Monday, November 26, 2012

Meza: 'The workshop is time I've set aside for myself'

When Imaginism Studios co-owner and art director Kei Acedera tells Yves Meza that he's a hard worker, the Venezuelan illustrator — who also works at a grassroots clothing company called “Yare Devil's Design" that created the same army cap Manu Chao wore playing concerts around the world after debuting it on the cover of his top U.S. Billboard album La Radiolina — agrees with a laugh that he's usually working all the time. But the illustrator describes his 30 days at Imaginism’s in-house workshop as “time I’ve set aside for myself,” where he’s gone from reviewing traditional art fundamentals to fine-tuning digital tricks during master painting lectures with Thierry Lafontaine and Bobby Chiu, alongside three more workshop artists: Dreamworks lighting artist Oth Khotsimeuang from San Francisco, California, and illustrators Sarita Kolhatkar from Dubai, UAE, and Sandree Luo from Toronto, Canada.

"If you have problems with something, don't spend loads of time trying to figure it out,” Lafontaine reminds the quartet daily, who live and draw together in the Imaginism House. “Just ask me,” he says. “If you have any questions, I’m not far.”

Clockwise from top left: Sandree Luo, Yves Meza, Sarita Kolhatkar, and Oth Khotsimeuang paint concept characters into the late hours at the Imaginism House.

Yves Meza tackles traditional and digital projects at his workstation.

Bobby Chiu gives the artists a lesson in the in-house studio.

Instructor Thierry Lafontaine gathers the artists for a painting demonstration.

 The workshop artists drawing with the Toronto subway sketch group.

The artists enjoying their day off with a field trip to Niagra Falls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Workshop artists trade gags with Playboy cartoonist Doug Sneyd

Imaginism workshop artists Emanuele Fontana from Carpi, Italy; Alice Grosseman from Florianópolis, Brazil; Tabitha Fisher from Toronto, Canada; and Andros Martínez from Valencia, Spain, visited Canadian artist Doug Sneyd and writer Heidi Hutson at their home in Orillia, Ont., this October for a day filled with demos, original art-gazing, and joke-cracking with the longtime Playboy artist, who has painted nearly 500 full-page cartoons for the magazine over the past half-century.

Doug Sneyd signing the workshop artists' copies of the Art of Doug Sneyd, and Doug Sneyd with Heidi Hutson (centre) and the workshop artists, from left to right: Alice Grosseman, Emanuele Fontana, Andros Martinez, and Tabitha Fisher.

After showing the workshop artists around his home and studio, Doug readied his legendary set of brushes and inks and gave an instructional colour demonstration for a Playboy cartoon in-progress. 

Sneyd and the workshop artists touring the artists' home during the day (above), and gearing up for a colour demo. 

Sneyd and the workshop artists reviewing original works. 

Grosseman, whose carry-on luggage on the trip back home will include a Wacom Cintiq, says she enjoyed witnessing Sneyd's traditional process, which included tips on how to mix colours, and revealed his careful habit of bottling rare paint combinations for future use.

Workshop artist Fisher comments that 80-year-old Sneyd — whose comicon schedule is already booked until mid-2013 — gets ideas "constantly," and has "a mind that works so fast." She explains that "he'll be in the middle of one story, and say 'oh, that reminds me of another story' — and laugh that he's gotten 'sidetracked' twenty minutes later, when he's in the depths of another story."

Over the decades Sneyd has also worked as a graphic artist, book and magazine illustrator, and editorial and syndicate newspaper cartoonist. He planned an activity for the workshop artists that exercised his talent for humor, providing a gag line that Fontana, Grosseman, Fisher, and Martínez each interpreted as a cartoon. Afterwards, the group compared their cartoons with the version Sneyd drew.

"It was cool seeing how our own work compared with his solution," Fisher says. "His work is always clear. It doesn't have any extraneous details, or unnecessary bits of anything. He stages things in the clearest way possible." 

Fisher's cartoon scored similarities with Sneyd's, but she laughs that "I'm not as good as coming up with that clear staging immediately — I've got to work my way up to it."

"They treated us so well," Grosseman says, referencing the time in between teaching and touring, which included homemade lasagna dinner, soups, snacks, and fresh fruit pastries. "We ate all the time!" she exclaims. "We felt very special, it was very nice. They were very sweet with us."

The workshop artists unwinding after a busy day with their host Doug Sneyd.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Learning always and forever

"You know what the best thing is?" Thais Burmeister says. "When I get home, I know what to do. It's not going to end. I'm going to paint over and over."

In 30 days Thais Burmeister, Amanda Duarte, Eliane Horie, and Kim Vuong have drawn cubes, antique car parts, human heads, and much more, in a lesson plan that begins with art fundamentals, and ends with a 40-hour workweek plus overtime painting original concept character designs in traditional acrylic.

Eliane Horie, Thais Burmeister, Kim Vuong, and Amanda Duarte take in Kei Acedera's sketching and guache tutorial.

Kim Vuong, Eliane Horie, Amanda Duarte, and Thias Burmeister unroll special edition prints given by comic book artist Alvin Lee.

Thierry Lafontaine reviews the artists' workshop assignments. Pictured above: Eliane Horie's dragon-fruit character design.

Kei Acedera, Bobby Chiu, and Thierry Lafontaine hang out with the workshop artists on their last day. 

"Relationships in this business are really important," Chiu observes during a final visit to the house. "Every person I meet, I try to get to know them and see what they're about. It helps a lot." 

Sometimes workshop artists feel a bit "homesick" for the Imaginism House and their roommates when they arrive back to their cities. "You've spent a lot of time together by now," Chiu points out, bringing up the online community that past workshop artists have built to keep in touch, plan reunions, and organize new ventures. "I'm sure when you're online and talking to everyone who's taken the workshop you're seeing that they're also people who really want to succeed. Those are the people we wanted to bring in."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

New characters at the Imaginism Workshop

"I had a dream Santa Claus was an alien and used a holographic device so that he looked human," Bobby Chiu begins, touching up a Santa-inspired painting on his Cintiq screen that radiates back through a large TV. Chiu is giving the morning lesson at Imaginism Studios' in-house workshop, and he’s starting off with an introduction to warm light and cool shadows. Workshop instructor Thierry Lafontaine will continue the discussion about colour theory until the end of the week. 
Thais Burmeister and Eliane Horie from Curitiba, Brazil; Amanda Duarte from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Kim Vuong from Mississauga, Canada, take inventory of the things they’ve done since the workshop started, and say it adds up to “a lot,” with Burmeister commenting that the balanced, productive days are a great work ethic to bring back home. 

"I can’t believe we’re already halfway through,” Duarte adds, realizing the group has wrapped up
their second week together. But the remaining weeks could hold some of their longest workdays yet — time "slows down," Lafontaine says, during the workshop's final traditional painting unit. "You get into a meditative state," he explains. "You paint without realizing what time it is. And when you stop painting, it's like you're waking up from a weird dream."

The workshop artists at the Toronto Fan Expo, top left photo, from left to right: Thais Burmeister, Eliane Horie, Amanda Duarte, and Kim Vuong. Clockwise from right, past workshop artists at the Toronto Fan Expo: comic book artist Alvin Lee sketches for a fan in Artist Alley; Burmeister, Horie, Vuong, and Duarte meet Annie Hughes of Oakville; and Sarah Sullivan and Jacob Johnson display individual and collaborative works at their booth in Artist Alley. 

Experience with the Rio de Janeiro metro eases Amanda Duarte's transition to sketching between stops on the TTC.
The workshop artists unwind with a karaoke break (left), and, on a separate occasion, hang out with Canadian Playboy artist Doug Sneyd. This year Maclean's, Canada's national weekly current events magazine, published a feature on Sneyd and his work with Playboy since the 1960s. Last year Dark Horse Comics published the Art of Doug Sneyd, a full-colour, "lavish coffee-table" book containing nearly 300 cartoons.

Kei Acedera, Bobby Chiu, Peter Chan, Thierry Lafontaine, and the workshop artists enjoy dinner out with Doug Sneyd, Heidi Hutson, and friends after the Toronto Fan Expo. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wave your (perceived) colours

Kitty Cheng, Annie Hughes, Caroline Vos, and Sofia Wang look at the white clouds in the sky and debate whether they're blue, red, or purple.

"An artist looks at everything as if seeing it for the first time," Imaginism in-house instructor Thierry Lafontaine explains. "We assume that we know how things look, but when we look at things through the eyes of an artist, we realize that trees aren't brown, water isn't blue — and clouds aren't white."  

The artists compared notes on colour and more during their 30-day stay with Imaginism Studios in Toronto, with Kitty Cheng acquiring new roommates for a month between schooling and subway sketching on the TTC; Annie Hughes checking in before a new term at Sheridan College in Oakville; Sofia Wang flying in from China after studying art in Florida, USA; and Caroline Vos bringing her caricature skills and freelance business across continents temporarily from Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Armed with their diverse experiences, the talented artists turned the in-house workshop into another unique month of learning.

Caroline Vos (left) and Annie Hughes sketch on the Toronto subway with Imaginism senior artist Peter Chan.
Comic book artist Alvin Lee drawing Spiderman at the in-house studio with Kitty Cheng (left) and Annie Hughes, who scored the sketch.

Caroline Vos, the in-house Braai-master, runs a South African-style barbeque for her housemates. How to Braai, in a few simple steps: warm-up; taste-test; drink beer; and keep your heels on.

The workshop artists, waiting for the smoke to settle.

The in-house studio at night: workshop artists stick around after lessons and continue painting with instructor Thierry Lafontaine, who emits his desktop through a big screen.

The group between assignments, right-hand photo, from right to left: Caroline Vos, Annie Hughes, Sofia Wang, and Kitty Cheng.

Check out the artist websites on the left-hand side of this blog to keep up to date with the amazing works produced by all artists who have been a part of the Imaginism in-house workshop.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Making art, and food

Sometimes at the Imaginism Studios in-house workshop you learn that pink juice equals sour grapefruit — not guava. Other times you learn how to fry green plantains, what fruit to mix in a Moroccan stew, and how many minutes it takes to bake a Japanese mochi cake.

In between drawing and painting all day in a 30-day in-house mentorship, the Imaginism Studios workshop artists are also getting creative for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

The in-house Imaginism workshop artists recreate a South African Braai. Centre photo, from left to right: Annie Hughes, Sophia Wang, Kitty Cheng, and Caroline Vos with comic book artist Alvin Lee

Concept artist Jose Vega prepares platanos fritos for his housemates in a previous workshop.

Sydney Hanson, Manon, Jose Vega, and Brandon Kallmes cook up hotcakes before the morning lesson. 

From left to right, clockwise: Adriana Nieto prepares potatoes for roasting; Gabriela Birchal and Danielle Pioli whip up brigadeiro dessert; Jimena Sanchez crafts guacamole; and Daria Zersen flips potato pancakes. 

Workshop groups, from left to right: Sergio Tomo, Adriana Nieto, Ryan Van Eyk, and June Shieh overseeing their instructor's homemade hamburgers; Augusto Kapronczai serving beans, rice, and honey-garlic chicken; and Gabriela Birchal, Eduardo Gonzalez, Daniel Pioli, and Lindsay Jenkins putting the final touches on dinner dip. 

"We've all heard about the workshop — now you should tell people about the burgers," illustrator Renee Chio joked over dinner with Jason Chau, Mike Medicine Horse, and Juan Somma.

Workshop artists and Imaginism Studios gearing up for dinner out — which is also fun.

Drawing into the next room

In between fresh-fruit and vegetable smoothies, "grown-up" mac and cheese, and homemade red velvet birthday cakes, the kitchen has also set the scene for workshop events that sometimes begin in the studio, and keep going someplace else.

 Imaginism senior artist Peter Chan treats the in-house workshop to an oil-painting demo.

From left to right, Filipe Laurentino, Daria Zersen, Jimena Sanchez, Alvin Lee, and Matt Johnson hang out and draw.

Chris Goins and Augusto Kapronczai: zoning in.

Group painting with Bobby, Kei, and Thierry, from left to right: Jodee Taylah, Augusto Kapronczai, Chris Goins, and Daniel Hodge.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Living at your teacher's house

By Isa Cunanan

At one in the morning, Ryan Van Eyk pauses from his digital painting and asks out loud: “Can I get an opinion from someone?” A moment later three other artists crowd around Van Eyk's Wacom Cintiq and squint at the character on his screen. Adriana Nieto from Mexico City, Mexico; June Shieh from Los Angeles, USA; Sergio Tomo from Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Van Eyk from Johannesburg, South Africa are training in Toronto for 30 days at Imaginism Studios' in-house workshop, and they've been drawing together since Thierry Lafontaine taught yesterday’s morning lesson 14 hours ago.

The in-house workshop, from top, left to right: Adriana Nieto, Ryan Van Eyk, Sergio Tomo, and June Shieh.

When Imaginism Studios founder Bobby Chiu asked Van Eyk how his training was going over dinner, Van Eyk joked that it was like “life before this was a lie.” Shieh pointed out that the workshop was “a place where people stop being polite" — the artists live, eat, and draw together for 30 days straight — “and start getting really good at drawing.” Nieto admitted that she went to bed at 8:30 a.m. the day before while working on a workshop assignment that she "enjoyed a little too much," and Tomo plans to extend his final day in Toronto by an extra 24 hours — he returns to work the same afternoon his 12-hour flight from Toronto lands in Sao Paulo.

Coming Home

Workshop alumni return home recharged and “full of new arsenal,” previous workshop artist Jodie Taylah describes from her place in Melbourne, Australia. The artists who have lived and studied in the Imaginism house are also connecting with one another online, where they trade specialized critiques, get to know workshop artists from different groups, and collaborate on new projects. The artwork shared within the growing community astonishes even the Imaginism instructors, with Chiu posting feedback to their daily art posts like “Just gorgeous!” “Siiiiick!” and “Whoa!!” and Lafontaine pointing to new pieces from his past students and saying: “Looks amazing, doesn't it?” and “they learned a lot.” 

A lifetime of feedback

During the workshop Lafontaine fosters a healthy feedback system, where he projects evolving artwork by the artists on a large studio TV and paints fine-tuned critiques directly on each piece. 

Instructor Thierry Lafontaine reviews Danilo Fiocco's artwork while the artist (below) takes notes.

Lafontaine’s critiques are specific and methodical. During his feedback session, recent workshop artist Danilo Fiocco noted that “I need to make a checklist.”

One of the sessions included checking out the first-ever digital painting by comic book artist Alvin Lee, who took the workshop to “grow his hands” and add to the bag of tricks he shares while teaching Schoolism’s comic book course.

“I'm gonna be a man with many hats when I'm done,” the Toronto native tweeted during the workshop. “Both literally and figuratively.”

The Schoolism live workshop series 

The recently graduated workshop artists — which included Alvin Lee, Danilo Fiocco, Yngve Martinussen, and Sarah Sullivan — recently attended the Schoolism workshop event this past June in downtown Toronto, in what Lee called “a perfect ending to an awesome month of learning.” Hosted by Autodesk and sponsored by Seneca College, the event brought together caricature artist Jason Seiler, videogame concept artist Anthony Jones, and Pixar story artists Louis Gonzales and Alex Woo for a weekend of lectures that added a live element to Schoolism’s online learning methods, which share lessons and personal critiques with students who take courses from around the world.

The Schoolism instructors shared their stories and techniques with a full house at the sold-out event.

Jason Seiler: ‘But that’s how they look!’

“It’s like taking a rattlesnake, putting it in a box, and shaking it,” renowned caricaturist Jason Seiler says about the live portraits he’s done in the early stages of his loaded art career. “Don’t draw my big nose,” he mimics. “Rrrrrerrr!”

The Chicago resident took a weekend off from illustrating for publications like Time, Business Week, Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times so that he could let loose in Toronto for the Schoolism live workshop series — also featuring concept artist Anthony Jones and Pixar story artists Louis Gonzales and Alex Woo — which has made its rounds in a couple different continents over the past few months.

“He’s got a big nose––” Seiler continues about noses, “to me that’s amateur.” The artist’s Wacom Cintiq screen transmits through four large-screen TVs arranged around the audience, and he zooms in on the portrait and points out: “Look at his head. You could land helicopters on that thing.” He adds: “It’s almost like he’s wearing a helmet. He’s very ape-like, too,” and finally: “He just looks like a big baby to me. Everything about his face is like a two-year-old.” Seiler emerges from his thoughts and explains that his criticisms –– which distract him from enjoying movies –– are more honest than they are cruel.

“People get offended when you draw Obama’s mole — why?” he challenges. “It’s on his friggin’ face. Forever.” Seiler launches into the moral difference between drawing someone's mole and drawing someone's zit, and Imaginism workshop artists Danilo Fiocco, Yngve Martinussen, Sarah Sullivan, and Alvin Lee –– who teaches the “Powerful Comic Book Portfolio” course at Schoolism –– jot down notes along with the rest of the audience.

The workshop artists with Jason Seiler.

The audience fits a few personal questions into the presentation, which reveals that the celebrity artist who paints celebrity portraits loves drawing regular people, especially street people, and finds himself drawing fish, "scales," and all sorts of other animals in his spare time. The artist also shares that he's thought about making a realistic piece before but doesn't see the "point," talks and acts like his characters while he draws them, and enjoys everything about traditional painting. He’s mastered Photoshop and creates most commissions digitally, but Seiler's roots are traditional, and they show in his philosophy about art. “It’s a painting, not a computer trick,” Seiler says about his digital pieces. “That’s the way I feel."

As Seiler’s afternoon of digital advice and insight carries on, the workshop group somehow dodges participating in an impromptu closing demonstration, during which the artist scans the faces in the room, picks out several, slightly nervous volunteers, and asks that everyone stand side by side.

Seiler gives the signal and the line-up smiles — and we all get a hint of how a caricaturist sees the world.

“See what happens?” he laughs. “Lots of great things happen.”  

Anthony Jones and his ‘robot pencil’

Anthony Jones says “shing” when he paints metal. He also flips his characters from side to side on his screen so that they dance, cracks jokes that you'd swear have a double meaning, and does it all while he’s giving a formal lecture to people who are hanging onto every word –– because Jones works so quickly that full designs pop out somewhere between his step one and his step two, and everybody in the room wants to know how he gets metal to look so much like metal.

A concept artist with clients that include Sony, Hasbro, and Fire Forge Games, Jones has created, revised, and created again to produce professional, mind-blowing work, and along the way he’s developed the opinion that “Once someone’s paying you, you’ve got to stop being so anal about it. Just say ‘OK.’”

He’s talking about when you’re in a bad relationship and your friends are telling you to get out, but you’re saying back: “You don’t know me!” And: “Get away from my monitor!”

Jones drives home that you should “let people critique you” because “it makes you better." Jones crafts character after character on his Wacom Cintiq for the audience to observe, noting that the “personal epiphanies” that make you vulnerable to criticism when you draw don’t matter as much when you work fast. And then he stops and laughs at himself, because the shape of the robot he’s drawing while he talks looks, more than anything, like a chicken. “I need to update my visual library,” he jokes.

The artist picks through his personal desktop during the lecture so that he can delve deeper into his techniques with examples, and he’s so candid that you half expect he’ll open a folder that pops up along the way named “secrets.”

Jones laughs and wonders if he should call the folder something else.

But “I’m trying to give you all my secrets,” he says. “You guys deserve it.”

The workshop artists with Anthony Jones. 


Louis Gonzales and Alex Woo bring Pixar to Toronto

Everyone says they felt like they were hanging out in a Pixar studio when story artists Alex Woo and Louis Gonzales talked about life drawing for animation. The duo had the audience sketch live poses and translate the poses into a chosen animal. During the lecture one artist sketched examples on a Cintiq, while the other wove through the audience and offered comments and tips.

Alex Woo takes the mic (right) while Louis Gonzales sketches.

"It was totally interactive," Alvin Lee commented when the gesture workshop wrapped up. True to its praise, the presentation kept everyone in attendance buzzing throughout the weekend.

Gonzales is a mentor for Pixar’s story intern program and teaches a story class at the Animation Collaborative. He got his “first big break” when a chance meeting at a comic book store led to an internship. Gonzales entered the art scene with no related schooling, but says that his skills grew with experience.

“Everyone has to struggle through their experiences. It’s those experiences that make you a better artist,” Gonzales says in a Schoolism interview, where he teaches a gesture-drawing class jointly with Woo. “Those experiences form everything you do,” he continues. “It’s not the pencil line necessarily, or the brush stroke, it’s the decision behind it. It’s the thought, the care, and the intent of the line that makes you [a better artist]. And that comes with experience.”

Gonzales broke into the industry after finding a foothold with the internship, and since then he’s storyboarded and animated in films such as Brave, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo.

Woo’s career kick-started with a student Academy Award, and since then his credits have included storyboarding for Cars 2 and Ratatouille, and developing art for Star Wars: The Clone Wars. In his Schoolism interview Woo recalls advice his dad gave him that helped shape the work ethic that drives his career: “Only people who are the best make good money in this industry,” he quotes. “So do you think you’re one of the best?”

"Do your best with it, and that's where opportunities come," Gonzales adds. "With hard work and a good attitude you get rewards. I'm not saying you have to be 'Mr. happy face' all the time, cause I'm certainly not ... but [art is] the kind of thing where if you work well with people and work hard at your craft, opportunities come to you."

 The next reunion

Imaginism Studios, Schoolism teachers, and a few workshop artists — such as Jimena Sanchez and June Shieh — reunited this weekend at the San Diego Comicon, which ran until July 15. Imaginism had instructor presentations at their table everyday, and Bobby Chiu and Kei Acedera debuted Pieces of Wonderland, their new book.

A few workshop alumni have been asking, with an undercurrent of seriousness: “Is it too early for a reunion?” The only problem to solve is deciding where the get-together will occur, with workshop artists residing in North and South America, and abroad.

The artists take 30 days off to learn with one another in Toronto — which for some is on a different continent — but they return recharged.

“I had the best month of my life there, guys,” Fiocco wrote to his old housemates after his plane landed back in Brazil. “Hands down.”

Fiocco, Martinussen, Sullivan, and Lee take a final photo at Toronto Pearson airport.

Shieh, Nieto, Tomo, and Eyk close in for a group shot at Niagra Falls.