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Meet Shawna Saycocie of Oceanfruit in Lake Forest

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shawna Saycocie.

Shawna, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I have been drawing for as long as I have learned to hold a pencil. I was born in Santa Ana, Orange County, California to my immigrant parents, whom were both born in Laos and grew up respectively in Santa Ana (dad) and France (mom). They raised my younger brother and I in Riverside, California where I spent many hours of my childhood in the company of crayons, markers, color pencils, and paper. I am very fortunate to have had the support of my parents from such an early age because their praise pushed me to keep drawing, along with my own personal interest in recreating the lovable characters from cartoons I saw on TV, VHS tapes, and video games.

When my dad was an accountant for the city of Santa Ana, he had heard of a school there called the Orange County High School of the Arts or OCHSA (now known as the Orange County School of Arts/OCSA). OCHSA is a public charter school that runs like a typical school with regular classes and then holds additional specialized art programs such as classical and contemporary dance, musical theater, visual arts, and more, after usual school hours. I prepared my first ever portfolio at the age of 10 and went to a live art test on campus to determine my eligibility. I didn’t make it in.

Regardless, I made it a goal to improve and eventually try applying again, so I continued to draw. I was 12 when I received my first digital Wacom tablet which allowed me to draw in various art programs on my computer. Up until then, I had still been doing a lot of traditional art, using a scanner to upload and share my work online. Along with my love for Western animation media from when I was a child, I now had a new, growing interest in anime. Anime helped pushed my need to grow as an artist because replicating the style meant learning how to accurately draw the human body, while still keeping the stylistic appeal of a cartoon. It was also a common bonding point that allowed me to make friends, on the internet and offline, many of whom I am still friends with today. It was around this time that I knew I wanted to focus on art for my career.

I got accepted into OCHSA for the 2009-2010 school year in the Visual Arts conservatory. I was still living in Riverside, so I started carpooling with my dad up to Santa Ana every morning and eventually learned how to take the metro to and from the cities with other OCHSA students. OCHSA taught me the basic art fundamentals and allowed me to explore new art mediums I hadn’t previously. My art improved exponentially from where I started as I applied what I learned at OCHSA to my work outside of school. At age 16, I had started to take a few small commissions to earn some money and a few years later started tabling at Anime Expo’s Artist Alley, a small marketplace for artists to sell their art, selling prints and stickers I made. I made very little at the time, but this was the start of what would eventually lead to what I do today.

In 2011, I was introduced to Laguna College of Art and Design or LCAD by my friend who was also planning on applying there, specifically because it happened to have an Animation major. Immediately following my graduation from OCHSA in 2012, I attended LCAD where I majored in animation for 3.5 years before dropping out after my first senior semester. I was still intent to do art as a career because I had already dedicated my entire life to it so during the year after I left LCAD at 22, I began looking for freelance work and taking on more commissions online than I had when I was younger. At the end of 2016, I met my current partner who taught me the business aspect of freelancing, which was a major asset to helping me get myself out there along with other new skills, such as how to price my work to help me further succeed. I have now been doing freelance illustration and animation work full time for four years.

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?
Growing up, I’ve always had high expectations for myself and that unfortunately hasn’t really changed. I am a perfectionist through and through. I lack self-confidence and I put a lot of pressure on myself and have a problem with equating my productivity to my self-worth, especially because I often feel like outside of art I don’t have much value as a person to society. When you have invested so much time into something and know that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, the smallest road bumps feel much bigger than they actually are. When I made the decision to drop out of art college, I was not in a good place mentally to continue but the thought of leaving also made me incredibly depressed. I felt that I was disappointing my parents after everything they had invested in me, as well as everyone else who had supported me up to that point in my life. I was especially mad at myself because I was so close to graduating, so why didn’t I just suck it up and stick it out till the end?

I talked with lots of people to get their perspective on the situation. Even though I had already begun looking for work, I took the year off from LCAD to think about it before officially dropping out. However, deep down I knew that I wouldn’t be returning and the longer I was away from college the more that feeling became cemented in me. Despite this, I still get asked by my older relatives today if I plan on going back, even though it’s been over four years and the answer has stayed the same. What I have learned is that there is no single pathway to success and the definition for success is different for everyone. Graduating college is a milestone for many, but it just happens to be one that I missed and that’s ok.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunities I have been given and I know I come from a place of privilege to have had the resources provided to me since I was a child, as well as being able to take risks that many people can not afford to do. My parents have worked hard to give my brother and I support in all forms to follow our interests, even if it seemed risky to let us go down the path as creatives (myself in art and my brother currently studying film). This comes with the guilt that I don’t utilize everything in front of me to its full potential and that I’m not allowed to feel or express any sort of negativity because I have it better than someone else.

Oceanfruit – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am an illustrator and animator, so while I mostly do those things and jobs that fall under that wheelhouse I also have done jobs that are adjacent to them. For example, I’ve previously had to do concept work such as character design, sequential art (comics), and storyboarding. However, since those aren’t my specialties, I tend to focus mostly on illustration and animation work, which involves creating illustrations or stand alone graphic assets and 2D character animation and clean up. Most of my clients are people who are independent creators in the game or animation industry and people looking to commission personal artwork for themselves or gifts for others.

I would say I’m probably most known for my fan art. I love doing fan art because I feel like it’s a nice way to show my love for the media I consume and a small way to say thanks to the people who make them. Fanart is easily accessible to everyone as there is usually an audience already built for whatever you’re making the fan art for, so it’s easier to connect with others personally and get their eyes on your art. It’s how some of my friendships have started as they would come across my work and say, “Hey, I’m a fan of this too!”

In terms of art style and skill, I would say I’m most known for really clean lineart and color harmony. I believe that is what I’ve gotten comments on the most from friends and acquaintances, which makes me really happy since I do put a lot of effort into those things! Ideally, I’d like to be well-rounded so I hope my art is equally appealing and drawn well overall.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
In 2018, I was messaged by someone on Twitter who had come across my art. He was a father of a seven years old girl who loves to snowboard and was, at the time, represented by a company that crafts snowboards and skis. He had been looking to commission an artist to make a custom design for his daughter’s board and was excited to find me because he had read on my page that I am Laotian, just like her. My art was also in line with his daughter’s interests: bright colors, cute cartoons, and anime. It was the first time I had ever designed something that would be printed on a large, physical item but thanks to the snowboard company, the print turned out beautifully! It was so exhilarating seeing photos and videos of the young athlete out on the slopes or proudly holding up her board with my artwork on it. Outside of my own family, I don’t know too many Laotians online or in my area, so this was a commission that I felt a personal connection with. I’m glad I was able to work with them and I hope that even if she has outgrown her snowboard by now, that the family can still look at it and remember pleasant memories too!

This proud moment happened very recently: about two years ago, I got a commission to make a mini-comic about a couple who were about to get married as a wedding gift from some friends of theirs. They had the comic printed and framed and when the couple received the gift they were so surprised! This past month, the same friends came back to ask if I could make a family portrait to celebrate the birth of the couple’s first child. I’m excited to have been able to capture this new family’s moments in my art not once, but twice! Thank you Vinh and Melissa for supporting me and giving me this opportunity. I sincerely wish the new family all the best and hope they continue to fill their home with love.

Last but not least is something that if I’m feeling sentimental tends to make me cry recounting it. When I was at my lowest and having my first breakdowns about dropping out of college, my dad went online and bought me the domain for the website that I use today, “artofoceanfruit,” as a way of showing his support. He had set up a small site using a free template he found and put some of my art he had saved on his computer as placeholders for me to eventually fill out on my own. This especially meant the world to me because I already was feeling like a failure in the eyes of my parents for even considering dropping out. It meant that even with all the fear and doubt I had regarding my future, my dad was still rooting for me and the decision I would make. As much as I would like to own the domain, “oceanfruit.com” I will always have special attachment to this one. (I would like to take a moment to thank my friend Drew Gamble, who has been the one helping me update and customize my website, among other tasks, when I first started utilizing it. Thank you Gamb!)

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