Thursday, January 30, 2014

Into the Woods...

One of the most incredible and valuable aspects of this class was the necessity - not just the option, but necessity - to loosen the hell up! Of the millions of things I learned about myself, my style, my inspiration, and my process throughout the course, one thing I found interesting (or, rather, confounding) is that I am a walking artistic contradiction when it comes to character design. 

My brain will happily wander down any rabbit hole it happens upon and irresponsibly explore ideas until I have driven myself at least seven miles past my freeway exit. I have strategically placed sketchbooks and notebooks very un-strategically; I have provided myself the opportunity to write or draw my ideas willy-nilly nearly everywhere I happen to be. For the character of Ichabod, I drew inspiration from not simply a myriad of comedic film clips, but additionally from things like...doorknobs. I savor the process of exquisite character detail to the point of near Daniel Day-Lewis delusional immersion...and YET, when it comes time to release my mind to paper in a fury of Pollock-like expression, I never fail to sit quietly with my microscopic-tipped mechanical pencil hovering over an obsessively cleaned surface, looking for the perfect way to execute my first line, then erase it, then re-execute. 
I've been wound tighter than a Swiss time piece.

And I realized this translates to everything in my life. My mind is Fosse and the rest is Nureyev! Oy. What sort of psychological ink-blot delving hypnosis is required to undo the furrowed, purse-lipped expression of my right hand and bring my life-choreographer metaphor closer to something resembling Twyla?!
Oh...wait...what's that? Good Will Hunting-like therapy not required? Chris Sasaki, in twelve short weeks, you just saved me millions. 
Even in the beginning weeks of "experimentation" I found myself bringing to class my very reigned-in examples of crazy. Apparently I wasn't fooling anyone, at least not Chris. Goddamit, we were going to have FUN! Messy in-class exercises! NO pencils! Don't put your hair up for this, it's a perfectly good brush! If you want to fulfill your childhood dream, if you want to DO what you've wanted to DO since you were a kid, BE A GODDAM KID!
Just for the record, Chris is not a drill sergeant. The above were my internal mantra. That pencil wasn't coming out of my hand on its own, I had to slap it out.

So...below are the results of my progression from Goody Two-Shoes to drawing Floozy. I'm still practicing. I'm striving for Lili VonSchtupp-like looseness...

Ok...perhaps the magazine cutout
method didn't QUITE help loosen
me up technically, but it was a really
great way to think about shape
choices, texture, mood, and
simplistic ways to convey expression
and character!
Scaredy-pants Ichabod in the forest...thanks to a whole mess of ink!

This is where it got just plain goofy fun. Ne'er a pencil in sight! You can also see (perhaps) this is the point where Michael Richards' Kramer had been added to the mix of inspiration....playing with Mr. Bean, Kramer, and a mouse...yeehaw!
Just a few notes...playing with both the Headless Horseman and Ichabod.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Where There's an Ichabod...

 Surely there's a guy without a head....
Continuing in my reflection on the awesomest 12 weeks ever, I will show you the darker side of the first two weeks of Chris Sasaki's Advanced Character Design class at the Animation Collaborative. Chris assigned two characters for the course from Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. 
Previously I posted some reference images and beginning sketches of my process in trying to get a feel for who Ichabod was. Irving paints a very detailed picture of Ichabod, both physically and in personality. It's was a challenge to not be literal or, worse, re-create Disney's Ichabod, who is essentially Irving's description come to life. We had to dig a little deeper and extract the most prominent characteristics from the self-serving schoolmaster and make every effort to allow those characteristics to aesthetically exude from his design.
The Headless Horseman was quite the opposite. Not only vague in description, he is vague to the very narrator of the story and the characters within! Is he the ghost of a Hessian soldier? An apparition that materialized from superstition? Or was he really the town bully, Brom Bones, disguised to play one final, fatal prank on poor Ichabod?
This is the Choose Your Own Adventure book-like part of character much fun. I personally liked the idea of the Headless Horseman as a mysterious apparition. I felt it would be more fun to play with both in story and visually in animation. A number of cool ideas came about in experimenting: what if he were a hulking, solid figure that dissipates into a hovering mist, giving him speed through vaporization? Or an ominous figure that shatters into thousands of blackbirds in flight? The possibilities were endless! 
Anywho, here are some reference images and beginning sketches and experimentations of The Headless Horseman!

Some Reference:

Aaaand Some Fun:
The incredibly challenging-but-fun magazine cutout method in which I learned to somehow gluestick myself to...myself.

Some finger painting with charcoal dust on (ugh) an Anthropologie bag. Sue me.

And now for some REAL fun with ink, straws, and maybe just a WEE bit of wine induced inhibition...

YES!! I mean seriously...way too much fun. More to come!! Please feel free to comment or make suggestions as this is all part of my portfolio building process. Thanks, ya'll!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Like Walking and Chewing Gum...

Hello again!
Now don't ya'll go thinkin' that simply because I haven't updated this here blog, I haven't drawn a lick - cuz WHOA, have I! (I don't really know why I decided to open with a panning-for-gold yee-haw accent. It just came to me, but I think I'll stop).

I have had the most incredible 12 weeks, learning and drawing more than perhaps I ever have, and certainly having the most fun possible. In a very tiny nutshell, the sort of lightning-bolt inspired decision to go all out in pursuing the one thing I always wanted to do has opened into the most validating, rewarding, fulfilling, welcoming, reassuring, and ridiculously enjoyable experience - more than I could have imagined. I made the decision with a very specific goal in mind, but in working toward that goal I have become overwhelmed by the gratification of the journey. And this is all after just the very first step.
The first step being the 12 week class I just completed at the Animation Collaborative, a wonderful little place across the street from the glowing gates of Pixar Animation Studios. The school, opened in 2011, was founded by Pixar veterans Andrew Gordon and Michal Makarewicz to provide quality supplemental and specified education in the field of animation. I'd have never known this unassuming and unmarked gem existed without the serendipitous recommendation of Daniela Strijleva. Specifically, the very class she suggest I take: Character Design with Chris Sasaki.

When I looked into the class and took a few deep breaths to digest the $2k tuition fee, I saw that Chris's class was an advanced class and a portfolio review was required for entrance. OK, so now I was looking at a $4k educational experience starting with the beginning character design course. But it was going to be OK. I would submit my portfolio for the hell of it, pick up more shifts than I could work, and eventually make my way into Chris's class....
THANK the glorious universe my portfolio SOMEHOW passed. I'd like to think it was based on skill, but to be honest at this point, I don't care if they simply needed a warm body to fill the chair. I was now a part of what would be the greatest class in the universe. The education I received is near indescribable. Hopefully it will simply be evident in my work. But the class...

The ten people I shared twelve Thursday nights with...I wouldn't know where to start in describing that dynamic. Some, I know, will be lifelong friends. I hope they all will. But what I learned from each one of them - how they all came through with INCREDIBLE surprises and unlocked talents! We all had the unusual commonality of fully exposed exhaustion and emotion. A good exhaustion - the kind of "that's IT! I'm exhausted by my current existence and am going to muster every ounce of bravery I have and DO THIS THING!" kind of motivating exhaustion. This is also the sort of position in life that makes one vulnerable. And when one is vulnerable and walking into the unknown and sees ten other people there, anything can happen. One could clam up and shut down, for instance. could bring banana bread. I have come to realize that baked goods serve as one of the greatest bridges to the unknown. They are like an introductory hug without the invasive creepiness.
The banana bread by no means created the warm and supportive love-fest-to-be. But I do think that it's impossible NOT to let your guard down when you are attempting to politely mash gooey banana bread through your teeth. And I think vulnerability inevitably taps in and grabs onto the first sign of coziness. Needless to say, I was gratified to see that no one was too shy or too cool (or too allergic - I did make a gluten-free loaf so there would be no excuses) to take a slice. I decided at that moment I would bring something delicious to every class. Mostly because I have a tendency to tear up at the drop of a hat and spill "I love you guys"'s all over the place like a mascara-smeared girl during last call. Cake was a good way to say "I love you guys"...without all the invasive creepiness.

Anywho, I could go on and on about the amazingness of the experience or about the serendipity of how our work as a class will be showcased in a museum in NEW YORK among other things, but from here, I'll simply show the work and the process - from beginning to end.
As I post the work, I'll also be building my portfolio, so PLEASE feel free to provide comments and/or suggestions about what to include and how to include it! So here it goes....

WEEKS 1&2:
I'm grouping the first two weeks because they were solely research - no drawing. The way Chris teaches this class is sort of an abbreviated version of the character design process at Pixar. The beginning of any process is research. I was incredibly excited and validated to learn this - that it wasn't all about shape or design - because this is how I've worked my whole life.
I recall specifically as a kid at Christmastime drawing a scene of a living room. In it, I had decided the family had all just gone to bed, the fire was dwindling, and Santa was expected to arrive. I spent HOURS looking through my mom's Betty Crocker cookbook trying to decide which cookies they had left for Santa. It was snowing through the windows outside, so they lived some place with snow. Sweden? Well, that changes everything. What kind of cookies do they make in Sweden?.... I always thought I was just a weird kid who had drawing OCD. Turns out I'm just built for feature animation! Whew!
We were given Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as our story, which we would be using for the duration of the course. We were assigned two characters from the story - Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman - to conceptualize and eventually design. Chris's choice in assigning these 2 characters became increasingly interesting and intentionally challenging, which I'll explain later.
For now, the images below include just a taste of what was used for my research in creating a feeling, both in Sleepy Hollow itself and in the characters as well as some initial research sketches.

Beginning sketches:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

My pencil is my Zen Master...

While I have been quite busy "not taking" freelance and working and drawing and doing all sorts of things, I have made time enough to do something every day that I haven't done in years - that I rarely do anymore - until recently. I have started making little happy decisions. A little 'yes' instead of a 'no'. A little 'yeah, I should' rather than an 'I really shouldn't'. This seems simple, but when you work and pay bills and have creatures who rely on you for things and...a mirror that has suddenly turned on you and demands you put in overtime at the gym, these little decisions feel very difficult. It might just be me. Maybe I'm too good at guilting myself out of things, which is ridiculous because...well, it's just ridiculous.
But with my decision to draw every day have come other unexpected joys and changes. My decision to draw every day was made entirely for the purpose of getting better at drawing. It didn't really occur to me how much it would change the way I see things on a daily basis. Even when I'm not drawing something, I'm noticing the way the light grazes the top of it. I love watching the little fat birds that peck away at the seeds on my neighbors towering flowers, but I never noticed how positively circular they are! Running has become more than that thing I do for exercise. I hardly notice anymore how badly I want to throw up or lay down! I am on a conveyer belt passing the afternoon light in the harbor and on the sides of the knotted oak trees in the gulch.
And somehow, feeling a bit more aware of my world, feeling my senses enhanced, has filtered into my choices...minute to minute, hour to hour.
In the middle of my run the other evening, where normally I would push through and sweat as I passed people - jealous as they strolled with their feet in the silvery water, I stopped. I removed my running shoes and walked the beach with my feet in the water.
This seems like a no-brainer. That's because it is.
All of these little happy decisions seem to accumulate and I find at the end of the day when I am clean and sliding into bed...I feel content. Who knew?!
Suddenly I feel the urge to go sketch....
In the meantime, I'll share a few with you!

Beach quick-ones...

Tai Chi-ers, a solo hoop-shooter and some dog owners at the park. Mud painting thanks to Jasper, a very happy puppy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Whoa, Billy!

         I wonder if anyone has invented a holster for artists...
         I understand there are all kinds of bags and boxes and totes and collapsible easels - I have 'em! But I realize more and more lately, as I've been taking my sketchbook with me everywhere, a pen and sketchbook holster would be really convenient! This morning at a local coffee shop I saw a very interesting looking woman I thought would be perfect to sketch. Just a quick sketch would suffice, but I wasn't "set up" yet! I suppose sketching in a coffee shop is imposing enough. I forgot how awkward it can be when someone suddenly realizes they've become your subject. I try to be discreet and immediately dart my eyes in every which direction the moment the person I'm drawing looks up at me, as if to say "don't think you're special! I'm drawing that guy! And that guy! And that girl! I'm drawing everyone in this room simultaneously - everyone except you!" - and then I check the angle of their shoulder.
         So, perhaps for the purpose of sketching people, a holster is uncomfortable. Hold it right there, lady! Whoosh! Zip! Snap! Gotcha...
        But I don't think things like telephone poles and birds and parked cars mind being drawn, and I don't necessarily want to set up a whole operation on the sidewalk if a pigeon on a trash can looks particularly appealing to render! I can stand and draw, that's not the problem. It's the fumbling of pens and pencil and eraser. I'm sorry, I'm just not really a one pencil kind of girl. Even if I was, I have developed a sincere distrust for the nub of eraser on the other end of the pencil. ANY pencil. Only the kneaded kind will do. But I like value! It helps with my process and it always leaves me feeling more satisfied with my sketch - like it holds volume. I love line, but light is often, to me anyway, the most interesting thing about the thing! So I need my assortment of gray value toned brush markers! And if I want to paint?! Fuggedaboutit.
         I know it may not seem practical to have a sketchbook at my hip and ammo loops equipped with brush pens - nor very attractive, I'm sure. The fanny pack has never been a great indicator of style. But it's an unattractive accessory I could really make good use of. Besides, I don't see how it could ever get old to have my fingers hovering and twitching over my pens, ready to pull them from my holster at any moment with lightning speed, and shouting "DRAW!"

         While I've been sketching all sorts of things lately (without a holster!), today I will simply share with you a few sketches for the short I am in the very beginning stages of developing (see earlier posts).
         Included is a page of very rough conceptual ideas for the house on Main Street, positioned between the steam laundry and the furniture store, just as grandpa described, with the Napa Grocery on the corner. I've also included a page of rough character sketches of my grandpa's brother, Bill (Billy). I, along with everybody, absolutely LOVED Uncle Bill. But I obviously did not know him as a kid. Grandpa described him as rail thin with an appetite unlike anything he'd ever seen. Among the many defining traits that are Billy, this was my inspiration to get me started.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Play Ball!

         I'm always amazed by ballplayers who can play multiple positions - and it seems they always play them well. You never see a defensive lineman stepping in for a quarterback or a point guard taking over for the center. But in baseball, the shortstop playing 3rd or the first baseman backing out to right field is not uncommon. Buster Posey plays a mean first base for a catcher! I find this skilled versatility downright fascinating. One would think that to be even a decent first baseman, you'd have to field the ball a million times in a million different scenarios to and from and involving first base. This often takes years to master, so to do that with multiple positions - there just aren't enough years! I can only figure that a ballplayer who is good at fielding multiple positions has not mastered his position so much as he has mastered his game. He is an athlete through and through, imagining and visualizing the millions of play scenarios to and from and involving every blade of grass or cloud of chalk dust. I imagine a visual diagram of his brain looks something like the Delta Airlines global route map. It's exhausting, really.
         I love baseball, but I don't play. I play art. So to relate this concept to the arts at times simply makes me want to throw my arms in the air and exclaim "ARE you KIDDING me?!?!" (Oh, you can play Rhapsody in Blue on the piano and the flute? How nice.) Particularly as I delve further into the animation arts, I am blown away at the ability of some of these artists who can bust out a phenomenal plein air painting of a hillside at sunset, design a hilariously slobbery monster, then knock out a fantastic sequence of storyboards while doodling the most realistic watercolor of a blueberry anyone's ever seen on the side for fun. This sort of nonsense borders on Bo Jackson-ness and I won't have it!
          Among the many gems of advice offered to me by Daniela and Jen of Pixar, one was agreed on by both - that if I want to get in the P-gate some day, I should choose one aspect of animation art and get really really good at it, gearing my portfolio toward that one thing - become a good first baseman. But then Jen piped in and mentioned working with strengths. I have a great deal of graphic design experience. She pointed out that I could potentially have an edge if I were to apply as a graphic designer in that I understand story and have drawing skills. So, wait. This means I'm a decent catcher already. So do I become a GREAT catcher? Do I become a better catcher and a good 1st baseman? Do I have it in me to pull a Posey and become a GREAT 1st baseman and catcher? Does the fact that my great grandfather was a heavy hitter in the Pacific Coast minors known as "Buster Orrock" improve my chances? Oy.
         Needless to say, when I'm not working one of my three jobs, I am somehow attempting to draw every single day AND design every single day. For the sake of my sanity, I have surrendered to the self-made rule that it can be anything. I should just draw anything in whatever medium is at hand. If anyone out there knows someone with tons of money who'd like to pay me to improve my skills with acrylic on Mondays, pastels on Tuesdays, color on Wednesdays, light on Thursdays and so on, please let me know. Otherwise, I'll have to settle for my dinky watercolors and the apple tree in my backyard.
Luckily, I live in a beautiful place with plenty to sketch!
         How I'll find time to design amazing things WHILE drawing amazing things becomes overwhelming - until I remember the ballplayer who has mastered his game. I'm not a great artist, but I'm an artist through and through. I knew the Nine Old Men roster before I ever knew a team roster or the names of the newest boy band (please keep in mind I am in no form attempting to brag here. How I wasn't bullied or totally outcast for my dorkiness in school, I'll never know). My favorite painting as a kid was a background painting of a pool table corner pocket from Pinocchio. Many artists learn by copying the masters - DaVinci, Michelangelo. I copied the drawings and cel layouts of Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Marc Davis. I sat at the kitchen table and drew with a 91-year-old Arthur Davis for an entire day when I was twelve - it was the most starstruck I've ever been (and I've partied with Matt Damon & Ben Affleck and sat next to Mos Def on the plane, so I've had opportunities, people!).
         I've studied this game my whole life. Now I just have to get good at playing it.
So, to visually aide our metaphorical journey, I am providing you with some recent sketches!
A little illustration I did for my friends, Peter and Jenny, who just had a baby boy, Milo. The pencilled lines you see at the top eventually held text (as though this were a page from a children's book - and it kind of is. I have sketched out the dummy for a bird/ballpark book...). The text reads "'My, oh my!', said Milo Moody to his mommy, 'the mound!'. His papa, Peter, was positively perplexed...'Penguins?! Penguins on the pitcher's plate?!'". Ta Da!

Playing around and sketching out a few ideas for items
in my story that would require designing. Pop played
for the Vallejos, just playing with logo ideas. Threw some
of my ballplayer character sketches on the program sketch.
LOVING looking at old 1940s baseball programs.
Such classic design.

Again, playing with design. Started sketching out ideas for
an old Napa County Fair poster but they all looked
too generic. This quick sketch happened when the idea sprung
 - put the family on the poster! I'm imagining a war-era aesthetic
with grainy saturated colors. Can't wait.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Great History Detective

         I have become slightly obsessed with the research phase of my character development. I'm not sure whether this is good or bad in the context of progress, but it has proven to be good in the "holy crap!" and "WHOA!" and "COooool!!" kind of way.
My grandfather always told stories about growing up in Napa in the 30s & 40s, about all of the characters that existed in he and his brothers' world. Built by my grandpa's words, the Napa in my mind existed outside of the town 100 miles was a glorious, mythical combination of place and time in my imagination.
         It never really occurred to me to find actual photographs of my grandpa's Napa. Why mess with the Napa in my head? But as I began to sketch out how the Napa of my grandpa's childhood felt - the stories and the characters - I wanted for more reference. Obviously to get a feel for the aesthetic and for accuracy....I certainly can't draw a 1939 Oldsmobile from my head!
What began as a Google Image search has turned into full on dork-out historical detective work. I'm talking genealogical dives...into the great depths of time. I've been fitting pieces together here and there and today I found one of those odd shaped little jigsaw pieces that you really need in order to connect the two parts you've been building separately - yeah, that piece! I found that!
         After following random trails like a Basset Hound, I came across a Google street view image of the section of Main Street where my grandpa lived. On it was an abandoned furniture store. Wait..a...minute...the faded paint and shape of the building...yep. It's in the background of a photo of my grandpa and his brothers. The photo must have been taken some time around 1940 and the three boys, dressed as makeshift caballeros, are standing in front of the furniture store, with vibrant paint and clean striped awning. It was ALIVE! Do you know what this proves?!  All my detective work, piecing history together to prove that....indeed. There was a furniture store in Napa. AH HA!
         Well, at the very least, I can happily report that the Napa of my imagination and the Napa that exists in old photographs I've found online are actually quite similar. All of the photos are in black and white, though. Luckily, the Napa in my head is in full Technicolor (with an Instagram vintage filter, of course). And everything I come across is informed by the feeling of my grandfather's stories - adding life to every static image of history I find. So that's lovely.
         While it won't be winning any awards for architectural 10-minute sketch of the is a little feeling sketch of the boys walking home in the golden afternoon of late summer after playing some back alley baseball. Sigh.

And a teeny tonal sketch of the Napa Grocery in my imagination Napa. My grandpa & his brothers used to don homemade capes and masks and marauder along the rooftops of the buildings on their streets.