So… This post has really been supposed to have been written a while ago, but I held off on it, maybe because I didn’t know what to really say.
I started work in August as a full-time concept artist at Riot Games. I can’t even begin to describe what a big thing this is for me.
If you had asked me ten years ago what I’d be doing now, I would’ve said I’d be a graphic designer. I was in fact adamant about being one, but only because I didn’t know what graphic design really was. I wanted to go to a local art school in Singapore, where I’m from — but a couple of factors pushed me to attend art college in the US instead. So I went to Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio. It was okay, but during the second year I got this sinking feeling in my stomach when I thought about graphic design, so I took that as a sign that I should switch majors to Illustration instead. I did so, and in junior year I finally got the guts to sign up on conceptart.org.
The forums were a big thing back then. It was really a case of, I didn’t have the direction I needed in school, and those forums gave me a lot of it, so I began to learn more and more about what concept art was. I’d see feature articles on concept art on random websites and it was mind-blowing, it was very much this ‘hand of God’ effect. I just couldn’t fathom how such cool and beautiful images were made — and I wanted to make them too. I learned about this profession called concept art, and it seemed too good to be true. I read everywhere that it was nearly impossible to become one because of the competition and the limited number of jobs available. But during my last year of college, I didn’t know what else I could do. So I decided to see if I could make a concept art portfolio and try anyway.
In 2009, after graduating, I sent out my portfolio then to a bunch of game companies and never saw anything back. I got a couple of rejection letters, but mostly I was ignored. It was a pretty sobering moment when I realized that despite all I had believed, it wasn’t going to work. I was pretty crushed, and I thought about giving up, because it just seemed like such a distant faraway dream. I was also not from the United States, and I was aware that the odds were stacked even higher against me. As a foreigner in any country, one has to basically be worth it for a company to want to hire them. I thought about giving up and going home, but I’d get that same sinking feeling and I knew I would be miserable if I did so.
I was really frustrated and angry and confused in 2009. I think a good number of art students, upon graduating, have had fears about not actually being ‘good enough’, and in my case it seemed like those fears had realized themselves. I couldn’t get a job anywhere and I felt as if I had no skills worth anything, even after sinking money and time over the four years into art school. I wanted to understand why I had failed to make any sort of impact. I wanted to know more, to learn more. I think the failure then drove me to thirst for a lot of answers, and I chose to attend Laafa because I wanted those answers. When I actually received my answers, it was like water in a desert to a dying man. I wanted more answers and so I asked more questions. I grew to really love learning, to enjoy thirsting for solutions.
I went through a lot of panic in my last year at Laafa. The dogs were baying in my head again, reminding me of what had happened the last time I graduated from art school. I wasn’t sure if what I was doing was futile. The thing that kept me going was that I fell in love with my final project, and it was essential to me that I tried to flesh it out as much as I could. I learned a lot about myself this last year — chief of all that this was what I was meant to do. I could do something else and survive, or I could tell stories and build worlds and live. I received the luxury of a whole year to develop my project and I threw myself into it, because that’s what I felt like I needed to do.
I did not grow up in a place that was very conducive to being an artist. When I was growing up, it was looked down on, it was considered inferior to the more practical pursuits of science and math. Censorship, in all forms, was widely encouraged; the more machine-like you were, the better you fared. I stopped drawing for a few years at one point because even I began to believe that it was a pointless pursuit. These past years have been a cumulative recovery to more innocent times, shedding the yoke of censorship and embracing who I really was and what I was here for.
In August, I was hired full-time. I was in shock, because that’s the only reaction I could really have after five years of wanting this so badly. I’d done it, I had proved, most importantly, to myself — what I was made of. The feelings I experienced were unspeakable. All I can say is that I wanted it so badly, for so long; I wanted a chance to learn things schools could no longer teach me. I wanted it so much I lost a lot of things over it. But this was and is my life’s work, and despite the journey it took to get here, I would do it all over again if I had the choice. Because this — this is worth it.