Photographed by Brian Ziff
Styled by Zaira Michelle and Alexandra Assil
Lauren Tsai is a true creative. Known to most of the world as a star on the cult Japanese reality series Terrace House, Tsai is also a model, actor, and illustrator. Her artwork landed her a collaboration with Marc Jacobs in 2019, while her acting resume includes roles on the FX series Legion and Moxie, Amy Poehler‘s directorial debut. It was only fitting that Tsai, who moved abroad to Tokyo and then L.A. to pursue her art, gave us her advice on how to seize your creative ambitions.
Get a whiteboard and a notebook. Write down all your to-do’s and goals and thoughts. Make your dream a direction, not an immediate goal. It gets overwhelming very quickly when I look to my ultimate goals and how to go about achieving them in this exact moment. I’ve found that I’m getting closer, slowly but surely, through focusing just on what I can do today. In my subconscious I’m walking towards something I can’t yet reach and I know if I try to figure it all out now, I’ll burn out and see my personal life fall through.
Make stuff for yourself first. You have a point of view that no one else has. And it’s something truly special. Making things you hope others will like dilutes that view, turning it into a means of selling yourself… and it never feels good. Be the boss and be the worker. Try to hold yourself accountable as if you were working for someone else.
Don’t force it when nothing’s coming out. Take yourself out. Alone. Look at things that you like and explore. I got so lonely right after moving to Japan and then to L.A., but I found a lot of joy in going out with myself to do the things I wanted to do with others. Get inspired by the world. Alternatively, doing nothing is really important too. There is absolutely nothing wrong or lazy about doing nothing. It gets lonely too, so be aware of the thoughts in your head when they hit. I used to immediately shut them up with some form of self destruction or distraction. I think they’re trying to tell you something about your life or what direction you need to be heading in.
Go down a rabbit hole. Ask a shit ton of questions. I didn’t go to art school, so I attribute so much of what I know to the people I’ve met and their wisdom. Going down YouTube rabbit holes to learn new techniques is something I love. I really like things that are immediate instead of online classes, but those are great too. I took one last summer for a Maya, which was so necessary because I don’t think I could have figured it out without that structure.
Pretend that you’re dead. Last year I started doing this, then it became a daily thought. I’d pretend that I’d already died and was getting a chance to revisit things one more time. I fantasize about the past a lot. I miss all the quiet moments that may have seemed mundane to me at the time. This helps put the present into perspective. Even if things suck or are painful right now, I know I’ll miss it all one day. Even sitting in traffic on the freeway in L.A. Probably. Anyways, this thought helps me to feel the beauty of things.
Be unreal. You don’t need to be a “real” anything. I used to get so caught up on this. I’m not a real illustrator. I’m not a real actor. I’m not a real painter. This idea of “real” is only gonna kill you, or constrain you. I was afraid to let myself love and try new things because I felt like members of different artistic communities would take me less seriously. But knowing that you’re making the things you are out of love and curiosity is all that matters. It is your life to live in whatever way makes you feel the most alive.
Take risks. Whatever you’re fantasizing about, lean into it. Before I moved to Tokyo, I spent a year online figuring out how to do it. Looking at apartments, watching videos, imagining how I’d live. If something lights you up, follow it. The riskiest thing probably seems risky because it’s what you truly want. Do it!
Get rejected. Not getting what you want is gonna happen. The hundreds of rejections I’ve faced between jobs and opportunities were just as important as the ones I got. And I’m glad now that I didn’t get what I wanted when I wanted the wrong things. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about when putting yourself out there. Email/DM people, share your work, tell people what you dream of making.