Ara Simon is an IT graduate who’s currently working part-time as a web and graphics designer for an IT-consulting company. She does freelance work and a bunch of other things on the side. She is also the UI designer of a game by Matchaa Studio called Golden Hour, a dating sim set in the Philippines. During her free time, Ara sometimes likes to play DnD and other RP games.
Q: Everyone has an origin story. Could you share with us the exact moment (or moments) wherein you realized that you wanted to become an artist?
There wasn’t any definitive moment that lead me to think that I wanted to be an artist, drawing was just something I do. Though for the longest time, it didn’t think of myself as one. I had this idea of what an artist was: working in a studio, laboring over large canvases, creating study after study. I liked it as an idea but toiling over large canvases was too much work. My family (or at least the ones I interact with regularly) had a narrow view on art itself. And although still life and portraiture definitely have their own merits and I highly respect artists who do them, I wasn’t attracted to doing these types of work personally. What I did find interesting were what people deem as “lower” forms of art such as cartoons, anime, and games. Younger me found relationship with characters moving onscreen, going on adventures, telling their story. And I wanted these stories portrayed on my own terms-so I drew. I just wanted catharsis from the things I was trying to process.
Q: From that moment, and throughout your journey as an artist, what has been your biggest struggle?
It was a struggle coming to terms with my identity as an artist and broadening my view to accept all forms of art. My parents are supportive in a lot of ways. They enrolled me in art classes as a child, but they didn’t find cartoons, comics, and games very interesting as an art form. They didn’t dissuade me from drawing what I wanted though, so I’m thankful for that. But when you grow up in an environment where they respect your skill in drawing “anime and cartoons” but trivialize it as a passing interest with no future, it’s very difficult to take yourself seriously. At twenty-five, I still sometimes catch myself doubting my identity. I still shy away from the term and I’d find myself dubious about the words written on my email footer: “Ara Simon, Freelance Artist”. But it’s a bad habit I am growing out of.
On the physical side of things, my body has grown frailer over the years and my hand is very susceptible to pain, so that sucks. There was a time where my hand would throb with pain. I sought two separate doctors for it, did some tests, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with it. But the pain would resurface every time my hand would try anything that requires precision such as holding chopsticks and drawing. I had to rest for months before I could pick up a pen again without it hurting. Sent me into an existential crisis. It wasn’t fun but got me to reflect on a lot of things.
Q: How have you been able to cope with (or overcome) this struggle?
Part of the reason I feel confident in calling myself as an artist is because I have friends who respect the work I do and who the same thing I do. Being surrounded by people like them builds your confidence. It doesn’t make you feel alone in your struggle. It helped me realize that drawing what you like is a valid expression of yourself.
In terms of health, I try not to overexert myself any more. Those health instructors online keep saying, “Listen to your body,” and it’s true. Any time my hand hurts, I stop for a while, get water, and do other things until my hand feels better.
Q: What would you consider is the ONE thing that REALLY helped you level up your skills?
Ironically, when I accidentally murdered my hand, it was when I stopped to consider other ways of drawing. Before, I would blindly paint over things but when I was forced to actually sit still, I had a lot of time to plan drawings in my head. Art has then become strategic. What is the most efficient way to get the message across with minimal rendition so as not to hurt my hand? I became more deliberate in choosing limited palettes, sticking to simpler shapes, etc. That period of my life actually helped me grow by forcing me to approach art differently.
Q: What is one thing you’d wish you’d known before you started your artistic career? Why?
Art is many things, don’t shackle yourself to one narrow definition. Thinking art as one thing only stunts your growth.
Q: What drives or inspires you to continue making your art?
I do what I do because I like it. Of course, it’s not always fun and games. It’s also work. But I get a kick out of seeing a job well done after all the struggle.
Q: What does your average day look like? (And when do you fit in the time to create art?)
I’m currently part-timing at an IT consulting company as a web designer. From Monday to Wednesday, I wake up, play with my dog for a bit, go to work, then go home. If I don’t have side projects, I spend the night drawing or talking to friends or playing games. Thursdays and Fridays are much of the same thing except instead of part-time work, I work on my UI freelance projects. Since I’m at home on those days, I squeeze in drawing during breaks.
Q: How do you deal with distractions or challenges that you encounter while you’re working on your art?
There is no better way to focus than knowing you have a deadline in a week. But when you don’t have the productive pressures of deadlines, it becomes a matter of self-discipline. What personally works for me is logging off social media, giving yourself a time limit, and an equivalent punishment/reward for the work done. (Ex: No jasmine milk tea until you finish this)
Q: What do you do when you feel just completely uninspired or burnt out? How do you motivate yourself to start working again?
I consume media. I watch movies, play games, listen to podcasts, read film analysis-anything that would put new ideas into my brain.
Q: What would you say has been your most EPIC win so far?
I think finding the courage to table at conventions is easily the biggest win so far. It’s like I told myself, “Hey, your art is worth something, put it out there for the world.”
Q: What would you say has been your biggest failure?
I once was hired as an illustrator for a game project that never materialized back in college. I think part of the reason why it never left ground was because I wasn’t responsible enough to fully commit to it. I still regret it to this day and have since learned. In a way, I’m thankful for it since my work ethic improved because of this failure.
Q: What, for you, has been the best way to promote yourself and your work to potential fans, clients, or publishers?
I have a very modest follower count on social media. All of them (I think) are organic. It honestly surprises me sometimes how many people find my work because I’m not very active online. I post artworks maybe once a month or so. But since I’ve become active in cons, people have approached me for small projects. Those business cards really help.
Q: What has been your game plan throughout your journey? What’s the BIG picture here? The ultimate dream? The end game?
I don’t have grand plans honestly, but I do have a bucketlist of things I want to try/accomplish.
- Hi, if you guys want an illustrator for a children’s book, hit me up, please. Help me fulfill one of my dreams.
- Make a fully colored zine
- Finish a painting in a 16” by 20” canvas
Q: What, for you personally, has been the source of your ideas, creativity and talent?
Hearing stories of everyday people. Consuming media. Whenever I see things that have nice shapes or nice lighting, I would be like, “Yeah, I wanna draw that.”
Q: What is your big “WHY”? Why do you feel the need to make art? Who are you doing it for? What’s the hidden reason behind your big dream?
I honestly wish I had a more profound answer for this like “inspiring others” but I’ve never had big ambitions like that. I just want to draw because I have ideas I want to pour out. That, to me, is enough reason to keep going.
Q: What 3 stories (comics, movies, documentaries, novels, etc.) would you say influenced and inspired your work the most?
- Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka
- The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. directed by Guy Ritchie
Q: What are the top books, art books, blogs, podcasts, or workshops you’d recommend that helped you level up your skills? (Feel free to plug in as many as you’d like)
- All of Sinix’s videos on youtube - https://www.youtube.com/user/sinixdesign
- Valerie Chua’s art workshops - https://valeriechua.art/learn
Q: If you could work remotely, from anywhere in the world, where would your office be? Why?
Most of my friends know Italy is my dream destination but I don’t think I’d want to work there. I think, for work, I’d want to be in a high-altitude environment with easy access to the city. And when you step outside, I want it to be covered in greeneries. Also, cold. I can’t stand warm weather. So, I guess Baguio works. Or New Zealand. Or any of the Scandinavian countries.
Q: Name ONE artist/writer that, if you could, you would pick their brain and find out all the hidden secrets behind their amazing work?
Hisae Iwaoka. She does great slice-of-life stories. Her works have that warm quality to them, kind of like being tucked into bed by a loved one.
Q: Who do you consider your biggest mentor that helped you improve your skills?
(Doesn’t have to be someone you’ve met personally. Can be someone you look up to, or someone whose art has inspired you to get better, over the years.)
Sinix. His videos taught me design concepts I don’t think I would’ve learned any other way. He does a great job of explaining ideas and breaking it down so you could easily digest it.