We had the good fortune of connecting with Carmen Piper and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carmen, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
It’s changed a lot over the years. During college, my class time and free time were one in the same: art. I was able to grow a lot in technical skill, as well as being able to find my own voice in terms of style and content, but I had no other outlets for creativity- or stress for that matter. After graduation, I actually was adverse to drawing anything for months. I think that was my body and mind telling me that art shouldn’t always feel like work, and that I should find other ways to enjoy being alive. So that’s what I did! I started jogging, went on many road trips with my close friends, started playing video games (mostly minecraft and project diva, s/o to my fellow minecrafters and miku fans!), and just tried to rediscover what really fulfills me when I’m not trying to create content.
I know there’s a lot of people giving advice like “draw everyday!” or “always think about how xyz can relate to your work/portfolio!” and I’m sure they mean well, but that mindset would destroy me. My art is a part of me, but I am not my art. Meaning, I love to draw and love it as a career, but just centering yourself, telling your friends you love them, knowing you left your tablet and sketchbook home and looking forward to time away from them, that’s what really sustains me. Time away from art makes me look forward to it more! And I’m a healthier and happier person because of that.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Oh, this was not an easy journey at all. My family came from the island of Guam, moved here when I was four, and had virtually no connections, knowledge, or interest in art and animation. I was the only artist around, so I went into everything blind and dumb. And when I was about to graduate college, boom! COVID happened, and any possible internship I had lined up vanished to the wind. I was never able to get my foot in the industry door so to speak, so looking for a job felt like I was ascending stairs in pitch black darkness- scary and easy to lose my footing! I was happy for my friends and peers who immediately got jobs, but I also felt a lot of self doubt too. What could I be doing better?
At first, I started as a college student specializing in character design, but then after graduating I received a rude awakening: character design positions are one of the hardest to get, especially for green artists. So, I backtracked and put another portfolio together, focusing on background design and paint. Because of that variety in my portfolio collection I was able to get my first freelance job at Helluva Boss, and it was an awesome first experience of working in an animation pipeline, and seeing my work shared with such a wide audience!
A couple years passed with little to no bites on any applications I sent. I got some interviews and art tests, but they ultimately went with another applicant or led nowhere after no replies for weeks. I learned to not take things personally and be flexible, move on if I’m not getting any progress in one area! So on a whim I applied to a game studio, thinking I had nothing to lose by just shooting my shot, and a couple of months later they reached back and asked if I was interested in a Character Design position (cue my jaw dropping and screaming into the wall). Of course I said yes, so I interviewed twice, tested, and passed! That was that, and thanks to persistence, patience, and hobbies to keep me sane, I am now a Character Artist at Tic Toc Games!
I also am freelancing on a new webseries called Among the Others as their official color artist! The first episode is coming soon, I’d love to make a more official announcement when we get a trailer out.
It was hard for the first 2 years of job searching, getting nothing and wanting anything, self pitying and envying others successes. Here’s my advice: SELF PITYING GETS YOU NOWHERE. Let yourself feel bad, experience your hurt, and then DO something about it. If the avenue you wanted isn’t available, get a plan B, C, D, and E. If you keep saying “I’m not good enough”, or “other’s deserve this more than me”, people will believe you. Instead of complaining and wallowing in pessimism, just try and do things anyways! Even if you think nothing will come out of it, even if you think others are better than you. Spoilers: they are. Do it anyways. You never know when you will be in the right place at the right time! Self pity does nothing for others and it certainly did nothing for me. That is a destructive mindset, and personally I prefer a constructive one instead. It’s what landed me my job!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I would take them to Laguna Beach. No questions. Out of pure selfishness I will not reveal where I park nor the name of the specific beach, but it’s paradise on earth to me. Small, nice waves, and next to the most delicious beach burger joint I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at. Their Fried Cod Sandwich is the work of a genius.
I’m not big on itineraries, as they stress me out. Just camp out at the beach from 10AM to 10PM, swim, look at tide pools, talk, play music, and nap when it pleases us. I also love to thrift, I’d check out any local hole-in-the-wall vintage stores and get new clothing statement pieces. Driving to these places is half the fun as well, we need to blast specific playlists as we commute in LA/OC county and scream to them! As well as discuss the music after the song ends. Car Ted Talks are near and dear to my heart.
Also, go to local LA shows/concerts! Safely, of course, with masks and vaccines pre-prepared. As a matter of fact I’m going to a show soon with a dear friend of mine to see Dorian Electra, one of my favorite musicians to ever walk this earth. It will be mind blowing.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I need to thank my parents, my awesome professors at CSUF, the Pencil Mileage Club, and my friends! Very general, I know, but it’s just the truth.
I was very fortunate to have parents that nurtured my love for art and never dissuaded me from pursuing it as a career. My professors, specifically Joe Forkan, Christian Hill, and Cliff Cramp really gave thoughtful and constructive criticism when I needed a push, and genuine praise when I made improvements. I know I’m already a graduate, but I’d love to experience those classes all over again, that’s how great they were! Also, a huge thank you to Kakihara Satoko, Shibata Setsue, and Watanabe Kazuha, my Japanese language professors! My minor in Japanese saved my sanity during college, it was the only instance where I thought all classwork, homework, and discussions were fun. Sensei(s), if you’re reading this: 日本語を教えてくれてありがとうございました！
Lastly, the Pencil Mileage Club and all of my friends and peers at CSUF have truly changed me for the better. I used to be so lackadaisical about my art, never pushing myself or asking where I wanted to take it further. Going to PMC and seeing my friends’ incredible art was a wake up call, I wanted to grow with them and make them notice me! I hold them in high regard to this day- a great art community is unparalleled in the ability to make young artists exponentially improve.