’s work? Sure. But does being a woman define Victo Ngai? Yes and no. I don’t think there’s one single attribute which can conclude one’s identity or work. Just as I am a female, Chinese, former New Yorker, current Los Angeles Resident, hotpot-lover, animal-enthusiast.etc, my work is shaped by all that shapes me as a person.
ON Being An Illustrator
In your opinion, whats the difference between an artist and an illustration? are you planing to be a professional artist.
Being a professional illustrator IS being a professional artist. Artist is an umbrella term which includes sub-catergories, illustration being one of them.
If the question is about the difference between illustrators vs gallery/fine artists, then the most obvious answer would be the way we make our money. Most illustrators are commissioned by clients to create the work while most gallery artists create their body of work then sell them to their clients. In my opinion, the titles of "illustrator" and "fine artist" are just hats people wear, a person can easily be both and many other things. Also often the line between the two is not so clear, if we define artists who are commissioned to create images as illustrators, then Michelangelo and Da Vinci are both illustrators. If we define artists whose work are shown in museums and galleries as fine artists, then the above mentioned masters are also fine artist.
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 0.5-0.6, which made me feel better. .
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 remembering Joe DiMaggio, stay positive and move on from the less successful pieces. Anyimprovement curve is like jumping, sometimes it's necessary to go back to go further.
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?
Personal style is very important too, it's a signifies to the world of how you process information and communicate as an artist, I like to emphasize the importance of ideas as that's not as "sexy" as style and often overlooked by younger illustrators. My style has definitely affected the types of projects I am offered. For example, if Time magazine wants a realistic portrait of Obama, they are not going to come to me. And that's ok, as my interest is not in doing realistic portraits.
It's worth mentioning that there are all kinds of niches out there for all kinds of artists, it's impossible for one person to do all of them. All of my clients may add up to be less than 1% of the entire industry but that's enough to keep me 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. Don't sacrifice the joy of art-making for the market , otherwise it's hard to have a long and sustainable career.
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 economic-related books written by authors such as David Harvey for leisure, love the NPR Money Planet and Freaknomics program, and my friends would tell you I am huge geek in credit scores and NY real estate.
What is your least favorite thing about art?
What is your most favorite thing about art?
Its ability to convey emotions, communicate ideas and arouse empathy beyond the barrier of languages.
On Future/ Future Of Illustration
What’s something that you’d love to do but haven’t done yet?
I would absolutely love to author my own book or short animation. I have wanted to make this happen in a while now but haven't grasped a concrete idea/story yet. Since it would be a long-term project that I would really need to dedicate my time to work on – therefore I need to be truly passionate about it. I’m constantly learning and, I guess, “growing” each day, so I know one day – hopefully in the near future – I will make it happen.
What are your plans for the future? What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I hope I will always wanted to draw, and keep making better work.
What do you think is the future of illustration?
From cave paintings, to fresco, to tapestries to tablets, the media may change but I think illustration will always be around.
Advices to new illustrators/ To yourself
It’s important to research the clients and tailor the portfolio to their interest. For example, it would be silly to have an entire portfolio of dogs when meeting with a magazine that features only cats. Illustration is about visual communication and problem solving, so try to demonstrate both conceptual and stylistic ability in the work.
It's a good idea to keep the portfolio neat, professional and consistent, meaning not a difficult to navigate collection of random class works, so the clients know what to expect if they decide to hire you. If you work with multiple different style, then organize these style under different pages within the website. Quality is always above quantity when it comes to the work being showcased, as the client always expect the worst.
You created a lot of editorial illustrations, what do you think are important things for illustrators to consider in this kind of work.
There are a few important things for editorial illustrators.
First, never misses a deadline. editorial jobs tend to have shorter turnaround times and inflexible deadlines. If an illustrator misses a deadline, the art directors is put in an uncomfortable bind to scramble for something a replacement, or leave a hole on the page. So likely the illustrator won't be hired again.
Second, have a good concept. Good editorial illustrations make readers want to read the articles they accompany, so ideally the images should give a taste of the articles, rendering in interesting and provoking ways while not spoiling the writings.
Third, show a distinctive and consistent styles and work quality. Most editorial illustrators are freelancer, and they are hired because of their styles. Therefore unless otherwise requested, don't send in something totally different from pieces in your portfolio.
Lastly, be nice to people. Illustration is not an easy career, and its hard to make it without others' help, may it be constructive criticism, job referrals, sharing of informations and experiences… So be create a good karma loop, always be grateful to the ones who have helped you, and be generous in helping others.
Any advice you would give yourself before starting?Any words of advice to young artists, who want to get their name out there? Could you offer one piece of advice to new illustrator.
1)"It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be." - Paul Arden . I truly believe in many who eventually succeed are not necessarily the most talented ones but the most persistent ones.
2)Think outside the box, in both art and job descriptions. When I was in school I had the opportunities to intern for the New Yorker and a small local ad agency. I picked the latter because the New Yorker job description entails mostly fetching coffees and making copies, I though I wouldn't learn much. In hind sight, that was a mistake. After working for a few years, I realized what I can make out of a situation really depends on my own initiation. Knowing that I wanted to go into editorial illustration, just by being there in the office, I could have learnt about about the inner working of a publications just by keeping my ears and eyes open. And who knows, perhaps there would be chances to make connections and volunteer myself for small illustration or design work? Although I have worked with the New Yorker eventually, I wonder if the process of getting the call would be expedited if I have taken the internship.
The same goes with commissioned projects, sometimes a client may have something very particular in mind, but that shouldn't stop the artist to pitch other ideas which are more exciting to him/her. For example, one time a client only wanted one illustration originally but after pitching him a sequential idea, he loved it tripled the size of the project. That's something I didn't know as a student, rules are only for those who believe in them.
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, them before you know it, you are already on top of the mountain.
Often dreams seems impossible because they are indeed impossible from our current venture point. For example, picking a flower on the edge of a tall mountain would seem impossible to someone standing in the valley. But after scaling the mountain and arrive at the cliff, one may realized there's actually a hidden pathway leading to the flower, that was invisible 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, some previously deemed impossibilities would no longer be impossible.
We can never know when opportunities may present themselves to us, but if one is always striving for the best, one will be ready when the opportunities arrive.
Inspiration/Coming up with ideas
What inspires your artistic vision and where does your illustration ideas come from?
“Inspiration” can come from everything and anything - the environment, people on the subway, music, books and of course other artists’ work and much more. I think inspiration is kind of unpredictable, but if one is willing and open to be inspired, one will get the most extraordinary ideas out of seemingly ordinary things.
When “inspiration” is talked about, many have the mental image of a light bulb miraculously lighting up on top of someone’s head. But what’s not being shown here is all the time and effort that led to this eureka moment. I like to imagine inspiration as a clothes closet, when a special occasion arises, it’s much easier to find the right outfit if one already has a diverse and comprehensive collection, versus having to hunt down new clothes at the very last minute. To enrich the inspiration closet, I think it’s important to approach the world with a curator’s eyes: be eager and open-mind with new knowledge and experience, yet purposeful and selective with those we file away into our collection. After all, it's impossible to create from nothing, I see the process of art-making as digesting the world through an artistic lens.
Can you give us an example of how you come up with a concept for an editorial illustration to accompany an article?
When I am looking for inspiration for a particular commissioned project, I start with distilling what need to be communicated through the illustration, what is the the core message here? Sometimes certain words from the articles or the client's art direction would stand out to me, I would then brainstorm and see if I can elaborate on these hunches, rumbling in the inspiration close and see if I can find the most fitting yet surprising combinations of symbolisms/metaphors to tell this story. After that, I would start making thumbnails to visualize the concepts, sometimes if I am lucky, my own scribbling would serve as another enzyme which stirs up new and better ideas. Seldom the first ideas are the final one being used, so it's a good idea not to settle for the first thing but to keep pushing the brain and see what else is possible.
Working Process and Techniques
What are your favorite traditional and digital mediums to work in, and why?
My favorite traditional medium is nib pen because of the wide range of line quality it gives. My favorite digital medium is Adobe Photoshop. The way I work with colors is more like a designer than a painter. I like to plan and test out a few color palette before deciding on the final one. photoshop allows me to be adventurous with colors and texture without the fear of messing things up and missing the deadlines. It also allows me to bring mediums which are not physically compatible together seamlessly, like crayon and photos, to make interesting visuals.
What is your process like?
I use more or less the same techniques in all my work – I draw the lines with nib pens, sometimes brushes or radiograph pens, then I create layers of texture on paper with various media such as paint, crayon, charcoal, etc. I will normally provide three versions and go from there. I then scan them in and do the composition and coloring in Photoshop.
You’ve worked with Apple, Dreamworks, and now Johnnie Walker. How does the creative process work in these partnerships? How much creative freedom do you get?
It varies from client to client. Working with Dreamworks was an incredible opportunity, but it involved adapting someone else’s story and characters, so there wasn’t as much creative freedom as other projects. With Apple and Johnnie Walker however, there was more flexibility as they were open to my ideas.
Why have you chosen this process? How long does your artwork usually take to complete?
This layering process evolved organically from print-making, a media which I have been in loved with since childhood. The time a piece takes really depends on the projects. Black and white pieces for newspapers calls for same-day turnaround. With color pieces, I can finish one in a week if I have to/am lucky. The most tricky and frustrating thing with art is that, sometimes I can be working for hours and get absolutely nothing done.
How do you strike a balance between your artistic sensibility and producing commercial art?
I try to treat every piece like a personal work, experimenting with new ways of working and 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 ,find other creative outlets or move on to the next piece.
FAVorite Artists/ Influencer/ Mentor
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Miro, Matisse, Monet, Calder, Hokusai, Jakuchu, Gauguin, Turner, N.C. Wyeth, Amano, Moebius, Eyvind Earle, Mary Blair and many more!
Who are the most Influential people in your life and Illustration career?
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.
I think I've been really lucky with people. There has always been a few key figures at each crucial stage of my life that helped me grow into who I am today. I almost gave up doing art when I was in high school because art class conflicted with my other class schedule, Miss Eileen Tsang, my high school art teacher, who saw potential in me, sacrificed her own free time to give me private tutorials. It was under her guidance that I created the portfolio pieces which got me into RISD. My parents were really supportive about my decision of going to RISD, despite the expansive tuition and everyone’s opposition. In Hong Kong, most people typically do not regard art and design as serious and valid career options. I didn't have much proper rat training until RISD, and for a while I was overwhelmed by the new ideas and the amazing works that hit me. I tried to paint like the illustrators i admired, and forgot about my own voice until i met my portfolio professor, Chris Buzelli, in junior year. Chris not only introduced me to the editorial world but also helped me be honest with myself, and reminded me why i want to draw in the first place. he also recommended me to his wife who is major art director, SooJin Buzelli, which led to my first published work. Chris has been so generous with his teaching that he has probably saved me at least five years of “hustling” in the editorial illustration world. I hope to become a teacher like him someday.
Self Promotion At The Digital Age
What social media do you use regularly? Is social media important in promoting your work?
Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Behance and instagram. I think the internet makes promotion a two-way street. It allows clients to discover me. Thanks to the snowball effect, through re-blogs and retweets, my work can be spread to the most unexpected places and be seen by the most unexpected clients.
Can you clearly see a return? How important is social media in your promotional armory?
Yes, my first big ad job came through the net. Leo Burnett was scouting out illustrators online for the McDonald’s Dragon New Year poster, they contacted me after seeing my portfolio on Behance. Social media plays an important role, sharing my work online is the only active promotion I do these days. I don't post very often as it can be very time consuming, it's important to prioritize the time for making work as ultimately that's what's really matter anyway.
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.
Why do I need portfolio reviews if the clients can see my work online?
Internet promos are great but they are no match to personal connections. There are so many possible 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.
Do you think the promotional landscape is changing?
Sure, fewer and fewer publications are doing portfolio drop-offs or reviews. Also more and more people, including art directors, are against printed promos due to environmental concerns. The internet will play a more and more important role in self-promotions.
What has been your career highlight so far?
When I received an email from a student, who told me that her parents read about my story and changed their mind about dissuading her from the pursuit of art. This makes me feel extremely lucky, I haven't really put in any effort to help anyone, yet by being self-serving and doing what I like, I manage to help others unexpectedly along the way.
How do you define success?
Waking up every morning excited and going to bed every night satisfied.
Whats your interpretation of a successful illustrator?
A great drawer/painter doesn’t make a good illustrator. A great thinker also doesn’t make a good illustrator. Being a great illustrator means you have to have the best of both worlds: the ability to come up with good concepts and deliver them well visually.
You've worked with a lot of major brands and companies since your mid-20s- these include tiger beer, general electric, McDonald’s the New York Times and more, is it a lot to take in for some one so young?
I have been extremely lucky to work with so many great clients within a
Do you have self-doubts?
Of course. I believe every creative person has a complicated relationship with self-doubts. Without it, there’s no incentive to change, evolve and progress. Too much of it, it can be overwhelming, depressing and handicapping. It’s always a battle trying to have just the right amount of self-doubts.
Art And Its Influence On Public
What’s your all along believing in art in order to create a good piece of work which could reach out to the public?
I think my motivations behind art-making has always been self-serving: I like to make a living by doing what I like, while hopefully making kick-ass works that excite me the same way many great masters’ work have excited me before. I hadn’t given much thought to the public, which is pretty easy to do when you work alone in the studio, until I started getting a following, I see it as sheer lucky that others happen to enjoy what I enjoy.
Do you think art can be a means for social change? If so, how?
Definitely, good art does not just tell a story but “emerge” the audience with vivid colors. While using art as a mean of communication, the ideas are appealed through gut reactions and emotions . The reasons which make visual art the preferred mean in political propagandas and commercials are the same reasons why art can become a powerful mean for social changes.
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.
Do you have an agent/ rep? What do you like or dislike about it?
Yes, I am represented by Morgan Gaynin.Inc. The biggest benefit of having a rep is that I can focus on making art when they do the money talk for me: negotiating contracts and rates, selling me for potential projects, chasing payments etc.
How do you protect yourself from poor quality clients?
I have a few First, watch out for these red flags: Clients using the word "collaboration" or "submission", instead of "commission" (Translation: They usually don't have a budget. ) Clients who promise you "publicity". (Translation: They want you to work for free.) Clients who ask you to do works in another artist's style. Clients who ask numerous illustrators to pitch ideas for free before committing to hiring one. Clients who spell your name wrong. Clients using non-company emails, such as google, AOL and hotmail.
Second, be thorough with your contract, never start work without a signed contract. What kind of rights are you granting, does it justify the pay? Have you include a kill fee for sketch and final stage? How many rounds of revisions do the client gets? After that, how much would per revision cost ( I usually charge by hour for extra revisions)? If it's a large project, it's a good idea to be paid in stages. (E.g. 50% at sketch stage and 50% after work is finished.) Make sure to state when the clients need to pay you. (E.g. Within 30 days upon receipt of final work. )
Third, if a client is proved to be a nightmare to work with after you take on the project. Try to be professional, finish the project the best you can and blacklist them for the future.
Are there any nightmare clients you've dealt with and what have you learnt from that experience?
Definitely. If the client is a bully, it's important to stand up for yourself. You don't have real power until you are able to say "no". Sometimes, a client is faultless but his/her way of working is not for me. Just as clients are choosing illustrators for the right jobs, illustrators can pick the clients they enjoying working with for their career. I don't have a long list of clients, but I have a few loyal ones whom understand me well and we make great works together.
2010年大學畢業後，我決定到紐約發展自己的工作室，2016夏天這個工作室遷移到了洛杉磯。在過去六年的時間內，我有幸跟世界各很多行各業的客戶合作，包括紐約時報，紐約客，華爾街日報，紐約地鐵，麥當勞，美國運通，通用電力，漢莎航空，夢工廠，Johnnie Walker，虎牌啤酒，大疆DJI，以及這次的Apple等。也感恩作品也得到業界的肯定和支持， 包括入選福布斯 “30歲以下30位俊傑 （藝術時尚）” Forbes 30Under30 (Art & Style）榜，連續八年入選Communication Arts 插畫年鑑，榮獲紐約插畫師協會金獎，大中華插畫獎金獎，Spectrum Fantastic Art金獎以及Art Directors‘ Club銀獎等。
除了畫畫，我一直也很喜歡旅行，這些走過的看過的同時成為了創作的養分。現在由於我工作的自由性質，經常可以藉者參加活動以及演講的機會順便到世界各地遊玩，也是一大樂事。 幾年前領養了一只喜歡在工作檯下打盹的小狗， 在大風雪不斷的紐約嚴冬，他作為工作室的暖腳器功不可沒。
動物，大自然等都很喜歡。他們形態萬千，在創作上允許了很大的塑形和藝化空間。 還有就是帶有神話和超現實味道的東西。 能夠置現實世界規矩不理的題材讓我覺得很自由。 我很喜歡動物，他們的形態動靜都特別漂亮有趣。而且他們特徵明顯，這給我一個很大stylize的空間。所以有時候動物成為我玩設計的一個載體。再來我喜歡用動物因為他們是中性的。也許因為電視電影的關係，很多人的外表會被typecast。比如說我們看到金髮碧眼身材豐滿的女生就容易覺得她是個花瓶。或者看到尖臉鷹鉤鼻的就會認為他是冷酷的人。可是我們對動物沒有這種偏見，所以我可以更有效的運用他們來說故事，能讓他們表演出我希望的情感和寓意，而不用擔心觀眾的先入為主。
从Rhode Island School of Design毕业时你有多大？毕业后马上就以freelancer的身份在纽约开始工作了。纽约是一个充满艺术活力的城市，竞争激烈，刚毕业的那段时间你的收入来源于哪里？每天都在做什么？怎么找到你的第一份工作？
對我影響最大的兩個人是我母親和我大學老師Chris Buzelli。我母親從小培養我對藝術的欣賞，當我決定報考美術學院時，雖然大家都說讀這行出來沒錢， 媽媽還是支持我去追尋自己的夢想。 等我工作穩定以後她才告訴我其實那時候她是真的有擔心我會餓肚子。進入大學以後，每天都泡在藝術的環境下。吸收了很多新東西，也認識了很多以前不知道的大師作品， 不過卻有點眼花繚亂，每天像是在追別人地花蝴蝶忘了自己的聲音。有一段時間我充模仿一位大師到模仿另一個。 後來Chris 跟我說“每個人都是有著獨特的風格，因為每個人都有著獨特的生活經歷。”， 我才恍然記起當初選擇插畫的原因－不是為了追求某一種完成的效果而是因為畫畫過程給我帶來的樂趣。慢慢地我不再強求，反而找到了自己地聲音。
喜歡的藝術家實在是太多，不能盡錄，隨便從書架上拿幾個講講。Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Mary Blair： 我喜歡他們大膽的用色，自信的筆觸和各具一格的透視感。Andrew Wyeth 和 Eyvind Earle: 他們的留白太正了，構圖形狀設計感一流。 John Singer Sargent 和 William Turner: 光和影的魔術師. Yoshitaka Amano, Gustav Klimt, Virginia Frances Sterrett, Kay Nielsen, Aubrey Beardsley: 很喜歡他們線條的流暢感以及華麗的細節和圖案。Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Hiroshige: limited palette的大師。還有很多很多。。。我認為如果希望作品豐富有特色，興趣廣闊很重要，所以盡量還是要多看多吸收。
最近看了幾部大紅電視電影留意到一個有趣的共同點：West World，新海誠的妳的名字，The Arrival，他們的故事題材都截然不用，然而同時都利用了模糊時間概念的插敘手法來製造懸念和劇情逆轉。我覺得這點很有趣，因為雖然我們知道時間並不是獨立的直線，而是时空闭联集（ space-time continuum）。但是因為我們的日常生活的局限性沒有辦法親身體會，所以還是會以鐘錶直線前進的方式想像時間，當我們看到影像時便不假思索地將故事理解為直敘。這種不假思索是人類進化中形成的一種慣性（habbit），這讓我想到一本最近看過的書－The Power Of Habbits，書裡提供了很多有趣的案例講述人類理所當然的習慣如何被商家加以利用，而消費者全然不知。比如說Target能夠準確地以用消費者的購買習慣以及大數據去推斷婦女的懷孕週期去有目標性的打廣告， 由於新父母們的購物最容易被誘導，這個資訊是一個改變市場營銷方法的金礦。這些案例的時候讓我非常興奮，因為如果能找到一個引爆點可以帶來意想不到的顛覆。我現在在思考有什麼我們平常不加思考的視覺habbit可以在作品裡拿來玩。
（我大學Rhode Island School of Design位於羅德島州的普羅維斯，不在紐約。）當時選擇這所大學其實算是一個賭注。高中時打算報考藝術大學但是當時大家並不是很了解和支持我的想法，因為作為一名成績不錯的高中生我可以去報考香港大學裡類似法學這類畢業後生活較有保障的專業。其實長輩們的憂慮我也能夠理解，因為在藝術圈裡只有達到比較高的水平才可以享受安逸的物質條所以件，但是當時我對自己的藝術造詣水平不是很確定，所以決定只報考世界最好的藝術大學之一作為對我自己的一個考驗。
我一般的創作模式是傳統和數碼的結合：線條用鋼筆和水墨勾勒，線條完成後， 我會把畫放到燈箱上， 在上面另外放上一張紙， 用不同的材料， 像是炭筆、鉛筆、水彩等， 達到我想要的質感。再來就是把這些準備好的「半成品」掃描進iMac， 經Adobe Photoshop 合成和上色。我在畫具上並不挑剔。去年在巴黎一家小書店意外找到一款Brause 古董鋼筆頭很喜歡， 後來在ebay上大量買了一百多個， 所以現在都在用那個。
以前在紐約的時候是在家裡工作的，但是自從搬到洛杉磯以後，我建立了一個分別的工作室，這樣我有一個更加系統的工作時間和工作地點。每天朝九晚七， 午飯一般在工作室附近吃，太忙的時候會請助手幫忙帶外賣。的卻作為freelancer我需要兼顧工作的方方面面，比如作品創作，商業運作，PR， 媒體採訪等等， 以前事業起步時期，我很摳門（笑）所有的事情都自己做， 現在工作量越來越大，無法兼顧，發現有時候回覆郵件的時間比創作的時間還要長。而且老了（笑）也沒有像以前那樣能熬夜， 所以也慢慢學會放手讓助理承擔一些創作以外的雜活。
当别人问你做什么的时候，“插画家”这个回答会遭到“blank stares”。作为一个女性，自由插画家（freelance illustrator）这个身份，是否会为你带来无形的压力？比方说，很多人（尤其是长辈）会希望女孩子有稳定的工作，而不是他们单方面认为的“闲赋在家”、“不切实际”。你的家里人会对你有这样的要求吗？
你提到的那一副叫Sweet Dreams，是給紐約人（The New Yorker）畫的。 遮掩主要還是出版物的尺度問題。因為是老少咸宜的刊物，如果赤裸裸的就沒辦法出版了。不過個人創作來講，我覺得含蓄的性感比起全裸更誘人，多些空間距離美。
“30 under 30”最年轻的得主之一、插画家协会的两枚金牌，以及很多含金量非常高的奖项和荣誉，你和你的作品在行业内外都已经受到了广泛的认可和肯定。这些都不免把你和“成功”这个词联系在了一起。在你眼里，什么才是所谓的“成功”？对现阶段的你而言，有没有去定义过自己的成功和幸福呢？