It has been a couple of weeks now since this event has passed and I really should have written this blog then. But, perfect conditions hardly ever exist, and here I will try and recreate the excitement and energy that reverberated through me back then. A whole blog could be written on just our visit to Florence and Pisa, but for now I will focus on soley these workshops. Firstly, what are these Schoolism Workshops? Bobby Chiu and Kei Acedera of Imagnism studios (a concept art studio in Toronto) have been organizing these talks by successful artists who have made meaningful contributions to the Animation Industry. These talks have been held all over the world and received tremendous reception. The two workshops of which I will cover were held in Florence this December. I shall being with Peter De Seve.
Extremely charming with surprising spontaneous bursts of humor and a flair for the theatric, Peter was entertaining from the get go. For fear of revealing too much about what he talked about and spoiling for others that have not seen him yet, I will try to just create a general picture.
Influences and Inspiration
Peter started of by showing some of his earlier work as a child and his black and white illustrations for newspapers. He mentioned how important it was to ‘do the type of drawing that you grow up on’. This holds true possibly for any artist, as most of us propelled into a drawing frenzy by the excitement created from the art that we admire. His influences ranged from Bugs Bunny to Frank Frazetta and Heinrich Kley to Gus Bofa. I think it’s always important for us to stay in touch with art that we love and keep it somewhere where we can see it easily so that it continually fuels our passion. Also, it’s important to get away from ‘normal’ influences like these and to visit museums and parks and discover interesting designs that as Peter states it ‘use shapes in a surprising way’. Which is really what you want to do as a character designer.
Mistakes and the traditional medium
One thing I noticed about Peter was that his spontaneaouty (don’t think that’s actually a word) and humor in person were directly reflected in his work. As he sat for a break at half time (after two hours) I looked over at him and told him that he was actually best (during his talk) when things went wrong and it required improvisation. And this very theme he then talked about later as he said that one should ‘see mistakes as opportunites’ and there are ‘things that you can only learn from accidents’. This lead to an insight on the shortfall of digital illustration where it is altogether to easy sometimes to fix mistakes. This can lead to less decisive, confident and spontaneous work. One can see in his techniques in watercolour that there is a lot of that happening, and really helps to bring life to his drawings. With traditional illustration there is more of a sense of commitment the marks you are putting down, whereas with digital there is always ‘undo’. In real life there is no undo button and we are imperfect in every way possible and this is what his art reflects.
Openness and Integrity
Going back to his philosophies in life he talked about the notion of being ‘open’ to opportunities and not be too rigid with your plans. (he never planned on being a character designer for animation) Also, he mentioned the importance of ‘preserving yourself in the art that you make’ and ‘protect the artist that you are’. Very often in studios there is a tendency to become a stylistic chameleon but you have to always find a way to express your individual point of view.
He had few remarks about shape that are worth noting. Firstly that one must develop a consciousness of shapes. He tries to distill the shapes to say as much as he can with as little as possible. Also it’s important to remember as a character designer that the shapes you create must be easy to animate. Additionally one must learn to think volumetrically, like a sculptor. I feel that perhaps doing some sculpture would profoundly help one with getting more volume in his or her drawings.
The New Yorker Covers
One amazing thing that I never knew about Peter De Seve’s illustrations were the amount of details that went into them and how much he used real life references. He mentioned that New Yorkers really take a good look at the covers so he has to make sure that he is thorough. Everything from the wine glasses, to the bricks on the road to the types of trees are specific to New York. These subtleties are really important as drawings not only communicate a story and make you laugh but also are documents of history. People will look back at these in 100s of years and see how we lived and what type of a culture we were.
Peter talked about how everyone around him is an influence on the characters that he creates. If you actually know the peson that you are drawing then you can provide a much deeper and more realistic character. You understand the psychology of the person you are drawing and subtleties may even come about subconsciously. I think we have to be constantly observing people around us, and not forget them when we are drawing by ourselves, keeping them with us always. He showed us some examples of how subtle changes in emotions on the face led to dramatically different stories. He also talks about the most interesting moments of people are those moments ‘in between the static and the obvious’. Carrying a sketchbook and drawing from life are almost cliché’s now but it cannot be overstated how important these activities are. Peter also mentioned costume design and how vital it is that it adds to the characters. He showed us a great example of Normal Rockwell and how he painted a boys shoe. ‘Every element helps to tell the story’ This is so so crucial in any illustration, that there is attention to detail but nothing unnecessary.
Live drawing and conclusion
As we all sat with our mouths opening salavating as this living legend created swooping scratching marks on his paper that projected on the giant screen at the Florence theater I noticed something very unusual about his drawing that I never would have guessed if I hadn’t observed it myself.
Alas, I cannot reveal anymore as I feel this delight is something to be experienced in person. Check out schoolism.com to see when the next Peter De Sever workshop is, as I have only scratched the surface. He goes into detail on his process work for New Yorker Covers and character design for Ice Age, Robots and the upcoming ‘Little Prince’.
My next blog post will be on the tremendous skill and talent of Mercelo Vignali (the workshop that followed after lunch). Stay posted!