Ten-year-old Sylvia Li channeled her artistic ability to draw her favorite characters from Cartoon Network’s “Toonami” once the TV was shut off. She turned to pencil and paper, feeling compelled to release her inner creativity.
About 6,000 miles away in South Korea, Deborah Ki, Li’s future UCLA roommate, sketched original designs based on Japanese anime cartoons like “Full Moon o Sagashite.”
Now, Li, a second-year physiological science student, and Ki, a second-year biochemistry student, have taken their initially hobby-oriented pieces and turned them into a money-making venture through the art-sharing website DeviantArt. Both Li and Ki create anime characters for projects ranging from fan art to startups.
Li and Ki were introduced to the idea of commissioning after creating DeviantArt accounts, where they gained exposure in the online art community. Ki, who has used the website since her junior year of high school, said DeviantArt consists of multiple mediums like hand-crafted images and photographs.
DeviantArt is not strictly for artists, so anyone can make a profile and use it for professional means such as buying and selling art. For some it serves as a platform for creative expression, while for others it is a career. For Li and Ki, DeviantArt became a method to share their anime art, with the added bonus of occasional commissions.
“I don’t live off of the commissions,” Ki said. “Especially since for me, school comes first, then art.”
Li has been commissioned twice since joining DeviantArt. She has created an emoticon set for Toka, a social networking website.
Andy Lim, co-founder and chief technology officer of Toka, was introduced to Li through a friend. After compiling a number of images from web chat rooms, Lim said he commissioned Li to design his emoticon set because she was able to understand his vision of simple details to express emotion. Ultimately, Li created a set of orange cat emoticons to aesthetically match with Toka’s color theme, earning $400 for her work.
“She was very flexible and right off the bat knew what I was looking for,” Lim said.
Ki has been on both ends of the spectrum, having been commissioned and commissioning art herself. She said the idea of an adoptable, a character that other artists can buy off of another to add to their collection or manipulate for their project, is commonly used on DeviantArt. Adopting a similar practice, Ki once commissioned another artist to draw one of her original characters called a Shadow Monster.
“I wanted to see the characters that I had drawn in other people’s styles,” Ki said.
Initially, Li used DeviantArt as a means to share her fan art for Disney’s 2002 animated movie “Treasure Planet.” Eventually, after her artistic technique improved, she unexpectedly received a private message from a commissioner. Though apprehensive, she accepted his request for “Treasure Planet” fan art.
“I was pretty surprised,” Li said. “What? Me, commission?”
Ki said some artists can be scouted through DeviantArt by gaming companies and are given the opportunity to present their work at conventions. They have their own booths and sell their products in poster form, allowing them to take their passion for art and turn it into a career.
“It’s a means of making money at the same time as doing what you want to do,” Ki said.
While Ki wishes to keep art as a side job, Li wants to eventually create a sci-fi or fantasy web comic and have a company print it for distribution. Until then, she said she wants to improve her talent through practice and looking to other artists’ work before she takes on any more commissions.
Li and Ki said art is a stress reliever. As South Campus majors, they enjoy the momentary break from science as they work on refining their craft. It is through drawing that they can escape from the outside world and express themselves.
“People say this all the time, but it is true,” Li said. “I think in each piece of art I make, I think some of my inner thoughts or personality get transferred onto paper.”