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Nobody is Born a Designer
Lilian Darmono is an Australian / Indonesian-Chinese artist living in London.
To say she has a diverse background is an understatement. She is not only multi-cultured and well traveled, her illustration style is a constant exploration of new styles. Yes, she tends to be on the cute side of things, but why not? Sometimes we just need to say "awwww" and feel a bit fuzzy inside.
In this interview, I tried to dig into Lilian's talent to find out her secret... how does she combine colors so masterfully? How does she (seemingly effortlessly) jump from one style to the next?
Lilian speaks very candidly about her career as a designer and illustrator and how being a woman has shaped that experience. She doesn't hold back, and I think this conversation has an incredible amount of wisdom and actionable strategies in it.
INSPIRATIONAL ART AND ARTISTS
Article by Brenda Chapman
Joey Korenman: The guest for this episode is one of the coolest, most interesting people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to in my entire life. Lilian Darmono is an illustrator, a character designer, an art director and all around creative person currently living in London. When I see her work and when I see other artists of that caliber, I really feel like they have some sort of voodoo, black magic secret that I don’t have. Why is it that they’re able to create images that look so beautiful and come with these ideas and these executions that are so polished and so professional and maybe you can hear it in my voice that I get frustrated when I … My own work falls short in my eyes.
With Lilian, I was really excited to dig into specifics, how do you draw well, how do you design well, what are the secrets? That’s what I’m all about the shortcut, how do I get the secret. Spoiler alert, there is no shortcut, there is no secret although I did get Lilian to give us some really good actionable tips. Then we got serious, we actually talked about some big issues in our field and in life and in general and I really hope you enjoy this interview. Here without further ado is Lilian Darmono. Lilian, thank you so much for taking time to chat with me today, I really appreciate it.
Lilian Darmono: No worries, nice chatting to you.
Joey Korenman: Rock on. I have a little sneak preview here that you sent me of some presentation slides that you’re going to be using at Faux Images next Tuesday which is September 1st, 2015 for anyone who’s listening. The first slide says, “The Australian/Indonesian Chinese woman.” I thought that was great. How much because I’ve read a lot of the things you’ve written, the stuff you’ve written on Motionographer and your work has that sensibility. How much has your background influenced the work you do?
Lilian Darmono: I think as I get older, I think it’s getting more and more of that case. There’s all these things that have come into my system without me even realizing it. For example, when I was growing up, I had access to all those European storybooks that you see in that presentation and some of them I still have with me. At a very early age, I fell in love with watercolor illustrations, things to do with gardens and fairies and leaves and plants and flowers. When I moved to Australia as an adult, they have a really famous series of illustrations called, I think it’s called Gumnut Babies or one of those things where if you see … I think you can google it. It’s like little babies that literally wears a kind of plant as their hat so it’s really, really cute.
That sort of stuff came to my system without me realizing it. All my life I think I’ve spent so much time and energy trying to fight against that nature, trying to fight against things that come naturally to me, I don’t know why. It’s one of those things that you do when you were young and you got told that this is who you need to be, this is what you need to do in order to make money, sometimes you do those things. Also the Indonesian art and folk art has a lot of really intricate lattice work and motifs and a lot of traditional brush work. A lot of that is starting to come into the way I paint when I’m really, really stressed with work. A lot of my work is digital so everything is computer based. When I’m really, really stressed with work, I have some downtime, something to have a break and really rest and relax.
I would do watercolors and as I get older and older, the watercolors tend to get more and more intricate. I really can get lost in the brush work and playing around with just pushing pools of water back and forth across the page and that really calms me down. Yeah, that’s the answer I guess.
Joey Korenman: You make it sound very calming, I want to go push water around on the page. One of the things that I like to … I would like to really dig in to the talent that people I get to interview have. It’s right before this interview I was actually watching this little documentary on … I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, his name is Jake Weidmann, he’s the youngest master penman in the world and he’s one of those guys …
Lilian Darmono: I saw a post about that on Facebook.
Joey Korenman: It’s incredible, you’d love it. He’s one of these guys that uses an old fashioned pen and spends three months on one piece and it’s super intricate. One of the things he says which I thought is really cool was one of the longest, oldest romances is between the eye and the hand. When I heard that, it made me feel horrible because I constantly criticize myself for being a horrible illustrator. I really am down on myself about my drawing abilities. One of the most basic things is just my hand will not do what I want it to. When I see illustrators and art directors like yourself who really have a lot of control and a lot of ability, I wonder, how did you get that? I was wondering if you could walk through your development as specifically an illustrator and later on we’ll dig into the art director part.
Lilian Darmono: Yeah. When I was about 17, 18, when I was doing the last two years in high school, I managed to get into a foundation program, it’s supposed to be one of those prestigious art programs that is marketed at people wanting to pursue a degree in design or art. It teaches you all the basics from life drawing, color theory, the [inaudible 00:06:22] rough foundation of graphic design as well as visual critique. That’s when I think my first hand, eye, brain coordination training began. We had to look at things and train our eyes to see things properly. I remember one exercise was about painting everything that’s white. The teacher would set up a still life that is a white box and there is a white bold in it and there is a white cloth in it and she said, “It’s not just white, you can see if you train your eyes that some parts is slightly warmer white, some parts is slightly colder white and we have to paint that.”
She’s a very, very harsh teacher so everyone is terrified of her. It’s torturous really in a way but looking back, I am very grateful for that sort of training. Now, unfortunately I abandoned that hand eye coordination thing when I started graphic design. All throughout my university years, that got pushed aside as … My education basically concentrated on everything that’s digital. We didn’t have any life drawing, we didn’t have any sketching and I just abandoned the drawing stuff and I didn’t really pick it up again until I was maybe about 27, 28, right before I moved to London.
To be honest, at that stage I was more of a motion designer, I wasn’t much of an illustrator at all. When I first moved to London there was no work. I had to do my own personal project in order to keep myself sane. That’s when I started doing digital style frames, I make this piece that’s just for fun and I put it up and put it out there and got my website together including that personal piece.
Not long after that I was hired to do my first style frame job for a company here in London. Then it continued from there and then not long after that, a year later, someone introduced me as an illustrator and it’s like, “Okay, I guess I am now.” Look, it’s been really hard, I think it’s one of those things that if you take it for granted and you don’t keep practicing to keep your skills sharp, it can just … Your brain and your muscles will just atrophy. It’s something that you need to constantly be on top of, it’s just hours and hours and hours of practice. There’s tons and tons of people out there who are just amazing who could indicate form and shapes with just three little strokes.
It’s something that I can’t do and people like that really inspire me. I think when it comes to illustration, it’s just … Look, it’s grant work you know, you just have to keep practicing. It’s just the hours you put in really.
Joey Korenman: Got it. That’s unfortunately what I suspected you would say is that it just takes a lot of practice. I’m curious though because I find with other things there is usually I’m not saying shortcuts but there’s usually some technique or some exercise that can really jumpstart things for people. For example I’m an animator, that’s really what I know the most about. When I taught at [Ringling 00:09:43] for example, we would teach students how to make a ball bounce, that’s the standard thing. If you can make a ball bounce look right, in the process you’re learning 10 things. You’re really like you’re getting a pretty broad overview of animation just with that one exercise.
I’m curious if there’s anything like that in illustration like maybe drawing a still life that everything is white or I don’t know, maybe drawing nudes. Is there some exercise that you’ve found over the years, maybe you had to do this at school that really helped develop that hand, eye coordination quickly?
Lilian Darmono: Yeah. A few years ago I was actually talking to Ian Kim who’s a very talented illustrator and designer. I don’t know if you know him, do you know him?
Joey Korenman: No, I’m not familiar.
Lilian Darmono: He’s just really amazing and I found him through Motionographer and I started writing to him and I said, “You have a very amazing quality of line in your drawing, how do you do that? Do you mind giving me a few tips, what sort of books and do you get some books and teach yourself how to do certain things?” He said, “Yeah, sure.” The one thing that really helps him he said and I think this is quite true is what you call blind contour drawing where you put your pencil or your charcoal on a fairly large piece of paper and then you put an object that you want to draw in front of you, not too far away. You only begin drawing the line once you’re convinced that the tip of your pencil, that’s actually touching the paper is touching the object that you’re drawing.
You’re feeling the contour of the object without looking at what you’re drawing at all. Never taking your eyes off the object and you just do that and let your lines flow throughout the page. I’ve done this several times and I haven’t done it for a long time now because of time pressure. It’s an exercise that can really drive you crazy because some of the people that are really good at it and obviously have that hand, eye coordination thing down pat, they can draw something that looks accurate. When I look down at my result, it would just be scribbles that goes over and over itself and I would just occupy my one corner of the page instead of proportionately using the entire piece of paper. That’s one.
The second one I guess if that really drives you crazy and you really have no patience for it as I did, just keep drawing nudes, keep drawing still lives. There is something there that is really difficult to do because your eye looks at an object and your eye and your brain knows how far away that object is from you physically because you have these two eyeballs that look at something. The parallaxing that those two eyeballs create in your brain, your brain somehow calculates distance, volume and all that sort of stuff. It’s a very difficult challenge to try and map what your brain knows as a three dimensional space and object into a two dimensional drawing.
The process of life drawing and still life drawing and whether it’s nudes, whether it’s just a glass of water or like a vase of flowers you have lying around at home, whatever it is, I think that’s the one thing that if you keep doing that a lot, you’re going to get really good really, really quickly.
Joey Korenman: That is brilliant, thank you so much for sharing those exercises. The blind contour thing, I didn’t know what it was called but I have tried that before and it’s infuriating.
Lilian Darmono: It just drives you crazy.
Joey Korenman: It really does, yeah. I’m really fascinated by things like that because for example, we did a special event at Ringling once which, it was called drawing week, we just drew for a week and it was very uncomfortable for me because I don’t draw very much. I was sitting there drawing and I was drawing the way I always draw which is with my wrist. Someone came over and said, “You’re supposed to draw with your whole arm.” I’d never heard that and it made this huge difference, all of a sudden I had all this control. It occurs to me there’s just all these little things that if you can put enough of those together, maybe you can get the ball rolling and then you can tackle form and shading and stippling and all these more advanced things.
Did you always draw when you were growing up or was it really in high school when you started to focus on it?
Lilian Darmono: I’ve always drawn since I could pick up a pencil. There would be hours and hours of me being silent in the corner. Of course that made my parents very happy that I didn’t go around bothering them. I would try and find whatever piece of paper is lying around and just draw. It would be something that the, I don’t know, old packaging or whatever. I was really little and I just kept drawing and drawing and drawing. Mom said, “Why don’t we send you to a drawing school or get some kind of after hours after school private tutor or whatever.” Our family is poor, I grew up quite poor. I said, “Why am I wasting money, I don’t like the idea of wasting mom and dad’s money like that.”
To me drawing is personal and it’s fun and I felt like once I introduce a private tutor or a school into it then it becomes less fun so I rejected the idea. It wasn’t until I decided that I want to pursue graphic design as a career when I was about 15 or 16 that I tried very, very hard to build my own personal portfolio to get into that “prestigious foundation program” in high school. It’s something that I’ve always done and I can’t … its’ who I am really, it’s just comes as second nature.
Joey Korenman: When you were drawing as a child, were you always … Were people always telling you, “You’re really good at this, you’ve got a knack for this.” Did you have to really develop it, going to school and practicing and now doing it professionally before you started to get recognized for your talent?
Lilian Darmono: Because I grew up in Indonesia, it’s a very difficult country to survive. As an Indonesian, the main thing that your parents want you to have is a stable career, something that will make you money, something that would widen that gap as far as wide as possible between the poverty line and where you are. Drawing and art was never taken seriously, there is no such thing as recognition for my talent, it just doesn’t exist. It’s just seen as a hobby, yeah, you can draw, that’s cute. It’s never something that came up as a, “This is a possible career thing.” I didn’t even know what graphic design was until a cousin of mine who’s, I don’t know, maybe eight years older decided to do graphic design in university. I suspect it was because his grades wasn’t good enough to get into engineering or something like that.
He was always a troublemaker and I think his mom was really glad that he picked something that’s relatively easy and somehow still manage to get a degree in it. Degree is more about the prestige of having a degree rather than it’s a training for your career. It was never a question of, you’re really good, you have a knack for this, it was just like, “Yeah. It’s something you do to pass your time, that’s cute.”
Joey Korenman: Now that you’ve got some success and you have a career, I assume your parents are a little more supportive. Was that difficult to have this thing that you liked and you were good at it but you weren’t actually being told that you were good at it. What was that like, growing up like that?
Lilian Darmono: It sucks because I think a lot of listeners out there, if you’re Asian, you would identify with this. Asian parents never praise, if you do something good, you never get praised, if you do something bad, you get chastised to no end. That’s just the kind of parents that my parents are. The funny thing is they have been really supportive, they have never tried to tell me I should be a doctor, they never try to tell me I should be an engineer or whatever it is. In fact it was my dad who pushed me to art and design because I was trying to decide whether I should take triple science as a major meaning biology and chemistry and physics in Singapore where I somehow managed to get a scholarship to go to Singapore at the age of 14.
It’s going to be a very tough course and the way the Singapore education is structured is that you have to pick one, you can’t pick both. You have to be either a science person or an arts person. When it came to the choosing, I asked dad, I was maybe about 15 years old. I said, “Do you think I should be a doctor or do you think I should be an artist or a graphic designer?” My dad just bluntly said, “You’re not cut out to be a doctor, [inaudible 00:18:38], you’re not cut out to be a doctor.” It’s not a diss but I think he knows me to be a very sensitive person that would get really upset if someone dies, someone I’m trying to save dies so I fail. If you’re a doctor and you fail at something, it’s a very serious consequence and I don’t think my dad felt that it’s the right thing for me, it would just destroy me.
Based on that, I decided to dedicate myself to pursuing graphic design and the first steps of which is to get into that foundation course so yeah.
Joey Korenman: Got it. When you were 14, you went to Singapore, did anyone come with you or was it just you?
Lilian Darmono: We were shipped out as a batch of 26 students, 13 girls and 13 boys. It’s an initiative of the Singapore government to give out scholarship to people in the Southeast Asian countries. Singapore was experiencing a massive brain drain, the population isn’t reproducing to replace the aging people. Young professionals are really hard to come by so what they did was they gave out scholarships with no attachments, no bonds and they’re just hoping that, “If we get to them young enough …” Some people even got sent out at the age of 12. I can’t imagine leaving home at the age of 12, 14 was hard enough. That’s how they did it. They thought that if they got to people young enough, eventually people would start feeling like Singapore is their home and would want to migrate there because let’s be honest, in the Southeast Asian region, it’s the best place to be.
It has the highest standard of living and everyone else is relatively a lot poorer so that’s their strategy.
Joey Korenman: Was it a lot of culture shock when you moved there?
Lilian Darmono: Massive, yeah. The first two years were absolutely hell. I remember when I was 14, it was the first time I left home, my parents were very protective and very loving. It was the first time I had to … Figuratively speaking, first time I had to tie my own shoe laces, not literally. I remember the first boarding house I stayed in was like a prison, it was really horrible, there was no hot water, food was served out in metal trays like in prison and we would get the worst kind of … I’m pretty sure it was stale, the bread was stale, we used to get fed baked beans and white bread every morning. There’s no choice about it, you just have to eat it otherwise you go starving. The rooms were cold and just moldy and it’s just horrible.
The first year, I think I cried the whole time and I kept going home every three months and eventually I couldn’t stand it anymore, living in a boarding house and I had to get mom to move me out. Like I mentioned before, my family is quite poor so somehow they managed to scrape up their savings and paid extra money to put me in a home stay situation where I’m staying with a family but renting out a private room in a family home that’s owned by a bunch of Singaporean family.
I moved from one [inaudible 00:21:52] into another, to another until I was about 16 I think, was it 16? No, 17 when my parents basically said, “Look, we have no more money, you have to move back into the boarding school system again.” I was still under scholarship at that time. Tough, you just have to do it. The second time around I made sure I picked a better boarding house because you’re actually allowed a choice. I didn’t know that when I first started out but you’re allowed to pick. I picked a better hostel which at least has hot water and has their own bathroom inside a room that you share with another girl. It’s like the American system of living in dorms.
Everything was much better, the food was better, I was old enough now to have a bit of confidence and I started making friends and it just became the best two years of my life. Starting out was really, really hard.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I can imagine. Do you keep in touch with friends you made during that time?
Lilian Darmono: Yeah, I still do. We all have really different lives now but there’s a few that … Especially the last two years where “real friendships” were formed. I still keep in touch with them and I’ve seen some of them in person after not having seen them for 10 years or so and it’s great. They’re scattered all over the world, some are here in England, some are in the US, some are in Singapore so it’s like having a network all across the globe really.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, it’s a really … Hearing your story, it really just drives home how sheltered I was and most people I know frankly don’t have any sort of experience like that. It’s interesting to me, one of the things I wrote down when I started Google stocking you for this interview was that I see so much, your work, so much of it, not all of it but so much of it, it’s just like painfully cute and beautiful and really just fun. I have two little girls and I was showing them your work and they love it. I wanted to know where that came from and now I’m wondering, were you drawing during this dark period, 14 to 16 and is this maybe a reaction to that, where does that stuff come from?
Lilian Darmono: Yes, I was. When I was 17 and 18 like I said, the last two years of school, what I call to be the two best years of my teenage life, that’s when I was in that foundation program. A lot of my personal work at that time was quite dark and I was the angsty, angry teenager painting acrylic pieces, listening to Alanis Morissette, [inaudible 00:24:41] portable CD player, I don’t know if anyone is old enough to remember portable CD players but I certainly had one. Everything was quite dark and I was really anti-cute, I was angry, the angry teenager. I had my outlet through art and I had my friends and stuff but there are still a lot of things that really made me angry because I was just that kind of teenager.
The cute stuff didn’t happen until I was … Let me think, I was probably in my second full time job in Sidney. At that time I was 27 and the full time job required me to do a lot and a lot of broadcast graphics so a lot of glossy things, sports channels, flying lozenges and ribbons and glows and stuff. I started doing cute stuff as an escape from that because it’s just something that I … I don’t know, it’s just something to do to comfort myself.
I really didn’t like Sidney, I was just there because of the work. I’ve been retrenched from my first job, I was really sick at the time and the company was bought by another company so I lost my full time job. Really sucks, especially when you’re sick, really sick. After that I decided to move to Sidney because I’ve been offered the full time job which is great, as a young designer, having a full time job, a staff position, it gives you the security and you get to pick up so many tricks and after effects from people that you work with. Really, there’s nothing cute about the actual work that I was doing. It just drove me crazy after a while so I started doing cute stuff on the side.
Until we had our second creative director, she was really corky, she’s very different from the first creative director who’s still there but because the company was doing really well, they were splitting the task between the two of them. I got to work with her a lot and she was really encouraging, she really liked all the cute corky stuff and the company won a contract to do a whole bunch of broadcast items for one of the main television channel in Australia called the ABC. She really liked the cute stuff and she said, “Yeah, let’s do some cute stuff.” She got me to make posters, little, cute paper dolls that then gets animated on top of this girl playing guitar, I think I still have it somewhere on Vimeo page, on my reel, it’s from back then.
That became the first stepping stone towards doing cute stuff that is related to animation or motion graphics. Before that it was just nothing, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Just flying lozenges, I love it.
Lilian Darmono: Flying lozenges, yeah.
Joey Korenman: We’ve all done the flying lozenge commercial, come on, admit it. That’s great. Just out of curiosity, what was it about Sidney that you didn’t like?
Lilian Darmono: Everything. They have this thing in Australia where people say you’re either a Melbourne person or a Sidney person. Another person said that if Melbourne is like Audrey Hepburn, Sidney is like Paris Hilton.
Joey Korenman: Wow, that says it all.
Lilian Darmono: To be nice and to be fair to people who love Sidney and people who are from Sidney, it’s fine, you can like Sidney, there’s plenty of things to like about it, beautiful beaches and great weather and all that sort of stuff. It’s just not as cultured as Melbourne is in a sense that you have to poke around a lot harder to find the alternative scene be it bars or cafes. One of the things we used to complain about when we moved there, me and my boyfriend who’s now my husband is that every single bar has a sports screen and every single bar has a chrome railing around the bar.
There’s nothing dimly lit or vintagy or kind of different or … It just feels like a place with no soul. I hated how disgusting it is with all the pollution. The one thing I hate the most is the cockroaches, you cannot escape cockroaches anywhere in Sidney.
It was the first time I heard that … I thought you just get some pest control people, come over to your house and then they do a roach bomb and everything will be fine and you don’t have to do it ever again. It’s not, it’s a six month thing or like a yearly thing, you have roach bomb your whole house. It’s just really gross and in summer you can see them crawling all over walls outside in gardens, it just drove me insane. We left, after two years we left to go back to Melbourne for a little bit and then we moved here to London in 2008, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Wow, you’re well-traveled.
Lilian Darmono: Yeah, I’m …
Joey Korenman: You’ve seen cockroaches all over the world. Let’s get back a little bit into the actual production of this work. You’re in Sidney and you’re working and it sounds like your standard motion graphic studio and you’re doing lozenge commercials but you’re also doing network branding packages, stuff like that. One of the things that an animator like myself and a lot of my fellow animators, we’re always fascinated by people who can just make beautiful boards. It’s like a dark art and at least it is to me. I want to dig in to a little bit of how you approach doing stuff like that. For example, if your creative director says, “Let’s do something cute.” Do you have a process for coming up with what you’re actually going to design?
Obviously before you design something you have to have an idea. What’s that process look like for you?
Lilian Darmono: Well, first of all we would have a conversation between myself as a designer, art director and the creative director and the client, whoever [is as 00:30:54] involved in the final outcome, we will have a proper conversation. If there isn’t one scheduled I would insist on one in which we would talk about what exactly are you looking for, what is your message, have you got any visual references, have you got a color palate, have you got a mood board? Sometimes depending on the timeline, it’s not always possible to have a mood board or a story board handed down to me when I begin the work. It’s actually a lot better if those things are already in place because you already know what the story is going to be, how it’s going to be broken down into an animated sequence and therefore you can pick one or two key frames in which it’s going to be really, really important to nail those frames right in order to set the art direction for the entire piece.
Usually when someone says, “Let’s do something cute.” You go, “Okay, what do you mean by cute? Do you mean [chat 00:31:49] like or do you mean naïve, is there a certain era, is it to bring some kind of childhood nostalgia? You try and get as much answers from them as possible, get them to talk about it, ask lots of questions and then throw back answers to them and throw back your own interpretation at the is what I would call a verbal return brief.
After that is done, usually we would all leave that meeting with a pretty good feeling of what they’re looking for. When they don’t know what they’re looking for then it’s our job as the creative team to step up and say, “I think this would solve your problem, what do you think?” Usually clients don’t know how to interpret anything unless you start giving them visuals so that’s when your confidence needs to really take over and you just go ahead and make some visuals. The visuals usually begin with sketches, either I do it on the computer, on Photoshop directly because there are some really amazing brushes that I bought off this guys called Kyle T. Webster. He sells some [crosstalk 00:32:56].
Joey Korenman: Legend, he’s a legend, yeah.
Lilian Darmono: Yeah. His pencil brush is my favorite because the way it works, it just makes me feel like I’m sketching on actual paper but because I’m doing it directly on Photoshop, I can just quickly change the scale of the head to the body or move things around or erase things. Let’s not forget the undo button is there. Either that or if I don’t feel like sitting in front of a computer, I would sit down somewhere else, not in front of the screen and just draw and then scan what I have and manipulate it and then get it to a stage where I’m happy to send as first black and white [inaudible 00:33:30] either to the creative director or to the end client directly depending on the job, depending on the pipeline that’s been set up. Then after that, then I would start coloring things in roughly.
It depends on what the style frame is. I used to get asked to do a lot of photo reel collage mixed with illustration type of style frames. That’s when you start by … Once your sketches are done then you start looking for a whole bunch of images that you can use to … Let’s say you need a hill with grass on it then you start looking for high res images on Google that is available that you can use. You can pick up the grass, pick up the tree. Most of the time these days it’s not that sort of stuff at all. If it’s vector then I would start drawing the first parts of the artwork and then sending it through at the end of the day or at the next working progress meeting or whatever and then just polishing it [inaudible 00:34:30].
Usually if I have three frames to do, I will try and get, depending on the job again, I would try and get either a 20% completion on each frame on all the three frames and then sending that across so they get a good sense of what I’m trying to build up. I would try and get one frame as finished as possible without getting too carried away in putting in the final touches and sending that across to see if they’re happy with it or not. If they are then I can apply the same treatment and strategies to the other frames. It really depends on what’s actually required, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Got it. Thank you for walking me through that because I think that’s a really helpful example of what does it look like to actually generate an idea and then present it to a client. I’m also curious about just, I don’t know, what do you think about this? To some people that I’ve met, ideas just fall out of them. They can’t go to the bathroom without coming back with some crazy idea. Then some people really have to sit there and suffer to get those ideas. I’m curious, do you think ideas are an innate thing that just some people have access to or did you have to spend a lot of time going through references and looking at other artwork and building up a vocabulary in your head to allow you to quickly generate ideas?
Then you can sketch it, then you can go into Photoshop and illustrate it but you need that idea first. I’m curious where you think that comes from.
Lilian Darmono: I think just like everything else in human beings, it really depends on how your brain is wired. If you’re a very … How do I say this, if you’re a very quick thinking, “creative” person, you’re just bubbling with different types of ideas. It’s almost like having a fast rate of metabolism in your head. You just keep turning through images that you’ve seen before like your synapses in the brain just reacts much more quickly with one another to produce something. If you’re a bit slower then obviously it’s going to take longer and it’s going to be a little bit more painful and probably it’s going to take you more time and more research material in order to come up with the same level of creativity as your neighbor next door who’s a lot quicker at coming up with ideas.
Almost like they can just come up with stuff on the go by the seat of their pants. I think it really depends on the person but I believe just like drawing and painting, it’s just like a muscle, if you don’t train it, it’s going to atrophy. Even if you’re a “genius” or a prodigy, if you get lazy, if you rest on your laurels and you never challenge the way you come up with ideas or the kind of things that you come up with, the kind of visuals that you want to produce. If you don’t challenge that then you’re going to end up making the same stuff over and over and over again. I even see this tendency with myself. For example, because a lot of my work is character based, when someone said, “Give me a businesswoman,” so she’s a professional. It really bothers me because I know the quickest, easiest solution is to make someone, draw a person with a bun on her head, just in a suit whether it’s jacket or blazer that’s dark colored.
I’m like, “Come on, is there not a better way or is there not another way to express this than just going back to the same stereotype?” I’m aware that why I do that is because a lot of the work I do is vector, a lot of the work I do is like really simplified, flat characters so I have to shorthand. I guess it’s not entirely my fault, it’s one of those things where as society or as consumers we’re programmed to understand quickly that that’s a businesswoman if she has a bun or a bob haircut. It’s just one of those things that as a designer, you pick up on that and you utilize it and utilize it. It drives me crazy when I start noticing things like that about myself like, come on, there must be other ways, there must be other things I can do to make it say the same thing without having to result to the same trick.
That’s why I’m constantly looking at people when I’m walking around or catching the train or going to wherever it is I’m going when I’m outside the house. I’m constantly looking at people actually because I want to know what they wear. I want to know how they style their hair because it’s going to come into my work, I just know it. It’s just looking out for again, inspiration whenever and wherever I go because I know I will need it.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that’s great advice. I think it probably helps you keep it fresh too. Yeah, in your career, how many businesswomen, businessmen have you been asked to draw, I’m sure dozens. One thing I definitely notice in your work which really impressed me frankly is just how different a lot of the styles are in your work. It’s pretty easy I think and it depends on what your ambitions are but it’s pretty easy to become just known for one style. Whenever a client needs that style, they go to you and that’s great, you can have a great career that way but it may not be as satisfying.
I’m talking about for example you had some frame for Kombucha, by the way, we’re going to link to all of these in the show notes, everyone can go look at it. Kombucha, AT&T, Google, Heinz, all four projects completely different looking. Not every designer, art director, illustrator has that ability or that capacity and I’m curious, is that a conscious effort on your part of is that just something that just comes out of you and you’re just interested in different styles?
Lilian Darmono: I think for me, it’s actually very, very hard to narrow myself down to one style. I’ve been trying to do it the past couple of years because I like a bit of diversity in my life and my work and motion and animation doesn’t satisfy me. It’s great and it’s going to continue to be my first love but I also want other things. I want my illustrations on plates, glasses, cups, curtains, cushions and all that sort of stuff. Children’s books is another one of my ambition, whether it’s educational or fictional or whatever. The illustration industry is very different than the motion industry or animation industry. The illustration industry really relies a lot on agents and agents are terrified of someone who does not have one style, who has ever so slightly diverse and they will run away from you.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last two years is to try and narrow it down to one style. Even then I get rejected time and time and time again because they think it’s too diverse, they think it’s just too diverse, it’s too diverse and I just keep hearing it. I’m at this point in my life where I just give up because I don’t know how to restrict myself to one thing. It would just drive me nuts, I can’t imagine … It sounds great at the outset because I thought, “Yeah, I can keep the diverse stuff with my animation things and then narrow stuff with the illustration work.” Illustration as in … We’re talking about publication, advertising, the traditional illustration industry. I know that this is going to be one of those things, is probably my husband as well who’s always there as the voice of reason next to me. He says, “You’re going to kill yourself if this happens to you, is this going to be one of those things where you be careful of what you wish for because when it happens, you’re going to hate it.
You sit there and you have to draw the same thing over and over and over again. You’re just going to go bonkers.” I think he’s right. I think when it comes to coming into one style, I think a designer and an art director usually will not be able to narrow it themselves down to one style. This is what sets them apart from artists or illustrators who are much more likely to be able to generate one style with great consistency and not feeling the horrible pressure of boredom. Of course it really depends on the usage of the term designer and which industry talking about. In my observation especially coming from Australia where the industry is a lot smaller, you are expected to be diverse. If you call yourself a designer and you’re in motion, you are expected to be diverse.
Joey Korenman: Let me ask you this, you mentioned children’s books. I know that you wrote and published a book, “Little Hedgie and the Springtime” which I saw the cover of it and it’s just so adorable.
Lilian Darmono: I didn’t write that, my husband wrote that and I just did the pictures.
Joey Korenman: You did the pi-, it looks beautiful. I also saw you have a lot of motion designers actually. You have a store on Society6 which is filled with a bunch of amazing stuff. I’m curious, is that you attempt to subvert this old style like agent system that really tries to pigeon hole artists or was that just more of an experiment like, “Let me see what happens if I put some work up here”?
Lilian Darmono: It’s a bit of both really. If I look at myself and I think really hard about what is it that I really want is I want my designs on products, I want my illustrations on products then why do I have to rely on an agent? I can put it out there myself. Sure, I don’t make any money out of it, it’s like if I sell a pair of leggings off Society6, I earn maybe two pounds which is like $4. Imagine how many of those you have to make in order to support yourself for months. Yeah, it’s just not a money making thing. It’s a great hobby and the great thing about doing it that way is that you don’t worry about supply chain, you don’t worry about stocks. When we were in Australia when I last spoke to you, we had a small artist stall in the art market in Melbourne.
It was really fun but I had to be there every Saturday, come rain or come shine, shivering in the cold, sweating in the heat and we had to sort out our own material. We had to organize the printing, we had T-shirts, we still have lots and lots of T-shirts that we didn’t manage to sell because there’s a minimum order that if you order less than that, they won’t do it for you. It’s a lot of stress, the merchandising side of things is not worth it. I thought, “Fine, I don’t make any money but it’s a great thing.” It’s just that satisfaction more than anything else, more than the money, it’s the satisfaction of seeing your illustration on a physical object that you can touch. We have a couple of cushions at home with my illustrations on it and a shower curtain with my illustration on it and I think that’s enough, I’m happy. Really, it doesn’t make me any money at all but it’s just … Yeah, it’s good.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. You don’t have to get too specific but I was curious how much income that actually brings you and how important do you think it is to think like an entrepreneur as a motion designer today?
Lilian Darmono: How important it is to be an entrepreneur?
Joey Korenman: Yeah, to me that’s what you’re doing if you’re putting your products out there for sale outside of the traditional motion design studio cable network kind of world that you typically work in. You’re branching out, that is a mini business that you’re engaging in.
Lilian Darmono: I don’t think of it as a business at all.
Joey Korenman: Maybe I’m projecting, I don’t know.
Lilian Darmono: Maybe. Look, I know a lot of people have done that, I have a friend who makes cinema 4D plug-ins. He’s been very successful on that level and I think that’s great. I think it really depends on who you are, I think it takes a certain kind of personality to be able to do that. It’s not the easiest thing in the world. You might think that doing client work is difficult but wait until you’re selling you stuff directly to the public. I’ve had people walk past my kiosk and say, “Yeah, that’s’ kind of okay but why would I buy that, I wouldn’t need it.” She was saying that to someone else she was walking with and it’s just … The public can be really harsh critiques and especially in today’s market where you have social media, you have that added pressure of getting as many likes as your competitor, it can be very demoralizing.
If you have the tenacity to do it then sure, it doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for everybody I guess. If you do have the spare brain power to do that then yeah, sure, why not? I think restricting yourself to one thing is … Why do that? I certainly didn’t and I hope that if people have the urge to start their own little business doing whatever it is they like then they should.
Joey Korenman: Well I’m really big into coffee mugs so I’m going to order a coffee mug with one of your prints on there for sure. All right, let’s get back a little bit into a little bit more of the geeky stuff. Again, I mentioned that to me, design, it’s something that I feel like I can fake. I have no education really in it. The best designers I’ve worked with, they make it look so easy that I sometimes wonder, is a design education necessary or do you just need to be wired that way, do you just need to be born with that gift? I’m curious first of all, do you think people are born designers or are they made designers?
Lilian Darmono: Nope, no one is born designers ever, ever, ever, I don’t believe in that. I think it’s a lot of training, I think it’s a lot of sweat and a lot of painful times in university or whatever education that you want to put yourself through whether it’s self-education by reading books or experimenting but it’s education. Education doesn’t have to mean that you go through college or university, education can mean reading books and coming up with sketches yourself. One of the things that was really useful for design because to me design is problem solving. Someone comes up to you with a problem, “I need to save this in 30 seconds and this is the kind of stuff that we have to stick to, these are the parameters, can you help me make something?”
That’s problem solving. When I was in university, I thought that the term design is problem solving. It’s just disgustingly wanky but now more than ever, I think it’s so true, that’s what we do. We’re not here as artists, we’re being paid to provide a service. One of the things that really came in handy in my current job as a problem solver was when I was forced to come up with all kinds of crazy stuff at university in very, very difficult briefs. One of the things that we had to do was to think of everyday objects and then draw them in such a way that they would defeat their original purpose if that makes sense. It’s inspired by my lecturer’s … My lecturer was inspired by the 1980s Japanese artist, Shigeo Fukuda. He’s the master of illusion and one of the things that he did was lots and lots of posters with that sort of visual puns.
For example, you would have a poster where it’s just flat color and there is a canon barrel in it. Instead of the bullet or the ammunition pointing the right way, it’s actually pointing into the barrel itself. I think that poster was made for a peace march or something like that.
Joey Korenman: I’m looking at it right now, it’s brilliant.
Lilian Darmono: Yeah. He showed us these stuff, I have never heard of who Fukuda was but it was one of the hardest assignment I’ve ever had to do in my whole life. I sucked at it, I think I got a D or something, I don’t remember what it was but I didn’t score very well in it. It was through that process that my brain was trained to think in that way, to think outside the box and really go through the painful emotion. It was really, really painful and throughout my first few years coming out of university, my first job was as a graphic designer. I had to do that many, many times especially with logo briefs. Logos are the hardest, it’s so difficult. How do you sum up the essence of a company and somehow manipulate the letter forms or the graphic symbol that represents the company in such a way that it’s visually appealing and clever.
My first boss, it was actually an internship. My boss, he was a genius, he’s just a master at it and just looking at him come up with those ideas, I was just [floored 00:51:47]. How the hell did you do that? Inspired by him, the first few years although … My first love is illustration but somehow I sort of denied myself and became a graphic designer. Watching him do that was amazing and I went through the same process, how painful it was when I was working for him. Looking back I think wow, I first thought that those were wasted years because I wasn’t doing motion, I wasn’t doing illustration but I would not be the person that can solve problems the way I need to today had it not been for those things.
No one is a born designer, it’s a difficult, painful training that everyone needs to go through I think.
Joey Korenman: Yeah and I think you’re totally right. Learning to think especially logo design’s a great example. You have to be so clever and concise visually just with simple visual language. I think that that’s definitely like half the equation of being a good designer. Then the other half is making an image that’s nice to look at. Even if you took out the, let’s come up with something interesting to create an image about, even if you just said, “Here’s your five elements, here’s your color pallet …” I guess if you didn’t give me a color pallet it would be even harder. I still find it challenging to compose the image and choose the color pallet and get a value structure that works. I’m curious if doing those things now is just unconscious to you or do you still rely on things like the rule of thirds and thinking of color schemes like triads and split complimentary and stuff like that. How much does the technical stuff still come into play for you?
Lilian Darmono: All the time, all the time. The fact that it’s second nature now, it doesn’t mean that those things do not come into play. They do come into play, it’s just that you don’t even call it that in your brain. You’re just moving things around and your eye … Compositionwise, you move things around and your eye goes, “Yeah, that looks right, no that doesn’t … We’ll change this to that.” You’re subconsciously applying the principles that’s you’ve already learned. When it comes to colors which is one of the things I love, it’s a little bit more obvious like I can hear my brain telling myself, “Okay, if the primary color is red, the color palate is red, if you want to make something pop out then we use the complimentary which is the green or the blue or the cyan.” That still happens in my head, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Got it, that training has drilled into you deep enough that it’s still comes back out. Color specifically, I know that’s something that a lot of people struggle with because it seems like some people are good with color and some aren’t. Why do you think that is, do you think it’s actually technical skill to become good at combining colors and creating palates or is it more of an intuition thing?
Lilian Darmono: That’s a hard one. I think there is something to the notion that your yellow isn’t the same as my yellow. That whole thing, the scientific thing behind it, you know what I mean?
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Lilian Darmono: That everyone perceives color differently and also scientifically more males are more likely to be color blind than females. It’s one of those studies that it’s … Obviously it’s hard to be 100% conclusive because you can’t sample the entire world. There is a notion that women are better at colors than men and things like that. I don’t know how true that is but I don’t know, that’s a really hard one. I am a believer that if you train yourself hard enough visually, anything is possible. It’s just like doing life drawing or anything like that, it’s really come down to just hand, eye, brain coordination, that’s it, that’s all there is to it. The difference between a novice and a high level professional is just the number of hours that the high level professional has had to put in to get to that stage.
I think anything is possible but again, I think some of it has something to do with again, the way your eyes and your brain is wired. Some people don’t perceive color the same way as others.
Joey Korenman: That’s a perfect segue, thank you for doing that. One of the things that was interesting to me. A while back I had to do a job for a Progressive Insurance and they have that spokeswoman, Flo. We had to create an illustrated version of her. My art director was telling me because we needed to hire an illustrator to do it and he was very adamant that we hire a female illustrator. He’s a trained illustrator and he said, “Women see things differently and they draw things differently.” It never occurred to me that that might be the case. I’m curious because you mentioned that there’s this thought out there true or not that women might be better with color and more men are color blind than women. Do you think women actually see art differently and see the world differently and that that comes through in their art?
Lilian Darmono: Well, for examples the Oculus Rift, it’s been known to make women dizzy. More women are likely to be dizzy wearing it, using it than men. That’s something that nobody expected, nobody thought of it, nobody thought this would be an issue but it’s true. There must be a way to finding out that I’m sure the scientists are working on it right now but there must be something to it that there’s a slight difference between … I don’t know what it is, the refresh rate or whatever it is that connects your eyes to your brain that is affected by the Y chromosome.
It’s one of those very difficult things because if … I know that a lot of people would really wary about saying things in relation to gender because they don’t want to be seen as sexist or have preconceived notions about what is suitable for men and what’s suitable for women, I don’t know. As a woman, I have to say that yeah, I think there is a certain difference in the way we see the world. For example in the article that I wrote for Motionographer about not letting the model out there. The industry is predominantly male. Let’s not let that model of how you define success affect you if you’re not one of the majority. I guess the way you see it is like in the world it’s all about climbing up higher and higher so there’s a vertical structure whereas as a woman, I find personally that I’m a lot more satisfied when I have a more well-rounded sense of achievement.
Life is going well, work is going well, I have time to see my friends, I still find time to look after my cats and things like that. I think that way of seeing the world and seeing what achievement and success means to you, if you’re a novice, that’s going to come through in your art and that’s going to come through in the way you see the world. That’s going to come through in the way you express yourself. I can’t speak for everyone else and of course there’s always going to be exception because you can’t justify people by binary gender to begin with, let alone define people by how they see the world based on that binary gender. I think without making a blanket statement for everybody, for me personally, if I’m a woman, this is how I see the world and I see that as a different thing than how my male friends see the world and express themselves in their art.
Joey Korenman: Totally. Just so it’s out there, I know we’re kind of walking into a mine field here. I like this because I totally … When I read the Motionographer article, I was just nodding my head the whole time. In my experience coming up and freelancing and working, there were very few female motion designers around me and it was very much a boys’ club and it was definitely that stereotype of all the producers are women and the editors and the animators are men. One thing that reassures me now is having taught it at Ringling and now teaching online, it’s getting close to half and half, men and women. It’s really coming up, there are some amazing talent out there. Again, we’re talking about the mine field, sometimes when you compliment someone and you make a list of really good women designers or motion designers, it almost becomes sexist because you’re making a list.
I just wanted to … Just so it’s out there, disclaimer like, “These are all very talented people, it doesn’t matter what sex they are.” You’ve got Karin Fong, you’ve got Erin Sarofsky, you’ve got … I would definitely put you in that category, up and comers, Erica Gorochow’s brilliant. There’s a lot of role models I think that hopefully this generation of motion designers will be able to look up to, female motion designers on the way up. I’m curious if you felt that you had a lack of role models and how that affected the way that you felt you had to behave as you were building your career.
Lilian Darmono: Yes, I definitely don’t have any role models up until I came up into Sidney and had that second job where that amazing female director, her name Marcelle Lunam. Marcelle if you’re listening, hello. Yeah, she’s fantastic, she was my first amazing role model. Before that, the women in power that I have come across that I have had to deal directly i.e. my creative output was judged directly by them and I had to make changes based on what they say, have been awful, awful people.
It’s that really sad example of women in power being really bitchy and bossy and rude and mean because they have had to fight so much and they have had to fight so hard to get to where they are. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten how to be kind or decide not to prepare you for the harsh world out there. Whether it’s through neglect or through intention, the experience doesn’t come across very nice for a young female designer coming up in the world to have that sort of role model.
The thing about me was that I was the younger sibling, there was two of us in the family. I grew up with a brother who’s a lot older so for a lack of a better word, I’ve been a bit of a tomboy. I find hanging out with men and working alongside men was sort of tolerable to a certain extent until I became older. It just started to be a little bit more difficult because of the awkwardness that comes out in …
For example right now, if there is a motion design event in town, in London, it’s almost difficult for me to make myself go because I feel like if I turn up, people are going to look at me and either assume I’m a producer, no offense for producers out there. It’s just the assumptions that I can’t stand. They either assume I’m a producer, I don’t know my way around After Effects, I don’t know what I’m talking about or I’m just someone’s girlfriend. Whether that’s just a chip on my shoulder or it’s real, it’s very difficult to say of course but you know, it’s quite difficult.
Definitely not until I’ve read that article by Brenda Chapman when she was first kicked off Brave, that she said something along … I’ve tried to find that article since but I haven’t managed to. She said something along the line of, “As a woman in the creative industry, it’s like you go to meetings and have your ideas ignored until they are spoken by your male counterpart and then suddenly get treated as gold.” That’s happened to me personally.
It’s very difficult reading that, it’s almost like reliving a trauma. It’s just horrible and I just don’t want that on anyone, I don’t wish that on anyone. It’s really, really horrible and one of the discussions that’s happened on Facebook on Justin Kohn’s wall or page was when we were talking about diversity. A black designer actually said that when he comes into a motion studio in New York, the receptionist would say, “Dropping off or picking up?” That’s so horrible, it is so painful to hear him say that. It’s just, why do we do these things to people?
Joey Korenman: I know, I like to think because I lived in Boston for a long time. Very progressive, very liberal city, very open and so you can almost forget for a little while that we’re not actually in a post-racial, post-discrimination world, it’s still there. Now, when you hear stories like that, do you think that that is conscious bias or is it unconscious, sort of ingrained in us by the way we were brought up?
Lilian Darmono: I don’t think that question really matters. I think a bias is just a bias and sometimes from observation, unconscious bias can hurt more than a conscious one because it is so … Especially when it comes to sexism, it is so difficult to spot and it’s so difficult to call out because … Like a great quote by Michelle Higa when we’re talking about this, she said, “Don’t attribute something to malice that which can be attributed to stupidity.”
Also this notion of having imaginary enemies, how do you know when someone is … It’s like when someone says something unpleasant or do something horrible, it’s like, “Wait a minute, was I not included in that meeting because I’m a woman or because they just simply don’t have time or they’re other thousand other factors in production that I don’t know of?” It’s very, very hard to spot, to know for sure. Until you know for sure, we live in a society where until you know for sure, don’t cry and say, “Aha, guilty,” because it’s just you try and maintain peace in a workplace and all that sort of stuff.
It’s really, really difficult. As someone that’s experienced racism and sexism, I think a bias is a bias and I think trying to split it whether it’s conscious or unconscious can be detrimental to correcting that bias. That’s my personal feeling about it.
Joey Korenman: Got you, yeah, I guess wasn’t … I definitely wasn’t saying that it’s more justified or less justified if it’s unconscious, it’s more of the idea that … Like for me personally, I’m poster boy, I’m privileged white male in America, grew up middle class. I’m almost, like a lot of Americans in my situation, I’m like overly self-conscious about being incredibly inclusive to everybody. Even that sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable, like that’s a weird form of bias.
I guess the reason I was asking do you think it’s conscious or unconscious is if it’s conscious, there’s nothing that can be done about it really. If it’s unconscious, there probably is something that can be done. I’m curious if you have any thoughts on what should we be doing different as for example as parents, I have two girls. Were there anything, things that happened to you as a little kid that shaped you that maybe like landmines I could avoid with my kids. I don’t know, not buying them as many dolls.
These are questions that I think as a society, we have to answer but for me personally, I’m curious what your insight is.
Lilian Darmono: I think you just do your best. I think the best thing you can teach your kids is to be humble enough to admit that they’ve made a mistake. To be humble enough to admit that they’ve got a bias, whatever it is because as human beings, we’re never going to be perfect. As human beings, we’re always going to have a bias. I, myself even though I’m a woman, I am sure that I have this bias deep inside my brain somewhere that if a senior person is a woman because of my past experiences, if I’m going to be working under a woman versus working under a man, if everything else being equal, it would be nicer to work under a man because he would be less likely to be bitchy and mean to me, blah, blah, blah.
It’s a bias, I have that bias. It’s uncomfortable to admit it to yourself that you’re biased. It’s uncomfortable to admit to yourself that you’re flawed. I think that’s the best you can do really. Everything else of course, common sense, you don’t buy your daughters pink toys or … The thing is, you can go all the way too far and overly correct something. Feminism and gender equality is a complicated issue. If your daughter actually really likes pink, are you going to stop her from having pink stuff because you say, “Oh no, socially it’s very [tired 01:09:28] to be pink, that you’ll be obsessed with pink stuff.”
I’ve drawn stuff in my 100 project thing with the cakes and the characters. Sometimes, I just like drawing pretty cakes with pink stuff and then as a person, that cake will be a girl with a pink dress. I’ve done that and I do say in my captioning like, “Sometimes the social justice warrior needs to take a break and just draw pretty stuff.” Whether it’s pink or blue or male or female, it’s just … I don’t know, it’s pretty.
I guess consciously, you just do the stuff that you know is going to help but at the same time, it’s always going to be a complicated thing. The most important thing is to teach them to admit that they are flawed. I think that’s the biggest thing you need, that’s the most important thing you need to have as a person if we were to progress anywhere, I think.
Joey Korenman: I think that’s brilliant, brilliant advice. Just for the record, there’s no way I could possibly stop my daughter from having pink things. That’s just … It’s like she was born loving the color pink. Another thing obviously, the elephant in the room that it’s a challenge that only women face is giving birth. I believe maybe on Twitter or something, you’ve had a couple of comments where you’ve asked people, “What’s some advice for women?”
You’re married, I’m assuming maybe one day you’ll want to have children, how do you think about that challenge because that is definitely a distinctly female thing. I’ve seen childbirth but that doesn’t mean I know anything about it. I’m curious what are your thoughts on juggling that challenge, being pregnant, giving birth and then being a mom, with the realities of this business?
Lilian Darmono: It’s absolutely frightening and I don’t know how anyone can do it. I believe that it can be done. That’s the thing about the whole thing. It’s like if we stop seeing achievement as awards whether it’s Young Guns or D&AD. Again, nothing against those award giving institutions, I’m just saying that that’s what’s popular out there. If we stop seeing life as measured by those milestones, then we probably will be a lot kinder to people who apply for jobs, who are planning to have children in the next year, in the next six months or in the next whatever.
It’s actually really relevant in my life right now because as you said, we are thinking of having children in the near future. I don’t know whether it’s a year or two years, it really is a bigger question out there, is whether do we move home to Australia or do we stay here in London, blah, blah, blah. Actually my best friend who lives in the next building is having a bit of a tough time at the moment juggling motherhood and running a company. She and her husband have formed a small amazing animation studio called PICNIC in London.
At the moment the husband is away and she really she’s relying on me. I’m trying to help her look after the baby and she is just the cutest little baby in the whole planet. Looking at her, my ovaries just explode.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Lilian Darmono: It’s not a chore for me but I’m doing it also because I know how tough it can be. She doesn’t have any family here and it can be really tough when you haven’t got any families around or any relatives, cousins or sisters or whatever or in-laws. I think we need to help each other and that’s what I’m doing this week while her husband is away. It’s why we probably should wrap up soon-ish so I could go over and help her bathe her little child but yes, it’s crazy.
Again it’s one of those things personally, I’m the kind of person that is too afraid of the future and too afraid of everything and I overthink everything and I’m only just coming into a stage where I learn not to do that. I think personally I will not think of how difficult it would be and I will just have to tackle it as it comes because that’s the only way you can get anywhere it seems. I’m just consciously shutting my mind off, looking at the difficulties that my friend over there, [Mina 01:13:46] is going through and thinking, “Oh my God, it’s going to be so hard.”
I’m like, “No, it’s going to be fine,” just telling myself, “It’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine.” Yeah, hopefully it’s just one thing at a time. It is an even bigger challenge though because there’s not a lot of role models out there of women in motion and animation who have had to juggle both career and family. I know Naomi from PandaPanther is one and we used to keep in touch a while ago and I used to do some work for them. I think they’ve taken some time off commercial work and started doing their own personal films and I haven’t heard from them in quite a while.
Now her daughter is getting into that age of going to kindergarten and stuff and they’re still around, they’re still doing great work so I don’t know, it’s nothing to be afraid of. Another great mother out there who’s running a company with her husband is [Sophlee 01:14:49] with Darren Price. They’re running Mighty Nice in Sydney, they’re represented by Nexus here in London. Sophlee has two boys and a girl and three children and all under the age of 10 or five. I think the little girl is really, really young still. She’s still doing work, she’s art directing, she’s designing, she’s illustrating.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for her but amazing, amazing ladies out there. There’s not just enough of them because maybe we need to be talking to more of them so younger women can see that it’s fine, it’s going to be okay.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I agree so much with you. I think that especially once you get to a point in your career, which I think you’re definitely at, where you’re going to have options that are going to allow you to juggle things that maybe a 20 year old wouldn’t be able to. You probably have a little more flexibility to dictate your schedule especially … You’re a freelancer right now, right?
Lilian Darmono: Yeah, I am.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, you find clients that are understanding and especially if you’re doing work … I know you work with a lot of US studios and with the time difference, your hours are shifted anyway. There’s ways to make it work, I’ve seen it before. It’s definitely not easy but nothing is when it comes to children as you’re seeing with your friend, right?
Lilian Darmono: Yeah, I know. You can have a full time job, you can be in another industry that’s not animation and it can be just as hard, kids are just hard.
Joey Korenman: This is true, this is true.
Lilian Darmono: You’re a parent, you wouldn’t trade those two little girls for anything in the world. It’s totally worth it, right?
Joey Korenman: Exactly. I have a little boy too. I actually have three and they’re all under the age of five.
Lilian Darmono: Oh my goodness.
Joey Korenman: I’m fortunate I married superwoman and she keeps it all straight for me.
Lilian Darmono: Wow, amazing.
Joey Korenman: My wife’s incredible. Let’s wrap it up with this, you’ve had … By the way, thank you so much. This has been such an interesting conversation for me. It didn’t really go … It started off going like on this world tour and it got a little dark, now we’re digging into social issues, I’m loving this. I’m curious, now that you’re married and you’ve got this idea that at some point in the next couple of years, you may have children, you’ve had … I don’t know how you feel about it but from my vantage point, it looks like an arguably successful career and a great reputation and a great body of work.
Lilian Darmono: I hope so.
Joey Korenman: What’s next for you? What’s your professional and personal goals in the next say five years?
Lilian Darmono: Well, at the moment, I have started doing more and more art direction for kids’ TV series so nothing else more fitting, right? Thinking of having kids and then doing more kids’ stuff, it’s so cute, it’s so amazingly corky and broody. That’s going to be the next challenge I guess because it’s something that I haven’t done much before in the past. In terms of the time turnaround, it’s going to be longer, it’s going to require more long-term thinking and consistency has to go across everything in the next eight months rather than three weeks, it’s a huge difference.
Continuing with everything else I guess, painting and drawing and putting out bits and pieces on society stakes that makes me 30 cents per item or whatever it is. I don’t know, I’m just happy really. Again, it’s taken me a long time to be content with where I am in life and in work. A lot of it is not external, a lot of it is internal, it’s about how I choose to see myself and to see the life and the goals that I want to have in it.
A lot of it is just thanks to my husband who’s always there to be supportive and also to be strict with me when he sees me doing things that hurts myself like indulging in self-pity, indulging in despair, indulging in insecurity because we’re all adults, we’re all going to be insecure at some point or other in our lives. That’s just, it’s something that I’ve come to accept as normal now because everyone I’ve spoken to, no matter how amazingly talented they are, they would have those moments and I think it’s completely natural.
Yeah, I’m probably not going to win any awards any time soon but again, I don’t believe in that system of measuring myself because again, it’s one of those arbitrary things. I guess it’s just tracking along and keeping everything in balance, life, work and children hopefully someday and I don’t know, we’ll see what else comes up I guess, you never know.
Joey Korenman: Awesome. I am certain that you’re going to be very successful in whatever you do. I want to say thank you one more time for coming on and chatting with me.
Lilian Darmono: No worries, thanks for having me.
Joey Korenman: I’m really glad that this interview went where it did. I really have to thank Lilian for not being afraid to dig into her past, even the not so fun parts and to talk about her fears around having children and still being able to work in this field. These are all really deep issues that it’s easy to just brush aside and dance around and especially the whole idea that motion design has been a sausage party for a very long time.
I do think things are starting to change and I think that it’s women like Lilian that are really helping to lead that charge. Lilian is really now one of those role models that she wishes she had when she was coming up. She is now that successful brilliant female motion designer that others can look up to. There’s a lot of up and coming motion designers who are brilliant in their own right.
You’ve got Erica Gorochow, I’m a huge fan of, Alex Pope, brilliant Ringling grad, Amy Sundin, our own Amy Sundin. I think that it’s just going to get better and better and there’s going to be more parity and more balance in our field which is definitely a good thing. I also really hope that you got a lot of interesting ideas and resources and frankly, I can’t wait to go practice some blind contour drawing and see if that makes me any more proficient. That link between my eye and my hand is pretty crappy at the moment so I’m going to work on that and I hope you do too.
All of the resources and the links and the artists that we talked about are going to be in the show notes on schoolofmotion.com on the page where this interview is. Head over there and you can go through all that, click on the links and get access to anything we talked about. Thank you so much for listening, thank you to Lilian for being really, really generous with her time. I will talk to you guys on the next one of these. Take care.