Last weekend, Geek News Network took over Disneyland theme park and Downtown Disney! We were fully expecting to fill up on our yearly dose of Dole Whip and Space Mountain, amongst other adventures. What we were not expecting, however, was to run into one of our favorite artists in Downtown Disney’s WonderGround Gallery! Leilani Joy, whose art is actually on display in the Wonderground Gallery, is a California artist who came from humble beginnings and is living proof that dreams really do come true in the world of Disney!
Luckily for us, Leilani took some time out of her meet-and-greet session to speak with us and tell us all about her incredible journey.
“Hi guys! I’m Leilani Joy, and I’m a fine artist and illustrator. I do my own fine art and I also work for Disney’s WonderGround Gallery!”
GNN: Thanks for being with us, Leilani! We’re currently standing here in the WonderGround Gallery with all of your art, which is obviously a huge accomplishment! Can you tell us how this all started for you?
“So, I was a drawing kid all my life. I was always drawing, making books and selling them to my parents… you know, that kind of thing. But I really started taking it seriously probably around high school. I was really like, I want to be an illustrator, I thought. I was drawing Sailor Moon, I was making my own comics back then, and I was very into manga. So, my parents were very supportive and they said, ‘If you want to go to art school, we’ll support that.’ So, in 2005, I went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I actually started as a 3D major because I thought I could get a better job. But, I changed my mind about halfway through to become a traditional illustration major, and I found acrylic painting in my last year as an elective. From that, I found out I really love painting! So, I never intended to be a fine artist. It was kind of an accident. But, I love it, and here I am!
GNN: So, as a fine artist you mentioned at some point wanting to do something else to “get a better job,” and I know that a lot of artists struggle with that choice of financial stability versus passion. How did you find you were able to overcome that big decision?
That’s a great question. So, when I graduated I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do, and I was kind of taking some odd jobs. I had two day jobs, working in an office and as a personal assistant. Well, one night I was just like, why don’t I make a video of what I’m doing and just put it online? I hadn’t seen a lot of that back then, and I just had this crappy little digital camera that I duct taped to a hanger because I didn’t have a proper setup. I had it up over my desk and I just kind of filmed what I was drawing and painting, and I started putting those on YouTube. Pretty soon, I started getting messages from people like, ‘Can I buy that?’ I was like, oh, okay! From there it kind of just started to snowball over the years until I got to, right now, a little over 50k subscribers on YouTube. Most of my clientele came from that, and that’s kind of how I got to that point of being able to be a full-time fine artist.
GNN: Well, obviously that really paid off because we are standing with your art in Disney’s WonderGround! So, the real question now is how did you become a part of this gallery?
“That was also kind of a fluke thing! Disney’s WonderGround doesn’t actually do a submission process, instead they have scouts that go looking. I believe they found my Etsy account, where they found my Alice in Wonderland art, which is kind of more whimsical and obviously they have Alice, too. So, this was in 2014 and they had me do a trial weekend where I just brought a few little prints. It did pretty well! So, from there they asked if I wanted to paint some Disney characters and see how those would do. And I’ve been doing that for five years now and I’m happy that they keep asking me to come back!
GNN: That’s such a huge accomplishment, and obviously your art is joined by work from other unique artists in this gallery. How would you say you found your own art style amongst everything else that’s already out there?
“That’s always a big question! I teach online as well, and that’s always the number one thing that students ask me. I just tell them, ‘It’s in there! It’s just a matter of doing it over and over again until it starts to come out, drawing from your inspirations, then getting away from them a little bit.’ Like I said before, early on I was very into manga and my art looked very anime-style. Later on, I knew I wanted that to still be present, but I also wanted to pull some other references until I was making something that was almost like a hybrid of styles. So, I think once you get more exposure and you learn what techniques you like, you bring in different materials sometimes… some people get very stuck in one medium and they don’t realize that they would actually be more efficient or better in another medium. So, yeah I think it’s kind of just trial and error, is kind of how you really find your style.
GNN: So, out of everything you’ve created and presented in the gallery, what has been your favorite piece as far as which one holds the most value on a personal level?
“It’s hard to choose… because everything is kind of related to where I was at the time. When I first started at WonderGround, I did a Tinkerbell and a Maleficent, and those were both really big characters for me. But, on an emotional level, my Mulan painting is the one that I think is the most powerful. Both of them, actually, because they’re both different facets of that character. I think most of us women relate to that soft, feminine side and then we all have that toughness about us. So, I think she’s kind of my spirit character a little in that respect.
GNN: Speaking of inspiration and motivation, to finish up this interview we would like to ask if you have any words of advice to any aspiring artist out there who has maybe yet to find their voice or their style?
“I definitely think just be authentic, is what I usually like to tell people. There are a lot of trends out there, and especially Instagram culture has created a lot of those. Which, I mean don’t get me wrong it’s a great way to emulate other artists and figure out who you are. That’s kind of how I started, in a way. But, kind of realizing what it is that makes your art ‘you,’ is what really connects with people in the end. Because they’re gonna see that and if you’re an imitator, unless you’re going to do it better, do it different. Take from a lot of sources and build up that authentic self. I think that always works.
You heard it here first, folks. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box. Follow your passions as best you can. And, when in doubt, always be authentically you.
Big thanks to Leilani Joy for taking the time to talk with us! As stated in the interview, you can find her artwork for sale if you visit the Wonderground Gallery in Downtown Disney, California. Or, if that’s a bit too far of a trip, you can always stop by her Etsy shop and support her on her Twitter and Instagram accounts! For any artists out there, you’re definitely going to want to check out her art classes or her Twitch channel for some inspiration or helpful tips on finding your style!
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we need to go hang up our new Mulan paintings.