Ep.55: Arucelli on having fun with art and being open to learning from everyone

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Nov 20, 2017 •  Interviews

Knight Zhang, better known as Arucelli is a digital artist from North Carolina, United States. She is currently studying at Savannah College of Art and Design. She comes from an artistic family that always encouraged her to create art.

She is most known for drawing anime and colorful Manga style with a fantasy feel.

She has always been a part of artistic communities, learning from the other artists and now you can also learn from her speed paints and tutorials covering topics like how to color or how to blend and more on her youtube channel.

Get in touch with Arucelli

Key Takeaways

“Try to have fun, understand that if you gonna be active online, not everyone will like it. Just try to find your niche, be open, be open to grow and be open to learning from everyone, from different countries. Be kind, be supportive and just have a good time and make others have a good time”

Resources mentioned

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Special thanks to Arucelli for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Knight Zhang, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles

Hello, everyone and welcome to the next episode of Art Side of Life where it’s all about how you can turn your creative passion into a profession. My name is Iva, and my guest today is a digital artist from North Carolina United States. She is currently studying at Savannah College of Art and Design, and she comes from an artistic family that always encouraged her to create art. She is mostly known for drawing anime and colorful manga style with fantasy feel. She has been always part of the artistic communities learning from other artists. And now you can also learn from her and speedpaints tutorials and covering topics like how to color or how to blend and more on her YouTube channel or Twitch. So please welcome Knight Zhang better known as Arucelli. Let’s get to the interview. So let’s start to the kind of beginning. Maybe when did you first realize that you want to do art?

Knight Zhang

Oh, okay. So, I mean, I’ve kind of been drawing for a really long time. I don’t know exactly when I started. But I definitely grew up in a very artistically friendly family. My sister is a concert pianist or ex concert pianist. Now she’s a film photographer filmer. And I’ve always kind of I guess, doodled on the side. And my parents saw that, but they actually started me off as a pianist. So they originally wanted to pianists in the family. But then they were like, it might be an issue as two people, one piano not not a good match. So I started drawing when I was around two, and then we really decided like, that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And ever since then, it’s been it’s been downhill from there.

Iva Mikles

And so what was maybe the conversation with you had or more conversations with your parents when you told them you want to take art? Seriously?

Knight Zhang

Um, I don’t think it was really a conversation more of like, so. Do you want to be the artist in the family? You seem like you enjoy it. And I’m like, okay. All right, cool. I mean, they kind of knew, whenever I remember, like, the earliest memory I have is going to my grandparents house, and they just like, they hug me when I see them. I say hi. And then they just give me a piece of paper, and then I go off into the corner. Like, I don’t really participate in conversations, if that’s the earliest memory I have, so I’m pretty sure they knew from the beginning that I was very interested in this thing. I don’t know why I was, but I just did. So I guess they were kind of like, well, she could have chosen worse interests. Might as well just let her do what she wants. Um, yeah, they were pretty supportive. And I’m very, very grateful for that. So

Iva Mikles

what is it maybe which kind of impresses you about art or something, which kind of don’t see, too.

Knight Zhang

Um, it’s not super big or grandiose, you know, I don’t, I don’t have the super emotion, emotional connection to it. I don’t think that it expresses my emotions or my thoughts. But I do notice that there are times when I’m drawing that I just get really happy. And I’m like, you know, this is a good feeling. Like I like feeling happy. And it’s hard for me to find that in other things. You know, I have interests, but it doesn’t really translate as well as it does when I’m drawing and I think this is something that I do want to keep doing. I think this is really fun. And, of course the people that I’ve met through this through our communities and just being an artist have really cemented that for me just being like, this is something worth doing. And I’m very lucky that the people in my life have been so supportive of that so far. Yeah,

Iva Mikles

that sounds great. And so we can maybe the biggest decisions are like turning points in order to follow the career.

Knight Zhang

Um, so I think once I started getting involved with art communities, I think I was born in a really fortunate time when art communities are just starting to become really big. So that was kind of the first time I was really introduced to artists my age. Before that, you know, my parents, they were very supportive my art but they weren’t super into like, a lot of modern art communities. So stuff like anime or Western Western art. They were more you know, familiar with classical art and stuff like that things that fine art College is, you know, the classic stuff that you put in a museum. So I grew up with that. And once I started becoming more familiar with online art communities, I was like, wow, they’re kids my age, doing things that I’m into, I don’t have to be old and dead to be famous, like, it’s kind of amazing. And these kids were just, they were just so amazing, you know, they were skilled. And I was, I was just so amazed, I was like, I could be this, I could have fun, I could, you know, joke around and not be so uptight about what I do. And I could just enjoy drawing. And that was kind of a an amazing thing for me to discover. So I think I was around 12, or 13, at that point, and really getting into art communities, I think, really set off a big part of my life. Now, I wouldn’t have the friends or the connections, or the kind of lifestyle that I have. If it wasn’t for the fact that I, you know, really started getting out there. But I think anyone who wants to experience this side of art, you know, this kind of more casual, but still really expressive kind of art, I think it’s really important that online communities become some part of your life, I think it’s a really good idea.

Iva Mikles

And so you started on a deviant art, and now mostly on Instagram, and YouTube, or what is the go to platform now for you.

Knight Zhang

Um, I mean, for me, it has been sort of Twitter. I’ve been doing a lot of permissions or freelance projects at the moment. So being able to post art has been a bit difficult. But I know originally, DeviantArt was sort of the website that I went to, and I think CG Hub, but it’s not a thing anymore, which is really sad. But like it was kind of those two websites. And then I graduated to actually using this community called Arduino. It’s on iOS and Android, I believe. And it was really cool, because you know, demon art has all of these really cool professional artists. But for someone who’s just starting out or just not at that level, it’s kind of daunting to be among all of these professional artists. So starting on small communities, where most of the people there were like me, they were either in high school, or they were just young, and they were just starting out, I think that was really cool for me. And then I graduated from that to Instagram. And from there on to a bunch of other sites. I’m kind of on everything at this point, I think. So I don’t really have a don’t like my dominant social media site. Although I do use Twitter a lot more just because I feel like it’s a lot easier to connect with people and like, really have conversations with them. Because you don’t need to post something, you can just message them. And a lot of my friends are on there too. So I think that’s probably why

Iva Mikles

you are on then YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, I guess Facebook, and are they other sites we haven’t mentioned?

Knight Zhang

I’m on Tumblr as well, in art station. I mean, to be fair, I’m not super active on all of these sites. Facebook is not not really a viable option for me. I don’t really even visit my own personal Facebook account. So it’s like, I wouldn’t use it for my Rs le art thing, either. But yeah, and then Damien art, but I kind of haven’t used that in a very long time. So mainly, it’s been Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr, and occasionally art station that I’ve been active on any YouTube, give or take.

Iva Mikles

And yeah, I was thinking about when you were starting out and basically developing your skills. Was there someone who inspired you like as like the main inspiration, or maybe combination of different people? Or did you have a mentor?

Knight Zhang

Yeah, so I did have a mentor. His name was Josh, Joshua Reed. He was a graduate of El Capitan, I think he works at Mount San Antonio College, which is, I think, in California. And he basically taught me all of my foundational stuff, like basic proportion, anatomy, overlapping composition. Granted, I’m not good at those things. Not not super great. But he definitely did expose me to all of those things. And at a really good pace for someone who, you know, I was, I was like, what, 910 at the time, so I wasn’t going to sit down and read a book about it. And certainly, I was too young to enroll in any classes to teach about it. So he was really great, because he kind of, I don’t know, the stuff that he showed me, it really hit a spot that I was like, this is really cool. You know, I didn’t, I didn’t really have an appreciation for fine art or for classical art for a really long time when I was younger, and I think it’s hard for kids to really like that. But he kind of showed me in a way how it could be really cool and I found I found that I fell in love with with curves, draftsmanship and stuff like that. And so yeah, he was he was a really good, you know, first step for me to really consolidate the part of my life that was so revolved around fine art. And then the part of me that you know, really loved anime and really loved cartoon stuff instead of instead of realism. And then from there on, I guess just a lot of artists are deviant art. You may was one of them Schilling is another one of just all these artists that I was like, they’re not that old compared to me. Like they they’re pretty, they’re pretty young. And they also aren’t, you know, in this magical professional job. So I could feasibly be like them, you know. And they really kind of pushed me to realize that fine art isn’t the only kind of art that exists. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah, for sure. Because then for some people can kind of the imagination of the art that like, okay, I can be only in galleries, and there is no other way. But yeah, that’s the way to think about it. There are other options.

Knight Zhang

Yeah, that’s kind of it totally how I grew up. So once I discovered that, that isn’t the only form of art, I was like, Excuse me. This is amazing. Yeah, so so he was definitely a really important person in my life. My arts high school, there was, there’s the head of my Conservatory of digital media, and his name is Patrick Williams, He’s a graduate of Art Center in California. And he was really cool, because he kind of taught me to, to just kind of, you know, have fun with art not not be so like, I need to be morally upright with our standard in like in terms of art, and I have to, you know, do everything seriously. And I got to, you know, go for my goal straight on, I can’t I can’t swerve or have fun. And he’s like, no, just calm down, have fun. And, you know, I kind of realized, there’s something worth worth thinking about when it comes to just doing what you love, and not forcing yourself to just like, shoot for your goals. Because once you’re there, then it’s like, yeah, but you kind of missed out on all these other opportunities that were just, you know, fun, casual, but you can get something out of it. That’s not just progress, you know. So he was really important, because he kind of changed my mindset a lot. And I definitely do contribute a lot of my current level in my current skills to the both of them. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

definitely. And so if you think about all of these, like good advices and progress, what would be maybe the best advice you ever received, and maybe also the worst?

Knight Zhang

Okay, so best advice? I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of good advice in my life, I guess the best advice would just be to have fun, you know, I don’t think, really, I mean, I think it’s really important to have a goal, I think it’s really important to know where you want to go. But the thing is, you don’t really know that at all. You might think you do, but then give or take, like a couple days. And then you’re like, Okay, well, actually, maybe not. And that’s fine. I think that’s, that’s totally okay. And I think a lot of younger artists who come to me asking for help they, they have this idea. And I know from experience, I had that idea to where it’s like, I need to just, you know, I need to like, buckle it and then like go forward, right for the goal and anything else is a distraction, and I shouldn’t do that. And I’m running out of time, you know, the, I think the best advice I ever got was really just to like, you know, have fun with it, find the find your enjoyment in something that you’re you either have to do, or you know, you’re presented with the opportunity to do just kind of like, look at it and be like, What can I get out of this? That’s enjoyable, or that’s that’s enlightening that I would really just find passion out of anything that’s really important. And I think that that kind of made a lot of my recent troubles with artblock. And, and burnout a lot easier. In terms of worse advice. I think it has to stem a lot from when I was younger, my parents loved using the word talented. And I mean, it’s great. You know, when you’re when your parents were near a supportive parent, you want to praise your kid, you want to tell them that, like, you know, they’re doing well. But I think talent is a very dangerous word to use, especially when you start using it to set them apart from other people. And I think that’s why finding a community of younger artists was so important to me because it wasn’t there wasn’t a barrier of like, you’re talented. They’re not because you know, just because I had an interest in drawing when I was two, and they didn’t doesn’t mean that I am any farther than they are in fact they are ahead of me, and I am just like, wow, I really need to work for this being called talents. And when I was younger, it definitely made me feel like, you know, it was kind of like fate that I would be somewhere with whatever I had. But no, you really do have to work for it. And and you have to struggle like everyone else. So I guess like in anything, the word talented kind of set me back a lot. But I was able to kind of break out of that as I grew older. But yeah, definitely, I think probably the worst advice is to depend on talent, or think that talent is kind of an excuse or a reason for anything, because it’s not, it really doesn’t.

Iva Mikles

And what’s the motivation? You mentioned that, like if you have art blog, so what do you use for your motivation?

Knight Zhang

Right, I was actually planning on kind of making a video about this, because I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve been taking a year off from school. So I’ve had a lot of time to think about what it is that makes me want to do something. And, honestly, I’m not that motivated of a person, I have very, like I have ideas of what I want myself to be. And I’ve been able to consolidate, like my mindset in order to be like, okay, even if I’m going through a really bad art, depression, or who go through a really bad art block, I still need to keep working. And I think a really important part of motivation that not a lot of people think about is that motivation is not just that feeling of like excitement, but it’s also the discipline that you have to just enforce in yourself just being like, I know that it really sucks right now I know that it really doesn’t feel great to draw. But in one way or another, maybe try to just like keep moving forward, even if it means not drawing, but just kind of scrolling through Instagram or looking at all your favorite artists or just kind of taking a break, that’s still moving forward. But kind of letting yourself wallow in the end, like the depression that comes from artblock, I think is really dangerous. And yeah, so motivation. A lot of my motivation comes from taking that situation and finding a way to make sure that like, even if I’m really depressed, I won’t let that get to me. So in terms of what keeps me motivated, I guess, just seeing all the really cool art around me and just being like, Man, I want to make something cool. And then just kind of like, All right, well, nothing I’m making right now. seems cool. So I guess I just gotta keep trying, you know. So I guess it’s kind of what keeps me motivated. I’m kind of a stubborn person, because I’m like, I always want to also make cool things. So that’s that’s kind of where I’m coming from probably doesn’t work for most people. Actually, it probably doesn’t work for me most of the time either. But it’s worth a shot

Iva Mikles

at the good way to kind of motivate yourself like, Okay, I want to improve. So I think we are always kind of the worst critic. So our work. So

Knight Zhang

yeah, I think I mean, awakes for me, you know, and I think that’s probably what’s important, probably doesn’t work for most people. I personally think that kicking myself in the butt probably works the best in my situation for my kind of personality. So yeah, that’s that’s kind of what I do. I just kind of self motivate by thinking about what I want to do. And then just seeing what small steps I need to take personally in order to make that happen, because I know how I work. And I know what works best for me and how I learned the best. And that’s something that everyone needs to discover for themselves. It’s not something that anyone can really tell you, because it’s kind of like your teacher at school tells you to study for something because you have a test. But not everyone studies the same way. And not everyone learns the same way. So the test isn’t really going to be working for everyone. So you just kind of have to find the way that works best for you. And I think it’s probably what motivation is. So

Iva Mikles

how do you structure your day? Or how do you plan ahead? How does it look?

Knight Zhang

I mean, occasionally ate breakfast. I, I don’t, I don’t really structure my day around much of anything. My bed is like, right there. So it’s like I get up. I don’t know, I look outside the window and then I sit down and then I either watch YouTube videos just to like wake myself up or I just started drawing. Photoshop is like never closed on my computer and I think my computer absolutely hates me for that. Anyone who like knows me will see Photoshop open and they’re just like, Have you not shut down your computer like months? It’s like no, not at all. Yeah, it’s, it’s just there, my tablets like right next to it. So it’s kind of like, I sit down and I am open to it, I guess I’m open to just feeling like, I should probably work on X project, or I really feel like working on this thing today. And that’s kind of just how my day goes. And then I, I work until whenever I feel tired, and I eat occasionally. And my sleeping schedule is a mess. So like, no one should learn for me at all, like, stay healthy kids don’t, don’t look at me for any advice. My day is not really well structured. Because I’m not really living a professional life, you know, I’m still living the life of a student. So my day is still being dictated by another thing. By school, or currently not in school. But yeah, um, so yeah, that’s kind of just how my day is, like, most of my waking hours are spent just being open to, if I want to dry well, and if I don’t, I won’t. So it’s kind of how it works. So

Iva Mikles

how do you now kind of combine maybe your, your income streams? Or when what are the projects you’re working on now? Is it so you’re still studying? Or do you still do some freelance work or commission work? Or how does it work?

Knight Zhang

Right? Um, I’m not in school, currently, I will be this fall. And yeah, I just basically, a lot of my income comes from freelance projects or commission work, I’m not really big in terms of companies will come and ask me for work, I don’t really get commissioned by companies or I don’t really find work with with magazines or anything like that. It’s mainly just people with money, who who want to see their favorite character drawn or their own characters drawn. And occasionally, I’ll be pulled into some larger projects involving multiple people. But nothing super huge. But that’s basically where my income comes from. A lot of it is based on just friend of friends who know that I draw, and they like what I do. So they come to me, and they ask, okay, would you be willing to work in this project? And I’m like, yes, no, sure, maybe. And then we just kind of go from there. I don’t have a super stable income stream. But that’s the life of a student.

Iva Mikles

That’s how it goes. And so the advice, you know, people who are just starting to do you know, like, commission work, is there something they shouldn’t forget about? Or, you know, so some advices, you’ll learn about?

Knight Zhang

Yeah, um, let’s see, I think with commissions, it’s just really important that, you know, you find a way to make it fun. I know, a couple people who think commission work is super fun to do. But most of the people that I do know, they are not super into, like, imagine work, but it’s funny, you know. And it just, it’s kind of tiring, to not be able to draw what you want to do. And, I mean, you may or may not be this kind of person. But if you are, then just try and find what’s worth getting out of it, you know, whether or not it’s like, I’m really feeling like, I could improve my semi realism. So use your commissions as another sort of practice, you know, you really push yourself every time with a new project, just to push yourself a little further while you’re doing this work for other people, because a lot of people will talk about how they just don’t have enough time to improve or to really focus on themselves or study when they’re doing work for other people. But it’s like you could you could be taking this time to do work, if you just focus and like, try to plan it accordingly. And then also with commissions, you know, just don’t stress yourself out if you can, I have not been great at that part. I haven’t really had like a solid break from commissions or projects in like, three years. So I’m not like the best person to be talking about breaks with, but take it from me, take breaks, you know, go easy on yourself. And, you know, don’t be afraid to say no to projects if you really don’t have the time. But also be open to projects, if you think that you have something to get out of it. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

yeah. So So what is kind of your self talk, you know, in your head when you are deciding, like, if you don’t want to take a project, what would be like the main reason or how do you set your goals like okay, this will take me closer to my goal.

Knight Zhang

Right. I think it’s sort of just if there’s something that I’ve been meaning to do You know, if I’m, if I’m scrolling through Instagram or art station and I see something that I’m like, that’s really good. Like, that’s, that’s really nice art. And I see something about it, I’m like, I love what they’re doing with that I love either it’s like, it’s really sketchy or super, super painterly, like people used to say, and then but just parts of it are super in focus on like, that’s really neat. Like, I always love that style. And then if I like get an opportunity where that’s possible, I’m like, oh, maybe maybe I won’t try and be so uptight about details, maybe I’ll try and lose some of it. You know, just to like, see how it goes. And like, either it’s, you know, testing new techniques, or just kind of experimenting a little bit like don’t do anything, I don’t do anything to out there. But as long as it stays within the realms of like, this is feasible, this is feasible for me to have fun with and I think I could really push myself to practice again with this. That’s kind of something I typically say yes to. If projects, I know if I if someone explained the project to me, and then I think about it, and then like, I just kind of like, No, I don’t want to do this is just too much, then sometimes I’ll say no, but I have been pretty open to most things that I think are just new, and that I haven’t tried before. So I don’t know, probably the best person to talk about projects. So good thing that you have a bunch of other artists to talk about that with. I just kind of take things as they come and see whether or not you know, if if I feasibly would have the time to dedicate my my myself to something, I guess it’s the basics of my self talk. Yeah, self dialog,

Iva Mikles

for sure. And then now thinking about them, you know, the practice or kind of learning, because I guess we never stop learning. So how do you approach the new learning now? Like when you do research? Or do you go out do like live drawings? Or what do you do?

Knight Zhang

So, in the year that I’ve been home, I’ve practically been a hermit, I would love to go to an actual life drawing class, I have never been really it’s kind of surprising. I mean, in high school, I did have a figure drawing class, but it’s like, I’ve never actually drawn from a model. So I would love to do that. Mainly, I’ve just been, you know, going through all my social media, I use most of my social media to actually follow other artists, I don’t follow news, or celebrities or people that I like that aren’t artists, like, I don’t actually support them all that much. I mainly support all my friends and all the people that I really admire who are artists. And you know, so my feed every day on basically every social media platform is just a bunch of really awesome art. And learning I think is just kind of appreciating what I currently am not doing or what I’m currently like, not really thinking about. And so just being able being exposed to so many different artists at once, kind of just like punches you in the face of like, oh, man, I’m really not doing great. Like, I need to really work on stuff. And every day, I’m kind of just, you know, awed by how awesome artists can be, and how unique and amazing and super creative they can be. So I think a part of my learning has always been just be open to seeing all the kinds of art out there. And just, you know, what hasn’t really occurred to me like, is it this, this color combination, I’m like that is strangely satisfying. Or, you know, I really love seeing people who do stuff in different media, I think traditional artists will always have a very special place in my heart. So when it comes to actually learning and really focusing on something, I always turn to those artists or I turned to Pinterest which I just I’ve dedicated my life blood to to making my Pinterest account. Very, very organized and having boards for everything. And so that’s kind of where I have all my references if I want them. And then just kind of going back and looking at my art and being like, what do I not like about this? Is it I don’t think the faces are very aesthetic or they’re not very pleasing to look at. Is it my proportions and proportions really off? And, I mean, I think it’s really good to just kind of do that routine check once in a while. Just kind of sit down with yourself and be like, Alright, I’m going to touch base with everything I do, like, do I think my colors are not? I like to call my colors not working or they’re not saturated enough. Should I go back and re study anatomy But if one of those things catches my attention, I’m like, Yeah, I’ve been noticing that in my recent stuff, then I’ll definitely just like take a bit of time to just sit down and be like, Okay, what exactly do I need to think about, and I have all these resources, I have artists online, I have the references that I can find. And then it just kind of, you know, work through it. I’m a very, I think a lot. I like I live in my head. So my greatest asset and downfall I suppose, has always been, I just think too much. So I always have plans formulating of like, okay, I know that I haven’t been super fond of how I’ve been doing X thing. So I should really, like keep an eye out for that. If I see someone else who does it better than me, I’m like, Okay, what do I like about this? What do I not like about mine? And then just really kind of free me like, Okay, I think I like there’s more because it’s a lot more balanced. Or I think it just works better with the overall composition or something like that. And then I’ll apply that to my own work. And I think that’s how I learn best. It’s, I’ve had people come up to me and say, like, that doesn’t really work for them, because they need someone to help them figure that out for themselves. Which I used to be like that too. But I think after a while, I started learning more about myself and getting to know myself more, so I can decide that for myself. Which is why it works for me. Yeah, but for other people, maybe not so much. So I don’t know, it’s a bit difficult to explain, like, how do I learn? Like, I don’t know, I just kind of get angry at myself. And somehow along the way we figure things out.

Iva Mikles

But I think you then learn probably how to do the observation, like, what is the thing kind of what do you structure it? Like, kind of study on the shoulders of giants or whatever, right? When you like paintings, and you can observe like, Okay, this is what they did, like, well, our this is what I like about it. So I think yeah, also really good way of learning to observe not only like how to actually craft it.

Knight Zhang

Yeah, I definitely think exposing yourself to as many different artists as possible from as many different places as possible, is a really good, like practice. Definitely, you will, your style, and your way of drawing will definitely be influenced by what you surround yourself with. So a lot of my recent projects have been very anime oriented. So I’ve basically shifted since then, just to like surround myself with Japanese artists, Japanese content, just to really set myself in that focus. And as because of that, my art has definitely shifted towards that. Anyone who just looked at my art, in comparison to last year will definitely notice that because last year, I like lived on art station, where it’s mainly Western artists, Western concept artists, or just a lot of realism to semi realism, art, as opposed to just Japanese content. So definitely surrounding yourself with the style or the atmosphere or the aesthetic that you want. And then letting yourself think in that space, I think is a really good practice for anyone. Definitely worked for me, I. So I don’t know if if anyone really wants to just, you know, they they see a goal or they see a place that they want to really improve on best thing to do is just kind of surround yourself in it. It’s like learning a new language. The best way to learn is just to go there and be utterly lost while you’re at it. You’ll learn along the way. I think that’s kind of the general consensus.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, but I really like it that the building the visual library, and also like the references, and basically you have that world you want to be influenced from? Yeah, so that’s really good. And so you’re building like, this awesome community of the followers on Instagram and YouTube. And so what would you maybe advice to young people how they should network or you know, to get noticed, or some pointers?

Knight Zhang

Yeah, I mean, a lot of people ask me this. And I think most people who are in my position, or they do have followers will often say the same thing, where they’re just kind of like, just keep posting just keep being active. But I think that’s kind of how most people kind of grow into that unless you go to Hollywood or something where you’re aiming for it. Like most people just kind of, you know, they improve, they try to improve, they keep working, they have fun with it. And people can tell when you’re when you’re having fun or if you’re really trying too hard. It’s It’s not difficult to see when, you know, you’re just not really into it. And a lot of my favorite pieces that I’ve ever posted on Instagram and stuff like that they’ve all done really well, um, in terms of activities or numbers and like that makes sense. So when I I post something that I’m not super proud of, I feel disappointed in myself. And I feel like I’m kind of disappointing other people because of that. So really, you know, if you’re, if you want to build numbers, do try to still maintain that sense of honesty with yourself, at the very least, I do definitely recommend just keep trying to put your best foot out there. Because in that way, at the very least, you’ll have taken something out of that. Because numbers mean a lot, but they do become far more abstract the, the, the bigger they go. So for me, it’s been especially hard recently, just to kind of like, I don’t know, I suddenly had this epiphany like, oh, wow, more than one person knows who I am. It’s astounding. Like, I only really see two people in my day. And that’s my mom and my dad. But the fact that more than 100 people outside in the world know me is kind of astounding. And if you want to get there, I think it’s just really important that you just keep going just keep posting, be active, be friendly, be open, participate in communities, like some show support to other artists, especially because they’ll reciprocate, people are putting their stuff up for a reason they want people to see and they want to meet other people as well. So don’t, you know, try not to put people on a pedestal, but also try not to be too familiar with them just kind of toe that line of being like, Hey, I think your arts really cool. You really inspiring me or you make my day really, really awesome. And then people appreciate that. And so slowly, you build up that relationship. And I think the more you get out of that, the more you get out of the experience of growing followers by building friendships by becoming more, you know, attentive to your own growth to your own improvement, the easier it’ll go because I mean, I didn’t really pay attention to numbers until, I mean, I hit like, 8000 9000, I was like, that is more that, like more people follow me than live in my city. Like, that’s when it really hit me like, Oh, God, I guess I should be doing something then about this. Um, but before that, I was just kind of, you know, posting stuff, and just having fun with it and meeting people. And I think, if you really want to do that, then just, you know, just just try to have some fun with it. Don’t focus on it too much. And it’ll come a lot easier than you think I say that. But it is, it is a bit frustrating. If you’re aware of that from the get go. Just be patient. It grows over time. And it definitely has a really steep curve. It’s kind of an exponential growth. The more followers you have, the easier it is to gain more followers. I feel like and I think a lot of people can agree with me on that. But, you know, just kind of try not to let yourself latch on to that too much. Because it’s a very dangerous obsession to have. I know, because I’ve like caught myself recently being like, every time I see something, I look at the number and then I’m like, Wait, why? Why am I doing that? Like it shouldn’t, I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be focusing on that too much. Because I can appreciate the art, I don’t have to look at how much attention it’s gotten. But you know, I think it’s good to be mindful of it. But don’t let it consume you really. Because it’s a heavy weight to bear. Just when you’re trying to live your life. So yeah,

Iva Mikles

I think that’s a kind of human nature that you look at, you know, the numbers, as you mentioned, because he’s like, Oh, this is popular, other people like it. So I want to be part of kind of, you know, what, yeah,

Knight Zhang

it’s a very social thing. And I don’t, I mean, I was definitely very, like number centric for a really long time. And I think that kind of contributed to my whole burnout that I’ve been in. And, you know, I don’t I don’t blame anyone who wants to be popular who just wants to have numbers like, that’s a perfectly fine objective. And I don’t think that’s, I don’t think that’s that’s too out there really, but it is it is heavy to think about and because, you know, once because numbers are easy to count, they’re easy to see. So if you see that it’s not doing too well like that’s like, like a solid quantifying amount that shows you how much you’re succeeding or how much you’re failing. And I think it’s so much easier just to like live in the abstract. Live and the freeform just go with the flow kind of a thing. Instead of trying to trying to push that in number up, you know, it’s just very, it’s an obsessive habit that I am not unfamiliar with. So I can say from experience that it’s it’s not fun. It’s not, it’s not super fun to focus on that only.

Iva Mikles

So how did you overcome that? Like, kind of maybe two advice? Or? Or what was your experience?

Knight Zhang

Yeah, I think once I started really appreciating art for art’s sake again, you know, because at some point, it just became me posting for the sake of numbers for the sake of being like, Hey, guys, how are you doing? Listen, I can like talk to my followers, again, kind of a thing. And I mean, you know, eventually, I kind of stopped wanting to draw for the right reasons. And by right reasons, I don’t, I don’t mean anything super grand, or like, like, up, they’re just like, oh, I need to be a pure hearted artist or anything. It was just kind of like I was having fun drawing, but only if I was going to post it later, you know, I would draw with being with the idea of like, Oh, if I post this, like, this is gonna be really cool. Like, I think like, you know, this looks nice. But then I’ll have these rare moments where I draw something. And I’m like, this is actually just good. Like, actually just like this. It’s not that I want to post or anything, I’m just proud of it. And I mean, I would post it because it’s really important to just be active, when you’re when you want to get followers and stuff like that. Or if you just have a social media account, and you want to keep that up. And I posted it, and I just there’d be like some sense of content meant, I guess, that I didn’t really get any other time. I didn’t really get it any other time that I posted, because it was just kind of like, this is something more. And I was like, I like that feeling. I’m going to try and do that more. And I mean, it doesn’t happen all the time. And it was kind of hard to get out of it. Because I mean, everyone just kind of wants to fit in. Everyone kind of wants to matter, or or make a dent in someone’s day, I suppose. So so it did take me a really long time. But I think eventually once I started just making more friends online, and then having them be more of my focus, as opposed to just solely me, I think that definitely helps a lot more. So yeah, I think just finding your enjoyment outside of seeing the number go up. Is really good practice.

Iva Mikles

Yeah, definitely. And so when we were talking about the the inspiration as well, and, you know, the Japanese influence and all of these kinds of things, do you have a favorite movie or book you would recommend to people to check out?

Knight Zhang

Um, I mean, I don’t really like, I think there’s been a lot of really good movies that have come out recently. I don’t, I don’t really want to touch the whole, like, which one do I think is the best kind of thing with a 10 foot pole, but a lot of there’s a lot of really good. Just kind of documentaries. There’s one called Happy I think is a really good documentary, if you’re just kind of like thinking about, like, how to find enjoyment in something. When I watch it, I didn’t really have a super great appreciation for it, because I watched it when I was kind of young. But it’s, it’s it talks a lot about just kind of like living for the day, you know, living in the moment and as opposed to like trying to think too far ahead. I mean, it’s really important for younger artists who get really who you know, they get bothered or get really frustrated easily. Just to kind of, you know, don’t don’t take things too seriously, like, things don’t always have to follow the plan. You can still be happy even if you don’t have everything that you originally wanted. In terms of like Japanese anime, stuff like that. Um, I guess I’ve always loved Ghibli movies. I think those are like my favorite. I cry every time I hear the soundtrack. But I’m just a was so there’s that. And I think there’s just there’s just a lot of really good animation that’s coming out now. And I think Japanese movies Japanese anime have always been really good about having really heavy or more, I guess, adult topics, just kind of mature topics that you don’t really see a lot in western animation. A lot of Western cartoons stuff they they’re they’re geared towards children. But a recent one Koi, no, Niki, cut that She Silent Voice is what it’s called. It’s really beautiful. It’s about a girl who I think is deaf, and her relationship with a boy who used to bully her. I think that’s a really cool story. That’s really an amazing story to tell and the animation that is, is gorgeous. It’s absolutely stunning. So if anyone’s interested, I would highly recommend that Camino Nala recently came out your name, another Makoto Shinkai movie, one of the best ones personally, I think it’s one of the more beautifully animated ones of his of his movies, because he’s always had beautiful backgrounds. But your name had a lot of really amazing animators on that free characters. So I guess there’s that. Outside of that, I don’t know. There’s just a lot of good content just be open. A lot of indie content, a lot of student animated stuff than me, I was really good for that. So yeah, okay, so

Iva Mikles

you find stuff on Vimeo, like when you search on Pinterest, when you kind of come over? Yeah,

Knight Zhang

I think just be open to looking for websites that you know, people can actively contribute to. So Pinterest is really good. Vimeo is really good. If you’re looking for, you know, professional, were people who were trying to get into professional networks, really putting their stuff out there a lot of CalArts animation students really put their stuff on there. And it’s just, it’s a good place to see serious work. You know, YouTube is kind of

Iva Mikles

a lot of that, how would you, you know, kind of approach the search because, you know, if you are looking for like animation or movie and you don’t know the name of the artist, or you know, because you are searching for that? Or do you have one which kind of have a suggestion to the next one? Or how is it.

Knight Zhang

Um, I’ve always kept a really close eye on what I see online, I dedicate a lot of my social media like time just trying to find new artists to follow new new posts, new websites, new new links, new things that people are watching now, I look at retweets, and I see like, oh, this person posted something on Gumroad. That might be interesting. And I like it because I’m a brush hoarder, I love brushes on Photoshop. Or they just post a GIF, or GIF, and it’s just, it’s gorgeous, like the animations amazing. And I’m just like, I gotta I gotta know who this person is. And then I’ll look in the comments, and I’ll try to find the person. So I just kind of try and consume as much media as I can on a daily basis. I know a lot of people are like, can you to limit the amount of content you consume, but I don’t know, I think it’s really good to just kind of be open to the world and the amount of creative work that gets put out every day. I mean, I am not a super big frequent to Vimeo. But, you know, the top page usually has something or just kind of follow the artists that you like that you have found, and then just kind of piggyback on whatever they like, or their favorites. What, what they’ve bookmarked or anything like that. And just kind of like build out from there. It’s why, you know, have basically purified all of my following lists to just kind of contain friends and then inspirations people, I look up to all these different artists. I try to follow as many as I can, just because I think it’s it’s good to just be open to that every day. It makes every day really interesting to live through. Just because I’m like, wow, this person made a really cool thing today. I haven’t done anything today, but they did. So it’s kind of cool. It’s amazing. Yeah. So yeah, maybe

Iva Mikles

you can do some like YouTube video in the future, when you will explain how you look for inspiration and all of these kinds of process. Because like people sometimes they don’t know. And as you like, explain now, I think that’s a interesting idea.

Knight Zhang

Maybe, yeah, maybe one day, I mean, I just kind of just kind of go online and just do whatever. So I don’t know, there’s nothing, there’s nothing special about it. But I mean, maybe I think it’s it’s definitely an important part of my life. So I’d be happy to share that with people.

Iva Mikles

And so let’s talk about the maybe the future projects or like the future, what do you think, you know, maybe five to 10 years, if you have like this dream scenario, you cannot fail? You’re not afraid of anything. So what are you doing? What are maybe the projects you’re working on? And how does it look like?

Knight Zhang

Yeah, I don’t really know what I want to do in the future. Like, I know that I want art to be a part of my life. That’s not really a question for me. And I’m definitely more of the the, the very literal art in a sense, like I’m not really an abstract artist. I don’t want my stuff in museums. I don’t really care about being famous I don’t really care about having my name last for a very long time. You know, I just I guess I just kind of want to have fun, have a job where I’m working, and I’m doing what I like I’m doing what I love, but then I’ll go home and I’ll keep doing it. I’ll keep drawing, because I just love drawing that much. I think that’s kind of the goal. It’d be cool to be a freelancer. But I think it also be really nice to be in a studio, working with other people. Being surrounded by that kind of creativity. I think that’s amazing. I love to do that one day. What I’d be doing that for I don’t know, I know, when I was younger, I used to talk about being like concept artists. But that’s a very oversaturated market. I know. I was like video games, I want to do video games, but it’s like, do I really, I don’t know, I don’t know, maybe it’d be fun, I’d totally be down to do it one time. But I think I haven’t really found that that one thing I really want to do yet. So for now, I guess I’m pretty content with just kind of finding a job that gives me both like the satisfaction of contributing towards something. And then also being able to like, come home and just be like, I still want to draw, I still want to do this thing. Even though I’ve been doing it for like, nine hours already. I guess he’s kind of my distant dream in the future. I don’t know how that’ll go. But maybe one day Fingers crossed. But

Iva Mikles

that sounds good.

Knight Zhang

And I It sounds amazing. I definitely want to do it. And

Iva Mikles

maybe if you have like maybe a last piece of advice for young starving artists, before we say goodbye,

Knight Zhang

right? I guess you know, try to like I said, just try to have fun. Understand that if you’re going to be active online, not everyone’s gonna like you, you’re gonna find people that you are going to be a super big fan of you’re going to find people that have differing opinions. Just trying to find your niche place, be open to learning, be open to grow. Art communities, you don’t have to be spirit, like purely for art, you can also grow as a person I know I definitely have. And just kind of be open to learning from everyone. People you never thought you’d like you, you probably won’t even meet these people in real life. But, you know, follow people who are from a country that’s not, not anywhere close to you. Be open to artists that are slightly more experimental than you maybe be, you know, kind of be supportive. And just like try to have a good time and try to make sure everyone else has a good time around you. Because that just I just makes every day worth it, you know, trying to pick a fight all the time. It gets tiring after a while. So so just kind of have fun, really, you know, take yourself seriously, but also, don’t let that get to you. Just try and live every day and try to try to approach art with the the notion that you’re just excited to draw, you know, you like drawing, and that’s what you want to do. So you can do it. Basically, I guess. I like to grandiose for me, but yeah,

Iva Mikles

good. So thank you so much for being here. It was so much fun.

Knight Zhang

Oh man, I totally talked a lot.

Iva Mikles

So thank you again, and thanks, everyone for joining and see you in the next episode. Yay. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you so go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast, because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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