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Victo Ngai interviews herself

How did you get started in the art world?

A classmate commissioned me to do a comic strip and paid generously in candies in third grade. If we are talking about professional commissions, I first got hired when I was a junior at RISD, SooJin Buzelli, a well regarded creative director and conveniently wife of my professor Chris Buzelli, saw my class word an decided to print it in her magazine. This strike of good luck resulted in a wonderful working relationship of 9 years and counting, as well as a portfolio with some published work by the time I got graduated. SooJin has also graciously introduced me to Irene Gallo, creative director and publisher at, and that’s how I started branching out into the SFF industry.

Upon graduation, I took my portfolio to AD Aviva Mihaelov at the New York Times, she became my second client. After working with the Times for a couple of years, Aviva recommended met to AD Joan Awan at The New Yorker, this landed me an interview and the opportunity to work with this prestigious magazine

Through working with high-profile publications, building an online following and winning competitions, I gradually built a name and started other editorial as well as book and advertising clients.

Do you feel that one’s gender determines one’s work?

Does being Victo Ngai determine Victo Ngai’s work? Sure. But does being a woman define Victo Ngai? Yes ad no. I don’t think there’s one single attribute which can conclude one’s identity or work. Just as I m a female, Chinese, former New Yorker, current Los Angeles Resident, hotpot-lover, animal-enthusiast etc., my work is shaped by all that shapes me as a person.

Although you’ve emphasized the importance of ideas over style, your work has a very distinctive look. Do you feel this has any bearing on the types of projects you’re offered, and if so, is this a good or a bad thing?

Personal style is very important too, it signifies to the world how you process information and how you communicate as an artist, I like to emphasize the importance of ideas as they are not as ‘’sexy’ as style and are often overlooked by younger illustrators. My style has definitely affected the types of projects I am offered. For example, if Time magazine wants a realistic portrait of Obama, they are not going to come to me. And that’s okay, as my interest is not in doing realistic portraits.

It’s worth mentioning that there are all kinds of niches out there for all kind of artists, it’s impossible for on person to do all of them All of my clients may add up to less than 1% of the entire industry buts that’s enough to keep me busy. It’s good to be mindful to your client’s need, but it’s more important to be aware of what makes yourself happy. Don’t sacrifice the joy of art-making for the market, otherwise it’s hard to have a long and sustainable career.

What is your most favourite thing about art?

Its ability to convey emotions, communicate ideas and arouse empathy beyond the barrier of languages.

What do you think is the future of illustration?

From cave paintings, to fresco, to tapestries to tablets, the media may changes but I think illustration will always be around.

https//, the interview questions were selected, with permission, from the Q and A section of this website.

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