Angela Sung is the rarest of artists, happy to paint digitally and using traditional techniques while painting out in the open. Her bold colors and strokes set her apart from her contemporaries. Having worked with DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and Warner Bros. Animation Netflix, Angela also teaches and tutors when she isn’t practicing her own art.
Hi Angela, where are you based and how long have you been creating?
I’m based in Los Angeles, California. I have been drawing and painting for over 18 years, and for the past 10 years I’ve been working in the animation industry.
A lot of your works are landscapes and still life. What is it about these traditional subject matters that appeal to you?
I do paint these two subject matters a lot. I paint landscapes when I travel, when I miss my past trips, or when I get excited about new travel destinations for my future trips. I paint still life when I get tired of painting landscapes :) A short answer to this question is that I love to observe and study from life. Landscape and still life paintings give me the opportunity to demonstrate and share my discoveries with the world.
Oh, but it never gets easier. I struggle with every piece because there is always a new problem that needs to be solved, or a new solution to an old problem that I newly pick up and want to try out. Every struggle is a reminder that I will never master these subjects in this lifetime no matter how much I paint! I just need to keep going and tackle new problems along the way. I actually really enjoy this process, but hate it at the same time.
You are a rare modern day artist who paints traditionally and digitally when most artists are either one or the other. What appeals to you about both styles?
I enjoy experimenting with different mediums because it’s just fun to learn new ways to express myself. I believe that the more things you learn, the better informed you are about tackling a subject. I also think switching gears is what makes my art journey endurable!
When I paint traditionally, the limitations teach me how to arrive at a solution; when I paint digitally, the unlimited options and boundaries help me push my finish and ideas even further. I mean, don't you just love the hue/saturation slider, haha! It’s also great to figure out the workflow with traditional art because that is how you can strengthen your art fundamentals, such as the basics of color mixing, brush economy, and how to think through so that you don’t mess up the composition.
For plein-air painting specifically, there are more challenges that connect to the way nature presents itself to us. It’s a great way to practice making quick decisions. More importantly, you can practice capturing the brief moment with all your senses, and finding ways to drop these clues in your art to create the view you want your audience to see, and feel. It’s so hard, but so fun.
Food seems to be a focus of yours. What is it about food you enjoy painting?
Growing up in an Asian American immigrant family, where cultural differences and language barriers exist in daily communications, I think food is the thing that connects me with my mom and grandma - two of my most favorite family members.
We did not have much as a family, but I always looked forward to the delicious meals my mom made. My grandma did not speak English but she always used her cooking to tell me how much she loved me. Now, food continues to play a big part in my life. My wife and I really like to seek the best cuisines during our trips to learn about different cultures.
By creating food paintings, I uncover those special stories behind them. In a way, food paintings are my diary entries. When I paint those images, I can remember the atmosphere, mood, and flavors those dishes made me experience. I also just love good food, and sharing some of my favorite dishes with everyone makes me happy! I love it when people tell me they like eating the same thing or telling me to try something new. Food just brings people together!
You’ve said previously that you draw your inspiration from real life. What life moments have had the biggest impact and influence on you and your work?
Adult life is often repetitive and mundane. That is why, I try my best to remember special moments that I have experienced. I think some of my best work came from the road trips I took with my wife and our dogs. I wanted the viewers to get a glimpse of how those locations look through my eyes! The road trips taught me that this world is so beautiful, so full of adventures, and as a citizen of this planet I really have to take good care of it. So, hopefully through my paintings, I can inspire people to go out, appreciate all that earth has to offer, and try our best to minimize the damage caused to the environment.
There appears to be a lot of cross-over in your plein-air and digital work. Is that deliberate?
Yes! I want my digital pieces to have the spirit of plein-air painting! It is extremely important to me that I capture the light and colors in a way that represents nature, so that my work stays true to how beautiful this world is. I purposely try to carry that into my digital work and hope it shows :)
You are part of an art group called ‘Warrior Painters’. Sounds exciting, what are the ‘Warrior Painters’ all about?
Warrior Painters is a plein-air painting group I co-founded in 2016! We started off with just a few people in LA, and now we have grown into a pretty big community with international influence! Our philosophy is: Everyone has something to contribute to the artistic discourse. Our goal has been, and always will be, providing a safe and caring place for artists to grow together!
We used to organize in-person paint sessions every weekend in LA and SF, after COVID we have brought our community onto Discord where we organize virtual paint sessions, workshops and other fun social events. We also host an annual month-long painting challenge called #PleinAirpril (Thanks Procreate for sponsoring us this year!) and it has been AMAZING seeing everyone’s work. Thank you all for the inspiration!
You’ve worked on a lot of animation as a background painter, but you recently Art Directed Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. How was that experience?
I actually worked both as a background designer and painter for most of my animation career. It was definitely an exciting experience for me to step up and lead a full art team to tackle the animation challenges.
It was definitely a difficult task because of the complexity of the production pipeline, but with the support and help of the team it became a lot easier over time. I want to thank all my team members for their hard work and dedication, and for making my experience amazing!
You spend so much time providing helpful and insightful advice for creative people, who do you turn to when you need advice?
My therapist. LOL, just kidding (but kind of true)! I think everyone can hone their artistic skills by taking art classes or talking to their peers, but what really makes an artist feel good and can keep pushing their work is the quality of their mental health. So I am grateful that I have a great therapist.
On top of that, my wife, Kayleigh, has always been there for me when I needed it, and I feel extremely thankful that I have such an understanding and loving partner in my life. I also have a small group of friends who I know will always be there for me. I feel extremely lucky. Oh and, not to forget my dogs who are also there whenever I need my occasional hugs.
You also teach art techniques and principles including private critique and 1-on-1 tutoring. What do you enjoy about this intimate style of teaching?
I really enjoy small classes and 1-on-1 private critiques because I can tailor my knowledge to better help my students absorb the materials. It is definitely an honor that people put their trust in me to help them get to the desired artistic level. I also enjoy getting to know them on a personal level, and watching their growth helps me as an artist as well. I want all my students to know that they are in good hands and that I truly care about them.
What is on the horizon for Angela Sung?
That is a very difficult question. I am not 100% sure what’s next, but I love where my life is heading. I’ve been taking things slow due to my back injury - apparently I overworked my back and it finally took its toll on me. At this point, I just want to learn to relax and focus on my recovery. But on the Warrior Painters’ side, we’ve been working on something new and I cannot wait to announce it once things are more finalized!
What’s your favorite Procreate feature, and what do you enjoy about using it?
To be honest, I am not really savvy when it comes to learning new programs, but Procreate was pretty easy to get used to. Once I figured out that I could use my finger as the eyedropper, it was instant love. My favorite feature is probably the brush engine. IT IS SO INSANELY GOOD. I also really like how Procreate comes up with new and/or optimized features all the time to make artists’ lives easier.
If you could add one feature to Procreate what would it be?
I’d really like it if we could have an eyedropper that could eyedrop a portion of the painting so I can create multiple textures and colors with existing parts of the painting. Kind of like the mixer brush in Photoshop!