Interviewed in March of 2016 by Jillian Locke
Hometown: East Hartford, CT
Current town: Hartford, CT
Website: CLICK HERE
1. Amazing Syd... It’s almost as if you’ve made yourself into a superhero with this moniker. What’s your superpower? What makes you so Amazing?
I guess you could say that my superpower would be my acute attention to detail(?). I displayed a lot of self-discipline at an early age and I'd like to think that growing up with traditional Asian parents had a lot to do with that, ha! The 'Amazing Syd' moniker came about in a pretty silly way. It's a nod to a pretty obscure character from the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure. There's a magician with a mohawk who goes by the name of Amazing Larry, and I sort of got the idea from that. I guess you can also say that it’s an homage to one of my favorite superheroes growing up, the Amazing Spider-Man.
2. So I’m curious…your talent is, well, absolutely amazing. What kind of formal training have you had? Do you advocate for formal training or a more personalized, untouched-by-traditional-influences approach?
Thank you, that's so very kind of you! I've never really had any formal training outside of the regular art courses that anyone would take during elementary and high school, and even then, I was given a lot of freedom to work on projects that I wanted to do. That said, I did work as a professional portrait artist after I left college, and although I wasn't paid well, my experience with that job has helped me immensely. I was about 18 at the time and I got a lot of great tips from the artist I was working with. As far as advocating for any type of training, I would say that whatever helps you to improve your skills, by all means, go for it. I don't hold any one particular method as gospel, aside from making sure you put the time in. Lots and lots of time. That's the most important thing.
3. Any quirky rituals that put you in the mode to bring these portraits to life?
Quirky? I search through lots of reference photos - I mean hundreds - and that usually helps me get more of a feel for the character or person that I'm trying to capture. Also, there are a bunch of artists out there that I look up to, and just checking out samples of their work really helps gets my gears going. Good music helps, too!
4. As a young artist, the expertise and patience needed to effectively wield pencils when drawing always eluded me. Why do you love them? Why do you (if at all) hate them?
I enjoy using pencils for portraits because they’re the most easily accessible medium for me. I can pretty much take out my box of pencils anywhere and get to work. I suppose it’s a matter of convenience more than anything. There are definitely times when pencils don't quite achieve the particular opacity that certain images require, so lately I've been discovering the joys of incorporating more than a few types of mediums into one image. That's been a lot of fun.
5. You portray an extremely diverse array of cultural icons. Is that because of your propensity for portraiture?
Most certainly! I find faces to be one of the most interesting things to draw or paint. To be able to capture someone's essence is a challenging process, and I always like pushing myself to nail down the little nuances or personalities that every person has. I really enjoy fiction and am really grateful that others do too because there's a wealth of material out there to work from. Endless amounts, even.
6. Personal heroes, real and/or fictional?
I've been really into the comic artist Bill Sienkiewicz lately. Comic books are what got me started drawing in the first place, and his work is unlike any other artist in the industry today. I fell in love with his work on the Elektra miniseries written by Frank Miller, and I'm always digging in local comic shops to find books of his that I don't already own. I've slowly been gathering all of the work that I could find by him, and it’s really cool to see how his style has progressed over the years. His work is more painterly and for lack of a better term, ‘artsy.' I'm hoping fully painted comics make a comeback in the near future because they're so freaking cool.
7. I noticed that you’ve only been showing since 2013 and I’ve gotta say, I’m a bit shocked. Your work speaks of a seasoned hand that’s been a conduit of professional creation for a while now. Can you tell me a bit about your journey from first gallery show to almost 14k likes on Instagram?
This is a tricky question! I've always been into art but there was a period of time (before 2013) where I needed to take a break from it all. I was spending a lot of time figuring things out, and art wasn't a focus in my life at that time. I guess you could say that I've been taking things a bit more seriously lately, and I'm really glad that my break is over. The Instagram following has definitely helped push me even further and helped motivate me to keep creating. As silly as it sounds, getting positive (or negative) feedback from others always helps and I really love the sense of community that Instagram has offered. There are some mind-blowingly talented artists out there in the world, and being able to check out what they've got going on, and to also share my work is something I can't imagine being without. If you're spending lots of time in the studio alone, it makes sense to want to connect with others in that way. Showing work on Instagram has also opened a lot of doors for me. I've been able to connect with working pros in the industry and have even gotten a few freelance gigs out of it.
8. How long does it take to execute a single portrait? Is the beginning of the process the same or different for each undertaking?
It really all depends on the particular project. I've sat for 8+ hours on one piece and sometimes longer, and there are times where I've spent no more than 40 minutes on something. It’s funny, I've found that I tend to favor the work that I spend the least amount of time on. There are some days where I feel like I'm in the zone and that's usually when these quick little projects happen. They almost always turn out better than I thought they'd be, and I suppose it’s that sense of abandonment that comes along with knowing that the particular piece was not meant to be labored over. I just go with the flow most of the time.
9. In that same vein, how many layers go into a typical portrait? And is my use of “typical” here deplorable?
Absolutely deplorable! Just kidding, at this point, I guess there's a certain aesthetic in my work where one might say that it’s a 'typical Syd' portrait. The fun thing about art is overcoming those boundaries and stretching yourself even further than you thought you could go. I would say that the typical piece would have at least 3-5 layers in it, and that's just with pencils. With other mediums, there tends to be way more than that.
10. What was your first commissioned piece?
My first real freelance gig was with a certain brewing company out of Narragansett, RI. They wanted to pay homage to a certain 1975 film involving a great white toothy fish thing and found my work through Instagram. Needless to say, it was a fun and exciting project, or should I say, JAWSOME!
11. Livelihood-wise, is the majority of yours derived from commissions?
Wouldn't that be great? I have a day job that helps me pay the bills, so I guess you can say that I'm moonlighting as an artist for now. I'm hoping to spend the next year or so to really buckle down and send out samples to companies so that I can start getting some good freelance work.
12. This may sound like a generic question, but it’s not at all. As a portrait artist, what inspires you the most? How do you choose your subject matter?
My inspiration varies from day to day. If I'm feeling a bit uninspired, it could be something as easy as looking up the current day's celebrity birthday list. From there, I'll usually pick out the actors or actresses that were featured in films that I love, or I'll go back further and choose people from the silver screen age. I find it’s fun to work off of images that have stark contrasts of heavy light and shadows. I try to reflect this in my own work when I take reference photos for projects. Other days, I might be reminded of a certain character that I like from any media, and then I'll usually start my research from there. I also follow some very talented models and photographers on Instagram and will usually reach out to them for permission in using their images to create a portrait as well.
13. What’s your favorite facial contour?
I would say that my favorite facial contour would be where the lips meet just under the nose in a 3/4 perspective. I had to look this up but I believe the scientific term for it would be the philtrum. It has a lot to do with how the light catches that particular part of the face. It’s always interesting to see how it looks on faces ranging from the smooth and youthful to the old and wrinkly. I'm not sure if you noticed, but I rarely draw portraits from a front view perspective, and a lot of it has to do with this feature of the face.
14. Another business question here - which social media platform do you find most effective in both sharing your work and deriving work from your work?
I guess it goes without saying at this point that Instagram has definitely helped me, personally. I've actually been recognized on the street for it if you could believe that! It’s honestly the most easily accessible platform for artists and non-artists alike. I've been using it since about 2011 and the community on there has grown immensely. I get way more foot-traffic on there than I do in any other social media platform.
15. If three superheroes could band together against three villains, who would they be and what would they be fighting for?
This is a tough one! Okay, the three heroes would be (in no particular order) Batman, Spider-Man and Wolverine and they'd be fighting Dr. Doom, Magneto, and the Joker, because the villains used some sort of ray from outer space that was sucking all of humanity's culture - music, arts, etc. - basically everything that makes us human. I've imagined what the world would be like without these things, and I certainly wouldn't want to live in it!
16. What were the three most deciding factors that got you into and kept you going with art?
Comics and let's see, comics...oh, and lest I forget, comics! With the past trend in movies and media and the like, I think it’s a safe bet that comics are here to stay. They're not just for kids anymore, and I feel like there's so much depth in all of these characters that have been around for decades, so many possibilities! Being able to work on a project with some of my favorite heroes would be so wild! Also, comics promote art and reading, and what's better than that?
17. What are the most challenging three mediums you’ve ever worked with?
Watercolors have been kicking my butt lately. I would also add that modeling clay and oils rank up there as well. When I refer to challenging, it’s mostly because I haven't spent much time with them. The great thing about art is that there's always something new to get involved with. There are so many different ways to approach a project and being able to challenge yourself is all a part of the process.
18. What’s your most exciting/terrifying undertaking of 2016?
My most exciting/terrifying undertaking would be buffing up my portfolio even further and having the guts to send it out to prospective employers in the field. Last year, I attended the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, MA, and was able to connect with a lot of great artists in the industry. That experience sort of opened my eyes to the way I want to approach my career as an artist. The class wasn't really about the technical application of art, but about applying your skills in a way where companies would want to see your work in print. Creating narratives and stories within an image is definitely something I've found to be challenging. Being able to draw well is just a small piece of the puzzle and I am definitely excited to see where this new approach will take me in the following year.