A Conversation with Tran Nguyen
What is a canvas?
We hope your answer is the same as fine artist, illustrator, and newest Learn Squared instructor Tran Nguyen, whose work shows that ANYTHING can be your canvas! When anything can be your canvas, your art and creative flair become very attractive to both your clients and your audience, and Tran’s art is a perfect example!
In Tran’s Freelance Illustration course for Learn Squared, she covers the two titular disciplines which can have a profound effect on your career by showing you how it’s possible to earn money from your craft whilst cultivating strong technical skills.
Making beautiful art is an amazing skill, but being able to translate that into a living is riddled with potholes and missteps which can put off many from pursuing it as a viable career. In Tran’s course however, you’ll learn the different mechanisms of how to generate revenue from your art and how to ensure your workflow makes it easier to present and sell your art. As someone who has sold her artwork to a variety of commercial clients, art galleries, and conventions around the world, all while cultivating a strong social media following, Tran is someone you should absolutely want to learn from.
But how did she gain this knowledge? What has Tran’s journey been like, and how did she get to where she is today? Find out in the following interview and discover how Tran’s personal life shaped her art, her approach to constructing the course, and what makes her tick.
A Conversation with Tran Nguyen
Your personal journey is clearly the root of your art and style – is this something you intentionally tap in to or simply how things flow for you?
Tran: I think it’s more along the line of how things flow. My narratives are heavily influenced by my personal experiences in life and my style came to fruition through years of experimenting with different media in and out of school.
You talk about an artist’s background being key to their art – which artist(s) have inspired you whose background and journey has been particularly impactful to you.
Tran: Bruce L. Moon is an art therapist that influenced me a great deal early in my career. I stumbled upon his book “Art and Therapy” in college and it helped guide the narrative in my work. I think his philosophy about art and mental health parallels my own.
Is there a defining moment in your childhood that you’d say truly set you on your path to being an artist?
Tran: There wasn’t a defining moment in particular, but exposure to Anime and Japanese RPGs at an early age kind of sealed the deal. I used to put Bubblegum Crisis on the TV, pause the VHS, and tried my hardest to transcribe the frame onto paper before it unpaused itself. I’d say my strongest attribute is willpower so when I decided to become an artist after high school, I made sure I did all I could to make it happen.
Is Illustration a field you chose to specialize in – say, in a strategic sense or one you naturally progressed into?
Tran: Actually, I brainlessly stumbled on illustration when I began college enrollment. It was the only major they offered that was closest to what I enjoyed doing, which is to draw/paint a single image. Out of all the 2D majors, I didn’t have the endurance for animation or sequential art and I didn’t like the restrains of fine arts, so illustration was the only choice I had.
“The Flooded Hour” – tell us more about this fascinating body of work!? it seems like a deeply personal and profound journey.
Tran: “The Flooded Hour” is meant to symbolize the hour that follows the aftermath of an ordeal and the mind’s desperate attempt to make sense of things. I’ve dealt with a few tragedies in the past, which usually leaves me with the feeling of numbness/loss, and I tried to capture this stage of grief in the series.
Jumping on the philosophical element a bit, what are your thoughts on the ability of art and more practicing art to offer healing or able or to find oneself? and if so can it go the other way – can art ever become harmful?
Tran: I think making art and tapping into the creative side of yourself opens up the mind and helps with introspection. It’s an effective way of letting your subconsciousness take control and communicate to yourself through images. I don’t think it can be inherently harmful, but it’s possible that it can unearth emotions that were blocked out or tucked away.
You are prolific! How do you balance your workload and time? Does the pressure ever get to you? How do you negotiate it?
Tran: I’ve set up a routine that works best for me – I work every day but only for 4-5 hours, and I take vacation days whenever I deem it necessary. I went in headfirst early in my career so I’ve learned to prioritize personal time to keep burn-out at bay.
We love the section in the course where you show how your art has progressed. It’s awesome to see and hear the artist speak about it themselves. Where do you foresee your art progressing next?
Tran: As of late, I render my figures with realism and it carries a more grounded tone than the work I did in the past. I miss the crazy motifs and lightly-rendered figures that I used to illustrate in my early work so I’m am actively trying to take a step back to re-incorporate the amount of surrealism and whimsicality in my art again.
What do you enjoy about freelancing?
Tran: I get to wake up and walk a couple of feet to work. In my pajamas.
What do not enjoy about freelancing?
Tran: There is very little distinction between leisure and work life. I also have a horrible habit of feeling guilty when I’m not working.
What’s your favourite part of the creative process?
Tran: The very end. When I’m noodling in the fine details and well past the mountain that we know as the “ugly stage.”
One thing about artists is we typically hate the business side of things- pricing, strategy, etc – what was your approach to this? is this something that intimidated you also, and what was your strategy to managing this?
Tran: This is my least favorite part about being a freelance illustrator, too. Fortunately, I’ve learned to deal with it over the years, but for those that are introverts or don’t enjoy the business part of freelancing, I’d recommend finding a good art agent that will do the work for you.
Working traditionally in fine art has a stigma at times of being difficult to earn a living. You are a great example of this being totally not true! What attitude or behaviors are important to earn a living when typically using traditional methods to make art?
Tran: Efficiently is key when painting traditionally to meet deadlines. That’s why experimenting and continuing to hone your technique is important. It’ll help you paint faster as a result. Also, branching out to other markets such as commercial art, mural art, etc., will help create a stable flow of income.
You mention experimentation extensively and say that a consequence of this is that there is often failure. What would you say is a key quality or trait to have that can help when experimenting?
Tran: Don’t treat your paintings so preciously. When you’re experimenting, I think it’s best to detached yourself from it, take away the pressure of perfection, and realize that it may end up stuck forever in the “ugly stage.”
What do you enjoy?
Tran: I enjoy traveling, biking, video games, Beat Saber, bubble tea, bouldering, collecting Anime cels, Bun Bo Hue, fashion, and Catchphrase.
Who are your heroes?
Tran: My family, particularly my parents, are my heroes. They worked their butt off to raise me in the States so that I could have the opportunity to pursue a higher education and better quality of life.
Your favorite anime, book, game, and film?
Tran: My favorite anime is Evangelion…and Kare Kano is a close second. Favorite book is Hillbilly Elegy. Also, Where the Crawdads Sing. My favorite game is Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 — I play a mean Morrigan, Felicia, Strider, combo. My go-to movie is What We Do In the Shadows because puns are the best.
Tran: Most of everything that Amano Yoshitaka paints.
Your favorite non-art thing?
Tran: Traveling keeps me sane and fills my creativity reservoir. I’m definitely feeling the wanderlust right now, like the rest of the world.
What can or should students do to prepare for the course?
Tran: Students should have an open mind and take everything with a grain of salt. There’s no right or wrong way to approach freelance illustration. They should use the course as a baseline for how to pave a career but only extrapolate what works best and most fitting for them.
What would you love to see students take away most from the course?
Tran: I hope students feel that they’re better equipped for freelancing than before they took the course. I didn’t learn about the business side of illustration in school so after graduation, there was a lot of stumbling that occurred. Most of what I learned was through trial and error and asking other artist friends and mentors. It was extremely tough starting out as a freelancer not knowing how or what to do so I hope the students feel more confident in approaching freelance illustration after this course.
A special thanks to Tran for answering our questions and we hope you found them as insightful and useful as we did. Freelance Illustration is available now. Start Your Journey Today.