All my life, I was very academic. That’s how I was practically raised and I would get good grades. One day, I had to choose classes and needed an art credit and from the classes available there was a class for digital art. I was already on the computer the whole day anyway, so I decided to take that. The way my teacher taught us was he didn’t really teach us, he gave us a syllabus sheet with a list of things he wanted us to make and we just had to figure it out. I would use a lot of tutorials online and experimentation, so one was to make a magazine cover or merge two animals together. It was a lot of Photoshop and there was a lot of exploration and discovery.
My teacher had mentioned I had a knack for his and suggested I take his advanced classes, so I did and since a lot of my friends were in there we had a lot of fun doing that. I even got to do yearbook and got to design soccer pages and got to design the tennis page since I played in tennis. He even created a fake photography club and that’s when I started to do photography. My parents gave me a point and shoot with a really good lens on it and I would take photos whenever I was in Tokyo or whenever I was with my friends. My parents would always see me taking pictures all the time so they bought me my first DSLR and that took it to the next level to where I became the guy at school who took photos for everybody. So my Facebook and MySpace would have folders of photos of all my friends and what we would do.
I was recommended to go to California College of the Arts in Oakland. I got in and got a scholarship. I had other options but I really wanted to do art. It took a minute for my parents to accept it, but I went. That’s where I really cultivated my art and my passions, it was in the Bay Area.
Backtracking to college, I wasn’t really into the school projects we were doing, so I would cater things to what I was interested in, like fashion and rap music. It wasn’t enough so my friends and I started this art collective called On Task Family. There were maybe 6 or 7 of us but we wrote a blog and we would write on there for a few months. One of the tipping points for us was that we got to interview Kreyshawn before she blew up.
We would just hang out on campus and around the neighborhood and eventually, we started throwing warehouse parties and art shows and people started finding out about us and getting into what we were doing. It was more than a website and us posting our art. And a lot of the origins of my art and design came college when I was on Twitter and social media all the time. I would go to concerts and connect with people and eventually that lead to someone finding out about my own social media and me through the art collective. From there, it had turned into an opportunity where the guy eventually became my mentor.
My mentor was a part of this design studio his friend ran, so after college he had hired me on. It was really a matter of putting myself out there in the early stages of my art. I had lived in San Diego for a year after I graduated to save up and worked from home and then moved back to San Francisco. I had worked at the studio for a year and did some great projects. It was a great fit for me to work at the studio because my boss and mentor/project manager we were all into the same music and lifestyle.
I got to work on was the site for 2 Dope Boyz which was my introduction to hip hop in high school. So when my boss told me we were able to redo their website, that was the one project I considered goals. Then a few months later that’s when I had decided to go freelance. Things had started to slow down at the studio and it was starting to undergo a restructure, so it was time for me to go on my own. A lot of my friends and connections were trying to hire me to work, but since I had that full time job I didn’t have other time to do that. But after I had left my job, all of these opportunities started popping up and I had this free time to work on projects that I didn’t have time to work on before.
With freelance there is no 9 to 5, it’s pretty much 24/7. Even if I’m on my phone just checking emails or responding to someone, it’s an all day thing. I like to think I’m a jack of all trades, and though there are things I’d rather not do or some things I’m not as good at, people hire me to create websites, branding and logos, identity work, and will occasionally get hired to do photography and shoot for look books and things of that nature.
Creatively, it doesn’t really phase me if I fail. I’ve never really been scared to put myself out there, and even with the podcast (One Degree of Separation) hearing my voice makes me cringe sometimes, but I’m putting myself out there on all of these different platforms and I’ve been telling people that I want to reach as many people as I can and I found that me documenting everything I’m doing and putting it out there has inspired people to do their own thing – and that’s enough for me.
It’s crazy how some people know what they want to do but take the safe route and just don’t think that it’s a viable route for them. That’s something that’s never crossed my mind and yes it is scary, but I like to tell people to take little steps toward whatever is they want to do. A leap sounds scary and not everyone can make that, but if you plan it out and take those baby steps, you will get there eventually. It’s not a race. Everyone is in their own lane.
Starting off, I wasn’t scared. But I knew that if I hustled hard enough and didn’t give myself a reason to fail then I’d be okay. I’d put myself out there more and be smart with my money and how I do business and just be open to anything. When I quit my job that’s when these companies started hitting me up to do influencer projects. It was amazing to me because I thought to myself that I didn’t have many followers whereas a lot of people I knew had a lot more. But they would share that it doesn’t matter, they just wanted something organic, and they had saw that I was connected with people.
I threw parties for Jameson and for a week, Cadillac had given me a car to drive around. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had a full time job, an it’s just so weird how that’s how the universe works. If you’re open to it, it won’t necessarily fall in your lap, you may have to earn it. And to keep things like that you have to work hard.
It’s been a crazy road so far. There are slow months and months where things are going really well, it’s required a lot of discipline. There hasn’t been a huge event I would consider crazy, but there has been a lot of learning every day. I was confident that I was going to be alright. Living in the Bay there were a lot of opportunities for design and I could do it anywhere because all I needed was my computer and wifi and it was a matter of getting that job. I knew I was going to fail a few times down the road, and I knew that I wouldn’t be 100% with not being broke. So I tell people to just jump into it or at least to get comfortable at being your own boss.
A lot of people wait for their side hustles to take off, but I’m just impatient and I make it work. Time doesn’t wait for anybody and you just never know until you try. I feel like stable opportunities are always going to be there. I feel like at any capacity the right people will find you when you put yourself out there. The craziest thing that has happened to me has definitely been the influencer work because I don’t consider myself one. I don’t have that reach in blogging, I don’t share my outfits, nor do I share that I drink often, but to have a brand like Jameson reach out to throw parties and events and Cadillac ask for photos of the car being driven and in different areas, has been so cool!
Social media has helped me be social in real life. A lot of my closest friends are people I’ve met off the Internet. And Twitter has been a great platform to do that. I just want to reach as many people as possible, and if it’s through relatable and positive messages, then why not? It was having real life conversations with people that I feel like I can share pieces of it. For instance, when I was with someone the other day, I was telling them that you are where you need to be but it doesn’t mean you have to stay there. There’s that power of the Internet.
The podcast was something that was just pushed back for a while. And a friend of mine was telling me that I should just do it because people would always come up to me and say that I’m so and so from Instagram. And that happened to me so often and I know a lot of people here in San Diego and wherever I’m at, I know somebody. That’s been one of the positive things that has come from social media, was just knowing a lot of people. Quynh had mentioned it in the first episode that I have a connection with a lot of people and I’m approachable. People I’ve had on the podcast, I’ve had experiences with and hung out with and know personally. I just want to highlight these creative that I’m fortunate enough to know and that have influenced me and deserves shine. The goal is hopefully for people to get something out of it, whether it’s inspiration or that extra push to do stuff. Everybody in the podcast have taken chances and these are all people I admire. I just really want to talk to my friends and put it out on this other platform.
One Degree of Separation came from that idea that there are 6 degrees of separation between everybody but with our community, and us he mentioned that I’m that one person that connects everybody. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by really talented people. Andy had discovered me and put me in one of his events and that’s how I got connected to a lot of people. I got invited to be a part of these events called Future Standard. And the funny thing is, the people I’m close to now like Tricia, Jeni, and Lu, they were all there at that event but we didn’t know each other at the time. I feel like our connections were definitely bound to happen.
Started my own brand called Happen while I was in college, and it lasted for a good 3 -4 years and haven’t released anything in a while but now I’m launching this new brand One of None. I feel like people will be open to it and if people love it, they’ll support.
Valentin aka Veeej aka Vulnerable Veej to us, is a multi talented individual with so much up his sleeve to share with the world. From starting his own clothing brand in college called Happen Clothing, to quitting his 9 to 5 to freelance, to creating his podcast called One Degree of Separation, then finally launching his latest project – One of None, this is only the beginning of his pursuits! Expect an app to be created very soon, as that’s the next goal for him!
We’ve been lucky enough to be connected to him through mutual friends and social media and it was only a matter of time that we had this coffee & convos. His passion for travel, art, fashion and streetwear is apparent as the influence behind his work. We had talked about how a lot of people here (in San Diego) have created a very welcoming community with the energy here and it’s having that connection through arts and community that has made it an enjoyable journey for us to grow our own platforms.
He’s taught u a lot about the importance of putting yourself out there and taking that risk to make things happen, because if you want something so badly, why not do it?! Whether it is taking that big leap or just taking those little baby steps, as long as you move forward, you’ll get to where you want to be. He is the prime example of that and he’s pursuing his passions 24/7. By channeling vulnerability, making connections, and investing in community, he’s created something pretty magnificent to witness. Be sure to follow along (especially his fire tweets and dope Instagram captions) and see what he’s working on! He’ll leave you feeling inspired and motivated to finally take the risk to start your own thing, or to continue to follow suit in your own creative journey!