Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?
I was born and raised in the greater Los Angeles area. In middle school, I had a stubborn and naive dream of becoming an “anime artist” despite having no idea what that meant in a practical sense. Looking back, it was just an excuse to dismiss critique and explain why I didn’t need to learn anatomy. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t really any more “artistic” than anyone else in high school/college and didn’t consider art as much more than something to do in the margins of my notebook. It wasn’t until my third year at my first college that I realized I’d probably have as much trouble paying off my loans with an English degree as I would with an art degree and decided to just go with the one I enjoyed the most.
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
After graduating from my first college, I attended ArtCenter College of Design as an Entertainment Design major. I developed a lot of skills while I was there, but I think it'd be a mistake to attribute the majority of that growth to the institution itself. If anything, I think my biggest takeaway was that I didn’t need to be at an art school to learn - ArtCenter was just a service that made accessing information more convenient at an increasingly inconvenient price. When I was offered a job, I dropped out under the pretense that I already had a degree and didn’t need another - especially since my portfolio did a much better job of illustrating what I had learned anyways. While I don’t regret attending ArtCenter, I don’t doubt I could’ve achieved the same ends by some other (cheaper) means.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
It’s hard to say because I didn't take a professional interest in art until after their approval kind of stopped mattering. While they had no problem with me taking art classes “for fun," it was sort of a mutually unspoken truth that “art wasn’t a real career,” so I never thought to wish it otherwise. At the end of the day, I think my family just had high expectations of me, and since I was the person in my family to perform well enough academically to excel in college, giving me the opportunity to do what they couldn’t was how they showed their love. I don’t resent them because they taught me the value of self-discipline and to have high expectations for myself - both of which I think are important in an industry of increasingly delayed gratification.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. )?
I’m not sure if I really had a single “strongest” influence. As a child, I loved cartoons and really gravitated towards Craig McCracken’s work (particularly Dexter’s Lab and Powerpuff Girls). As a teenager, I kind of outed Western cartoons as “kid’s stuff” and got really into anime, which I think seeded in my mind the concept of “animation as storytelling” as opposed to “animation as children’s media.” I was basically into the same stuff everyone else was in the late nineties/early 2000s (Fruits Basket, Azumanga Daioh, .hack//SIGN, Naruto, etc.), but the work that really stands out to me the most in retrospect is Gainax’s line-up (FLCL, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, etc.). After high school, I started reading a lot more because I wanted to study literature and writing, so now I look back at a lot of the fiction I read as essentially free material to create visuals from. My favourite book up to this point has been “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov.
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?
When I was younger, I was really active on this anime forum called Gaia Online, and my favourite thing to draw was people’s little avatars on that site. Obviously I liked drawing my own avatar but I think the one I drew the most was this guy I had a crush on for a long time (despite having no idea what he looked like offline, honestly). In retrospect, I wasn’t great at it, but no one’s going to be critical of free art, so it was pretty rewarding when people got all excited about things I drew for them. Nowadays, I find simple, colourful landscapes to be pretty relaxing - that, and drawing cute girls, but I think everyone likes drawing that.
From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
When I start a project, before I even put the pen to the paper, my goal is to make sure I don’t have any questions whatsoever about what, how, or why I’m designing. Sometimes that’s pretty easy (or even unnecessary) - such as when a client asks for something super simple/specific like an orthographic turnaround of a character they’ve already designed - but other times a good day or so of research can make a big personal project seem a whole lot less intimidating. I treat visual research in my design process the same way I treat theory/literature when writing a term paper - except instead of the resources being light on images, they’re usually more light on text. My favorite platform for research is Pinterest because it has a good balance of visual information and explanatory text/sources (so you can make sure whatever you’re saving actually relates to what you’re researching) - plus, it has a built-in organization system you can access from any computer. I use it for practically everything - style research, historical costume reference, composition, tutorials, and more. After researching, not only do I design faster and more efficiently, but also I can commit more energy to making the sketch look nice instead of trying to figure out what something looks like while trying to draw it at the same time.
What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?
As I said earlier, I usually start with visual research before I even start drawing. After I can visualize in my head I want to draw, I start sketching all the ways that thing might look. I don’t hold myself to a specific number of sketches - just until I feel like what’s on the paper matches what was in my mind. I also don’t hold myself to any particular medium - I just use whatever feels right at the time and sometimes switch it up if I feel like I’m fighting the medium; however, for the most part, I do most of my sketching in pen, pencil, or on my Cintiq. When it comes to a final illustration, I try to compartmentalize each step as much possible (line art, local color, lighting, etc.) so I can really focus on doing a good job of it. I wouldn’t say I have an exact way I approach every illustration, but I try to plan out how I intend to go about each one before I start it so it doesn’t feel like I’m fighting my process as I work. You can find more about my process HERE
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
Colouring is definitely my favourite part of the creation process - there’s something really satisfying even in just splashing some flat colors on a sketch. On the other hand, the hardest part of the creation process for me is detail-rendering. I usually have to just sit down for a day or two and force myself to do it with a long playlist of podcasts or audio books.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work, collaborate or share your creative time with?
Currently I'm working in-house at a VR studio, so a lot of my creative time during the week is devoted to my work there. I’m usually pretty quick to wake up, eat breakfast, and get dressed, and then I have a pretty long commute (an hour, one way) to the office. When I get there, I make some coffee, check emails, and then it’s straight to work, which is mostly drawing/designing whatever the project needs and occasionally attending meetings. We’re a pretty small, quiet studio and most of our collaboration takes place on Slack (basically Skype for the office). The people I interface with the most right now are the animation director and my creative director, both of whom I explain designs to and incorporate feedback from. After the long commute home, I eat dinner and spend the rest of the night looking for/doing freelance work or trying to expand my portfolio with personal work. Before bed, I’ll usually watch an episode of a TV show or something on YouTube to wind down then go to sleep. On weekends, I usually spend the majority of the time doing the same stuff I do when I get home on the weekdays (personal work/freelance) balanced out with a couple of hours of trying new food, grabbing coffee, or going out to see a movie. If I’m not working on the weekends, I try to make time for a networking event or workshop, because getting to know people in the industry is just as important as having a strong portfolio. It’s definitely a work-heavy lifestyle, but since the work is fulfilling, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on anything.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
I think one of the most sobering lessons I learned was how finessed portfolio-construction is when looking for a job. There’s kind of this idea in school that you just throw everything in your portfolio and send it to one or two companies you want to work for, but I personally found there was a lot of dissonance between what professors wanted in school and what recruiters were looking for at companies. If I could go back, I’d probably spend more time early on looking at the format and content of successful portfolios instead of trying to appease teachers. I’m not saying that creating good work in classes is a waste of time, but most professors are actually pretty open to altering/negotiating the curriculum if you can provide a good reason as to why. A lot of companies are looking for applicants to demonstrate very specific skills, and even if you know you’re capable of doing those things, recruiters have a hard time seeing that if those skills aren’t illustrated explicitly.
Another misconception I had in school was the importance of networking - there was very much a culture of “let your work speak for itself” at ArtCenter, so I really under-valued the worth of visiting studios, attending networking events, connecting with people through LinkedIn, and just making myself visible through social media. As my projected graduation drew near, I noticed the people getting jobs were not necessarily the people with the best work in the class, but rather the people with good work that had made an effort to get to know people. I’m not saying a strong portfolio isn’t important, but you also need a means by which to float that portfolio onto a company’s radar, which isn’t going to happen if you keep your head down and never talk to anyone.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Right now the project I’m most proud of is my "Matilda" visual development project - I think it hit a really good balance of general appeal and personal fulfilment. In school, prior to that project, I did a lot of work that I felt was really fulfilling but kind of missed its mark when I tried to explain it to others. A lot of the stories I wanted to tell were either too convoluted, abstract, or adult-themed to match my animated visual style, and while I personally find that subversion of expectations to be interesting, it didn’t click with my audience. I’m not saying work has to be done to impress others, but I think there’s something rewarding about finding that sweet spot between what you like and what other people like.
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
A lot of the work I’ve done and am doing now is under NDA so I can’t say much about it without violating my contracts. In school, a lot of my projects were based on my desire to see more diversity and representation in entertainment. I tried to tell stories about under-represented people and moments in history. To give some examples, I did some visual development projects based on the Spanish Inquisition, Missionary California, and Heian Japan. These days, I’m drawing a lot more narrative inspiration from literature and am hoping to roll out personal visual development project based on my favourite book, “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov… eventually.
Do you have a longterm career goal? What would your dream project be?
As I said above, diversity and representation are really important concepts to me as a designer. At the moment, a lot of my paid work is designing and illustrating other people’s visions, but my long-term career goal would be to art direct a project with a real focus on representation. Entertainment is a lucrative medium for people to understand others and strengthen their relationship with their own identity; however, a lot of entertainment feels like it’s telling the same old stories about the same old people. There’s definitely an emerging trend towards more diverse storytelling - I’d just like to be more a part of it.
Another goal of mine would be to see more mature narratives put to animation - not crude stuff like Family Guy or Sausage Party (which have their place), but just stories more geared towards adults. I think we already see this in anime, but I’d like to see this trend carry over more into Western media. There’s something to be said about the relateability and universality of animated characters and I don’t think it’s a stretch to see how those concepts could bring something fresh to an older audience.
Working in-house for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
I think the question of “in-house vs. freelance” is really more a question of “stability vs. freedom.” I personally value stability over the potentially slightly higher pay of freelance and the ability to work from home. I’ve done a fair amount of freelance and really don’t like the feeling of instability at the end of a contract when you don’t have another lined up. Moreover, the issue of paying for one’s own healthcare as a freelancer is really inconvenient and not having healthcare isn’t really an option for me. I don’t mind using freelance to compliment my full-time income, but until the freelance is regularly coming to me, I don’t think the full-time freelance lifestyle is for me.
What advise would you give to an artist who is dealing with an artist's block? How do you boost your imagination and keep yourself creative?
If an artist’s block only lasts for a day or a weekend, just let yourself relax and do something else. While working is important, so is letting yourself have a break from time to time; however, there’s definitely a point where a break becomes laziness or procrastination, and you gotta be real with yourself about where that point is. It’s hard for me to give people advice on how to break out of artist’s blocks or procrastination because as I said - my parents' high expectations for me in school taught me self-discipline and motivation pretty early on. I guess the ultimate motivation for me is knowing I still need to improve, and anything I do to hone my skills is getting me closer to where I want to be. Don’t beat yourself up for not drawing all day everyday, but also remember every time you’re not working, someone else is. I guess in that sense I kind of let the fear of becoming irrelevant and unemployed motivate me.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, you name it. There are so many careers and when you are very young, sometimes you know only one thing: you simply love to draw. In your opinion, what should a young person take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
I think the youngest time to start thinking about an artistic career is late in high school, but I think it’s really important to understand that starting earlier does not necessarily make you better. There is more to being a designer than drawing well, and sometimes traveling, spending some time exploring new things in community college, getting a degree in something else, or working in a totally different field can give you an edge that someone whose been drawing all their life doesn’t have. I know school likes to treat progress as a linear series of checkpoints evaluated by arbitrary numeric values, but I think the sooner one realizes almost no one’s life is a straight pre-determined line, the sooner they realize their agency over their path. It’s okay to try new things, make mistakes, try again, stop doing things you don’t like, and even start things over entirely - sometimes, those things even make you better than you would have been before.
In your own experience, what would you suggest to someone who is inspired by your work and wants to follows your footsteps: should they work in one consistent style, or develop many different ones?
Firstly, I would focus on fundamentals - you really can’t stylize something if you don’t understand what it is you’re trying to stylize. I’m not saying you need to be able to draw everything photo-realistically, but you need to have a functional understanding of things like anatomy, perspective, and lighting so you can decide if you want to use them in your work and how you want to incorporate them. In other words, deviations you make from fundamentals in your style should be for a reason, not because you just can’t do them. There are tons of books, online classes, and other resources to help you with the fundamentals, and as you develop those, feel free to explore stylization at the same time. I don’t think anyone ever “masters” the fundamentals, but you will notice as you improve them your style will also become more finessed and informed. As for the question of “one consistent style vs. many different styles,” I think that depends on what your goal is. It’s a lot easier to find work with a range of styles, but if you’re looking to build a portfolio as an illustrator, a consistent style may make your body of work look more cohesive. You can read more about my thoughts regarding style HERE
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?
I’m sure tons of people recommend tons of great how-to books and to avoid probably being redundant, I’m going to recommend the book “Deschooling Society” by Ivan Illich. It’s not a book that you can learn how to draw from, but it’s a book you can learn about learning from. Personally, I think it’s something everyone should read before graduating from high school - it deconstructs a lot of the misconceptions we learn in school that hinder us moving forward into independent adulthood. As the title may imply, it’s not about getting rid of education entirely, but rather about re-considering how we approach it - a valuable insight as you move into your career and become responsible for your own growth. In that sense, I think it is very empowering and eye-opening. It’s not a long book, and though it’s pretty theoretical, I wouldn’t call it dense or hard to understand. It’s also a pretty old, well-circulated text (especially in academic circles), so finding a PDF or a cheap copy should be really easy.
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?
I think the reality of the industry today is simply that it’s over-saturated with talent on an increasingly globalized scale. This isn’t to discourage people from pursuing art, but rather to be realistic about the commitment and effort it will take to get you foot in the door. On one hand, it’s really fun to be able to draw for a living, but on the other hand, it’s something you gotta commit a lot of your otherwise free time to if you want to make a livable wage. I think it’s good to really ask yourself if art is something that’s so fulfilling that you’re willing to put extra time and effort into it to make it work - if not, there’s honestly nothing wrong with doing it for fun. You don’t need to make all your money off of art (or even any money) to be an artist.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
It’s hard to say - I get so easily obsessed with new artists and I really feel like there’s something to learn from everyone. It’s always surprising to me when I hear colleagues talking about how they need to take breaks from social media because seeing other people’s work makes them feel like they’re under-producing or not good enough. I love seeing other people create tons of new work and improve - I find it more inspiring than disheartening. To name a couple of artists off the top of my head, though: Robh Ruppel, Shiyoon Kim, Richard Chang, Jin Kim, Perry Maple, Nathan Fowkes, Ryan Lang, Helen Chen, Tadahiro Uesagi, Elle Michalka, Glen Keane, Milt Kahl, Paul Felix, Pascal Campion, Nicolas “Sparth” Bouvier, Sergey "Peleng” Kolesov, and Johannes Helgeson, as well as some of the old masters like JC Leyendecker, Alphonse Mucha, John Singer Sergeant, Eyvind Earle, and Norman Rockwell. The names literally keep coming to me as I write this list - I could keep writing forever because there’s always something else somebody else sees or knows that you can learn from.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
I have to say, I find the lack of domestic hand-drawn feature animation to be pretty disheartening. I grew up with the classic “Disney Renaissance” line-up and was really excited to see that trend re-vitalized when The Princess and the Frog was released, but I’m not sure if that ended up being the case. I don’t think all is lost for 2D animation, though. I definitely appreciate the more experimental 2D stuff we get from Europe (Cartoon Saloon has produced some of the most visually astounding 2D animation I’ve ever seen) as well as a handful of more unconventional anime, and I think we’re in a platinum age of TV animation right now. There’s no shortage of quality 2D animation, but I would really love to see hand-drawn animation make a come-back with the big American feature animation studios.
Social networks, crowd funding websites, print on demand online services and so on. 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?
Social media is a double-edged sword, and I can’t deny that sometimes it feels like a bit of a shouting contest. There’s definitely just more content out there all-around, but it’s opened up opportunities for people that otherwise would never have a chance to get their foot in the door with this industry. Overall, I think it’s a net-positive, you just gotta avoid getting competitive about likes/comments and remember it’s a community, not a competition. Remember: no number of likes is going to guarantee you a job or a happy life, so keep your eyes on what really matters to you and don’t define yourself by how others perceive you.
When clients contact you for a commission, what essential info should they include in their very first email in order to communicate with you efficiently and effectively?
The most helpful information is what they are looking for (the more specific, the better), when they need it by, and what they are willing to pay for that deliverable. I know that sounds kind of cut and dry, but that’s really the brass tacks of any service agreement.
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 find my main professional portfolio at ( allisonperryart.com ) and I update fairly regularly with personal work on Instagram at ( instagram.com/allisonperryart ) I also update slightly less regularly on Tumblr at ( allisonperryart.tumblr.com ) If you’d like to get in contact with me, you can email me at ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) or find me on Facebook - I always love making new friends! Currently I don’t have a print shop, but if people would be interested in me starting one, I’ll be sure to post more information on my social media in the future. If you’d like to support me, just give my work a share - visibility is half the battle in this industry. Thanks!
Thank you Allison :)