Interview With Amy Ng of Pikaland

"...with so many illustrators out there right now, there must be something else besides your skills that makes you stand out." - Amy Ng

The delightful Amy Ng

I can't tell you how excited we are to interview Amy Ng, the founder and amazing person behind the Illustration blog Pikaland. If you have never been to her delightful corner of the web, Pikaland covers a wide variety of topics from emerging Illustrators to business matters like finding clients. In addition to running Pikaland and her popular new e-course Work / Art / Play, Amy has been a guest lecturer at colleges and teaches in the classroom. She's obviously a very busy person, so we are thrilled that she could talk with us!

Hi, Amy! Pikaland just celebrated six years. How would you describe Pikaland today to someone who has never visited the website?

Oh wow, that's a great question! I'd tell them that Pikaland is a blog started by this girl (me!) who wanted to know more about illustration, and she rounded up all the people, work and things that inspired her to dig further into understanding more – not just about the field, but about story and meaning, commerce, and how it can all come together.

The blog itself has morphed over the years into something more though – it began as a scrapbook of sorts, and soon it became a place where I taught myself about illustration. And after 6 years, I've turned the tables bit by bit – instead of just merely soaking up all these great information out there, I began to share the personal insights that I've gleaned from many years of self-study to share with the community.

You were an editor at a magazine before creating Pikaland. Does that past experience enrich your understanding of illustration in any way?

It does! Prior to starting Pikaland, I used to work with my graphic designer on choosing illustrations and/or photos to go alongside the articles. Since her first language isn't English, it was a little more difficult for her to understand the subtle nuances behind some of our writer's works. That's where I stepped in – I essentially helped her distill the messages behind these articles and then walked her through on how to search and convey meaning via images, and what to look for. I didn't know it then, but I was essentially giving her art directions! While a lot of my advice was spot on, my publisher didn't like it because he wanted her to work on it on her own. So there was a lot of sneaking around happening back then!

Apart from editing, my time spent with my graphic designer was one of the highlights of my day, so that was a bit of an eureka moment for me.

I know from Pikaland and your e-course Work/Art/Play that you are a huge fan of unorthodox marketing and self-promotion. Can you give our readers an example of how illustrators can create their own opportunities in today’s world?

The landscape for marketing oneself as an artist and illustrator has changed a lot within these past 5 years, and it's an extremely exciting time for anyone who has something to say! One of the biggest message that I'm spreading with Work/Art/Play is the need to rid yourself of gatekeepers (especially when you're first starting out!). Gatekeepers are people who you think you'll need to get permission from to move ahead – art directors, clients, editors, etc. They aren't bad people! But when you place a lot of your hope on these gatekeepers, you've essentially given them control of your journey. So I want to tell these illustrators that you can carve your own journey while having fun – and they can do this by creating small projects that have nothing to do with making others happy but yourself. 

In the course of running the blog, I find that the most interesting emails I get are the ones from enthusiastic illustrators who are running their own small projects. Sometimes they don't know what they're doing, or where it will lead them, and they profess that they do it mostly for fun – but doing what you'd like to do is a great way to get in front of other people who might like what you do and what you have to say. It's a great chance to try out different things too, to see what fits. Being an illustrator is no longer about just holding a brush and waiting for people to push ideas for you to execute. It's time for you to execute your ideas!

People are constantly asking you for advice. Do you see one mistake illustrators make over and over again?

Yes! I think the biggest mistake that I'm seeing out there is that illustrators tend to forget that what they have is merely a skill. One may possess the best technical chops out there, but if there is no substance or a thought process behind it so that others may be able to relate to it, it's not going to make an impact. And with so many illustrators out there right now, there must be something else besides your skills that makes you stand out. So whether it's your story, or your humor, or just how your imagination grows wild (along with your hand), it's not enough to just be able to draw – there isn't an excuse not to infuse personality into your work.

You are currently working on a new project! Can you tell us more about it?

Oh my, this is a tough one! I have a Trello board to keep track of my ideas and right now there's a few projects that I'm exploring! One of them is a book – although the topic and title is still up in the air (I suffer from too many ideas, not enough time!) But I'm keen to revisit artist/illustrator collaborations on Pikaland again – I've taken a bit of a hiatus from it since I began teaching in 2012. I feel like things are starting to fall into place (teaching has its own learning curve too), so it's definitely an exciting time for me; the only problem is deciding on which outlet I'd like to focus my energy on next!

Thanks, Amy! We hope you all enjoyed an insightful look into Amy's thoughts and will check out Pikaland. Let us know in the comments if there is anything in particular Amy said that hit a note with you!