Sue Tsai

The Pop Surrealist Painter Embedded in Hip-Hop and Fashion

Artist Sue Tsai is a painter first, but her pop surrealist style has crossed over into music and fashion. She’s worked on album covers for Rihanna and Wale, as well as developed custom sneakers with Reebok and Gigi Hadid. Oh, and she’s exhibited her work at Art Basel and Formula 1 Grand Prix de Monaco. Not too shabby.

When did you realize what you wanted to do in your life?

“I always knew I wanted to be in the creative field. From a young age, I was constantly drawing and illustrating my own books. However, painting was always a side passion and I never took it seriously until I discovered how well received it was on social media. Seeing thousands of people adore and relate to my art pushed me to pursue it full time and build a career out of it.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

“How much planning and thought goes into each piece. Every artist works differently and some are a ‘wing it,’ paint-as-they-go type. I’m the complete opposite: All of my paintings are planned down to every detail before I even put a brush to the canvas. Sometimes the concept of a piece can be worked on for a year before I’m ready to begin.”

In today’s Instagram world, how do you stay original?

“To me, staying original is so easy. I am who I am and it is exactly who I portray on social media. We all have different stories to tell and we should tell them honestly and vulnerably without feeling like we have to fit into this picture-perfect Instagram snapshot. The more genuine you are, the more people feel like they can connect with you.”

What advice do you have for other women working toward their own dreams?

“Sometimes society makes women feel like all other women are their competition, but we have to work together. Constantly network, build and reach out to other women in any field. We may all have individual dreams, but we can achieve them so much faster when we aren’t all looking out for only ourselves.”

Desert island question: If you could bring only three things, what would they be?

“Music, a sketchbook, a bottle of tequila.”

Whom do you admire more than anyone else?

“My mom. She is the most amazing, selfless, hard-working woman I’ve ever known. Everything I am today is because of the values she instilled in me. I’ve never admired a person more than her and I hope that I am making her proud.”

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