Martin Hsu – An Inspiring Artist

Martin Hsu

By Keen Lee

It is my pleasure and honor to have had the opportunity to interview with Martin Hsu about his life as an emerging artist. I admire Martin Hsu’s unique perspective on art and life. Hsu provided me with some very inspirational and humble responses that I am excited to share them with everyone.

1) Can you please share with our readers your background? Where were you born? How did you start drawing?

Hi there. My name is Martin Hsu. My family and I moved to the states when I was 13 years old back in 1991. I was born in Taiwan where I lived and went to school until 7th grade so fortunately, I’m still capable of speaking, reading, and writing in Chinese.

Even though I’m the only child, I was always surrounded by lots of cousins who are around my age. We all used to doodle on scratch papers at the grandparents’ house. I remember I was never the best doodler back in the days in comparison, but I was always the one dreaming up and fantasizing narrative scenarios for us to be in. So I’d have to say although the technique wasn’t there, my childhood in Taiwan was crucial in allowing me to explore and expand ideas which have inspired much of my art down the road.

2) As an Asian American artist, what do you think is the biggest obstacle to overcome in the arts industry?

Interestingly and in all honesty, I’ve never felt being an Asian American artist posed any obstacle in my small career. If anything, it has done the exact opposite.

I would say the biggest obstacle in my personal experience has always been internal. Like most professionals, we are our worst critic. Beneath the brush strokes and layers of paint, there lies procrastination, insecurity, and doubt. It is how we overcome these struggles that tell a good story. Fortunately, being an Asian American has always provided me with a good story to tell.

Mickey's Blossom of Dreams for Disney WonderGround Gallery

3) What do you think is an advantage of being an Asian American artist in the industry and in what ways have it helped you in your career?

I’d like to think ethnicity has little to do with advancing in one’s career. I would say one of the only advantages I’ve had for being an Asian American in a competitive industry is the discipline that’s been pounded into me from going to school in Asia by “tiger teachers”.

The relentless spirit of overachievement keeps a close eye on my productivity and often accompanies me during late nights. It’s magical.

4) How is your experience like working with Disney and Nickelodeon? How were they similar and/or different to you?

My time as a character designer at Disney TV Animation and Nickelodeon was invaluable. I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of such creative engines. The challenge of delivering quality designs bound by tight deadlines has helped me grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The constant inspiration from people around me made me a better artist and person. I’m glad I’m still in touch with many of these fine folks and look forward to team up again.

Dragon Boy Dream

 5) As a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki, you were casually interested in his work at first but it was up until college that you became fascinated with Miyazaki’s work. What specifically fascinated you and inspired you about Miyazaki’s work from that point on?

The amount of respect and admiration I have for Miyazaki-sensei is hard to explain. It’s deeply personal and goes beyond animation. Aside from the obvious of his mastery in storytelling, the persistence, determination, and resilience in being an artist is undeniable. I appreciate his relentless pursue in children’s entertainment and outspokenness about today’s society. All things only a few in the world are courageous and stubborn enough to do so.

6) If you were to collaborate and work with Miyazaki, what would be the first art piece that you’d wish to create with him and why would it be that particular piece?

This is a very good question. I don’t dare think about collaboration with Miyazaki-sensei, but if it were to happen… I hope it involves wagging tails, blush in the young, and wrinkles of the old.

Lilly's Kitty

7) In your creations of “The Crakens”, why do you select specific animals such as the cat, an octopus and the panda to use in your artwork? Is there a particular meaning behind the use of these animals?

CRAKENS™ is a group of lovable hybrid misfits who love nature and all living organisms. They are the sweet irony of cute and creepy.

Being direct descendants of the Kraken and Godzilla, CRAKENS are made of 1/2 land animal and 1/2 sea animal due to mass pollution by the humans. Ironically, they are highly adaptable to survive in any environment which makes them the ultimate winners in evolution. They live peacefully in a hidden place called Crakenland™, one of the last undisturbed sanctuaries in our world tucked away from the reach of man.

By nature, CRAKENS are innocent, naive, and gentle beasts who enjoy hanging out with their woodland animal friends to eat and play video games. In order to defend their beloved nature and reclaim peace in water and on land, they also take pride in knocking over power plants, disposing oil tanker, and stumping on illegal logging. They are firm believers in action speak louder than words, especially when smashing is so much more fun! (Website:

8 ) There are stories behind your art, do you think it is easy for anyone who is not considered a nerd to be able to read and understand them? And if they do not understand the story, do you hope that the audience will simply admire what they see? In other words, is it vital for people to know the story?

My art is an extension of who I am and beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. I can only hope what I do sparks interest and curiosity in the viewer. There’s no right or wrong.

The Humble Bear

9) Usually Asian parents might not be supportive of having their children becoming an artist as their career, have you experienced any issues with convincing your family this is what you want to do?

Luckily, I have parents who help me with art projects and watch over me as I make a mess on my drawing pad. I’d like to think the perception on art is changing in Asia with so many emerging Asian artists from all over the world who are extremely successful.

I’d also like to think the Asian parents of today would value wealth in happiness over just wealth for their children.

10) Where do you see your artwork in five years? What kind of impact do you hope to leave in the arts industry?

I have no intention to have any impact on the art industry. I expect to continue on this journey of self-discovery through art for many years to come. I hope people appreciate the effort I put into it and allow me to do it for a living. I hope to become friends with these fine folks so I can say thanks.

11) Do you have any suggestions for our readers who are also interested in making an impact in the art world like you?

Art is hard, but so is anything worth fighting for in this world.

Work hard, pay your dues, be patient, be smart, and be nice.

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