Interview: Ann Shen

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

Ann Shen's artwork had been in my peripheral long before I even realized who she was. I had seen her work at Downtown Disney, received her book "Bad Girls Throughout History" as a gift from a friend, and I'd certainly come across countless creations of hers on Instagram. Over time, of course, I finally managed to put a name to the work, and I've never forgotten it since.

If you haven't done so yourself yet, I'm happy to change that for you. A Los Angeles-based illustrator and designer, Ann's art is gorgeous enough on its own, but it's even better when you dig into her portfolio and notice how much of it is full of strong women, positive messages, and yes, plenty of Disney magic. Making a living as an artist is hard enough on its own, but Ann's talent and work ethic is evident given her numerous collaborations, expanding product line (including pins, mugs, and more), and not one, but two published books she wrote and illustrated. Whether you were already a fan or just getting to know her, you'll surely be even more invested in her career after reading our interview. Enjoy!

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? How did you get into art and what made you want to turn it into a career?

A: I got into art in my mid-twenties, after I had already graduated from college and been working for a few years as a writer in non-profits in L.A. I realized I was spending all my free time reading artists’ blogs and browsing for inspiration on Etsy, so I knew that art was calling me. I was miserable at a desk job, so I started taking classes at an art school before putting together a portfolio to apply to go back to art school full time. I got in the first time I applied, and I went back to school to study illustration and three years later I graduated and started freelancing alongside working in-house as a designer.

Q: What was your first piece or product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?

A: One of my first pieces to take off was this Macaron art print. It was before macaron art got super popular, and I created it just for fun for myself, not for a job or an assignment. It got a lot of attention online, and sold well at craft shows so I was convinced to actually start an online shop and do more shows.

Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you turning your art into a career? Were you nervous to share it?

A: Not really because I had the wild confidence you can only have in your twenties, where everything seems possible. I did lose touch with a lot of friends who didn’t understand why I would go to art school or how that could be a career, and that was difficult at first but it’s like rebirth by fire. The friends I have now share the same degree of passion and fire about their callings in life, and that’s inspiring. My family was also confused, but supportive nonetheless – mostly because I was supporting myself and putting myself through school, so at most they just had to not say anything at all.

Q: Did you work another job while you were starting? How long did it take you to turn this into a full-time venture?

A: I did – I worked in-house as a graphic designer for three years while taking on freelance illustration work and running my online shop. My business picked up to a point where I was working two full-time jobs and all the time, basically, so I had to choose because my health couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to take a chance on myself.

Q: How have you found the process of marketing and selling your art as products? Was the business side of it something you had experience in or enjoy?

A: I discovered that I love marketing and business way more than I thought I would. Having a creative business is all about connecting with other people and helping them feel seen. Marketing and business are means to serve that. The more you answer the questions in your own heart by creating what you need, the more you serve others because if you want something, chances are, others do too.