Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seal's Process: Designing Shapes

Seal recently finished one of her animation background layout - a violin antique repair shop (above). She was inspired by the renown violin-making city of Cremona, Italy. She likes the shape of violins, but has never drawn one before, nor seen one up close. So in her process, she had had to research some of the essential shapes associated with a violin. Below are some of her sketch studies.

Every recognizable object has an essential shape, it's what makes them identifiable and separates a cow from a violin. Back when we were cave people and even today, our brain likes to quickly categorize shapes- "friend or foe- that is the shape of an edible fruit, or that is a lion I should run away from," "that is my friend across the street, or my boss coming down the hallway." So as an illustrator/artist, we have to make sure that we clearly communicate the shape of objects (if you want clarity). Sometimes as fine artists, we want to play with our audiences' expectations and create ambiguity, in which case, we can deliberately distort shapes.

It often takes several drawings for our brain-hand muscle coordination to get into sync in expressing the right line or curvature and shape. Below is the line drawing used for the final illustration. You can see that some of the violin shapes are good (recognizable, typical, relatively realistic) and some are a little off (perhaps too elongated, not having quite the finesse). It probably would take me another month of practice drawing the violin, to be able to draw them from memory.

Sometimes it is good to "push" the design of the shapes (as seen below). In the animation world, this "cartoony" style is called "wonky." Going "wonky" helps my brain to loosen up and to experiment on how far I can exaggerate the shapes of the violin while still keeping them recognizable.

Thinking about shapes is not only applicable to illustrators or 2d artists, when designing anything from jewelry, to bags, to hats, to hairpins, you want your products to be recognizabe, yet different from anything anyone else has done before. In order to do that, you have to start at the basic shapes. What makes a top hat different than a beret? Before anything else-- color, texture, material -- it inevitably boils down to their essential shapes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Halloween 2009 - Rise of the Narwhals

This Halloween, Monkey + Seal decided to go as narwhals. "Nar-what?" you might be asking. Well, narwhals are cetaceans (the Order which includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises). They live in the Arctic and have a huge (~2 meters long) tooth that sticks out of its face. Males mostly have the tooth, but some females have it as well. Some narwhals even have a double-extended tooth!

So Monkey wore his costume all day to work, and was often questioned as to what he was dressing up as. This is natural, as he does look pretty silly, and by silly, we mean awesome. Many people assumed he was a unicorn, which is actually pretty coincidental as narwhal teeth were often traded in the olden days as unicorn horns by sly tradesmen who would get more than their weight in gold for them. These teeth were thought to confirm the existence of the mythical unicorn. So, just as the tooth of a narwhal was mistaken for the horn of the unicorn, Monkey's costume of a narwhal was mistaken for a costume of a unicorn.

Monkey created the costume by finding two gray hooded sweatshirts at the local second-hand and thrift stores. He then cut the hoods off but left part of the shoulders intact. This allowed for the tucking under of the hood into a shirt or jacket, which gave it more stability.

The horn was created by a larger cardboard tube and a toilet paper tube that had been crushed and tapered on one end. The two tubes were duct-taped together, then Monkey sewed the cardboard into the hole he had cut on the top of the hood. By cutting tabs into the base of the horn and poking holes with an awl, he was able to created a flanged horn that could be sewn in.

After sewing the horn to the hood, Monkey gessoed the horn and tape, and then painted the spiral pattern with acrylics.

All in all, Monkey and Seal had a great Halloween, and hope that you did as well. If you had a really great costume, we'd love to see it! Email it to us at info (at) and we'll post some up on the end of this post for the world to see!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Art, Video Games, and Procrastination

Today Monkey will talk a little bit on art and time and procrastination:

So if you've ever asked me "how busy are you," I'll usually go into some long-winded tirade on working 5 days a week, going to school 2 days a week, and then fitting in art, Monkey + Seal business stuff, planning a craft show, trying to write a novel, a zine/book on wedding invitations, get freelance illustration/graphic design/craft work, and spending time with Eve. Actually, I guess that is the tirade. Anyway, yes, I do a lot, and I naturally keep piling things up on my plate of things to do. Ask Eve and she'll tell you that I have problems just relaxing and not doing anything.

But, you don't care about any of that, you just want to know how to make more time for your art. Well, to be perfectly blunt about it all, you have to learn to prioritize your life. If you want to make it as a successful artist, you have to constantly be drawing. If you don't draw, then you need to be rehearsing your violin, or researching different materials to sculpt, or you need to be making soap as often as you can. Even I often say "oh, I don't have time," but really, you have a choice. If you really want something (like to hang out with a friend or to see a concert), you need to make time for it. Sometimes, this will lead to sleepless nights where you're exhausted at 6am but you still need to fix the colors in your print file that's due in three hours.

However, I find that the greatest amount of time is time spent procrastinating. From browsing blogs to playing facebook games (like that damn Vampire Wars and Bejeweled Blitz), I truthfully waste a lot of time. I also play Improbable Island (if you decide to play, sign up from that link I gave you and I'll get referral points...wait, what the hell am I doing?), which is another great time sink.

The point of the matter is that I probably spend at least an hour or two playing those dumb games per day. I also spend maybe 30 min to 1 hr reading every day. That adds up to up to three hours of my day that isn't taken up by work or art or anything productive. Now I'm not saying that you need to give up your facebook games, or stop reading, or anything like that. But it's all about management. Play less. Read for only 15 min a day. Cut back. This frees up a surpising amount of time. I used to play World of Warcraft, and as much as I love that damn addicting game, I would lose myself in it for hours at a time. Eventually, I just had to cancel my account as if I wanted to keep making art at a decent level I had to give it up. I'm now working on cutting back my online time to only an hour per day.

So games aren't the end of the world - if I didn't have a little bit of a stress-reliever, I'd go nutso. But it's all about moderation.

If you can't kick the habit (or even if you do), the trick then becomes to maximize the use of idle time. If you have a bus ride to and from work or school, if you have a seat, you can use that time to draw. Or, if you don't want to try and sketch on the shaky bus, stay up an extra 15 minutes to draw the night before and sleep on the bus ride. If you have a 15 minute break at work, are you just hanging out outside your store, or are you in your break room sketching out ideas for paintings? Seal talked about this earlier - make good use of your time.

One of our instructors at AAU managed to get his BFA in Illustration while raising a family and working. Having to take care of a child while taking four classes and working is crazy beyond anything I could ever do, but that shows the determination and excellent time management. As so many professional artists have told me: "draw all the time."

I thought this was sort of ridiculous at first, but as time has progressed, I've realized the truth behind that statement. Yes, you have to be sustainable, and you have to take care of yourself, but if you really want to make it as a commercially-viable professional artist, you have to take the time and prioritize your art.

Looking at yourself and your behavior objectively is never easy, nor is it fun. But you have to figure out what you really want in life, and what you are willing to do to get it. Do you want to be the biggest painter out there? Then paint. What do you want more in life? Getting epic purples in WoW or getting into a gallery? Time is fleeting, so it's up to you to choose wisely.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Art and Money

You can make money off your art: You deserve creative fulfillment and recognition for your hard work -- artistic, social, and financial success.

Seal on the topic of "art and money" : I recently came across a young high school senior. I asked him in what direction he wanted to go after graduation, nothing final, just what interested him. He said that his dreams of art were dashed long ago and he didn't know what he wanted to do. He related to me that his parents had both studied art at some point and couldn't make the bills, so they highly discouraged him from pursuing art and thereby "following the same path of failure." Seal had experienced similar discouragements throughout her life. She has heard many comments like, "art doesn't pay the bills," "art is frivolous," "stop dreaming and come down to the real world," "it's good, but as a hobby, not to be taken seriously." Not to mention, there is an archetypal fear among artists of leaving their loved ones behind . . . We are afraid to dwelve into our art, for fear of leaving the house undone, never seeing the family or not seeing friends as often, or the myth of living a "solitary insane" existence. It took Seal a very long time to learn about her own personal limiting paradigms and actions regarding art and money, so she would like to share some of her important discoveries.

For artists, there is often an added psychological battle and negative thoughts around money. Money is seen as hard to come by, but especially for an artist. We even have the common phrase, "starving artist." Furthermore, if an artist is successful and comes into money, the community shuns upon him/her as a "commercial artist" or "mainstream artist," this person is seen as a "sell-out." This dichotomy is unhealthy. No wonder it is hard to create and it is hard to receive monetary value and recognition for one's art.

It is very much possible to make money off your art and keep your artistic integrity. Take a look at Hayao Miyazaki or Tim Burton to name a few. Money is neither good nor evil, simply a tool used by the owner. As for "commercial" or "mainstream" artist labels, why, isn't it good to be recognized? and to be paid in full value? Art is an expression, but it is also a profession, just like construction workers, surgeons, lawyers, bankers, professors etc. Would you pay a surgeon half the rate even if he/she was stellar?

So, the question is how to do it? How do you make money off your art? The question I gently ask you then, is what steps have you taken? Have you finished that painting, or that novel, or that jewerlry? Have you made your presence known?Have you hit up all the craft fairs, galleries, investment firms? Have you organized your own gallery show? Have you collaborated, networked, and connected with other like minded artists? Do you have a business card or a website at the very least? Seal is also personally working on these aspects herself, but that is the challenge of being the artist.

Many successful artists, Seal has talked to has said, their success doesn't come from "big breaks," although occassionally they too, but most often it is the mundane tiny steps, like following up call to a recommended contact, or dropping off your business card at the local newspaper, actions that seem minute can trigger series of events leading to a big break. But then there are artists who also simply happy by making art. Either way, we do better as artists when we support each other's endeavors, when we applaud a commerically viable artist, when we change our interior monolouges regarding how we perceive "money and art" to support our artistic successes.

At the heart of it, "success" can mean very different things to different artists. It can mean just doodling everyday, it can mean a soldout worldwide show, etc. But in the end, it is okay to be an artist and it is okay to have money. And you can make money and live off your art.

As for the boy whom Seal met, if he even has a spark or desire to pick up art again, she will not give up in offering him a new perspective, a healthy world where artists are appreciated and they deserve creative and finacial success. It is possible.