Episode 1 -Instagram is a Giant School with Ted Chin(@eye.c)

This episode includes my interview with Ted Chin, known as @eye.c on Instagram. Ted is an amazing digital artist from San Francisco, California. He creates mesmerizing composites that seem to stem from another world where everything is possible: whales flying over a city, giant wolves, ballerinas dancing on treetops - anything that you can or can’t imagine. With an Instagram following of over 120k people, Ted has partnered with brands like Puma, Honda, Apple, Facebook, Adobe and many others. We talked about Ted’s artistic path, how he started and how got to where he is now, how he works with clients and how to market yourself as an artist. Have a listen, there’s precious insight info you won’t easily hear anywhere else!

Show Notes

Things we talked about:

  • Ted’s career start and his struggles in the beginning
  • How to work with clients on big projects
  • Ted’s creative process: how all his majestic images are created
  • Marketing yourself as an artist
  • Inspirations and copying other people’s work


Interview script

- How did you start?


- I’m doing photoshop editing around 3-4 years. I’ve been taking art classes before. I used to want to be an animator to join Pixar or DreamWorks.


- Have you quit that dream?


- No, I’m trying to combine 3D with Photoshop right now to make new interaction, it’s a new challenge for me. In school I’ve been drawn to different directions. I started to do more photography and Photoshop than animation, this is how I ended up doing it right now. I always was into the art of some kind, 3D animation is the one that lead me to do what I’m doing right now, fantasy and dream combination.


- You said that each of your image has a story. When you create your stories, do you think of those two questions: what is the story about and what is the story really about? Or you just create?


- For me, it’s both. There are 2-3 different ways of how I work on those. First I come out with the story that I want to tell. Then I think how to visualize this story and how to fit it in one single picture, the message that I’m trying to send. Whether it is a fairytale or personal stories that inspire me at the moment. Second, when I see certain photos, I have inspiration right away. It’s more like a surprise element. When I’m browsing photos, I see, if I add this and that to it and then I’m trying to create an image based on a photo I saw and the story that I have already. Third, when people want to do a collaboration. I would stick to their brand or model, photographer or artist. And then we think what we can create together.


- What collaborations do you have right now?


- I do work as a photographer with my friends, we do photography for events, videos for all kind of companies. Also, I work for different brands, doing creative branding. Helping them in projects that they already have or helping to present products in more interesting ways. Also, I’m promoting social media. A little bit of everything


- When you work with brands, who comes up with ideas? For Puma project in particular.


- I came up with the idea on that one. Some people want to hire me because they like what I’m doing, and giving me the full control of everything. They would say that they like my style and we agree on all aspects, then, I create images and send it to them. For Puma, I had a few different ideas, and they picked the final three and from that moment, it is about taking photos of the product, compose it and present to the clients. Some companies already have ideas, so they just call me and I compose it for them.


- Which way do you like more?


- The one where I have full control. I can do it the way I want it. With the client who has their own ideas, it might become hard as it goes back and force, everyone has his own ideas, but of course, I want to make my clients happy.


- How much of it is your work? Do you also do photography?


- Sometimes, I use stock photos and my own photos too. It’s a mix of everything. I started following stock photo image. I travel a lot, so I dream clay of how I visit different areas or going to surreal scenery, this is how I started. Right now, I’m trying to use my own photos as much as possible. I focus on polishing my Photoshop skills. It doesn’t matter what photo I’m using, I’m trying to push it as much as I can. Or working with different models, I’m thinking of what can I push to the next level, instead of simple compose. Sometimes I want it simple and brilliant, but sometimes I want something challenging or crazy, so I look for a balance between the two.


- Speaking about models, do you want to work more with the closeups or just models as props?


- Both. I might want to work with closeup portraits and do certain editing to it. I struggle a lot of what I want to do next. I started a project that called his little dream. The idea that I can travel a lot. I have to visit different scenery and this is how I see it. Several dreams have to have a meaning, symbolism, ideas, or message hiding in it. I’ve been doing it for over 2 years now and I burned out a little bit and now I’m thinking of what is the next step that’ll have more challenge for me. Surreal portrait will be an interesting thing for me to interact with the models. But at the same time make it visually appealing and polish my skills. I always wanted to see if I can start a new project with new ideas redirections.


- Do you have a particular idea for a new project?


- I have a free time right now to think of which directions I should go. I have few ideas in my mind, just trying to understand which one is better.


- Do you want to exhibit your works in gallery?


- Yes, it’s always nice to see your pictures in gallery. I like when people purchasing prints from me and they want my works in their houses. That makes me very happy. Second part is marketing, when gallery represent your work and works travel around the world and you can meet up with more different people. I have never done it before. I think I have two or three gallery shows so far and I want to see how far I can push it to.


- What is the best way to promote yourself?


- Social media is the biggest way to promote yourself, but there are also a lot of ways to reach out to your clients. Events, networking in internet and real world. The more platforms you fill in, the more people will see your works. You need to figure out what your target audience is, what direction you going with your works and see what the market can offer for you.


- Have you visited a lot of events while searching for clients?


- Yes, I got a lot of clients from social events. For example, environmental conservation event about protecting the earth I went, I found few clients there, who saw my works and wanted to hire me. Also, fashion or food brands makes events where I go and just talk to strangers. It’s random, but it helps a lot. Or reaching PR agencies, sending email with portfolio. -


- How many hours do you spend on one project? 


- It depends, many times research takes forever. sometimes it needs very quick editing, like 30 minutes or hour, but sometimes it might take a day or two and you look at it and see that it’s not working and you have to come back to it a few days later. This is what is going on right now with me, I want to review my works that I’ve done already and see if I can or need to make changes to make it better. I’ve never looked at my works from that angle, so I need to do it and see if I can do the next work better than the previous one. Just sit and look at your works and see if there is a mistake that is repeating. I always thought that I want to be an original artist, but of course whatever you do if already have been done before you. For example, balloons flying or the swing in the sky, I love those, but it’s have been overdone already. So, I used to dislike them, but now I understand that people will do it over and over again. So, I think about myself, if I do it, can I make it better, in my own style? So when people look at it, they recognize me in it. Like that example with zebra, everyone was copying it but one artist make is his way and added rainbow colors. And it was very cool. I really liked it. So, I realized that I can look at the same picture, but make it more interesting, make it unique. If you copy, make it so people know that it’s your work. When at second grade at art school I was learning watercolor we had to copy master’s drawing. This is how you learn their skills. Then, you can mix it and it will become your work. Or sometimes, you just see the idea and want to repeat it. It’s fine if you copy as long as your composition looks different. Some people even have the same layout, that upsets me. I like to dig into different art and see how different artists work and chase down their original ideas. 


- What type of art and where do you find those artists? 


- Pinterest is a great way. I use my explore page a lot, just to look for it. I already have some artist inspiring me, like Dali, Rene McGrace, Braveman. I just remember theirs works and always look for that. I’m just typing concept artists. This is so easy to copy someone’s ideas these days. You see online somewhere and then, voila, I made this. They don’t even care a lot about art or where it come from. People see it and they entertained by it. Some of them even take Photoshop photography like magic trick. But once you know the trick, it’s not that impressive. Presentation is what makes artist different. And everyone wants to know the secret, how did you shoot it, how did you edit it. Some people like to hide the tricks, some of them like to show. It’s always a battle between magicians. Sometimes, I think that Instagram is a big school. Like in school when your homework is due, but you didn’t do it. You ask your cousin, hey, can I copy? Yes, sure, but change something so it doesn’t look like you copied it straight from me. 


- Do you like sharing your tricks? 


- Next year I want to take different direction like Youtube or Twitter. I didn’t feel to do tutorial. There are already so many cool tutorials online that you use and they are free on YouTube. Just wanted to show people how to use it in fun way, or show how to use other people’s treats. Or to collaborate with someone. Luckily, I know a lot of different artists in Instagram, who has unique own styles. I think, it will be very interesting. Like what we doing right now. The other way, I was thinking about is to go live with my audience and we will learn something together. Fun class together. I’m taking a look before I dive into it. I need to figure out YouTube rules and everything else. 


- How often do you publish in Instagram? 


- I use Photoshop every day, either on purpose or practice or have fun. I’m trying to push in to 3 times a week, but lately I notice that quality is not always where I want it to be. I can post every day, but the quality won't be great. But you can build the audience this way as they will see your works every day. You can expand your social media branding with that. And backwards, if you do quality but rare posts, your audience might drop. And you have to compete with people who are super talented. As long as people see my work is fine, but sometimes they don’t see and then you think, yes, you need to post more. I also want to explore my options on different websites. For example, Behance. I went in there, and I saw so many different artists work, they do breakdown of their projects, and there is so much to learn. But it takes some time. You have to balance, as an artist you have to create cool work, but also you have to do that branding marketing. That’s a lot of work. 


- Are you a full time artist? 


- I’m employed by my friend. But I bring in most of my clients. Our plan for next year to bring bigger clients for our team. 


- Who is your dream client? 


- I want to work with designer, who is very cool. The goal is to see one of my works on a billboard, on a building, or inside of the mall. That is what I love about freelance lifestyle, you can work with different clients all the time. One day you doing something in Facebook, next day creating something in Adobe and so on. 


- What was your biggest challenge when you were starting out? 


- To choose right direction. At school you polish your skills and learn how to be a good artist. And you have a goal where you want to work. I was struggling to figure out my direction for long term. And once I figured it out, I was asking myself where to get this kind of job? Where to find opportunity? It took a lot of time, but right now, I know exactly what I want to do and where I want to work, or what brands I want to work with, what projects I want to try. 


- Do you sometimes reject some projects? 


- Yes. Most of the time it’s due to timelines and budgets. I just recently rejected a project that was due to January 1. Sometimes my manager is helping me to turn it down as it’s just isn't worth it. You have to consider a lot of stuff before you say yes to the project. 


- Is it important to evaluate your year progress? 


- Yes, that’s what I want to do. For the artist it is good to push yourself to the next level. You need to sit, take a break, look at the works you’ve done, did you try your best? And if something went wrong, analyze it and prevent in the future. 


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