creates “…visceral landscapes using traditional mediums such as paper, pen, and pencil.” It was these hypnotic pieces that drew me to the founder Fin Lee. I find myself getting lost in their work – following the lines that lead to more lines and back again. I’m not the only one taking notice either. Having shown at the National Queer Arts Festival, SOMArts, and completed their first solo show at Betti Ono Gallery, Fin’s snagging some serious attention. Their latest client LA Coffee Club recently commissioned two large murals by the artist – their largest job to date.
It took moving cities for Fin to be able to fully focus on freelance opportunities. They spoke to us very truthfully about this and many other challenges related to sacrificing for your craft below. I think it’s Fin’s forthright dialogue about gender acceptance that will stick with me, though. I, too, struggled with not only accepting but celebrating who I was. It took time to get to a place where I realized my self was something to be cherished. That being said, I never get tired of hearing stories about other creatives finding themselves.
Fin’s candid dialogue about the fear that comes with being a freelancer is also quite refreshing. Working for oneself is something that I believe every creative individual ponders at least once in their careers. Growing up, my dad told me time and time again to never work for others, but to work for yourself. I can remember thinking how wonderful it sounded in theory, but it wasn’t until very recently that being self-employed became something I took seriously. It’s people like him and Fin — who follow their dreams so boldly — who push me a little closer to taking the leap myself every day. —
Can you remember when you first learned about your field of work? How did you discover what it was and how you knew it was what you wanted to do?
When I was just graduating from high school, I was dabbling in different art classes but didn’t have a strong connection to one type of art over another. I came across an LA Times Book Review cover illustrated by in 2005. Before then, I assumed art was only still-life drawings or oil paintings. I was floored to see such stylistic line work, collage in such a brilliant way, and subtle use of color. I still didn’t have the word for what “type” of art that was, but I knew it was special and I knew it changed my perspective on what I wanted to strive for. I’ve kept that illustration for over 10 years and continues to inspire me (and my wall) daily.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I knew starting off as a freelancer I wouldn’t be full-time right away. Currently I’m still working part-time to help with more stable income. I felt embarrassed for a while not being full-time with my art and felt like it was wasteful of my time when I wasn’t drawing. I came across this, though, in my readings and it changed my perspective on everything:
I changed my attitude towards being an artist. Instead of doing odd jobs and painting on the side, I painted and did odd jobs on the side. My life was the same, but I had a different view of it. – De Kooning
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Learning to balance my time/relationships/needs and having the willingness to fail.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
This may sound silly, but always follow through and check your spam folder. There are many clients that tend to fade out over time going back and forth via email. I’ve learned to stay diligent and through that, clients will know you’re persistent and really wanting this gig to work out. Also, I missed some very cool opportunities because it went automatically to my spam folder. I learned to be thorough and diligent in every aspect of my business, including emails.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences that you learned from or that helped you improve your business or the way you work?
I allowed a commissioned piece to be paid at the lower price that was verbally discussed. I realized that even though this client was a friend of a friend, I need to make sure for any future commissioned pieces that there is a written agreement, even if it’s a quick-turnaround piece. I learned the hard way that without written documentation or agreement, people can take advantage of you and your time.
If you were magically given 3 more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Hour 1: Dedicated time to re-organize my studio.
Hour 2: One solid nap.
Hour 3: Intentional time for stretching.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I knew that living in the Bay Area was not financially the best decision while transitioning from working full-time at a caretaking job to freelance illustration. I ended up leaving many of my closest friends. In them I left a lot of my emotional support and moved back home to LA with my folks to save money. I knew if I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t have been given the time or privilege of not having to worry about something like rent, especially when rent prices are hiking up in the Bay Area. I miss the art and community in the Bay but I visit often and even had a solo show there in December last year at Betti Ono gallery.
Can you name your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your business experiences?
When I moved back to LA, I didn’t have many connections nor resources. A company that’s been following me on Instagram reached out and I am so glad they did. I not only got to meet some great people at LA Coffee Club, but I got to work on some cool projects (ie: my first mural!, upcoming illustration series called “LOST ANGELES” where I interview/illustrate local coffee roasters in LA, etc). They took me under their wings and I’m proud to say that they have two of my biggest pieces:
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
, , and (constant source of inspiration and potential submission opportunities).
I’m also a huge fan of learning new skills/trades through online classes like CreativeLive and Skillshare.
Has failing at something or quitting ever led to success for you? Walk us through that.
When I was 18 I dropped out of the Cal Arts Character Animation program. I didn’t know what it was, but I didn’t feel the biggest connection to the art of animating. I felt like such a failure. I took out so many loans for that one year, that I’m still paying off, and just ended up disappointing myself and my family. My classmates all ended up working for Disney and Pixar or even creating their own shows, but I chose a different path.
At the time, I was barely out as queer and being socialized as an Asian American girl taught me to be passive and not feel like my voice was worthy of being heard (literally and figuratively). I searched for a way to be more and more comfortable with who I was inside and if I hadn’t quit Cal Arts, I wouldn’t have traveled to Portland to finish school and inevitably end up in the Bay Area. Before then, I never truly identified with my culture growing up, but being surrounded by queers of color who were finding their voice and speaking it out loud was so healing for me. I ended up getting more involved with the art movement there where I did a handful of shows including installations around mental illness, Dia De Los Muertos, as well as my first solo show at Betti Ono Gallery in 2014.
I feel privileged to have gone through these many different challenges and experiences from the time I was 18 to now as a 28-year-old Queer First Generation Korean American.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. I think it’s important to really reflect on what your goals are and be constantly reminded of that. Often times we lose sight of that when we’re doing other projects and it’s vital for your own creative growth to keep remembering why we’ve started this path in the first place.
2. Be prepared to feel rejection. I’ve learned that without those rejections I wouldn’t have pushed myself to apply or submit to other projects, and therefore could not have had that chance. Rejection is part of our success.
3. There’s no “one way” to be a freelancer. I dive into different roles: muralist, gallery artist, student, Etsy seller, illustrator, leather-burner, etc. I think the more diverse your art becomes, the more opportunities there will be to showcase your range as an artist.
What’s the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
Easiest question! Instagram! It’s part of my daily ritual!
My current personal project is #365yokoonoillustratedtweets. I’m illustrating Yoko Ono tweets every single day for the year of 2015 on my
I’m currently on Day 267/365 where I’ve documented daily posts on Instagram. I’ve grown to be part of such a beautiful community on Instagram where lots of artists of all different backgrounds come together in a very supportive network that encourages each other and allows for us to share our point of view.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Two of the hardest things about freelancing is time and worth. I have to remind myself daily that my time is precious and I am worthy of the successes/challenges/goodness that happens.
Photography by Artist and Browntourage