Duration: Almost two years.
Location: Vancouver, Canada.
Education: BFA in illustration at Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Canada.
Career path: I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid, but it was during university that I discovered illustration as a possible career path. I had the opportunity to learn from some amazing illustrators, such as Calef Brown, Ryan Heshka and Keith Negley. I began following talented illustrators, and studying their work.
After graduating, I was reluctant to start reaching out to big clients as I was not confident in my body of work. I spent six to nine months doing work for free, building my portfolio and dealing with rejection. I took a position as an art director at a local university’s student paper, the Capilano Courier, to expand my understanding of the production end of publishing.
Within the last year, my freelance career has finally started gaining momentum, from completing a project for a dream client to seeing my illustrations in print and out in the real world. The fact that my job can make me jump for joy is something that I never take for granted.
Cultural influences: Growing up as a second-generation Japanese Chinese person in Canada, I never felt like there was one place or culture in which I fit. It was always difficult to relate to what I saw in strictly Japanese, Chinese or Western media. My family also moved around a lot between Hong Kong, China, Japan and Canada. Although being migratory at a young age has been formative to understanding and accepting other forms of thought, tradition and values, it never felt like I had a place to call “home.”
Therefore, I started incorporating Asian influences into my body of work and studied the visuals of my own cultural background, from traditional forms of art— like Japanese woodblock prints and Chinese ink-and-water-based paintings—to modern packaging design and animations. Through this process of translating and reiterating cultural influences, I started gaining confidence in my artistic style.
Today, my visual style is an amalgamation of cultural influences and techniques that reflect the melting pot of my cultural heritage. Creating a body of work that feels the most reflective of me and my roots was my way of making art that I myself can relate to. I hope that it can also reach an audience.
Favorite projects: My most recent cover illustration for Airbnbmag’s Japan issue. Also, my first children’s book, which is still being made. It is heavily inspired by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. These two projects are near and dear to my heart as they are both nods to my Japanese roots.
Work environment: I work out of my basement bedroom, which has been converted into a studio. It’s a simple setup with my computer, a Wacom tablet, paper, brushes, gouache, pencils, ink, a scanner and my iPad Pro. I also have a cup of hot tea, and something is always playing in the background. Whether it be a Spotify playlist, a podcast, a Netflix series or an endless stream of YouTube videos, I need to fill the silence in order to focus on my work. It can be quite isolating working alone, but a perk of working from home is cooking or doing some chores during work breaks. I constantly find myself doing something productive—unless I decide to take a nap.
Approach: I love the bold colors and clean shapes that can be created digitally, but I also love the textures and fluidity that can be created traditionally. My style is a result of marrying these qualities together. My work looks very “Asian-inspired,” and I have received projects in the past solely for this reason. It is humbling to know that people are able to recognize my inspirations and cultural roots through my work.
Aspirations: I am still very new to this, so I want to keep expanding where my skills can go—to continue this journey of creative problem solving and producing conceptually engaging work that can span a variety of outputs. I would love to work for dream clients—such as the New Yorker, PLANSPONSOR and PLANADVISER, and the Washington Post—and continue creating picture books. The ultimate dream is to build a sustainable freelance illustration career that gives me the financial and creative freedom to produce whatever work I please.
Philosophy: Put in the work and be patient. Remember to be kind to yourself and to those around you.