Friday, September 17, 2010

What should our next shirt be?

Hello everyone! Monkey + Seal needs your help! We're trying to figure out what to put on our next t-shirt design, and we'd like your input! We could go with a jellyfish (very similar to Monkey's tie) in a dark blue-green on a light aqua shirt, as seen here...

...or we could go with zombie Abraham Lincoln in black and light blue on an olive green shirt.

What would you like to see on the next Monkey + Seal shirt? Let us know in the comments! Your feedback will help shape the future for Monkey + Seal! Thanks!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Is Art School Right For You?

For those that didn't know, Monkey + Seal have about 18 or so years of higher education under our belts. We both have Bachelor's degrees from UC Berkeley and Academy of Art University. Monkey alone has nearly $200,000 worth of student loan debt. When most people hear about that, they ask him "Was it worth it?"

Many people who we've talked to have told us they'd be interested in going back to school, or taking some classes, etc., etc., but are worried about the cost. Additionally, they're worried that they might have to leave their full-time job (making money) to spend money (or take out loans) to go to school again to learn a field that they might not be successful in. Basically, they want to know "Is it worth it?"

Well, the answer to both of those questions is: "It depends."

For Monkey + Seal, it most definitely was. Even though it might not be obvious, our educations (both in and out of the classroom) at both schools has helped shape who we are today. Besides the fact that Monkey + Seal met at Cal, and that they almost certainly would not have pursued art if they hadn't met, their education at Cal informs their art now. Seal's degree in English and narrative theory allow her to dissect, examine, and create stories. Her stint studying film influences how she designs backgrounds and her composition. Monkey's degree in integrative biology influences his creature (and more strongly) plant design. It also helps him learn new media quickly as he analyzes his experiments with scientific rigor. Our theater experience makes live painting easy (and pleasurable), and our activism in the fields of feminism, animal rights, Asian American studies, environmentalism, and social justice affects how we do business as artist and inspires some of our subject matter.

In terms of the Academy, while Seal was already skilled in painting, Monkey had no formal training whatsoever when we started. Thankfully most of the faculty at AAU (at least the instructors we had) were amazing, and after 3 years of doing 32 hrs in class and 30+ hours of homework each week, we got to where we are now. Our growth at the beginning was exponential, and even towards the end we developed many times quicker than if we were to try and grow on our own. The critiques from peers and instructors, new techniques and mediums in each class, new ways of thinking about composition, and color, and line, and space, and weight, and all these crazy things have allowed us to express ourselves like never before.

So all in all, for us, it was worth it. But before you go off spending hundreds to thousands of dollars on a new education or you quit your job, you have to ask yourself - is this what you really want? When we signed up for classes, we decided we'd be in it for the long haul. We're both extremely lucky to have figured out what we want to do in life relatively early on, and have had the chance to chase our dreams. But are you willing to put art first? If your goal is to get better and become a professional artist, then I guarantee you that you have to put art as #1 or #2. Any lower than that, and you're wasting your money and time. If you are willing to prioritize art and your craft, and you want to really get good quickly, then by all means art school can definitely be a tremendous resource.

If you're not sure about whether or not art is your end goal, then see if you can test the waters without jumping straight in. See if you can take a night class at city college. Take some workshops at places like Center for the Book or at Paper Source. There are opportunities for people to learn about art all over the country, so if you aren't based in SF, there's definitely places for you as well.

You can also go about it totally DIY and learn from online resources like the Gnomon Workshops or, or watch videos on Sketch Theater. There are also tons of amazing books out there that we constantly refer to - if you have a topic in mind, let us know and we can recommend something. Two books that come highly recommended are "Drawing People" by Barbara Bradley, and "Creative Layout: Perspective for Artists" by Budiono, Denmark, & Ng.

Regardless of whether or not art school is right for you, if you want to improve your skill set, the most basic (yet most important) advice is this: practice drawing everything, and practice all the time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Your adventure

Prior to doing art, Seal had the opportunity to study narrative theory at UC Berkeley. Because of this, she can see a pattern to everything around her, especially regarding the cycle of a person’s journey in life, and also their creative endeavors. There is an underlying theme to everyone’s life. It goes something like it this:

  1. You go on an adventure; along the way you make friends, maybe find the person you like/love, and a rival.
  2. You come across an obstacle, you try you try and you try, and just when all else looks like failure, something will click, you summon up the courage, a skill, or magic incantation . . . a miracle occurs.
  3. You overcome the obstacle, you return victorious. Then you go on another adventure . . .

Take any film or even your own life, and you’ll notice a pattern too. Take the story of Disney’s Aladin for example, he wants to marry the princess, but he doesn’t have money or prestige. He goes on this adventure to find the magic lamp. He gets thwarted by Jafar several times, shit just keeps getting worse, until the situation looks impossible. Jafar turns into the most powerful sorcerer, the princess is captured, and Aladdin is banished to a far-off place. (He could have given up at this point, but he doesn’t). He uses the magic carpet, flies his way back, and uses his wit to trick Jafar into turning into a genie, thereby imprisoning him within a lamp. But in my version, after a victory, this is just the beginning of new adventure. Maybe he goes to City College, has to learn new skills, wants to be a renown artist or something. Music works in this way too. That's why there are often three movements: the enticing beginning, the change of pace, the crescendo break, and the finale.

What is my point in all of this? The trick to life is to know where you are in the cycle.

Are you just starting out on your adventure (learning a new illustration medium, considering art school, moving out of the house, or moving into a new city, a new job , etc)? Are you in the middle of your adventure? Probably the most dire and monotonous portion of the journey where it is full of repetitive trials (for students, you must pass classes in order to move up a grade, or as artists you come across a block in expression, that you must overcome, either by filling your life experience with something new, learning a new technique, or change of medium altogether. Are you near the end of your journey, where all hell breaks loose and you can’t seem to find the light at the end of the tunnel? Ride it out. I promise you, it’s there and it’s rewarding.

Once you know where you are, there are certain tips and tricks to help make the journey less scary.

In the beginning of your journey: explore the terrain, talk to someone who’s been through this path before. If you landed in the middle of no-where island, what’s the first thing you should do? Gather information. Where am I? What do I need? Who knows how to navigate through here? If you’re an artist you probably have your creative heroes that you would like to be? Ask them how they got to where they are today.

If you are in the middle of your journey, make sure you think the end is worth it. If it isn’t, quit right away and get onto a path that is worthwhile (because the journey will be long and sometimes tiresome, so it has to be something that your passion can boost you up during the hardest trial). For example, if I am trying to be an artist, but I have my ladder against the corporate ladder of McDonalds, no matter how much work I put into it, being the manager or CEO of McDonalds is not the end result I want. (I’m not criticizing you, if that’s what you want to do. It just doesn’t make sense for me to climb that ladder, if I specifically want to be an artist. On the other hand, since being an artist is my end goal, when the hard times hit, like no income or gallery commission, I am still happy doing art for myself. My passion for it, has and will sustain through the darkest of times). If you find that you are on the right path, then lean into it! Keep leaning and keep climbing!

At the end of your journey, when you are victorious, congratulate yourself. Acknowledge the hardship and the accomplishments (like finishing high school, college, or getting that job, or learning a new skill, navigating in a new city, or creating that really awesome painting). Then after a moment of rest, ask yourself, what’s my next adventure? What’s next?

Then someday you can write an autobiography of your journey, to leave behind the blueprints for the next generation. It can be as epic as a trilogy of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, or Oprah. It can be titled : "how I overcame (blank)" You fill in the rest. Good luck on your adventure! and remember that you are not alone.

For more reading material, check out:

Hero with a Thousand Faces

Morphology of the Folklore