GAME + ARTIST is a series of profiles of young, up-and-coming artists who help create or are inspired by video games. These profiles seek to reveal the artists' inspirations and ways of approaching art, in his or her own words, with the hope that they can in turn inspire others. This profile of artist Grace Voong is the second in the series.
NAME Grace Voong
FROM Los Angeles, CA USA
GOT STARTED drawing and making board games
I started drawing in my childhood. Making games is also something I wanted to do at a young age. But, I guess I didn't know exactly how to go about it for the longest time, which led me to think I should do other things. It kind of seemed like a far-fetched dream at that time. I also grew up in a kind of stereotypical, strict, academic Asian household, and my parents never nurtured any creative endeavors. We also didn't get the internet until I was in middle school, but even then I couldn't use it often, so I wasn't exposed to knowledge about making video games, how to animate, or different drawing techniques until later. However, I did do little things on my own that were much like the game making process. I made a lot of silly board games growing up (I remember one being based on Yoshi's Island), and when I got to high school, I took programming classes not knowing it would be a precursor to game development. (Programming isn't my favorite thing to do, though.) I also continued to draw a lot.
STUDIED biology, fine art, and game design
I began studying biology, but wasn't exactly happy with that, and decided to change to art. It was fine art though, so it was very traditional, and I don't think a lot of people understood what I wanted to do in regard to art. As a result, I was still unhappy and felt alienated from my professors and peers. This period was also rather rocky for me, and I kind of coped with video games. It made me realize that I really appreciate video games. A lot of interests come and go for me, but games have always been something in my life that I never got tired of. That's when I finally realized that my heart was in the game industry, and all that mattered was what I wanted to do. Eventually, I transferred to a school to specifically study game art and design. It probably was the biggest step to get to where I am now. It wasn't the best school, but I'd say it still helped me. School is obviously great for networking. I was able to go to events such as E3 and GDC, which is how I met a lot of the current friends I have in the game industry. Going to this school, I also learned that sometimes you have to go out of your way and learn to do things on your own because other people aren't going to always address all of your interests, especially since they're trying to teach you the technology that is used in modern mainstream media. They're going to teach you 3D modeling, not how to do pixel art. So, I found myself having to study a lot of things on my own, especially if the instructors couldn't explain them well. I taught myself how to use a lot of art programs, and am still teaching myself to animate more smoothly.
INSPIRED BY game designers, Impressionism, and pop culture
There are a lot of artist who inspire me, probably some more than others, and sometimes those influences change as my aesthetic changes. I really like Kinu Nishimura, Osamu Tezuka (more so his abstract stuff), Alex Ahad, Mecha Fetus (especially Paul Robertson, Personasama, and Kinuko), Lullatone, and Natasha Allegri. Pixel artists/animators Paul Veer and Shosa have inspired me a lot recently. Party Time! Hexcellent! has been inspirational and encouraging as well! Keita Takahashi is also a big inspiration to me. I remember reading an interview he did a long time ago touching upon game creation and how game makers should make more "punk games." Team Meat's Edmund McMillen is also someone I appreciate because I can relate to drawing and creating things to help cope with your problems as a kid. What I learned from him, and probably many other designers too (including Keita), is that you can make a fun game and express your own deep feelings through the game at the same time, regardless if anyone realizes how personal it is to you. Artists from the past who inspire me include Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. I really like the airy, painterly way of Impressionism. It's rather feminine at times, I think especially with those two. There's also a deeper social context beyond the lovely girls in their paintings, which is something I also try my best to incorporate in my work. In addition, I really like the German Expressionist Franz Marc. He uses a lot of vibrant and beautiful color combinations. Cute, whimsical, magical girl/mahou shoujo things, childish things, outer space, 1950s atomic culture, Asian folklore (monsters and ghosts), Pop'n Music, glitches, fashion, and the NEC PC-8801 are also some things that fascinate me.
REMEMBERS PLAYING TurboGrafx-16 and Super Metroid
I played a fair amount of video games growing up, though maybe not as much as other people because of my parents and school. But I have very fond memories with every title I've played growing up. I'd say my fondest memories are probably my younger years with video games. The first three consoles my older brother and I had were an NES, a Super Nintendo, and a TurboGrafx-16! I have a very soft spot for that TurboGrafx-16 because it was so ridiculous just to get those cards to work. It's a perfect example of "you'll look back at this one day and laugh." It was probably also the last console I remember my dad playing a lot, even more than the SNES, before he started to dislike videogames and think they were a waste of time. So it was one of the consoles I remember specifically our family getting together to play, and I hold that very dear to me. The titles I remember getting the most excited to play were Bonk's Adventure and Ordyne. I have fond memories of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones too, but only because it was ridiculously hard. I also enjoyed falling asleep while my dad and brother played Military Madness. One of my favorite games EVER, and probably one of my fondest memories is tied to Super Metroid. This has spoilers, but if anyone hasn't played it yet, I don't know what to say other than "Why haven't you played it yet?" I think I was 5 or 6, and my brother was playing Super Metroid, and I was watching him. He was fighting the final boss, Mother Brain, and at that moment when Samus is about to die, the Metroid, from her previous mission, comes to save her by absorbing Mother Brain's energy to give to Samus. Mother Brain still has energy though and kills the Metroid. At that moment I started bawling. Even by the time the credits stopped rolling I was still crying. My brother got an empty glass jar and filled it with green liquid soap and crumpled tissues. Then, he showed it to me and told me the Metroid was safe and in captivity. I was in high spirits after that! These fond memories are actually what makes me want to make games. The happiest times in my life have been with video games, because a lot of the times it was when my family and friends would come together. Video games can be enjoyed alone, but I feel they're a lot of fun when others are there with you. I want to be part of the creation of games, and I hope they will possibly generate the same memories, and feelings in others that I had growing up with them.
HAS DIFFICULTY getting it all finished
The hardest thing is probably getting things done. There are a lot of things I want to do and have been asked to do but not that much time. It's very time consuming, from the initial sketch to the final product. There's always a margin of error, so I spend a lot of time having to go back and fix things for hours if it's not exactly what I want. A lot of times I lose a lot of sleep too if there's a deadline or if I'm caught up in trying to fix a problem. Drawing is hard in itself, too. There's a lot of things I'd still like to improve on. But, you know, do your best!
GETS UNSTUCK BY taking a break
A lot of times I go on Pixiv and browse illustrations. It usually gives me ideas, and I end up wanting to try a lot of things. Tumblr can also be good for that. Sometimes I'll play games, especially indie games, because I find a lot of the time they can be a bit more creative and experimental. Usually they leave me feeling like I can make wonderful things, too. One of my favorite sites is Glorious Trainwrecks. Occasionally, if I'm in a big rut, I take a break. I talk to my friends, or sometimes I just lay in bed and think to myself. You can find inspiration at the most unsuspecting times and places or in the most random conversations. I feel it's okay to take a break and not burn yourself out all the time. I think when you give yourself some space, it also allows you to recollect your thoughts and ideas so you can be re-energized and with that clear mind, you can find a solution to whatever block you were having.
SEES HER WORK AS cute
A lot of times I still feel that my art style is not set in stone, and sometimes it's inconsistent because it's still evolving and I want to try new things. How I drew 4 years ago or even a year ago isn't 100% like how I draw now. But for the most part, "cute" is probably the prominent adjective to describe my art no matter what style I use. Maybe "bittersweet" and "dark" could be used to describe some of my work as well.
WANTS TO collaborate
There are a lot of personal projects I want to execute, especially game-wise, but it's also very hard being a one-person team most of the time. I wouldn't mind working more with others. I'm currently working on a dating sim game that I've been meaning to do for awhile. I'd also like to try visual and interactive art for things like chiptune shows in the future!
WANTS VIDEO GAMES TO tell a story
To me, there definitely is a certain beauty in video games as an art form. It's more than a means of entertainment, and it's absolutely an artistic medium for a creative culture. It's a method of expression in its own way. It even has the potential to induce emotions. Some games can even be open for interpretation by the player, which I feel is no different than going to a museum and staring at a painting or sculpture and analyzing it. The amazing thing is you actually interact, in real time, with what is making you experience whatever you're feeling at that given moment. I feel storytelling is very important in all art. I believe even in the silliest gag games there's still some certain story being told and an objective the creator is trying to present to the player. Video games incorporate storytelling, visual art, and music, which on their own, can evoke emotions. So, the final effect can be quite massive after combining all these components into one. When you consider all these aspects underlying videogames, it's quite magnificent because it's so complex. That in itself is a beautiful thing.
First published on January 25, 2013. Broken links replaced August 22, 2015.