Victo Ngai: The Q&A

By Peggy Roalf   Monday January 13, 2014

Originally from Hong Kong, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in New York?

The Illustration Community, Society of Illustrators, the Food, the Museums, the Music Scene.etc. The real question is, what’s NOT to love about New York?

How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

As a kid, I always loved to draw. My parents were very busy, so being the only child in a big city, I was pretty lonely. To entertain myself, I started inventing characters and would go on fantastical journeys with them—on paper. 

What was your first commercial assignment?

In my Junior year at RISD I did a half page illustration for Plansponsor. It was originally an assignment in Chris Buzelli's class but his wife, CD SooJin Buzelli saw it and decided to print it in her magazine. Thank god she did, who knows where I would be at right now if she didn't! 

Mooncatcher, PlanSponsor; SooJin Buzelli, Art Director. Detail, see original.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

The beginning and the end. It's very exciting trying to come up with the best concepts for assignments and very satisfying wrapping up a project and seeing it comes to life. 

Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper versus In the computer?

I used to fill a sketchbook within a month or so—especially when I had Art History classes or having to commute. But now I am always busy and work from home, so I don't sketch as much as before. 

How do you spend the first hour of your work day? What is your favorite time of day for working?

Reply to emails and take care of social media. I like working in the early morning. 

What are you listening to? What are you reading

At the moment I am listening to Wicked Little Town from Headwig and the Angry Inch, (I am pre-gaming for Neil Pactrick Harris's Broadway Production in March). I just finished the Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse; the next one on my list is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. 

Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

My Chinese upbringing; my American college education; my mom; and my mentor Chris Buzelli. 

Did your participation in the AI32 LIVE Cover Project have any spillover into your studio practice? Do you recommend marathon art projects for inspiration or redirection?

I did and it was a very fun experience! I have been working in a traditional and digital hybrid way for a long time, the AI32 LIVE was the first time I took up a paint brush in a long time. It definitely rekindled the fire to start working traditionally again. 

Deep Thinkers, cover for ComputerWorld; April Montgomery, Art Director. Detail, see original.

I can't say as I haven't done any marathon art project myself, but I remember one of the very inspiring assignments back at RISD was to draw 100 different apples. The best apples happened after I thought I ran out of ideas. I think longer repetitive exercises certainly help pushing one out of their usual thinking habit/comfort zone and tap into zones which I didn't know exist. 

What are some of your favorite places or blogsor websites for inspiration?

I love the blog Today's Inspiration.

Has social media been a boon for self-promotion? Or do you have methods you’ve always used that still work?

Social media has helped my career immensely—it allows me to share my work easily with people around the globe. Compared to traditional mailers, social media allows the promotion to be a two-way street, introducing my work to the most unexpected places and clients. A few unexpected friendships have also happened along the way, which is awesome. 

Mayfly, The New Yorker; Jordan Awan, Art Director. Detail, see original.

Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?

Of course! I learned that it's important not to panic as it just stop the juice flowing altogether. Taking a shower always help me to come up with something. 

Is there any particular new technology you’ve embraced as an avenue towards entrepreneurial adventures?

I have been given a Microsoft Surface to play with recently and am really enjoying it. The Fresh Paint is a super fun and convenient program for people like me who want to sketch with paint but are too lazy to wash brushes... 

What advice would give to a young artist who is just beginning to be noticed?

"It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be."—Paul Arden.

Victo Ngai is a NY based illustrator from Hong Kong who graduated fromRhode Island School of Design. "Victo" is not a boy nora typo, but anickname derived from Victoriaa leftover from the Britishcolonization. Victo's work has received much recognition and honors. She is one of the 2014 Forbes 30 Under 30 (Art and Style Category). Her work was selected for the current issue of American Illustration, AI32. In 2013, she won two Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators Annual competition. Her client list includes The New Yorker, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, WIRED,Lufthansa Airline, Tiger Beer, E&J Gallo Winery, Phillips, McDonald's,Sundance Festival, NPR and many more. Tumbler

Victo will be speaking at the Society of Illustrators NY on Jan 25 2014 with Amy Haysmann (Deputy Director of MTA Arts for Transit and Urban Design) and award winning illustrator Marcos Chin. Information.