Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, but I spent most of my adult life in California, USA. I have been drawing ever since I can remember. Growing up, I had a lot of fun drawing comics with my sister and sharing it with my friends, and I often got in trouble for doodling in class. High school was a challenging time for me when it comes to time to choosing my career path. A lot of people discouraged me from pursuing art. I think I’ve always known in my heart that I would end up doing something creative, so I decided to give my all into being an artist rather than trying to fit in somewhere I know I won’t be happy.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
It’s not until college that I started doing art seriously. I took a lot of foundation classes at community college before being admitted into the Illustration program at Art Center College of Design. The classes at ArtCenter were tough and there were many times I was pushed to my limit. But I couldn’t have done it without the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
My strongest influence growing up is definitely Disney and Ghibli movies, but I also really enjoy comic books and graphic novels. They really helped me with drawing with a story in mind.. As I grow older, I really enjoy searching for obscured and unique animations and graphic novels because they really break a lot of boundaries set by mainstream materials.
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?
To be honest, I kinda just draw whatever comes to mind, and I think that’s what makes it so fun for me. I love to tell stories. I love to illustrate character moments that has a soft tender feeling.
From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
The most important thing is to understand what the client wants and what do you think the project needs. Communication is really important to get across your ideas so the client understands. I usually started with brainstorming ideas, doing research, and making very rough thumbnails. Writing your ideas down as they come helps, and sometimes you’ll get unexpected results that might take the project further than you originally planned. Guide them through your thought process and make sure they’re happy with the end results.
What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
As far as paintings go, I’ll try to come up with an idea and some reference photos for inspiration. I usually start off with very loose sketches, almost like scribbles. Then I block in the shapes with a big brush, carve the design with the eraser and paint within the shapes with local colors. I usually design as I go, it’s more intuitive and fun that way. Happy accidents happen and I can end up with something wildly different than what I had in mind.
Photoshop is definitely my go-to program for painting. I’ve recently gotten into using Procreate on the iPad because it makes sketching and painting on the go so much more convenient. I also love to use watercolor, gouache, pastel, and paper cuttings for more personal works.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
The common wisdom I’ve learned from other artists I’ve worked with is to always find time for your own personal growth. Being creative all the time can be very exhausting. Just do what makes you feel happy and relax, and it’s okay if you find yourself being burnt out, you’ll find a way to get through.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
I am really proud of the works I did for my first job out of school at Glow in the Dark Concept Studios. Doing visual development for many of their projects was a lot of fun and I got to design a lot of cute characters. It was the first time I felt like my work is important and all my fears during art school melted away. Having a book of my work published and sold has also been another defining moment in my career, and I can’t wait to be working on more picture books and personal projects.
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 many projects I am proud of throughout my career. I am currently one of only three design artists and background painters for Hasbro on a new Transformer series. As a background designer, we create the world that the characters appear in. World building is very important to the overall story, and therefore, the overall show. It’s a great honor as an artist to work on such a loved brand as Transformers. I have also worked as a freelance artist for Cartoon Network for an upcoming series, Victor and Valentino, and a freelance visual development artist at Glow in the Dark Concept Studio. Tillamook also brought me on to work on a children’s book, which is now available at their Creamery.
Being selected to the Gallery Nucleus and Viz Media Collaboration for the Naruto Tribute Show was a very proud achievement for me. Due to the extreme popularity of the Naruto comic, I was very overwhelmed at the amount of attendees on the opening night. It was great to see so much support for a small group of artists like us. In September, I’m also honored to be exhibiting at Lightbox Expo alongside many amazing creative professionals from the animation, TV, films and game industry.
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist's block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
Don’t force yourself to draw. Find others outlets to have fun and do what you enjoy! I find it’s really helpful to do studies or do something else creative like sewing, baking, or going out for a walk. It’s good to let your mind rest and solve new problems, so when you come back to art its a little easier.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I think what’s really important is to keep exploring. Don’t let one path defines the kind of art you want to create. Keep on learning, experimenting, and creating. Try something new, which might be scary at first, but you might find yourself doing something you’ve never thought you are capable of.
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or work on many different ones?
With the rise of new animation shows with a wide variety in style, I believe it's important to be able to adapt and draw in different styles, as well as developing something unique and personal to you. Most studios will be looking at your personal voice, and how well you fit with the show and the people. Different studio has different needs, and it’s okay if you get rejected for one show because your style doesn’t match. As long as you have a good foundation, you’ve already proven to studios that you can work professionally.
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?
Networking plays such a crucial role. Like most artists, I’m an introvert, and talking to people is really scary. But the industry is a small community of like minded people who are really kind and supportive to one another. We’ve all been there. Be humble, make real connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
I’d love to direct my own animated short one day. My dream project would be to work on something that i can pour my full heart and soul into, as well as collaborating with amazing talents to create something unique and heartfelt.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I love hand drawn animation and I believe that there is still a lot to explore for this medium. One of the reasons why I love hand drawn animation is because it looks exactly like how the artist intend it to look. Animation is supposed to be fun, weird, colorful, and stylish, and I’d love to see more of it in the future.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online services and so on. New media on the Internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
Having a platform to share your art is great. I love being able to share my work and interact with my friends and people who enjoy my art. The best feeling is to know that my art has made someone’s day, or how I have inspired someone to keep drawing. The con for this is that more artists are comparing their self-worth with other’s online successes. As long as you know the side-effects, social media can be very rewarding.
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 check out my website at ( chi-ngo.com ), and get updates about my work on Instagram and Twitter. I also have an artbook called Cheese!, that you can purchase at Gallery Nucleus and on Stuart Ng. Follow my social media to get the updates on what I will be up to.
Thank you Chi :)