Kiv Bui is making digital memento mori – and not letting social media define her

Enjoy the latest in our new series Youngerworld: Born Digi, profiling rising artists who were born as digital natives – and who are yet to don a graduate cap.

Today we feature Kiv Bui, a freelance illustrator currently studying in the USA. We first came across her magical memento mori on a piece exploring why artists should collaborate more; with almost 48,000 Instagram followers, we're not the only ones to have noticed her talent.

Still though, Kiv refuses to let her socials define her value or who she is as a person, as revealed in our interview below (and echoed in this poignant illo.)

Hi Kiv, what can you tell us about your studies?

"I am a senior student major in a communication art department, focussing on illustration at an art school in LA.

"We have a variety of classes here for illustration majors. some focus on the major (Studio Class, Liberal Art Classes, Communication Studio, etc.), and some are electives-like classes for our interests (Book Binding, Letter Press, Comics, etc.).

"For illustration studio classes, instructors give us creative tasks based on real-life industry projects for illustrators; for example, editorial, op-ed posters, album covers, event posters, and so on.

"We also have other classes like Type for Illustrators, Professional Practice for illustrators, and many more."

Does your course ever put an emphasis on self-promotion online?

"There is a class I took called Professional Practice where students develop a better understanding of their brand, and building a physical and online portfolio.

"Social media is one of the online portfolios, other than a website, which is something every artist and designer should have nowadays.

"The class does not focus on social media nor talk about how to grow followers or to grow likes, but they talk about what to create and what to post to make that portfolio look consistent as a whole. (You can check out Kiv's portfolio here.)

Some artists go straight from personal work to making their name popular online, skipping art school in-between. I wonder why did you decide to do a course – and do you think it remains a good decision?

"Yes, I think it is an excellent decision to go to art school or have proper art classes because a lot of the time, many young artists don't have the chance to experience what it is like to be an illustrator working with professionals in this field.

"It is not a requirement or a must for an artist to go to an art school, of course. It depends on the artist's goals. I went to a regular state university beforehand to know which field I am really interested in.

"After some art courses there, I realised I am most suited to illustration, so I transferred to an art school to have a more focussed course. Art school has more equipment and classes that you can find in most regular schools. By going to art school, your education background also looks better on your resume.

"The experiences like having strict class critiques and face-to-face discussions with instructors and schoolmates help a lot. The only bad thing about most art schools is that tuition fees are high, so asking for a scholarship would be ideal."

What does a typical day look like for you?

"I consider myself a workaholic off-campus and on-campus, so every day is busy for me. Luckily, I know how to manage time well, so the time I spend on courses at school and my outside projects is balanced.

"I can spend eight hours on school each day and the rest for my art projects, but I can also merge a personal art project into my school projects and vice versa. This is how my everyday runs as a freelance artist."

How has your style changed since starting your studies?

"My style often changes because of my interest in things around me and my creative practices. It also changes if my interest, life experiences or perspective change, or when I achieve better skills in a particular technique. 

"Talking about style for my school course, many of my instructors often want us not to stay with a specific style but to be more experimental."

Why do you think people like your artwork?

"I think people like my art because of my style. But it can sometimes be because of my technique, the colour palette, and sometimes the subject matter I have in my art.

"If they have followed my art journey for long, they see my style changes many times over time, and each of my styles catches attention from different groups of audiences."

Do you post course work on your Instagram, or do you prefer to keep things separate?

"Very rarely, only when I got busy and have nothing else to post.

"I choose not to post it because most of my school projects do not have the concept, style, subjects, and studies that match with the works I post on social media. I do not like having them mixed up."

Has anyone ever asked you for advice on managing social media?

"I have colleagues and instructors who asked me questions like how I could manage to make detailed and complete artwork for art school, yet also have the time to make complete artwork frequently to post on social media. 

"My answer is, I don't know about others, but I take my social media and anything art-related seriously, so I 'sacrifice' for it. That means I spend my day devoted to art whenever, wherever, and for whatever I do: no playing around, not spending much time on other activities. It's not like I don't have fun in life, but I think I can enjoy 'enough' fun time, and the rest is for work.

"To me, this is the life of a graduated mashed with being a freelancer. Once I want to improve on a particular skill, I will spend solid hours and days learning and practicing to achieve that skill and move on with other skills.

"I no longer spend most of my time sketching loose sketches of random things. I prefer that each of my little sketches and drawings have an intention.

"Examples of purpose would be research sketches, studies, thumbnails, storyboards, etc. What I do is not right or wrong, it depends on each person. 'Sacrifice' might be the word for many people, but luckily, it is my hobby to be like this."

"There are many tips about different things I can share. Advice on how I balance my school with my personal work for example is I often spend time talking to my professors about my portfolio, creative activities outside of school, and my future goals.

"By doing that, they know what I already know, what I want and need to learn and create while taking their classes. By doing this, I can merge my projects into my school work projects: one project for two purposes.

"I also want to make sure my school work is consistent with my portfolio, whether it is offline or for online purposes.

"But not all classes go that way, so I would recommend having a planner and planning out your schedule and practice to follow it.

"I also bring my sketchbook and tablet everywhere so I can work every time I have a free schedule."

"As for online portfolio advice from a tutor, make sure you have a consistent subject, presentation, and mix and match in a way that makes each post look interesting. The whole portfolio should be clean, and easy to access."

Do your colleagues post a lot on social?

"I think many people at my art school don't have a mindset of being popular on social media, and some do not know about being a popular artist on social media as a thing. They are more into professional creative practices like my skills and experiences.

"Popular is one thing but being able to make a living out of it is another. Many students and instructors here have goals on working in the outside and real-world creative industry rather than being an artist on social media."

Is it hard to balance studies with social media? 

"Sometimes, especially when it is midterm or finals weeks. I used to feel pressure about not being able to post on social media, but this year I won't stress and pressure myself about social media anymore."

Good! Have any famous artists followed you online, like some of your heroes?

"Yes, there are many. Of course, it felt surreal. Some of them even expressed that they are my fans before I can have the courage to tell them the very same thing!

"Sometimes I got shocked (in a good way) just by seeing them like or comment on my posts. But now, I learned that it is only connections between humans with humans, so they are all like my friends, and we learn from each other without having the barrier of 'idolising.'"

When did you notice your following spike?

"Probably spring 2020 was the time when my following grew fast because at that time my art style of drawing see-through skeletons started catching more attention from many popular artists and audiences.

"Also, I gained more connections and was able to collaborate with many of my artist friends who are popular on social media. It was not the main reason, but by working with them, they had helped me get out to their audiences and also introduced my work to many other big names." (Find Kiv's collaborations in our interview with her from last year.)

What do you think your future will hold, and will your social following have any impact on it?

"I have a lot of plans and work to do now, and in the future as well.

"My mental health can sometimes affect my goals and plans, and they can change completely, so I don't have solid words to describe my future. But I am sure it will be fun and productive because I have support from my family, fans and my social media audiences.

"Anyone who supports me and my art journey will always have a large impact on my life."

Check out more in our Youngerworld: Born Digi seriesWe'll be casting our net far and wide for these features, so those studying in and out of the UK can drop us an email if interested.

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