An artist with a fol­low­ing

The Amer­i­can tells Gary Evans how he emerged from a “dark place” to be­come an in-de­mand artist and YouTube sen­sa­tion, all be­fore grad­u­at­ing col­lege

ImagineFX - - Editor’s Letter -

How tal­ent, en­thu­si­asm and an eye for on­line pro­mo­tion rock­eted Ross Tran into the lime­light.

Ross Tran steps out of his Cal­i­for­nian apart­ment. The sun shines in the sky above and a car idles on the road be­low. Hold­ing a cou­ple of large can­vases, he climbs over a bal­cony, shim­mies down a tree and speaks to cam­era: “Wel­come to an­other episode of Ross Draws. It’s my grad­u­a­tion episode!”

He runs to the wait­ing car. An­i­mated sparks fly. He throws his art­work through the open win­dow, jumps into the driver’s seat and speeds away. The hand-writ­ten per­son­alised num­ber plate taped to the back of his Chevy reads: COLOR DODGE.

In just 20 sec­onds, we see why the 23-year-old artist’s videos have earned nearly two mil­lion views on his YouTube chan­nel: the quick cuts, the play­ful tone, the breath­less, al­most hy­per­ac­tive pre­sent­ing style; whis­tle-stop tours of his art school, apart­ment and var­i­ous lo­ca­tions around Cal­i­for­nia; in­ter­views with the smi­ley, unbelievably healthy-look­ing friends and teach­ers who pop­u­late those places... And, of course, the thing that un­der­pins the chan­nel’s suc­cess, Ross’s art – bright, stylised, painterly, with tu­to­ri­als ex­plain­ing how he pro­duces it. What you’d never know by watch­ing th­ese videos is that the chan­nel “came from a dark place.”


Ross is a re­cent grad­u­ate of Pasadena’s ArtCen­ter Col­lege of De­sign. He won his first con­cept artist job at the nearby West Stu­dio when he was just 17. A cou­ple of years later, he worked as lead char­ac­ter de­signer on his first fea­ture film – cre­at­ing Echo for the 2014 an­i­mated movie Earth to Echo. He now counts among his clients Dis­ney, Sam­sung and Mi­crosoft, and has since worked on the up­com­ing Halo Fran­chise and sev­eral more films.

How did he win so many big jobs at such a young age? “You have to per­son­alise your port­fo­lio so it rep­re­sents what you re­ally want to do,” he says. “For in­stance, if you love char­ac­ter de­sign and want to get hired for it, make your port­fo­lio and on­line pres­ence char­ac­ter-based. I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple put too many types of work in their port­fo­lio. It makes them look dis­pos­able. The last thing you want to be is a ro­bot. Show the world who you are and what you want to do.”

He says some peo­ple may be fa­mil­iar with his ear­lier work, but most of this suc­cess has come through Ross Draws, the YouTube chan­nel that he started at the end of 2011.

“I ac­tu­ally grew up re­ally shy,” he says, an im­age very dif­fer­ent from the bois­ter­ous char­ac­ter he presents in his videos. “I had a lot of in­se­cu­ri­ties grow­ing up. I think Ross Draws rep­re­sents a side of my­self that de­picts trans­for­ma­tion and self-growth.

I con­sider my­self an in­tro­vert, but one who’s learn­ing ex­tro­verted skills.”

Even af­ter earn­ing a place at the pres­ti­gious ArtCen­ter Col­lege of De­sign, Ross says he felt some­thing was miss­ing in his life. He was pas­sion­ate about art, but also loved mak­ing peo­ple laugh. So he took a year off and pur­sued an act­ing ca­reer.

Ross jug­gled art school and au­di­tions. He took ex­tra classes in im­prov and scene study. The near­est he got to a big break was an au­di­tion for a pi­lot on the Fox net­work.

The small part called for a de­signer who freaks out a lot. “My per­fect role!” Ross says. The pro­duc­ers of hit shows Psych and Scrubs were in the au­di­tion room and he made them laugh. They gave the part – which the script la­belled “Asian Best Friend” – to a white per­son.

“I’m not sure the pi­lot even got picked up,” he says. “But it was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. I also au­di­tioned for a lot of com­mer­cials.”


A friend sug­gested he start a YouTube chan­nel com­bin­ing the two things: art and mak­ing peo­ple laugh. “I hes­i­tated, think­ing it wasn’t re­ally my thing. Prior to the chan­nel, I felt like I had no pur­pose. I was wak­ing up and feel­ing re­ally un­mo­ti­vated to do any­thing. Unin­spired, un­will­ing, de­feated.

“Act­ing helped me to com­mit. Be­cause, in act­ing, you have to com­mit 110 per cent or else no one will be­lieve you, not even you. You can’t be in your head. Go­ing on those au­di­tions and to classes helped me to com­mit to the mo­ment and just do it, no think­ing. It’s a prac­tice I’ve also taken into my art. If you have an idea, don’t be afraid to voice it.”

When Ross rein­vented him­self as Ross Draws, it shook up his per­sonal life and kick­started his ca­reer. But the suc­cess of the YouTube chan­nel brought new prob­lems. “My sched­ule is dif­fer­ent ev­ery week, ev­ery day,” he says. “Some­times I feel I over­load my­self. I’m def­i­nitely what they call a night owl. I go to sleep any­where from 2 to 5am. As my chan­nel grows, so do my op­por­tu­ni­ties – con­ven­tions, sign­ings, gigs – and it’s been harder to have a set sched­ule. It’s still cur­rently a learn­ing curve. But most of my week con­sists of edit­ing my videos and paint­ing.”

Grow­ing up, Ross was into TV shows like Poke­mon, Sailor Moon and Power Rangers – you can see those in­flu­ences in his art and on his chan­nel. He has a few key rules when mak­ing videos. Our at­ten­tion span is get­ting shorter and shorter, he says, so he keeps footage un­der the six-minute mark. It’s also im­por­tant to be your­self, con­nect with your au­di­ence and col­lab­o­rate

Act­ing helped me learn to com­mit to the mo­ment and just do it, no think­ing

with other peo­ple. He’s made videos with artists he looks up to, like Dan LuVisi and Anthony Jones, but also col­lab­o­ra­tions with non-artists, such as Jimmy Wong and Yoshi Su­darso, who plays the Blue Ranger on the new Power Rangers show.

The YouTube chan­nel brought Ross new con­fi­dence, which was mir­rored in his art. When he started at ArtCen­ter Col­lege of De­sign, he knew he was a ca­pa­ble painter but felt his work was too heav­ily in­flu­enced by his favourite artists. Then he painted a piece called Jour­ney (see page 43)– a land­mark in which he found his own voice and tech­niques.

Ross works with Pre­miere and Af­ter Ef­fects for his videos, Pho­to­shop and Light­room for paint­ing. Us­ing all Adobe soft­ware helps him eas­ily switch be­tween apps. One web­site re­cently la­belled him the “Mas­ter of Color Dodge.” The blend mode cre­ates ex­tra depth and makes colours re­ally pop off the screen, an al­most glow­ing ef­fect that’s present in much of Ross’s work.


Ross hadn’t al­ways used such tech­niques. “At a young age, I thought that us­ing cer­tain meth­ods as cheat­ing, only to re­alise now that it doesn’t mat­ter. You can learn from any­thing, any method, any­where. Have an open mind and you can ab­sorb in­for­ma­tion eas­ier and faster.”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing col­lege, Ross left the apart­ment that fea­tures in many of his YouTube videos. He now rents a house with friends, a place just out­side Los Angeles. “We call it The Grind House,” he says. The Grind House? “It’s where we’re go­ing to grind on our stuff for a year and de­cide what to do from there. There’s not much of an art scene in my area, but I love the mo­ti­va­tional en­ergy that the house has.”

“Mo­ti­va­tional en­ergy” is a per­fect term. It’s in ev­ery­thing Ross says and does. You can still see his in­flu­ences in his work. There’s a bit of Jaime Jones in there, some Craig Mullins and Claire Wend­ing. But de­spite his youth, he has found a style, voice and mo­ti­va­tional en­ergy of his own – and, per­haps most im­por­tantly, a plat­form on which to share it. That’s the one piece of ad­vice he’s keen to get across: do it your own way, on your own terms.

“My videos are funded by my amaz­ing sup­port­ers on Pa­treon. I’m blessed to have

I thought us­ing cer­tain meth­ods was cheat­ing. But you can learn from any­thing, any method, any­where

fans who love what I do and who want the ex­clu­sive con­tent that comes with each episode. Pa­treon is def­i­nitely a ca­reer op­tion for artists.” Ross’s en­dorse­ment of Pa­treon comes with a caveat, how­ever: only launch when you’re ready. “I held off on mak­ing my page un­til I knew I had qual­ity con­tent for the peo­ple who sup­ported me.

“If you do what you love, num­bers and fi­nance shouldn’t mat­ter,” Ross adds. “I have friends who ab­so­lutely love their stu­dio jobs and want to be sur­rounded by peo­ple. I also had friends who quit those jobs, made a Pa­treon and earned less, but loved what they do.

“I think it’s about find­ing your own in­stru­ment and how to op­er­ate at your fullest po­ten­tial. In to­day’s in­dus­try – and so­ci­ety – we too of­ten com­pare our­selves to others, which fu­els our in­ner self-critic. We’re all on our own jour­ney at our own pace. We all have dif­fer­ent in­spi­ra­tions, a dif­fer­ent drive that pro­pels us for­ward.”

Beach “This was one of the few pieces I did in my year off art to pur­sue act­ing. I just loved to paint and felt the need to ex­press my­self ar­tis­ti­cally.” Katara “This was a mem­o­rable piece be­cause it was in­tensely chal­leng­ing try­ing to paint wa­ter and waves. I had to re­ally try to cap­ture the physics, yet keep it stylised.”

Astro Mint “A piece from my Astro Se­ries. It’s a col­lec­tion of por­traits in­volv­ing some kind of white gar­ment and shapes as the in­flu­ence.”

Ni­dalee “This was from the third episode on my YouTube chan­nel, draw­ing Ni­dalee from League. She’s one of my favourite char­ac­ters and I had to draw her!”

Spec­tre “My work has re­cently taken a more stylised, graphic ap­proach, while still per­tain­ing to my painterly roots.”

Ross an d Milo “I al­ways got tons of re­quests to draw my dog and found a per­fect op­por­tu­nity – to cel­e­brate one year on YouTube.”

Spir­ited Away “I’m a big fan of Miyazaki and cher­ish any chance I can to cel­e­brate the im­pact he’s had to me.”

Reaper “This piece was com­mis­sioned for the de­viantART+Bl­iz­zard Cam­paign ‘21 Days of Over­watch’. It’s prob­a­bly my best seller at my first con­ven­tion, An­ime Expo.” jinx “There’s al­ways a whim­si­cal el­e­ment to my work, ei­ther in the colours or the com­po­si­tion.” Astro Fire “This has been sit­ting in my WIP folder for about three years. A lot of my pieces sit there un­til I can see the piece turn into some­thing unique to me.”

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