Art is a living breathing thing to be studied. It has a history, a present, and a future that will endure for as long as we humans are here to feed and care for it. There is a quote from a wonderful film called Monster Maker that sums up the duty of an artist. Harry Dean Stanton’s character, Chancy Bellow, is talking to the young hero who wants to follow in his footsteps as a monster maker for films. They are looking at his greatest creation, a life sized dragon puppet. The boy is amazed by the amount of detail that Chancy has put into the face and the life that pours out from his craftsmanship. Chancy looks at him and begins to explain that the life in the dragon is not copied from life, but that it is referencing the concept of life. He says that artists do this because, “[It]’s the responsibility of an artist, to show people themselves.” I believe him and have taken it up as my banner in my embarking of the aesthetic and content of cartoons.
When I am given a project I first decide what I want to say with the piece. I do this because I understand that everything in art is intentional. After I have that figured out, I then do some sketches so that I can begin to flesh out the aesthetics. If I get stuck here I like to browse on the internet for some general topics until I have figured out my specific details. When I have the slots filled I gather my references. Sometimes I use photos from the internet, but I prefer to use books so that I can get up close and personal to the images without hurting my eyes. These books can be science studies on certain subjects, artist’s sketch books, or even illustrated children’s books. This is an enjoyable aspect to the creative process and the beauty is that I almost always find exactly what I am looking for in libraries. Once I am content with my haul, I take my battle to the drawing board. That’s really the best analogy for it, a battle. You start with preliminary work; the “mis en place” of art. This includes gathering supplies, clearing a space, cancelling all appointments, and shutting off all distractions (including music!*). I then begin working. Back and forth I go between the piece and my mind, constantly asking questions about how to go about forming my ideas into a physical manifestation. While it may be exhausting, the struggle is necessary and most often quite fun. Sometimes I’ll go through moments where I’ll need to bounce ideas off of people, other times my mind seems to be possessed by the creation itself as it tells me what it wants. Either way there is much battling going on between myself and my work, but in the end both parties are happy and much stronger for it.
As an artist I like to show people work that has the illusion of being fresh and new by alluding to the past. I do this because I believe that yesteryear’s geniuses are still in fact genius. And while innovations have been created based on those geniuses, using techniques and tools directly from those eras in the business of cartooning may still create results that can capture the attention of a modern audience. I look to create art that does exactly that. I also seek to use materials available to me in this contemporary world that best appeases my affinity for old technologies. I chose to use things like brushes, pens, and inks because I feel they are timeless materials that invoke a special character that no other media can replicate, no matter how advanced technology becomes. I do this in hopes of giving that character a chance to survive.
I stand by these statements because I believe in my heroes. People like Winsor McCay, Art Babbit, Richard Williams, and other founding fathers (and mothers) of animation had something powerful to say about animation and cartooning. It is true that we may have vague references to them in the latest and greatest animation. However, to forget how to directly refer to them would not only be a crime against the art of cartooning, but could cause us to forget why we fell in love with cartoons in the first place, because we see ourselves in them, and them in ourselves.
Here is a downloadable PDF of what you’ve just read, in case you need it for something about myself (I hope that doesn’t sound too pretentious)
*My hero, Richard Williams, once asked his hero, Art Babbit, if he listened to classical music while he animated to help him think. Art Babbit replied by shouting at him, “I’m not smart enough to concentrate on both music and drawing at the same time.” I have taken this to heart, and since then have realized that the creative process goes much smoother in silence.