We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen Kuo and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, how has your perspective on work-life balance evolved over time?
Work life balance is so important to me, when I first started working, I definitely just worked every hour of the day and totally disregarded any need to rest or hang out with friends. Living this way was fairly short lived. While I was producing a large amount of work, I don’t think it was necessarily of that great quality. I was also more stressed out than I had ever been. In addition to that, I felt like I had placed my entire worth as a human being within my work, and I think that’s just going to lead to a lot of pain down the line. I started to give myself stricter rules about working. Get everything done during work hours, and leave it behind when I go home (or due to WFH, walk away from my desk). One of my coworkers once shared with me that when he leaves work, he completely shelves any worries, work thoughts, etc… until the next morning when he comes in. I think that’s wise! When I work, yeah, I 100% throw myself into it and try my best. But when I clock out, I commit 100% to taking a break and relaxing with friends, or paint some personal work just for me, or travel.
All I can say, is it’s definitely good to take some time away from our desks once in a while!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I work in animation as a visual development artist, and more recently an assistant art director. I got into this career path because I enjoyed the mix of telling stories through drawings and paintings, but also the problem solving aspect of it. I think it’s awesome to collaborate with other creatives to come together and create something unique and large in scale. I definitely feel very lucky that I have worked with a lot of really fantastic people, and to the people who took a chance on me and hired me early on in my career, I will always be thankful for those opportunities! Working in art and animation, it’s so easy to burnout, and upon leaving school, I realized that it’s not a sprint, it’s more of a marathon. We don’t suddenly become super amazing and successful overnight. It’s a gradual journey, and I definitely started from pretty low, I was definitely not one of the superstars in school haha. I drew a lot though, a lot of improving initially is about mileage, and being able to start a drawing over if it’s not working, at least in animation. We go through so many ideas, and consequently that means going through a lot of drawings and paintings. So, it’s important to not be flexible and able to pivot of something isn’t working.
Getting into animation was definitely a challenging ordeal, I went to every industry based convention every year, and it meant getting a lot of feedback and critique on my portfolio. I tried to get as much feedback as I could, in order to form a more complete consensus on what I needed to improve on. It’s not always pleasant, I had to learn to separate my work from myself, since sometimes I would get some pretty unpleasant feedback. But I think that’s why it’s important to get a lot of feedback from different artists.
One of the biggest lessons I learned over the years, is that it’s important to include your own passions and interests into your work. Sometimes I see portfolios that are technically good, but doesn’t give much indication what the artist is passionate about or likes to draw. Drawing what you like will certainly help you get work in the same vein, so I think it’s beneficial to use your own experiences or interests as a jumping off point for portfolio work.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I like going to ROW DTLA area, there’s a lot of fun and cool shops and restaurants there, and they host a large food festival called Smorgasburg on Sundays. It’s a nice open air area where you can chill, play giant chess, and have some really tasty food!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Chunky Paper is awesome! https://chunkypaper.com/
They’re a lovely team that sells a lot of awesome paper goods and have been organizing events to promote local AAPI artists at their fantastic pop-up in Chinatown in LA.