We had the good fortune of connecting with Samia Khalaf and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samia, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
In summer of 2019, I had a decent full time job at Meta. Well paid and easy for the most part, but I was very burnt out from working full time jobs and freelance without any breaks since graduating school. I wouldn’t call it a risk since there was some planning to this, but I saved enough money and decided to quit my job, get rid of everything and move to NYC. I’ve only been there once before and fell in love. I knew I wanted to experience it more! Anyways most of my friends and family thought I was crazy for doing this move but taking that chance to move to a new place without knowing any friends or having a job secured, felt liberating. I got to enjoy museums, taking random fun classes like cooking and ceramics, and just going out for walks to explore neighborhoods. I haven’t felt this excited about anything since I was a child. It’s like learning the ropes of things again, and it made me excited to get back to doing art for myself. During that time I also explored who I am as an artist, without the titles that come with working at studios. At first it was scary as I was so overwhelmed with all the things I could be. Slowly I started to explore what those things are, and I feel a lot more grounded and centered as an artist and to my identity compared to before taking this trip. I lived in NYC for 2 years but before I decided to move back to California, I found a tuxedo kitty on Roosevelt island. Finding Meelo was one of the best things that resulted from taking this chance.
One other thing to add to this, I’ve always wanted to do a solo cross country trip, and the time couldn’t have been any better. I drove through the states with my collections of plants and got to check out lots of interesting new cities, go to national parks, meet new friends, and try good foods along the way!
Whenever there’s a choice to be made, I always ask myself, will I regret not doing this? or would I regret doing it? I choose the option that I would rather not regret.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Two years ago I started teaching intro to animation class at San Jose State university at night. It was a nice surprise to find out I really enjoy teaching. The satisfaction you feel when you successfully explained something and your students get, it is one of the greatest joys in life! During those two years I was working as a lead concept artist at an indie game studio, but I noticed that I was looking forward to teaching more than my day job. That’s when I realized teaching and learning makes me happy. I wanted to try to include education into my next art job but wasn’t sure how. Somehow the timing worked out and I found out Duolingo was looking for illustrators and I applied and got the job. I feel really happy being able to do art for an app that provides free language education to anyone in the world. My team is very encouraging when it comes to learning together. I really appreciate having a supportive group like this at work. I never knew this would be my dream job but trusting your gut with what feels right to you leads you to unexpected but good places!
Trusting myself in doing personal art is also something I am trying to explore more. In 2021 I released a very personal VR film in partnership with Oculus TV, about my relationship with food and people. It is the first time I ever publish a very personal type of work for the world to see, not even my family knew this side of myself. Working on the film came with a lot of emotions and once the film was released I was very nervous with how many people would see the real me. What gave me the courage to finish this, was my uncle. He passed away 3 years prior to making this film, and I wanted to make something dedicated to him to thank him for being who he is and helping me become who I am. Once I set that as my intention, my whole perspective about making the film changed. Now every time I start a new art piece, I try to dig deeper on why I am making it and focus on an internal feeling, it’s not easy to get into this mindset and I am still working on it to find new ways to trust myself more but the results are always more wholesome.
One technique I use is called Barbie time. When my sister and I were kids, we used to play with barbies. The night before while trying to sleep, I think of all these stories for the next morning. We’d wake up at before the sun is up and play through all the stories I made up from the night before. It was so freeing and we got into a flow that would last hours. I realize now that happened because we weren’t judging the stories or ourselves, but rather feeling happiness and curiosity. As a trained artist, with deadlines and work stress, we forget why we chose this career in the first place. Find something that brings those feelings back whether it’s a childhood memory, an activity you do, or maybe even eating something that inspires you!
This project has helped me trust myself more and draw more from what feels good to me rather than try to be trendy. This is a picture of a pug that I drew at a bar one time, I was hanging out with my friends and he was starting at me the whole time, I thought he was so cute and funny and did this doodle. I posted it on my instagram, and a few months later I got contacted by an animation studio to specifically draw cute derpy animals. I was pleasantly surprised that a drawing like this got me a pretty fun job and it wasn’t all the work I had done in my portfolio. It just emphasized that people will hire you to do the things you do best, I know this sounds cheesy, but don’t try to fit in and just focus on yourself and what you enjoy most, the right people and jobs will find you!
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 have over 200+ places saved for trips like these! but i will list 2 things from a few cities, it will be mostly foods
– Cafe pacifica, 1821 Palmetto Ave, Pacifica, CA 94044
they have the best bagels spreads, get the Italian delight!
– Urban Momo, 254 S B St, San Mateo, CA 94401
Chicken Manchurian is spicy and really good! and lots of great Boba place around the area for a treat after lunch
– Go Go Curry, 235 E 53rd St, New York, NY 10022
Best meal to have on a cold winter day! and they have vegetarian Curry options too!
– Qahwah House, 162 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211
They serve tasty coffee from Yemen, my favourite drink from there is the Honey Cardamum latte.
– Humble Potato, 12608 Washington Blvd B, Los Angeles, CA 90066
if you like potatoes, you’ll never regret going here
– Artelice Patisserie, 11301 W Olympic Blvd UNIT 123, Los Angeles, CA 90064
owned by really nice human who is passionate about desserts! strike up a conversation about it!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Tatyana Drewry Carvin is one of kindest humans I know. She was my animation director where I had my first internship. She really helped me get out of my shell and learn so much about not just how to animate better but also how to treat people with kindness in the work space. I remember my first week at the job I was so nervous and at one point I had to show Tatyana my first pass on the animations, I think she might have sensed how tense I was. Before coming to my desk to look at my work, she went into the kitchen and cut up some fruits for us to eat together while we chat about my work. I will never forget this moment, now being a senior artist, I try my best to treat interns and new hires with the same care and thoughtfulness to get them to feel more comfortable at any new workspace. She’s also super talented and seeing how hard she works at always improving herself is very inspiring. https://www.instagram.com/tatyanadrewrycarvin/?hl=en
Goro Fujita is my great VR mentor who made a huge impact on my career. We had the chance to work in the same building back at Meta and he took me under his wing and taught me all about drawing/animating in VR. Before that I had no knowledge in it. He always took the time between his job and meetings to chat with me and look at my work and give me constructive feedback. Goro is also great when it comes to career advice, he’s one of those people who can light a fire under your butt and get you to be inspired to do things. I owe him a lot for being able to create my VR personal film ( Kteer Tayyeb).
Other: If you have a VR headset, you can watch my film Kteer Tayyeb here https://www.oculus.com/experiences/media/917028162085716/165102802225710/
Portrait picture by Kat Yu