Music and illustration have been a huge part of my life ever since a very young age. I grew up in a musical household: my mother was a singer and my father a composer who happens to play the pipe organ. Even though I took lots of music lessons throughout my childhood, listened to music constantly, and wrote songs on the piano, I didn’t truly manage to find my musical footing until about 7th or 8th grade.
My first artistic endeavour really was illustration. I started drawing at a very young age – I was drawing everything in sight as soon as I could hold a pencil. If you asked me what my favourite subject in school was before 5th grade I would’ve said English and music. Music is probably obvious, but English is in there for the sole reason that I could write stories with accompanying illustrations.
Every day after school I’d blast through my homework and write picture books. There’s one called “The Astrocats” which I made in, I think, 3rd or 4th grade.
Adventures of cats in space – can you really get any better than that? I should revisit this one…
I remember that I got my first sketchbook around that time as well, as a gift. I took it with me everywhere, and ever since I have always had a sketchbook with me no matter where I go. Though these days my sketchbook is digital, in the form of an iPad.
Once 5th grade hit, it was no longer kosher to draw pictures on English assignments, and that’s really when I started struggling in school. It was a very small, private, Catholic school, with no art class or really any artistic outlets beyond a 40 minute music class every week or so, but I made the best of it by drawing during recess and lunch. During library time, I’d rush through my required reading then spend the rest of the time reading and copying from “how to draw” books. I wanted to be an animator for Disney (and also a rock star on the side, but we’ll talk about that another day), so I knew I had some work to do to get there.
One year my parents bought me some private art lessons, and that’s really when my formal training began. It was shortlived, but I still use a lot of those techniques that I learned in my drawing today, especially when drawing from live reference.
Over the years I continued to learn by doing – I learned the most by drawing with my cousin (who is a far superior artist to myself), drawing from life references, and copying how-to books, comics I liked, and anatomy books. In high school I was lucky enough to go to a school which not only had an actual art class (finally!), but super supportive teachers who were media-minded. Somehow they let me pass with animated cartoons as the majority of my reports, instead of essays! One of those animated book reports actually played in the local film festival one summer, even.
By that time, traditional animation was really starting to take a back seat to CGI-styled ones, and it became clear that maybe that wasn’t a great move professionally anymore. I knew I wanted to continue making movies and music though, so after high school I put drawing in the back seat of the Nina-bus. I still took commissions when they popped up, and I storyboard all of my projects before I shoot them, but illustration in general just wasn’t as much of a focus for me anymore.
Today I’m picking it back up with a vengeance – and I’m thankful for the internet and its wealth of information to help me get my skills up to par.
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t put it quite so far back in the Nina-bus, and that I had gone out of my way to expand my formal illustration education more, especially in college. But if it’s one thing I’m learning as I get older it’s that it’s never too late to get back into whatever you’re passionate about, and that there’s always an outlet for it.