Dreams, Risks and Opportunity

Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick was an uncompromising filmmaker who did things his own way and he’s arguably the 20th century’s greatest pioneer of the medium because of it.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.” — Edgar Allan Poe

They say curiosity killed the cat. That dreamers are idiot savants, with no grasp on reality. Yet it’s always the curious dreamer who dares to conceive of the “inconceivable” that changes the world.

In our current socioeconomic paradigm of “always make a profit,”risk is something to be limited at all costs. Yet history has shown that without risk, nothing new or worthwhile is ever discovered or created.

Time and time again, the most incredible, most impactful changes we’ve experienced come from listening, observing and responding to own inner voices and the needs of the world around you. In other words, change almost never occurs until it needs to.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.” — Henry David Thoreau

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Nikola Tesla dared to dream – from alternating electrical currents to the wireless telegraph — he worked to create a better world. He may have dropped out of college, but he never gave up living courageously or his servitude to humanity. Portrait by Vilma Lwoff-Parlaghy.

On a personal level, it’s not uncommon to find instinctual choices outperform cunningly calculated solutions. Meaningful acts derive from a dive into the pool of the unknown without life jackets. Every act of growth requires a leap of faith and doing something that clearly has the potential to be wrong, disapproved by others or interpreted as failure. We mustn’t listen to the doubters for they’ve been proven to be wrong time and time again.

Fact is, failure is necessary. Only through experimentation and mistakes do we truly learn the most about our world and about ourselves.

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” — Oscar Wilde

So what do we make of the dreamer? The artist? The individual whom society both treasures and ostracizes.  Despite helping people find beauty, joy and meaning, the artist’s unorthodox way of both seeing and doing things, implies a sort of disarray and strangeness that invites illogical fear and judgement.

For every artist out there, it takes great courage and an almost “unreasonable” approach to find new ways of seeing, listening and doing.  Yet this seemingly illogical approach of going against the grain (which almost always entails enduring public mockery and, even more horribly, imprisonment) has permitted not only the most unpredictable and incredible advances in the sciences and arts but also elevates our humanity. It has given us the seed to break new moral and creative grounds on how to live and what living means.

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Poet Walt Whitman believed that man’s most noble expression results from following one’s intuition.

Here’s a very brief list of some of recent history’s most daring people, their struggles and their amazing discoveries — ones that altered the path of humanity. May the memory of them and their contributions remind you of the need for you to be the very best YOU the world needs you to be:

Albert Einstein — Nick named Schweinhund (“pig-dog”), for barking and snorting in class. He was unable to speak fluently until age 12. Kicked out of academia, pursued life as a musician and stand up comic before becoming the scientific genius we know today for the Theory of Relativity and E = mc 2.

Steve Jobs — Never finished college. Laughed off the block promoting his (and Steve Wozniak’s) invention, the Apple I — the world’s first personal computer. Was fired from his first stint at Apple, the company he founded. Came back to Apple and took the company from a $4/share stock to a global empire easily worth over $700 billion today.  Also founded Pixar, the world’s top animation studio.

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Mickey Mouse makes his iconic 1928 debut in Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie.

Walt Disney — Fired for having “no creativity” at his newspaper job. His first animation company was bankrupted.  Had his first creation, Oswald the Rabbit, stolen from him by Universal Studios and was told that his new creation, Mickey Mouse (being a giant oversized rodent) would fail miserably and terrify women. Now famous for founding Walt Disney Studios,  and the iconic theme park Disneyland, he still holds the record for the most Oscars won ever at 32, including 59 nominations.

Walt Whitman — Lived within modest means. His most famous work, Leaves of Grass, was viewed as obscene and disgraceful and was widely rejected and ignored. It took till the century after his life that his work was seen as that which revolutionized poetry in his use of free verse and his unique focus on the subject of humanity and universal brotherhood.

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Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s pioneering classic about the battle between man and nature wasn’t well received in his time, but it’s required reading now.

The Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright — Bicycle mechanics without even a high school diploma. Discounted and rejected by their contemporaries for attempting to teach the world how to fly. On Dec 17, 1903 made man’s first flight into the skies, changing the world of transportation forever.

The Impressionists (Monet, Degas, Pissaro, Renoir, Sisley, Manet, Gauguin, etc) — Painters rejected by the art establishment and unable to either sell or show their work, created their own gallery for presentation. Opened up the freshness of color to painting and took to capturing the world around them, working at the scene of their subjects (“plein air” painting) instead of inside the studio. Their paintings are now the most widely admired and collected works in the world.

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Paintings like this one by Edouard Manet exhibited at the Salon, a gallery that showcased a new wave of pioneering artists now known as the impressionists — artists who were not accepted by the art communities of their time.

From inventor Leonardo Da Vinci (born illegitimate) to poet Emily Dickinson (rarely published in her lifetime), the list goes on and on. Individuals who dared to dream, and participate actively to pursue their curiosities and enriching the world as a result.

“If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.” — Nikola Tesla

As an artist your growth only comes from new experience.  Which means taking risks. Moving, oftentimes blindly and uncomfortably, towards making those initial steps — those first brush strokes or written words — makes it real. That’s something that you can build on. That’s living. Life is funnest, most eye-opening and exciting only when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. After all, who prefers to watch a ball game where the results are a foregone conclusion? Why write or paint anything that offered no surprises or deviations from the original idea? People commonly misunderstand the reason behind having goals or visions — they’re merely a starting point. Navigating the unknown IS the destination. It also happens to be the funnest part of the entire exercise of creating and living.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Being Lost

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The arcade game Pacman makes a perfect symbol for life in constant pursuit. How ironic it is that most people’s lives can be aptly described in this iconic video game of endless chasing and being chased.

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

In life, it’s all too easy to be caught up chasing things, or being chased by them. This constant quest for success, security, approval, comfort and even happiness, can lead you into a life of continual distraction  away from the present and farther from your path as an artist. We seem to be always running out of time, pressured by the demands of our jobs, the limitations of our bodies, and even the drive to achieve our dreams. We get lured into asking the silliest, most abstract questions: Can we get or achieve it? Will we get enough of it? And can we get it all in time? We divert our attention and energy on the abstract instead of focusing on what’s directly in front of us this very moment. The magnitude of frenzy before us is often so strong that our brains make an incredibly convincing case for its acceptance. We forget that the choice on what to focus on, and hence, how to live, is actually OURS to make.

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In Frank Dabaront’s 1994 masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption (starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman) the characters aren’t just imprisoned by the walls that surround them, but also by their own mental barriers.

Sometimes, in order to find the answers to our questions and problems, we need to be lost, so that we can be found.

“To be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present, is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” — Rebecca Solnit

It’s scary being lost, and it’s even harder to consciously “be lost.” Fortunately, as artists, we have no choice but to do so. In fact, it’s absolutely essential for us to dive into the pool of the unknown because the best ideas — those that are unique, true and meaningful —  are the ones that connect and matter to us on a grand and personal scale.

 

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From the first movable type printing system (top) invented by Pi Sheng in China around 1040, to the industrial printing press (bottom) developed by German Freidrich Koenig in 1814, the invention of published text was an invention that help changed the entire literary and thinking world.

We all know that when we’re trying too hard to find solutions, the universe always seems to do its best to hide them from us. We’ve talked on this blog already about planning, the need for hard work, and the necessity of having good routines and practices — these are all helpful for bettering our creativity, strengthening our skill and giving us confidence, but it’s not enough. Then, “what do we need to do?” you ask.

“Forget yourself.” — Henry Miller.

We need to take the self out of the equation, to forget everything about you, or that which has to do with you. It’s why our devotion to craft gives our lives so much meaning and joy — it’s outside of the ego. It’s an act of service to the art, to other people and to the world at large, both now and in the future. It’s the only way to pure and absolute freedom.

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Obsessed with the living world around them, the ancient renaissance artists captured, explored, and dared to dream about the future. From human anatomy to tanks and flying machines, the great Leonardo Da Vinci, thought big and far. He playfully threw himself into both the present and the future — observing, absorbing and inventing.

What does being lost mean? What does it entail?

“Why do lovely faces haunt us so? Do extraordinary flowers have evil roots?” — Henry Miller

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Follow the yellow brick road! Dorothy gets lost into the colorful, strange and magical world of Oz, all in order to find truth, friendship, and ultimately, herself. From MGM’s musical feature based on L. Frank Baum‘s book, The Wizard of Oz.

Being lost encapsulates the idea of giving in to the world, to accept that often dreaded feeling of vulnerability. Only by letting go and being open to the unknown can we see with “different eyes” and be able do something out of the ordinary and out of “habit.” Only then do we stand a chance of finding that which we can not find but are desperately looking for. If something as tangible as house keys are so difficult to locate when you want or need them, how much more futile is it to search for such abstract things as success, love, creativity,  uniqueness or connection? We can only find them when we don’t pursue them. We need to have our arms and minds open to receive rather than to take.

“The wisest person trusts the process without seeking to control.” — Taoist proverb

The best ideas and solutions always come to us when we’re the most relaxed, like when we’re in bed or when we’re out experiencing the world around us. It’s why I keep notepads with me all the time, and all around my house, so that I capture those magical flashes when my consciousness catches up to their discovery. Our brain is not a muscle, but an organ, like the liver or kidneys. And thus, unlike our muscles, it’s unmoved by will or force — thinking harder doesn’t make it stronger or more effective. Rather, it works best when it’s relaxed and ready. Just like animals that have homing instincts, it’s based on a trusted, instinctive automatic system.

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Laugh at the bird brain all you want but birds travel thousands of miles and back without technology. Where would you be without your paper maps or GPS navigation system? Birds are probably the freest, most mobile creatures on the planet and that really says something. From Sir David Attenborough’s documentary on the evolution of flight, Conquest of the Skies.

By getting lost, you get to wonder about things aloud and smile regardless of whatever happens next. As writer Rebecca Solnit so wistfully described, there are four kinds of “knowns” in this world: There are “known knowns” (things we know that we know), “known unknowns” (things that we know we don’t know), unknown unknowns (things we don’t know that we don’t know) and finally, “unknown knowns” (things we don’t know that we know — this last one is quite a doozy when you think about it.)

Given that revelation, do we dare to assume that our limited views and interpretation of the world around us are correct? Should we continue to commit so fully to our current path of abstract busyness and mindless pursuit, knowing that so much of what is “out there” is still a mystery, still to be discovered and understood? I believe we need more humility. We need to show more respect for the grand intelligence of the universe.

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Jim Henson’s marvelous invention, The Muppets, is a quick reminder of the kind of fun and silliness the can happen if we let it.

When the questions get too deep and hard, whether artistic or personal, we know not where to go or how to proceed. The more we search or battle sometimes, the worst it gets. We fall prey to our surroundings, the noise that emanates from our insecurity or worse, the external pressures that get blanketed on top of us such as advertising and social media — distractions based on abstractions that take us away from ourselves and our joys in witnessing the world around us. We’ve become without a compass; moving constantly, fearful of what’s in front of us and disappointed with what’s already behind us.

The deluded mind is the mind affectively burdened by intellect. Thus, it cannot move without stopping and reflecting upon itself. This obstructs its native fluidity.” — Bruce Lee (likely adapted from the Tao Te Ching)

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Bruce Lee was one of the most brilliantly creative, charismatic and dynamic human beings that ever lived. Unfortunately, when he reached his dreams of Hollywood stardom, those mental “abstractions” of fame, fortune and image promptly ended his freedom, happiness and ultimately, his life.

This is why it’s essential to take the moment to escape, to dive into the unknown, not just so we might find solutions to our problems, artistic or otherwise, but that we forget all of society’s noise and pettiness, if even for a short while. The treasures you find in such a journey are the bonus — a surprise that can sometimes turn out to be life changing. At the very least, you find reprieve from a life fully distracted and occupied. It’s refreshing to rediscover the world, and even better to rediscover ourselves, every now and again.

“The practice of awareness says don’t grasp it too tightly, don’t be too convinced. And in that simpler way of being… it’s okay to sometimes experience not knowing what to do next, to run into a barrier… that life has a mysterious quality to it.” — Rebecca Solnit

What is most important (and most interesting) in our lives and thus, in our art, is often the unpredictable; beautiful surprises, revelations and connections that enlighten us and bring us joy. How can we not give in to those possibilities? Why should we continue to strive at striving all the time? Goals aren’t everything. This can take a long, long time to recognize and even longer to absorb.

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The Langlois Bridge at Arles with Women Washing by Vincent Van Gogh. This impressionist’s artistry always reminds me of the moment and to give in to it.

“I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as in a dream.” — Vincent Van Gogh

Until you are willing to be lost, you will never discover the “why’s” to your life. Getting lost is so imperatively important because only then do you have the opportunity to permit yourself to get off the path, to take an outside view of it, switching perspectives so that can see whether it’s one that might not be written by you but for you. It’s all too easy to be caught in the wheel from birth and keep at a life of busyness until death. This is a VERY hard thing to realize, and sometimes even when you do, it takes a Herculean amount of courage to get off. But it’s only when you get off the path, can you see where you are and where you’re going, and more importantly, whether you should continue the same or change course. Getting comfortable with getting lost now and then, opens up the chance for you to experience the world anew – to see, hear, touch and feel things for the first time all over again. And it just might help you find what you really need on your creative path.

“… I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were molding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing. They had no illusions about duty, or the perpetuation of their kith and kin, or the preservation of the State. They were interested in truth and in truth alone. They recognized only one kind of activity — creation. Nobody could command their services because they had of their own pledged themselves to give all. They gave gratuitously, because that is the only way to give.” — Henry Miller.

Special Guest Interview: Patrick Awa

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Visual Development/Concept Artist Patrick Awa is one of the most talented artists working in the animation field.

We are honored to feature one of my favorite concept artists working out there in the animation industry today. Patrick is someone whom I met during a charity art exhibit (where we were both contributing artists) many years ago. His art, and his person, are of the highest quality. He has designed for both film and television, and participates in numerous art exhibits and charity auctions, where his work often fetches record prices. I’ve been a big fan of his for many years.

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A beautiful Art Exhibit piece by Patrick Awa done for the themed show, Hansel and Gretal.

It’s a rare opportunity to showcase the work of a visual development artist. Due to NDA’s, delayed releases and project cancellations, a lot of the “early” work done by a concept artist is rarely shown even years after a final product has launched (or never seen at all). So it’s a wonderful treat to be able to share some of Patrick’s work here and his thoughts.  Now let’s get right to it!

Welcome Patrick! Thanks for joining us!

“Pleasure is mine, James! True honor to be featured at AnimatedSpirit.”

Can you share a little about yourself, as to where you’re from and what your early interests were before becoming an concept artist in animation ?

“Born in Santa Monica, California, I grew up in Tokyo in late 70’s through mid 90’s. Which means serious exposure to rows of giant robots and masked super heroes in crazy costumes on TV. I was one of those kids so completely captivated with those 70’s and 80’s cheesy sci-fi shows and anime, that my sketchbooks and my mom’s kitchen walls ended up being filled with lousy Crayola drawings dedicated to many characters from this genre.”

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“Count Dracula in Anubis Armor” is a sensational digital piece by Patrick Awa, done as part of a 2013 “Oscar Legends” themed art show.

“When I grew up a little bit more, slapping my face and wondering what to be in my own future, after recognizing the fact that there were unlikely any mad scientists in my relatives who could give me a secret robot to defend the universe, I thought about being a professional designer. I always liked to draw, but never considered myself as a gifted, fine artist/painter able to make my own living. So I went to university in Japan to study industrial design at its tech dept to be a car designer first. The idea seemed fair to me, drawing something economically practical where you get paid. Things were different back then, there was no entertainment design major and I did not know where to start.”

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Concept Designs for Walt Disney’s award-winning, dynamically designed CG Animated TV show, Tron Uprising. Drawings by Patrick Awa.

What inspired you to be part of the animation industry, and ultimately, move to and settle in Los Angeles, California?

“At the university, I came across the  founder of the Japanese CG production house called Polygon Pictures while he was teaching graphic design at the school. Although my major was product design I was curious about this new media which was still fresh around mid 90’s, when “Toy Story” was not even released yet. He showed me what his team was trying to do and I was totally fascinated because it looked like the new turf where I could possibly contribute more conceptual/story-driven design work, yet still technically dealing with ‘3 dimensional’ forms that I had been trained for.”

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Patrick Awa’s Character Designs for the Shane Acker-directed Animated Feature Film, “9.

“I was pretty much clueless about CG at that point but I started as an intern there, and then eventually became an art director by the time I decided to leave. I moved to San Fransisco in 2000 as a free-lancer which sounds cool but was equivalent to a hungry job-seeker with a feeble portfolio. The first couple of years did not quite work out for me career-wise, but I was fortunate to meet a group of local talents in the industry while I lived there. I then moved to LA around 2002 for the opportunity to work on a humble CG feature “Valiant”(distributed by Disney) as a character designer and have been lucky enough to survive in the industry  ever since.”

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Character Designs by Patrick Awa, for the 2005 animated feature film, Valiant, produced by Vanguard Animation.

Establishing yourself as a concept artist in animation is one of the most difficult things to do in the art world. What were the first steps you took to make it all happen, and what/who gave you the confidence to persevere through the challenges?

“I actually think I got lucky to get to know so many of the top-notch talents in San Fransciso in those early days despite the fact that it was a difficult period for me at the time. Many of them were already established senior artists and I learned a lot from them in terms of how to be a good production artist.

So in a way it was accidental, and I have to mention that the industry was a little bit more laid-back and less crowded 15 years ago. But quitting a previous, full-time job in Japan and change of scenery turned out to be a good move for me. Also previously studying industrial design definitely has helped me to approach design tasks a bit differently. I never thought that I was a genius so I wouldn’t jump on my own ‘artistic’ conclusions too easily, and tried instead to resolve the design problems as logical as possible. I was already comfortable designing characters toward 3D execution and was able to build more confidence in this aspect as I proceeded to more gigs. Nowadays, I totally see more and more of young talent with 3D tools under the belt even before they start their professional career.”
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Elegant and articulate prop designs by Patrick done for “9,” produced by Focus Features.

Tell us a bit about your work day. How do you get started and what’s your routine?

“It depends on what project I am on since sometimes I go to their office/studio to work on site for a few months, then the next couple of months I work from home remotely. I drink a lot of coffee regardless.

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Character designs for Disney’s Toon Studio’s TinkerBell Academy. By Patrick Awa.

I don’t do much ‘start-up drawing’ in the morning, I spend my before-noon time more for gathering refs, reading/re-reading the latest script or character descriptions to measure and reconsider my results from the previous night’s work. I occasionally deal with multiple projects at the same period of time, so every Monday I usually plan out how to invest my time for the rest of the week to catch up on the individual deadlines or dues to report.”

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Amazing digital concept work for the Imagi Studios CG feature film project “Gatchaman” based on the 1970’s TV series “Battle of the Planets.” Patrick was the lead concept designer of the show.

What parts of the job as a concept artist are the funnest and what are the hardest?

“Concept artists usually start working at a pretty early stage of the project, which means it is always a wild and untouched frontier in front of you. That’s kind of cool thing, nothing has been determined and it is up to you.

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Concept art by Patrick Awa for the feature film, Legends of the Guardian, produced by Warner Bros.

On the other side of the same coin, it’s pretty big responsibility, over 100 artists and animators might end up working on your design to complete the movie and it could be scary if you look at it in that way. It would be terrible to know if animators hate the characters I designed so badly yet have to animate them for the next couple of years.”

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Deadly Poppy Field” by Patrick Awa. Showcased in an exhibit featuring the theme “The Wizard of Oz.”

Besides being an established industry artist, you’re also a prolific gallery artist. What inspires you to create outside of production work?

“It’s based on different kind of desire and satisfaction. I try to work more logically and collaboratively as a production artist and despite the beauty of film production work, it makes me wonder how it would be like if I play solo. I had 2 exhibits in 2015 just to come up for the air.”
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Another incredibly gorgeous watercolor painting by Patrick Awa. Draken Flicka (and other amazing works by Patrick) was exhibited at the Gallery Nucleus, one of the greatest supporters/exhibitors of the artist community in Los Angeles.

Being an artist is challenging. What do you do to balance yourself in the face of all the external, as well as personal demands?

“My gallery work effort is partially connected with this factor. I try to find a balance when one of them gets too heavy-handed over the other but the weight shifts all the time. I’m still trying to find the right balance.”
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A beautiful piece in acrylic and watercolor by Patrick Awa. Done for the Artists Help Japan Charity Art Auction, created in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

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Patrick is a prolific artist, both in and outside of production or gallery work. Take a look at these sketchbook drawings!

A hypothetical; if you were to choose anyone in history that you could apprentice under, who would it be?

“I would at least love to apply to be a protégé of Klimt and watch how Egon Schiele draw in the class!”

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We all owe artists that came before us. “Solitary Confinement” is a fantastic mixed media using Watercolor, Acrylic and Gel medium on Rives paper. This was Patrick’s contribution to the Mike Magnolia HellBoy 20th Anniversary Official Tribute Art Show.

Thank you so much for your time Patrick! We look forward to seeing more of your awesome work!

“Hey, thank you very much for the opportunity, James!

And to you young talents reading this, I wish my answers would’ve been more like “I aimed it and I obtained it” kind of triumph story but it wasn’t. It’s after struggling for years in those early days, that I started appreciating the opportunity to collaborate more and try new things with different directors/producers and artists. It’s been a bit of jam session. This production artist career can be creatively rewarding – to land in unexpected locations when the codes get harmonized and that’s something great about working in the industry. I hope our paths cross at some point in the near future!”

"Coffee Bear"
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Check out these cool sculpts!!! Patrick Awa’s Coffee Bear Project is a project of making a series of bear sculptures out of paper cups from local coffee stands in different cities. Patrick re-purposes the original logo designs as if they were meant to be. He hopes to publish a nice “Coffee Bear Table Book” compiling hundred’s of paper bears.

This interview only gives you a small taste of Patrick’s elegant and diverse artistry. To see more, visit his Blog here, or his Instagram site here. You can also purchase collections of his beautiful gallery work, at this link at Gallery Nucleus.

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Sitting on my art book shelf is my signed copy (lucky me!) of Acoustic Brush 2, where Patrick’s artwork is exquisitely compiled in a beautiful hardcover book. Check out his website and get yourself a copy!
 

A Different Perspective on Planning

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Pablo Picasso often gave the impression he never planned his work, a spontaneous genius whose raw talent was more than enough. These studies, done during the beginnings of his cubist period, indicate otherwise. In truth, he was one of the most contemplative yet proactively engaged artists in history.

“There is no art without contemplation.” – Robert Henri

Planning is not living in the future nor is it setting in stone what you’re gonna do or even how you’re going to do it. But it’s easy to be confused about this. I like to think of planning as a process that is ever present, like any other activity. It’s a process of supplementing your already developed routine of preparation and practice with the idea that by doing so, you increase the likelihood of achieving your goals. Planning is, to me anyways, merely a phase in the entire creative process – an important phase whereby you research, explore and prepare for both problems and possibilities that lie before you.

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These Milt Kahl thumbnails for Tigger are fun and exploratory. They are part of a solution but also part of the process of creating art. From the Walt Disney production, Winnie the Pooh.

Unfortunately, most artists view planning commonly in only one of two ways: (1) As a necessary but difficult and uncomfortable process that predates actual performance or creative production. Or (2) As a purely mental and controlled process, akin to architectural planning, laying out in detailed exactness the entire course of decisions and actionable objectives.

The first way makes planning out to be a nothing more than a dreaded exercise, rather than as a domain for exploration and thinking out of the box – the place where true creativity, ironically, prefers to dwell. The artist who hates planning solves nothing and remains vulnerable to going with his first ideas, fails often and wastes significant resources doing constant “re-do’s.” This artist is often poor with time management, impatient and rarely creates anything substantial or original. The second view translates planning into a method for arriving at elaborately designed “solutions” to be the end all and be all – solutions that are not only rigid and incapable of adapting to changes or unforeseen circumstances but also rob the entire production process of any joy, flexibility and spontaneity. The artist who favors this path, is often frightful of feedback and faces great emotional disappointment when things unexpectedly change course. The latter artist is also susceptible to paralysis by analysis, thereby overstretching the planning stage and leaving little time for actual execution.

“One can’t live in a future which never arrives.” – Alan Watts

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Concept art often serves as the exploratory phase of any serious animation production. These gorgeous concept paintings and studies done for Disney’s Frozen are by Lisa Keene, a long time veteran artist and art director. I still vividly remember Lisa doing live painting demos in our class, with multiple brushes in her hair and between each finger of both her hands. One look at her work, and you get the easy feeling she’s completely engaged in the process and having fun.

So what is an artist to do? If you don’t plan at all, you’re likely to get seriously lost on the way, possibility encountering complexities that will side swipe you right into the gutter. Plan too much and too hard, and you’re bound to meet with disappointment when the situation and results demand that you alter your original vision and force you to trash those “perfect” plans. Anyone who’s worked in a professional creative environment (dealing with directors or clients) knows exactly what we’re talking about here. So how does one create under such conditions – that is, be creative and unexpected – but still produce results with at least some sort of consistency?

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The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt. This great master commanded both the medium of paint and the vision of something more, exploring themes of humanity such as love, death, and spirituality through design, color and composition.

It’s quite a dilemma – an endlessly confounding battle between letting the mind go so that the soul can be free, while knowing that without the service of the mind, the soul can be easily deceived or lost.

Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgement wage war against your passion and your appetite.” – From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

In life, perhaps the answer is not so simple, but in art, there is another way of approaching the problem, and that is, treating planning itself as a creative process. Since it’s impossible to live in the future and “pre-solve” all your problems, and given that not having any plans is too risky and thus “unacceptable,” your only solution then is to take the planning process in stride like any other action that you’d take, and that is, you must to dive right into it fully engaged. You have to get it into your head that plans don’t have to be rigid. In fact, plans are most useful when they aren’t.

“If we are open only to discoveries which will accord with what we know already, we may as well stay shut.” – Alan Watts

Gerhard Richter

Gehrard Richter, one of the most diverse artists alive today, seen here making his paintings – paintings in which he explores and changes constantly both the method and image that result from the process. From Corinna Belz’s insightful 2012 documentary, Gerhard Richter Painting. To read more about the film, go here.

I often tell my students that making art is often like taking a road trip – and like all road trips, it’s what you make of it. And well-planned trips, which are flexible to unexpected discoveries or side trips along the way, are always the best.

So how do you dive right into planning? First, you need to define your goal or objective, then design a plan to get to your desired destination. This activity can be immeasurably enjoyable. Just ask my wife when she’s planning a vacation. Completely immersed, she voraciously scans through library books, magazines and websites, researching and finding out where all the cool places are to see, what activities to do, where to eat, and which friends to visit along the way. She’s practically intoxicated with the anticipation of the unknown. Watching her partake in this process is always a reminder to me of how much joy you can have “planning.”

The reality is, the preparation phase is a fabulous opportunity to discover and try new things, instead of relying on old formulas or doing the first thing that comes to mind. Besides, every artist knows that your first ideas are seldom the best ideas.

Degas

French master Edgar Degas did tons of sketches and paintings not just as tests for later, perhaps more substantial works, but also as part of the process of creating, and of being an artist in general, witnessing and recording the world around us.

Since you cannot live in the future, don’t. You’re only forgetting to live presently when you try. So when you’re planning you must submit fulling to the present state of planning. If you fall in love with the process of planning, your plans have a chance of laying a foundation to something good, and possibly great. And, even if the end results don’t turn out, you’ve at least managed to temper the expectations and enjoyed the process. It’s always great to remind yourself that the journey, and not the destination, is the goal.

Hopper+cats

These beautiful Edward Hopper studies of his Siamese cat are moments beautifully captured. He may have made them for a part of a painting, but they are most elegant creations, in and of themselves.

So don’t dread the planning process, nor be obsessed with it. It’s great to have a map to know where you might hope to travel to, but it’s best still to allow room, and the expectation that plans can, and often do, change course. Engage in the process of planning playfully and commit wholeheartedly to the process of problem solving and discovery so that you can enjoy the latter process of actual artistic production with greater odds of success, and, possibly arrive at something unexpected, and even exciting and new. Here, the stage is empty and full of possibilities for pure, unadulterated exploration.

B&B+chair+pick-up

B&B+chair+pick-up+b

These thumbnails sketches of the Gaston song sequence (from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) show the necessary thought and visual exploration required to make a very complex and difficult scene work. Drawings by former supervising animator Ron Husband, another teacher I had at Disney’s. To see more of the artist’s work, go here.

Personally, I don’t think as much when I actually animate (or design, paint, and storyboard). When I get there, I mostly just execute. That’s when the process becomes physical and emotional, and I move into the next step of expressing tangibly my impressions. From there on, I bounce back and forth between doing and assessment, making adjustments, both big and small, along the way until the entire cycle of artistic creation has run its course.

johnston-1

These Ollie Johnston studies for Penny and Rufus, from Disney’s The Rescuers are loaded with wit and charm. It may not seem so at the time they were created, but these exploratory sketches find their way into the final character animation one way or the other.

Now, sometimes, such as that commonly viewed in the realm of “Fine Art,” a determined goal or vision (such as pleasing a director or a client) isn’t always the objective. Art doesn’t always have to serve a preconceived notion. But even then – in so-called art for art’s sake, pure expression of thoughts, emotions or visual reflexes – the process isn’t always entirely fixed nor unfocused. Things don’t just “blindly” happen. The creative process is rarely aimless. Take painter Alex Kanevsky, for example. He works and re-works his paintings, sometimes substantially, to arrive at a destination. He even lets paintings sit for months, before renewing them, or painting over them.

What turned out was that there really was not a clear progress, more like wandering in the dark with uncertain goals. Not aimless, but not exactly purposeful either. – Alex Kanevsky

Alex Kanvesky

It isn’t just in commercial arts such as animation productions where planning, testing, doing and re-doing happen. Fine artist Alex Kanevsky often makes huge changes to his paintings as he digs hard to arrive at the best possible outcome. To see the full scale of change and evolution of this painting from start to finish, go here.

Excellent art rarely comes from pure, absolute spontaneity. The creation of animation art, like anything else for that matter, is cyclical. More often than not, the thinking and hard work that comes before the execution stage help makes it, whatever it is, happen. Consistently effective artists tend to be those who plan their work, and then move on from those plans, and into the process of building their art until they stop. Planning is merely the beginning of the creative process that is not only necessary but, when viewed with an open mind, also immensely enjoyable.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” – Leonardo da Vinci