Thursday, March 8, 2012



Stevie Lewis Interview

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I was born in Palmdale, California. Growing up, I enjoyed watching my share of Bugs Bunny cartoons, Disney movies, and let’s not forget … Sailor Moon! I got my start in art through my fascination with Japanese animation. That was when I really started to draw and experiment with Photoshop and online paint programs. But I realized that people in the animation industry weren’t supportive of anime. So, I decided to change my approach and channel my passion toward animation.

Prior to college I took some art classes at ACCD, Concept Design Academy, and with Glenn Vilppu. At Ringling College of Art & Design, I focused on figuring out what purpose I could have in animation. After struggling to learn 3D, I finally found my place in visual development and illustration. We had to design lots of props, characters, and environments for our senior theses, and monitor those designs through to the end of production. Even though 3D wasn’t my strong suit, designing a character that would be seen from all angles has made me a better artist.
One of my teachers, Billy Merritt, had a huge impact on my view of story in images or films. I tried to carry that into my paintings by constantly reminding myself of what makes an image fun and interesting to look at.

How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

I try to find out as much as possible about the character before jumping into a sketch. Sometimes that process involves gathering good reference, watching films, and thinking like the character. In college, I took a class that talked a lot about archetypes of a character and how different shapes represent different personalities and attitudes. Hard edges in a character’s design might reflect on their tough personality, whereas loose, bent lines might represent a weak, fragile structure. I think about those things a lot when I’m designing.

I usually start with a pencil sketch, and try to do a variety of poses of that character. But there are times when I just feel like starting with shapes. I try sketching with watercolor or gouache by taking advantage of the random fun shapes you can create. Then I add detail on top of those shapes. It’s fun because you end up with something different than if you sketched it with pencil. It’s important to the think about color too. What color accents or graphic shapes define that character? I was sketching a character and tried to experiment with the type of clothing he would wear. Would the blazer be opened or closed, would the shirt underneath be lighter or darker. Ha, sometimes my brain is so full of stuff when I’m sketching; it’s hard to decide on what to do!

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?

After my morning cup of coffee, I head into work at where I share a large cubicle with three lovely coworkers. Work is really awesome, we have a small art department and everyone is super friendly, athletic, and helpful … oh, and really into RC racing cars and iPhone games! I’ve been learning new things every day. Lately I’ve been jumping around on different shows, which has added a lot of variety in the assignments I’ve gotten. I work with so many great artists, each unique in their own way. After work, I try to sketch at a cafe, do some personal work, walk my dogs, or write letters to friends on my typewriter.

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I graduated college in May 2011, and worked on the short film, Defective Detective, with my good friend Avner Geller. During my internship at DreamWorks in the summer of 2010, I worked on Madagascar 3, and have since worked on Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?

I’m always thinking things could be better… but I guess I’m most happy with the characters from our short film, Defective Detective. But it was a collaborative effort between Avner and me. We would send drawings and sketches back and forth, and draw over things. We wanted to make sure the designs would translate well to 3D as well as fit their personalities. At first, the detective was a short little man with a giant hat and little tiny feet, and the granny was a very large old woman. Both of them went through many revisions to finally end up where they are now.

What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)

At work, I’ve been jumping around doing a variety of things from character design to visual development and prop design. It’s been so fun to be able to explore new environments and implement specific design elements into the shapes and lighting. I’m also trying to get my personal work together to start up my print shop!

Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

Jean Jaques-Sempe, Tadahiro Uesegi, Aurelien Predal, Miyazaki, Lou Romano, Joe Mosier, Seo Kim, Jon Klassen, Matthew Cruickshank, Mary Blair, Wes Anderson, Annette Marnat, James Robertson, Sanjay Patel, Uwe Heidschötter, Sylvian Marc, Claudio Acciari, and Ovi Nedelcu.

Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

I’m really into B/W pencil sketches lately, at least for my personal work. It’s really encouraged me to experiment with graphic shapes, and to better understand value. Sometimes when I’m searching for an idea, I like to jump right into small thumbnail studies using gouache or watercolor. I’m usually more spontaneous with my choices because I know I don’t have an undo button or an eraser.

When I paint digitally, I always have the B/W value version open in another window, so I’m constantly checking how the values are working together. It’s something my friend Goro told me about, and it’s really been helpful! I also try to keep in mind the level of saturation. Sometimes you want to use saturation to make a statement of light to help lead the eye to where the viewer should be looking. I often find myself having to push things less saturated, because it’s drawing too much attention to the eye.

What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?

I think it’s so fun trying to figure out who a character really is. There’s so many amazing actors like Robert di Nero (Taxi Driver), Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men), Bill Murray (Lost in Translation), Meryl Streep (Devil Wears Prada), Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca) and .. so many more who have convincingly captured the personality of their character. They were well chosen in terms of their acting but also their design. Same goes for designing a character. When designing, I try to think about shapes, poses, expressions, color accents, and appeal. It’s fun to do lots of drawings, which will inevitably lead you to the final result. Hopefully by doing many versions, you’ll filter out what fits that character, and what doesn’t.

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

I love sketching at cafes. There’s nothing better than a coffee, a sketchbook, and interesting people to help get me thinking of new ideas. Sometimes I get frustrated at work or home because I’m always in front of a computer. Another thing that keeps me creative is not doing art for a while, and instead trying to experience something new. I often go for a hike, shop at thrift stores, or hang out with friends. In the end, the things I most want to draw are beautiful moments in my life with friends or family.

I also watch a lot of movies. During college, I’ve would always watch a movie to get inspired, and watch it again with director commentary. They’re always thinking of things you’d never realize at first glance, but after watching it over.. it finally makes sense.

What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?

I love Miyazaki’s films. Even though the style is more realistically proportioned than some cartoons I’ve seen, I still feel like each set is very designed. And the characters are so interesting, like the old lady from Spirited Away, and Howl from Howls Moving Castle. I also like Nico Marlet’s designs from HTTYD and Kung Fu Panda. I’m just amazed at how many drawings he does, and each one is super appealing and fun to look at. Craig Kellman, who’s also a hilarious person, defined the look of the Madagascar films. I really admire the gestural quality of his line work, I mean his stuff just boggles my mind .. it’s so good!! Most recently, I’m really admiring the work produced by Headless productions, ‘I’m a Monster’, and Kevin Dart’s recent work with commercials and murals.

What is your favorite subject to draw? And why?

I love drawing people. I’m fascinated by their interesting shapes and patterns. Sometimes I can get caught up in the shapes of the hair or the jacket they’re wearing. A couple years ago when I was in Paris for the summer, I mostly took the bus or subway and stumbled upon so many interesting people. And for some reason, because of the language barrier and my unfamiliarity with the country, I didn’t feel embarrassed at all. Ha, I’m usually trying to hide behind my sketchbook here in the states. I don’t think I’ve drawn that much in a summer since!

What inspired you to become an Artist?

My dad was a big inspiration for me. With my school projects, he would help me be more creative and think outside the box. He’d also build things around the house, like a small birdhouse or the entire deck to the back of our house. He wouldn’t consider himself a traditional artist or anything, but he definitely had the mind of one. I specifically remember this drawing of an American Indian that he drew. I was amazed by its detail and quality, and became eager to try my own. My parents were both very supportive of me drawing all the time, I’d always ask my mom for a piece of paper and a pen whenever we’d go out to a restaurant. Their encouragement kept me positive and excited to try new things.

Anime was also an inspiration for me. I used to come home from school and watch Dragon Ball Z with my dad; I actually got him into it! What I love about anime are the in-depth plots and the complex characters which sometime take several episodes to understand. I would often draw fan art and attend anime conventions to sell my artwork. I still keep in touch with some acquaintances I made during my anime years, and it’s been fun to see those artists evolve and grow.

I’ve moved on from drawing in that style, in fact I hardly remember how, but I’m certainly glad I did draw that way. People always look down on it during college, and frankly I don’t really care. I think if something inspires you to do what you love, embrace it, learn from it, and find a style unique to yourself.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Everyone around me seems to do what they love doing. Some work more with textures while others strive to understand realistic lighting. No one tries to be better than anyone else, but instead they embrace their differences. When I first started at DreamWorks, I felt incredibly intimidated by all the talent around me. I always felt I needed to work extra hard to make it look like I knew what I was doing, when most of the time I was just figuring things out on the fly. Being around such humble and incredibly helpful people has helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin. It’s so much different from school where you feel like you’re competing for jobs, trying to stand out as much as possible.

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

Try your best to be inspired by things around you; whether it’s a good book, an interesting house, vintage patterned fabrics, or a jazz concert. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the technical side of drawing and painting, and we suddenly forget why we do what we do. I try to remind myself that I like capturing little moments in my sketches; things don’t always have to be painted perfectly. Ha, I’m not sure if that makes sense, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?


Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

I’m currently working on my online shop, hopefully to become public soon! If anyone is interested in having a print of something, please send me an email!

Stevie Lewis Gallery