Khou Vue


Artist Name: Khou Vue

What do you consider yourself? Artist, illustrator, painter, designer, other?

I’m a graphic designer and illustrator.

What kinds of projects have you done in the past?

I’ve worked as a graphic designer for the past 11 years. I started in educational publishing in product design, then marketing design. After that, I started working in eLearning which involved a lot of UX and web design. Now, as a freelancer, I do anything from branding, marketing design, illustration and some production design. I’m trying to shift fully into illustration, so whatever project I’m working on I add in some element of illustration.

Could you talk about how you got into art or doing what you do today? What’s your story? What made you want to pursue this path? Were there any challenges you had along the way?

I’ve always loved drawing and crafting from a young age, but creativity wasn’t really encouraged or nurtured in my family. As a first-gen kid of immigrants, I had no clue there were jobs like graphic design and illustration.

Throughout high school, I never took art classes very seriously, but I continued to sign up because I enjoyed them as they were low-pressure and therapeutic for me. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I started to think that I could pursue a creative career. When it was time to decide what I wanted to study in college I thought a career in Architecture would allow me to earn a living and be creative. I tried it out for a little while and did not enjoy it at all. When I went to talk to one of my architecture professors about how unhappy I was and that I still wanted a job where I could be creative, he suggested that I try graphic design. I signed up for an intro to graphic design class and I ended up really loving it, so I stuck with it.

My challenges along the way were figuring out what I wanted to pursue, actually going through the design program and graduating, then finding a job that I’d be happy with. The latter has proven to be constantly evolving as I evolve. I’ve finally settled on freelance illustration as the ideal job for me, but I really struggle with trusting my skills and having confidence in my artwork. I also have to reconcile with the reality that I may never be able to live solely off of freelance illustration, it may always need to be supplemented with another job. Another major challenge is pushing myself to move forward to continually improve my craft, skill, thinking, and business knowledge in freelance illustration in order to confidently earn a living…all while maintaining my mental and physical health. No pressure though.

Did you attended art school or majored/minored in Art or Design in college? If so, what were your experiences with it and did you think it helped you become a better artist? If you did not attended college or attended but did not majored in anything art-related, what helped pushed you to pursue art or improve your craft?

I graduated from the Visual Communication Design program at Kent State University in Ohio. It definitely pushed me and helped me grow as a designer. Just being in class with your peers, seeing their work, sharing my work, and getting critiques are all experiences that are invaluable. It’s possible to have success as an artist who’s self-taught, but in my case, I know that I learn better in a classroom. Overall, going to school definitely paid off for me, so I think the investment in myself was worth it.

The curriculum when I was at Kent State branches off into a few different focuses: environmental design, 2d design (web/UX), and illustration. I took the 2D branch. Now that I look back, I wish I would have gone in the Illustration route, but I think I chose the right course that was right for me at the time. I guess I had to go through all the experiences I’ve had in order to get to the place where I felt like Illustration is the next step for me. I’m learning to make peace with my choices. I think I’ll always be changing and learning and trying to be better however slow my progress may come.

How do you balance art with work and life? How do you make time for art?

One main reason I’m striving to be a freelance illustrator is because I want the flexibility of a freelancer’s lifestyle. I have one daughter and I’d like to have more children in the future, so I want to be able to do creative work from home. Right now, I’m still trying to find balance…I’m struggling to make time for my own personal projects while keeping up with my freelance design work and making time for family.


Do you think making money from your art is important to you? Do you make money from your art? If so, how?

In my case, I do think making money is important because I want to live comfortably and freely. Living with the freedom to create the work you want requires money. An illustration career really requires some money up-front to get started. You have to be able to afford to promote yourself and produce your own marketing all the while paying for living expenses. Right now, the majority of my income is from freelance and contract design work. A very small portion is from freelance illustration.

Where do you get your ideas from?

I think most of my inspiration comes from life. Traveling, my daughter, movies, books, other artists/illustrators/designers. I have some ideas for a picture book swirling in my head inspired by my childhood. For client work, I work from a client’s business or creative brief for ideas.

What kinds of tools do you use to make your work or what is your typical artistic process like?

Research is first, then thumbnail sketches. I usually sketch on paper with pencil first just to get ideas out fast. Once I’m happy with a rough sketch, I’ll bring it into Procreate to refine. When the sketch is nice and clean, I like to do a color study, which I find really saves time and allows me to be less indecisive. Sometimes I’ll paint in Photoshop if the illustration is complex and requires a lot of layers. I also occasionally work in Illustrator on top of pencil sketches if the final needs to be resized.

Are there any artists you look up to or find inspiring?

There are so many contemporary artists in many disciplines whose work and career are so great, so it’s hard to name them all. I really like Yuko Shimizu. She’s also a teacher at SVA so she’s great at sharing her story of finding illustration a little later in life and sharing her artistic process. I love the simplicity and playfulness of mid-century art/illustration/design of the Eames, Saul Bass (particularly his movie posters), Paul Rand, and Mary Blair. I really love the playful yet somber and melancholy tone of Arnold Lobel books; he wrote and illustrated the Frog and Toad books.


Do you have any favorite books, apps, movies, resources, or art tools that you recommend?

I pretty much do all my work digitally. I love the iPad pro, apple pen, and Procreate. I pretty much use Adobe CC everyday so I guess it’s worth it’s high price. Sketching with plain old paper and pencil are great for getting ideas out fast.

Is there any advice you would like to give to young artists or people just starting out?

Pay attention to what you’re naturally drawn to and nurture those things. I remember when I was little, I always loved drawing girls, but my older sisters always made fun of me for constantly drawing girls so I stopped. As I found illustration again as an adult, the most attention I’ve gotten so far is when I’ve drawn women, so I think there’s something there. But I guess for general advice I’d say, have humility and be receptive to the things you don’t know, continue learning more of what you’re interested in, and stick up for yourself but don’t be a jerk.

Is there anybody you would like to collaborate with or work for? Could be a person, another artist, or company.

I love NoBrow books and Chronicle books. Would love to illustrate books/products with them.

What is your ultimate dream project or something you’ll like to accomplish in your lifetime (could be art or non-art related)?

It would be a dream-come-true to get published in The New York Times and The New Yorker. To be a Caldecott winning illustrator and a New-York Times best-selling author/illustrator would be amazing.

Are there any projects that you’re working on or in the near future that you would like to tell us about?

I’m currently contracting with General Mills doing digital marketing design and one project I’m excited about is creating GIPHY stickers for their yogurt products. I also want to take some time off this year to work on a children’s book and create more personal work.

What is the best way to get a hold of you or view or purchase your work?