We had the good fortune of connecting with Cassey Kuo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Cassey, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Despite being someone who is very risk averse, I wanted to talk about how it played a role in my path and life up until this point. For the most part, I’m a creature of habit and routine. However, I started to realize it was those times of pressure and change that spurred on incredible phases of growth. Looking back the scale and reality of those “risks” weren’t anything crazy, but for me and my maturity at the time of each “risk”, it felt like my world was at stake.
At the start of my senior year of high school, I was all on track to apply to college for a biology degree and it was the first time I wasn’t enrolled in any sort of art class. By day three, I had a moment of clarity … I will be absolutely miserable if I had to do a career that had nothing to do with art. So without telling my parents, I changed my entire senior year schedule and now had less than 3 months to whip out a portfolio out of thin air. With immigrant parents it took a bit of time before they came around to my side, but it was worth the risk to prove to them that I knew a career in art wasn’t the risk.
Fast forward past 4 years of college and 3 years of slowly gaining momentum in illustration and 2D design freelance work… I found myself at a crossroads. I lived at home in New Jersey with my parents the years after college to really focus on saving and paying back all my student loans as fast as possible. Having done both of those things, I was surprised to feel the restlessness and uneasiness grow even with finally securing a job that lasted over 6 months. After one illuminating conversation with my art director, I realized that I wanted to pursue a different career within the animation industry – storyboarding.
Just within a couple months of that conversation, I made the “risky” decision to move to LA January 2019. Armed with a decent savings account, I packed a couple bags and got on a plane to live in an apartment of full strangers (since then we’ve become pretty good friends). And with no job expectations, my plan was to take some classes at Concept Art Academy and Brainstorm and see where I’d be in 6 months. I couldn’t have imagined that the risk I took coupled with incredible timing led me to start on Rise of the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles as a Storyboard revisionist by April 2019.
Risk was an unavoidable part of every decision I made. And while I couldn’t anticipate the outcome of the risks, I could do everything possible to prepare myself for anything. I knew with whatever road bump I could possibly encounter I would always be able to trust myself to be ready to draw well.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
In my work, I really strive to capture emotion and movement. Art is like a magic trick, I want to do all that I can to make you believe that these are real believable characters because they are to me in one way or another. My love of movement has urged me to pursue hobbies in dance, rock climbing and roller skating (I hope to add surfing to the list of activities I try).
I can’t say it has been an easy journey, but I’ve also heard many more difficult and turbulent journeys into an art career. I had to learn a lot of things that were more difficult for me than the actual craft. I always saw art and drawing as something attainable… If I put in the time and dedicated effort, then I’ll get to where I want to be eventually. I knew I couldn’t force something to happen sooner just because I wanted it to happen. Some things take time, just like a good bone broth soup. It’ll only get better as you let it cook on the stove longer. Patience has been one of the hardest things for me to learn.
Another aspect of having an art career that I still struggle with is the social dance of creating a brand or artistic identity. Art making was my way of communicating, so “why did I have to also have to be good at speaking? Couldn’t the art speak for itself?” But with each day, especially during this pandemic and lockdown, I understand the strength my words have to build better relationships and community with my peers and friends.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Omg the food! I’m still new to LA and with the pandemic hitting it put a lot of my plans on hold. However, hands down, we’d plan some sort of food tour around town – a different theme or location per day, from Koreatown and Little Tokyo to San Gabriel Valley.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I love my family and sister for their support, but I want to give this shout out to my childhood best friend, Allie Zoltowski. Her friendship really pulled me out of the isolating mental fortress I had made for myself as an angsty middle schooler who was so content living in her own head. I was generally so disinterested in the world around me that I didn’t care to interact with anyone, but that didn’t stop Allie from trying to be my friend. Through her friendship and unwavering support that’s lasted well over a decade, I continue to find the confidence in something that up until that point I did only for myself. While that hasn’t entirely changed… I still see art as something I selfishly indulge in, but I learned to see the value of sharing it with others. It really put into perspective how it’s such an incredible means of communication.