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Meet Little Tokyo Animator and Illustrator: Judith Contreras

Today we’d like to introduce you to Judith Contreras.

Judith, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a plethora of things. I enjoyed playing doctor, pretending to be a teacher, and even help nurture animals like a vet. It had never come to my mind that I wanted to be an artist, even if I enjoyed doodling from time to time. Ever since elementary school, I was always told by my friends, teachers, and family that my art was amazing, so that was one of the reasons why I kept on drawing. The people I was surrounded by kept supporting me, so I’m grateful for their nice comments. Looking back at my older drawings (Yes, I still have them!), it’s embarrassing looking back at my sloppy, energetic doodles, but they still manage to bring a smile to my face.

I used to doodle every single day during elementary, but once I entered middle school, I had completely stopped. The main reason why I stopped was because of my parent’s divorce. It had affected me emotionally quite harshly. I still remember the restaurant my dad took us to tell me, my little brother, and my little sister the bad news. I still don’t like that restaurant. After my dad broke the bad news, on the next day, my mom took me and my siblings away. We were going to start living with her family, but I didn’t want to leave my hometown. On that same day, since I was too young to have a cell phone, I locked myself up in my aunt’s bedroom and called my dad so he could take me back. I remember crying and begging if he could take me back, while my aunt kept knocking on the door and growing angry by what I did. I was eventually picked up by my dad and both me and my brother went back home. We had to leave my little sister behind, since she was still too young to leave my mother’s side (she would eventually come join us though).

Since we didn’t have a mother anymore that could help us out, and since my dad was always working until late, as the older sister, I took on a lot of responsibilities while still going to school, so I wasn’t able to focus on drawing as much. When I did have time to doodle (usually on my school notes), my drawings had a lot of dark undertones because I was unhappy with my current situation.

As I grew older, everything because slightly easier on me, and once I got into high school, I gained a lot of friends that helped me get through my depression. I began drawing more frequently, and my interest in drawing was re-sparked because of them. During this time, this is when I was 100% certain that I wanted to pursue a career in drawing, because it was something that I truly enjoyed doing. My father was really strict (especially on grades)! He once scolded me for getting an A MINUS, but after that incident, I didn’t get anything lower. It was a little funny to me how strict he could be about grades and other aspects, but when it came to my career choice, he was very lax about it. He never asked me if I wanted to change my career, or if I was certain on what I was choosing, he just accepted what I wanted to do in life. Because of him, I wouldn’t be where I am today! He always kept pushing me and pushing me to do my best. He drilled the traits of working hard and staying determined in me. He helped guide me to keep drawing and pushed me through the boundaries, and I’m forever grateful for that.

Just recently, I graduated college with a degree in animation, and I’m slowly getting the hang of being an adult. At the moment, I still don’t know where my life will lead me, but as long as I continue working hard, I know it’ll be a great place to be in. Also, if anyone out there is hiring, I’m definitely available and interested!

Has it been a smooth road?
It has definitely not been a smooth road, I’ll tell you that! While I have faced a multitude of external challenges, such as not finding enough time to draw due to personal responsibilities and unexpected situations that come tumbling down like a boulder rolling down a cliff, I feel like a lot of my struggles are internal.

There are times when I feel like I’m drawing something and it just won’t turn out right. Sometimes while I’m animating, maybe a motion isn’t turning out like I wanted, so I end up getting frustrated and come back to it later. When nothing is going your way, I begin to question my ability and ask myself “Am I not good enough”? I try to look at inspiration to become motivated during those difficult times, but then I see all these amazing artists and go into depressive slumps because I don’t feel like I’m competent enough.

Of course, this type of thinking isn’t healthy at all, and you should never compare your progress to another artist’s works, but it does get to me sometimes. At this stage in life, I’m still not 100% comfortable with my art, and I do want to get better and improve! As I continue to grow as both an animator and an illustrator, I’m hoping to work hard to get better, so I can become much happier with my artwork. As long as I don’t give up, and as long as I keep pushing forward, I can never blame myself for not trying.

What role has luck had in your life and career?
Hmm, wow this is quite a tough question! I can’t think of any specific instances of good or bad luck that have happened to me, but I know I have encountered both of them in my life. Luck has definitely had a very important role in my life that has allowed me to grow as an individual and as an artist. There have been various occasions where I would be rushing to finish something and something bad happens at the last second. In the beginning, I feel very frustrated, but I’ve learned to become more patient and to take it easy when things become too overwhelming for me. Bad luck has taught me how to be more patient and accepting of whatever happens. However, luck (specifically good luck) has also helped encourage me to do better and it gave me an optimistic perspective on life. Whenever I’ve felt that luck has been on my side, it makes me want to become a better person and a better artist. It keeps me from stagnating and it always helps keep me going. So far, I feel like I’ve had more good luck on my side that has allowed me to get to where I am today, but it could also be because I mainly focus on the positive aspects of life. Even when you’re feeling like the unluckiest person, there’s always a positive outlook on any situation.

Do you feel like there are certain traits that increase the likelihood of success?
I definitely believe that my optimism is the most important quality that’s been the most important to my success. If you try to see the positives of every outcome, you’re more likely to learn and grow as an individual. If I didn’t get a certain result I wanted, I look at the issue in a more positive light and analyze what went wrong and how I could do better next time. Being a positive person has also allowed me to get along and make friends with various people. You don’t need sunshine if it can be provided by the laughter and smiles of those around you (although sunshine is still nice and healthy for you)!

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love the diversity among people in Los Angeles! There is a vast majority of people that you can meet along the street or in a restaurant and it makes me feel happy to be a part of it. A majority of the people I’ve encountered so far have also been pretty nice to me, plus I enjoy that there are so many opportunities here and great places to eat!

While I love a lot of things about LA, my least favorite thing about it is the homeless problem. It really breaks my heart to see so many people without a home. I remember always walking home from school and there was this homeless man that always took off his hat to ask me for money. I never had changed to give him anything, until one day I did. I was thinking of giving him my change, but he wasn’t in his usual spot anymore. There was a paper with his picture on it and some candles and flowers. He had passed away. I felt so awful that day. I was planning to help him but I was already too late. I was really upset and I wish I could have done something to help him.

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Image Credit:
Judith Contreras

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