Eclosion

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.

A New Chapter

It’s been terribly long since I had a proper update here, and I think it’s finally time to get down to that.

A lot of things have happened while I was MIA. First of all, after 3 and a half years, I finally graduated from LAAFA! I’m all done with it now, probably done with full-time schooling for the rest of my life. Needless to say, it’s a very big moment for me. Since LAAFA is still currently going through the process of accreditation while I write this, my certificate actually says “Non-Degree Certificate” on it, which I think is hilarious. My official grad show was on May 11, and here are some pictures of how it went down:

The show was LAAFA’s last event at Bergamot Station, which we were vacating due to construction that would begin in summer. So they chose to use our grad show as a last final event. Not many new people actually showed up to it, but it was a great time to meet all my teachers and other students in one place. It was also the only time my portfolio would exist in tangible form — although the school has now put these prints up in a corner of the school back in Van Nuys, which I haven’t actually visited since I graduated.

Of course, talking about my grad show also means naturally, that I must talk about my portfolio. :)

photo-(2)
Here was my portfolio planning board, on which I worked with Peter Han to try and figure out what projects I wanted to include. I had so many different and diverse pieces and projects floating around when we actually sat down to do this (around fall of 2012), and it was just super confusing. Some teachers said, make a portfolio as diverse as you can. Some others said, make a portfolio that was specialized. I also had to think about the specific industry I wanted to end up in, because a portfolio for animation, video games, and movies can be quite different.

My portfolio has been through so many iterations; I started planning out my portfolio since around early 2012, and from that time until May 2013 I had constantly been revising it, going over what pieces and projects to include, what to take out, what to focus on. I had help from a wide variety of instructors and teachers and professionals, but sometimes it seemed as if everyone had a different opinion. Just when I thought I was done with it, I would decide to change something entirely, and it just went on forever. I had also even planned to have my portfolio ready by January 2013, so I would have a large space of time in which to job-hunt, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. In fact, the bulk of my work was completed between January and May 2013.

Finally, around the end of 2012, around December or so, I made up my mind to focus on a specific project that would represent the best of my work. The key reason for doing this was that I felt that if I spread myself too thin, I might compromise on quality, which I absolutely did not want. Therefore, the Shadowsworn project was the result of this decision. I spent months on it, under the mentorship of two teachers, who I worked with closely each week to make sure each piece was as pushed as it could be.

Portfolio Cover

Clicking on the image above will take you to my website, where you can view the full portfolio.

A couple words on Shadowsworn — I had always been fascinated with Rudyard Kipling’s work, and I absolutely dislike the Disney version of the Jungle Book. I felt that with Mr. Kipling’s vast imagination there should be something more to it, and while the Disney version had spectacular animation, a lot of design choices in the film never really sit well with me. I remember the mystical feeling from his Just So Stories as well, and with that in mind, I decided to tackle my own (eventually fantastical) version of the Jungle Book. I rewrote the script to include twisted and corrupted shadowbeasts, which I called the Empty, and to include a race of Ancients who had disappeared for millenia while the jungle’s inhabitants were transformed from their magic into half human, half beast hybrids. Mowgli is the only character in this revised script that is purely human, and the reason why has to do with the fact that (spoiler!) he was the Lord of the Ancients’ (Nag’sla)’s hope at reviving himself, after the rest of the Ancients rebelled against him and sealed him underground, in the process also destroying themselves. It’s a pretty complex script, but I love writing and plots, so I went all out on this.

I had a tremendous and intense amount of mentorship on this project which spanned almost a year to really flesh out and develop in a direction I wanted, and I do not think in any other school I would have received the same amount of attention as I did here. So there’s my LAAFA plug, because I honestly owe so much to the school at being able to realize this.

I remember when I finally put the finishing touches on all the pages, and uploaded it to my new website, there was an enormous sense of “I can’t believe I finally am done with this”. Because it really felt like I’d been working on this for ages. The end result of my website was completely different than how I’d imagined it to be. I’m alright with that, just because I really love the direction I ultimately took.

With that said, this is a big moment for this blog too. Over 3 years ago, when I started it, I had the intention of using it to chronicle my journey through LAAFA, just to see if the school really was able to live up to the expectations I had for it. I think this blog has managed to be a valuable record of that journey for myself, and hopefully for all who read it. However, I also never intended it to be anything more than that, and to that end, I am planning on moving to a different blog and to leave this one here as a repository for education. I will still keep it up, but I’d like this blog to be more of a Q&A, rambling, writing about art sort of thing, while my actual artworks will be posted elsewhere (which I will announce once it’s up). I’d love to answer whatever questions any of you have for me here.

Since I talked so much about my portfolio, I’d like to mention my classmate and friend Ben Smith. This was his graduating portfolio:

http://limebjps.blogspot.com/

I’d like to say that since our classes are so small, you really do spend a lot of time with the same people. My class started with 4 people in January 2010, and finished with 3, but Ben and myself were the two members of the class who stayed throughout all 3 years. So I’m pretty darn proud of his work too since we both worked pretty much at the same time and pushed each other a lot. He’s currently working on a whole bunch of really awesome projects.

As for my own future, I’ve been looking for a job, of course. I’ve also been continuing to freelance on some mobile games offsite while waiting on a more full-time position. I’ll be continuing to update you guys on whatever happens on that front. It’s an exciting time for me, as I am also revamping my online identity in various places. You can now find me as the username Cadaure in most art communities, on deviantArt, CGHub, Conceptart.org.

Re: Don’t go to Art School

Reposting from my Facebook, in response to Noah’s article Don’t Go To Art School.


Woke up this morning to find this article making its rounds through my news feed, and all I can say is…. amen. Don’t go to art school, or if you do, know exactly what it is you’re going to pay (and possibly get in debt) for. I’ve been lucky enough to have been through two separate art educations. One was in a four year, AICAD-approved, accredited and not-for-profit college — sounds like it would tick the right boxes, but most of my learning there was done on my own time, with my own effort, using basically what Noah outlined at the bottom of the article. I still don’t really understand why I paid that much to self-learn.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything — I certainly learned a few tips and tricks as far as using individual software like Illustrator and Indesign and a couple things about prepress. I’m quite certain that such school is a viable, even necessary option for architecture and industrial design and things like that. But particularly for illustration, art school is, as the article says, failing us.

I received my second art education at one of the atelier schools listed, Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art (LAAFA). It was a three year program where my teachers were not just there to ‘facilitate learning’, they actually taught me concrete skills I could use directly. I didn’t pay money to have a teacher go “read this book” or “look this up” — my wonderful teachers gave me that information, in front of me, where I could work beside them and where my teachers actually painted and drew with me in class! After four years of not expecting answers from my classes, I finally got to actually learn things in school. Art was no longer hit or miss. The fundamentals were de-mystified and broken down so I never needed to guess whether my next painting would ‘turn out’ right — I was given tools and knowledge to MAKE it right. Instead of playing illustration lottery I had the resources to make things happen on my own terms.

There is a common myth that art is inborn, a result of talent at worst, or something insanely mystical and made of fairy dust at best. It’s not. Art is mathematical, as much a science as it is taste. There are rules, principles, a literal language that needs to be learned like the ABC. Trying to make an illustration without undergoing this demystifying process was like trying to write a novel without knowing what pronouns were. If you learn the rules, it is very possible to make a picture say what you want, clearly and concisely and elegantly.

Art colleges are failing us because they operate on two false assumptions:

1. That art is a result of ‘talent’ and all that needs to be done is to shove students into a warehouse full of machines to ‘enable’ that talent. How many fine art departments have we encountered with fantastic facilities but very little direction? How many print labs and computer labs do colleges need to build before realizing that it makes little difference? Learning tools is a short-lived victory at best, particularly for illustrators. Learning how to be visually literate is a long-term solution that will pay dividends for years.

2. That students and teachers are all the same; shove them all into a standard curriculum and process them in batches. In my 4 year AICAD art college I was used to jostling for elbow room with up to 30 students in one painting class. Needless to say I spent 16 weeks painting partially glimpsed bits of sterile, boring vases for no reason that I can still remember. I kind of know what battery chickens must feel like going through art school. Students can’t be ‘processed’ through a curriculum or class — everyone is different, every teacher is different and communicates differently. By removing the human element of learning and teaching in art colleges, we lose one of the best and most direct ways for a student to learn and a teacher to teach. Art itself celebrates the diversity and democracy of human expression. But it was always “You need to take X or Y class to graduate” in my first college, never about -who- I was actually supposed to be learning from. If the apprenticeship system worked for hundreds of years for artists, why did art colleges completely strip that away? Could it be because most overpriced art schools try and hide the fact that some of their teachers don’t actually have… directly relevant skills and therefore need to masquerade and throw class titles and curriculums about?

Again, I certainly believe there is a time and occasion for art colleges. In many design fields it is still a solid way to gain a good education, and in many larger colleges the networking can be immensely priceless. There are also often many amazing teachers hidden in the torrent of art schools out there. But there is little doubt that with so many resources out there nowadays, one definitely can become visually literate for the tiniest fraction of the cost of fancy art colleges.

I would never have attended my four year art college if I had known this beforehand. I regret spending that money still. I don’t, however, regret anything I spent becoming visually literate (at LAAFA).


On an unrelated note, I am currently working out a few kinks in my visa application — I’ll be posting an actual proper update soon!

“Illustrating Modern Life” at Pepperdine University

Pepperdine University put up an art of illustration show this spring and I finally took the time to drive down to Malibu to look at the artwork. The show featured about 6 original Leyendecker paintings, a Norman Rockwell, a couple of Maxfield Parrish, Mead Schaeffer, Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Jamie Wilcox Smith, Charles Dana Gibson, Joseph Clement Coll, Harvey Dunn, James Montgomery Flagg, Henry Raleigh, and several other names. I feel extremely grateful to whoever it was that sponsored the show because it was free of charge and utterly amazing. These great illustrators produced astounding works of art that held up even in reproduction, but to see the originals and to be able to stand inches away from Leyendecker’s luscious paint strokes was incredible. The reproductions, while still great, are nothing compared to the rawness of his originals, just like reproductions of Gerome’s paintings do nothing to capture the luminosity that are in the originals.

So, in the hopes of learning from these marvelous artists, I indulged myself with some marker value studies, about 2 by 3 inches each. If I had been able to paint, I would’ve.

pepperdine_sketches

Old Props Sheet

Hello everyone,

I was going through my old work and found some stuff that I forgot I had, that I never posted. Here’s a prop sheet of some objects meant to be in a treehouse interior. I did these the beginning of 2012. Can’t believe it’s already a year later!! Time really flies.

props-sheet

Zbrush

While I’ve been working on my portfolio, I’ve also been dabbling back in some sculpture again…. this time with Zbrush. I don’t reaaaaaally know what I’m doing with it because I’m so unfamiliar with the UI, so I usually have to ask for a lot of help (taking the class with Sze Jones). Regardless, it’s fun, and I’m very pleased with how similar the process is to sculpting with actual clay. It’s almost exactly the same. I’ve been sculpting from the live model.

sze1