For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an illustrator. Like any kid, illustrated books and animations would ignite a fiery passion inside me. It was the idea that I could unlock anything in my head, if I could draw it. There were no boundaries- I drew transparent dinosaurs with their guts hanging out, or the most evil Scar character imaginable (Lion King was really big). I drew saber- toothed tigers with extra, extra long teeth, and witches shrouded in capes and heeled boots that could have come out of a Christian Louboutin boutique. I poured over the details of my most treasured observations- the coolest insect I just captured, my little sister’s tiny face, my grandfather’s wrinkly hand. I drew it all, every observation that came across my pink metal rimmed glasses.
By the time I exchanged those pink metal rimmed glasses for contacts, I had grown very awkwardly into my terrible teens. I journeyed through a shadowy, cavernous world of jaded observations. The drawing never stopped, and I continued to unlock everything inside my head, most of which seeped out like black, miserable tar and out onto the page in a swirl of surreal imagery. Drawing became a cathartic experience, and my relationship with my pencil and paints became my identity.
Knowing what I wanted to be was always easy. It would pop up as frequently as the doodles on my notes, reminding me that I was made to be an illustrator. What wasn’t easy were the external voices telling me there was no such thing as a successful career in the arts. But it made sense to me that there would be constant opportunity for illustration when it came to visual storytelling. Why wouldn’t there be? An illustration has limitless boundaries. It is not hindered by bad actors, bad props, or sub-optimal lighting. It’s not hindered by reality. An illustrator with enough skill and imagination can articulate abstract concepts, emotions, fantastical environments. But studying at Arizona State University under a crumbling fine arts program in the cultural wasteland I hated calling home, I just couldn’t see any opportunities.
San Francisco for the first time was unlike any place I’ve ever visited. The city walls were dancing with powerful murals. I slipped easily into every eccentric beat I felt on every street corner. I wandered up and down those hills and got lost in every niche. Then I wandered into the Academy of Art Spring Show, and the wonder driven decision making began. In a restaurant called The Brickhouse in Soma, I started making plans on how I would make San Francisco my home. The Academy of Art would serve as the catalyst for launching the commercial creative career I always wanted.
There were countless times when I felt like moving to San Francisco with nothing was the worst decision of my life. I attended the Academy of Art in the early morning. My studio classes were six hours long, which I scheduled back to back so I could work as many hours as possible at my cashier job. I lived off of cheap Chinatown food and discount Subway. I was exhausted and hungry and the ends barely met. I eventually had to quit school so I could work more to afford the basics. Getting a job as an optician at a local boutique offered me better financial security, but demanded lots of commitment. The idea of getting to do what I loved as a career grew further and further away from me.
A guy named Ben walked into the boutique one day. He was in tech, and had a startup. I told him that was the same story I hear from everyone. Like lots of creatives and non-tech people in the city, I felt a particular distaste for the elevator pitches I was hearing around town from smug guys with their startups. Ben seemed different. He had pink hair, and an eccentric personality. We started dating, and thus I began skimming the edges of the tech industry. I was intimidated by this new glossy world. People spoke in sort of a jargon that was part robot and part business to me. I identified with the more fuzzy things in life- emotion, humanity, philosophy, art.
A couple months later, those differences edged us apart. he was logical, loved tech gadgets, and seemed to know every fact on the planet. I was a day dreamer, could never remember facts if my life depended on it, and had just invested in the cheapest iphone after a long run of Palm Pre’s bought on Ebay. I constantly felt like I wasn’t smart enough, and as a result, I broke it off. I just couldn’t ignore that I had just ran away from a man with the biggest heart I had ever known.
I knew I needed to prove that the things I cared about had substantial value. I realized that I hid my true self the past couple months, emptying myself of my identity to save face to the aluminum casing of the tech world. Even worse, my life showed that I was an empty casing. Ben and I started dating again with a wide- eyed affection of exploring our differences, and I boldly started pursuing my passions. I enrolled back into school. I started interning at a digital agency and threw myself into UI/UX design and digital art. The skills I once knew nothing of turned into an employment position within a couple months. My new influences founded a deep inspiration with the relationship humans have with technology.
Being closer than ever to the tech industry, I began to see a pattern emerging that I never realized before. More and more tech companies were utilizing illustration to communicate to their audience. Google used Doodles to give its users a sense of delight and warmth, Dropbox used illustration to communicate their features via simple metaphors. Then Airbnb came out with a rebrand that was the ultimate feel- good experience complete with illustrations and saturated color palette. I was so excited to see the shades of blue shed behind, exposing a vivid world underneath. I saw tech embracing Illustration and design as a return to humanity. I also saw it as a path reaped with new opportunities. I quickly jumped on board, which resulted in a burgeoning career as an independent illustrator with top tech companies as my clients.
So many good things came from the unexpected. I would have never met my future husband had it not been for a stint working at an eyewear boutique, of all places. I would have never found a career as an independent illustrator with a vast network in tech if I ran away from an industry that intimidated me. Such is the serendipitous nature of life- to move where your heart takes you, especially when met with struggle and strife. There is still a lot of mileage to cover, and many more pitfalls, missed turns and long roads ahead. I have learned thus far, is that there is no such thing as a road with a dead end.