Stick with your dreams, says Philip Sue

Levin-born digital artist shares his path to success

Janine Baalbergen




Local News

Hard work, long hours, and determination can become your superpowers, but without the initial hard graft and passion for what you want to do or be, you will not leave the ground, Levin-born and bred digital artist Philip Sue has found. “You need to tackle the basics first and that takes time, work and determination,” he said. Over the years he has spent a lot of time defining his style as an artist and getting the basics down. Now he has 60,000 followers on TikTok and 300,000 on Instagram. Tablet makers now approach him for reviews of their equipment, knowing they will reach a lot of people. Hundreds of people do his tutorials on the Patreon platform. Levin native Philip Sue learnt to work hard, both at school and at home early in life. His parents were and still are market gardeners and he spent hours working in the fields harvesting vegetables after school every day for years, no matter the weather. “Even when it pours with rain if the vegetables aren’t picked you can’t go home.” When he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in creative media, he got a job at Horowhenua District Council as a graphic designer and continued to work at home after hours, honing his digital art skills, for the next five years. Sue said he enjoyed art at Horowhenua College and was also a keen on basketball, however “when injuries meant that a career playing basketball was out of the question I plunged into art.” Not wanting to spend the rest of his life picking vegetables, he decided to follow his one remaining passion - art. He initially was unsure whether it would work and started slowly with a level 4 certificate in art and design at UCOL. “I just wanted to see how far I could go.” He did great and, what is more, enjoyed it. With encouragement from tutors and fuelled by the passion that had been awakened, he enrolled in UCOL’s bachelor’s programme. Now dubbed creative media, at the time it was going by the fancy name of applied visual imaging. Then came a fiveyear stint at council in his hometown. He worked at home on illustrations, concept design and material for animation projects and computer games. “I wanted to achieve a style of my own and that is now what drives my workflow,” he said. “Prospective clients choose me because I managed to create a unique style and that is what they are after.” Taking on social media marketing in all the right places, it took a few years for him to get noticed and build a substantial portfolio. And the hard work and graft only increased. “I worked at my regular job 8-5 Monday to Friday and then, after a bit of dinner, did my art from six in the evening until the early hours of the morning. As well as all day on weekends.” During those years he did work for studios, designed book covers, and album covers for musicians. “I was working two full-time jobs for a few years and, in the end, it was all about how badly I wanted to be a digital artist. It was worth it.” As his style slowly took form, he built a portfolio, made tutorials to help others on the Patreon Platform, and created and sold digital resources, while promoting his work. In a long-term distance relationship with his Auckland-based town planner partner, he made the plunge to try and survive on his art alone after five years and moved to Auckland to be with his partner earlier this year. He now works for companies, studios, and other clients, many of whom are based in the USA. His biggest coup of late may be the Buzz Lightyear poster he designed for Disney Pixar. He also does work for Adobe, Sony Music and designs marketing material for a number of industry leaders, at pains to keep their names under wraps. He uses a Wacom tablet. “Everything is digital now, which is great because you will never have to buy paint again. You just draw on the screen, which is also cost-effective as changes can easily be made.” It does increase the turnaround time for the job he does too. “Hours can be crazy a bit as people on the other side of the world are awake when I should be sleeping.” But he warns while technology is great and helpful, you cannot skip the basics of your profession. “You really need to understand those. As a digital artist, you still need to understand light, perspective, proportions, shapes, lines and you must be able to draw.” He said passion, hard work, and determination can take you far, no matter how you may have done at school. “I wasn’t that great at school, though I loved the art classes. Utilise the tools you have access to. Do what you love. I built my business while still living in Levin. Of course in my line of work it doesn’t matter where you are, but it took me five years to get there.” At the recent TED x event in Kāpiti, Sue shared his journey. “I talked about going outside your comfort zone and chasing what you want through hard work and grit. It takes time to build your audience. Don’t be scared of your dreams, just stick with them. It pays off in the end.” He now has a large following in the US and clients around the globe. Thanks to his large social media presence and regular contributions to those, he now gets approached for jobs, such as the illustrative poster of Buzz Lightyear for the new movie. Right now Sue is working on the cover for a debut album for an artist, continues to supply materials and tutorials to Patreon and has built up a bit of status as an influencer in digital art. “Manufacturers of tablets, for example, now ask me to review their products.” You can find some of Philip’s artwork at www., —art, and @philipsue—art