Today we’d like to introduce you to Cecilia Li.
Hi Cecilia, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I always knew I wanted to do art. My grandmother was a painter and I grew up doing watercolors on her kitchen table. My parent’s fostered my passion and I had many amazing mentors in my youth – Augusto Bordelois and Dan Whitely both really shaped my path as a young fine artist. I attended Savannah College of Art and Design and shifted my focus to commercial work as I pursued a major in Motion Media Design. Three and a half years in, I was working on a freelancing for the Philadelphia-based experiential art studio, Klip Collective on a projection mapping installation for Red Bull and I decided to drop out. I felt I was learning way more in the field than I was at school, so I took my tuition money and used it to start a company, Analog Studio at home in Cleveland. A year in and very little client work later (turns out I knew very little about running a business – it is not so simple as “make great work and they will come”), I accepted a full-time position as Director of Motion Graphics at Brokaw, Inc where I worked closely with my co-worker Brandon Jones. Together, we were the entire post-production team at Favorite Brother.
I quit a year in to go co-create the pop-up ashram that my dear friend and mentor, Sarah Belzile, was dreaming about. I found myself anxious about money and thought that living in a tent with my cat for a few months would help me find my fundamental ground and build the internal security I needed to not be so worried about money (and it running out).
Around that time, some of the initial leg work I had put in to starting Analog began to pay off, and my freelancing career took off like wild fire. From there, it was non-stop grinding. My workload quickly became larger than what I could single-handedly take on and I started to hire other freelancers to help me out.
The pandemic was a big year for video work as everything was going virtual. After one dead and uncertain month in March 2020, I worked 80-100 hours a week for 16 months before I burned myself out. I worked myself harder than any boss ever had.
Then, I started as Director of Motion Graphics at Clockwork 9, a creative agency with some of the most brilliant, talented, kind and hard-working people I’ve ever met. Their ethos and values to work and life are so rare in this field. I work with them full time and still manage a team of freelancers on the side for Analog.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Ha! No. There were so many different struggles along the way. Between just working myself to the point of absolute exhaustion – pulling all-nighters, not having enough time for friends and family or for taking care of myself in general. Clients in this field tend to want everything done yesterday and while there are a lot of people who understand the value of video and are willing to put coin behind it, when you’re starting out and don’t yourself understand that value yet, there are a lot of people who want to take advantage of you. There’s the whole idea that if you love what you do you should be willing to do it for little to no money. Understanding that was another big obstacle that took a few years to overcome.
Transitioning from fine art to commercial art also comes with its own unique set of growing pains – when you are used to making things from the heart and then start making money for it, you have to shift your mentality. You have to detach because otherwise there’s a lot of serious heart break that can happen when clients change designs or they’re not aligned with your vision. It sounds dramatic, I know, but it happens! You have to stop “waiting for inspiration” because you have to deliver every day – whether you are on or not!
As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a motion graphic designer and illustrator. I specialize in commercial animation and storytelling. My job is to break things down to make them quickly and easily digestible and inspire viewers to take some sort of action. I’m really proud of the success I’ve made for myself doing something that I love & the supportive community I’ve found to do this work with.
Honestly, I think the thing that sets me apart is the mix of artistry and professionalism. I can’t tell you how many times clients have expressed that they struggle to find artists who deliver on time and on budget. It’s hard to find people who are good at creative work but also can manage a timeline and expectations.
In addition to animation, I’ve also nurtured my passions on the side for smaller projects. I’ve pursued a lot of things simply because they are interesting to me and I find them engaging. I illustrated “The Book of Cuddles” with Dr. Yoni Alkan after I became a certified professional cuddlist and Cuddle Party facilitator. I am working on writing and illustrating a second book – “Mythical Mushrooms : Legends and Lore from the Forest Floor”, a collection of fungi mythology from around the world, which stems from my passion for fungi (which I picked up while living at Play Ashram in the Red River Gorge). I am deeply interested in women’s sexuality and started a “Pussy Book Club” and run women’s sexuality events and community circles from my home. All of this informs my professional work and weaves in and out of it, I have illustrated an entire course for genital anatomy. I’m working on a podcast, a series of small paintings, and a million other projects at any given moment. This stuff is more fringe, and I do it because I love it rather than because it pays the bills. Big commercial stuff pays the bills – all these other things just feed my heart and keep me going.
Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
I’d consider myself a calculated risk-taker.. or maybe intuitive risk-taker is more honest, because I don’t know how much actual calculation I do most of the time.
I think I’ve already mentioned the big ones (dropping out of school, starting my own business, leaving my steady big girl job with benefits to live in a tent…). In general, I trust my gut and also I get very restless when my environment doesn’t match my values or what I’m seeking in my life. That restlessness and my inability to ignore it has led me on a very winding road. My heart goes out to my poor parents viewing from the sidelines with anxiety over the seeming instability.
But at the end of the day, if you’re unhappy with something or it isn’t right for you, you have to make a change. And making a change always comes with risk. The potential payoff has always been worth it for me, and indeed it has worked out that way. I have the best job in the world and consider myself extremely lucky.