Every semester, the KCAI Illustration department compiles a list of artists that the students admire and are inspired by to invite to speak and present at our school. After the list of artists is put together, the students vote on the two they want to see most, and one of each of those two artists comes each semester. The visiting artist sends an assignment for all the students in the department to complete a couple weeks before they come and speak, prompting the whole department to turn out their best work in hopes of being chosen as one of the best by the visiting artist.
For this semester, our department nominated our visiting artist to be Victo Ngai. Victo Ngai is only at the beginning of her career, and is already one of the most successful young illustrators in the industry. Born in Hong Kong, she developed a love of art very early in her life, and even showed us images from when she was six in her presentation to us. She graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010, which means she has only been professionally freelancing for less than five years, and has already been published by the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Washington Post, IMAX, McDonalds, and so many more prestigious clients. Her lushly detailed, vibrantly colored work, with her blunt sense of humor and incredible skill had made her a favorite inspiration and role model in the Illustration department even before we officially invited her to be a visiting artist with us a week ago.
The assignment for Victo’s visit was to create a wine label for a Pinot Noir called “The Magician”. We were to make an image that would not only create a sense of wonder and mysticism but also speak to the complex to the flavours of the wine. We received the assignment a week before Victo arrived, which may seem like a lot of time, but once we all started working on our pieces it definitely didn’t seem like enough! However, by the time the due date came around we were all blown away by the amazing pieces we all managed to produce in such a short amount of time.
Once everyone had their labels done we got them all sent off to Victo and she spent a night going through and picking her 25-30 favourites that we would discuss the next day. She picked a wide variety of images. Some were very typography based, others were character based and many were a wonderful combination of the two. Normally, the visiting artist would have everything set up in such a way that they would pick their top 25 or so favourites, and then have between 3-5 that would get to go to dinner with them and the Illustration faculty at Cafe Trio, a local restaurant. But this time, Victo liked many of them so much that she was only able to narrow them down to 6 that she liked and had the students vote on their top three. Our winners this year were Kelsey Wroten, Coleman Stampley, and Kristopher Martin.
Having worked as a successful illustrator for several years now, Victo had some words of wisdom to impart to us. She stressed the importance of communication in art. An illustrator’s job is to create a visual bridge that connects the idea of the client to their audience. One way to ensure that is not to set too many boundaries for yourself when you’re just starting out, such as, “I will only paint in red and blue” or “I will only draw images of cats.” She expressed that, despite the fact that editorials are often the bread and butter of most illustrators’ careers, that we should still be open to venues that we wouldn’t often think to seek out. One instance is Tor, a sci-fi/fantasy book publisher. They seek out artists that don’t often do sci-fi/fantasy work, so that their covers don’t become clichéd and stale. Other times you might have to do imagery for an article about something that doesn’t interest you at all, like retirement funds. Regardless of the subject, you should strive to enjoy what you’re doing, because often times it will take you in a new direction or help you discover something that you might not have thought you would like. Last but not least, as a freelance artist you should always remember that YOU are working for YOURSELF. When you go to meet that art director to discuss your fancy cool new job you’re going there on equal footing. You’re working together as a partnership to visually solve a problem so it’s important to go in there with confidence in yourself and the things that you do. Don’t worry too much about it because that art director WANTS you to be there. They picked you for a reason.
It was a huge pleasure and honor to have such an accomplished, incredible artist come speak at our school, to offer us both critique on our work and wisdom she’d learned from her’s. We can’t thank Victo enough, and wish her much more success in the future!
And here are the three winning images...
...and the three runner-ups! Congrats to all!
Post written by Cassie Allen and Purps Percival