The Smoke Signal, MSJ's Official Newspaper


Alumni Spotlight: Sophie Diao And Her Journey To Success In The Arts

By Staff Writer Naveed Shakoor

From her lively illustrations popping off of the google homepage to her contributions to Disney Television Animation, Sophie Diao has made a remarkable imprint on the art industry with her unique style. MSJ Class of 2009 Alumna Sophie Diao’s rise as an artist stemmed from attending art classes as a little kid. This childhood hobby soon blossomed into Diao’s growing interest in pursuing art, specifically animation, as a career. “I think over the three or four years where I was seriously interested in doing it [art] in high school, [my parents] slowly started to see that the field that I was interested in, which was animation, had a lot more obvious and steady looking jobs, and functions,” Diao said. 

Diao attended the California Institute of the Arts where she obtained a Bachelors of Fine Arts. While studying character animation, Diao found herself in a tightly-knit community of creatives who inspired her. “The school is very small, but we had so many other majors like film, dance, acting, theater, and music, so it was a very inspiring place just to be, because you’d walk through the halls and you’d see people doing something that’s completely creative and unrelated to what you were doing,” Diao said. The connections that she made with fellow artists in college followed her into adulthood where she would continue to be inspired by their art. Diao finds inspiration for her art in different artists, from her connections with fellow peers from college to Japanese printmakers, whose use of bright colors and distinctive shapes fascinate Diao.

Working for some of the biggest companies such as Disney TV and Google, Diao’s extensive and impressive clientele serve as a way for her to continue working in the animation industry whilst networking with fellow creatives. Since 2013, she has been working with Google on animations and illustrations that celebrate important people and events. “I think it’s a really awesome way to do a little bit of creative work and it’s kind of like treating it [the doodle] like an illustration for a client, because you have this theme every year, and it’s a way for you to just completely represent your own voice and who you are,” Diao said. She has worked with Disney Television Animation in freelance for many years, creating background paintings for Disney’s The Owl House, an animated fantasy television series. 

“Working in freelance is really exciting because you get to dabble in a lot of different areas, and you get to see a lot of different shows come through and get developed,” Diao said. 

She has also illustrated two children’s books, “I Am The Wind” and “Sarah and the Big Wave”. “I Am The Wind” uses the unique perspective of the wind to describe the world around us, and “Sarah and the Big Wave” tells the story of Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman to ride the waves at Mavericks. With her illustrative pieces, Diao wants viewers to feel a sense of wonder and understand the emotion that she tries to convey through her works.

Despite fully immersing herself in her artistic lifestyle, Diao admits that facing burnout is inevitable but easy to overcome. Diao explained, “There’s only so much time you can spend doing something before you get tired and want to take a break, and it’s impossible to be inspired 100% of the time, that’s just not sustainable.”.  She relieves herself of burnout by diverting her attention to completely different creative endeavors such as ceramics, a hobby she has been cultivating for the past six years. “For me, I find that when I’m facing artists block it’s good for me to completely detach from the medium that I’m trying to work in, which is usually digital art, and just try something completely different,” Diao said. 

By working on another creative project that is more focused on having fun rather than achieving perfection, Diao feels like she can take some of the pressure off of herself and learn something new instead. “I would say have some other avenues you can pursue, so that if you are feeling blocked in your main trade, you can switch to something that might feel equally creative, but still allows you to open up a different part of your mind,” Diao said.

To see more of Diao’s artwork, visit: 

Cover art courtesy of Sophie Diao

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