RYOHEI TANAKA & ROB SATO

I’ve been a fan of Rob Sato's work since I picked up the Third Sight “Zodiac Killer” 12” he did the incredible cover art for. The purchase of his superb comic, Burying Sandwiches, cemented his appeal and I’ve tried to keep track of everything he’s been doing since then. 

The above video is a great talk with Rob and his good friend and fellow artist Ryohei Tanaka about their joint show, Paper Noise, at Giant Robot's GR2 gallery last year. I find that, aside from the excellent Live Free Podcast with Mike Maxwell, there are very few podcasts featuring interviews with artists I’m interested in and the GR series is definitely one of the exceptions.

Rob Sato’s Tumblr

Rob Sato interview on the Erratic Phenomena website (2010) 

Rob Sato interview on Stormcloudz website

Ryohei Tanaka’s Blog

Ryohei Tanaka profile at Giant Mango

Philadelphia Weekly interview with Rob, Ryohei and Rob’s wife (and fellow artist) Ako Castuera (who has also featured on the superb Giant Robot podcast series)

NEIL GAIMAN on ‘Where do you get your ideas?’

This is far from a new piece by Neil Gaiman, but I make no apologies for that. This text is taken from Neil Gaiman’s website, which has an abundance of similarly excellent content.

—-

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WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS? by NEIL GAIMAN

Every profession has its pitfalls. Doctors, for example, are always being asked for free medical advice, lawyers are asked for legal information, morticians are told how interesting a profession that must be and then people change the subject fast. And writers are asked where we get our ideas from. 

In the beginning, I used to tell people the not very funny answers, the flip ones: ‘From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,’ I’d say, or ‘From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis,’ ‘From a dusty old book full of ideas in my basement,’ or even ‘From Pete Atkins.’ (The last is slightly esoteric, and may need a little explanation. Pete Atkins is a screenwriter and novelist friend of mine, and we decided a while ago that when asked, I would say that I got them from him, and he’d say he got them from me. It seemed to make sense at the time.) 

Then I got tired of the not very funny answers, and these days I tell people the truth: 

'I make them up,' I tell them. 'Out of my head.' 

People don’t like this answer. I don’t know why not. They look unhappy, as if I’m trying to slip a fast one past them. As if there’s a huge secret, and, for reasons of my own, I’m not telling them how it’s done. 

And of course I’m not. Firstly, I don’t know myself where the ideas really come from, what makes them come, or whether one day they’ll stop. Secondly, I doubt anyone who asks really wants a three hour lecture on the creative process. And thirdly, the ideas aren’t that important. Really they aren’t. Everyone’s got an idea for a book, a movie, a story, a TV series. 

Every published writer has had it - the people who come up to you and tell you that they’ve Got An Idea. And boy, is it a Doozy. It’s such a Doozy that they want to Cut You In On It. The proposal is always the same - they’ll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty. 

I’m reasonably gracious with these people. I tell them, truly, that I have far too many ideas for things as it is, and far too little time. And I wish them the best of luck. 

The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new. 

But still, it’s the question people want to know. In my case, they also want to know if I get them from my dreams. (Answer: no. Dream logic isn’t story logic. Transcribe a dream, and you’ll see. Or better yet, tell someone an important dream - ‘Well, I was in this house that was also my old school, and there was this nurse and she was really an old witch and then she went away but there was a leaf and I couldn’t look at it and I knew if I touched it then something dreadful would happen…’ - and watch their eyes glaze over.) And I don’t give straight answers. Until recently. 

My daughter Holly, who is seven years of age, persuaded me to come in to give a talk to her class. Her teacher was really enthusiastic (‘The children have all been making their own books recently, so perhaps you could come along and tell them about being a professional writer. And lots of little stories. They like the stories.’) and in I came. 

They sat on the floor, I had a chair, fifty seven-year-old-eyes gazed up at me. ‘When I was your age, people told me not to make things up,’ I told them. ‘These days, they give me money for it.’ For twenty minutes I talked, then they asked questions. 

And eventually one of them asked it. 

'Where do you get your ideas?' 

And I realized I owed them an answer. They weren’t old enough to know any better. And it’s a perfectly reasonable question, if you aren’t asked it weekly. 

This is what I told them: 

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. 

You get ideas when you ask yourself simple questions. The most important of the questions is just, What if…? 

(What if you woke up with wings? What if your sister turned into a mouse? What if you all found out that your teacher was planning to eat one of you at the end of term - but you didn’t know who?) 

Another important question is, If only… 

(If only real life was like it is in Hollywood musicals. If only I could shrink myself small as a button. If only a ghost would do my homework.) 

And then there are the others: I wonder… (‘I wonder what she does when she’s alone…’) and If This Goes On… (‘If this goes on telephones are going to start talking to each other, and cut out the middleman…’) and Wouldn’t it be interesting if… (‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if the world used to be ruled by cats?’)… 

Those questions, and others like them, and the questions they, in their turn, pose (‘Well, if cats used to rule the world, why don’t they any more? And how do they feel about that?’) are one of the places ideas come from. 

An idea doesn’t have to be a plot notion, just a place to begin creating. Plots often generate themselves when one begins to ask oneself questions about whatever the starting point is. 

Sometimes an idea is a person (‘There’s a boy who wants to know about magic’). Sometimes it’s a place (‘There’s a castle at the end of time, which is the only place there is…’). Sometimes it’s an image (‘A woman, sifting in a dark room filled with empty faces.’) 

Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven’t come together before. (‘If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?’) 

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly and new. 

And when you’ve an idea - which is, after all, merely something to hold on to as you begin - what then? 

Well, then you write. You put one word after another until it’s finished - whatever it is. 

Sometimes it won’t work, or not in the way you first imagined. Sometimes it doesn’t work at all. Sometimes you throw it out and start again. 

I remember, some years ago, coming up with a perfect idea for a Sandman story. It was about a succubus who gave writers and artists and songwriters ideas in exchange for some of their lives. I called it Sex and Violets. 

It seemed a straightforward story, and it was only when I came to write it I discovered it was like trying to hold fine sand: every time I thought I’d got hold of it, it would trickle through my fingers and vanish. 

I wrote at the time: 

I’ve started this story twice, now, and got about half-way through it each time, only to watch it die on the screen. 

Sandman is, occasionally, a horror comic. But nothing I’ve written for it has ever gotten under my skin like this story I’m now going to have to wind up abandoning (with the deadline already a thing of the past). Probably because it cuts so close to home. It’s the ideas - and the ability to put them down on paper, and turn them into stories - that make me a writer. That mean I don’t have to get up early in the morning and sit on a train with people I don’t know, going to a job I despise. 

My idea of hell is a blank sheet of paper. Or a blank screen. And me, staring at it, unable to think of a single thing worth saying, a single character that people could believe in, a single story that hasn’t been told before. 

Staring at a blank sheet of paper. 

Forever. 

I wrote my way out of it, though. I got desperate (that’s another flip and true answer I give to the where-do-you-get-your-ideas question. ‘Desperation.’ It’s up there with ‘Boredom’ and ‘Deadlines’. All these answers are true to a point.) and took my own terror, and the core idea, and crafted a story called Calliope, which explains, I think pretty definitively, where writers get their ideas from. It’s in a book called DREAM COUNTRY. You can read it if you like. And, somewhere in the writing of that story, I stopped being scared of the ideas going away. 

Where do I get my ideas from? 

I make them up. 

Out of my head. 

—-

Neil Gaiman’s website

Neil Gaiman’s tumblr

Neil Gaiman giving some excellent advice to writers on The Nerdist Podcast 

The link for the above video came from this excellent Brainpickings post 

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

― Neil Gaiman

A transcript of the above can be found here and also purchased in the beautifully created form of Chip Kidd's visual book-shaped translation 'Make Good Art' 

There’s another excellent Brainpickings post about the above video which includes a brief transcript of some of the more salient points which I’ve included below.

  1. Say “no” to projects that take you further from rather than closer to your own creative goals, however flattering or lucrative. (Hugh MacLeod put it beautifully: “The most important thing a creative per­son can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.”)

  2. Approach your creative labor with joy, or else it becomes work. (As Ray Bradbury said, “Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it.”)

    I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work — which meant that life did not feel like work
  3. Embrace your fear of failure. Make peace with the impostor syndrome that comes with success. Don’t be afraid of being wrong.

  4. When things get tough, make good art.

    Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do:  Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.

  5. Make your art, tell your story, find your voice — even if you begin by copying others.

  6. You can get work because of the story you tell about yourself, even if it means embellishing, but you keep working because you’re good.

  7. Enjoy your work and your small victories; don’t get swept up into the next thing before being fully present with the joys of this one.

  8. This is an era in which the creative landscape is in constant flux. The rules are being broken down, the gatekeepers are being replaced and displaced. Now is the time to make up your own rules.

JEREMY FISH x BRADY BALTEZORE x JUXTAPOZ x ADOBE

From JUXTAPOZ

Over the last month on Juxtapoz.com, we’ve been documenting the behind-the-scenes making of Jeremy Fish’s animated mural that coincides with his next art exhibition,Yesterdays and Tomorrows. Using various Adobe programs, including Adobe Creative Cloud, with animator Brady Baltezore, Fish has taken 100 11x14-inch ink-on-paper drawings and turned them into one continuous animation. This past weekend in San Francisco, we turned that animation into a projected mural that took over some of the city’s famous landmarks and became a public showcase in Fish’s own North Beach neighborhood.

During the last several weeks, we followed an insightful process that highlighted both Fish’s and Baltezore’s strengths in collaboration. Fish took the most analog of media, the pen and ink drawing, and transformed it into a moving, fluid piece of animated art. Using his knowledge of Adobe products, Baltezore took Fish’s vision and showed us how to transform the drawings into a completely new visual experience. Using Adobe After Effects, Photoshop, and Ink & Slide, and sharing their progress on Creative Cloud, two artists with completely different skill sets were able to collaborate and create something wonderful together. 

Yesterdays and Tomorrows is a celebration of Fish’s 20 years of living in San Francisco. With that in mind, we wanted to bring this mural to life in, and literally on, some of the places that his drawings depict. We hope our readers will come celebrate on August 15, 2014, when we project this animated mural once again across from Fish’s art opening at FFDG. Experience the drawings inside the gallery, and watch them come to life outside.
See Jeremy Fish’s new show at FFDG in San Francisco on August 15, 2014, from 6–9pm.

fecalface tumblr

juxtapoz tumblr

MCBESS

time flies by from mc bess on Vimeo.

If you’ve travelled on the Tube recently there’s an excellent chance you’ve seen the latest TFL campaign for which they enlisted the talents of London-based French illustrator, Matthieu Bessudo - better known as MCBESS.

There’s an interesting video regarding the process of creating the images below: 

Creative Review did a nice little piece on the series which includes various images of the posters within the station. 


Further reading:

Escape Into Life interview from 2013

Don’t Panic interview from 2011

GoMedia interview from 2011

Amelia’s Magazine interview from 2011

Jeff Vandermeer ‘WONDERBOOK’ + writer pep talk

I started writing a novel when I was around 19/20 years old, back when I was doing my BA in Film Studies. Having become disenchanted by the process of film-making thanks to the lecturers who presided over the practical aspect of the degree, I decided to write a stage play for my final dissertation piece. During the process of writing I came upon a few ideas for a book and started writing them down and putting them to one side in order to concentrate on them after I finished my degree. By the time I finished the degree my focus had drifted towards music production almost completely and, encouraged by the success of getting my music released on various labels, the writing was pushed onto the back-burner. Over the years I’ve done bits and pieces on the novel, but it has never been my primary focus; lately that has changed somewhat and, for whatever reason, I’ve been massively consumed by the urge to really invest significant time and energy on writing. For anyone interested, the word count is now around 17,000 and I feel like I’ve moved somewhere towards the end of the beginning, but none of this is really related to the content of this post. 

When I was writing my stage-play I was doing so within the structure of a regular scriptwriting class, which meant I was encouraged to carry out various activities which I, as the clueless student know-all I probably was to some degree, initially questioned the value of. This didn’t last long. I found that, despite my trepidation, any and every bit of assistance I could find to spur me on in my writing and force me to ask questions of my work and my characters helped immensely. Fast forward a decade and a half and I have none of the support a regimented writing class offers, but I do have two things now which I didn’t have then:

1) The internet;

2) Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘WONDERBOOK: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction’ 

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It’s pointless trying to sum up what WONDERBOOK offers, so I won’t be bothering. Instead, allow me to point you towards the absolutely superb accompanying website, Wonderbooknow.com and to quote the piece Jeff Vandermeer wrote for the NaNoWriMo website (which is itself an excellent resource, irrespective if whether you want to write your novel in a month or, as I clearly opted for, over a couple of decades). The above image is from Scott Eagle’s blog (also it appears on his tumblr site) and shows one of the pieces he did for the book. It’s a pretty good indicator of how seriously it takes the “illustrated” part of the subtitle.

Genuinely, I can’t recommend WONDERBOOK highly enough. There are a load of excellent resources for writers of all types around and I’m not suggesting that I’ve done some kind of exhaustive study of them, I just picked this up because: I have a lot of time for Vandermeer as an author; it includes excellent input from the likes of Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin etc.; it’s a truly beautiful piece of work.

As I said, attempting to write a novel in a month is something I’m unlikely to be able to manage, but the following advice is still absolutely relevant to me and I figured it was was well worth sharing:

—-

Pep Talk from Jeff VanderMeer

Dear Writer,

Writing a novel in a short period of time requires patience, balance, and tenacity. Examining your work process and maximizing your productivity while also making sure you have time to think about your fiction—the creative daydreaming you need to keep the novel alive in your head—will make success more likely. In keeping with that goal, consider these tips:

Give yourself permission to work on what is most pleasurable in the moment. If you’re inspired to write a scene out of order, do it. The scene may change later, but what you lose in rewriting time you gain in positive reinforcement and better energy on the page. This also applies to getting the essence of a scene down. For example, if you’re writing a scene that’s a conversation and it’s just the dialogue that inspires you, write it like a transcript and add description later.

During writing sessions where you are flat-out frozen, pick a different vantage point. Choose a non-viewpoint character and write part of an existing scene from that perspective. Or go back over what you’ve written already and change a decision; turn a character’s yes to no, or vice versa. You might only discover a few details about your characters, but something is better than nothing.

Take a moment when you reach the midway or two-thirds point to list each scene you’ve written in book order. Then detail, under each scene heading, every major action or moment of emotional resonance in that scene. Make sure what you have seems sound, and try to then either adjust your existing outline for the remaining scenes or, if there is no existing outline, map them out.

Don’t Panic. Part of not panicking is to focus on the day’s work—and that requires having a sense the night before of what you plan to work on the next day. Priming your subconscious for that task may mean you have more answers when you wake up, too. Early on in the month, get a firm sense of what you can reasonably expect to finish on an average day and don’t over-commit—which leads to disappointment and then to panic.

Capture inspiration as it comes to you. Always write down ideas immediately, and allow yourself to run with them, even if you wind up filling lots of pages. You may find that you’ve already done some of the hard work in the notebook, through the scene fragments, bits of dialogue, and description that you wrote in these short bursts.

Finally, position yourself to succeed by doing the other things in your life that rejuvenate you. Some form of exercise, for example, in combination with eating chocolate, or taking time off to watch part of a TV show. You can create little islands of time away from your novel that will help preserve your balance. Exhaustion will affect both your writing’s quality and your productivity toward the end of the month.

NaNoWriMo may seem like a sprint, but four weeks can be an eternity, if you prep properly. Sometimes, the only difference between success and failure is the set-up—and here that means making sure your conscious and subconscious minds have every opportunity to be of use to your writing. Good luck!

Jeff

—-

(originally published at nanowrimo.org)

18 tips for comics artists by Moebius "brief manual for cartoonist "

  • My 8house collaborator and impressive dude, Xurxo g Penalta translated this Spanish Moebius list of advice for artists. I thought would be cool to post. (Thanks Xurxo)
  • http: //www.jornada.unam.mx/1996/08/18/sem-moebius.html
  • 1. when you draw you must clean yourself of deep feelings (hate, happiness, ambition, etc)
  • 2 it's important to educate the hand, attain obedience, to full fill ideas. but careful with perfection, to much, as well as too much speed, as well as their opposites are dangerous. to much looseness, instant drawings,aside from mistakes, there's no will of the spirit, only the bodies.
  • 3. perspective is of sum importance, it;s a law of manipulation in the good sense, to hypnotise the reader. it;s good to work in real spaces, more that with photos, to exercise our reading of perspective.
  • 4.another thing to learn with affection is the study of the human body, the positions, the types, the expressions, the arquitecture of bodies, the difference between people. the drawing is very different when it come to a male or a female, because in the male you can change a little the lines, it supports to have some impressions. but with the female precision must be perfect, if not she may turn ugly or upset. then no one buys our book! so for the reader believes the story, the characters must have life and personality of their own, gestures that come from character, from their diseases; the body transforms with life and there's a message in the structure, in the distribution of fat, in every muscle, in every fold of the face and body. it;s a study of life.
  • 5. when you make a story you can start with out knowing everything, but making notes (in the actual story) about the particular world of that story. that way the reader recognizes and becomes interested. when a character dies in a story, and that character has no story drawn in his face in his body, in his dress, the reader does not care, there's no emotion. and then the editors say: "your story is worthless, there's only one dead guys and I need 2) or 30 dead guys for it to work" but that is not true, if the dead guy, or wounded guy or sick guys or whomever is in trouble has a real personality that comes from study, from the artists capacity for observation, emotion will emerge (empathy). In the study you develop an attention for others, a compassion, and a love for humanity.
  • it's very important for the development of an artist, if he wants to be a mirror, it must contain inside it;s consciousness the whole world, a mirror that sees everything.
  • 6. jodorwosky says I don't like drawing dead horses. it;s very difficult. it's very difficult to draw a body that sleeps, that's abandoned, because in comics you're always studying action. it;s easier to draw people fighting thats way Americans always draw superheroes. it;s more difficult to draw people talking, because there are a series of movements, very small, but that have a significance, and that accounts for more, because it need love, attention to the other, to the little things that speak of personality, of life. the superheores have no personality, all of them have the same gestures and movements (pantomimes ferocity, running and fighting)
  • 7. equally important is the clothing of the characters, the state they;re in, the materials, the textures are a vision of their experiences, of their lives, their situation in the adventure, that can say a lot with out words. In a drew there's a million folds, you must chose 2 or 3, but the good ones.
  • 8. the style, the stylistically continuity of an artist is symbolical, it can be read like the tarot. I chose as a joke the name Moebius, when I was 22, but in truth there's a meaning to that. if you bring a t shirt with Don Quixote, that speaks to me of who you are. in my case, I give importance to a drawing of relative simplicity, that way subtle indications can be made.
  • 9. when an artist, a drawing artist goes out on the street, he does not see the same things other people see. what he sees is documentation about a way of life, about people.
  • 10. another important element is composition. the composition on our stories must be studied, because a page, or a painting, is a face that looks towards (faces) the reader and that speaks to him. it's not a succession of panels with out meaning. there's panels that are full and some that are empty, others that have a vertical dynamic or a horizontal one, and on that there is intention. the vertical excites (cheers), the horizontal calms, an oblique to the right , for us westerners, represents the action heads towards the future, and oblique to the left directs action toward the past. points (points of attention) represent a dispersion of energy. something places in the middle focalises energy and attention, it concentrates.
  • these are basic symbols for reading, that exercise a fascination, a hypnosis. you must have a consciousness about rhythm, set traps for the reader to fall on to, and if he falls, and gets lost and may move inside them with pleasure because there's life. you must study the great painters, the ones that speak with their paintings, of any school or period, that does not matter, and they must be seen with that preoccupation for physical composition, but also emotional. in what way the combination of lines on that artist touches us directly in the heart.
  • 11. narration must harmonize with the drawing. there must be a visual rhythm from the placement of words, plot must correctly maneuver cadence, to compress or expand time. must weary of the election and direction of characters. use them as a film director and study all different takes.
  • 12. careful with the devastating influence of north american comics in mexico, they only study a little anatomy, dynamic composition, the monsters, the fights, the screaming and teeth (grin). I like them as well, but there are many other possibilities that must be explored.
  • 13. there's a connection between music and drawing. but that depends also on the personality and the moment. for perhaps 10 years I've been working in silence, and for me the music is rhythm of the lines (the music he listens to).
  • to draw is sometimes to hunt for findings, an exact (fair, just) line is an orgasm!
  • 14. color is a language that the artist (drawing artist) uses to manipulate the readers attention and to create beauty. there's objective and subjective color, the emotional states of the character influence the coloring and lighting can change from one panel to the next, depending on the space represented and the time of the day. the language of color must be studied with attention.
  • 15. especially at the beginning of a career, one should work on short stories but of a very high quality. there's a better chance to finish them successfully and place them on a book or with editors.
  • 16. there are times when we are headed to failure knowingly, we choose a theme, an existence, a technique that does not suit (convene) us. you must not complain afterwards.
  • 17. when new pages are sent to editors and see rejection, we should ask for the reasons. we must study the reasons for failure and learn. it's not about struggle with our limitations or with public or the publishers. it's more about treating it like in aikido; the strength (power) of the attack is used to defeat him with the same effort.
  • 18. now it is possible to find reader in any part of the planet. we must have this present. to begin with, drawing is a way of personal communication, but this does not imply that the artist must envelop himself in a bubble; it' communication with the beings near us, with oneself, but also with unknown people. Drawing is a medium to communicate with the great family we have not met, the public, the world.
  • august 18th 1996 compiled by Perez Ruiz

Einstein’s Camera 

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If you haven’t happened upon the work of Adam Magyar, this article from Medium Magazine is an excellent introduction.

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In a growing body of photographic and video art done over the past decade, Magyar bends conventional representations of time and space, stretching milliseconds into minutes, freezing moments with a resolution that the naked eye could never have perceived. His art evokes such variegated sources as Albert Einstein, Zen Buddhism, even the 1960s TV series The Twilight Zone. The images—sleek silver subway cars, solemn commuters lost in private worlds—are beautiful and elegant, but also produce feelings of disquiet. “These moments I capture are meaningless, there is no story in them, and if you can catch the core, the essence of being, you capture probably everything,” Magyar says in one of the many cryptic comments about his work that reflect both their hypnotic appeal and their elusiveness.

Adam Magyar - Stainless, 42 Street (excerpt) from Adam Magyar on Vimeo.

Adam Magyar - Stainless, Alexanderplatz (excerpt), 2011 from Adam Magyar on Vimeo.

Adam Magyar, Stainless - Sindorim (excerpt) from Adam Magyar on Vimeo.

Adam Magyar, Stainless - Shinjuku (excerpt) from Adam Magyar on Vimeo.

Guillermo del Toro Shares 14 Creative Insights From His Spectacular Cabinet Of Curiosities Sketch Book



NOTE: I’ve included the link at the end of this post because it is important to credit the original source of this piece, plus there are images there which are well worth checking out

I chose to reformat it and include it here directly because I find it clumsy to read in the original format, especially if you’re not on a large screen (i.e. if you’re on a mobile phone) and this stuff is too golden to be undermined by poor on-screen formatting. 

—-

GUILLERMO DEL TORO SHARES 14 CREATIVE INSIGHTS FROM HIS SPECTACULAR CABINET OF CURIOSITIES SKETCH BOOK

BY HUGH HART

OCTOBER 29, 2013

Fantasy master and creature creator Guillermo del Toro opens up his Cabinet of Curiosities and talks about the horror inside us all and the importance of failure.

When Guillermo del Toro was four years old, his father won the lottery and moved the family to a better house in Guadalajara, Mexico. That’s the last time dumb luck seriously impacted the visionary horror maestro’s brilliant career.

Equipped as a child with a prodigious imagination and ferocious curiosity, del Toro tore through a book a day, crafted plastic internal organ facsimiles with his brother, taught himself to draw at age seven and sold color-penciled comic booklets to family members. In his teens, del Toro worked next door to a morgue, consumed comics by the tens of thousands and watched hundreds of monster flicks at the local cinema.

Del Toro honed his eye for the gory detail by designing makeup and effects for his Necropia company before directing his own Spanish language horror films including Cronos and the haunted orphange thriller The Devils Backbone.

When Hollywood came calling, del Toro populated two Hellboy movies with extraordinarily freakish villains. In 2006 he pulled from Greek mythology and fairy tale traditions to illuminate the Oscar-nominated Spanish Civil War fantasia Pan’s Labyrinth.

A dry spell followed. Peter Jackson hired del Toro to direct The Hobbit but decided ultimately to helm the franchise himself. Del Toro also spent a year developing Tom Cruise’s still un-made At The Mountains of Madness project.

Last summer del Toro returned to form with the visually bruising monster-versus-robot slamfest Pacific Rim. He’s now producing FX Networks’ vampire-themed TV movie The Strain and prepping Jessica Chastain’s 2014 horror movie Crimson Peak. Further down the road: a new Pinocchio.

All along the way, del Toro has been sketching monsters, devices, doodles, and random visuals in notebooks he describes as “idea incubators.” A selection of those drawings now go public in Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions (out Oct. 29 from Harper Design).

Speaking from the Los Angeles suburbs, where he lives with wife and two daughters a few blocks from his memorabilia-filled “Bleak House,” del Toro talks to Co.Create about pilfering ideas from his younger self, the horror of biology, his love/hate relationship with the color red and the importance of drilling beneath pop culture surfaces to tap fearsome ancient traditions.

1. KNOW WHAT CAME BEFORE, PART 1

In order to have a voice you have to reach inside you and be completely yourself; but, to paraphrase Stephen King, all the songs have been sung. It helps if you’re aware of all the singers that came before you so you can be rooted in tradition and then push it to a new place. That’s the only thing we can offer: a new voice in a really, really old tale.

When you trace back fantastic imagery, you’re going to stumble upon Marcel Schwob and Odilon Redon; you’re going to stumble upon Dadaism, surrealism, symbolism, then you go all the way back to Mesopotamian sculpture and Egyptian murals. That’s the great thing about the fantastical narrative—it’s been with us since the origins of our culture and that gives you a spring board for not just trying to do what is being done right now.

2. GET THE GORE RIGHT

When I was eight years old I read The Family Health Medicine Encyclopedia and instantly introspected every disease. I thought ‘Oh my God I’m dying!’ I was the world’s youngest hypochondriac because I was absolutely sure I was dying of trichinosis, of cardiac arrhythmia.

We’re shooting The Strain now and I talked to the actress about the stinger of the vampire injecting hair-thin worms into their hosts. I’m telling her they’re like Dirofilaria immitis, which is the heart worm that lives in the hearts of dogs, and she was completely disgusted, but for me it’s completely natural to talk about parasites by their scientific name and know that they have very simple, collagen bodies and atrophied digestive systems. All of that starts with biological curiosity.

3. UNDERSTAND THAT BIOLOGY IS HORROR

The most intimate betrayal of every human being starts in her body or his body. From the moment we’re born, we already have a cancer gestating or an atrophied muscle or a malformed vein or aorta. We are almost like spirits or minds that are being hosted in a bag of meat that is treacherous. Biology as horror is an anxiety that comes with modernity. I don’t think Egyptians felt anxiety about that. Their cosmology had to do with the skies and dawn and death, but our cosmology right now is colon cancer, lung cancer—these are the demons we really fear. Viruses. Anthrax. This is the language we speak now and therefore biology is at the same time fascinating and incredibly horrifying.

4. KNOW WHAT CAME BEFORE, PART 2

The more you dig beyond the pop culture roots of horror, the more you find things that make you think differently from everybody who’s doing horror in a contemporary fashion.

When you go back to horror of the 1970s and the 1980s, you track that back to the pulp magazines, then you trace those back to Victorian horror, then you go back to the origins of Gothic romance and keep going back to the tales that become folklore. You go through Victor Hugo and The Man Who Laughs and Charles Dickens with his many ghost stories, you go through Henry James and Shirley Jackson and Oscar Wilde. You go through a lot of writers that people who are only obsessed with the pop culture representation of the genre don’t normally take into account.

5. SCHOOL YOURSELF IN LIFE

Film school is incredibly valuable because you’re surrounded by an atmosphere that’s conducive to making films, but the danger is to think that you’re going to have something to say just by experiencing film. I know only one filmmaker who truly seems to live in a world of movies and that’s Quentin (Tarantino). He can talk about Alan Ladd or Robert Mitchum as fluently as if he were talking about a cousin or an uncle. But Quentin’s an exception.

Scorsese, a huge student of film, grew up very fragile in a really tough neighborhood so he was definitely vetted by a lot of life influences.

I identify with my very particular upbringing as a lapsed Catholic and the relationship I had with violence and death growing up in Mexico. When people ask me, “Why are you drawn to unborn things or things in a jar?” well, it comes from my childhood when I was exposed to biological parts in jars in school or when I worked as a teenager next door to a morgue. These are strange experiences but they shape who you are. They are connected not to a pop reference archive but to a live archive and cultural archive that goes deep.

All I’m saying is, there’s no substitute for being sculpted by life. You need to feel the pain, or the absence, or the presence of something evil or whatever it is, and then you need to articulate that through film or novels or painting or whatever craft is available to you.

6. THINK VISUALLY

I find things in my notebook—things that I have a hard time explaining without an elaborate drawing. For Pan’s Labyrinth, I copied a sculpture that make up effects company DDT had done of the Pale Man. He had eyes and a nose and a mouth. I copied that in my notebook and then I erased the face and sent it back to them. There was no way I could have verbalized why it was going to work unless I sketched it but I knew it was going to work.

I was really afraid of manta rays when I was growing up as a kid and when you flop a manta ray on its back, it has the little little mouth and the two little nostril-like openings. They were so creepy.

7. KNOW WHAT CAME BEFORE, PART 3

If you’re trying to make a monster by imitating, say, Ray Harryhausen, then you immerse yourself in Harryhausen and find out he was inspired by the French engraver Gustav Doré. Then you find out Doré was inspired by neo-classical sculptures and engravers so you go there and little by little you wind up looking at rough 14th-century illustrations. You see an olive-skinned devil with a face on its ass and you realize, ‘Oh my God this works because it’s simple.’ You have to always try to express the creature in its purest form.

8. SIMPLIFY THE SCARE

Look at a lion. It’s very elegant; but when the lion gets angry, it’s scary as fuck. Look at a shark. It’s basically a mouth with a tail to support it, and that’s very scary.

When young kids compete to design make up effects or a new monster, the salient defect I find is that it has horns and wings and hairs and teeth and evil eyes and a lot of scales and pus and sores. It becomes impossible to admire or love or be in awe of because so much has accumulated. You need to be selective. You need to decide what the design represents, even if the form is somewhat baroque, and ask yourself “How can you do it economically?” You have to figure out how to best communicate the idea in its simplest form.

9. MESSY IS OKAY

Mike Mignola told me that Frank Frazetta used to paint with the gnarliest, ugliest looking brushes he’d ever seen. When Mike goes to a studio and sees all the Prismacolor (colored pencils) that are pristine and all the beautiful brushes that are clean, he says that’s the sign of someone who doesn’t work enough. That’s the sign of someone who wants to look like a painter more than be a painter. It’s incredible how much the craft of the designer winds up being not in the tools but in the soul.

10. STEAL FROM YOUR YOUNGER SELF

What’s great about a sketch book is, you put drawings in it and then they’re there. You carry them with you and consult them and thieve from yourself. There’s something about that guy at 28 or 35: he’s smarter or fresher than you are at 40 but he’s somebody who understands you perfectly, because it’s you.

In a sketch book you can distill your compulsions, because I believe every artist is just the sum of his or her compulsions. Keeping a catalog of those obsessions through the years, you steal from someone who is almost electrically alive with those same compulsions at age 21. That makes the dialogue very fluid. I revisit the books before every project.

I showed somebody this illustration of a heart with a parasitic thing growing around it that I did in 1992 and it’s almost exactly the sculpture of a vampiric heart we used on The Strain last week. I laughed because here we are 21 years later and now it’s a piece of make up effects.

11. COLOR WITH CARE

In a film you can art direct anything to be an expressive part of the storytelling so it’s incredibly important to codify color. The rule I start with is that red should be used very very pointedly. You need to be careful about what it means. In Pacific Rim, red was life, represented by the little shoe of the girl Mako Mori—Rinko Kikuchi—in Tokyo. Mako doesn’t recuperate the red color until the end of the movie when she and Charlie Hunnam end up bathed in red. These are little things you can codify in a painterly way in movies. Nobody needs to notice, but you know.

12. MAKE A TRANSCENDENT MOMENT

Some of the most memorable fantasy film images come not from greatest screenplays or stories but from quickie B movies where the image was coded so strongly that it stood above and beyond the content.

The Gill Man in Creature from the Black Lagoon is, you could argue, sort of a mixture of Beauty and the Beast and King Kong with a touch of this and that, but the creature swimming underneath Miss Adams in her white suit is one of the sexiest and most beautiful moments in film history. It rises above and beyond anything else in the movie. It’s a purely cinematic moment of communication.

13. EMBRACE FAILURE

I think it’s essential to fuck up. I think of failure as latent success. Any experience in life is neutral. You can tint it as a piece of learning or you tint it as a piece of misinformation.

I thank God for the two years I spent in New Zealand working on The Hobbit, scouting, designing, breaking bread with the geniuses at WETA, having afternoons of elucidating stories with Peter (Jackson), Phillipa (Boyens) and Fran (Walsh). I can not measure it only by: ‘Did I direct the movie or did I not direct the movie?’ I grew up as a filmmaker.

Now, is it a heartache? Oh yeah. It’s huge. It’s painful. But you learn from it. If all you think about is success rather than fulfillment, that’s a dangerous coin you’re dealing with. That kind of success has a horrible exchange rate of currency. Horrible. It’s never going to be enough to pay the debts you have in your soul as an artist.

14. FIND YOURSELF IN THE STORY

We tell stories because we have a hollow place in our heart. You don’t fill that with success.You fill it by finding yourself in the stories you tell. They can be viewed by 10 people, or they can be viewed by 10 million people.

When we showed Cronos to the head of the Mexican film Institute, he said this movie’s going to go nowhere blah blah blah. I memorialized that day in my notebook because I said “I have to out live this day.”

Everybody reads the reviews; it’s inevitable. But how you end up filing that in your heart is very important. Don’t file it under “I must stop.” File it under “Fuck it, I’m going to prevail.”

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The original of this article can be found on the Fast Co Create website as part of their 2013 Essential Creative Wisdom series

tumblrbot asked:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE INANIMATE OBJECT?

Anything you can create something with. Pens, pencils, paint, musical instruments - whatever your weapon of choice is. Right at this second mine would probably be a pencil.