Where did you grow up and when did you say to yourself: ‘’I wanna be an Artist’’?
I’m from Singapore. Grew up with my family here and since I could remember, my sister was always the artist in our house. She always drew such beautiful things and I always wanted to be like her. I also remember that my dad who didn’t draw much, drew for me the car from The Ghostbusters and I was so amazed by it, I wanted to draw like him too! The fact that my grades weren’t very good also helped me in my path towards art (not saying that there aren’t smart people in art, of course!) and I’ve stayed there since.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
This one is interesting because most of my family dabbled in art in one form or another; it’s just that most of them never picked it up professionally, save my aunt who is a dance instructor. So while they understood the love of art, they never really saw it as something you could make a sustained form of living with. Friends-wise, I am fortunate to have a close circle of friends who are artists as well, so things are
cool on that front.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
Transformers, for sure. Those were the pivotal cartoons for me when I was young. I was really into big, hulking mechanicals as a kid (still am actually!). Then somehow that transitioned to bio-mechanical forms of Giger’s Aliens and that was a thing for awhile. I was always drawing aliens in my early years and got teased for that quite a bit. One day a friend asked me to draw a samurai, this was the period when Rurouni Kenshin (Samurai X, to many) was at its peak here. But I was more interested in the bulky armour that samurai wore. I wish I still had that original picture of that samurai in rainbow coloured armour. That would’ve been funny to look at now! I started liking girls at that point, so tried my best to draw lady samurai. And it’s kind of stayed that way since. Strange how things progress… haha.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? What helped you prepare to become the artist we know today?
Hmmm.... Long story here. Apologies if it gets boring. I went to an art college here. My sister graduated from a course in fashion and I thought like, hey since I can’t go anywhere else, might as well take a course in animation. I always knew I wanted to draw pretty things, and animation seemed the best fit. The thing was I had sought to be an animator, doing traditional hand drawn animation. I wasn’t a terribly good draughtsman at the time (still not!), but making things move was quite a bit of fun. As for the things that prepared me to go back to drawing, I would say a whole lot of disappointment, depression and getting kicked around helped, haha! My first job in animation was as a layout artist and eventually an animator for a medium sized studio here. Everything was swell until the layoff, and I found myself in a really prestigious studio as a matchmove apprentice for film. The craft was fascinating, but I really struggled with it. Too many steps and buttons to push, and there was scripting, oh god… Needless to say, I failed the apprenticeship. It really struck me this time. I was 28, had no money, no real career prospects and no direction in life. I fell into the third depression in my 20s and I was quite certain that this was it. But as I started to drift around aimlessly, watching Youtube videos one after another, I came upon two videos that really altered my life. One of them was by a singer, Lauren Samuels, who had such an exuberant joy even after she lost in the final round of a musical competition and the other was a CGMA tutorial by Helen Mingjue Chen. In it she mentioned that it’s ok to start small, even better than a big studio at times. Her attitude was somewhat along the lines of just draw the things you want to draw, keep pushing forward and everything will fall into place. And so I just started painting and painting and painting.
TL;DR: I am primarily self taught. Took some courses here and there, but most of my learning to in painting came out of practice and watching video tutorials.
What part of the creation process is most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
Personally the easiest part is usually the initial idea and thumbnailing. When I'm chatting with people i often come up with one or two compositions for the subject. The hard part is often following through and/or figuring out the details. I often struggle with figuring out the geometry of my subject, or the colors to use, the soul crushing futility of my ideas, etc. One way or another, almost all of my pieces end up with one or two major bumps and obstacles. I'm glad i just persevere through on at least half of them.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
"Always keep a positive attitude and just chill, bro." Haha, that's the sum of all the attitudes I've encountered with my former colleagues, to which I am incredibly blessed. It can get a little daunting whenever I see the works of so many skilled artists, but I realised that to be surrounded and view the works of artists far greater than I will ever be is such an inspiration and a privilege.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Not terribly. Most of the things I've designed are really bad. No character and uninteresting characters. Ha, I've a long way to go before any of my characters have any sense of originality and personality. Just gotta keep working at it.
What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
Working in Disney as a VisDev artist does sound really nice, and was the original goal I set for myself by 2018, but really it's more along the lines of working beside a group of incredible artists and a company that cares about it's crew and projects. That would be incredible for me.
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?
Art block really is a pain isn't it? I find physical activity useful most of the time. Sure, there is research and looking at art from other people, but a lot of times I find that can become a distraction rather than an aid. So sometimes I go for a run, the gym or even some martial arts practice. It does wonders. If nothing happens, at least I get to keep my body healthy.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there’s so many options to choose and when you’re young, sometimes the only thing you know is just that you love to draw: what should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Just draw really. Or do what makes you happy. I'm not sure I'm one who's made a lot of right decisions, but I do know that doing the things that didn't leave me fulfilled led me to doing the things that do. So all in all, my answer would be to do the things that make you wanna do more. Art aside, I feel it's also important to be nice to your peers. I've encountered several artists, professionals and students alike, who thought they were god's gift to man. I find it's good to be skilled in your work, but an important thing is also not to be a dick to others, because those people just might help you in ways you did not expect.
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?
Competition is fierce. There are a lot of artists who are giants of their fields, and those numbers are rising, so it's easy to get daunted. But I feel that if you draw what you like, and put it in a format that is easy for people to see, the former will get people to enjoy it, and the latter will get them to want to see more. So that's about as far as I think of in terms of living as an artist.Also, I'm paraphrasing from Bobby Chiu here, but don't send your resumes from the bottom. Send it to the highest level and work your way down. Sooner or later, you'll find yourself with a job and there you have it. Just keep pushing.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favorite designs?
Wow. There are so many. Notably though, I really love Brittney Lee's work. Everything's so lovely and sweet. I find it very strange that even though I love her work so much, I don't seem to be wanting to do studies of it. Maybe it's the essence in her works, the intangible feelings I get when I look at them that strike me. Another recent artist would be Dice Tsutsumi. His words in a Schoolism class echoed deep with me, that he doesn't believe in talent. Constant practice and observation are what makes you good. Which is also similar in vein to Bobby Chiu's mantra, that artistic ability is like fitness. You need to constantly exercise to keep your body in good working order. Same as art.Closer to home, an ex-colleague of mine, Calvin Chua, is a phenomenal artist. Working beside him really reinforced my desire to be a visual development artist. Even though the day was late, he would often stay behind to do his personal paintings, always painting, always improving. Last but not least would be Adam Savage. His mirth and general attitude are things I try to emulate. His talk on "Why we make" and "Failure" are among the things I listen to when I need something to get me going when I'm lazy.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form? Love it! The basics will never die. The mediums and technology will change, and popularity of one form or another might wane, but there will always be someone out there making hand drawn animation.
Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
Well I have a website here ( messagebilly.wix.com/billyyongart ). It's still very much in need of work, particularly in the visual development side. I also have a blog ( theartofbilly.blogspot.sg ), but I rarely use it. Most of the time I post my art on my personal Facebook page and set them to public. Interesting enough about the selling of my work, my lovely girlfriend made some of my art into postcards for fun and I thought I would sell them to my friends in the dojo. I really didn't expect the turnout to be so good, so maybe there's a future in that. For now however, I am rather content on becoming a better artist than I currently am. I certainly still have a long way to go.