Meet the Cebuana who makes art for Disney, Hamilton and Warner Brothers

Meet the Cebuana who makes art for Disney, Hamilton and Warner Brothers

“Haven’t you been dreaming about adventure?” This was a quote from Disney’s “Jungle Cruise;” a quote that led a 23-year-old Cebuana freelance illustrator to start her own adventure in creating art for Disney, American musical “Hamilton,” and Warner Brothers’ limited edition Echosmith shirt.

Amber Liu, a Filipina-Chinese illustrator, and marketing and digital designer in New York City, has been “drawing your favorite things” as seen on her Instagram bio since she was 13 years old.

Her Instagram handle @artbyamberliu is filled with her charming drawings, graphic videos and stylized typography featuring inspirational quotes, daily reminders and song lyrics. Her masterpieces have since caught the eyes and hearts of Instagrammers (or Instagram users) around the world and gained her 19,700+ followers. Eventually, she designed Warner Brothers’ limited edition Echosmith “Bright” shirt, was noticed by the official “Hamilton” team, who interviewed and invited her to make a digital sticker pack that is available on its mobile app, and was chosen as a “Selected Creator” for Disney’s “Jungle Cruise.”

Amber shares with SunStar Lifestyle her adventure, inspirations, goals and advice to aspiring artists.

What are your inspirations when doing art?

“Art is wonderful in the way that inspiration can strike at any time and can be found anywhere. Sometimes a random thought strikes and I suddenly feel the need to make an idea come to life, and I can only describe the all-too-familiar feeling as a surge of inspiration and excitement.

But sometimes inspiration needs to be actively sought out but thankfully we are exposed to so many sources in our day-to-day lives. I actually have a running list on my phone that I constantly update, and if I see something that I think can inspire a piece, I will write it down no matter what I am doing. I will write down quotes, lyrics, themes and random thoughts I have and will save photos I find online, sometimes even doing a quick sketch of the idea. There are times when I will look back at these ideas and have no idea what I was thinking when I wrote it down, but most of the time it serves as a constantly evolving mood board and is a great creative exercise!”

How would you describe your style?

“My style is straightforward yet detail-oriented and intentional. It is all hand-drawn and more often than not involves designed words along with other illustrative elements. My work usually centers around either an obvious or a subtle theme and that theme is translated through the details within the work. These details are often easter eggs to be found that contribute to the theme, but in general, it is always easy to comprehend the central message.

In a more thematic sense, my art often involves what I observe and what I consume, especially other forms of art. So if I am listening to a new song, reading a new book or watching a new show, more often than not I will create work inspired by that. Beyond that, if I feel strongly about a social cause, I tend to make work advocating for that.”

What drew you to art?

“My mom is incredibly artistic and my parents have always provided opportunities for me to access that creative side, even when I was not particularly good at it. Since I also grew up reading and listening to a lot of music, it seemed like a natural progression to take all that media that I was consuming, and translate it into visual art.

Another thing that continuously draws me to art is seeing how it affects and helps those who consume it, just like how all kinds of art have influenced me and my life. It is refreshing and fulfilling to have the chance to be involved in possibly inspiring others.

When I am feeling stuck or uninspired, my family, friends and peers have always been there to remind me how much I love to create and what I am doing this for. Time and time again, their support and reassurance has been the invisible string that has led and drawn me back to my craft.”

How did Disney and ‘Hamilton’ discover you?

“When the ‘Hamilton’ performance was released on Disney+, I wanted to make an artwork to commemorate it. Prior to this I had not drawn much “Hamilton”-inspired artwork, but have been a big fan of the musical for years, so I decided to go for it and create an illustrated collage of all the songs. The artwork got some traction from Broadway World and from different “Hamilton” actors, until eventually the “Hamilton” team reposted the work, which was incredibly exciting. It was a complete surprise to have them reach out and ask to interview me and turn the work into a sticker pack, and it is still surreal every time I do work for them or when they share my art.

As for working with Disney, I had seen a call for submissions for artwork inspired by their upcoming movie, “Jungle Cruise.” After watching the trailers and reading more about the film, I was immediately inspired by the visuals and themes within it and felt a rush to participate. Fortunately, I was chosen as a Selected Creator!

Both experiences were life-changing for me and my artistic journey. Both artworks involved taking a central theme of the story, and translating it into a single piece, while being mindful of each artistic choice and of each detail included, to make sure that it relates back to the theme.

Discovering joy in that process allowed me to pursue creating similar artwork, from starting a series where I illustrate all the songs from different musical albums, to being commissioned to create personalized gifts for birthdays and anniversaries.”

(Editor’s note: In 2015, Warner Brothers chose Amber’s design for its official fan-design Echosmith “Bright” limited edition tee.)

As an artist, what are your goals?

“My portfolio and range covers a wide spectrum and I create anything from posters and book covers, to brochures and graphic videos, and this makes the artistic goals that I have change with each project I take on.

However, my overall goal as an artist is to create things that make people feel something, from inspired to nostalgic to joyful, and to cultivate empathy and connection. I try to make my illustrations as accessible and inclusive as possible, and try to highlight universal experiences and emotions.

I myself am quite a sentimental person and I am grateful for the pieces of art in my life that have helped me preserve what I feel and think. From the stickers all over my laptop that reference my favorite things to my phone wallpaper that features quotes I relate to, these pieces of art bring me comfort and joy, and I want to create work that brings that same comfort and familiarity to those who encounter my art.”

What advice can you give to aspiring artists?

“I am by no means an expert or know what the one ‘right’ path is, as I am still starting out, so I still have so much to learn and can only speak to what has helped me so far. I think it is important to keep creating, and to create work that you enjoy. I have also discovered that it is important to have the ability to not lose sight of that creative path. I once heard a quote that said that an artist’s primary talent is having the desire to create. While anyone can create a beautiful work of art, not everyone will feel the need to.

I think it is natural for an artist to go through periods where that desire to make art dwindles, and so it is essential to know what your personal map is to find creative spirit again. While it is different for every artist, two things that have helped me is having a steady exposure to art and media (like that running list of creative ideas), and surrounding yourself with people that believe in you. I know it is not always easy to overcome the stigma that art is not a ‘serious’ path, but there are people out there that will support your path.

I am grateful for the art around me and for the people who have made sure that I do not lose sight of who I am and what I love to do. Overall, I always like to say that once you find something that you can see being a part of your life forever, you don’t just let it go.”


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