What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist's block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
I get a lot of artist’s block. Sometimes, especially recently, I just can’t bring myself to draw, because I know it will be uninspired. At those times, I find it best to do some studies, those artist block moments are the best time to practice gaps in your knowledge. I should take my own advice here! But doing this can really fire up the imagination and get the ball rolling again and at the very least, it is a productive use of “block” time. In terms of work, when I am working on a live project and I get artists block, my default mode seems to be “keep drawing until something good happens!” - which might seem like a sound method. But really, I find I just get stuck in a rut. It is far better to take a break, go for a walk, do something else if you have time and can do so. I find that recharges the mind and I come up with some good ideas while walking outside or doing something completely different. Also - museums. I was lucky enough to visit an Alphonse Mucha exhibit recently here in Glasgow. It was really inspiring and gave me so much creative energy! Plus, on a recent trip to London I went around all the comic shops I could find with my girlfriend. I left with a new enthusiasm for some personal projects I wanted to do. I find that with travel too, whenever I travel I get ideas. Getting out and seeing the world really fires up the creative fire.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
Let the path find you. As you say, there are so many options for artists these days - when I was starting out, concept art was a relatively young field. With the rise of gaming there are more jobs than ever before and even being a dedicated character designer is a somewhat viable career path these days! For me I never knew if there was going to be a job post study. I had no real idea what I wanted to do as a job, I just wanted to draw. It took me a while and some varied jobs before I honed in on what I really wanted to do. I still feel I'm finding that out, but the journey is fun. I like doing different things and being flexible. I guess the thing that ties everything together is I'm doing character design, I’m drawing and for the most part I don’t hate my job! I'd just say experiment, keep drawing and follow what you enjoy. If you have a clear idea of what you want to be doing, that's great and it will help you form a plan on how to get there. If you don’t, don’t stress about it, get started doing something that inspires you and refine the path you choose later on. Of course I realise some people have different life situations and might not have the luxury of meandering along their artistic path, but an artistic path is never set in stone and can be changed at any moment. Just be honest with yourself and be honest about the hard work that finding a career in this industry will take. For some really talented people it might happen over night. For the rest of us it is a long slow journey of constant practice and hard graft.
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or work on many different ones?
Don't follow anyone's footsteps! I'm a firm believer in following your own path, everyone is different and will encounter different opportunities along their journey. I didn't set out to work on “The Illusionist”, it just happened as I was in the right place at the right time and yet it turned out to be a big influence on my career. In terms of style, that's a tricky one. In my job I find I need some flexibility in style, specifically for character design. A character design style is important to the context of the show or the particular problem needing solved. For example - style can really be determined by budget constraints etc. So a character designer does need some flexibility! Saying that though, I get hired a lot based on my style. I think the middle path is the best one - find your voice but be able to break out of it if need be. Overall I'd say it's best to let a style organically develop over time, don't force it. In a sense it will become your unique selling point. But at the same time, the more flexibility you have in your drawing the more potential jobs will be available to you which is useful especially at the start of your career - having some flexibility can keep you employable. As you progress in your career maybe then start focusing on your style and pushing it more.
If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
Just one?! OK this is tough. I would probably recommend a different book depending on what type of stuff that artist was into. But say it's another character designer, I would recommend “Scientific Progress Goes Boink” by Bill Watterson. It's a Calvin and Hobbes collection and one of my fondest from my childhood. It informed a lot of what I do now. Spend an afternoon looking at the beautiful drawings within, how the characters ooze personality and energy. It's a masterclass in character design right there. Also, any Calvin and Hobbes book is adorned with the most beautiful watercolour covers. It's also just a great, fun read. So not a how to book in any sense, but a fine example of the elements and skill that I at least would like to achieve in my work. It’s a benchmark of awesomeness!
What’s your point of view about the industry today: what are the expectation for someone who wants to make a living with an artistic career?
Honestly I'm not sure. I've been working away at home on my own for the past three years and tend to keep myself to myself. I engage in social media sporadically, but not enough to follow any trends in the industry as a whole. I have noticed a move towards 3D sculpting in zbrush etc which is something I've been meaning to get into. And VR is looking like the future of entertainment at the moment. At the end of the day though, there is common thread which runs through history of art and artists, from the old masters to Sargent painting portraits for a living to Rockwell and Leyendecker in the heyday of American illustration to the present day with concept art in games, animation, television etc. If you can draw, that's the foundation for everything. Tools and technology can be learnt relatively easy. Learning how to draw the human head from all angles takes hard work and practice. So learn to draw, sculpt, paint on canvas, in Photoshop - whatever. Learn the basic principles of design, colour theory, composition, character and story telling and you will have the foundation skills you need to make a start in an artistic career and then you can take things from there. That I think is the main expectation in this industry, a good solid traditional grasp of drawing and design which can translate into any medium or future technology. Plus an ability to problem solve and bring story into their creations, to bring life to lines on a page.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
So many! My biggest inspirations will always be Nick Park and Bill Watterson. I'm a big fan of Peter de Seve and Carter Goodrich, also Nico Marlet. I love the painting style of LD Austin and anything by Drew Struzan. The worlds and artwork of Hayao Miyazaki blow me away. I also love the oldies, JC Leyendecker, Alphonse Mucha, John Singer Sargent, . I guess my inspirations are all qute varied and not necessarily directly related to what I do as an artist but I hope I put a little bit of each into the work I do. As for favourite designs… this is tricky because I do think, at least in a lot of animation, design has become a bit homogenised. I love the work coming out of Headless Animation and love most character designs by Nico Marlet, his Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon stuff is amazing. I’m getting a lot of inspiration at the moment from the graphic novel world also, which can be a bit more experimental. Ultimately though, Calvin and Hobbes and Wallace and Gromit are my favourite characters ever. I can’t see that changing anytime soon!
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I have a soft spot for it too! As I mentioned, I worked on two traditional features a while back. There seems to be a bit of resurgence in recent years in western animation for it, look at the Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea for example and the impact they have had. When I was in LA I saw their posters everywhere! Of course France has a long tradition of 2d animation as does Japan, I can’t see it really going anywhere when it is in such safe hands. There will always be a future for it in some capacity. I don't know whether there will ever be a blockbuster Hollywood film made in 2D ever again, all the 2D stuff seems to be from the smaller more independent studios. But that's cool with me. I think it leads to more unique and interesting stories and style decisions. Also, traditional animation will just adapt to new technologies. We already see this, there are some amazing new 2D animation tools out there which are making it a more viable art form once again. I think the thing to remember is that story is king. Toy story is a great film because it is a great film, not because it is in 3D. I would say being the first 3D feature was part of it’s appeal, but it’s appeal has lasted because of the story. The only 2D Disney classics are still classics. I still think audiences will be drawn to well made traditional animation if the stories are good. At least I hope they will.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online services and so on. New media on the Internet are connecting the artists directly with their fans like never before. In your opinion, how is this affecting the industry and what are the pros and cons?
The internet and all the new platforms and new media that come with it are amazing. It's now possible to make a living selling your own work, without much of an outlay and without much outside help. I guess I see a trend for artists to sell their work as a product, which is nothing new, it's just much easier to do. The pros are anyone can do it and make some money doing what they love, technology is a great enabler. The cons - everyone is doing it! There are so many artists out there taking advantage of print on demand, Patreons, Gumroads etc - it's quite a saturated marketplace. Some artists do super well while others might find it harder. It can be hard work building an audience to sell to. But that is the key I guess - in order to really take advantage of these new medias and techs, an artist needs an audience, exposure and to do good work. That is always the bottom line, the skill of the artist. I’m not sure if it's affecting the industry much, I don’t see these new avenues taking away from more traditional avenues. I could be wrong, but I think the movie industry and publishing industry are doing better than ever? The new avenues are merely filling gaps in the industry that weren’t being filled before. I guess with things like crowd funding, getting a project off the ground could become a bit easier. But I doubt it is going to impact too much on the overall industry, it just creates a more vibrant one.
When clients contact you for a commission, what essential info should they include in their very first email in order to communicate with you efficiently and effectively?
Basically, a clear idea of what they are looking for work wise, a deadline they have in mind and any budget restrictions. That’s enough to give a clear idea from the outset! Typically a first email is usually along the lines of, “Are you potentially free and interested to do some character development on a kids show?” without divulging too much (that might require an NDA!). If I say yes, I’m interested we take it from there, but it is nice to have a lot of information up front so I don’t have to go fishing for exactly what is being asked of me. When I say budget restrictions, what I actually mean is - are they asking me to work for free? Unless it’s a charity I will say no and it’s good to know from the start if someone is asking for freebies. These days, I avoid them like the plague, though have worked for free in the past.
Finally, where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
I have a main website hub called ( charactercube.com ) which links to all my social media, Facebook ( facebook.com/kennethandersonart ), Twitter ( twitter.com/charactercube ), Tumblr ( kennethandersonart.tumblr.com ) - I have started an Instagram too ( instagram.com/charactercube ). I've been so busy working and dealing with other things I've not had much time to update my site much, create new work or engage with social media. It can be hard work maintaining all that and I'd prefer to spend my free time hanging with family and friends. I know I should treat it as part of my business, but work has been coming in and keeping me busy!
I have a Society6 account with prints available - again I’ve been so busy I’ve not had the chance to really get it off the ground. If anyone is interested though just go to ( society6.com/charactercube ) - there’s stuff there but it’s limited at the moment. I will be updating it over the next few months. If I ever get my graphic novel or other ideas off the ground I may have something to sell then. In the meantime follow me on Twitter/Tumbler/Facebook for some updates and pirate sketches now and then! Also, I don’t mind people emailing me for advice but sometimes I take a while to respond, so if anyone reaches out, don’t take it personally if I get back to you a month later. It is hard juggling so many things as a freelancer ;)