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IMPRINT Shirong Gao

Final Thesis Project Academy of Art University Graduate School of Illustration December 03, 2013 4:00 PM

Contents Autobiography1 Resume2 Timeline3 Summary4 Project5 Illustrations11 Future Plans


Autobiography As an only child, I drew to keep myself entertained. I didn’t take it seriously until I got to high school. Encouraged by art teachers and classmates, I excelled in my art classes and truly enjoyed drawing. In college, I took a slight detour into the world of graphic design and got my BFA from UCLA. We did not draw in class. After graduating, I set off on the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. There, my claim to fame was charming the town into cataloging my short film on living amongst the quirky, but friendly townsfolk in their public library. Returning to America, I worked as an in-house Graphic Designer at the International Food Policy Research Institute, a non-profit set out to end world poverty and hunger. I missed drawing and after a long hiatus, came to the Academy of Art to become a better, more skilled artist. I wanted that nose to the grindstone training at a traditional art school. I will take the knowledge and discipline I’ve gained here with me throughout my life. I see now that improving one’s skill in art lasts a lifetime. I look forward to constantly polishing my craft. My goal is to share good stories with people, hopefully making their lives a little bit better, and connecting with others and my surroundings in a very sincere and human way.


Shirong Gao




Illustration, painting, photography, silkscreen, letterpress


M.F.A., Illustration Academy of Art University

Fall 2009


Adobe Creative Suite 6, Corel Painter, HTML, CSS, Microsoft Office


Summer 2010


Making Monotypes & Monoprints Corcoran College of Art + Design Mastering the Art of Color in Painting Corcoran College of Art + Design


B.A., Design | Media Arts w/ Japanese minor University of California Los Angeles


Graphic Designer International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Worked in-house within a branding and visual arts team to provide creative solutions and guidance for over 300 IFPRI employees domestically and internationally. Duties included all aspects of print, illustration, video, branding, photography, and web design, from concept to finished product; meeting the communications needs of research staff of all levels; collaborating with vendors and other organizations globally; and managing projects and budgets.


Assistant Language Teacher The Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program Taught independently or in collaboration with Japanese English teachers to a middle school of 700 Japanese students. Designed visuals, videos, worksheets, and games used for lessons.


The PikMe-Up Documentary Damaged Californians Animated and composited 2 segments of the film; one on fashion and another on AIDs. Premiered at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.


CMYK Magazine’s Top New 100 Creatives Issue #55

2012–2013 2010

Academy of Art University Spring Show San Francisco, CA “Liberalizing Foodgrains Markets: Experience, Impacts and Lessons from South Asia” Oxford University Press “Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America” The Johns Hopkins University Press “Successes in African Agriculture: Lessons for the Future” The Johns Hopkins University Press



Japan Through Our Eyes Photo Exhibition Japan Information & Culture Center, Embassy of Japan, Washington DC


Fresh Produce Comic Anthology Self-publishing


Adobe Design Achievement Awards, Digital Collaboration Honorable Mention Chinese, Japanese


2011 12 13

Timeline SPRING

ILL 625 ANM 623 FA 626

Drawing From the Imagination Character Design Chiaroscuro

Stephen Player Michael Buffington Cathy Locke

Sustained Figurative Concepts

Zin Lim

Concept, Technique, and Illustration Clothed Figure Drawing 20th Century Art & Ideology

William Maughan Angela Dominguez Lisa Berrett Susan Sutton

Head Drawing Portrait Painting History of 20th Century Fashion

Zin Lim Zhaoming Wu Jacqueline Phelan

Digital Painting

Robert Revels



ILL 602

ILL 610 GLA 602


FA 602 FA 616 GLA 613 SUMMER


ILL 604 FA 800 GLA 675

Narrative Illustration Marc Ericksen Letterpress Macy Chadwick Professional Practices for Illustrators Cameron Wasson


ILL 800 ILL 800 FA 612

Editorial Illustration Advanced Perspective Silkscreen

David Ball Joko Budiono Carrie Ann Plank

Watercolor Creative Writing

Camille La Pointe-Lyons Allyson Ritger

Digital Painting & Portfolio Development Interactive Digital Magazine

Robert Revels


ILL 609 GLA 713 FALL

ILL 800 ILL 800

Gordon Silveria


SU M My illustrations are geared towards the print, publishing,

and editorial marketplace. I am an artist with varied styles tailored for each specific project. After reading several articles, I illustrated the ones which would flesh out my portfolio. For awhile I was focused on the challenges that twentysomethings and new graduates face in today’s world. Other articles and subjects included technology, sports, politics, social issues, business, travel, and portraits of famous people. My goal was to cover as many topics as I could and show my versatility.



My initial thesis topic came from my experiences and thoughts during the transition from college to the real world. I went through so many challenges, including finding my first job, trying to make new friends, and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. At the same time, I conversed with others who were also going through the “quarter life crisis.” I read voraciously on the subject of millenials and the modern twentysomething lifestyle, fascinated by the psychology behind the behaviors and why society is the way it is. My influences ranged from Dr. Meg Jay’s “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now” to Broadway’s “Avenue Q” to Jamie Cullum’s “Twentysomething” album. I felt inspired and compelled to represent this decade in the form of artwork. This was the idea I brought to my Midpoint Review. Immediately, the board told me I needed to show more range in my portfolio as well as make it more marketable. To develop a portfolio, I read articles

Although reluctant, I took the advice and now understand why those suggestions

from various magazines and publications

were made. Here’s my rare and only

and illustrated those articles. I tried to flesh

admittance to the committee: You were right!

out my portfolio with articles on different

The final iteration of my thesis is to

topics such as technology, sports, politics,

provide unique and interesting illustrations

social issues, business, travel, and portraits

that offer solutions for the print, publishing,

of famous people. I also made sure to

and editorial industries. I’m interested in

represent different races and cultures. I

information, problem solving, behavioral

found many articles to be similar and talk

psychology, and parodying pop culture. I’m

about the same issues that I’m actually a bit

ready to be that friend who knows too much

worn out from editorial.

random trivia from reading and working on too many editorial pieces.


Process 1.

Read the article.


Brainstorm concepts. This stage often takes the longest. I do extensive research on the subject and wrack my brain for any interesting connections to draw upon or new perspectives I can show with the illustration.


3–6 thumbnail sketches.


Shoot my own reference and gather other photos as needed.



Draw the line art.


Add value.



Color roughs and studies.


Execute the final illustration.


More of my process can be seen in my Directed Study Journal which you all should check out because I spent way too many hours on it. Also, I did not drop the ambition I had on the subject of twentysomethings. For over a year, I conducted an online survey for others to share stories and advice from their twenties. I received such smart and genuine answers that I combined them with my artwork into an e-pub at The aim is to provide practical information, advice, as well as respite to visitors. Interactive Digital Magazine was an especially useful class with the collaborative goal of putting out an issue of “Peephole Magazine” on iPad. I got to illustrate articles using different styles, even write my own article entitled “Millenials: An Optimistic Generation, Indeed,” and learned about digital publishing and how to create interactive features. During my time at the Academy, I was thrilled to be able to branch off into printmaking and learn letterpress and silkscreen. I love the traditional techniques and handmade quality involved. I want to keep working with these mediums to further develop my artistic visions.


What I’ve Learned Have a business plan. This is very important for success, but be flexible. Don’t be afraid to try new things, stray, and take risks. It is natural for tastes, styles, and trends to change.

Practice regularly. Discovering one’s style comes from drawing a lot. Doing a series is fun and helps with consistency. I am still trying to find a process I like doing and limit myself to 2–3 styles maximum. I know what I respond to and will aim for that. It’s important to not fight the natural personality that comes through in my work.

Concept trumps technique. My ideas are my strongest asset. Not my technique or ability to render the hell out of a piece. Sometimes, my graphic design self kicks in and it feels good to just solve problems in the simplest way. I don’t want to waste time beating myself up too much about it, tweaking a piece, or trying to make it fit.

Do not get too attached to a single job or piece. This can be crippling and limiting. Editorial is infamous for short deadlines.

Take breaks. It’s exhausting being creative all the time. Resting or doing something else helps me refuel and often supplies new ideas or solutions. Also, doing repetitive or simple tasks like text layout allows me to go on autopilot, so I can save my creative energy.

I do art for two main reasons. One, to connect, help people, and communicate. This is where design for social cause comes in. And two, as a personal outlet; a form of expression.





They’ve been called the Twixters, Choisters, pre-adults, adultescents, the stuck generation and the lost generation, playing out an extended adolescence or an emerging adulthood or their odyssey years. They are the 20-somethings that graduated into one of the worst economies in decades, saddled with some of the highest debt burdens. According to a new report, half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, scraping by with low-wage service jobs. Those who are working earn less than their 1970s counterparts, when adjusted for inflation. They are moving back home, going back to school or embracing unpaid internships as the new starter jobs. They are marrying later and starting families later still. They are told to wait it out. They have time. The 20s are for having fun anyway. Real life starts later. But it doesn’t. It starts now, and they are falling behind. “I’ve had hundreds–maybe thousands–of clients and students who’ve been misled about how important this decade is,” says Meg Jay, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in adult development and the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—and How to Make the Most of Them Now. “In a lot of ways, 20-somethings are not taken seriously. Your 20s really, really matter. You are deciding your life right now, and it will have enormous impact across years and generations to come.” According to Jay, 80% of life’s most significant events take place by age 35, making the 20s a “developmental sweet spot.” Two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career. So those who wait until their 30s to get going in a “real” job will never catch up.

Why We Need To Take

20-Somethings Seriously

By Jenna Goudreau Illustrations by Shirong Gao

“The biggest myth is that the 20s are a time to think about what you want to do,” notes Jay. “That doesn’t work. You basically know what you want. Just start, and get the best job you can get.” Reveling in a decade-long identity crisis will not result in better-adjusted adults, she says. Research shows that 20-something unemployment is associated with heavy drinking and depression in middle age—even after becoming regularly employed. Meanwhile, 20-somethings who are underemployed for just nine months tend to be more depressed and less motivated than their peers—even their unemployed peers. Working as a bartender or coffeehouse barista may have some romance for those screw-The-Man, I-refuse-to-be-chainedto-a-desk types, but Jay says many young people underestimate the satisfaction that comes from joining the working world. The loathed yuppie cube-dweller is on average happier than her still-figuringit-out brethren, she says. And while the choice conundrum (what should I do if I can do anything?) may leave some paralyzed, “not making a choice is a choice,” warns Jay. “These 20-somethings think they are keeping their options open, but they are actually closing doors.” Resumes start to look thin, their peers begin surpassing them and, without real-world experience, they’re no closer to a direction. On the job, they need to calm down and get to work. Because the 20-something brain hasn’t fully matured and is still developing its frontal lobe, which is in charge of overriding emotion with reason, 20-somethings are more sensitive

Don’t be fooled: A still-developing brain is not an endorsement for waiting it out, Jay warns. On the contrary, she believes it’s one of a 20-something’s best assets. In the brain’s final growth spurt, learning will never again come so easily. The way you navigate professional landscapes and manage relationships in yours 20s becomes wired into your brain. If you want to change something about yourself, now’s the time to do it. In the same way Jay cautions against undermining your career trajectory in your 20s, she worries that romantic relationships have also been downgraded to a new level of casualness. Today’s young people marry about five years later than their parents (on average, women at 26 and men at 28), but most will marry. About 75% of Americans are married by 35.

“The biggest myth is that the 20s are a time to think about what you want to do,” notes Jay. “That doesn’t work. You basically know what you want. Just start, and get the best job you can get.”


to surprise and criticism, says Jay. Dayto-day events loom larger in their minds. A terse email is taken personally. A boss’s disapproval elicits fear and contempt. Step back and get some perspective, she advises. “You’re not going to be fired because your boss is angry.”

“The upside of marrying later is that we have the potential in our 20s to learn how to have better relationships,” Jay says, “which we can blow by dating around with people we don’t take seriously or living with someone we should never have moved in with.”

Cohabitation has rocketed 1,500% since 1960, with more than 7.5 million unmarried couples living together today. Jay says too often young couples don’t communicate clearly about what living together means for their relationship. It is often convenience, a test or an unspoken step toward marriage without any literal commitment. “It’s easier to get in than get out,” she warns, noting that cohabitation can slide into marriages that aren’t compatible but became too difficult to untangle. Those that push back career and push back marriage, are also pushing against something with little give: their fertility. Young people have been told that they have years and years ahead to start a family. In reality, fertility drops significantly by age 35 and dramatically by 40. It’s not just a woman’s issue either. Not only is older sperm associated with problems, but when a woman can’t get pregnant, neither can her spouse. You don’t need to start your family in your 20s, but you’d be wise to plan ahead. “This is a really critical period,” says Jay. “Relationships matter. Work matters. Your personality is changing. It sounds like a lot of pressure, but in my experience they know this is true and feel relieved when someone says, ‘I’m taking your life seriously.’” 















Future Plans One important thing I learned is that as an artist, my taste and style will always be changing and evolving. I may be unsure what works for me, but I am committed. Art takes a lifetime. I need to accept this in order to find a place in the market to do what I love, what I’m good at, and stay true to myself. Of course it’s all easier said than done. After graduation, my plan is to simplify my website down to the bare necessities, print business cards, and just hustle the freelance market to figure out if it is for me. I will contact art directors and other leads locally, nationally, and internationally. In San Francisco, besides traditional publishers, there are a lot of startups and e-publishers. Simultaneously, I will keep experimenting with personal work. I want to continue making letterpress and silkscreen goods. I will sell them in an online store starting with Etsy and eventually move on to something more professional once my brand and audience is established. I also plan on selling at conventions. Recently, I had a table at the Alternative Press Expo, a worthwhile experience for networking. I’ve met with and aggregated a list of printmaking studios I can approach for work. I will get involved with the arts community in the area, participate in gallery shows, attend events, and conferences. To be honest, I am quite weary from the whole graduate school experience. I’m fully on board with creating a marketable body of work, but at some point, it stopped being fun. I’m looking forward to just sketching freely, without thinking about purpose, market, or audience, and creating fun projects for practice. To rediscover what I love, get inspired in new ways, and come up with fresh ideas. This list is extensive and to do all these things may take the next couple of years. If I discover that freelancing is not for me, I will look for employment at a stable job. Design studios, non-profits, ad agencies, and other in-house opportunities. Perhaps I’ll be balancing a stable job, freelance career, and personal work all at once! I’ve learned to be flexible and adaptable in this modern age. Regardless, I will always be doing art, constantly growing, and working towards what’s right for me to have a fulfilling career.



Shirong Gao MFA Thesis