We had the good fortune of connecting with Nikko de Leon and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nikko, what role has risk played in your life or career?
In my experience as a creative professional, taking risks has led me to some type of opportunity. An example that comes to mind was the moment I left my job for another job that pays less. This new job offered opportunities for me to be more creative in my work but didn’t support me financially. I knew by taking this new job I would find more fulfillment as an artist but there will be sacrifices I had to make. This new job eventually led me to meet more creative people, helped me improve in my work, and gave me time to work on my personal projects which led to more freelance jobs. These types of risks are not always easy to take. In this example, my old job provided me a comfortable lifestyle so I still had to be logical about my choices. But I think what helps me in my decision making process is being honest with myself. I have to keep in mind what I really want for myself in life. If there are any sacrifices I need to make, I have to make sure that they’re manageable. But if I’m honest with the decisions I make, I don’t ever have to look back.
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.
A lot of my art has been influenced from personal experiences and other work that inspires me. I get inspiration from many different forms of art, such as music, illustration, film, etc. and try to use it in my work. For example, I recently have been on a kpop music video binge and have been influenced by the color palettes that are used in some of the videos. I try to apply the same colors in my illustrations along with the gestures and poses from the performers. As an artist, it is really important for me to seek out new things. I find it refreshing and helps my creativity going. The illustration industry is challenging but what helped me get to where I am today is really not giving up. It’s easier said than done. There is an emotional battle that I go through and at times I can feel so defeated. Sometimes scrolling through social media can even be overwhelming because I see so many talented artists who are posting amazing work and I feel like I won’t ever be as good as them. But on my better days, these same artists would inspire me and make me feel like I can do exactly what they’re doing. In order for me to overcome these challenges, I keep reminding myself that I’m very fortunate to pursue my passion. I knew this journey was going to be a lot of work so I have it engrained in me that I need to keep working. When I put in the work, it gets responses. When I work on a piece for a long time, it gets a good response. When I put in the time to reach out to art directors, I will eventually get a response back. It gets challenging, but I I know if I keep putting in the work, opportunities start heading my direction. There is so much I still want to do with my work and I feel like I barley scratched the surface. I love living behind my work. I’m introverted by nature so I don’t really want the world to know about me personally, but I do want the world to know my work. I’m hoping that my illustrations can inspire other artists the way I feel inspired. I hope my work communicates enough to people for them to create a good conversation. I have so much fun creating art and I hope people can see that in my 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 grew up in Los Angeles in the Eagle Rock area. The place certainly has been gentrified through the years so it’s interesting to see what it became. Out of convenience, I stick around the area and like getting a drink at The York and eating at My Vegan, a Thai vegan restaurant. If I had a friend out of town who visited me, Eagle Rock is a nice place to be. I’d also would like to take my friend to a venue around Echo Park called The Bootleg Theatre where we can watch Bar Wrestling and see local bands play. I would take the metro to downtown and visit the MOCA and later head to the Grand Central Market to eat Filipino food at the Sari Sari Store. Their adobo fried rice is amazing. My brother is the Chef at the Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood so that would be another place to go to. The food is good and the ambiance is really nice. It reminds me of an old Hollywood film. On the top of my head, other places I’d stop by are Alchemist Coffee Project for some good cold brew, Happy Family in Alhambra, a plant-based Chinese restaurant, and Golden Road Brewery by Glendale. What I love about Los Angeles is that it is driving distance to the beach, snow, and mountains. It would be nice to take a trip to any of the California beaches, Big Bear for the snow, and Sequoia for a nice hike.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are a few people who influenced me at different times in my life and helped me get to where I am today. I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my illustration career if it wasn’t for my family’s support. As a Filipino American, I know that the field of art is a bit unorthodox so I feel extremely grateful for their encouragement. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend art school where I met my mentors, Brian Rea and Paul Rogers. I learned the most from those two as a student and they really helped me start off my career. One of my biggest influences is a dear friend and fellow illustrator, Jon Lau. His philosophy on art is something I can listen to for hours and really learn from. I’m grateful to have a friend who not only makes amazing work that inspires me, but also helps me in my journey to success as an artist. I’m also a big fan of success stories. I find that they can be a nice tool for motivation. One of my favorite success stories is Travis Barker’s. I’m always inspired when I read about his life because he is someone who never takes a break on the thing he loves to do the most. He has a type of work ethic that I really try to live by.