Brandon Wu

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I was born in San Francisco, California but stayed briefly in China to live with my relatives so my mother could focus on her studies of the English language. I spent the first two years of my life in China before finally moving to San Francisco. My mother would tell me stories about my childhood and how she once drew a flower in chalk and I looking at it I turned to her and said, “I want to do that.”  I think art has always been an interest of mine but the idea of becoming a commercial or professional artist didn’t happen until I was a freshman in highschool!

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I took a few art classes throughout my life but they weren’t very serious. They were mostly places to experiment with media and I would do things like sculpture and copy paintings. It wasn’t until I went to highschool that I became serious about art professionally. I was fortunate to go to the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts where I got formal training in sketching from life and painting. I also went to college MICA as an Illustration Major  for two years before transferring to Calarts as a Character Animation major where I graduated with a bfa.

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
Despite the stigma in asian culture against professions that aren’t lucrative, my mother was actually very supportive of me pursuing art as a career. Actually, there were times when she was even more serious than I was! She would get me to do a drawing every day and pushed me to keep practicing art because she knew I loved it. My father relatives were not so convinced and would often complain to my mother about how art was a waste of time. However, seeing what I’ve accomplished now they have become much more appreciative and understanding of the path I chose. 

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Because I spent the first two years of my life in China my mom became fearful that I wouldn’t integrate well into American culture. Funny enough she then went out to buy a bunch of Disney movies for me hoping that those would teach me about American culture. It seems silly to me now that fairy tales could teach me how to be an American but they did spark the love for animation that I still have. Because animated movies were the only things I had early on I became obsessed with cartoons in general. I used to watch all the cartoons, every channel, I didn’t care I just wanted to see it all. In addition, my mother would also show me art books of artists she really loved and those would also become my favorites. At the time we would go to museums to look at the works of Claude Monet who was one of my mother’s favorites.

Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
My favorite subjects as a child were space ships and animals which I think hasn’t changed at all! Science Fiction is one of my favorite genres and I still find animals one of my favorite things to draw. I think this is due to the fact that animals have such variety you can always find something interesting. I think that if I hadn’t become an artist I would definitely had pursued something in biology or animals. 

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?
When it comes to starting and finishing a piece the process can wildly vary. In my current job I don’t often have much time to spend exploring or noodling with the sketch. Usually all I have time for is a quick underdrawing to make sure everything is right and then it’s straight to cleanup. However, for longer pieces or client work where I had to do an illustration I would take a more methodical approach. I would generally work from thumbnails, then a color mock up of whichever thumbnail I had chosen, then next would be a finalized sketch of the piece, and finally I would complete it. There is nothing very special about this approach but it does highlight  that proper planning gives you much more control and an easier time problem solving when creating pieces.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
It might seem contradictory but I feel that the beginning of the creative process is the most fun and the easiest, but also the hardest part! When starting a concept or piece it’s the initial spark of creativity that can be most exciting and fun part. It’s also the easiest because you’re just coming up with ideas without having to sit down and settle on something. There’s no need to figure everything out yet you’re just spitballing and throwing around ideas or possibilities. This is also why it can be the hardest part of the creative process. Sometimes, you just don’t have any ideas at all!

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I’m currently working at Cartoon Network as designer on a project that hasn’t been announced it. I can’t say much but it’s looking really exciting and I can’t wait for people to find out about it!

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
A few months after graduating I was scraping by as a freelancer; six months later and I started my job at Cartoon Network. I have to say, while I enjoyed the freedom of being a freelancer and drawing while in my pajamas I vastly prefer working for a company. As a freelancer I had no idea if I would continue to get work and no assurance that I could pay next month’s bills. Also I feel that I’m the type of person that needs to be forced into a schedule so having to wake up and go to work is definitely a plus for me!

What advice would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
This is a hard question to answer because I feel like even if you’ve gone through a million art blocks the next one always feels like it’s impossible to get out of. That said I try a variety of things when I have an art block. These include things like, watching movies, shows, or reading books for inspiration. A lot of times inspiration can come from where you least expect it! I feel that sometimes art blocks can come from looking at the same stuff all the time. It can be extremely rejuvenating to go to a museum or check out art that isn’t animation!  Other times this doesn’t work and I just ride it out and take a break. There’s no harm in not drawing sometimes, take it easy and after a while it’ll come back. I think there’s pressure as an artist to feel like you should always be productive or doing the best work you’ve ever done but the creative process is fickle.  If you really love art then you’ll never stop having the fire to do it, but sometimes you need rest!

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?
This is a funny question because it’s one I still ask myself today. I honestly don’t feel like I’ve finished the journey of choosing what my “path” is. I think life is so unpredictable that the thing you might be working on today might be totally different in a few years. However, if there’s one thing I think young artists should take into consideration, it’s to practice and create. A healthy balance of both would be best. I spent my early years petrified thinking I wasn’t good enough to make art and throw it out there. When you’re younger though, that’s when you have the fewest responsibilities so it’s when you have the most time to experiment. It’s not surprising to say that having a job is great for your quality of life but it can really drain you and eat from the time you have to do your own stuff. That’s what I would say to a young artist, treasure the time you have now because you’ll miss it someday!

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 wouldn’t agree because I think everyone is different. Also I’ve always seen my personal schtick as  being an artist who enjoys drawing in a variety of styles. In the world of design it can be advantageous to have a grasp on many different styles. I started out my portfolio thinking I would be in feature film but now I’m designing for tv which has a wildly different process and aesthetic. That said, if you really like drawing a certain way, you should! Lots of illustrators or designers are hired or called on for their distinctive voice. I guess the bottomline is, be true to yourself, if you have a very strong personal style, cultivate it. And if you’re like me, someone who can’t really decide how they wanna draw, well that’s fine too!

What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career? 
The industry has definitely become much more demanding because it’s become so large. With art and animation becoming such a common thing, people are coming into the industry with much higher skill floors than ever before. This also raises the expected skill floor of anyone enter animation. I feel like there’s a pressure today to be fresh out of college and be at a professional skill level. This is due to having the wide exposure of animation art on the internet and media as well as having so many people fighting over a few jobs. I think these days you just have to be really good, and also be the right person there at the right moment. 

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form? 
I think it’ll come back, because there’s so much untapped potential in hand drawn animation, there’s just nothing quite like it. I don’t have anything against cg animation though, and I think it’s great too. It might be the case that hand drawn won’t return through big animation companies such as Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks, but I think independent animators or companies will embrace it. There’s just something very accessible about hand drawn, and many people just prefer drawing over animating in a program. I would also like to add that TV animation still use hand drawn extensively as well as European and Japanese animation. I think that if you look outside the scope of big budget films there’s still a healthy hand drawn scene happening around you.

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 find more work at my Tumblr ( ). I also have an outdated portfolio ( ).

Thank you Brandon :)