Although Duong Thuy “Maria” Nguyen just graduated last week with her degree in illustration, her work has already hit the online scene and received a warm welcome. Maria’s work is often rich in color and depicts young characters in scenes that each feel like a moments in a larger story. I would love to see what she could do illustrating a book! In her interview Maria tells a story of how a cartoonist visiting her 3rd-grade class opened up a new world of expression for her through art, recounts her first sale (which was a commission), and offers her advice on working through the fear of ruining a piece of art with one wrong mark. I would highly suggest you check out Maria’s social media profiles (see links below) where she posts beautiful process shots of her work — in fact a few of the photos here are from her Instagram account. Online she goes by ‘dtnart,’ which stands for Duong Thuy Nguyen art. I am so excited to be able to share this peak into Maria’s life at the very beginning of her career — I can’t wait to see where she goes from here! Thank you Maria! -eden
Where are you based?
Have you had a formal art education?
I graduated from the illustration program at Sheridan College this year (2014).
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
My parents decided to move the family to a bigger house when I finished third grade so I started fourth grade at a new school. Because of my shy nature at the time it was very difficult for me to make friends. I often found myself standing against the wall observing my classmates play amongst each other during recess time. It wasn’t until well into the school year when my teacher decided to invite a local cartoonist to the class that this routine changed. The cartoonist demonstrated and talked about the basics of drawing a face and instructed us to draw as she did. After this, we were given time to draw based on the guidelines she gave us. When I had used up all the possible space on my paper, the kid that sat next to me looked over at my drawings and loudly encouraged the rest of the class to take a look at my work. At that moment I was able to create a dialogue between myself and my newfound friends and decided to continue making this dialogue much stronger and more fluent.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
My friend in high school commissioned me to draw a picture of us. I drew the piece in pencil crayon and markers and sold it to her for $20 I think.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
I find that nowadays I source a lot from inner dialogues triggered by anything from a memory, a mood, an emotion, a voice, a word, a dream, an observation — for the most part, intangible things.
When you feel a lack of inspiration, how do you find it again?
Times like these makes me the most productive actually. I tend to draw or write whatever is on my mind. Most of the work produced would never see the light of day but with each image or word that I put down on paper, it tends to lead me somewhere interesting. I do this until I find something that I want to explore or refine further.
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
I have done editorial work and sold prints.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
Right now I am a recent graduate living at home so I am in a fortunate situation where I do not have to pay for rent and other major expenses. The money that I have made from selling prints and editorial work is definitely not enough for me to make it out on my own but it is providing me the time and opportunity to finance my next projects.
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
I am quite active on social media, mainly Instagram and Tumblr. I have also been lucky enough to have had been featured on art blogs such as BOOOOOOOM and Supersonic Art which has generated a lot of traffic and opportunities for me. I think having confidence in your work is very important so that you could reach out to those you want to work with!
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
I think as image makers, we have a very specific skill set and there are people and companies who need these skill sets and will pay us use them. We are a small business providing a service and should do all we can to satisfy a client’s needs and make sure they are happy so that the business can run smoothly.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
To witness something that started from an idea, a memory, a dream or an observation — to an expression on a 2D surface (in my case).
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My family — especially my sister Wendy and my brother Chris; they never doubted me.
If you could collaborate with anyone (a person or a company) who would it be?
Everyone or anyone who has a fun project in mind, why not?
Do you have any current obsessions, art or non-art related?
Besides watching random documentaries on Youtube, I find myself also watching a lot of Kanye West interviews right now.
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
When you are drawing something for hours and you get to a point where you don’t know whether to make the next mark because it could ruin the image — make the mark. If you feel like you ruin the piece, be angry or frustrated but get over it find an opportunity to make the mark again. Make as many mistakes as you can, but also remember to embrace failure like the teacher it is.
Do you have any upcoming shows, news, or things you’d like to let us know about?
I have some zines coming out soon that I worked on with some friends and local artists entitled Locus 002 and Finding Waldo by Thought Shower. I’m super excited for everyone to see them! Also I am currently making a mask for a show curated by my friend Paddy Leung — the show will held at Gallery 26 located in Toronto on June 7th.
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