This is the transcript for the podcast episode Claire Keane, Jenn Ely & Brian McDonald on Art, Fear & Finding Your Calling (Part 2) :: ArtCast #93. To listen to the podcast click here.
Chris: Chris Oatley’s Artcast, episode 93, “Art, Fear, & Finding Your Calling – A Conversation with Claire Keane, Brian McDonald, and Jenn Ely, Part 2.”
Hello my friends, and welcome to another episode of Chris Oatley’s Artcast. I’m Chris Oatley, a former Disney artist gone rogue. I’m not the director of the Oatley Academy of Visual Storytelling, where I get to work every day with the most positive, passionate, collaborative community of creatives I have ever known. You can find more art and story podcasts from some of the most inspiring voices in animation, games, vfx, comics, and new media at OatleyAcademy.com/shows.
In part one of this two-part series, Claire Keane, Brian McDonald, Jenn Ely, and I announce The Story Design Conference, a five day educational experience we created to help you become the great visual storyteller you’re meant to be. We were planning to hold the conference in the spring, but I failed to realize what so many potential attendees communicated to us immediately following the announcement. You need more than two months to make international travel plans. So we moved the dates. This year’s conference will now take place in the fall – September 28 through October 2, 2016. It will still take place in the awe inspiringly beautiful city of Rome, Italy and the guests and the curriculum which will focus on color, composition, and character development will also remain the same. Visit OatleyAcademy.com/go/rome, again that’s OatleyAcademy.com/go/rome to find out more and register for the event. In celebration of our announcement, we decided to have a conversation about some of the big ideas we’ll be discussing during the conference. In part one, we talked about why you might never find your calling and why that’s a good thing, how the most intimidating problems can also be the most inspiring, and why fear never goes away no matter how successful you become. You can find part one of this interview at OatleyAcademy.com/nofear1. Now in part two, we’ll discuss how to convey emotion through your work, what makes student work stand out, how to keep going when you feel defeated, and what we’re looking forward to at The Story Design Conference.
Because we moved the dates, we also reset the timer on the amazing early bird rate. So again, go to OatleyAcademy.com/go/rome to find out more and register. And now here’s part two of my stirring conversation with Claire Keane, Brian McDonald, and Jenn Ely.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about conveying emotion through your work. And it’s always been interesting to me, but I’ve become fascinated with this idea recently, just absolutely fascinated with it – the idea of mark making and how a mark truly can evoke an emotion. And that emotion can be kind of universal oftentimes, depending…I’ve been thinking a lot about Vincent van Gough, I think about Vincent van Gough all the time but I’ve been thinking about him in a different way recently because of our friend Adam Westbrook’s recent video about Vincent van Gough. He did a video essay called Painting in the Dark, and in fact it’s about flow and pressing through the struggle, and I highly recommend it for anyone listening to this interview. Anyway my point is, I’ve just been thinking about van Gough for example and how he was obsessed with this idea of containing this abstract emotion or this abstract kind of human experience in a painting, in a permanent piece of work. And that’s what’s so incredible about storytelling right? It’s the ability to take the abstract or the spiritual and make it a thing, make it a real thing that people can look at or experience and experience some sort of emotional or spiritual connection to each other because of it. It’s amazing and it’s one of the things that drives me most as an artist. So I’m interested in whatever thought you’ve given to this idea of deliberately trying to convey an emotion through your work and I know Brian, you’ve written at length about this idea. And so maybe you can start us off…
Brian: What have I said about it? I don’t usually read my stuff.
Chris: Well that’s the whole…anyway the premise of Golden Theme, right? I mean…
Brian: Well that’s true.
Chris: It’s this idea of you know, humanity and the human experience and how we find that in truly good story.
Brian: Yeah, I think that the key is always…it’s a weird thing because it’s an external thing right, it’s a piece of art or a piece of writing…it’s an external thing. But it’s an internal process and if you don’t have the emotions when you’re creating the thing, if you’re not tapping into them, they won’t be there. There’s no technique that will put them there. You have to have that, and you just have to be naked on the page that way, and that can be really hard for people to do. In a lot of my classes, we do improve exercises because improve is a way of breaking down that people high, they think they can hide behind their art like, “Well I don’t want to be in front of people.” Well it’s like, well what do you think art is? You’re in front of people in ways that you can’t even imagine. It’s you there, it’s you up there. If it’s not you, it’s no good and you have to risk them rejecting you, and that’s really hard for people. So you have to have the emotion. I had to write a scene, I had a pacifist character in a screenplay and he had to kill somebody. It was just part of the thing, I didn’t want it to and I remember I had to get into this character’s space and I went home and my girlfriend’s like, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “Oh this guy had to kill a guy today,” and I was really upset about it because I had to go with the experience. I had to have it for other people to have it, that’s all I can say about it I think is that you have to have the emotion in order to convey it.
Claire: Yeah, I would also kind of along those lines, is the emotion kind of comes with what you’re trying to say. An emotion without context can be kind of difficult, I mean I’m thinking of the students who were creating portfolio pieces kind of in the void and it’s kind of difficult to create an image about fear if there’s no story in their head behind that. But I guess emotions are completely dependent on context.
Brian: Yeah, that’s true.
Jenn: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting idea because I was just kind of listening to Brian talk and thinking about it because I agree with a lot of things that you both said, but I was just thinking about how it’s funny that the context is so important. The context matters so much, but in the same way that context is actually insignificant to the emotion. Like, you need that specific context to be honest, right? For it to come from an honest place, but me looking at it – I don’t have to be exactly like you and have been in that exact situation to connect to that, right?
Claire: It’s like the connecting force between all of these different contexts that we could potentially be in, but the emotion is the thing that links us all together because in the end, there’s only like so many emotions that are part of the human existence and we share those.
Jenn: Yeah, there’s a massive shared experience and our brains and everything about us, we want to connect the dots. We want to connect with each other. We want to feel what the person next to us is feeling. It’s why we go to movies, it’s why we listen to songs and things like that. We have these things that connect us together as human beings, and I think that’s one of the most important things. I also think another really important thing to me that I find really exciting is like, it doesn’t matter that you have this like highly honed realistic style that’s like super advanced; you can pick up a pencil and draw stick figures and communicate something to me if you have a context, if you have an honest perspective and you are sincere. Like I can watch a Don Hertzfeldt thing or like Eleanor Davis, I think about her all the time because she makes these little comics and little drawings and stuff. And there’s this one that’s just about anxiety and just about all the things that you carry around. And it’s like this girl goes into a room and these black snakes come out of her body and then she’s like cleansed in this horrible way and they leave orange slices out for her when she comes out. It’s so abstract and it’s so strange but you immediately know exactly what she’s talking about. It’s like so sketchbook, black and white, whatever, like it’s incredible what you can do picking up a #2 pencil or whatever.
Claire: Yeah, yeah.