Visiting Artist – Nathan Fowkes

So earlier on in the semester, the week of September 26 to be more exact, Nathan Fowkes came out to BYU as a visiting artist and attended several classes to give demos and gave a couple lectures.  He was really cool to have.  Not only is he really good at what he does, but he hardly repeated himself, so that every lecture or demo you attended you got more and new information.  I got to go to a couple of them and I want to share with you what I learned!
The first lecture I got to go to was one mostly about color theory.  He talked a lot about the basics are very important, and those basics boil down to believability and harmony.

  • Color is a product of our brain, our brain interpreting light in a way that is useful to us.  It interprets opposing/complementary colors even though color is really just a progression.
  • The color wheel sets up colors with oppositions even though it really doesn’t exist.
  • The human eye can distinguish 2.4 million colors.
  • Color can be broken down into the measurable: hue, saturation, and value; and the emotional impact: temperature.
  • Sometimes you can just rely on Value and Temperature.
  • Color is always in context.  It needs relationships.  Your brain craves meaning.  Art/color needs meaningful relationships.
  • Harmony:  Variety vs. Unity vs. Unity with Variety.
    • The most interesting compositions have lots of unity with some variety.
  • Pigment can’t do as much as light can.
  • Look for simple value groupings.  Look for relationships.
  • Don’t separate color & light, they are related.
  • Work general to specific.
  • If you can get the temperature you want with the value you want, you can get close to the color you want.
  • Make conscientious color choices.
    • Cheat it to make it read to the viewer.  Make it compelling.
  • It takes mileage and practice.
  • Paint from the world around you, especially outside.  That’s the best way to learn color.
  • Take breaks for 5-20 minutes at a time from your work to refresh yourself.
  • He always needs a simple idea of how it might work, then he does some comps, then he does some more comps, then maybe even some more comps before doing the final work.

  • He uses a Listerine bottle as his water bottle in his traveling painting kit that he takes with him everywhere.

That were the essential basics of his color theory lecture.  There were many, many slides that went along with it that helped demonstrate what he was teaching.  I can’t really explain those without them, so the best way to learn about how colors relate to other colors would be to go look at a color theory book.  I might get one and go through and write a post or two in the future to try to explain things better.  I still have a LOT to learn about that myself!

The other big lecture he gave that I was able to go to focused on artist and audience, basically the relationship between the visual artist and their audience.
He talked a little bit about how he saw Ray Bradbury at Comic Con one year and the awe and respect that that man received there.  Fowkes told us that an artist trying to reach in and touch the gut of feeling in people like Ray Bradbury did needs to have some ideas on how to do so.  Visual artists have a responsibility to create mood, storytelling, environments, and space that draws the audience in.  A few key things are:

  • Audience engages with character and character expression.
  • The audience has to understand the environment in a glance.  Sometimes they only get two seconds to look at it (like in movies).
  • Exaggerate.
  • Important elements are SHAPE, LINE, and SPACE.
  • SHAPE:
    • circles are lovable and comfortable
    • squares are solid and stable
    • triangles are dangerous
    • organic is interesting
  • LINE:
    • horizontal is peaceful
    • vertical is strong
    • diagonal is for action/is dynamic
    • should reflect the emotion
  • You should do color studies–thousands of them!
  • Practice!  Prepare!
So yeah.  Lots of good basics.  He had lots of really cool visuals from movies and things he’s worked on along with other images.  I should practice more.
That basically sums up what I got out to Nathan Fowke’s visit to BYU this semester!  If anything is unclear or you want to know more about something, just ask and I’ll do my best to clear things up or give a more thorough answer.  🙂

My Trip to LA – Days 5

Friday March 9
Friday was a spectacular day!  First we went to the Laguna College of Art and Design to see what the Masters program there is like.  It’s a nice, small school with plenty of space for the students to work in.  While I don’t think grad school is for me, it would be a nice place to go for anyone else.
After that we headed down to Laguna beach for lunch!  It’s only about ten-fifteen minutes away from the art school, so you could eat at the beach every day if you wanted to.  I took a couple pictures while at the beach.

Yup, I even took a picture of me.  When I was in high school I took a ton of that kind of picture of me, since my camera has a rotating display that can point in any angle it makes it easy!  I can see myself while I take the picture.  It’s such a cool camera!  Silly grin is silly.  Bad picture is bad.

BUT!  After lunch came the AMAZING part!  We went to Carbine Game Studios which is owned by NCSoft.  Carbine is working on a game called WildStar and it is SO COOL!  It’s beautiful, creative, and I want to play it so badly!  You have no idea how amazing and wonderful it is! Go check it out!  The in-game stuff looks just like the concept art, and it’s so beautiful!  I really don’t have the words to describe it.

While at Carbine we got to wander around and see how everything works and is developed, which is more than we really got to do at any other studio.  It was really neat to get to talk to the workers as they worked and watch them play around as they work.  Working at a place like that would be so cool.  They gave us a lot of advice, all of it really good and beneficial.  I took more notes there than I did any place else.  They told us about how a lot of them got their jobs because  friend of theirs got hired and then recommended them, and then they would bring along their other friend.

After wandering around they took us into a cool “secret” room and showed us the trailer for the game.  Then they talked to us about portfolio stuff and how to get a job.  First off, networking!  It’s super important!  Start at the bottom and work your way up.  Don’t go emailing the people at the top first, they’re way to busy to pay attention to you and already get a lot of attention themselves.  Start out with the lower level.  Comment on their work, compliment it, work towards being friends.  They will love the attention and be very willing to help you out.  Short emails are better.  Once you establish a good relationship with someone and they like your work they can help you get a job.  Jobs at studios are often filled before they’re listed online because people in the studio suggest people they know.  Make networking part of your job.

For portfolio and job application stuff they were very particular about how your cover letter should have the name of the place you’re applying to in the letter.  If you have the wrong business in there they won’t look at your stuff at all.  You would think that that is common sense, but apparently it happens a lot.  You should tailor your resume and cover letter to the place you’re applying to.  Research the company, and put in some time to make some work that is tailored to that place.  This shows that you are smart.  Highlight what you do in your free time that’s related to art.  Also, make sure your links work.  In the cover letter you should sound excited about the job, whether or not you actually are.  You can also be creative in your cover letter. You also need an online portfolio somewhere.

For your online portfolio you need to make it as clear and easy to use as possible.  They will know in ten seconds whether or not they want to hire you by looking at it.  So, the fewer clicks the better.  They need to see your drive in the portfolio, it should say a lot about you.  Only put your 5-10 best pieces in the portfolio.  You can have more to see elsewhere.  Be honest and show them that you can see the flaws in your work when they ask to see more, tell them that your portfolio is your best work and that the rest isn’t quite as good.  They like it when you can tell what’s wrong in a piece.  They are looking for people who are creative!  If you are applying for a concept design type of position, then you should show a variety of art styles.  Concept design is all about ideas.  Illustration is more about finished quality work.  Act like where you are applying to is your #1 place.

They also gave some advice on how to be better artists.  They told us to never do work in a vacuum.  You need to put yourself in a creative environment!  Go and talk to people you don’t usually talk to.  Ask questions!  Learn how to do things!  You should be harsh on yourself and honestly seek out real world feedback.  The key to success is to know what sucks.  Fix it.  Learn to see the flaws in your own work.  Always strive to do better.  Also, if you’re working in a video game studio environment like that then you shouldn’t get to attached to your work because it will often get changed and is seldom one single person’s work.

Afterwards they gave us posters signed by the entire crew!  So awesome!

So, Carbine was way cool to visit.  I loved it and it was super helpful!  We took a little bit longer there than originally planned, and then there was rush hour traffic on the way back to Pasadena.  We stopped at the Norton Simon museum for about an hour.  Since it was a special art night the entry was free and it was packed with people.  I sat out for part of it, I had developed a headache.  Then we returned to the hotel one last time to sleep.

My Trip to LA – Day 4

Sorry for taking so long to continue!  School caught up with me.
Thursday March 8
On Thursday we went to the beach!  Well, first we went to see Ken Bishop, who is a freelance artist who does a lot of work for EA games from his studio at home.  He strongly encouraged developing our “classical skills” in art.  Companies are willing to teach you the technical aspects of their software, but you need to have a foundation to start with.  He told us that we need to stay “plugged in” to what’s going on.  Stay up to date, learn new software programs, observe life- it will keep you fresh.  Also, networking.  It’s important.  Being in the right place at the right time is about being everywhere all the time.  There are a lot of people buying art at any given time, so find something you love and go after it.
After that we stopped to eat lunch near the beach.  Then we went to Sony Pictures Studio and were given a presentation there by Justin Thompson and Pete Oswald.  They talked to us mostly about character and environment design for movies.  They told us that sometimes a character’s design problems can become what’s funny about them.  Don’t try to design out all the problems, take advantage of them!  You shouldn’t worry about the 3D aspect at first.  Draw a beautiful drawing, then figure out how to make it 3D.  Environments require a different skill set than characters and is hard work to learn.  You shouldn’t pigeon-hole yourself right at the start, be flexible.  You’re really only as good as your last drawing.  It’s very rare to get a beautiful piece without a lot of hard work.  Draw everything!  You never know what you’ll need to draw someday for your job.  Be willing to draw anything and in any style.  Also, you should never settle on your first idea.
They also gave some advice on portfolios.  If you’re looking at concept design they said that you should have a finished version along with the steps leading up to it in your portfolio.  It’s good to show a range of style, subject matter, and lighting set ups.  For concept it’s good to have about 40% rough work, and 60% finished work.  A 30 page maximum is recommended.  Also, when in doubt, leave it out.
Then we went to the Santa Monica Pier for dinner and the art walk.  I took a picture of the sunset there!
A large part of the group went and ate at Bubba Gump’s, but that place was expensive so I ate with my husband and a couple friends at the Pier Burger place.  The food there wasn’t bad.  Then we wandered down to the beach and let the waves wash over our feet.  I got my pants wet because I didn’t think to roll them up until after the fact.  The ocean was nice.  Then we wandered up to the mall area.  That place was pretty cool.  Some of us ended up at Barnes & Noble and looked at art books and comic books.  There are so many books that I want to buy!  I can’t right now though.  I must save my pennies.  After that we finally went back to the hotel and slept.

My Trip to LA – Day 3

Wednesday March 7
Wednesday was a fantastic day!  It was probably my favorite day of the whole trip, it certainly is the day I took the most pictures.  That was the day we went to Dreamworks!  It would be a fantastic place to work.  They have a nice campus with plenty of sunshine, and free lunch and breakfast for the employees!  They let us take pictures outside the buildings, so here are a few.
Fountain at DreamWorks
Water Feature at Dreamworks
More water!

DreamWorks has a lot of water features.


Like, a lot of water features.


Even the outdoor eating area has a pretty water feature!


Complete with ducks!


And pretty fish!

While we were at Dreamworks we saw Anthony Holden, a BYU alumni and storyboard artist.  He talked about how he came to work at Dreamworks and the process he went through to decide his career path.  He compared his work to the story of the Brother of Jared in the Book of Mormon (Ether 3:1-6) where he brings 16 stones to the Lord because the Lord gave him the task of deciding how the boats he built should be lit.  The Brother of Jared came up with the idea of the stones because they couldn’t have fire, so he came to the Lord with the stones and asked him to touch the stones and make them give light.  The Lord did so and The Brother of Jared then proceeded to have a very spiritual and enlightening experience.  Anthony said that the Brother of Jared was like, “Lord, I have these 16 stones.  I know it’s not the greatest idea, but it’s the best I can come up with, please make it work?”  And that he’s all like, “Lord, here are my cartoons.  I know their not very good, but they’re all I can do, so would You please make them shine so I can support my family?”  I thought it was a good comparison.  It’s a good humble view a good artist should have.
Then Dreamworks fed us lunch!  It was tasty good food.  After lunch we went to The Huntington Library and wandered around the gardens and museums there.  I didn’t go in any of the museums, but I wandered around the gardens and tried to take some good reference pictures to draw from later.
Shortly after I took this picture my camera got dropped.  It still works fine, but the outside casing is all crunched up on one corner and the top piece is a bit out of alignment.
After the Huntington Gardens we went to visit Cliff Nielsen in his home in downtown LA.  The guy lives in a warehouse!  It was so amazing!
I tried to take pictures inside, but it was too dark since it was so late in the day.  He has an amazing set up!  His house is built into the front of it and then he has a huge space to use for his photography.  It was mind blowing.  He gave some really good advice as well.  He spoke out strongly for using your own reference, you can’t steal stuff from other people and it’s just better to make or get your own anyway.  Also, he said that you need to think of yourself first as a storyteller.  Doing that will make you a much better illustrator.

And there was a Goodyear blimp flying around.  I hadn’t seen one in a while, so I documented it.  I think the picture was well timed.

After Cliff we were supposed to go to visit the Whitemoon Dreams game studio, but the car I was in got very lost.  We wandered around Chinatown for a bit before accidentally finding the highway and decided we were half-way back to the hotel already, so we might as well just go the rest of the way.  From what I heard Whitemoon Dreams was nice and a good experience, but of all the things on the trip to miss, it was the one to miss.  I’m glad that was the case, because I really enjoyed catching up on the internet that day before going to bed before everyone else got back.

My Trip to LA – Day 2

Tuesday March 6
Tuesday was a very early morning.  We had to be up and ready to go by 7:45.  We went to the studio of Jeremy Lipking first.  It was a nice little studio and he had a ton of art books around.  The two key pieces of advice I took away from him was to not overwork yourself, and to get good at what you like to do.

Then we went to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks to see Tony Pro who teaches there.  He had a lot to say and his paintings were pretty cool.  I took a lot away from his lecture.  He said to always be thinking about art.  That will help you improve even if you can’t work on it.  So, always be thinking about how you would paint or draw something, even if you don’t have the time or materials to do so.  You should also multitask.  When you go to do something kind of mindless, do something to help you with your art at the same time.  Draw while you’re watching TV, read while you’re in the bathroom.  It will help.  You need to have different creative outlets so you can take a break from your art when it’s driving you crazy or you reach a block.  It can help you de-stress and find inspiration.  You need to know how light works and how color is mixed.  He also believes there are three levels of learning to art.  The first is learning how to do it, the second is learning your own style, and the third is learning what it is you want to say with your art.  Tony was super helpful.

The next visit was Disney Animation Studios!  Disney was a fun place to visit.  The studios were nice, and everyone seemed to have plenty of space to work.  We got to see a couple different steps that animated films have to go through and we learned about their trainee program.  Bill Perkins gave a little presentation.  He talked about how you need to do research.  In order to be creative and not tied down to your reference you should do your thumbnails first, then do your research, then make your final piece.  He talked about how he never gets a perfect piece made the first try, it takes many tries.  On the way out we ran into Randy Haycock and he took us to his office and talked to us about his work and his hopes for the future of 2D animation.  He showed us how sometimes pieces of 3D films are animated in 2D first to show the 3D artists what to do or aim for in a shot.  It was really cool to see.  Look him up on YouTube.

Tangled Wall Art with Me and Beep
They had this big picture-thing up in the lobby from Tangled, and I realized that Rapunzel and I are the same height.  We have the same sized hands and feet, but she seems so much bigger!  It’s the head.  It’s definitely the head.  It’s the only thing inside the building I could squeak a picture of since they had us sign NDAs.  It’s the only thing up that was from an already released movie.

After that we took it easy, especially since we managed to stick around at Disney for an hour and a half longer than originally planned.  We went and ate dinner at Big Boy, they have really good burgers there.  Then we went back to the hotel.  It had been a very long day.  I took advantage of getting back earlier than we usually did the whole trip and slept.

My Trip to LA – Day 1

I had the opportunity last week to go to Los Angeles, California on a school trip.  It was a fantastic experience and I’m going to tell you all about it and what I learned!

Monday March 5
Most people flew out with the group, but my husband, me, and two others from the group decided to drive out in order to save money.  We left at midnight Monday morning and started the long ten-ish hour drive from Provo to LA.  I had tried to nap and sleep Sunday afternoon and evening, but was fairly unsuccessful since I was so anxious and excited for the trip.

So!  We drove all the way to LA.  It was dark pretty much until we hit California.  I was awake for most of the way, I dozed off once or twice and only once was even close to an hour.  Anyway, we were headed south on I-15 which means we drive through Las Vegas.  It’s about half way on the drive.  The moon had just set, dawn was still an hour or so away, when we came along to Vegas.  We come out of the canyon and there was a SEA of LIGHT!  It was beautiful!  As far as the eye could see there were little lights from horizon to horizon.  There really is nothing else like that view of dark rocks and then suddenly, light!  We had a great time looking at all the fancy casinos and cool buildings as they were all lit up.  It’s definitely a sight I recommend experiencing at least once.

We arrived about three hours before everyone else, so we hung out on the California State University Northridge campus for a couple of hours after eating a picnic lunch.  I had big plans to do homework, I have a short story to write for class and it’s still not done.  I set up in the library on a couch, started typing, and couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I sat there for maybe fifteen minutes half-asleep, unable to open my eyes, with my laptop out on my lap.  I decided that wasn’t going to work, so I put my laptop back in my backpack, set my backpack on the couch next to me, curled up on it, and promptly fell asleep for a good hour.  After that I woke back up and typed away for another hour and pretty much wrote myself into a corner.

After the library we met up with the rest of the group and listened to a presentation by Laurel Long.  She talked about the process she goes through to illustrate a book.  The key tidbits I picked up from her were that she paints with cheap little craft brushes and a medium eyeshadow brush from Target, publishers look at competitions, and if you give publishers post cards they will keep them if they like them.  She gave a lot more advice, but those were the most important and new things to me.

After Laurel Long we went to see Nathan Fowkes at the LA Academy of Fine Art.  He talked to us about his work as a lighting designer for Dreamworks.  He gave a lot of advice, but focused on how you need to practice and push yourself artistically at least once a week or else you’ll go nowhere.  You need to do the equivalent of gesture drawings with environments, go plein air painting (I don’t know how to spell it) because it’s the best way to learn about light and color.  It’s good to do studies every night.  You don’t know what a color does until you put it into context with other colors.  He was a very nice guy and very good at what he does.

After Nathan we went to visit Joseph Todorovich in his studio/apartment.  He had a fantastic set up with plenty of space and working areas.  He had three different easels with in progress paintings, and they were beautiful.  Sadly I fell asleep on one of his antique couches since I was so exhausted from the long day.  I did manage to catch him give the advice of how it’s important to be passionate and to always be working before I nodded off.  We got back to the hotel after 10:30, and I did a few things before finally falling asleep sometime before midnight.  I didn’t take any pictures the first day.

This is getting to be a long enough post as it is, so I think I’ll post this for now and give you the rest of the week later.  I promise there will be pictures!  More exciting stories also!