Jerry Suh

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in many different places. I was born and raised in Korea, moved to Germany, spent 2 years of my middle school year there, then moved to the US in 2007. Like most of the artists, I’ve been drawing since I could start holding a pencil. But I remember the exact moment that I wished to work for animation. I was watching Prince of Egypt, and there was a scene where a dim blue moonlight was shining on the milky Nile river. Then the river made gentle waves as the basket with Moses in it floated to Pharaoh’s palace. I was so touched by the beauty of this poetic scene. I almost broke into tears and thought “I want to do this”.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
Growing up in the Asian household, where the academic value is very much emphasized, I wasn’t always encouraged to do art. I remember the time when I was graduating middle school, I filled out the application for animation highschool and was going to submit it without my parents’ consent signature. And of course, they found out and we had a huge fight, haha. I was rebellious back then. We ended up moving to the States and I went to a public high school. I almost gave up on pursuing art because I, myself, was also scared to be a “starving artist”. After all, moving to the States and going to a very academic high school seem to all tell me that I should pursue something else. But it’s funny how life works sometimes because in my high school, I met the BEST teacher (let alone, but also an art teacher) that changed my life completely. He really reignited my passion for art and gave me 200% support for my art career, which I had never really received from anyone before. There’s a long story in between but in the end, I stepped out of the prestigious architecture program at Cornell, and transferred to SCAD to pursue my childhood dream to work for animation. Now, my family supports my dream and that’s one of the important momentums to push myself forward.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Prince of Egypt is probably my strongest influence that made me pursue this career, and Ratatouille confirmed that I was going to the right path.

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
It’s important to know what clients want to see. Knowing the difference between what you think looks good and what they like to see is very important. I tend to brainstorm lightheartedly and try to give them a lot of different options to help them make decisions because not all of them know exactly what they want (that will be the heavenly condition for all artists haha). But you also have to make sure to draw a line before you start any projects with clients because you can’t give them all revisions however times they want.  

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I do a tons of research. I collect a lots of photos and artworks to make a mood board, then place it right next to the canvas in Photoshop so I can constantly see it as I draw. I try to see what I liked about the references I collected, and apply it to the drawing and tweak it to fit how I’d like to draw. 

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
To me, the hardest part is idea/concept because that is pretty much the motivation that keeps me going, so it’s important to have the solid idea and collect good references. Execution is easiest part because I mean.. Drawing is fun!! Hahaha. 

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
I am a Background Painter on the show Pinky MaLinky at Nickelodeon. In the morning, I come into my office where there are four other really talented co-workers. (I also think it is pretty funny that all of us, the painters, are Asians). We usually spend the beginning of the morning catching up, sipping coffee, and chit-chatting a little bit. Then our supervisor walks in for the morning review, and each of us gets individual feedback from our Design Supervisor and the Show Creator for the work we submitted the day before. Then, I continue to work until noon and get outside to get some Green Tea Slushie from Sub King right in front of Nickelodeon. After lunch, I get back to work to paint more backgrounds until 6pm when the beautiful sunset comes into our office.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I had a mentorship program called Motivarti with Scott Watanabe (Disney Feature Art Director) last Spring. It was beyond inspiring just looking at him draw because I could see his thinking process. That was also the time I really learned that the idea is super important for every drawing. Often times, it’s the idea that leaves a lasting impression on audience, not the look or techniques. He told me when I draw, always bear in mind how I can make my art “interesting”. 

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I have worked on a lot of various freelance commercial projects like online Christmas cards, Oreo commercials, music video concept painting, zombie game concept etc. In Nickelodeon, I have worked on Loud House, Dog and Squirrel (Nickelodeon Shorts), and I’m currently working on Pinky MaLinky as a background painter.

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I think working for a company fits me better for now, because it’s a lot more stable, and it gives you the structure. But I find it refreshing to have freelance projects in between or at the same time because it’s so different from what you usually do in a company, and it’s really fun as an artist to work on diverse projects.  

What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
I personally went through a long art-block a year ago. I put so much pressure onto myself, that I had to make a great portfolio to land a job. That was the time I decided to stay one more year after the year I was supposed to graduate with all my friends. I couldn’t draw a thing for more than 7-8 months because somehow drawing had become a burden to get me somewhere instead of a medium to express myself. I was in panic. I think the most important thing is to have the right mindset. Sometimes, I find it almost distracting to look at so much reference and amazing artwork to be inspired because it could be too much. I find meditating really helpful to empty my mind and let my expectation down. And I know this sounds ironic, but try to start something, even if you don’t feel like drawing. Start something. It can be anything. Try to enjoy the process and don’t think about how it will turn out. Let your hand lead you. 

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I have gone through a couple different routes as an artist. First, I thought I would be an architect, but I changed my route to animation because it was my childhood dream. I thought if I choose to do animation, there would be no more paths to choose from because animation was what I wanted to do! But that was a huge misconception because even within animation, there were so many disciplines like storyboarding, visual development, rigging, lighting, fx, shading, modeling, animation etc. You never know what you’re capable of or what you are interested in unless you actually try it. I tried all different aspects, and it was a difficult decision and a lengthy process to narrow down what I liked to pursue the most. It’s really about discovering who you are, what you like and what you want to be. I would say don’t limit yourself to one thing, try a lot of different mediums and disciplines, move on if it doesn’t fit you, and stick with it if you love the process. Don’t let what others’ preference influence your decision. Listen to your heart because that’s often the right answer for a lot of things in life.

Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I understand where this question is coming from. It’s very tricky. When I was learning from Scott Watanabe, he said “you either draw like how the studios want you to draw, or draw like how you draw and hope that there are studios that see the fit”. He also told me that often times, there are applicants with distinguished appealing styles. But it’s very rare when his/her personal unique style fits the needs for what studio is looking for. The studios that liked my work liked my versatility because they could see that I would be able to adopt a lot of different styles for different shows. But that is not to say that having one unique personal style is not important because the style is pretty much the identity of the artist. The studio also likes to see who you are as an artist, and what you can add to the studio instead of being another artist who does what the other artists already do. I know this is not the short answer but I really believe the answer is not simple. This is also what I am trying to do and also struggle to achieve, but try to find who you are through your art. Try different styles, see lots of art that you like, discover what you like, what you don’t like, and find the happy medium where you can be happy and be marketable.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
As technology is getting more and more advanced, we will thrive to try different mediums in a way that nobody has seen before. Even though 3d animation is dominant in the market now, I believe that there will be time that audience will want hand drawn animation back. Maybe we develop more advanced technology that will allow us to produce hand drawn animation much more efficiently and differently. As fashion trends comes back, and I want to believe that animation trend will too.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
You can see my art ( ) and follow me on ( ). I have the actual prints but haven’t set up the online store yet. Please contact me at ( ) for any inquiry for purchase :)

Thank you Jerry :)