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Meet Yolanda Leif

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yolanda Leif.

Yolanda, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a twenty-three year old illustrator, born in the Philippines but mostly raised in Orange County, California. Even as a child, I found myself always fascinated with creating art. I was (and still am) largely influenced by pop cultures such as video games and anime. I was also very fortunate to grow up in a household that supported my creative aspirations. My mom is an architect/designer and definitely had an artistic influence on me at a young age. Also, in elementary school, my best friends and I would meet up every lunch to share our original comics and drawings. Art has also been a great way to cope with things that have happened in my life.

I have gone through many difficult experiences that made me who I am today. I don’t like to dwell on the past too much, but I think it is important to recognize obstacles that have deeply affected myself. At an early age, I lost my father and then my older brother. I went through severe depression and anxiety for most of my life and was diagnosed with Bipolar I in the last few years. While Bipolar, I is heavily stigmatized, I especially want to mention it because of that. I am not ashamed of it. I hope by being open about this, I can contribute to a more accepting society. One of my goals is to be a successful artist that can inspire those with bipolar, or another heavily stigmatized mental illness, proving that it’s possible to have a stable, happy life.

I’m currently working as a freelance illustrator and breaking into the illustration and game industry. I’m constantly drawing/painting for several hours every day so I can improve and have solid portfolio pieces that I can use to search for new opportunities.

Has it been a smooth road?
I would say it has not been a smooth road for me. Losing my family and experiencing severe depressive episodes has taken quite a toll on my mental health. Additionally, manic episodes have led me to make some rash decisions. Still, I am better than where I was years ago, but it is still a daily struggle for me. Bringing myself to go to therapy and experimenting with many kinds of medications for several years has not been easy.

However, there are still many positives in my life. My fiancé, Nick, has been one of the most positive influences in my life. He motivates me to better myself not for his sake, but for myself. Nick inspires me to follow my passion no matter what and to never give up despite how hard things have been. Even with all that, he also gives me constructive critiques on most of my pieces so I can keep improving. Both our families have been very supportive of my endeavors. My friends also support my art very much and I am thankful for them.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I specialize in digital illustration and have also worked as a pixel artist and character designer on video games.

I am primarily self-taught and have learned much of my knowledge and process through the internet. However, I did take a couple of drawing classes in community college and had one semester at an art school. While I did well in art school and made great friends, it was just too expensive to justify it personally.

Although I am still beginning as an artist, I am proud of how hard I work every day on improving my art. No matter how dark of a place I’m in, I do my best to get out of bed, sit down in front of my tablet, and draw as much as I can.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I feel like Southern California is especially a thriving place for art. There are many video game studios, art galleries, and renowned art schools. My main concern is that we so often hear about the arts’ funding getting cut everywhere. I hope that people will realize that art has a significant effect on everybody and our society as a whole. Our communities should recognize that and support every kind of art.

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