Finally, a Good Interview with Artist DeeKay Kwon
Artist DeeKay Kwon (AKA @deekaymotion) on his childhood, working in corporate America, how he relaxes, his favorite Korean food, what it's like to make a lot of money, the NBA, and much, much more.
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Note: One of our readers, @R99Lee, generously created a Chinese Translation of this interview. You may find it here. 中文翻译在这里.
A Conversation with Artist DeeKay Kwon
When DeeKay Kwon was a kid, he had trouble focusing during school. Instead of listening to the boring lessons, he spent his class time doodling.
He didn’t know it at the time, but these absent-minded doodles were his first steps toward a career in art and animation.
Today DeeKay is one of the most successful animators in the world. But his path to stardom was not always obvious.
After dropping out of art school because he couldn’t afford tuition, DeeKay bounced around different studios and corporate jobs. On the side, he kept making art and building a following on Instagram.
But it wasn’t until 2021 that DeeKay’s art career really left orbit. All in the past 12 months, he minted his first NFT, quit his corporate job at Apple, sold one of his pieces for 225 ETH ($809,014 at the time), launched an ongoing “PFP” series, and started a Discord community - DEEKAYVERSE - that now counts 20,000 members.
When I first discovered DeeKay’s work, I wanted to learn more about his background. I Googled him, expecting to find a bunch of great articles and interviews to read, but shockingly, there were almost none. The few interviews that did exist were either really short or about one specific piece of work.
I decided that needed to change!
In this wide-ranging conversation, DeeKay shares more about his childhood, his experience working in corporate America, how he relaxes, his favorite Korean food, what it's like to make a lot of money, and much, much more.
Now, on to the best interview on the internet with DeeKay Kwon!
MDM: Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
DK: I was born in South Korea and grew up there until I was 12 years old and then I moved to the US.
Drawing doodles has always been a big part of my life ever since I was little. I believe one of the first compliments I ever heard in my childhood was about my drawing of a dinosaur when I was in preschool. Ever since then I was always the drawing kid. My textbooks were full of random drawings.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I am a 4th-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and I actually wanted to become a Tae Kwon Do athlete to compete in the Olympics. I was pretty serious about it too but things worked out differently and I ended up going to art school instead.
What was your first job?
My first job title was “Motion Designer,” working at a post-production company where they make lots of TV commercials. I remember being very happy with the job because knowing the fact that you can make money [using] a computer was such a surreal experience to me. I always loved being on a computer.
Were your parents or family ever worried about you pursuing art as a career? If so, tell me how that felt and how you dealt with that. And what do they think now?
They weren’t really worried about me and I honestly don’t know why. I think part of them just knew that I’ll end up fine whatever I do. I was always a kid who loved to try new things and explore but I was never a trouble-maker. I am thankful that they have believed.
What does a day in the life of DeeKay look like right now?
One thing I can tell you for sure, I am the total opposite of productive.
I am pretty bad with time management and I hate deadlines. Though working with clients for 10 years kind of forced me to follow the rules, I am still naturally a no-rules kind of a guy. I am all about improvisation.
There are rare moments when things start to click and I can give 100% focus to get things done. That usually happens with the art that I create. There would be a very random motivation that triggers me to start creating it and I will even skip sleep until I am physically unable to continue.
You barely tweeted in 2020. Then, on February 26, 2021, you announced what seems to be your first NFT listing on Foundation. In May 2021, you left your job at Apple. Then it kind of takes off from there. What a whirlwind past year it has been for you! What has been the best part and the hardest part of this journey?
I didn’t tweet much just because I didn’t use Twitter. Also, I didn't really understand the point of tweeting until I started doing NFTs. Now, Twitter is my favorite social platform and I actually engage with people here more than I ever did on my Instagram which was my main social media for the last 5 years.
I had a decent job at Apple with pretty okay pay but that was it. The work I did there was not challenging nor fun. I am a creative person and if I can’t be creative through work, I’d go insane.
And in reality, you can’t be creative all the time because there are regulations and rules to follow. So I taught myself how to shut down and just do work without any emotions or creativity. That way I am not stressed and have the energy to do my own creation after work.
A little sad but that was the reality until I entered the world of NFT.
Are there any pieces of work that you are particularly proud of?
I would say ‘Destiny’. Not just because it was my highest sale, but also because I believe it’s a piece that captures a full love story in less than 30 seconds. I believe that story is more important than the art itself. I love making beautiful designs with beautiful animation. But I love it more when I am able to move people’s hearts.
Love and positivity are big themes in your work and rhetoric. Why have you chosen these themes for your work?
That’s my philosophy and way of life for me. Positivity can conquer any obstacle and with that mindset, you can always build a better version of yourself. Not just that, but you’re also spreading positivity to your surroundings too.
In 2019 you said, “looking back at my 20s, I didn’t really have much fun. I would just always work, work, work. And what’s the point of working too hard when you don’t have memories? So I’m trying to take it slow and make some memories.” Is this still a goal of yours? If so, how do you feel it’s going?
Yes! Well sort of. There are still many things that I want to experience outside of art like traveling around the world.
But I also love building things in the NFT world and it seems to me that I am shamelessly putting myself in a busy position all the time.
But it’s okay, because I am busy differently now. Back then, I was busy saving up money. But now, I am busy because I am building my own world.
Besides taking it slow, what other advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Stop working for corporate companies and focus on crafting your own art.
I think I spent way too much time doing work for others when I should’ve spent more time doing work for myself. I am proud that I have my own style of art but I feel like I could’ve started that way sooner.
When you feel unfocused or overwhelmed, what do you do? Do you have any routines or practices that you use to help yourself relax or focus?
I sleep. Lol.
Your work is instantly recognizable and may eventually be considered iconic. Do you ever worry about caricaturing yourself or feeling like you have to maintain a certain aesthetic?
Yes, but that is always a challenge as an artist. Whenever I make something I am proud of, I always say, “How the hell am I going to beat that now?” But interestingly enough, I am able to make better stuff so far. Hopefully, this continues!
In the caption for your piece Animator Creating Animation, you wrote: “This is a small project I did during my spare time. I am sure we all go through ups and downs when creating art. Maybe caring a little too much about what others think and not enough appreciation towards your own art.” What is your relationship to external approval like right now?
Because of spending way too much time working with clients, it kind of engraved in me that I have to get approval from others. But no one should even have that kind of power but yourself. You should be the only person to get approval for your own art. Be kind to yourself.
Not so long ago you were dropping out of art school due to financial issues, and now your art sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars. How has the influx of money affected your life and psyche? Has it been a smooth transition or have there been difficult parts of your financial transition (personally, psychologically, in your relationships, or any other way)?
Funny enough, not much has changed even after I gained some wealth. I think that’s because I haven’t actually cashed out much of ETH and don’t really know what to do with it at the moment other than helping out my family members.
It definitely gave me a whole lot more freedom to do whatever the heck I want and it gave me an opportunity to not work for clients anymore. This whole freedom is kind of sudden to me but oddly enough, it feels natural.
I thought to myself, will being rich really make me happy? Yes, but I think I’ll be even happier if my family and friends are also rich.
But more than that, I think I’ll be the happiest person if I can make people happy with my art. And I don’t think money can do that for me.
Basketball shows up as a motif throughout your animation - with multiple allusions to Michael Jordan (including in the Lecrae music video you did).
Three questions here:
Do you play basketball? If so, how would you describe your style?
I love basketball! I would consider myself a quick guard with decent dribbling skills.
What is your favorite NBA team?
I don’t follow as much as I used to before but I like [Steph] Curry so I would say Golden State.
Who are some of your favorite players (all time and/or current)?
MJ, Derrick Rose, and Steph Curry.
You lived in New York for 12 years and you love the city. Your I♡NY Animation which you recently sold to Keyboard Monkey is full of so many delightful details. I watched it a dozen times in a row, and I am sure I am still missing some things. What would you recommend as your top two or three New York neighborhoods to wander around for a first-time visitor? Any specific must-see or must-eat spots you’d like to shout out?
Central Park is my favorite. It still fascinates me how there’s a giant park full of beautiful natural scenery in the middle of the city full of buildings.
Speaking of the I♡NY loop, close observers will notice that Cozomo de’ Medici makes an appearance in the animation. Tell me about the day when Cozomo collected your work “Destiny.” What were your thoughts and feelings while that was happening?
I honestly didn’t know much about Cozomo until he messaged me saying that he [was] going to participate in the auction. I honestly didn’t expect much since I had a couple of other collectors who said the same thing. But I had no idea he was going deep like that and I was simply just mind blown.
I don’t mean to exaggerate but I was literally out of my mind and about to pass out. You could say that auction changed my life!
In your video quarantine life, you depict yourself sleeping under the stairs - was this actually where you slept?
Yes! I literally slept under the stairs haha. It was a very fun and good memory. It felt like going back to college days.
Most of your work has fun little soundtracks. What is some music you’ve been digging lately?
I love Jazz-Hiphop. I love raps with good lyrics. I love nice and gentle beats that make you groove. Someone like Kero1 or Nujabes.
What are your favorite Korean foods or dishes?
Kimchi Stew. Very common Korean dish but I feel like I can eat it every day.
If you had to articulate a mantra for 2022, what would it be?
“Care less about what people think and keep doing what you love.”
I have a bad habit myself of checking the price of ETH and floor price of my LetsWalk series but I have to stop doing that. I don’t think it’s healthy.
Whatever happens, happens. I just have to do my thing.
What advice would you have for artists trying to enter the NFT space?
Ask yourself if you would do art even if there was no money. For me, I would still do it because simply that's what makes me happy.
Getting a reward from my creation does make me happy but I am happier when I am able to share my creation with the world.
But whatever your reason, if you want to succeed then just three words: Make good art.
What do you think are the downsides/dark sides of Web3/NFTs that people should be aware of?
Scammers, competition, and insecurity. Those can be very toxic so please take care of yourself and know what you’re getting yourself into.
Are there any underrated artists you would like to shout out to help bring some eyeballs to their work?
Finally, how else can readers keep up with you and support your work?
A simple follow on any of my social media will be a help!
I am all about making good content and making people smile so follow along.
Editor’s note: You can follow DeeKay on Twitter, Instagram, Discord, and his website.
🍣 Salmon Bites
A few quick morsels of fun before I sign off:
1. Article I Enjoyed This Week
Packy McCormick (@packym) is one of my favorite writers, and his newsletter, Not Boring, was one of the inspirations for The Monty Report (you will notice some formatting similarities - a woof of thanks to you Packy!)
This past week he wrote a great post - “Ownership and the American Dream: Getting America its Swagger Back.”
The American Dream, he argues, “is on life support.”
To help rescue the dream, he argues, we need to make America a nation of owners. Rather than pitting capital against labor, we should spend our energy working “to make everyone capital.”
You might not agree with everything he says, but it’s a thought-provoking and optimistic take, and it’s worth your time.
(If you’re more of a listener, you can also listen to the article on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.)
2. Artist Highlight
I’ve really been enjoying looking through Thomas Lin Pederson’s generative art collection Screens.
If you’re attracted to these pieces, or you just appreciate generative art in general, Pederson wrote an article with more background and created a neat tool so that you can “regenerate” any screen at different zoom levels.
3. Tweet of the Week
This week I asked people “Why do you want money?” and I received over 75 replies.
What did you think about this issue of The Monty Report? Please head over to Twitter and let me know. Be sure to tag me - @MontyMedici - in your post so that I see it.
Until next Monday.
🐾 Monty 🐾
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Y’all better get on deekaymotion before it’s too late, round 8 is coming soon and I will be getting one, discord is rhett#9999