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Meet Dom Lay

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dom Lay.

Dom, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a writer, illustrator, and concept artist living in Orange County, California. Ever since I was a young child, I always knew I wanted to invest in a career that could potentially be meaningful and fulfilling for my future. Growing up as an only child, I wasn’t born into a life of luxury as many would think, but I was always surrounded by creativity. Both of my parents were refugees escaping from Cambodia to America, fleeing genocide during the Vietnam conflict. Coming here, my dad worked in small graphic design gigs for a good part of his life, creating hand-painted fonts for stores and billboard signs. As a kid looking up to him, I was inspired by his self-taught ability to create that sort of work, because it looked so professional, like it was printed from a machine. Just that artistry and craftsmanship alone sparked my interest to draw and paint as a kid. But my dad eventually gave up that job and went into postal work, and my mom went into accounting. I wanted to go into the arts, but I was told by my family that it was difficult, it was risky, and it was unconventional.

I was pretty stubborn as a child and I pursued the arts anyway because I knew some part of that was destined for my life, even though I was pressured to become a doctor or an engineer time and time again. But I knew deep down, those careers would not bring me long-term happiness. Seeing my dad drop out from his God-given skills and talents, made me want to take over the reigns and become the first person in my family to make art as my career, and to pursue something greater than a menial, 9-5 job. This wasn’t just about earning money anymore. Eventually my parents believed in me once I convinced them that I was in this for the long haul.

Come 2014, I was 20 years old, and I came across “concept art and illustration for films and games.” I didn’t know what it was at the time, neither did I think it was possible to have as a career, but after researching online more, I knew that was the kind of artist I wanted to become. At the time, I was taking general education classes at my local community college and spent my off days trying to improve in my craft watching every YouTube video and every free online resource about this career that I could find. I was obsessed with learning how to paint. Most of my years learning was by teaching myself. During those years, I had no real sense of direction or mentors to guide me and my art, so I had to do it on my own. I became my own self-critic for awhile.

It wasn’t until the spring of 2017 that I finally enrolled at Laguna College of Art and Design, and that was when my artistic journey began to really kick off. I am grateful to this day to have met so many new friends and mentors to help establish my vision for my future. I am forever thankful for my parents for supporting me through my life as well, because ultimately for me, it is to make them and my other family members proud. If it were not for my parents working the extra hours, I would not be where I’m at now. I made a promise to myself and them to push through to achieve my goals and dreams with sureness and conviction regardless of what anyone had told me. Currently, I am freelancing, and on the side, I’m writing, concepting, and illustrating my very own art book that is soon to be finished and published by the middle of 2020. I give a lot of credit to my main mentor and good friend Scott Flanders for helping me to find my voice as an artist and leading my portfolio in the direction it is today.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Not at all. I struggled a lot with self-doubt during my early days of learning this trade. Thankfully I was fortunate enough to not go through crippling self-depression. I used optimism to my advantage, but it was still a fighting battle with myself to get better because I knew this industry was relentless and competitive, so I had to put my head in the game and improve since no one else was going to do that for me. Because I made an oath to myself and my family that I would pursue this, complaints and excuses were not an option.

Sometimes I would ditch classes just to learn this stuff. I’d lock myself in my room for hours at a time everyday to grind at my craft, practicing and failing over and over again after each new painting and drawing I did, and studying the artists I looked up to. But luckily, I appreciated the process. I enjoyed this journey. I was mostly competing against myself, to be better than I was yesterday and the day before, and so on. These days, I’m just cruising through art and enjoying the ride. I am still learning new things everyday, but the hard, difficult grind part is over.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As an artist, I specialize in world-building and visual development. However, my main passion in the arts is telling stories through my work. Personally, I believe stories are what sparks further creativity and imagination. It also leads to more open-ended questions, like why a character is the way they are or the way they act, and what their story and background is. Writing is also such a crucial component to my work.

I believe that when an image does not have any sort of context or information behind it, it becomes generic for me, and leaves me wanting to know more about the subject matter, no matter how cool the design looks. Some of my favorite films have the best stories in them and it’s how I remember those stories that I always go back to them again and again.

My approach to art is definitely informal to what most concept artists would expect out of a portfolio. At my core, I’m a painter and illustrator, so I communicate my ideas mostly through a series of paintings collectively rather than drawings. Mood, lighting, and composition are some of my strongest areas artistically, to invoke some sense of emotional impact in my viewers. Without that special sauce, I haven’t done my job as an artist. If I can’t inspire myself through my own paintings and drawings, then I am not even close to inspiring the people who look at my work.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I definitely plan to teach full time someday in the future, whether that be in the form of teaching at a private institution, a small prep program, or even setting up my own online mentorship. My ultimate goal would be to open up a personalized business/studio of some sort, where people can openly create and collaborate on new intellectual properties and projects with each other. I don’t see myself working in the film and game industry forever, as my main focus is to help other artists reach their own goals and milestones with some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years to offer to them.

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