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Emily Suvanvej

Emily Suvanvej

Meet Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary designer, illustrator, and art director, Emily Suvanvej.


Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi there! I’m Emily — a multidisciplinary designer, illustrator, and art director currently living in Brooklyn, NY. I was born in Portland, Oregon but I have cultural roots in Thailand; I still have lots of family in Bangkok who I visit each year. Besides NYC and Portland, I’ve also lived in London, Seoul, and Los Angeles, so I’ve been lucky enough to have lots of friends in cities all around the world. And lots of favorite restaurants to go back to.


In terms of my work, I deal in stop-motion, live action and 2D animation mostly. My illustration style is clean, textural, and often tactile; I tend towards abstract shapes, landscapes… and lots of cats.


Describe the city you’re living in and what it’s like to live there.

NYC is an intoxicating city to live in. It feels like the center of the universe — there are so many rich cultural experiences and thrills to be had here. I love that I’m surrounded by such talented, driven, and brilliant people who just want to be a part of cool things and push the boundaries of our industry. There’s a huge community of kickass women here who lift each other up and give support when needed, which is insanely refreshing.


NYC is an intoxicating city to live in. It feels like the center of the universe

What is the best and worst thing about living in your city?

I won’t lie — it’s not a perfect city. It’s dirty, it’s germ-ridden, and oftentimes completely miserable and awful. The train is never on time and always too full. This city is expensive and has sneaky ways of draining your bank account; it’s true you get paid a much higher salary in NYC than other cities, but still, you’re fighting against a pretty strong current. You’re constantly spinning your wheels for not much payoff.


But that said, every city comes with its pros and cons. I still can’t see myself anywhere else in the world right now. If you like being swept off your feet, NYC is the place.


Give us 3 words that describe what it’s like to be a creative in your city.

Terrifying, gratifying, magnetic


How did you start your career in art?

I attribute my career in art to my mother who (for my entire childhood) spent time with me doing craft projects and art. She taught me so many interesting techniques — wood-burning, embossing, stamp-making, painting on fabric, sewing, crocheting, and so much more. Her enthusiasm for anything creative and tactile was contagious.


But at 17, I moved to NYC to study film production at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and that’s when my career really began. There I learned everything there is to know about the industry — screenwriting, cinematography, directing, editing, production design, TV studio production, film history, producing. While I was there I was lucky to have had internships at The Daily Show, Showtime, Adult Swim, and Saturday Night Live where I learned the ins and outs of proper production.


From there it was a slow, meandering path into advertising, design, and animation, where I am today.


I attribute my career in art to my mother who (for my entire childhood) spent time with me doing craft projects and art. 

Were the people around you supportive of your decision on working as a creative?

So supportive. I’m not only lucky to have parents and a whole family that have supported me in (basically whatever) decision I make, but also a wonderful spouse who works very hard to make sure I’m happy and fulfilled. He was the first to see my potential, push me harder than I’ve pushed myself, discourage me from taking creatively unfulfilling projects just for money, and tell me I’m good on the days that I feel like a complete failure.


What are some goals and ambitions you have for your future work?

I always just want to be better. I’m trying to expand my skillset and keep bombarding myself with inspiration, not to mention keep educating myself. Goals for the next couple years: I want to learn sculpting in VR, I want to do more editorial work for places like New York Times, I want to learn glassblowing and ceramics. I’d love to direct a short film someday. I’d love to keep working with places like Buck, but on something really cool and in a style that I’m head-over-heels for.


I always just want to be better. I’m trying to expand my skillset and keep bombarding myself with inspiration, not to mention keep educating myself.

If you could collaborate with any person in the world who would it be?

I have a large roster of heroes! I work really well with Claudio Salas, my talented husband, and I basically drop everything anytime I get a chance to work with him. I’d love to work with Ordinary Folk, ManvsMachine, and all those other awesome commercial animation studios.


How would you describe the women around you?

They are AMAZING. So inspiring, encouraging, kickass and strong, but still sensitive and warm and lovely. As it should be. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by women who care about each other and want to fix this broken stubborn system. We can all be strong and tough, and make content that pushes boundaries, while still being good to each other throughout the entire process.


They are AMAZING.

Were there any local female creatives that you looked up to when you were growing up?

I don’t know if I was very aware of many local female artists back then — maybe they weren’t loud enough or I wasn’t exposed to any. I know I looked up to writer Ursula K Le Guin, film director Sofia Coppola, and comedians/writers like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. My mom was always an inspiration, even though I know she wouldn’t call herself a creative (though I would).


I love how this has changed now though. There are SO many local female creatives that are constant sources of inspiration to me.


Are there any challenging aspects of being a female in your industry?

There are so many challenging aspects to being a female in advertising. It’s a boys’ club through and through, and the systems that have long since been established don’t work for more feminine sensibilities. I am a sensitive person, and I LOVE that about myself. To me, the boys’ club atmosphere is full of one-upping and teasing, crude jokes and circle-jerks — but I want to surround myself with people who are good to each other, open, straightforward, sensitive, considerate, encouraging and warm. Not to say that this doesn’t already exist in some places, but in order to see more females in this industry, we need to rethink the system and change our priorities.


Keep going and don’t get discouraged.

Do you have any advice to young women who are aspiring to work in your field?

Keep going and don’t get discouraged. It might seem like I know what I’m doing, but I SO don’t! And no one else does either. I get imposter syndrome badly and so do creatives that have been working longer than I have. For example, whenever Buck books me for a freelance project, I always think they’ve got the wrong Emily! Sometimes the nasty voices in your head can be pretty loud, but find a way to redirect that negative energy to propel you forward instead of hold you back.


The good thing is that we do get better at convincing people that we know what we’re doing haha! I promise you can do what they do if you just keep challenging yourself and working hard.



Photos courtesy of Emily Suvanvej.