I stumbled upon Ariel Sun’s work while scrolling at design work online and immediately felt connected to her candid but progressive approach. Colorful stories that didn’t need any words, beautiful memories from places no one might ever have been to… It didn’t take too long to figure she might have been inspired by great contemporaries like Malika Favre or Quentin Monge

And so rarely have I had the opportunity to meet a creative that I felt so close to, in many ways. Ariel moved to New York City in the early 2010s and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. After school and several years of working full-time in marketing where she honed her skills in content strategy and visual communication, she slowly but steadily transitioned to becoming a self-employed commercial illustrator and digital designer. And it took her three years of hard work, focus, passion and dedication - qualities often developed by every New York hustler - to embrace and finally build a career in what seems to be her true calling. 

We met Ariel in the amazing Friends Work Here space created by the wonderful Tina Roth Eiseinberg (aka Swiss Miss, founder of the Creative Mornings) in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn and discussed her path and what it means to “embrace your uniqueness”. 


Hi Ariel! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi! My name is Ariel. I’m a China-born, New York-based freelance illustrator and digital designer living in Brooklyn, and currently working out of an amazing coworking space called Friends Work Here. I’m mama to a sweet tabby cat named Mochi. When I’m not working, I enjoy trying new restaurants, yoga, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.

What led you to become a designer and illustrator?

A series of unexpected events that led me to this sweet place in life where I’ve found myself. And believe me, having found yourself is the most amazing feeling on Earth!

I never thought I would become a designer actually. Growing up, while my parents were supportive of my creative interests, I never realized that I could turn them into a career. My blueprint for life when I was younger was just to excel in school, get a good job, and lead a financially stable life. So I graduated NYU with an MA in International Relations because I thought I’d like to get into the fields of management consulting or international development, but while I was pursuing my degree, I slowly came to the realization that social sciences just wasn’t my true calling, but I also didn’t know what was. So I ended up in a digital marketing job after I graduated, because I thought it’s a fit for my personality.

A year later, I landed another marketing job at the Human Project at NYU, which, unexpectedly, turned into a design job on Day One. They gave me a call to offer me this job, and mentioned that my first job would be this high-stake graphic design project with a tight deadline. Somehow they just thought if you can do marketing you should be able to do graphic design as well. But the truth is, at that point in life, I had never used Adobe CC before. There were just two weeks between this call and my first day, so I hired an art student to teach me the basics of the core Adobe programs, and nailed the first project.


And as it turned out, the organization at that point happened to have a ton more design needs than marketing needs, so I naturally became their in-house graphic designer. It wasn't what I'd signed up for, but miraculously, graphic design immediately felt like a true calling and a passion. I was learning crazy fast and only wanted to constantly improve. I probably spent thousands of hours watching tutorials to teach myself how to illustrate, how to graphic design, and to train my design instincts. The organization also had very little budget, if any, to purchase stock images, so I ended up doing a ton of illustrations to use instead, which was awesome, because I like to think that I was getting paid to practice my illustration skills.

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How would you describe your style?

I would describe my style as vibrant, colorful, clean, dramatic and minimalistic with an emphasis on harsh contrast. My illustrations often feature dramatic and slightly mysterious scenes and plenty of white space to encourage the viewers to come up with the rest of the stories.

What makes you passionate about the work that you do?

The possibilities of creation and the power of ideas.


How do you pull yourself out of really low moments?

Spending time with family and friends are usually a great way for me to get the emotional support to pull myself through. Exercises and yoga help, too.

I also like to think that doing what you love is a privilege. A lot of people are not in circumstances where finding what they love to do is possible. Where you are is already the dream of somebody else's, so in the grand scheme of things, the low can't be that low.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Work hard, be nice, and great things will happen.


Do you have any advice for other artists/freelancers who'd like to show or sell their work?

Keep creating and be patient. Usually things are slow at the beginning because anything great takes time to build. But as long as you consistently put out work, and push yourself to make each piece better than the last, the result is likely to compound over time.

It’s also important that artists find and develop their own authentic styles without imitating or being too inspired by current trends. Trends come and go so quickly these days. If your style looks too much like other artists - especially if they are already established - then you are going to get lost in the competition. Embrace your uniqueness. Let your background, your interests, the things that move you and the things that you love inspire you and create the work that’s true to yourself.

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Can you share some of your favorite inspirations?

Artists: Pablo Picasso, Edward Hopper, Alexander Liberman, Irving Penn, Malika Favre, Thomas Danthony, Quentin Monge, Amanda Charchian, Oscar Medina

Instagram accounts: gestalten, creativeboommag, aigaeyeondesign, thedesignfiles

Podcasts: Creative Pep Talk, Design Matters by Debbie Millman

Newsletters: Creative Boom, CreativeMornings, theSkimm

Discover more of Ariel’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram @itsariel.

interviewsSarah Moussa