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Meet Nellie Le

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nellie Le.

Nellie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
When I was growing up, my dad had a subscription to National Geographic magazine which is where my love for animals started. For most of my early childhood, I actually wanted to be a veterinarian when I grow up. I also watched a lot of mid-century Disney animated shorts, which has had a major influence on my work today. I loved drawing and making things with my hands, but I never thought I was any good at it or that it could ever be a career.

In school, I excelled at math and science which led me to initially major in mechanical engineering. But after my first quarter at Cal Poly Pomona, I quickly changed my major to graphic design out of boredom. Throughout high school, I taught myself HTML, made websites for fun, and occasionally designed a flyer for the school dance—so I thought studying graphic design would be the closest thing to that. Halfway through my time at Cal Poly, I ended up transferring to Cal State Long Beach where I finished my degree and received a BFA in Graphic Design.

After a few years of struggling as a freelance graphic designer and struggling to land a full-time job, I decided to try something else. In my free time, I had started painting—at first with watercolor, because it’s easy cleanup and very economical. From there, I eventually transitioned into painting with acrylic gouache, which is an acrylic paint that is formulated to mimic gouache. It’s very matte and flat, which is great for scanning and making reproductions.

One summer, I got the opportunity to intern with one of my favorite artists, Amanda Visell. I learned a lot from her, and she changed the way I think about painting. Shortly after, I started getting invited to participate in gallery exhibitions. Aside from participating in exhibitions, I also run an online store where I sell prints and other products with my artwork.

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?
I would say my journey has been more like a very bumpy road with a whole lot of detours. One of the biggest struggles was being able to admit and commit to what it is I really want to do with my life & career. I stuck with graphic design for so long because I felt I had already put so much time into it that I had to see it through.

I was also told in school that being a graphic designer was the more practical of art careers. But I had thought about being an artist since in my late teens; I just didn’t think I had the skills to do it. So a lot of the struggle for me was internal. I had a lot of fear pursuing a career as an artist, and I needed to find a way to believe in myself.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I am an artist and illustrator. I only started pursuing this career path two years ago. I work 99% in traditional media, primarily acryla gouache and gouache. The only digital part of my process is when I scan my work into the computer and make color corrections or edits in Photoshop. I’m mostly known from painting animals, especially cats. I’m often commissioned to paint pet portraits. I participate in gallery exhibitions with Giant Robot here in LA and Grumpy Bert in Brooklyn. I run my own online store where I sell mini original paintings, prints, enamel pins, and other products featuring my art.

I’m most proud of being able to grow my fanbase in such a short amount of time. I only started pursuing an art career more seriously in the past two years.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite childhood memory is of all the Disney animated shorts I watched growing up—notably “The Little House,” “Susie the Little Blue Coupe,” and “A Cowboy Needs A Horse.” I still re-watch them today when I need a little pick me up.

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