Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in Walnut Creek, California. I think I always knew I was going to grow up and become an artist. I was drawing before I could walk or talk. The underside of all of our furniture was covered with my drawings and scribbles when i was really little. Luckily, my parents thought it was funny.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
I went to California Institute of the Art (CalArts) to study Character Animation when I graduated from High School. I attended there for two years before getting hired at Disney. I got to work on a number of films that I am proud of. That was the best training ground and where i really started to find my voice as an artist.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
I was always very supported at home. My parents always mad sure i had art supplies waiting for me each day when i got home from school. I knew other kids who where discouraged from following an art career. Luckily i was not, I am very thankful for that.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
I think all of the Disney films. I wanted to work for Disney and work in animation since I was a very little kid. All of the usual suspects were inspiring to me: the nine old men, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mary Blair, etc.
Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
I was obsessed with cartoons when i was young. Everything from the Smurfs to Jem and the Holograms and of course, Disney. I drew them all. It wasn't until I got to high school until my art teacher recommended I draw from life. That bit of wisdom changed the way I view art and helped to improve my skills. It was a turning point for me, I am so thankful my art teacher saw my potential and got me to focus like that. I was out of my comfort zone and soaked it up like a sponge. After I started working at Disney I abandoned life drawing for some reason. I told myself i was too busy, etc. But, the last few years I finally got back to it and hope to never stop again. I try to get to a life drawing class once a week. It is essential to stay on top of your game.
From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
Before I start a new project I always have a moment of fear that my best work has already been done, that i will never have another good idea. I've learned that this is part of my process. Once i actually get started I try to look at things with a fresh eye. The ideas always come (sometimes easier than others). In my current job as Principal Designer for the Disney Stores I actually get to design things i want! In all seriousness though, I keep the fans and collectors in mind. I am both of those things, so i look at projects with that filter on. I try to capture story moments and character with everything i do, I want people to have an emotional reaction to the things I design, so i always go back to the original source, the film.
What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I just started working digitally about two years ago, I use a Wacom tablet and Sketchbook Pro. I tried in the past to learn both photoshop and illustrator, but i found them to be difficult to learn. Sketchbook pro has been my savior. Most of the stuff i post online is unrelated to what i am working on. They are quick bits of inspiration and doodles mostly that capture whatever happens to need to get out of time at that time. Sketchbook Pro gives me the ability to get a relatively finished looking piece out in full color even though sometimes i post stuff that only takes a few minutes.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
The most fun is the concept stage. I do my research first and then just start scribbling down ideas. I go with my gut and find that my initial concepts are usually the strongest. Sometime they need to be refined, but there is always an energy in those first few sketches that are hard to match. The hardest part is getting the idea from the paper to final product, but it's something i enjoy as well. When something ends up on the shelf looking exactly how i imagined it would in my head, it's pretty amazing.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
Typical day might include a few meetings and a lot of drawing. luckily i get to work with a bunch of talented people. I design things for a lot of different departments on everything from collectibles, figurines, toys, plush, etc. it keeps things interesting.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
To be true to who you are as an artist. Also, that you are never done learning.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
There are so many things. of course i am proud of all the Disney Sketchbook Christmas Ornaments I get to design each year, but there are other things like the Disney Designer Princess doll artwork. That collection was such a huge success that no one really saw coming. It was incredible to be a part of something that was really getting people excited. There is the Tinker Bell doll that is part of the "Animator's Collection" that I designed. But, maybe my favorite was an "Art of Ariel" collection we produced. It all came about after Glen Keane came by for a visit. He sat at my desk for about an hour talking and drawing, he saw some of the work I was doing and did a drawing of Ariel for me. He wrote: "To Steve, your work is inspiring. Ariel continues to live through you. Keep it up!". Shortly after he did that drawing for me he decided to leave the studio. That drawing meant even more to me. That was the inspiration for the "Art of Ariel" that followed the following year. I've seen quite a few tattoos of the art i created for that collection. So, it hit that emotional nerve i was talking about earlier.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
A few i touched on above. there really are too many to list. When I was at the animation studio I worked on pretty much every film starting with "Hunchback" and ending with "Home on the Range". Disney stopped doing traditional animation at that point so I went to Disney Toon Studios and worked on a few projects there including Pooh's Heffalump Movie and a few sequels. Since 2005 I have been with the Disney Stores as Principal Designer.
The followers of your blog knows that you're not just a succesful artist working for Disney, but also a skilful trapeze artist. How important was for you to cultivate another passion far from the drawing table?
Wow. Yes, the trapeze. I have been taking trapeze classes at a circus school in Los Angeles for about seven years. I didn't realize how important it was when i got started. I was not athletic at all when I was young, I was afraid of heights and afraid of performing for an audience. So, it was a bit of facing my fears so to speak. What i was not expecting was how much of a creative outlet it was and is, it is very much it's own artform. Things can be crazy at work or just in general but being on trapeze forces to be in the moment and to really focus on what you are doing, you express yourself through movement and music. It's a side of me i didn't realize was in me. It's always great to discover new things and to discover an artform so totally different from my day job was thrilling.
What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
My long term goal is to keep drawing. When 2D animation went away i wasn't quite sure what i would do, I thought nothing else would make me happy or challenge me. Luckily I found out that as long as i'm drawing it doesn't matter if its a film, product design or a personal project, i just love drawing. I just need to find a way to do it for the next 30 years! I think i have a goal of illustrating a children's book at some point. I would also love to be involved in character designs for TV or film.
Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
Working for a company! I love to have a place to be everyday and working with other creative people. while there was a brief time i did freelance and did just fine. I found it takes a lot of work to get the ball rolling and once it does it's hard to have any kind of regular schedule. Some people love that. I found that it doesn't work to well for my stress level.
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an art-block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
The one thing i would say is to keep drawing! that it always passes. Surround yourself with inspiration and get out of your head. For me it's trapeze but it might also be reading a good book, going to a museum or seeing a great movie. The important thing it to not let it get the best of you.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I think it is important to follow what most resembles what you are passionate about, if you like comics then find out what it takes to break into comics and so on.
Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I don't believe it to be true in my experience. I find that my taste and style is always evolving, though I definitely have a style, I am capable of drawing in many styles. It depends on the project what style of drawing I use.
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?
For animation it would be "The Illusion of Life" by Frank and Ollie. The animation bible!
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?
The industry is much different now than when I got started. It can be a difficult road but if it is your passion, do everything you can to make it happen. Draw, go to school, network, it's all important and there are not many shortcuts.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I am always discovering new artists and artwork, but I think Glen Keane and Mary Blair are two of my biggest inspirations.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I really hope it makes a comeback with the big studios in the future, I miss it. There is no experience like seeing drawings come to life before your eyes on the big screen. It's a totally different sensation than watching the latest CG film, it's pure magic. I feel like 2D films and the art form took the blame for a few less successful films/stories. I think there should be room for all forms of animation and that the style used should depend on the story.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online service, you name it. 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?
I'm relatively new to social media, but I do think its amazing that young artists have a way to get their artwork out there to be seen and to connect with other artists. When i was growing up i had no idea what other kids like me where doing. I was in my own art bubble, just having access to what other artists are doing is a huge benefit. Gone are the days of hand delivering a portfolio to a studio, most people will hear a name and look online to see what they can find on you. so make sure you're posting good stuff! You never know who will see it.
Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
You can follow my work on Istagram ( instagram:@sthompsonart ) Tumblr ( stevethompson-art.tumblr.com ) and Facebook ( facebook.com/artofstevethompson ) Things i design can be found at the disney stores. :) Thank you so much!
Thank you Steve :)