Artist Check-In: Animator Jessie Greenberg

artistcheckin

We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Jessie ‘Velociraptor’ Greenberg, a storyboard artist currently working as a Production Secretary at Disney TV Animation. She lives in Burbank, spends a decent amount of time at Disneyland, and has a roommate who is kind of like a cat.

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When did you realize you had a passion for drawing and illustrating? Were there others in your family that shared a similar interest or was it a skill you mainly fostered independently?

I’ve always been drawing! I think at some point after you’ve been giggling at your doodles on the side of your homework for ages – you finally show your best friends, and it makes them laugh. Suddenly, you’re hooked! That’s how it always seemed to go for me – I wasn’t the best at drawing, but it made me happy, and it made others happy. I have a few family members that are artistic in the fine arts or performing, but no one that specifically worked in animation. We just really loved movies and cartoons, and I basically grabbed onto that idea of bringing laughter and entertainment to people through drawings.

What other animators/illustrators’ work convinced you that this field was one you could definitely see yourself getting into in the future?

My friend Sarah Mensinga was the first person I talked to that had a style I loved and looked up to, but she was also one of the first industry people to tell me I could do it. Later on, storyboard artist & writer Aliki Theofilopoulous Grafft and I sort of adopted each other in a mentor/mentee relationship, and she’s the first person that really gave me a chance. She looks at my work and knows exactly what I need to work on, but she’s also an amazing person to collaborate with, and an amazing person to look up to. She’s the one that proved to me – you can be a woman, be a force of awesome in the animation industry, and still have a family. These ladies, as well as many others, both artistically & personally convinced me this is the field I need to be in.

How do you describe your animation style?

I’d say my biggest animation style influence is from the movie ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’, which derived from a lot of UPA styled cartoons (for example: the 1950 short ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’). I also picked up style influence from the video game ‘Psychonauts’, as well as various 90s & 00s cartoon shows and plenty of Disney films as well. I try to be as versatile as possible, but I really love expressive stylized characters and playing around with their shapes.

What are your favorite things to draw? Why do they speak to you?

I love drawing people interacting, and I especially love drawing funny story moments! I’m hoping that people will connect to the story moment or the character, whether it be for a funny or emotional connection. Sometimes it’s simply a character struggling to open a jar, sometimes it’s a personal emotional story, and sometimes it’s just my roommate and I watching TV and saying stupid things.

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What can be said through animation that can’t be said through words or text?

In animation and film in general, you can get so much across without a single word, and as a result, every age and culture can understand it. You begin to notice the things that tie humanity together without language barriers, and whether it’s meant to be serious or funny, it’s beautiful to see people connect like that.

How do the people you work with inspire and motivate you?

Every studio I’ve worked for has been full of the nicest and most supportive people! Many of them have been working in animation for decades and on so many projects I have loved over the years. Their stories are inspiring, and watching their work come alive in front of my eyes teaches me so much more than I could ever hope for. They are all wonderfully encouraging, and that really motivates me to keep moving forward with my own personal projects.

What project [personal or otherwise] are you excited to be working on currently?

I am working on a short film called ‘Pickles!’, I’m the lead artist for an iPhone game, and I’m regularly working on my storyboard portfolio!

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What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about working in story is actually the best part of working in story – every project has new challenges, new characters, new worlds, and that can be a lot to balance. It’s exciting though, I love when I get a chance to work with others and discuss potential ways to problem solve. When you have a great team of people together – people that will offer suggestions you may never have thought of previously, and people that will also listen to your ideas and find a way to find some fun compromise – it’s the best feeling in the world!

What advice would you offer someone who wants to pursue a career in animation?

Always carry a sketchbook, remain positive every step of the way (even when things aren’t going the way you planned), always let everyone know what you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid of approaching people you admire, and above all – in everything you do, be genuine and polite.

I would also suggest going to events like the CTN Expo in Burbank, where there’s so much opportunity for making new friends, showing your work, and learning from the pros. There’s also some wonderful and supportive communities online – through twitter or tumblr – where you can chat with all these amazing artistic folks and get some great advice. 🙂

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Thanks Jessie! To check out more of Jessie’s work, pop on over to her site and say hello.

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Artist Check-In: Theatre Director Doug Oliphant

artistcheckin

We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Doug Oliphant, an LA-based theatre director, movement director and fight choreographer who serves as Artistic Director for Drive Theatre Company.  He’s directed full productions of 44 Plays for 44 PresidentsBluenose, his original show There is Truth, Love is Real, Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, as well as music videos for 44 Plays for 44 Presidents co-author Karen Weinberg and alt. rock band Sleep Well.  At the Kennedy Center, he was awarded the 2009 regional and national SDC Directing Fellowship Award for his achievements in the American College Theatre Festival.  Doug received his BFA in Theatre at Central Connecticut State University, studied theatre at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute and the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy (Russia).

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What was the impetus for the great move out west? What was intriguing about the LA theatre scene vs. that of the East Coast?

There were many reasons that prompted my great move out west.  Growing up, I would travel with my family in CT to visit my family in Gilroy/San Jose, CA every other year, and California always had this vacationland/dream-like aura about it.  And of course, when you live in CT, there’s no real difference in your head between SoCal and NorCal (I’m much wiser now).  So there was the childhood dream-fulfilling about moving out here going into the decision.  But another major factor was the group of friends I had already out here.  While I was in college, I took a trip one summer and spent four days in San Francisco and four days in LA to just hang out in both cities, see theatre in both, and as best as I could, evaluate which city I’d rather live in/make a living in.  I LOVE San Francisco, but after my four days in LA where I spent a good amount of time on the beach, amazed by the endless stretches of sand (people in CT fight dirty just to get a good spot at the beach), the dedicated bike trails along the beach, the playground-for-adults at Santa Monica Beach, etc…  Plus, I was staying with an actor friend of mine, who I could watch leaving for an audition and hear his stories about his career thus far…that was inspiring to me.  I liked the vibe. I liked the fact that things were more laid-back, and that I–as the very intense/focused person I am when I’m working on something–could excel with my driving work-ethic.  Add to the list the beautiful hikes I took while there, the pet-friendly environments, and the fact that it was on the opposite side of the country as where I grew up and LA was looking pretty appealing.  Though I do love NY, I think we’re better off just as friends.  I liked the idea of LA having a smaller, underground theatre community that I could integrate into, making myself a bigger fish in a smaller pond while still having that pond be filled with amazing talent with which I could collaborate.

When did you decide that making theatre was going to be your life? What led you to this decision?

I knew that making theatre was going to be my life in March, 2011.  That was when I was 100% sure–when I specifically decided that I want to pursue a theatre directing career as my primary career goal, and that all other interests and talents would fall into secondary categories around it.  For the first year or so I lived in LA (Aug. 2009 – Dec. 2010), I was trying to actively pursue every one of my interests and advance a career in each of them.  Those pursuits included acting in theatre, film, tv, commercials, performing utility stunts and parkour in the entertainment industry, directing theatre, film, music videos, choreographing and performing fights, and movement through all mediums.  And it was exhausting.  By the time March 2011 rolled around, I took a great trip to the beach (so glad I moved to this city!), sat on a bench overlooking the water and wrote out all my thoughts on what was most important to me.  That’s when I really came to terms with my passion for directing theatre, and after that point it felt like a giant weight had lifted off my shoulders, and I started making visible progress now that I set just one direction to head in.  Clarity in one’s life, like when you’re telling a story, is soo important.

Tell us a bit about your time with the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Theatre Institute. How was your time there formative to what you do now?

If it wasn’t for my tendency to always try to do more than I’m capable of, my time at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute would have been the deciding factor in my devotion to a life in making theatre.  I attended the program the second semester of my junior year in college, and entered the program confident that I was going to be a professional actor for the rest of my life.  Before going there, I had never directed (I thought that was for old people who were either failed actors or had serious Type-A personalities) and never knew that any actor movement beyond traditional dance techniques existed.  The program consists of 14 weeks, where students from colleges across the country come to the O’Neill’s campus, a simple, multi-building farm-turned-theater center.  During those 14 weeks, you work 7 days a week, starting at 7:30am with a warm up and ending your final class at 10pm, before then working on homework.  Two of those weeks are spend abroad, and I went to St. Petersburg, Russia where my classmates and I studied at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy.  There’s never any time for anything, so you’re always under extreme pressure.  You’re constantly creating, as an actor, director, designer or playwright.  You don’t have time to think, let alone sleep, and your only support system are the other students, so you’re taking a whole additional class on collaboration.  The system inevitably makes you experience some of your highest highs and lowest lows in theatre, perhaps even in your life.  I’ll never forget one scene I was acting in, from a classical play called The Rover, which one of my closest friends from NTI was directing and I wanted so badly to give him a great performance.  But I’m horrible at memorizing classical text, and you’re only given 3 days to prepare for each scene presentation, and come the day of the performance, I still couldn’t get my lines to stick, and the more I was aware of it, the less I remembered.  Right before the performance, one of the O’Neill staff members came as the audience was filing in the room, and she had a camcorder!  I asked if she was going to film it, and she said, “Yes, we want to start documenting all the work you guys put up!”  I was so mortified…and we performed the scene, and I was horrendous, I forgot all the lines I was having trouble with, I was never even close to “in-character” and was never so disappointed in myself for letting my co-actors, director, and entire class down.  Just one of many, many vivid, life-changing memories during my time there.  On a more positive note, on one of the last days of the semester, all the teachers gather in a room to give individual reviews on each student.  It was a day dreaded by most, where teachers no longer have to be kind and encouraging to you, but would speak the cold truth of how they felt you did that semester and where they see you excelling in the future.  I went in not sure what would be said, and was surprised to hear among many other positive things that every one of my teachers felt I’d make an excellent director.  “Keep directing” was the message they all spoke at one point or another, and it was largely from the confidence I got from them that I did exactly that.

Betty's Summer VacationBetty’s Summer Vacation

You were selected as the national winner of the SDC Directing Award in 2009. What was the process like applying for the theatre festival associated with the award and how did that experience shape the way you approach theatrical directing?

Before that semester at NTI, I had never directed.  After, I directed several scenes, a 1-act staged reading, and received support from the entire faculty to keep directing–and of course, I really wanted to and was thrilled by this new-found passion.  So first thing I did after I finished NTI was return to my school (Central Connecticut State University) and spoke to my adviser about what I could do to direct as much as possible in my last year before graduation.  Among other things, she gave me permission to direct a one-act play in the fall semester.  So I set out to find a play to direct, and ended up talking to a friend of mine who also had permission to direct a one-act.  We flipped through a bunch of different plays together, before he came up with an idea where if we find a full-length we like, we could each direct one act in a two-act play.  He pulled out Betty’s Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang and pitched it to me.  Before this, as we were both actors in the school’s BFA Acting program, we were encouraged to act in each other’s play.  So in looking at Betty’s, we decided I could play a character that only appears in the second act, he could play a character that dies before the end of the first act, and we could each direct the act we don’t appear in!  We pitched the idea to my adviser, got approval, and put up the show in the lobby of our theatre department in September 2008.  The faculty of our theatre department loved it and told us they would pay to enter the production into the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and nominated my friend and I for directing.  With that nomination, you were then eligible to submit yourself for the regional festival directing competition, which involved you writing a cover letter on why you’re interested in competing in the festival, your resume of past work, and two letters of recommendation.  So I submitted and was one of three total who were accepted in a record-breaking year of submissions.  Those accepted then had to prepare a scene.  A selection committee at the Kennedy Center chose five different plays and a specific scene–or multiple scenes–from that play, and the competing director had to choose one, cast it with actors from their school, rehearse at their school and then take the scene up to the festival to be performed in front of a panel of judges.  We also had to keep a director’s notebook, noting specifics about the story, character arcs, scenic elements, time period, etc. and logging our progress, reflecting back on each rehearsal.  I chose Quake, by Melanie Marnich and after much rehearsal, brought the scene to the festival and had it performed/judged.  I, and the two other directors competing adjusted our scenes and presented them one last time in an open-to-the-public presentation.  Then at the end-of-week ACTF awards ceremony, I was announced the winner (horray)!

So then after winning the regional festival, you head to Washington D.C. for a week and the Kennedy Center and where you compete with the winning directors (there were 9 of us) from around the country.  This time, we were asked to prepare two things.  One was assigned by Ming Cho Lee, a quite legendary scenic designer who asked us to present a portrait gallery of the characters in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.  A portrait gallery in this context asks you to look through photographs of people, via magazines, the internet, etc. and find people who seem to best portray each character.  The other assignment was to give a 3-minute pitch on how you’d direct the opening scene (with the 3 witches) of Macbeth.  This was assigned by SDC member John Dillon, and in my pitch I set the world in 2009 (the year, then) or perhaps the slightly distant future in Afghanistan/America, where right before the play, Osama Bin Laden was be killed by Macbeth, and Macbeth was then deemed a national hero.  The three witches were representatives of the press who were planning on planting false ideas of fame into his head in hopes of his corruption…all for the best news story.  This would make the witches, in fact, not magical, but real people, and Macbeth’s downfall truly tragic, as he never wished for all the fame that came upon him for loyally serving his country.  Besides that, I took workshops with a variety of other artists in the industry and was given a great window into the professional world of theatre.  At the awards ceremony at the end of the week, I was announced the winner and received $1000 from the SDC, associate membership into the union, and fellowships at the O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference and the Kennedy Center in the summer.  The O’Neill fellowship was obviously so great as I just was there as a student, now returning on fellowship from the Kennedy Center for directing…which I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the O’Neill.  Needless to say, that place has a very special place in my heart.

Quake (in rehearsal)Quake in rehearsal

How did your company Drive Theatre come about? Who did you collaborate with to make it a reality?

Drive Theatre Company came about in October 2011 when I sat down with my friend and fellow young director Tim Koch and expressed my feelings of frustration in not directing enough.  I was concerned that I was spending too much time assistant directing, associate directing, production coordinating, movement or fight choreographing, but not enough time actually in the director’s seat, seeing your vision out from start to finish.  In particular, there was an Ira Glass quote that made its way around Facebook that went like this:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners.  I wish someone had told me.  All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.  It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.  And your taste is why your work disappoints you.  A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit.  Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.  We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.  We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.  Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.  It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.  And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s gonna take a while.  It’s normal to take a while.  You just gotta fight your way through.”  

THAT is why I started Drive Theatre.  Where it will continue from here on out is evolving, as Tim ended up moving to NYC when he got an assistant director job on Broadway, but producing a lot of work remains my personal mission with the company, so that by the time I’m in a position where I’m directing somewhere with a lot more visibility, I won’t fail from lack of experience and have it cost me my career.


44 Plays for 44 Presidents44 Plays for 44 Presidents

What kinds of shows does the company produce? What is it about these kinds of stories that speak to you?

To quote our mission, “Drive Theatre Company produces bold American plays that explore what it means to be an American.”  Now, that doesn’t just mean that we do patriotic plays, but rather we do plays by American playwrights and look to examine different aspects of our culture, what makes us a country, what are our problems, how can we laugh at them, is there hope, etc.  That’s the umbrella we’re operating under for content, but HOW we operate is also in our mission, “We support and encourage our artists in their pursuit of national theatre careers and endeavor to collaborate with like-minded companies in Los Angeles and major cities nationwide.”  44 Plays for 44 Presidents, our first show, was a part of a national festival where over 44 other productions from around the country happened this past election season.  Through the offerings of the festival staff, we were connected through Facebook, Twitter and emails to these other productions, and I personally had contact with people from many of those productions.  As someone looking to further my freelance career through this theatre company, it’s my mission with Drive to never produce a play that stays no larger than the production itself.  That doesn’t mean we only produce when we can be a part of a festival, but it might mean we look forward to doing co-productions with other companies, do some kind of residency in another city, find a play we feel passionately about producing, identify its themes, and find a common pre-existing event, facility, or company that we can team up with to share business and take away something larger than what we have to offer ourselves.  This all comes from my desire to NOT start the next Steppenwolf.  There are a lot of other small theatre companies in LA, and many of them are great, I’d love to work with them!  But I have no need to try to create my own rival company, producing a full season of shows when that’s being done already by so many wonderful LA theatre artists.

Why theatre?  What can theatre do that other art forms cannot?

Theatre is the epitome of storytelling.  If we can all agree that a good story can change the way we do things, the way we live our lives or the way we look at the world, then a good theatre production can do just that, while at the same time bringing people together and connecting with them face-to-face.  The magic of live performance can never be created through film or television.  Other forms of art are so solitary, no other brings people together in the full-communal way theatre does.  And for me as a director, to be able to sit in an audience while actors genuinely connect, revealing deeply personal truths in serious or comedic contexts, and being present with a whole audience that’s being affected by that…it’s just the best.

What are the challenges of running a theatre company?

The challenges of running a theatre company…ha!  There’s many, from the bigger issues of why this theatre company?  Why now?  How are you different?  Why should a donor give you money and not someone else?  To the practical issues of simply how do I raise money?  How can I keep this company sustainable?  Where do I see it going in 5 years?  Who’s a part of this other than me?  What’s the trade-off for them?  What compromises will I have to make to keep everyone happy?  How do I find new plays?  How do I develop an audience and then keep them engaged, coming back for more?  How do I keep people donating?  This rental theatre sucks, what’s a better one?  Why do all rental theatres suck?!  *sigh* the list goes on 😉  That’s why you gotta love it!

Sources of inspiration?

Ira Glass is the biggest one, I’m influenced by a wide array of theatres, artists, nature, MUSIC, successful friends, unsuccessful friends and much more.

Down in the Face of God (movement direction)Down in the Face of God

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the arts and theatre?

To anyone who would like to pursue a career in arts or theatre–DO IT!  I heard far too many times from guest speakers in school, “If you can do anything else [other than theatre], do it” and it’s the worst bit of advice I’ve ever heard.  For the love of life, do it.  Too many people live life with regrets, all the what-ifs and if-onlys…and that’s the worst.  Say you want to start a theatre company but have no idea how to fund-raise…give it a shot anyway!  If it means something to you, do the research!  Talk to people!  If you want to give acting a shot in the industry, but you’re not sure if the crazy auditioning and getting shut down all the time lifestyle is for you, take a year of your life to do exactly that as best as you can, and if by the end of that year you’re miserable, not sure of who you are anymore, what you believe in, if there’s any hope left in this world, then stop!  Don’t do it anymore!  Do something else, and rest easy knowing that you did it and learned it wasn’t for you, rather than staying safe by never trying and always wishing you had.  One of my close friends from Connecticut set out to be an actor, graduated with his theatre degree, went to NYC and joined a bunch of improv troupes.  Worked a bit in film, joined SAG, and after a few years, realized he wasn’t happy, and loved his girlfriend a lot more than he loved the business, so he left NYC, proposed to his girlfriend, they got married, have a kid, a dog and a house in CT and are completely happy.  He went for it, realized he loved something else more, and changed paths, no regrets.  He inspires me.

Thanks Doug!

Artist Check-In: Painter Debra Slonim

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Debra Slonim, who has been working for the past year on a different way of approaching painting. She has been using oil paints ever since her Grandma Kate taught her how to use them at ten years old. When Slonim decided to pursue being a fine artist, her paintings were rejected because of the lack of realism in her depiction of the human figure. This experience caused her anxiety about her artwork, and for two years she quit painting altogether. She eventually returned to painting, and recently came across the works of Jean Michel Basquiat, whose fast method of painting in acrylics inspired her to take a new path in painting.

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When did you realize you had a passion for painting? 

There is a picture that my mom took of me when I was two years old. I was in a highchair wearing only diapers with a very concentrated look on my face. In this picture I had paint all over the place and a paint brush in my hand. I think I’ve always been a painter; I never had to realize my passion for painting it just found me. When I was a little older, in 5th grade, we had to do state projects. I chose Maine. I had to do a representation of Maine and my Grandma Kate insisted on helping me learn how to oil paint the Maine scenery. She went through a book of pictures I had checked out from the library and let me pick the picture I wanted. Together my grandma and I painted the Maine State bridge (of course she did the majority). That moment with my Grandma was what made me love, and continue to pursue painting.

Who would you say was the main influence on your artistic growth? 
I have had many influences on my art, but right now my main influence supporting growth in my particular style would be Jack Reilly. He is the Art Department chair, and my painting teacher at California State University Channel Islands. Jack is constantly pushing and challenging everything about my art. From my color choices to the dimensions, he’s always making me think more in depth about the work I’m putting out, and the meaning behind it. He’s very supportive when I explore new styles, and he never censors himself with his opinion. I always know exactly where he stands and listening to him makes me more confident in my abilities as an artist.

What other painters’ work do you admire?

As a child, the first work I can vividly remember was Van Gough’s Starry Night. That painting was everything I wanted to be as an artist when I was young and it still inspires me now. The deep blue colors from the painting influenced my color palette for years. When I got into high school, I fell in love with the works of Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. I liked that they were both untraditional. My paintings never had much sense to them, so they inspired me to be myself in a unique way. I also found comfort in the works of the impressionist painters like Mary Cassat, Pierre-Auguste Renior, Claude Monet, and Edgar Degas being my favorites. I love these artists works because they capture life in idealistic state of beauty. As much as I love the beauty of impressionists I also love the gritty works of Jean-Michel Basquiat. He has a very crude way of painting as well as the way he lived his own life. His works make me feel sane, because the chaos in them is so relatable. I relate to the chaos because there are always so many random thoughts going through my head. When I see his work it reminds me of stream of conscience – Basquiat painted exactly what he was thinking. He didn’t edit his thoughts. They were raw and primal. I feel like that from time to time.

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To whom would you liken your own style?

My style is a combination of Pablo Picasso and Jean-Michel Basquiat. I use acrylic paints like Basquiat does to portray layers of emotion, and quick improvisational thinking. While my structure isn’t like anyone else’s, it is most similar to Pablo Picasso. I enjoy doing narrative portraiture, and being able to distort different parts of the body. When I have distorted the portraits, I use painted black lines to bring my emotional strokes together much like Picasso. My lines are more fluid than a Picasso’s, but he is still a large influence on my own style.

What inspires you to get down to painting? An image, an idea, music, etc? 

Emotions inspire me to paint. Painting is my therapy. When I have an issue and I can’t figure out a solution, I start painting. I don’t always solve the problem I paint about, but it quiets me. When emotions aren’t a motivator before I work, I go online and look at other artist’s work. I try to remember as many images as I can. I also look through the studio I paint at, and see what others are creating. I make a mental note of colors, all this information soaks in and I let my hands and my right brain take over.

Shower ideas are the best. Usually when I’m in the shower I get the urge to paint, I’ll have an idea or a quick image in my head of a concept, and I’ll have to leave for the studio soon after to go paint (with my clothes on of course). I also love listening to conversations while I paint. When people are around it usually steers my paintings into a more interactive form of creating; instead of the stereotypical idea of the tormented artist inside their studio locked in there for days. I do listen to music when I paint, but not all the time. Music doesn’t usually inspire me to paint, but it helps me as I’m going through the process of painting. The best kind of music for painting is jazz – it lets my mind wander.

What do you hope your artwork says and what does it contribute with its message?

I hope my artwork shows people there is more to a painting than just paint; there is process, emotion, and life. My paintings are all autobiographical stories about life, and that of those around me. These pieces tell stories in a very expressionistic manner. If there is any message that people take away from my painting I would want it to be, there is more to humanity than the face you see on the outside. No one is perfect, behind our public faces there can be so much stress, turmoil  and self doubt. These emotions in ourselves and in life are what complete us and help us grow as people.

My message through painting is like a self diary. In that respect, I would want people to look at the struggle I go through and think, I can rise above the problems in my own life.

The shapes and colors you incorporate in your work are fantastic. What was the reaction to your distinct stylistic choice when you first started to develop your own painting style?

I was scared out of my mind, I thought that no one would get it. In fact, I didn’t fully understand my emerging style. Trying to obtain this style was almost like tinkering with a science experiment  without knowing which chemicals would create which reactions. So I began to grab everything around me to figure out the right formula for my paintings. I started very abstractly with bright colors and attached spheres made from balloons and paper mache on to my painting. These spheres were fascinating to me, but the flow of my pieces stagnated under these spheres. The color was also very distracting. As beautiful as it was, it needed to be edited into one overall feeling so it could be emotionally read by viewers. Then I started adding my sketches from my notebook to the paintings. I was too timid to paint the sketches onto my canvas, I wasn’t sure how that would read. After a while, a few people started telling me that the sketches weren’t working and I should rethink that. I got mad at the canvas. I got mad at myself, and through that I surrendered to my style. I let it be, and listened to the mentors around me, and at that moment I became comfortable experimenting with my style.

Tell us about your favorite personal piece. Why does it stand out to you?

I made a piece recently on canvas with acrylic paint, newspaper and super gel, called ” Commandment 11″. This piece was empowering to me, because I took one of my first paintings called “The Quest” and painted over it. I had never painted over an old painting before and it made me feel in control of my art. The meaning of both these titles is very significant to me, because when I was starting  to find my own style it was a quest to figure it out. Now that I have gone through all these changes and revisions of style, I come to Commandment 11. What I mean by Commandment 11 is, “to just be yourself.” When I started painting, I was hesitant to paint like I sketched. I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t think that people would like it. By the end of this series, I stopped thinking about what I thought others would like, and I just started painting. This painting has a depiction of god stepping out from the clouds – we can all obtain a form of greatness if we can just be ourselves. This piece stands out to me the most because I found my artistic voice through it.

What project are you excited to be working on currently?

I went to a show at the MOCA Museum in LA called Destroying the Picture: Painting the Void, a show of abstract paintings that came after World War II from 1949-1962. The show highlights 26 artists from all over the world painting in a bold manner through their post war depression. Going to the show left me so inspired I decided to challenge myself to think beyond the clean crisp canvas. So I sliced holes in my canvas, covered it in newspaper, and then painted over it. The holes in the canvas leave the viewer to reflect on, “the void.” Emptiness can be filled with thoughts. How did I feel when I cut the canvas? Is this anger? Is this freedom?

What I love about this project is it’s not just painting anymore, it’s also a sculpture.  I’ve always loved experimenting with this art form. The interesting thing about putting sculpture into paintings is that it makes a viewer redefine, what is a painting? Now it’s something that not only tackles color, but also addresses light, shadow, and space.

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What advice would you offer someone who wants to pursue their artistic ambitions?

Never stop learning. Anyone who wants to be an artist should know a few basics of art history as well as be familiar with contemporary artwork. A great t.v. series to learn more about contemporary art is Art 21. Learning about contemporary art, and the work of the masters is just another tool to help an artist spring board creativity from what’s already been done. Don’t be afraid to get weird, strange, and find an innovative way of doing things. In art it’s normal to not be “normal.” Following the traditional art rules is perfectly alright, but there is not just one way to do things. Do things that you’ve never done before. Trying something new can open up new avenues of exploration.

Talk to other artists, and ask them what their artistic process is. Getting input from other artists makes the whole “art process” less lonely. Also, observe as much art as you can by going to museums, finding gallery shows, and immersing yourself in the art community. Make sure you have some kind of online presence so that you can stay connected to the community, and they can see what you are doing. Connections are important in the art world, so establish good friendships with artists when you can.

Always practice, take classes. A live drawing class session even without a teacher can help you learn so much about light, perspective, and the human figure. Continue to grow in your art, and it will take you down a rewarding road of self discovery.

Thanks Debra! For more of her work, pop on over to her page.

Artist Check-in: Jonathan Machado of THE SHIFT

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Jonathan Machado, a Miami-based filmmaker who is working on a three-pronged project entitled The Shift. It will encompass a film, an instrumental audio album, and an animated graphic art reel that intertwine to show how society is undergoing great changes. This multimedia experience will attempt to redefine the art of storytelling & creative expression.

The project is composed of three distinct pieces:

ACT 1 : The story of a young rebel who is intent on exposing the fraud and corruption he witnesses in politics. His good natured motives, however, are taken to the drastic extreme in his quest to expose the POLITRICKS
ACT 2 : Rachel is a young woman who is envied by most around her. Young, beautiful, and successful, she leads an apparently fulfilled life. But she battles an inner darkness as she is unconsciously addicted to social media, continuously seeking external validation via MORE LIKES
ACT 3 : A loner / nomad / explorer who has been an outsider most of his life is determined to find that unknown spark which he seeks for. After failing to find it in the external world, he moves the search into the depths of his own mind on his quest to ASCEND

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When did you first realize you had an interest in the arts and storytelling? Do you remember the first thing you created?
I first realized I had this interest when I was about 5 or 6. My stepdad came into our life around that time, and he was an incredibly talented craftsman. Literally anything he would tell you he could build with his hands.
One of his strongest fortes was wood sculpting. I remember as a kid just watching him for hours on end sculpting sculpture after sculpture. The fact that he could craft anything he visualized with his own hands stuck to me. We actually collaborated on some pieces, one of which I still have in my living room. I think that mentally laid the groundwork for my interest in the arts.
The first media or artpiece I created on my own was a hip hop beat on a cracked version of Fruity Loops. I remember the first time I played that recording on speakers for my friends. They nodded their heads to it and complimented me on it. The feeling I got from that was unlike any other I ever felt. I was hooked.

What is the scene like in Miami for filmmaking and music? Is it a supportive one?

The film scene in Miami is still very young and raw. It lacks a certain polish that other major markets have. But thats also one of its best aspects. That pure, unadulterated talent is there. If you know where to look.

There’s a lot of competition and egos of course, it is Miami after all. But there’s also an emerging presence of unity and collaboration happening as well.

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Could you describe your current (very ambitious!) project? 

The Shift is an encapsulation of what’s happening now. Our generation is faced with the most distractions than any other before it, but also the most opportunities as well.

There are several goals we are aiming for with this project. The basic one being to create a  fully immersive multimedia experience that innovates the way art is created. People make films. People make albums. People make art books. It’s very rare to see people who create all three, with corresponding themes and stories.

We live in the age where technology grants us the capability to create pretty much anything we hear or visualize in our minds. The Shift is my way of expressing that (or at least, expressing the scattered thoughts in my brain ) It’s controlled chaos.

Looking at the bigger picture, our aim is to express to people that indeed there are great changes occurring at an exponential rate. It’s occurring so fast that most people cant even process whats going on. Were not here to preach, condemn, or suggest a way of life. Basically we’re just asking people “Are you paying attention? ” If you’re not paying attention, it will cost you.

Which part of this project came first: the music which informed the film, or the film’s thematic ideas which then informed the music?

Definitely the music came first. A large part of what we do is music videos, where clients come to us with a song which we mentally transcribe to visuals. Visualizing music became second nature.

[The composer] Matthew and I built a collection of recordings which most people never really heard (or were aware we made in the first place) I thought what better way to debut those recordings than with matching visuals. That eventually snowballed into what it is now.

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What about our current state of technology, media, connectedness frightens you? What about it inspires you?

Nothing about it frightens me really. A knife can be used to stab someone to death, or it can be used to cook dinner for your kids. The knife is not good or bad in itself. It just is. It’s a tool. it’s all on how you use it.

The wonderful thing about this social media revolution is that it grants people access to other people, knowledge, and resources that we never had before. I have received emails, messages, and even funding from people across the world who I would have never came into contact with otherwise. It’s grants us an incredible platform to spread whatever interests us, and connects us to those with the same interest.

On the other hand, I feel its dehumanizing us. We are being conditioned to think less, buy more, and have everything faster. People place less emphasis on establishing personal relationships, and more on how many followers, views, or likes they get.

There have been studies that show that social media is physically rewiring our brains synapses. The research literally suggest we are becoming more robotic like in nature. That’s pretty crazy.

Your project begs of the audience to pay attention to the shifts occurring rapidly around them. What do you hope people take away from the project?

I just hope they grasp the notion that indeed the changes are happening. It shocks me to see how many people are asleep to what’s really going on.

Any sources of inspiration you would like to mention? Other filmmakers or storytellers that made you want to do what you do?

I have vast range of influences:

Musically: The Roots, Flying Lotus, Santana, Nas, Jay Electronica, Hendrix, Clint Mansell.
Film-wise : Kubrick, Tarantino, Scorcese, Guy Ritchie, The Coen Brothers, Park Chan-wook, Christopher Nolan.

Other than that, I would have to say my team (LightWorks Production) definitely pushed me to this level. I probably wouldn’t be into film if not for them.

theshiftIf you want to support Jonathan’s project,
hop on over to the Kickstarter page.

Image Sources: Artist Check-in, other photos courtesy of Trecia Brown