Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with Vivienne To to find out more about her work as both a concept artist and illustrator.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry.
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and grew up in Sydney. I loved drawing as a kid and grew up watching a lot of cartoons and reading books. As much as I loved drawing, I had no idea I could do this for a living until late high school. After high school I decided to study at the College of Fine Arts (now known as UNSW Art & Design). From there I was lucky enough to get a job as a concept artist for TV animation which lead to working at an animation studio designing for feature films. After a few years in film I branched out into children’s publishing and have enjoyed working in both areas.
How would you describe your particular style of illustration?
Character driven narrative art with a bit of fantasy and whimsy.
What excites you about what you do?
I love the stories behind the images. I think this is why I’ve always gravitated towards working in movies and books. I’ve always found it far more motivating to design and illustrate with a story and characters in mind, rather than illustrating for the sake of it.
What does your typical working day involve?
Most of my clients are based in New York, so the time difference means I wake up to a lot of work emails. So my work days start early since I try to get back to people and catch the end of NY business day. The upside to this is that by mid morning, everyone has gone home so I have a lot of uninterrupted drawing time to work on projects. I’m usually juggling several projects at once and depending on the deadlines, I’ll sometimes work on 2-3 in a day. The juggling act means I basically live off my task manager app, OmniFocus, to help keep me on track and look ahead. I usually work on more creative tasks in the morning (like ideas sketching) and leave the more straightforward work (like painting details) for the afternoon. I try to stick to a routine as much as possible and wrap up my day before dinner.
What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
This is a hard one! Not because I have too many to name, but because I think artists are our own worst critics, so we don’t usually look back on our own work and gush (at least I don’t!). But I think for me, it would be personal work like the piece I did for a group show in Sydney called ‘Blood and Bone’. As a freelancer, it can be so hard to carve out time to work on my own projects…so I tend to be most proud of the work I manage to create entirely for myself, as those moments can be rare.
What have you been working on recently?
I’ve been working on several book covers for middle grade kids, along with a couple of picture books.
Where you do you draw inspiration from?
From observing people and places and from our travels and photography. And now that I’ve started working on picture books for younger children, I also draw inspiration from observing friends’ kids and seeing all the funny crazy things they do.
And finally, where to next for you? What does 2018 hold?
I have two picture books coming out this year and I’m excited to be collaborating with some wonderful authors for those. I also have some ongoing book cover work on a few series too.
Later in the year, I hope to pull back on doing quite so much client work. My schedule has been absolutely crazy recently so I’d like to make time to have breathing room to create some personal work. I’d also like to explore more of New Zealand. My partner and I haven’t been here for long, but we’re keen to see more of this beautiful landscape!