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Life & Work with Mia Zhang

Today we’d like to introduce you to Mia Zhang.

Hi Mia, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I was born in China but came to the US for elementary school, then moved back for middle school and came to California for high school, and I’ve been here ever since. Basically, I’ve moved around a lot all my life, and every time someone asks me where I’m from, I have to give an elaborate explanation. But throughout my whole life, I’ve always been drawing, and it was kind of set in stone for me that I would want to do something art-related as a career. I started drawing in kindergarten and progressed from copying Pokemon art with crayon to posting my cringy original anime characters on Deviantart. I started taking art more seriously in high school and started taking portfolio-building classes to get ready for college. I’m currently attending Art Center College of Design, and I’m about to graduate soon. Art Center actually wasn’t my first choice of college, but looking back there’s no other school I would have rather went to. It’s been a tough four years that felt long and short at the same time. I’ve learned so much and met some of the best people ever!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Some of the biggest struggles I’ve had at Art Center are being seriously humbled by all the great artists here and also finding my own creative voice. I think most people going to art school were probably the “quirky art kid that draws” in high school. You’re in your small bubble, thinking “haha yes, I’m the next Picasso” until you are kicked into an environment where everyone is incredibly talented (and competitive). I’ve learned to put my ego aside and value how we all push each other to be better. In terms of my creative voice, I’m still learning to listen to it instead of doing what other people want me to do. I think it’s definitely more solidified compared to a few years ago, but I still have a long way to go. It’s really a constant struggle when you are always comparing yourself to your peers. And then you also have to consider what the industry wants. It’s all a jumbled mess, but I try to find a good balance between all that and still experimenting with styles and ideas. Because in the end, your art looks best if you’re having fun with it.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I’m still struggling to find what I “specialize”. Right now, I’m more of “do a little bit of everything” type of person, and I’m not really in a hurry to specialize even after graduation. I’m learning to be patient with myself, so if I end up wanting to specialize, that’s great, if I end up a generalist that’s fine too. If I had to slap a label on myself, I’d be both a visual development artist and character designer, but I’m also working on honing down my storyboarding skills. In terms of what I’m known for, I think people know me best for my use of color. Even though I kinda don’t put much thought into it, I just slap it on somewhat willy nilly. But then again, I am proud of my color sense in combination with my design sense in shapes and composition (I’m still working to get those better). I think what sets me apart is my versatility in combination with my artistic voice. It’s like I’ve developed an on/off switch. I can be versatile when I need to but I can also draw in my own style if I need to.

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Have a solid foundation going into art school. I think a lot of people assume that you can go in without any skills prior but that is not the case. You will only have at most two years to learn foundation skills, and that won’t be enough for a complete beginner. But once foundation skills are down, there is really no right answer to art anymore, that is the most exciting yet scariest and hardest part. Have a library of artists that you like, and pull inspiration from all forms of art. Before you know it, you will notice a pattern of things that you like, and this will help develop your personal voice. You might be eager to have a unique style or be worried that your art style is not unique enough. I personally think that no artist’s style is completely unique. I consider even the most unique styles out there to just be part of a niche. Rather than focusing on that, focus on what art you like/have fun making. Sooner or later, your personal voice will shine through.

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