Beauty

Abstract painter Cecily Brown is the current rock star of the modernist, big city painting scene. The intense flowing colors and large scale sensuality of her work both titillate and draw in viewer participation.

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.” ― Marcus Aurelius

In a society obsessed and dominated by image, it’s easy to forget what real beauty truly is, and more importantly, our ability to actually see it. As artists, beauty is something we’re always striving after — first, for inspiration and subsequently in the process and outcome of our work. How it’s defined may depend as much on personal taste as the context in which it is found. In order to create it we must know how to recognize it, both in the places around us and within ourselves.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ― Confucius

This is why it’s so important to focus on the positive, to look deep and wide for anything and everything that has even the remotest possibility of inspiring us and in turn, give meaning to our pursuits. Why does a man travel long and hard up into the Himalayas, into the dark, into the cold, exposed to a very real threat to his existence? The journey is sure to be arduous, with much time in near isolation, facing pain, difficulty and doubt .

Kyle Maynard is the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. His story and life is incredibly beautiful and inspiring.

Why be any kind of adventurer or artist when success is dependent on so much that is beyond our control? Because both the experience and the outcome are sure to surprise us. Or to borrow from the words of the Blind Seer, in Joel and Ethan Coen’s  “O’ Brother Where Art Thou“:

“You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”

O’ Brother Where Art Thou, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is hugely entertaining comedy loosely based off Homer’s Greek Classic, The Odyssey.

Beauty, and thus art, is needed, for many reasons: to entice, to enrapture, to open up our ability and will to expose ourselves to the novel, the unusual, and the unknown. Only art has to the power to overcome our rational yet often times obstructive minds:

“The use of myth, parable, fable, allegory or metaphor has a long history in wisdom literature… Allegory has a way of bypassing the strictly analytical mind and showing correspondences between universals and particulars in a way that a logical exposition and literal interpretation never could. It uses the constraints of stories in time and space to point to truths which exist outside them; the realm of doing to illuminate the realm of being.” — David A. Beardsley

In many ways,  art has been the very first form of allegory, a way to tell truths. It’s perhaps the oldest form of communication between generations — passing along tools for survival, history, tradition and culture. Through art, we tell stories of our adventures and of who we are. And to this day, it’s still more powerful than science despite the latter’s monumental advancements. The motivational power of numbers is limited, but that of image and emotion is boundless.

Akira Kurasawa knows the power of images. Few directors today have the understanding and control of movement that he had. His films can convey the most dynamic energy or the most sincere and rich complexities of the human heart.

“Art has a limitless power of converting the human soul—a power which the Greeks called psychagogia. For art alone possesses the two essentials of educational influence—universal significance and immediate appeal.” — Werner Jaeger

But without beauty and the appreciation of beauty, art loses its power.  Real art is personal. It’s strange and often times unexplainable. It doesn’t have to grand or sophisticated but it’s can’t duplicated or re-created (even by the same artist). It may look like it was done with joy and ease, but all great art and great artists leave that impression. For the expression of art is so unique and strange, its outcome is only possible thru the hands of its sole creator executed at a particular place at a precise point in time. This is what makes each work of art stand alone in history. Where as technology loses is luster quickly, art’s staying power grows.

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.” — Edgar Allan Poe

The color vibrancy and bountiful fleshiness of Chaim Soutine’s work is a  big inspiration to my own. Like all great artists, he was completely unique in his expression and execution. And limited acceptance of his artistry during his life time never stopped him from seeing and creating beauty.

Hence the need for an optimistic mind and a big heart. A strong mind is a productive mind — it focuses on creation rather than criticism, complaint or condemnation. No serious artist can afford to spend time on that which is not useful. We cannot worry about what people think, only what has yet to transpire.

“…if  I paint what you know, then I will simply bore you, the repetition from me to you. If I paint what I know, it will be boring to myself. Therefore I paint what I don’t know.” — Franz Kline

To do so, we need to pay attention. There is beauty everywhere but it helps to surround ourselves with what we love: great books, fun films, moving music, gorgeous artworks, wonderful people. Artists should love nature, museums and architecture but also find joy and wonder in the the tiniest of things — things that most people pass by every single day without thought or acknowledgment. We cannot be so aloof.

A wonderful moment from Sam Mendes’ gorgeous film, American Beauty.

Again, it comes down to fulfillment. How do we want to spend our time? In search of beauty, occupied with learning, absorbing, creating and gratefully appreciating this wonderful thing call life? Or in passivity, waiting for things to happen to us, in the accumulation and consumption of things and activities that serve impatience or pride — all of which have limited impact or staying power? I think the answer is obvious whether by logic or emotion. Seeing and creating go hand in hand in the virtuous cycle that comes with being a true craftsman.

“Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.” ― Anne Frank

Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 3

We continue our analysis of The Jungle Book meeting between Baloo and Mowgli in scenes 6-9 of the sequence.

Scene 6: A lesson in phrasing of action

When we think of Frank Thomas’ work, we’re always talking about personality. His animations always seem to make the best choices when it comes to characters expressing the truth of who they are. It looks instinctive, but unlike his partner Ollie Johnston, Frank’s work consists of more extensively planned construction. The rough and scratchy nature of his rough animation drawings are a testament to his dutiful exploration for form, feeling and movement:

Having studied Frank’s work for many years, I’ve always noticed how tricky it was to find exactly where all his keys were given that his work progresses so wonderfully — things move sequentially yet overlap beautifully in phrases and layers of action. Take for instance the paths and timing of the limbs here:

Everything is beautifully balanced, the acting is nuanced and everything feels real and convincing. All this, while each body part, such as each limb seen above, moves in perfect time and order. Great work always looks easy and seamless. It takes great care and attention just to appreciate the effort involved, never mind actually doing it. Great artists follow all the phases of creative work with complete professionalism.

Scene 6 -9: A lesson in Choice of Action and Contrast

The following moments are some of the most perfectly executed expressions of the characters. Baloo, in his age-old wisdom and steady demeanor contrast greatly with the youthful and irritated Mowgli.

In this “fight” that Mowgli attempts to start, we see an immobile Baloo, clearly impervious to the wild and frenzied efforts of the man-cub to hurt him. The choice of poses and action deliver that reality with crystal clarity and with comic effect:

The futility of Mowgli’s action is further emphasized by Baloo’s reaction, which is, at first, surprise (at the launched offensive in the first place especially considering it’s by someone so much smaller), followed by bemusement (his little chuckle during the flurry of kicks and punches), then ending with judgement/assessment:

But Mowgli’s sorry state of affairs doesn’t keep Baloo down for long. In fact, it motivates him — which takes some doing considering we’re talking about a very lackadaisical and easy going bear — as he springs into an philanthropic action. The poses Frank uses to express the sudden assertiveness, while still showing Mowgli’s defiance are both powerful and clear. Geometric stability contrasts with circular action, just as the large bear contrasts with the small child:

Notice the wonderful display of control and weight transfer here:

We finish with the perfect expression that’s reflective of the events that have just occurred and yet consistent with the character’s personality (still defiant, but now listening):

Stay tuned for Part 4 of our analysis.

Insecurity

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention” says Sean Penn’s character in Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty — a  beautifully shot character adventure that contains some wonderfully profound moments.

“Free man is by necessity insecure; thinking man by necessity uncertain.” — Erich Fromm

We live in strangely disturbing times. We have so much material comfort yet live with more anxiety and less realized time than ever in human history. We’re working harder and longer hours again. We seek constant attention and stimulus. Even our children run and play on scheduled time.

James Borgman’s wonderfully satirical editorial cartoon sums up how society is robbing even that very precious time we have as children.

How is this possible in a post-feudal world where we’re no longer subject to a caste system or burdened by obvious racial and gender inequality*? Where technology supplies us with a wealth of free information and much improved standards of living? Where we have political freedom and equal opportunity in a supposedly economic meritocracy? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that this “earned” system also naturally implies that in failing to have success (at least on society’s terms) we’re weak, lazy or incompetent and fully deserve our failure and misfortune. Even under the gross assumption that the system is free from fraud and corruption, it leaves out people less fortunate or have skills that aren’t “marketable” — that is, those whose abilities have no obvious economic viability. How can individuals left out of the game possibly feel secure? How can they possibly attain happiness?

Status anxiety. This documentary by School of Life creator Alain de Botton aptly describes the state of our consciousness in modern times.

But even those of us who can apparently “survive” in this system can’t seem to attain any sort of sustained happiness because this monetarily-driven and machine-like system has, in less than a full century, completely penetrated and altered our way of thinking and living as sentient beings. For example, we’re all now defined by not who we are, but what we do for work and what we have. The very first words after the introduction of names often comes our occupation; “I’m a doctor” or “I’m an animator.” We don’t say that we’re Irish or come from Africa or that we’re a “father” or a “sister,” or that we like to cook or do pottery. We describe ourselves as we would describe machines — this is an oven or that is a stereo — that is, by their productive purpose. We take every element of our humanity out of how we identify ourselves. We are so rushed that everything including our interactions with ourselves and others is based on economy rather than significance.

“Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” —Stephen Covey

Now work is clearly important. We need work to survive and allow us to create, contribute and connect to the world around us. But when it becomes merely a means of production, it loses its greater value. We forget that work is only a means of expressing our individuality and our societal contribution. Goals of economic production on the other hand, are mostly about efficiency, effectiveness and maximizing profit margins. That is fine for the owners of capital (investors) or incentive-linked managers who often have no intimate knowledge or connection to either the end product (widgets) or the people involved (widget makers) but it does alter the state of the worker. When valued only for productive capacity, it’s not difficult for an employee to feel exploited, disconnected and disoriented from the entire purpose of work. If not careful, workers will also begin to alienate themselves from the process and view themselves as mere widget makers evaluated with the same measuring stick —namely by the consistency, quantity and turnover time of their work.

Are humans merely just stand-ins until machines can completely do all the work that we need? In Hefei China, robots both cook and deliver food, replacing both line cooks and wait staff. Image from Business Insider.

Is it no wonder image and material possession have so much pull on our psyche? In a fully-accepted capitalistic universe, our productive capacity (work/career status) becomes tied to our sense of security and general worth as human beings. If we’re not productive or marketable, we’re not considered successful or even worthy. It’s tough to be different or left out.

“Any deviation from the pattern, any criticism, arouses fear and insecurity; one is always dependent on the approval of others…The sense of guilt, which some generations ago pervaded the life of man with reference to sin, has been replaced by a sense of uneasiness and inadequacy with regard to being different.” — Erich Fromm

It is Friedrich Nietzsche who famously said that God is dead and perhaps he is right. But in the absence of God (or spirituality) we created a new god. And today, that god is technology — technology that runs hand and hand with the corporate machine. We not only wonder at its brilliance but depend on its growth and mindlessly accept its dominance. We don’t dare doubt its cold, scientific rationale.

Most people aren’t aware that many hedge funds (which manage private money and that of pensions funds) are heavily run by machines. Almost 30% of stock trading within such portfolios are done at incalculable speeds by Quants (mathematical experts) using algorithmic super computers (i.e. trades made without human intervention). Image from the Wall Street Journal

While we humans are not machines and think that we’re masters of our own invention, we’re now entering an era where it’s possible that we won’t have full control of where technology might head. More and more we work with machines rather than tell machines what to do. We don’t doubt or blame a system not well designed for humanity but blame human beings for being inadequately trained to adapt to its systems or its ever-changing demands. When we blindly or passively accept a system that places financial profit over social development and environmental preservation we become alienated from the entire process of work. Things become abstractions —  interpreted in terms of numbers, rather than as concrete items or people. What happens to respect, trust or empathy? Is that new guy a potential tennis partner or another hire that is here to take our job? Is that an old woman with bad hands in front us in the grocery checkout or another thing in the way of our getting on with our much hurried day?

We must be willing to ask the ultimate question: are we here to make a world that’s a better place to live (i.e. to attain greater happiness) or one that simply produces more things faster? (i.e. to attain greater profit).

“No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” — Alan Watts

We are endlessly told by the business community and their like-minded pundits that any intervention or regulation of the capitalistic machine  — like supporting reasonable biological needs such as food, shelter and healthcare — is a danger to our society, that it will lead to economic ruin. We are told that we (society) can’t afford to lose time, that slowing down means having no ambition and that material progress must continue. We assume that heightened output equates to ultimate advancement of civilization.

Faster doesn’t guarantee success. From the Warner Bros’ cartoon Tortoise wins by a Hare by Tex Avery.

But of course, this struggle between economic growth and personal growth ultimately ends up hurting creative advancement and humanity as a whole. The strive for security prevents creatives from exploring outside of the box, where the greatest discoveries are made.  Financial gain has rarely been the true driving force of innovation. It has always been about need and passion.  A streamline corporate system on the other hand, demands consistency and conformity. It requires us to continually adapt to a technologically-advanced and robotic world, one that requires all of us to diligently go to our jobs on time, adapt to the tools in the system, obediently perform at an accelerated pace of effectiveness and produce consistently uniform products —products which we are to mindlessly and endlessly acquire, consume and replace (especially during “after-work” hours). It is most astounding that any creature, never mind supposedly intelligent beings, would stand even a week of living in such an abstract state of pointlessness. I am ceaselessly amazed at our species’ capacity to accept contradictory and irrational ways of thinking. That said, all of us (myself included) are susceptible and have been guilty as charged.

Control. Polish illustrator Pawel Kuczynski’s uses art to make a satirical statement of our times.

But for artists, this is unacceptable even at the slightest levels. A socio-economic system that requires continuous production and consumption depends on humanity to turn away from free-thinking independence, the very ingredients to creative output. Mass manufacturing means mass conformity not only in production but also in consumption because deviance in taste isn’t conducive to maximum profits. Is it any wonder everyone watches the same movies, eats the same food and wear the same clothes everywhere? Everyone and every company is looking for shortcuts. When we work for the sole reason of acquiring money, work loses itself as meaningful activity and no amount of coercion or managerial “pep” talk will cure the employed artist of his disinterest caused by immense time and quota pressures. I still remember once hearing a prominent CEO complain about animation “lacking soul” while his company ran one of the highest of production quotas in the industry. The level of ignorance can be astounding.

But when we do truly creative work we are deeply fulfilled and contribute to greater impact. And there are ways of doing things differently. I remember talking to a friend of mine whose business in Amsterdam employed all his staff, including the cashiers, with legally-binding two-year contracts. He noted it provided him with more freedom (since he didn’t have to be always present to manage them) while giving his own employees autonomy and a sense of importance. He also noted it limited the need for expensive continual training and allowed him to retain a knowledgeable and committed work force all the while delivering greater customer service for his clientele. Business need not be incoherent with human dignity and individual expression. This is important because how we work often permeates our entire being and way of living and not just during work hours.

” (For the craftsman) There is no ulterior motive in work other than the product being made and the processes of its creation. The details of daily work are meaningful because they are not detached in the worker’s mind from the product of the work. The worker is free to control his own working actions. The craftsman is thus able to learn from his work; and to use and develop his capacities and skills in its prosecution. There is no split of the work and play, or work and culture. The craftsmans’ way of livelihood determines and infuses his entire mode of living.” — C.W. Mills

One thing I’ve always loved about Glen Keane’s work was his dedication to the process. How and why he did things mattered as much as what he was doing. Image from Glen’s last short film Duet.

Now clearly, we  cannot change a global system of mindless work and consumption overnight but we can learn to accept a higher purpose to our existence; to advance our humanity by first restoring it, then continuing to create an environment in which it can flourish.  And we do that by learning to live with insecurity both in our work and in everything else in our lives. We can accept struggle and carry on with optimism and faith. We can take it one step at a time while giving full attention to how we do things.

“…we cannot feel secure about anything. Our thoughts and insights are at best partial truths, mixed with a  great deal of error, not to speak of the unnecessary misinformation about life and society to which we are exposed almost from the day of birth. Our life and health are subject to accidents beyond our control. If we make a decision, we can never be certain of the outcome; any decision implies a risk in the true sense of the word.  We can never be certain of the outcome of our best efforts. The result always depends on many factors which transcend our capacity of control. Just as a sensitive and alive person cannot avoid being sad, he cannot avoid feeling insecure. The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself, is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity, without panic and fear.” — Erich Fromm

*I’m referring to those of us not residing in third-world countries.

Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 2

As a continuation of our analysis of The Jungle Book, we now look at scenes 4 and 5 from the first meeting of Mowgli and Baloo.

Scene #4:  A lesson in creativity and contrast

Seen at 50% speed we can see both the poses and movement with greater clarity. Here, the consistency of his physical mannerisms aligns with that seen in the earlier shots of Baloo, allowing Ollie to emphasize the easy going charm of his character. The familiar yet creative use of squash and stretch of the nose gives him the pliability that is visually enjoyable to witness.

Notice the wonderful change of shapes and gestures here, as he first moves up to “absorb” the irritation caused by Mowgli’s swipe, followed by a wonderful pattern of distortion and wiggling of the nose as he moves into position:

After he says “boy”, he goes into a playful antic before expanding outwards with a two-handed clap which he coils back into a position of control that emphasizes his comical bewilderment of the entire situation. Here, with his hands clasped together and head leaned back, the unified pose is reminiscent of an elder or professor in the joyful discovery of an opportunity to pontificate and share with his younger audience. The execution is both imaginative and empathetic .

At the end of this shot, Ollie’s choice to “shake him up” gives the overall scene a contrasting end, as Baloo tries to switch out of his bewildered state, yet is still caught in amazement as noted by the zombie-like expression as he mechanically transitions his attention back to Mowgli and back to reality. The choice of action is marvelously creative and unique:

Scene #5: A lesson in acting and overlap

Now, we begin our transition to the work of the marvelous Frank Thomas. In this shot, Thomas’ turns our attention towards Mowgli who in turn sways his attention away from Baloo and towards himself. The “child-likeness” captured here is spot-on — the feeling of being observed and judged and subsequently expressing displeasure from the experience is something we’ve all been through.

We start off with a brilliant pose typical of a child’s bored look after hearing an “authority” figure lecture.

Notice the wonderful path of action of the head as it leads the action, reflecting his bored attitude as he physically turns away. The clear Lead and Follow action and subsequent overlapping action give the movement depth, clarity and weight.

After a quick dart of the eyes, we see the snapping action of his head in an assured display of repudiation.

The ending pose is one that is closed off and reserved — a man-cub determined to be left alone to his own isolated misery. The combined body language and facial expression confirms the sadness Mowgli feels and lends sympathy to his character (which prompts the enthusiastic action from the big bear in the following shot).

Stay tuned for Part 3!

Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 1

The first 3 shots of this 16 scene sequence where Baloo and Mowgli meet for the first time in Walt Disney’s 1967 classic, The Jungle Book.

Let’s begin our 5 Part analysis of Frank Thomas’ and Ollie Johnston’s marvelous work in this portion of The Jungle Book:

Scene 1: A Lesson in broken rhythm and natural action.

I love the unplanned feeling of this shot even though it’s clearly well-designed in terms of layout, camera move and action choreography. Notice how he comes into screen with a beautiful line of action that helps “open up” the layout and action:

Throughout this shot Baloo moves from screen right to left, but does so in an uninhibited fashion — moving forward, then back and changing his gait and gestures as he flows with the musical tempo inside his head. You get a sense of a character totally “gone” in his own mind, living completely present, happy and harmoniously allowing his body to “do its thing.”

Ollie’s work (at least it looks like it’s his) is often very intuitive; his characters behave in a far more sincere and natural manner than other animators. It’s not as aesthetically designed as say Milt Kahl’s work but the sacrifice in the visual dominance of the posing actually lends itself more suitably to this kind of shot. That said, it still carries with it it’s own imaginative appeal as can be seen here (with the main key poses highlighted):

When the shot ends, your attention halts and flows along with Baloo’s. It’s as if your discovery of the man-cub aligns with his. (We don’t really notice Mowgli prior to this moment.)

Shot 2: A lesson in simplicity and clarity

This shot, despite being only 3 seconds long, displays remarkable clarity in terms of acting, movement and appeal. It’s deceptively simple and effective — the kind of result all top artists aim for.

Centrally located in frame we know exactly where to look right from the start. The pose has charm, perfect sense of visual weight and a clear sense of having come from somewhere and about to go somewhere else:

Now let’s look at the rhythm There’s great balance in timing here; poses hold and move for just the right amount of time, syncing perfectly with the dialogue — neither head nor body stay locked nor is there continuous movement “all over the place.” Using the nose as a simple marker, we can see the wonderfully clear variation of movement:

The shot ends with a body movement downwards and towards screen right leading us where Baloo eyes have been directing us all along — right at Mowgli’s position. This transitions to the perfectly executed match cut in scene 3.

Scene 3: A lesson in personality animation and texture

I love this shot. It reveals the directness of the character. He’s curious, unafraid and unpretentious. Interested in what’s in front of him, Baloo dives right in Mowgli’s personal space — analyzing, sniffing and commenting openly about the subject before him. You get a sense of a guy (in this case a bear) that you just like because he’s so honest and friendly. This is revealed by the playfulness on display, both in the character’s attitude and the contrasting actions:

Take the wonderful moment when his eyes look as if he’s totally gone, drunken by the aroma of his discovery. This is a character (and animator) having fun.

A marvelous control of tempo is on display; the euphoric moment Baloo experiences for a brief moment followed by his deeper intrusion into Mowgli’s personal space sets up the contrasting action that follows. The slap across the nose may come across as brash and sudden but it beautifully parallels the sniffy nose action earlier — “nosiness” punished (again we’ll track the nose to follow the beats):

Despite the seemingly violent behavior by Mowgli towards a seemingly innocent soul, it’s clear by Baloo’s reaction that he’s neither hurt physically nor offended. He’s more surprised than anything else. It’s an expression of “oooohh” rather than “ouch!”

The scene ends as Baloo retracts from Mowgli and the boy telling him to buzz off. The little guy has some fight in him and is unafraid of a creature much larger than him (at this point he’s clearly never seen a bear before, so he’s also naive about the whole thing). His forward gesture and Baloo’s retreat directs you perfectly towards the next bit of business; scene direction is carefully adhered to here in creating good consistency and continuity:

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our analysis!

Film Analysis: A Jungle Book Sequence

Walt Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book feature three most unlikely companions in Baloo, Mowgli and Bagheera.

Disney’s 1967 animated classic remains to this day one of the most beloved of the 2D era of animated films. Despite its rather basic plot and unspectacular visuals (I’m talking about the budget-constrained sets and level of polish and not the level of artistry) it continues to charm animators and general audiences alike.

Baloo and King Louie sing “I wanna be like you.” Sparse on story, layouts, design and effects, The Jungle Book still shines with charming characters, great voice acting and wonderful songs.

The reason for its success is clearly the high level of character-based animation that, to this day, still stands without parallel in terms of acting, charm and personality displayed scene in and scene out throughout the film. Despite being a film with a paltry budget of only $4 million — which is well below that of comparable films that came before and after it — it was both successfully received by critics and at the box office grossing over $142 million which is nearly 35 times its cost of production, a nearly unfathomable today. (In contrast, the spectacular success of Disney’s 2013 hit Frozen, costing $150 million, grossed just over $1.2 billion, an 8-fold return.)

Screen grab from BoxOfficeMojo indicating tickets sold and inflation-adjusted box office totals shows Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book sitting at 32nd of all-time,  just below Christopher Nolan’s 2008 live-action thriller, The Dark Knight and just above Sleeping Beauty, another Disney Classic (1959) that has also held its own over the years.

To me, this film is a testament to the work of Disney’s four key animation figures at the time, most notably Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery as well as legendary story artists like Ken Anderson and Bill Peet. This was the industry’s best at their best.

Shere Khan and Kaa are two of the many colorful and memorable characters in Disney’s The Jungle Book.

As a tribute to these great artists and the film itself, I’m gonna be doing a 5 part breakdown of an extended sequence of the film and analyze in detail what I think are some of the many wonderful things about it — including but not limited to the screen choreography, body mechanics, posing, timing and acting — all of which make the performances so great.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life features loads of wonderful animation drawings like this series of Baloo and many great lessons on how to animate. I still remember how it was near impossible to get a copy of this book when it was out of circulation. The underground market price hit as high as a half a term of my school tuition when I began my studies at Sheridan College. In my opinion, the book is mandatory education for any animator.

The sequence in discussion is where Baloo the Bear first encounters the man-cub Mowgli after he’s run away. It’s a sequence entirely animated by two animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the two best personality animators at Disney. The sequence contains 16 shots (scenes) in total and reveal everything that’s true and wonderful about the characters. In summary, it’s a sequence animated by two best friends at the studio of two best friends in the story. This kind of circumstance — and the magic that comes from it — is so rare that it’s unlikely to be repeated ever again.

The initial meeting between Baloo and Mowgli is not only a great character introduction but one that gives rise to one of the most charming duos in animated film history. This sequence of 16 shots will be broken up into 5 parts for detailed analysis.

Stay tuned for upcoming Part 1 of my analysis. It should be educational and inspiring for even the most established of animators.

Adversity

Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is a colorful story of a character who, guided by the principles of faith, perseverance and simplicity, keeps moving forward regardless of expectations or circumstances.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis

As many of you are no doubt aware, this blog has faced its longest hiatus since its very inception. But it has happened for good reason; a recent personal disaster has literally brought all my routines and activities completely to a halt. Due to a freak incident, I’ve lost most of my home, belongings and, worst of all, my art. Like a stake through the heart, the pain that accompanies the sudden shock lingers, leaving one to question things, almost everything.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau

As someone who is no stranger to despair — having endured immeasurable pain with numerous medical procedures and significant loss of family members and the dearest of friends  — one would think that I would be used to it, but it always hurts, no matter what. Such is the definition of pain.

Yet, as part of a human species conditioned to deal with adversity, I (we) must carry on, hoping to learn from the past rather than live in it.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

There is often no specific rhyme or reason for events or predicaments (especially tragic or unjust ones), which is why we’re so often confused about what to do or how to react to unexpected (or even expected) difficulty. But at some point as artists, we begin to realize that this quagmire of drama, distress and seeming unfairness is what gives our work the fertile ground on which to spring forth our ideas, our drive and our talents. It gives us meaning and a story to build on. It’s the reason why mythology is as relevant today as it has been throughout human history — its parables serve to guide us on how to live. In such light, setbacks become springboards to jump towards greater and more meaningful heights. Like the animation principle of anticipation, before we can go up, we must first go down.

Prometheus Bound by Peter-Paul Rubens. The symbolism behind the myth of Prometheus is profound. A Titan God entrusted with the task of forming man out of clay, he defies Zeus by giving mortals the gift of creative fire to help end human misery and suffering. Although he is punished by being tied to a rock and having an eagle eat at his liver, he remains for eternity man’s greatest friend .

When I teach, I often hear from my students about their troubles both creative and personal. I remind them that their unique challenges (which are tied directly to their unfulfilled talents) are what make them who they are and how they handle those challenges will ultimately determine the success of their art and the meaning in their lives. We need to take comfort in the fact that what we think about and how we think about it matters because our lives and our artistry is heavily dependent on the narrative that we choose for ourselves. What the world thinks, matters much less.

“There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.” — Napoleon

Whenever we’re faced with serious challenge and pain, we are forced in the loudest and grandest way possible to respond — and that is the key word respond — as opposed to react. Response is conscious choice. Reaction, on the other hand, is thoughtless and absent of the benefit that time, perspective and contemplation brings to the table. It’s why it’s so beneficial to just slow things down and keeping things simple. Our lives today are far too complicated. The benefits of a globally and electronically connected world has brought with it the obsession with time, expectation and material focus. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves into surface living and losing all sense of presence.

Drawing by Maurice Sendak. When was the last time you looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Or listen to every word that is spoken? Have you forgotten what the surface of objects really feel like in your hand? Or the smell of the ocean? The true taste of things unadulterated?

Pain is a reminder to stop. I learned this a while a go when I was left disabled after a multitude of operations in a short period of eight months. It took a long time to get back to being functional and even longer to understand the purpose of the suffering that I had to endure. The mere material loss from recent events is just another reminder to me to remain humble and respectful of the ways of this universe. We actually gain “ourselves” when we lose “things.” We become wiser. But it’s so easy to forget that. Only setbacks have the power to make us look within ourselves, and then, with a greater and stronger heart, to look outside of ourselves to connect with the greater universe. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was formed in the first place.

Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. — James Baldwin

The story of Rocky, written by and starring Sylvestor Stallone is one of my favorite American stories. It’s a classic tale of redemption, resilience and the power of the will. It reminds us that when we get knocked down, we must always get back up.

I don’t wish for pain or suffering — no one in their right mind would — but I no longer dread it. If my right arm hurts, I’ll use my left. If I lose another loved one, I’ll bring his/her spirit with me to new relationships. Art lost can be created anew. Life is, after all, a continued process of renewal. We cannot let the pettiness of life or, more accurately, our petty view of life get in the way of our art or our becoming.

“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know we live in a contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it.  Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”  — Albert Camus

 

Commitment & Consistency

A page from the notebooks of Jean Francois Champollion, the French Scholar who devoted his entire life to deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs.

“Without commitment, you’ll never start, but more importantly, without consistency, you’ll never finish.” — Denzel Washington

COMMITMENT:

Definition:
1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.
2. an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.

In other words, commitment is determination and dedication made tangible after hours upon hours of deep thought and emotion. It is all that brewed desire, love and caring for someone, something or some cause  personally shaped into something real thru defined action. Setting a goal is a commitment.

A page out of the notebook of artist Paul Klee exploring color, themes and theory. Klee made over 4000 drawings in over 10 years worth of notebooks.

“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear. ” — Sammy Davis, Jr.

Here’s some things to ponder on whether we’re committed or not to our cause:

a) Have we clarified in our minds exactly what it is we’re committing to? Are our goals unmistakably clear? Fuzzy commitments have fuzzy follow thru. We can’t hit a target we can’t see clearly.

b) Have we expressed that commitment OUT LOUD to people close or important to us? Because if we haven’t, we won’t be held accountable. The fear of letting others down is a great driver of forward motion. Signing up for classes or having a workout buddy are examples of getting others involved in our cause. I still remember for years going to the zoo drawing every weekend with my buddy; it was our mutual commitment to each other that ensured that we carried through with our goals.

c) Is the commitment bound to a time and date? Without a deadline, we will put it off. This is GUARANTEED. Our minds and bodies are biologically designed to work around urgency.

d) Are we 100% sure this is what we must do? Again, if we don’t have to do it, we won’t. Expect to be rejected, criticized, put down and ignored. Monetary compensation for our creativity is rarely just or stable. Becoming an artist is HARD. If we don’t want it enough, we’ll give up as soon as it gets painful.

e) Do you have faith in your cause? If we can convince ourselves that why we should do it and believe we can do it, we’ll take the dive. Without faith, it’s near impossible to take that very first step. We must trick ourselves if necessary because our minds can play endless games to talk us out of commitment.

The notebook of Thomas Edison shows the ideas on the famous light bulb, one of his numerous inventions in a six-decade long career dedicated to science.

CONSISTENCY:

Definition:
1. conformity in the application of something, typically that which is necessary for the sake of logic, accuracy, or fairness.
2. the way in which a substance, typically a liquid, holds together; thickness or viscosity.

If commitment represents the drive to take action then consistency is the method for seeing that action thru. It’s what holds the whole thing together.

“The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your rituals.” — Anthony Robbins

Almost daily I ask myself why I do what I do. Why? Because the mind is always searching for an easier way. That’s its job — to conserve energy, to be safe, to protect the total being known as me. Try to lose weight and it’s almost guaranteed someone will offer us our most favorite and fattest treat. Want to save money and there will be an awesome sale on that gadget/car/shoe you’ve always wanted. That’s how the universe works. It wants to test how serious we really are and will do so continuously and relentlessly. Therefore, unless we have a solid routine or set of rituals that ensures that we take action no matter what, we will waver.

The notebook pages of Guillermo Del Toro’s show the originating ideas behind his 2006 film Pan’s Labyrinth, which he wrote and directed.

How to better our consistency? Here as some suggestions:

a) Design rituals that trigger immediate action. Alarm bells, booked appointments and schedules are helpful but ultimately we need to create physical and emotional triggers to get us going. Before I paint for example, I put on music and my painting smocks — the next steps are automatic.

b) We can also set up rituals that will help us bypass old habits and prevent self-sabotage. For the longest time, I would struggle with letting go a piece of work, going back to it again and again, and often ruining it altogether. Finally, I decided I’ve had of enough and made it a ritual to put away my art after my sessions ended. Not seeing it all time, it was out of sight, out of mind and ultimately out of reach for me to do any damage.

c) Take action regularly. Remember to sharpen the saw. Studies have shown, in athletic development for example, that both the skills and strength gained from daily training can be lost if more than 2 days have passed between training sessions. It’s no wonder all the great athletes, painters and writers commit to their craft pretty much every single day.

d) Be mindful of your other activities. The time spent on activities outside of your new commitment heavily influence your ability to carry out your goals. Wake at the same time, eat at the same time, work at the same time. It doesn’t matter what time, just pick one for each set of activities. Separately devoting time and energy specifically for your goal (i.e. giving it optimal conditions to make it work) will increase your odds of success.

e) Chart and track performance of those daily goals.  There’s nothing like seeing it on paper right in front of us. With a record of achievements (no matter how small) staring us in the face we will be inspired and gain greater confidence.

The notebooks of artist Frida Kahlo show an illustrated diary filled with poems and conceptual designs for future works of art as well as all her personal musings about pain, loneliness and suffering. (Khalo was seriously incapacitated in the last years of her life.)

Now, perhaps you’re getting tired of hearing about all this “hard work” I’ve been spewing about on this blog. All this “just to be an artist” you wonder? Why do so much? Why suffer? Well, let us not be so ungrateful. Creativity is a gift. And although making art requires tons of hard work and ingenuity that’s not always recognized, we must still always do our best. We must completely use up the few gifts blessed upon us. In fact, our jobs as artists — as human beings —  is to maximize our abilities so as to contribute to our communities and to the world at large. Fairness is irrelevant. Most of the greatest contributors to art, science, philosophy and literature were dismissed during their lifetimes. But life would be so much worse without their efforts and sacrifices. I always like to remind myself this: What you give, you leave behind. What you keep for yourself, you take to the grave where it’ll die and disappear forever.

Here is a rather intense yet insightful speech from University of Toronto Professor, Jordan Peterson on challenge and suffering:

Must versus Want

Art by Shozo Shimamoto, made by hurling balls of paint on to a canvas at high speed.

“If the dedication to the thing the individual is dedicated is defuse, the quality is apt to be poor and weak.”  — Howard Thurmon

The path we take to live happily starts with a decision to do what we “must do” and not merely what we “want to do.” We cannot trick ourselves into doing that which we don’t really care about regardless of what others think or even what we think. It’s the paramount reason why people don’t exercise, don’t eat well or behave as they should in general despite knowing better. For the typical person, the day to day actions support neither biological intuition nor scientific rationale. And as such, this conflict leads to a life of constant inconsistency and inconsistencies create unalleviated stress and unhappiness, and ultimately, spiritual death.

“Some people die at twenty-five and aren’t buried until seventy-five.” —  Benjamin Franklin

In Walt Disney’s 1940 animated classic Pinocchio Jiminy Cricket responds to Pinocchio’s inquiry “what’s a conscience?” According to studies, the average four year-old asks over 400 questions a day!

The answers on how to do anything and find success — in pretty much anything — is all out there in books and in writings and videos all over the internet. And it’s all FREE. Despite this modern reality, people everywhere are still obsessed with finding all the tricks and techniques on HOW to do something, thinking that’s the answer to their problems. But the far more important question we should be asking ourselves is WHY. It’s the relentless question children ask the most when they are young. Only after years of being told “it is the way it is” do they give up such inquiry, leading to a life of doing whatever they’re being told to do whether that be from family, friends, the government, the education system or the corporations that we work for and the messages they spread.

“To produce art is to do something beyond your capabilities.” — Shozo Shimamoto

But should we be leaving the reasons to live and the corresponding designs of our lives in the hands of others? Are our capabilities and talents predeterminately limited by society’s current rules and expectations? Are we only to be defined by what we own, measured in material accumulation or social approval? If we’re not careful and don’t stay adeptly aware and curious, we’ll be insidiously trapped into a kind of daily indoctrination that leads to a life on auto-pilot. There is truth in the statement that says that if we don’t design our own lives others will design them for us. Or to put it another way, those who don’t set their own goals end up slavishly working for those who do.

“Your silence will not protect you.” — Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde was an influential American poet and activist who fought boldly against racism, sexism, and homophobia during the 1960’s.

There are countless people out there who say they’d die to be doing something else or be someone else but don’t do anything about it. They could hate their jobs, their environment or their relationships but instead of changing things up, opt to hang around and put up with the misery. Allowing fear and expectations to rule, some people become bitter, feeling unappreciated for their sacrifice, their deal with the universe a sham. Unfortunately, the truth is there is no deal — we may have offered it to the world but it was never accepted. The universe owes us nothing. We can only think and do what lies in accordance to our principles, ones we choose to adopt or, if needed, ones we create ourselves. Until we spend the time to ask why and ponder over such matters of empirical importance, there is nothing to live for or any grounding on which to live by. And the quality of our art (i.e. our expression) has no choice but to reflect our state of understanding.

“The art of peace is the art of learning deeply, the art of knowing oneself.” — Morihei Ueshiba

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, seen here throwing an opponent into mid-air. Despite being born “weak and sickly” and under 5′ 2″ in height, the great Sensei managed to become one of the greatest and most influential artists and thinkers of our time.

To be an artist is to face those questions everyday. Why are we here? What are we doing? And does it matter? When faced with such profundity, we are forced to stop and ponder. We slow down so that we can see and hear and truly listen. Then we discover simple things such as the fact that our material and social status are of little importance. We begin to unshackle ourselves from our self-imposed constraints of conformity and begin to see that only how we behave — as defined by our actions and expressions — matters. We become unique individuals again and begin to take responsibility for being so.

“Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensible, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.” — Henry David Thoreau

Legendary Disney animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston lived long and happy lives as artists completely devoted to their craft.

Once free from expectations, a life of experimentation begins as we consciously choose what to say yes and no to. For artists, this experimental phase is what drives us as creatives. It’s a phase that I personally hope lasts a lifetime. Doing something new. Living anew each day. What’s to fear if it’s the unknown that intrigues and excites us?  It’s no wonder artists live long lives (provided they can overcome alcohol or drug addiction and depression). Not too many artists suffer heart attacks on Monday morning, which is when most heart attacks occur just as people go to their day jobs. Again the process is what matters. All the studying, practice, learning, failing and growing IS the fulfillment we so desperately strive for.

“In this form of study there will no less familiarization with what is generally found in all technical study. You will acquire a habit and ability to select and correlate. You will become a master and organizer of means, and you will understand the value of means as no mere collector of means ever can.” — Robert Henri

The Dragon Flag exercise (named after Bruce Lee himself) tests the ultimate core of the body, the abdominal muscles. After years of rehab from spinal surgery, I’m now again able to do several sets of these everyday (as part of a plan to get back into top shape). I do this not because I wanted to but because I felt I had to as a symbol to myself that I, and I alone, control my life.

Once we discover that we must devote our lives as creatives, we begin to move forward. So we set goals, even as they serve only as targets. Targets in which to practice how to focus and apply our physical, mental and emotional energy. This day-in and day-out intense exertion is what makes the life of a craftsman. And, even though the results themselves don’t ultimately matter, by the laws of nature they tend to favor the well-practiced.

Living free is hard and serious work. No one said it was easy. But it is simple.

“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those who go on anyway.” — Robert Henry

Favorite “F” Words

“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” — Buddha

In art, there are far more important “F” words than the one we commonly use. These are my favorite:

Form:

“One must not always think that feeling is everything. Art is nothing without form.” — Gustave Flaubert

Whether we’re animating, painting or sculpting we’re always finding ways of using our tools to express form. We work to describe the objects of our interest, the characters we move, the models we reference.

It’s trickier than it seems because when we animate or paint a hand so to speak, we forget to see it for what it is, choosing instead to label it rationally as a “hand” rather than say an amalgamation of muscle, bone and skin that makes up the whole. If we only focus on the surface of a thing, we’ll never capture the fullness of it or its essence.

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. No art I’ve ever seen has given me the sense of immediacy and substance than that of the work of Rodin. His sculptures have the kind of bulk and mass to them the make them feel heftier than the bronze they are cast.

Force:

“What we see is only appearance. Exercises in balance and movement teach us how to tend toward the essentials, to the functional as opposed to the external impression. We learn to recognize the underlying forces, the pre-history to the visible.” — Paul Klee

In expressing our art, there are always two forces at work: external force and internal force. External force is direct and obvious. It’s the answer to any issues of weight which is the outcome of a body of motion working against the gravitational pull from the earth’s core. It may also come in the form of an external object, be it a flying baseball or fist to the head. External forces must be respected and handled with astute attention for any sort of physical believability.

Internal force is the inner directive — driven by what it thinks and wants, a character is motivated towards an external expression, as seen in the shuffling of the feet in nervousness or the frown in the brow muscles indicating mental strain. A constant effort must be made and shown by the artist via lines of action, change of shapes (squash and stretch) and acceleration or deceleration of timing to indicate that a character drawn or posed is truly alive, thinking and feeling. The lack of understanding and application of force is the number one reason why student or amateur animation looks weak and weightless. The control and implication of motion (and emotion) must be clearly expressed at all times.

The Beast from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Glen Keane’s work is defined by his understanding and application of force. Loaded with powerful emotion and physicality expressed in every aspect of his animation, it’s easy to see why he’s often regarded as the Michelangelo of 2D animation.

Focus:

“That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” — Steve Jobs

Art without focus confuses. Focus is one of the hardest things to achieve both in art and life. To stay attuned to a vision and to express that same vision in a way that is clear, concise and direct is deceptively difficult. There are no formulas, although there are guidelines. Simplicity helps. So does making it (the experience) real and personal.

As artists we must constantly strive to present our work as clearly and honestly as possible. If our work doesn’t direct the attention of its audience in the right way or at the right time — causing either confusion or boredom — then we have failed at our task. Because art that doesn’t engage or create any sort of interest stops being art. Work that is without focus and purpose is at best a display of technical proficiency and at worse indecipherable noise regardless of the effort required to produce it.

2001: A Space Odyssey. There have been countless science fiction movies made since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. Far too many are filled with almost nothing but noise — senseless action and dialogue that neither move the story nor the audience — and none to date have either the focus or power of Stanley Kubrick’s groundbreaking masterpiece.

Feeling:

“You’re not supposed to animate drawings. You’re supposed to animate feelings.” — Ollie Johnston

How can one do art without feeling? Too commonly witnessed in this industry or in any commercial art (but what isn’t commercial these days?) is work done without much feeling or thought. As if embittered by the industrial nature of our work, burnt out and disinterested in the same kinds of visuals, stories and animations demanded of us as creatives, artists world wide are beginning to duplicate not only the works of others but of their own. No wonder we’re seeing the same formulas applied everywhere. “Formulas for success” they call it. But for artists this is death.

Despite the conditions of our work and a world moving too quickly, it’s our duty as artists — who are always society’s saving hope to see the world with more open eyes and deeper hearts — to strive for something more, something better. Without feeling, without caring about what we do and how we do it, our actions become futile and our talents wasted. As noted above, feeling without form, doesn’t make art, but neither does form without feeling. Our work is about the relationships between shapes and time but also between us and the audience. How can they relate if we give them nothing to relate to?

Pussyfoot and Marc Antony. Chuck Jones’ work always seems to have a heck of a lot to say. His cute little kittens and big bulldogs reveal more humanity than many live action performances. Whether expressing his own weaknesses/feelings of insecurity thru Daffy Duck or his own hair-brained optimism/obsession thru Wile E. Coyote, Chuck Jones always got us to relate to the situation.

Faith:

Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” — Khalil Gibran

The first thing I tell my students is this: if you don’t believe in yourself, I can’t help you.

One can argue that having faith is the most important thing in life. Now, even though I’m not talking faith in the religious sense (although you can choose to use that word however you see fit) for artists, that inner belief in oneself is the essential seed to creativity. Without it, there is no initial action nor sufficient follow up action to see our visions through to the end. Hence it’s important to keep our minds clear and, when necessary, to accept being lost once in a while so that we can find ourselves again. After all, art, like life, is a lot like a game of hide and seek, searching and finding continuously.

Faith isn’t unintelligible. It’s not some sort of irrational, blind devotion to a cause or set of rules and regulations. So don’t be so easily fooled by the fanatical or metaphysical noise often attached to it. Rather, faith is actionable attention — a springboard. It’s the straightening of one’s course in the face of all the challenges that are in front of us. Only with faith can anything of consequence ever be achieved.

The Apple I Computer circa 1976. The creation of the personal computer is still a marvel to me. How different the world is because a couple of creatives — Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak — said “yes we can” when everyone else told them they couldn’t.

Fun:

“Pretend that you are dancing or singing a picture… All real works of art look as though they were done in joy.” — Robert Henri

After all, isn’t this what it’s all about? Having fun? Life is short. We must spend our time doing what matters. That’s my number one commandment to myself.

If our work is done with drudgery, there is no hope but for it to become drudgery for those who view it. There’s truly nothing sadder than to see someone doing a creative job for a living and whine and complain about it the whole time. (And yes, I too, have been guilty in the past.) There may be many justifiable reasons to be unhappy but doing art shouldn’t be one of them.

When I turn to my own craft, it’s all about attention. When I’m purely convinced to dive right in (and do) I get my best results. When I’m judgemental or doubtful I fail (every time). It is as simple as it is hard. As artists, we must be fully engaged— to be utterly and completely lost in the creative process. We need to forget about expectations or the final outcome. They are a burden too heavy to carry during the operation. When we create, it’s like jumping fifty feet into a barely visible safety net unsure if it’s there to catch us or if it’s just our imagination that we see it there in the first place. It is the unknown that makes it exciting and fun. And more often than not our faith is rewarded despite the odds. The moment we lose faith however, both in the craft or in ourselves, we crash. (Then of course, we get back up and try again.) But it’s easy to forget that faith and fun are tied closely together. If we’re not excited we can’t create. Art doesn’t lie. It can’t.

A Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Despite a life of longing and rejection by society, Van Gogh’s art tells us so much more about him than any biography ever could. Looking at his painting we can feel the movement and magnanimity of the stars as if we were standing right there with him that very night. What a marvelous night it must’ve been and what a marvelous time he must’ve had.

So, in summary, try not to get so strained when things get tough. Instead of saying the “F” word, put your thoughts on these “F” words — form, force, focus, feeling, faith and fun. You’ll shift your attention from problems to solutions.

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced” – Vincent Van Gogh