Dola Sun, Freelance Illustrator: Learning to Become a Freelancer

Following your passion won’t necessarily result in a sustainable career. For every artist pursuing their dream full time, there are countless others slaving away at jobs that they hate. So how do you turn your passion into your profession? Each week Just Like Grape brings you interviews with designers, artists and entrepreneurs who are able to do what they love. 

JLG: How did you start drawing? 

Dola: I was super into coloring books when I was at an early age. I started to learn Chinese painting at 9 and pencil drawing at 10 as a hobby after school. I really enjoyed it and knew drawing was the thing that I want for my whole life. Being an illustrator was my dream.

I got a job working as a concept artist at a gaming company in China when I first graduated from college. During my time at the gaming company, I realized that I really wanted to express myself through drawing and to not just draw in a certain style for games. So I quit my job and pursued a masters degree in illustration from the Savannah College of Art and Design. 

JLG: What was the first project that someone commissioned you to do? 

Dola: The very first one right after I graduated from school was from a Canadian parenting magazine ’Today’s Parents.’ The design editor found me on Behance and sent me an email asking me to do an article about using anti-depressants while pregnant. I got the email on my phone while I was on my way to the Savannah airport departing for NYC. NYC is where I will settle my life after school and it felt good to have that email staring to me.  

JLG: Tell me about the moment when you realized that illustration would be more than a hobby.

Dola: I always illustrated for fun, to relax and to make me feel happier.  My time as a concept artist really pushed me to want more.  For the gaming company, I was working like a drawing machine. You would have a realistic style, a cartoon style or any other styles according to a certain game project coming to you. But nothing related to me. I felt tired, both mentally and physically.  I wanted to draw something, not just for a game, but for myself.

JLG: Where do you get your inspiration? How do you stay original? 

Dola: I sometimes get inspiration from music, poems or articles, stories. Brainstorming helps me a lot with it. 

‘’How can I be original?"  used to be a question that  I would ask one of my professors. She told me, "The inner sensitivity makes us different." So I’m more focused on what I feel about art, and trying to improve it in my own way.

JLG: How do you choose projects?

Dola: The project has to interest me or resonate with me.

JLG: What are you working on right now? 

Dola: Currently, I’m working on some commercial projects for VICE, Amazon Rapid,  Inke (a live video app) and a tea company from China.

JLG: Personally, I’m trying to do some transition from still image to motion.