Chris and Andrew Yee reveal how they’ve turned their artistic passions into epic careers
Becoming a real leader in the world of art takes more than just creative talent and flair.
In 2017, the ones that are able to rise above the pack have a skill set that extends far beyond their artistic gifts.
Understanding the industry and developing the business skills to thrive within it really is the difference between “my mum loves my work” and “hey man, check out my exhibition tonight.”
Two incredible Aussie artists that understand this are the Yee brothers.
Chris and Andrew are two of the most talented and respected illustrators in this country.
The younger brother, Chris, has done epic music videos for Diplo’s Mad Decent record label, and has a client list that includes Hurley, Red Bull, VIVID Sydney, Vans and Boiler Room.
Andrew meanwhile is on his way to becoming a Sydney arts and culture mogul. He’s featured in countless exhibitions at Goodspace, raps, and is the brainchild behind the cult video series, MAD LOVE.
While both brothers are known for their astonishing linework and punk aesthetic, they’ve each carved out their own unique style – Chris more sinister and brooding, Andrew more bright and playful.
We were lucky enough to speak with both of them – picking their brains about how they’ve been able to turn their passion into a career.
Tell us about your main creative passions and how you indulge them currently?
A: I’m kind of all over the place at the moment. I’m really indulging in illustration, video work, and trying to put together a new fire mixtape (lol).
C: This year I’ve been thrown in the deep end with animation work. Really trying to push the 2D skill set and focus on storytelling elements. Also, I’ve been learning how to shoot video a bit more proficiently for our bi-weekly online art show, MAD LOVE *shameless plug*.
Also I’m really passionate for the rise of Korean Rap, Sanctuary Bar and i-darts on Pitt St, I have no creative input whatsoever but I think it feeds back into my passions somehow.
Do you agree that combining your visual creative arts skills with core business foundations prepares you to become a creative leader or to run your own successful business? How does this play out for you both?
C: Definitely. Work in the creative business teaches you firsthand how to get things done from all levels. From communicating brief to budget, drafting and final work.
It’s also in the intangible things like keeping to schedule, waking up on time, regulating stress etc.
Economically and for the business side of things, I find most of it to be a game of time and really figuring out what works for you. Time is money.
A: Yeah I agree with Chris! I found that when I was a bit more efficient in my personal work, my commercial work became more inspired, and then it radiated out to the other aspects of my life.
At the very least it definitely made me more confident and happy with myself. If people see me as a leader like they see Russell Crowe in Gladiator as a leader…that would truly be the best hahaha.
Talk us through the business side of what you do: who gets the commercial work for you? What types of work are you finding yourself getting more frequently than others? And how challenging has it been getting your head around the business side of your creative passion/s?
A: My most consistent commercial work is MAD LOVE, this crazy art-based web series Chris and I make for lifewithoutandy.
We host, shoot, edit, and produce every episode/article, it’s loosely commercial but I’m lucky that’s it’s something super fun to do.
The drawing stuff is starting to pick up but it’s still a slow grind, I find that usually my close friends or people who like my work spread good word of mouth about me.
I feel like I’m constantly trying to get my head around the business side of things, it’s probably the part that can be the hardest and most particular. Luckily, I can ask for a lot advice from friends, peers and Chris.
C: I began by working with video and design work under Babekuhl studio in Surry Hills with my two partners Billy Ryan and Pat Santamaria.
Illustration wise I began doing freelance in my early 20s. Once I kinda started with my first solo art show five years ago jobs kinda luckily came one after another. I think it’s important to be supported by a close friend-set and creative community you have genuine relationships with.
This work eventually led up to my main creative stay at the moment, being art direction for Zeds Dead and the Deadbeats Label. This has bled onto music videos, animation, stage design, live visuals – things I never really thought I’d ever have the opportunity to do at this stage in my life.
Business wise, understanding the creative spectrum is always a challenge – the industry is relatively young with medium, economic rules, amount of talent and client expectations changing year by year. I think it’s all part of the game to kind of keep you on your tippy toes.
Tell us about the importance of always learning when it comes to your work and creative passions? What are some ways that you continue to learn?
A: I always try and learn new tricks and techniques so I don’t have to limit my ideas on the crazy/dumb stuff I wanna make. For me I will usually get inspired by something and work backwards on how to make it, this usually requires a lot of YouTube tutorials, online forums, and making (many, many I tell you!) mistakes.
Also, I just ask people around me!
C: Andrew and I are both traditionally illustrators, but because of our shared lack of shame we try to push our illustrative ideas into other forms at the expense of our fans, friends and family!
MAD LOVE is a first step and Andrew’s mixtape is sure to be fire but it all starts with our willingness and desire to learn. I learnt everything on the video and animation spectrum more or less from YouYube (and you can too!).
Funnily enough in a strange way I think spreading yourself to other social circles outside of that can really help to ground and expand your own creative expression. Travelling is great too.
Tell us about your progression from finishing your studies to turning your passion into a career: how did it happen and what lessons did you learn along the way?
A: I studied advertising and am actually not doing much of that at all right now (unless my Instagram posts count as advertising!). But I was given a lot of opportunities in illustration, video or whatever random things I said ‘yes’ to, and I just made a lot of stuff I enjoyed. It feels like those things are still happening so I’m grateful (and lucky!).
The biggest thing I learned was to keep working on stuff. Build a solid amount of skills, works, and confidence. I saw the people around me do well purely off the back of hard work and a willingness to stand by anything they made. So here I am with my big bald head in front of a camera every two weeks!
C: I actually studied design majoring in textiles and graphics but at the moment my foreseeable career is illustration and animation. There’s a correlation there somewhere, but I think it’s more on the social and friendships gained than actual raw skill sets.
The best advice I can give is to try and find what you are really passionate about, this may be in studies or after/outside. Passions always change, I never thought I’d like filming Andrew every two weeks instead of drawing dragons, but I really do. I guess always be curious and open minded and people will be naturally receptive. A good lesson is to try not to ever creatively compromise (especially if it’s personal work) unless the job objectively tells you to from the jump.
Finally, how did you both supercharge your creative futures?
C: Keeping it unpredictable and working amongst good people. And being open to learning.
A: By trying new things and becoming more confident with myself and my work.
If you want to supercharge your creative futures like Chris and Andrew, you’re going to need to develop the business skills to not just survive…but THRIVE! The Queensland College of Art and Griffith Business School are joining forces to help you do this with a host of new double degrees. Combine studies with fine arts, design, photography and creative media with a Bachelor of Business, and turn your dream into a career.