Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

My Journey into Sheridan College’s Computer Animation Grad Program

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

The last eight months have been somewhat grueling. I was in the Computer Animation Graduate Program at Sheridan College. Wow, that was challenging. Learning how to make an animated film is not for the faint of heart. You have to really want to do it and not for the possibility of a job or money or fame – just that you really want to do it.

My reason was that I really wanted to learn how to make my sketchbook characters come to life and to tell their stories. And I did just that with a Toad.

Toad (pencil/sketchbook) by M-J Kelley 2014

Toad (pencil/sketchbook) by M-J Kelley 2014

But first came the learning of software…3D (Maya), rendering (Vray), sculpting (Mudbox), compositing (After Effects) – just to name a few.

If I had known anything about animation, virtual sculpting, compositing, editing, or rendering prior to the program, my life would have been immediately better. Instead, I had to learn all of that in addition to modeling, UV layouts, lighting, texturing, shading, cameras, rigging, etc.

My first three months I was way behind. It wasn’t because I didn’t work hard. It was because there was just so much to learn and the language was different – pipeline, UVs, IK handles, CVs, dope sheet, anisotropic, etc. By December, I began to catch up and that was because of storyboarding. Pencil and paper, I knew how to do. And that gave me just enough time to really focus on rigging and animating and so before I left for the holidays I was on track.

When I came back, the very best smartest thing I did was I focused on my Toad’s animation. My story has 34 scenes – which is a lot of for a 1:42 minute film. That means it has jump cuts and a lot of those isn’t always good. So working on the animation, meant I also worked on the timing, the cuts, the camera angles, which in turn improved the telling of my story. All the same, that was a painful ten weeks. My animation isn’t perfect, but I became a much better animator for having worked that hard for that long on all of those scenes.

I pretty much stayed on track that is until I hit “how to texture the terrain” bump, which was really more like running headlong into a brick wall. There are a lot of different ways to do it and I really wanted to use image projection offered by Mudbox. I really wanted that to work…but it didn’t, which meant I lost a huge amount of time. And you just can’t lose time on this project. So I had to come up with another procedure which made me spin my wheels for a bit. Eventually I bought a bunch of very expensive high-res rock images and used Maya’s planar projection mapping, created a Vray sand shader, and finished it off with Maya’s Paint Effects — all in the nick of time so I could keep up with the film’s impending deadline. Deadlines are good. They are so very helpful for sorting out what is important and what is not.

My film is finished. And yet there is still so much to do. But it tells a story pleasantly and effectively and that was my goal.

Two days ago was Industry Day. It is where you show your film to the animation industry. I have mixed feelings about Industry Day. I wanted to take home a richer experience than I did. But that would be hard to do, because the last eight months were the rich experience. How could anything much top making one’s own character come to life? Well actually today could. Because I am ready to start a new film…I’m going to flip through my sketchbooks and find just the right character and just the right story and start again…

Sketchbook Drawing: Precious Egg

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Precious Egg (graphite) by M-J Kelley 2013

Precious Egg (graphite) by M-J Kelley 2013

…from my sketchbook.

Watermelons in the Grass

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Watermelons in the Grass by M-J Kelley (pen and ink)

Watermelons in the Grass by M-J Kelley (pen and ink)

I quickly drew this when I was at a an art show in Sacramento, California. It was unbearably hot and everyone just seemed to move slowly through the thick air.

The pile of watermelons were lying quietly on the grass, undisturbed by anyone. They were a beacon of summer refreshment and an intriguing visual image – one that a Canadian doesn’t see very often. So here’s to summer and piles of refreshing watermelons!

BIG IDEAS

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

I love BIG IDEAS. Somehow, I magically come up with a plan for something and move in that direction. When I do that, I give it my all. I dig deep and research, ask questions, stay up late, get up early and do the hard work needed to achieve my goals. This behavior is a constant as long as I have a BIG IDEA.

For the last several years, I have had a BIG IDEA for my artwork. I have worked hard and some of that has paid off. But some, quite frankly, has seen me throwing precious energy into the wind only to watch it fly away.

The latter is unbelievably frustrating.

And so, here I am, reassessing my BIG IDEA. In fact, I’ve been doing it since late September, which is the main reason why I haven’t posted a blog since then. Reassessing BIG IDEAS is a bit paralyzing. It’s a mental transition that seemingly affects all of me. I am no good without a BIG IDEA. The transition takes time, but fortunately, I always seem to be able to move toward another BIG IDEA.

My new BIG IDEA begins with a return in the New Year to my traditional figurative roots. I was never very far from it, but it is hard to do everything I like to do. I have spent the last several years exploring my imaginative work with my surreal art. It will continue on its creative storytelling journey even as I take a more traditional turn. And as for my wildlife drawings, I have opted to only draw a few of them this year.

The biggest thing I am axing from my last BIG IDEA is the art show circuit. I want to focus on being a better artist ― strengthening my knowledge, honing my skills and just enjoying the process. Sometimes the art show preparation is so demanding that it is easy to forget that I paint or draw not for others, but for myself ― for the simple goals of expression and enjoyment.

I have other ideas tucked into my BIG IDEA but for now I think that is a good beginning to the New Year.

Bug Week

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

My art shows are over for the year – and to be honest, I’m somewhat relieved. As fun as they are for meeting new people and developing relationships with other vendors, they can be a grind.

But I’m not idle. I am now on to teaching. I teach three classes in painting and drawing. Two classes for 6 to 10 year olds and one for 11 to 14 year olds. I am also teaching my comic art class and an art portfolio class. Needless to say, I am a bit busy jumping back and forth. Teaching the various mediums isn’t the hard part. What is difficult is having such a range of students (age, maturity, accomplishment) in one class.

I base my teaching on the Ontario Arts Curriculum. The curriculum basically tells a teacher that a student in grade 4 should be able to do this or that by the end of the year. What I’m finding is that the “accomplished range” is not as high as it should be – particularly for drawing. Of course there are exceptions, but overall there appears to be a systemic issue that is concerning and challenging.

As a result, I have had to become inventive. In addition to poor drawing skills, the kids have incredibly short attention spans. So I’m trying to incorporate contemporary, pop culture references into my lesson plans to keep their interest. I am going to use “hip-hop” dance imagery to demonstrate contour, gesture, and movement for the older class. And for the younger class it is going to be “bug week” so I can teach repetition, form, and depth.

But with all that said, I think it is me who I am mostly teaching.

On Being an Artist

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

I was recently asked by a friend how it is that I survive as a visual artist. I spent months thinking about his question. I wanted to provide him with “a silver bullet” – the perfect singular answer. It was not possible. Instead I provided a collection of tiny nuggets of experience that may, or may not be of use. Here they are…

•    I work at it every day.
•    I have fun doing what I do.
•    I have deadlines. I create them. I meet them. I create more deadlines.
•    I have a business card that says I am an artist.
•    I am ok not making a ton of money and understanding that my income may fluctuate.
•    I diversify my work.
•    I make mistakes and I learn from them.
•    I assess what works and what doesn’t.
•    I make hard decisions.
•    My family is VERY supportive.
•    I stay true to who I am.
•    I continue to dream.

If I had to stress one nugget it’s the “work at it every day” nugget. It’s the point at which an artist crosses over to a place of no longer being a hobby artist.

I know that all sounds rather simple and doable. There are days when it feels like you are climbing a mountain with your teeth and there are days when you feel like you have swallowed the magic potion of greatness and can do no wrong. But only by doing do you experience both of those feelings.

New painting: Stuffed Bunny Head on a Stick with Poison Mushroom Caps

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Stuffed Bunny Head on a Stick with Poison Mushroom Caps (detail, gouache on board) by M-J Kelley

What would ever make anyone draw, let alone paint such a thing? Experiences.

Stuffed Bunny Head on a Stick with Poison Mushroom Caps is about maintaining one’s goodness and humour in a toxic environment. How do we retain a level of childhood innocence when we are constantly barraged with the evils of the world? Bad events and bad people try to drive the innocence from us — sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Creating illustrative images such as this one helps me to retain the sweetness of childhood.

This painting will be on display until February 13th at the Hangman Gallery (756 Queen St. E., Toronto). For more information on the show: Red Envelope Show: What’s Your Rabbit?

Don’t Anger the Snowman!

Monday, January 24th, 2011

I haven’t blogged the whole month of January. I have definitely blown past the “Happy New Year” window. Still I wish it to all.

I have many sane reasons as to why I haven’t written – but those aren’t very interesting. It would just be a hum drum list that you would have read by anyone telling you why they haven’t responded promptly to your email, etc. So I will forgo the list. Instead I will tell you that I have been busy employing one of my strengths to resolve a problem.

Adults don’t like to be told what to do. But, when they do something wrong – say like walking across a neighbour’s property to get to one’s home because it’s shorter than walking around the block – something needs to be done. The question is, how do you do it without creating a quagmire of messy neighbour relations? This is the problem I face with my neighbours. It may seem utterly minor in the scheme of the state of the world, but it bothers me.

Being one who dislikes telling adults what to do, I avoided saying anything by putting up a symbolic marker in the form of a burlap fence. Surely this would deter me if I saw it blocking my shortcut. But no, instead the interlopers walked on my fence. Yes, on it. There were snowy footprints actually on the burlap.

Against my better judgment I went a-callin’. I knocked on their door twice. No answer. I left returning with my problem and no solution.

Then I had a really great idea. It came to me when the snow fell that evening. It was packing snow! I went out and I built a huge snowman. Two eyes, carrot nose, charcoal mouth, stick arms, and a sign. Usually snowmen don’t come with signs. But mine did. It said, “Please don’t walk on our property. This will anger the snowman, and he has friends!” Truly, this was effective. I had the sign up for 5 days. Then I decided to take the sign down because I thought it was no longer necessary. How wrong I was! Last night, my neighbours cut across our property and in doing so broke my snowman’s right arm – which was his writing hand. Now the snowman is very angry. I have put in a plea for help to the ice trolls. It won’t be pretty when they show up.

I’m trying to resolve the annoying neighbour issue with humour, which is what I do with my artwork. Somehow, I believe that a humour coating will help the bitter pill of being told how to behave better will go down more easily.

I’ll keep you posted.

Artists Where You Least Expect Them

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

By accident I picked up this month’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) (October 2010). It’s not a typical magazine that I read – but a front cover article title caught my eye.

I flipped to the contents section and was immediately caught off guard by a photograph depicting a colourful block assemblage of everyday items. It was indeed an art piece.

In the left side panel, I read “About the Spotlight Artist…Michael Johansson was born in Trollhättan, Sweden.” The description said, “Johansson is intrigued by irregularities and coincidences in daily life and is drawn to combining familiar objects with new or unknown objects. By changing scale and context, ordinary objects become extraordinary.”

Hmm…I paused for a moment, ever the curious and then continued flipping page by page en route to the article I was looking for. Then I stumbled upon another piece of his art work and realized that Mr. Johansson´s work was intended to aid the spotlight article on the Supply Chain – an article I had no interest in reading – that is until I realized the connection with the artist.

His artwork worked really well in tandem with the supply chain article. It was smart, colourful, interesting, and it had an original point of view. I immediately attached all of these elements to the article on the supply chain before I even read it. Nice job HBR.

The Dreamcatcher

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Dream Catcher (gouache on board) by M-J Kelley

I begin my paintings with full drawings. In the long run it makes my life a lot easier than trying to sort out tonal or structural issues on the canvas. What I found interesting about The Dreamcatcher was that I drew it with no real image in mind and no in-depth knowledge of what a dreamcatcher was – other than the basic premise. It just kind of came to life. So when I showed a friend of mine the drawing, she said, “what colour are you painting the feather?” I said that I didn’t know. “Well,” she continued, “it means something.” Oh, ok. So off I went in search of the meaning of the coloured feathers.

What I discovered was it wasn’t so much the colour of the feathers, but from whom the feather came. So if a dreamcatcher had crane feathers, then it represented wisdom and knowledge. Feathers from a dove represented the offer of love. Based on the design of the feathers in my drawing, I realized that I drew feathers similar to a hawk or an eagle. Both birds represent protection.

Then I continued my research. I found out that the size of the “sacred hoop” is the size of the dreamcatcher’s maker’s left hand. And sure enough my painting’s hoop is the size of my left hand. There are other iconographical symbols in the piece that were created by accident, but interesting to point out. These would be the seven spokes or Seven Sister (Pleiades) which is the nearest star cluster to Earth, a hole for the spirit guide, and the added fact that the feather is not tied in a downward fashion. A feather tied upside down is for children – so the good dreams slide gently into the child while they are sleeping. It strikes me that this dreamcatcher was intended for adults.

When I actually figured out that I was drawing a dreamcatcher, I asked myself what would happen if a dream was caught and what would or should one do with it once it was caught. I think the feather design solved the mystery for me. Protect it.