Happy 2nd birthday to my son Louis. Since he’s mostly into airplanes and the moon right now, I made him this illustration for his gift.
But he is a gift to us. We are blessed.
Had a great skype with Todd Henry a couple of weeks ago, author of “Die Empty” and “The Accidental Creative” ( Two books that I highly recommend.) Really down to earth with lots of insightful advice and banter.
Had a pilot commissioned by PBS Kids on a series that I created and that I’m really excited about. More on this as it develops.
My two year old son Louis is on a major “MOOON ” kick. Has to go outside every night and say hi to the moon. Loves any book that has anything remotely “Moon”. So of course he found my children’s book “Who Asked the Moon to Dinner” published way back in 2001. He needs to have it read at least twenty times and day, and go to sleep with the glow in the dark cover. I have to say that I’m loving it. ( although I get tired of reading my own words so often, and I find myself critiquing my paintings done 14 years ago.)
Been in deep thought on the effects the ego has on our creative process. Any project that I have taken on that had any attachment to ego ( money, competition , keeping up appearances) has always nose dived for me. Any project that I love and would do for free because I love it so much have been the major highlights for me. Seems logical, but you would be surprised how the ego lures you into things that you think are for noble purposes. Could be why those who become successful at something artistically runs into blocks at times when there is output “expected of them”.
I have not been doing interviews lately, but my old high school newspaper ( Leland High School in San Jose) asked for one recently. I thought I would share it here:
1. What advice would you have for students who are interested in pursuing art or entertainment?
It’s a difficult business and it challenges a lot of what you stand for as an artist. If you have a strong constitution, I would say go for it. If you have a lot of talent without the backbone, they will have you for lunch.
2. On your Wikipedia page, we read that you credit your high school art teacher Mark Briggs with teaching you a lot about art. Could you talk about your experience at Leland and early experiences with art and animation? (for example, how you got interested; what inspired you; etc.)
Mark Briggs taught me a lot about the “business of art”. ( he also helped me secure a scholarship at the SF Academy of Art when I was 14). Mr. Briggs supported almost everything I went for, including animation. He gave me studio space in the back of the art room that I used to start some animation of my own. But at that time, my main love was cartooning. Mr. Briggs would take me to these dinners with the Northern California Cartoon and Humor club, where I would meet all of these top cartoonists of the day, like Charles Schulz ( Peanuts) I still stay in touch with Mark. He’s 93 and always tells me about his latest girlfriends. I love him.
3. What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career so far?
That in a career in art, there will be many ups and downs. In the up part, prepare yourself for a possible down part. In the down part, know that you will soon be in the up part. Nothing is permanent. Also, when you have persistence, the world will come around to you. It may take a while, or it may happen right away. You never know unless you try.
4. What do you like most about your job and why?
I have many jobs. Sometimes it’s developing an animation project, animating on my independent film, or rocking my 20 month old son to sleep. Since I never wanted a “sit at your desk 8 hours a day ” type job, I’m grateful and love all of it.
5. What other fields can young artists draw inspiration from?
I have found a lot of inspiration from the story of the first impressionists painters. They were rejected and poverty stricken for 20 years before their work was finally acknowledged for it’s genius. That’s a lot of believing in yourself.
6. How large a role does character creation play in a work of art?
I love creating characters. When I’m doing a show I can’t stop creating more characters for it. Since the networks own everything I create when I’m producing a show, my lawyer gets mad at me for creating too many characters. But it’s what I do. And it makes the show richer. I also create characters for children’s books, comic books and such. They are usually based on people I know. Sometimes its good for them not to know that.
7. How can students get more involved in art outside of their classes?
Everybody needs good art. There is always a chance to design something, paint something. Especially in this digital age. Keep putting your work out there. Volunteer. Sometimes you do things for free that get you some exposure that leads to other things. Don’t be afraid.
8. What are some of the difficulties of pursuing a less chosen field such as art (as opposed to the more popular engineering or medical paths) as a career? What are the benefits?
It’s a heroic choice to choose art as a career. You are rarely going to find anyone supporting it ( especially parents). But sometimes, as in my case, you can’t see any other choice. It’s what I had to do, and I was confident I was going to succeed at it. It didn’t happen as fast as I thought it would, but I was proud to show my father ( a naysayer) the house I bought from being an artist ( and that was before I sold my shows). It’s not an easy choice, but the rewards are great. You have to weigh the positives against the tough parts. Like how much money do you really need to support yourself if you have the choice to create art for a living. You have to make those kind of choices. If you are attached to lots and lots of material things that you need to buy, I would say, don’t go into art. That’s not what it’s about.
9. What opportunities are there for students to cultivate imagination?
You don’t always have to have paying jobs or commissions to cultivate imagination. Your life is full of imagination possibilities. It’s how you live it. If you can keep yourself away from your devices long enough, you can find a world begging you to create and bringing something more to it. Do art as gifts. Make your own cards for occasions. Watch Art:21 and you will see artists in all areas of life. Anything can become a work of art. I know an artist who just started drawing this one bunny on everything. It became his art, and it grew into a whole career of bunnies.
10. How should schools foster creativity?
I’m sorry to say that American schools have done a crappy job at fostering creativity. Here it’s all about spewing out facts and numbers on tests. I’m married to a teacher from the Waldorf schools ( and my kids went there). They are all about learning from story and creativity, which is more of a European way of nurturing your mind. Graduates from these schools ( and others that take this approach) do extremely well in colleges and in life. Public schools really don’t seem to have the time to foster creativity, except for the few mentors like Mark Briggs. It usually takes those amazing teachers that are willing to swim upstream to introduce more creativity into the lessons and classes.
11. How is art applicable to everyday life? (even if students don’t choose to pursue a career as, say, a graphic designer or animator or illustrator, how does art play a role in their lives)?
I look at a whole life as a work of art. Are you going to make imaginative choices with what you buy, what you eat, who you are with, or are you just going to follow what everyone else thinks, or what advertising tells you should do? Are you going to look like a magazine model, or yourself? Treat your body like an amazing art project, and only put good food into it. Be active. What do you read? What do you listen to? It all creates the art piece that is you. A creative life is definitely not about drugs or drinking like Hunter Thompson. It’s about lighting a fire inside you.
This is how I feel when I’m animating on Fish Head. Articulated very nicely by craftsman Osama Nakamura:
“A craftsperson’s job is half meditation, half creation. It takes creativity to design whatever you are working on, but it takes meditation to do it right. Making things with one’s own hands cultivates a certain generosity and openness of the heart. It nourishes that state of mind in the craftsperson themselves, which is intimately connected with an entire way of life.”
The Auteur Approach
I recently watched Miyazaki’s final feature film “The Wind Rises” again as well as the Studio Ghibli documentary “Kingdom of Dreams and Madness”, and yes, I’m saddened by the end of Miyazaki’s films, but something more important is gone they may or may not come back. A genuine auteur feature film approach.
Yes, we have Plympton and Herdzfeldt independent feature films, but here was a filmmaker who had outside funding for him to make high quality feature films that were written and boarded by his own hand. Miyazaki’s films would start production before the storyboard was finished by Miyazaki, and the plot lines and arcs would often change as he progressed. No need for approvals. He would just create.
In an environment where feature animated films are made by committee ( and the director is often only doing the bidding of the team of writers and executives) here is a breath of fresh air stemming from the trees themselves that surround the Studio Ghibli.
I know there was some political controversy surrounding a bit of “The Wind Rises”, but I enjoyed it. Not knowing if I was in love with the film or the process by which it was made.
What we do as an honest vocation says so much about us. I’ve always tried to go by the eightfold path of Buddhism and “Do no harm” in my vocation. But what I had a hard time with in my years working for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network is the sponsors of those programs. I had no say what they were trying to sell to these kids. Sugar, sugar, war toys, over stimulating garbage. The only time I had a say was when they wanted me to be in a McDonalds commercial with Lazlo ( Which I declined and got in big trouble with the network). Obesity is a big problem with kids these days and McDonalds is a big contributor.
So what I have found out in these last years, is that my soul won’t allow me to go down that road anymore. It feels awful when something comes up. And it never works out. Even though I’m trying to support my family, it’s hard to muster up the passion it takes for one to succeed creatively in this very competitive time ( especially when you are in my age group). I don’t want to be like the fox and the grapes, but when these studios have said “no thanks” I didn’t shed a tear.
The good news is that I’m in business with a network developing a project where I am completely behind it’s funding model, and I feel proud of the entertainment. ( as well as liking and trusting the executives). It’s what these other failed projects were leaving room for. For the fans of my two shows Rocko and Lazlo, they may not be behind these decisions, but my soul definitely is. I’ve got excitement and passion that I have not had in a while. ( except with my teaching).
So cheers to right livelihood! Don’t give up before the miracle happens.
Warning: Heavy truth. But more people need to hear this message.