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Meet Michelle Dinh

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michelle Dinh.

Michelle, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up, I didn’t have the traditional nuclear family, I was raised primarily by my grandmother and younger aunts. My family loved me but they were often away to make ends meet. It’s a common upbringing for children of immigrants and refugees. My family left Cambodia to escape the civil war in the 1970s to have a better life. However, like most situations for immigrants and refugees, they came here with nothing and had to work even harder to survive in a new country.

My aunts saw the value of an education but they weren’t as active as they wanted in raising me since they had to go to college and also work as well to provide income. My grandmother had a stroke when I was seven and was unable to walk again from that. I was given a lot of crayons and washable markers and Disney VHS tapes to be kept busy since my grandmother couldn’t take care of me the way she used to. I’ve been drawing ever since that and found comfort in art. Drawing had always been a way for me to cope with things I couldn’t control. Like most 90s kids, I was raised on Sailor Moon and Miyazaki films and became inspired to someday make art for children like me.

For as long as I could remember, I always wanted to be an artist. I voiced my interests in it but was always dismissed by adults for they felt it wasn’t practical. I remember the exact moment I tucked the dream away. I was twelve years old and I wanted to please my family and go the traditional career route. I didn’t take any art classes since I was trying to fit into that mold but I drew whenever I could as an outlet. I acted up a lot in my middle school and high school years for I felt unhappy. It wasn’t until I finally decided to take an art class my junior year when I was inspired and motivated by my teacher. When applying for colleges, it came as a shock to everyone that I decided to pursue art as a career.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Naturally, my family wasn’t happy about it. They felt I was too smart to be wasting my potential in a career that wasn’t stable. My father who wasn’t present in my life voiced his concerns when I was 17 and told me I wasn’t talented at all. I was stubborn and decided to pursue earning a degree in Illustration. There were A LOT of struggles in my college years. I was around so many talented artists that took classes for years before college and it showed. I was at a disadvantage for growing up I tried to reject my passion and didn’t try to pursue it until 18. I struggled with foundation classes immensely and was told by a few professors that I wasn’t good enough. I had other personal life issues that really discouraged me as well and made me feel that working to earn a degree in art was a mistake. I felt so foolish and unskilled and there was a time I stopped putting effort in my art.

There were so many times that I wanted to give up but my stubbornness refused to allow me to do that. I continued with the process of earning my BA in Illustration. In my last semester as a junior, I decided to apply to the BFA Illustration program the beginning of my senior year. I was told by many people I wouldn’t get accepted since it was a competitive art program and that only selects a certain amount of students per year. I ignored them and for two months before the application deadline, I made artwork every single day to improve my portfolio. Those two months wasn’t easy at all. I had to balance out making new work while keeping up with my class assignments and I also worked part-time. To make things worse, my grandma had another stroke during this time. I kept making art still and had nights where I didn’t sleep at all but during that time, I was reminded why I wanted to pursue art. I make art as an outlet when things are bad in life and I wanted to make work to make people happy.

To everyone’s surprise – my professors and classmates, I got in.

Please tell us more about your art.
I recently graduated last year in spring 2019. I’m currently trying to navigate how to make a living as an artist. As of now, I’m working as a freelance artist while having a day job. I’m also taking a few art classes here and therefor I feel there’s always room for improvement. I’m working to earn my graphic design certificate but it’s currently on hold due to Covid-19. For about six months, I worked as an art instructor for an independent company that goes to public schools that don’t have the funding for art classes. It’s been an interesting first year out of college to say the very least. I like to keep busy and I won’t stop until I achieve my dream.

I’m an illustrator who’s work is driven by color and all things whimsical. There are fantasy and surrealist elements in my work that cover themes of empowerment, identity, and the human psyche. As of now, I primarily work digitally and my main focus is to provide a voice through my editorial work. I aspire to become a children’s book illustrator and someday make my own books to give representation to Asian Americans as well as create worlds for children to get lost in.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment so far is that I’m making editorial art regarding to the events of Covid-19. It’s been so nice to have people reach out to me on social media to let me know how much my editorials have touched them and made their day during this unknown time of social distancing. Some of my work is going to be published in independent magazines and zines that all proceeds will be donated to help lower income families that are struggling during this time.

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