CH.89: If you were to categorize or describe the style of your artwork, what would it be and why?
VN: My editorial work uses a lot of clean flat shapes and thin lines, bright colors and repeating patterns. I worked in motion graphics for a while so I feel the influence of current trends in my work, but lately I’ve been turning to book illustration, paintings, and vintage objects for inspiration.
CH.89: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
VN: Books, anime, cartoons, comics, and memories of places I’ve visited. And of course, other artists that I admire. When I am working on a project, I try to stay away from looking at other illustrators’ work to avoid feeling like I need to emulate them. It’s important to find inspiration outside of your field, so I look at other disciplines like architecture, sculpture, graphic design, and fashion for inspiration. It’s always nice looking at different movements of art throughout time when I get a chance to visit a museum.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about what your creative thought process is like when starting a new project/ piece of artwork?
VN: I find it’s best to have a certain topic in mind, or a set of constraints for a project. If it’s a piece based off of a piece of text or a book, I write down key words that are related, and start to form connections or ideas with research. The most difficult part is figuring out a new idea or working through thumbnails and sketches.
CH.89: Is there anything in particular that you would want people to take from your artwork?
VN: Nothing in particular, but perhaps a sense of wonder. I think a lot of my works feel whimsical since I try to tap into the feelings I had drawing as a kid.
CH.89: Can you talk a little bit about your lifestyle as an artist and what that is like?
VN: It’s monotonous, and pretty similar to anyone else working a day job, but for a person like me it’s good to have a routine. I’m very good at getting stuck in my head — like a lot of other creatives — so I need the comforts of a repetitive schedule for creative work to happen. I take care of errands and exercise in the morning, eat lunch, and then work from noon till 8/9PM with a dinner break in between. I do wish I was more of a morning person so I could start my day a few hours earlier, but it seems like old habits die hard. I read a book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and it turns out a lot of artists follow a pretty strict routine as well, especially when motivation fails us.
CH.89: When starting out an artistic task, do you think it is better to have a particular direction/set plan guiding your way? Or, is it better to act on impulse and go from there?
VN: I like to have a set direction for digital projects. There are so many options and tools on the computer that it can be overwhelming if I don’t go in with a plan. I like to block out my tasks, which keeps me on my toes and prevents me from dawdling over a project. When I work in a sketchbook or with traditional media, I find it easier and more organic to go from impulse.
CH.89: What is one major lesson you’ve learned as an artist thus far?
VN: I’ve always struggled with how to be the “right kind” of artist, whether that means having the passion, the vision, or the talent to be one. It’s led to burnout a few times in my life. I’m learning as I go that it, like any other career, is a long game to play if you want to thrive. Discipline and grit, I have found, is the one thing all artists said to have contributed most to their success, regardless of talent. I’m also learning to take care of myself more, and to value my health.
CH.89: Do you regard personal style & taste to be of highest importance?
VN: I do feel that, when it comes to editorial work, there is an immediate pressure to have a “personal” style. That being said, when you look at different artistic movements, like the Golden Age or Art Nouveau, you realize that there’s a certain visual language in that period that most artists work in. I think that what I’m working in now is an interpretation of a certain style that’s quite popular. It will become personal to me after many more years of exploring what I like/dislike, learning about my flaws/strengths, working on more projects, and living life. Taste is also subjective, but I think having a clear sense of it allows me to reflect on my work and find ways to improve it. If this is a question of fashion, I don’t think that matters!
CH.89: What do you consider to be the hardest thing about being an artist?
VN: Keeping the passion alive in spite of fears or doubts. There’s the creative battle of coming up with something new each time I sit down at my desk, improving my work, and most of the time, figuring out why a project isn’t going well until it does. Outside of that, there’s a persistent fear of not being good enough to make it, which plagues a lot of creatives. It can be tough going through this mental battle everyday, especially if you’re working alone. I think there’s a crossroads artists reach at multiple points in their lives when they have to choose between pursuing their passion and having stability.
CH.89: What is one thing you love about being an artist?
VN: There’s a deep satisfaction to being able to create something. It’s a very process orientated lifestyle, and I think because I have this, I don’t find myself needing as much material pleasures as other people, and can cope with loneliness well. And it’s always a privilege being able to choose to have a creative life.
CH.89: Is there anyone in particular, any artist’s that inspire you in any way?
VN: I got started in the arts doing Chinese watercolors, watching a lot of Ghibli movies, and reading manga. Some masters that inspire me are Sargent, Mucha, Leyendecker, Kazuo Oga, Kay Neilsen, Charley Harper, Bjorn Wiinblad, Moebius, Mary Blair, etc. There’s also contemporary artists like Victo Ngai, James Jean, Tasturo Kuichi, Gizem Vural, Owen Davey, Jennifer Hom, the list can go on forever. My peers and friends, lesser known illustrators, but endless sources of talent and inspiration.
CH.89: What do you think of technology in terms of being a useful tool for artists today?
VN: It’s a reflection of the times. Sometimes when I look at something done traditionally, I think, “Wow, I would never be able to do that.” At the same time, for the kind of work that I do, there’s an increase in demand for digital skills. Projects are at a much faster pace now, with tighter deadlines. I wouldn’t survive without technology. Then again, I was born in the 90s, when the world was already transitioning into the digital age. I grew up with it, so I wouldn’t know otherwise.
CH.89: Do you think being an artist allows you to view the world differently from those who don’t follow creative paths?
VN: Seeing the world differently is a practiced skill. I don’t think artists are people who naturally think differently than those who don’t follow creative paths, but I do think we’re allowed to humor our imaginations more because of this. We’re also forced to tap into it more often to come up with ideas or ways to solve a problem for our clients.
CH.89: Do you enjoy traveling? If so, do you have a favorite city?
VN: I do! I’m sad that there hasn’t been much of an opportunity since COVID started, but I’m excited to make up for it next year. Some of my most cherished memories are from when I was a kid in Guangzhou, a port city in Southern China. And New York, where I grew up. It’s a difficult city to love, but I think it has made a place in my heart over the years.
CH.89: Do you have a favorite author or book?
VN: It’s so hard naming a single author. Some current favorites are Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, the Imperial Radch Trilogy by Ann Leckie, and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I also love Ursula Le Guin’s short stories, and am currently going through the Hainish Cycle with some friends.
CH.89: Any future goals or plans for your artwork?
VN: I would love to work more with publications and magazines in the near future. This is oddly specific, but I would love to have my work on a plate or a blanket one day, something domestic. And if it ever makes it into a piece of clothing, then I’ll know I’ve made it.
CH.89: What does being an artist mean to you?
VN: I think every kid is born with a natural gravitation towards the creative. I’m just a person who chose to cultivate this interest, and to develop it into a relationship. It’s a bit like still choosing to believe in magic.
CH.89: What’s the last song you listened to?
VN: The End of Love by Florence + The Machine
CH.89: Any last words on the aesthetic of your artwork?
VN: Ask me this again in 10 years!