James Woods

Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in a small town outside of London called Fleet, and pretty much decided I wanted to be an artist when I was four years old, I think.

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? What helped you prepare to become the artist we know today?
I went to a few actually. First off I attended The Arts University Bournemouth which is where I received a degree in Illustration. It was a pretty self directed school, but it gave me the animation foundation that I needed. I then spent a year at CalArts as a BFA1 Character Animator. I think, to a certain degree, all art schools require you to have the potential or drive to be self taught, since you only get out what you put in. Put in the time and it'll pay off. Working the bare minimum only wastes your time and money. I remember the most stimulating times were the days I would sit down in cafes and draw everyone around me. By being vigilant with my sketchbook quota, I saw myself improving by the day. It's a habit I wish I hadn't fallen out of, but I can't stress the importance of observational drawing/sketchbook upkeep to inform your creative pursuits later on. It's like a 'drawing gym'. Gotta workout those skills. As much as I felt like I learnt a lot during my schooling years, nothing quite prepares you for your first job because that's where the REAL schooling begins. I learnt immeasurable amounts during my first production with Paramount Animation.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
When Jack drew Rose <3

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 loved drawing Velociraptors and the Titanic. Like, I was actually obsessed. I had a weeklyTitanic magazine subscription that gave you little paper pieces of the ship, that allowed you to build your own when you collected them all. Maybe I should come around full circle and get back into that :S

From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you're designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
For the most part, I'm thinking about the director's needs and vision, addressing notes whilst trying not to lose the character's spark, and making sure the character can translate into a 3D medium. It really took me a while to get the hang of the production work flow, but at the end of the day, you're employed, for the most part, to serve and realise someone else's vision, and working with that in the back of your mind can help push the process along. Sometimes, it can feel as though you're a forensic artist, piecing together different features for a 'mugshot'. Other times you're like a casting agent, trying to find the perfect character to play the part. The only method I can really say I use, is just to draw from gut instinct. I'll start out very loose, and then work into a design, whilst trying not to forget the direction given. Tidying up a drawing can sometimes dull your initial punch. Don't let that happen.

What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I'm still trying to figure that out myself :S. I mainly use flat colour with a little shadow or texture to spruce it up. My photoshop skills are borderline caveman. Someone please teach me.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
I guess, the very beginning and the very final stages are the most enjoyable and easiest. When you can be super rough, and also when you're adding the final strokes to an image. The middle part can get a little lost and noodley, but that doesn't have to be the case if you remind yourself of your motivation and focus. I find that character construction can be pretty hard. Making sure all the parts fit together, and work from every angle. That's when you have a solid drawing. But having a well informed character with a voice and story is when you have a solid design. 

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
A typical day would consist of emails, a meeting addressing notes, work, food, work, food, sleep. I wish I could write something more interesting, but that's literally it. I've found that as a remote freelancer, I mostly just collaborate with the Director and Production designer. It pains me that I don't have any direct work buddies to peer over their shoulder and steal all their drawing secrets.

What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
From the last production, I learnt the most about construction and volumes. Making a design work for 3D is one of the biggest assets you can have in your arsenal in today's techno anim world. It means there's more chance of your drawing actually looking like the rendered character. I also learnt a bunch from not limiting myself to 5 pretty drawings when I could provide 30 rougher, but more dynamic characters. Being too precious really doesn't fly on a production during the early stages at least, because 100s of drawings will be presented and only a handful will be useful. In some cases the character can suddenly be written out of the script.

Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Yes. He's small and he's red but that's all I can say  :-l

What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
I worked for a short time throwing ideas around on the upcoming 'Moana' at Disney Anim, two unannounced features at Paramount and am moving onto a new secret feature in a week. I think it'll be my biggest project yet :s I also worked on an almond milk commercial and a Christmas spot for the National lottery 

What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
To always love what I do. I don't want it to become a chore. Because it's a super fun job. Hopefully that will lead me to my dream job.

Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
Company means I get a little work family. Freelancing means I Skype with a smart t-shirt from the waist up, and Pjamas from the waist down. 

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?
I go through it A BUNCH! Which is probably why my blog is a little naked these days. But I try to go back in time and look at the first things that got me excited about animation. Or I separate myself entirely from drawing and wait for it to come back to me. Pushing it can sometimes make the block worse.

Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there’s so many options to choose from. 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?
To take it seriously. Because if you don't the person who does will speed ahead of you. It's a difficult profession to pursue and potentially very expensive too. Push through the struggles and rejection (I've been rejected more times than I've landed jobs), make as many mistakes as possible because they're the biggest lessons you'll receive (Make even more during school when it won't effect your pay-check ;) ) and surround yourself with amazing people. On a lighter note, do it because it's fun. 

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?
Yes and no. A director generally picks you because they like your style and think you will fit with their vision. They want your flavour. But at the same time, try to adapt so that every artist's character can blend together. As a character designer, you aren't responsible for EVERY character in the film (you're usually assigned what the production designer/director thinks you'll be good at) so making sure there's an overall visual continuity is very important. In conclusion, find your voice, but let it wrap around the style of a job.

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?
Gustav Klimt's 100 drawings book is super pretty.

Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
I love Miyazaki's sincerity. That's what makes his characters so good. I think he's the best. Klimt's life drawings have also informed me a bunch. Tove Jannson is super whimsically adorable. A bunch of fashion bloggers. Shape and construction is very prevalent in clothing design right now, which plays with the body more than ever. Great for silhouettes.

We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
Europe has a bunch of cool stuff going on. Luckily, 2D isn't limited to American shores.

Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
My Tumblr blog ( jamwoods.tumblr.com ), my Portfolio ( jameswoodsportfolio.blogspot.co.uk ) and Instagram ( Instagram.com/jamwoodser ). Prints coming soon too :)))

Thank you James :)