How She Got There: Bridgette Zou, Artist, Author & Illustrator

Name: Bridgette Zou      
Age: 27
Job Title and Description: Artist, Children Books Author and Illustrator, Dreamweaver at Eleven Madison Park
College Name/Major: Washington University in St. Louis / Dual Degree, BA in Political Science and BFA in Painting
Website: www.BridgetteZou.com and www.ThisFeelsNice.com
Twitter Handle: @ThisFeelsNiceee
Instagram Handle: @TheChairmanZou and @ThisFeelsNice

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

​BZ: No day is the same, but every day, I make art and try to find opportunities to exercise my creative muscles. Every morning, I will post one of my new paintings on my This Feels Nice Instagram feed, get coffee (crucial), then spend most of the day working on whatever project is most pressing at the moment. Right now, I’m on a deadline for my debut children’s book. Since I work alone, it’s important to me leave my workspace, so I’ll try to schedule meetings throughout the week.

What is the best part of your job?

BZ: Picasso said it best, but knowing that "anything you can imagine is real.” As an artist, this means that I have the privilege, and challenge, of taking a feeling, idea, experience, anything really and making it into something that I can share with others. Painting, and making art in general, is an incredible way to make someone feel a lasting emotion, without ever saying a single word. Right now, I love the possibility that my This Feels Nice painting project might inspire someone to pursue a dream or even just make someone feel good and smile. When someone tells me that something I created made them feel something real, something lasting, that means the whole world to me.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

​BZ: I was a Studio Assistant at the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, DC. In high school, I applied for the National Gallery’s High School Summer Institute Program. It was an intensive program that exposed us to everything about the museum and culminated in the participants creating artwork.  At the end of the program, the directors noticed me and offered me a position at the Gallery. I held that job through the rest of high school, working on weekends and after school. I ended up being one of the youngest employees ever at the NGA. I did everything from facilitating the Gallery’s Family Programs to once assembling over 100 wooden boats. To this day, it was one of my most seminal work experiences.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

​BZ: I love quotes. It’s what my entire This Feels Nice project is based on. But if I had to choose, right now it’d probably be: "If you don’t try, you’ll never know."

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

​BZ: My biggest mistake was making choices out of fear. More precisely, being too scared to do the very thing I knew I needed to do, which was dive head first into being an artist.  For years I ignored my art making. I think I’d known all along venturing into a creative career was what I was suppose to do, but because I didn’t know what my journey would look like, or how to even start being “an artist”, I suppressed it, ignored it, and then grew to fear it. When I finally confronted it head on, I realized that not only was it not scary at all, and that it is often our own imagined fears that are holding us back from doing what we want. From that day on I promised myself to never make a choice out of fear again, and instead I’d confront things head on, try new things and figure it out along the way.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​BZ: Last winter, I attended a children’s book conference and participated in a portfolio showcase with at least 100 other participants. All of a sudden someone came up to my portfolio, started looking through it, and asked me if it was mine. I realized that it was Arthur Levine. He’s a legend. Have you heard of Harry Potter? He discovered J.K. Rowling and brought Harry Potter to America. We all owe him something for changing our childhoods. (Well, at least mine.) He told me my work was beautiful and wanted me to send him samples. I couldn't believe it. It was truly magical. (Pun intended.)

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

​BZ: How quickly they respond to correspondence (while keeping it professional and typo free—please don’t misspell someone’s name). Everyone’s time is precious, so being prompt and efficient in responding will separate you from the rest. It means you’re on top of your game and ready to go.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

​BZ: Release your expectations and just start somewhere. Emerson said, “every artist was first an amateur”, and I couldn’t agree more. This doesn’t mean giving up on a big dream or having no standards. The first thing you make will not be the Mona Lisa, and you’ll inevitably make mistakes. Don’t give up. You should be striving for progress, not perfection. Along your journey, not everything turns out the way you’re meant to, and frankly, if things don’t go your way, that’s great. Because the world might have things you can’t even imagine in store for you, which is pretty exciting. 

What's the one thing that's stood out to you the most in a resume?

​BZ: I consider a resume in the same family as a portfolio or work samples. If someone says they want a creative career, whether it’s as an artist, writer, photographer, etc. the only thing that really matters to me is if they are producing work. Are they somebody that has a lot of ideas but isn’t actually creating any drafts or final work? It doesn't matter if it’s amazing or it’s awful, a pile of scrap paper sketches or ten finished novels. A title is a title, but your work—and work ethic—will speak for itself.

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