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Meet Vivien Wu

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vivien Wu.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Vivien. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
I grew up in a very creative household and had been drawing pretty much since I could hold a pen. My parents, both artists, always had a lot of books and art supplies around the house. My earliest memories were spent sitting in front of the TV watching Saturday morning cartoons and later drawing my favorite characters from memory. I also had a bit of a backyard zoo, and my cat, rabbit, lizard, and pigeons were the inspiration for some of my very first comic strips.

I spent all of elementary and middle school drawing and entering art contests, eventually putting together a portfolio to get into the L.A. County High School for the Arts (LACHSA). Lachsa was one of a kind experience because I was surrounded by talented classmates who loved visual arts, music, dance, and theater. I made a lot of good memories there and taking all those art classes really prepared me in advance for the rigorous program at Art Center College of Design.

Attending the Art Center opened the door to many opportunities. In my 3rd year, I wanted to explore my career options a bit, and I got my first internship at DreamWorks Animation in the Creative department, designing toys, graphics, and all studio-related merchandising. While it was a valuable experience, I wanted a job that would allow me to do some kind of narrative illustration or design.

For my graduation portfolio, I re-imagined a favorite childhood book series, Madeline, as if it were an animated feature film. It was definitely a passion project, and I did a lot of film studies and color keys to find the right mood and style. During my term’s graduation show, I met recruiters from Disney Publishing who wanted me on the team to illustrate picture books. That was my first full-time job out of school, and it was amazing, to say the least!

It was a relatively small department of very skilled art directors and artists. We were responsible for not only illustrating the books but also managing overseas artists. I learned a lot about the publishing process during my time there, and it was my first opportunity to illustrate many cool series like Little Golden Books!

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?
I think a lot of the struggles were internal at first because I went through periods of doubt about whether I could make it in the industry. So I definitely overworked myself and experienced a lot of burnout, but I did my best with the jobs I got. In the beginning, I took on work that underpaid because I didn’t have the confidence or previous experience to do otherwise.

My instructors taught me more about the business side of art, and how to negotiate for better rates. Some of the struggles I have now are different, such as having very tight project deadlines, and often not having enough time to juggle everything that I want to take on. Ever since I started working though, things have gotten easier, and it’s been a snowball effect of picking up more work.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I’m currently illustrating a series of chapter books with Penguin Random House and doing freelance background painting for Warner Bros TV Animation.

With publishing projects, the designer sends me a manuscript or written brief, and I do rough sketches based on it. Once those are approved, I start on the final art, and that goes through another round of approvals. Working in TV animation has been much more fast-paced; I receive a black and white background done by the background designers, and my task is to paint it. It is standard to do up to two or three paintings a day.

So far I’m proud of having worked in both publishing and animation, and I think what sets me apart is my ability to be flexible in different mediums. I’ve often had people tell me that my work gives them a sense of “nostalgia,” which is nice because I always try to evoke some kind of mood in my pieces. I have an affinity to a lot of the classic children’s books and illustrators and draw much of my inspiration from them.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
It’s good timing actually because I’ve just finished my job as a full-time background painter on the show ‘Unikitty!’ on Cartoon Network. I’m in a transitional phase now where I’m able to take some time off to just draw for fun, and I’m excited to see where that leads me.

I have some ideas floating around for a picture book I want to explore and eventually try pitching to a publisher. On the side, I run an Etsy store where I sell prints of cat-related art and other silly, random nonsense. It’s cool when I get positive feedback from people who visit my shop, and I’d love to try expanding into making products like fabrics and pins, or taking commissions.

Now that I’m freelancing again, I’d like to make an effort to be more active online and show my process, because I always love seeing what goes on behind the scenes for other creators.

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