We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle Yoon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think risk taking is a big part of an artist life in general. Generally speaking, art students are often faced with 2 career choices after graduation – stable commercial work or their dream art job. As a fresh Animation graduate, I’ve taken the stable commercial route myself instead of pushing for movie career path.
This is when I first took risk for the beginning of my art career. I moved from Toronto, Ontario to Minneapolis, MN in a heartbeat. As an amateur adult, I’ve faced many hurdles by myself in a new foreign city. Being away from friends and family, and dealing with a completely different culture, I ended up getting terribly depressed and developed multiple bald spots. Although it was a tough beginning for me, I don’t regret taking the risk. This is when I really developed individuality, independence and courage to face the unknown.
For about 7 years since then, I’ve worked as an art/creative director concepting and directing mobile game productions. For years however, I could feel my passion for the dream job growing inside even though my current job offered great stability. I also knew this career shift meant I would have to start from the bottom again. Nonetheless, this is when I knew I had to leave my comfort zone and start moving toward my goal.
Another big risk taking occurred when I decided to partake in the CTN art convention. It’s one of the biggest convention for the artists in the entertainment industry. To put my name and art out there publicly for the first time when I felt like I didn’t quite meet the industry standard was absolutely nerve-breaking. Although I was self-conscious and scared, I decided to take the leap and put myself out there. Surprisingly that first convention participation gave me many valuable experiences including job interviews and industry connections in the big name movie studios!
I think as artists, years of trying and getting turned down at the industry entry can be really demotivating. We also get burnt out since we’re only human. I’m also going through that journey exactly the same as anyone else still, and I’m sure I will continue to take more risks. I want to encourage folks to just close your eyes and take the leap if it’s something they really wish for. Often, the leap is the worst part. The results would always surprise you.
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.
I think my strongest points are my draftsmanship, storytelling and quick-sketch style drawings. My training in 2D animation has pushed me to capture poses quickly and control my line quality. Although my career path has shifted me to become more of a jack-of-all-traits, and not pushed me to be a specialist as a story artist, I’ve been putting in extra hours in my evenings to practice my draftsmanship and storytelling. It wasn’t easy for me since I was putting my body under a lot of stress. Staying up late trying to finish my freelance work, overworking my drawing hand while eating junk food to suppress my stress was definitely not a healthy life choice. But at the time, pushing for my personal growth was more important to me than sacrificing my health. Now I’m paying the price and forced to exercise extra hard, but it was worth it. What helped me overcome my challenges was the phrase “just do it”, though it’s been overused and commercialized by a well-known sports brand. In challenged times, we all know the most logical thing to do is take one task at a time. However, the fear and anxiety was too crippling sometimes. In these times, I told myself “don’t think. Just do it, Michelle”, and I trudged through my hard times. What I want to share to the many artists is to know that we’re all in a progress of becoming great. Only condemning myself as “not good enough” may cause you to stop trying. If we shook off our anxieties and continued to work, I’m sure we will have achieved something in the future.
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?
Ocean Beach – Any beaches in SF are amazing. Still, the Ocean Beach is so close to the city yet have the rural beach town vibe.
Mozzeria – It’s a small Italian restaurant where all staff members are deaf. Since I don’t know any sign language, I have to point or use hand signals, but they’re all very understanding and friendly. They make fire-oven baked pizzas. Every item on the menu is great.
The View Lounge – If a friend is into a cool bar scene, I’d love to take them here. The rooftop bar with a huge spiderweb-like window that oversees the city is just too cool!
Elixir – If a friend is into a quaint local bar scene, this would be the place. The experience is better in the winter since they serve hot spiced cider during the cold seasons. Sipping the hot spiked drink next to the fogged window was the best time in my 20’s!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Of course I must give a shoutout to my wonderful parents, Jeff Yoon & Joanne Cho. My parents are very humble, honest folk. They’ve always encouraged me to be artistic and quietly supported my journey. Even though I’m building my own married life here in America, I’ll always consider my parents’ place in Canada my home. Thinking back, I recognize many moments when my parents took a back position and let my young frustrations just take its course. I’m happy to be who I am now, and it’s all thanks to them!
I want to thank my husband Kitikhun Pan Vongsayan. He’s the most gentle, non-violent person I’ve ever met. His wisdom has helped me to think more for other people. His endless patience for me makes me want to be better. He is the one that I’ve went through the toughest ups and downs together with, and I know we will be able to get through anything together in the future! He also scratches my back for hours and hours. He’s just the best.
Also to my career mentor Nicholas Koenig. He was my Chief Creative Director in my second full time job. He saw potentials in his artists and trained them to become art directors, and I was one of them. All the support he offered really helped me excel and mature as an artist. Unlike the school training which focused on perfecting the artistry, the training I received from my mentor was to widen my view and plan a whole project from ground up. I was also offered several new & difficult opportunities by him which forced me to learn and grow. I don’t think that I received these valuable lessons because I was special, but rather I think I was lucky to have crossed paths with him. So I’m very grateful for that and I know the lessons will help me for a long term!
I want to give a special shoutout to my friends, Yunhee Nam, Dada Ahn, Ferrari Sotthisaowaphak, Tanta Vorawatanakul, and Pong Jeed. This is very difficult since I love so many of my friends, and they all impacted my life positively. The reason why I wanted to give a special shoutout to these folks is because they’re like the second family to me. I know I can be myself and be honest with them. Yunhee and Dada are very far away and hard to connect, but I know when I see them it will be like I just saw them yesterday. Ferrari and Tanta came into my life with big open arms and helped me through a tough time here in San Francisco. They’re unrealistically charming too. What did I do to deserve them?! Pong is quite possibly the only male friend that I feel most comfortable with and trust. I must admit my own insecurities sometimes makes it hard for me to get close to some male friends, and I began to think I would never have a close male friend. Meeting him however changed that thought! I’m so grateful to have them in my life. 🙂