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Finding joy and inspiration through motion with Sylvia Boomer Yang
Meet Sylvia Boomer Yang, motion designer, illustrator, animator, and art director based in Oakland, CA.
Meet Sylvia Boomer Yang, motion designer, illustrator, animator, and art director based in Oakland, CA. She walks us through how she started her creative journey as an artist through physical mediums and eventually discovered her joy in digital arts. Sylvia also shares advice for herself and those starting on how to approach motion design across different mediums, as well as finding joy and inspiration through it all.
Interviewed in April 2021
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell us a bit about yourself. My name is Sylvia Yang, but I’m also known as Sylvia Boomer Yang. My main focus is creating illustrations and animations. I make mostly animated graphics for news, explainers, and products.
Growing up, I actually started with fine arts around 13 years old until I was in high school. Before I left for college, I began to question my artwork. The education style in Taiwan was pretty challenging and conservative, so I felt like I was always copying something and trying to make my paintings look realistic. I thought that I couldn’t express my personality and creativity on the canvas.
After high school, my parents sent me to a computer school where I learned programs like Photoshop 7 when I was about 15 or 16 years old. As I learned, I realized how much I liked computer arts, and it made me switch my interest from traditional to digital arts.
Was that your big “aha!” moment of knowing when you wanted to pursue digital arts? Or was there a point before school when you realized you were interested in arts? In general, my parents encouraged my sister and me in the same way—to go and try many different things to help us discover what we’re interested in. Before going to art school, I was into the piano, which I played for 8 years. My dream was to become a musician and travel to Italy! I participated in many contests and won awards. Around the time I was playing piano, I also picked up painting. I figured I had to pick one and focus on that more.
At that point, I would spend seven days a week at school and painting for six hours after school at the studio every day. And it takes a lot of time to create a single painting. So when I made the switch to learning computer graphics and learned how to use the old versions of Photoshop and Illustrator, I really liked it!
I wouldn’t say that computer graphics were effortless to create, but they could generate shapes so much faster than painting. I was impressed by that. I could use the same amount of time creating a painting with traditional tools to make more and different types of sketches on the computer. It became predictable artwork for me. I could then quickly generate the artwork faster, pick the ones I like and then continue refinements from there. At that time, I was just blown away by the technology.
Did you immediately learn how to create with motion once you learned how to create graphics on the computer? I started with 2D illustrations. I didn’t get into motion until pretty late when I moved to New York and studied at Parsons. I wanted to try it since I was doing quite a bit of experimental stop motion graphics where you’d create animations frame by frame in college. I loved it, even though it was super time-consuming.
My skill sets come from my experience learning and creating fine art, digital art, and, finally, motion design. Learning each skill and medium allowed me to build on top of one another without starting from scratch.
Learning each skill and medium allowed me to build on top of one another without starting from scratch.
Why does your work matter to you? I did communication design for a long time, like graphic and print design for advertising. So I was interested in finding ways to tell visual stories more deeply. Also, I was interested in cartoons, so I wanted to figure out how to make my graphics move to allow the story to be longer and come to life.
My personal style is also very quirky, fun, and colorful. I want to create something that makes people smile and make them happy. Yes! I’ve always noticed your style is not only funny and quirky but almost borders the line of a bit inappropriate or cheeky. I love challenging the digital art world a little. For example, the banana cartoon gif I created couldn’t be uploaded to Instagram because I added a little butt to it! It’s not even a real butt, and it’s funny because there’s a ton of real-life influencers who wear small swimsuits and have their butts out! (laughing) Right! To me, it’s so interesting that your animations and personal style are always on the border of cute and quirky and find ways to make you think and chuckle a bit.
I love to play with designs that can make people laugh. I don’t think art and design need to be so serious all the time. I enjoy design and art to look at and feel good and relaxed about it. So much that it makes me visually inspired. It’s not that I don’t really like meaningful design, but sometimes it’s just about finding ways to entertain people. The word “meaningful” could be interpreted in many ways. To me, your work is actually very meaningful because it brings joy to people. Yes, life is short, so have fun while you’re doing it.
…life is short, so have fun while you’re doing it.
Can you share a recent project you’re really proud of? I’m proud of the first online class I’ve ever taught with Skillshare this year. I’ve done live workshops in the past but never thought I’d ever do something like this. Honestly, it was really stressful because it’s such a big commitment and putting myself out on the internet, which I’ve never done before.
I’ve never strived to be popular. I actually always talk to my therapist about how I feel like I’m not good enough. Or at least how I feel like I’m not there yet. However, I will say that I like to get myself out of my comfort zone. And so, when Skillshare came to me with this opportunity, I figured I could give it a try.
The project started with brainstorming with their producer to figure out what we could teach in a short time. I decided to teach ways for someone to create smaller 1-3 second pieces that they could easily share online after maybe just a couple of hours of work. It’s also another way to share my personal process of getting a ton of ideas out and learning a skill to do that quickly. Overall, I also wanted to contribute back to the art and design community.
Our conversations happened right before the Covid-19 pandemic happened, which stalled production until early 2021. But we got it out, and it’s live on Skillshare today.
Are there any misconceptions about being a motion designer or illustrator? Definitely nothing negative. I do think there are assumptions that motion design is straightforward. There are actually many variations within motion design itself.
I’ve been in many different fields of doing motion design, including creating motion graphics for videos and documentaries and separately for products and advertisements. I’ve also worked on motion design for installations. These platforms are incredibly different, and they require different sets of skills, including working with people with different roles. For example, when you’re creating motion for video, you’ll work with designers and editors. For installations, you work with a coder and a producer. And for a product, you’ll work with designers, project managers, engineers, and product managers. So the constraints are also different for each medium.
When applying for a motion design role, it won’t be as simple as using any. You’ll definitely need to match the medium or skills. Otherwise, you’ll be questioned on whether you can really get the job done. However, that’s not to say that it’s not possible. I’ve seen people pick motion up for different mediums. All it is, really, is being able to use the tools with further knowledge and techniques. There really aren’t any limitations, but a different type of work requires different techniques. So, learn and understand the basics and expand upon them.
What advice would you give your younger self, who first started doing what you do today? I wish I could have had more fun in my childhood! Growing up in Taiwan, the culture was much more conservative. I spent most of my time trying to be a good kid and listening to my parents, such as spending hours in front of a canvas. I also would try to do my best all the time. So many kids who grow up in Asia, like my friends who went to the top schools in Taiwan, end up feeling very lost and not knowing what they really want to do with their lives. I feel so lucky that even though I spent many hours in front of a canvas and painting, at least I enjoyed it. But I really wish to have incorporated more fun into it.
Give us a list of the top 3 things you’d recommend.
There are a few ways that I try to incorporate creativity into my life. I don’t see my full-time job as the only way to be creative or create things.
Challenge yourself to create something different. Sometimes, when I spend a lot of time creating graphics for products, I’ll find ways to incorporate or find a new challenge by trying to create something different. It doesn’t mean you have to take on more work but finding ways to change the way you think in how you approach a project can help.
During my free time, I also like to find inspiration by visiting galleries or learning about other artists. Even though your styles or design background might be different, it’s still inspiring to learn about their journey, stories, and inspirations.
Find ways to get inspired without turning on the computer. As for me, I love cooking. It gives me joy and helps me feel optimistic and relaxed. It’s also super inspiring because while I’m cooking, I can draw inspiration from the colors of the ingredients. Cooking, after all, is the act of creation.
In general, I’m guided by what can make me happy. What would I really love to do and spend all my time on? How can I share these experiences with the people I love? Is the common theme here that if you’re interested, go and try and experience it? Yes!
Fave song of the moment or what do you have on repeat right now?
My latest favorite recently has been RÜFÜS DU SOL.
Continue the conversation with Sylvia.
By the way, outside of digital arts, Sylvia also crafts handmade jewelry created with genuine pearls and designed with love. Check out SteamyMoonDesigns on Etsy.
Sylvia is also passionate about giving back to Red Cross.
As part of this Conversation, a donation was made to The American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region.
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