We get to interview the amazing Kenneth Anderson – professional character designer and illustrator based in the United Kingdom.
We will pick his brain a bit about the way he makes art, what he thinks about art schools and some artsy tips along the way!
If you don’t follow him on social media yet, feel free to check out his awesome stuff on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or simply take a look at his Website.
Anna: We are so glad you are here with us today! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kenneth: Thanks for inviting me! I appreciate it.
I’m a character designer and illustrator based in Glasgow, Scotland. I’ve been working as an artist since 2005, working across animation, games and illustration. I work mainly in children’s television programming at the moment, designing characters, props and very occasionally environment designs.
A: Have you studied at an art college/university? How important do you think they are?
K: Yes, I went to an art school / university here in Scotland straight after high school, to study first a general art foundation and then animation.
I think it’s an interesting question as a lot of this industry is focused on experience and having a level of technical skill – the degree or qualification isn’t always necessary. It’s definitely not essential. I think it depends how someone best learns. Some people will flourish in a teaching environment, some will flourish teaching themselves at home.
When I went to art school, online teaching resources weren’t as common or developed as they are now. If I was starting out now I would definitely consider not going to art school and just teaching myself character design and animation at home.
But there are things you cant get from that method – my time at art school got me work experience which led to paid work later on. I also enjoyed the social aspect of it.
So really, it depends. If I had to pay a lot of money to go to art school I would seriously consider investing it in online resources instead – however if I could afford a really good school and was lucky enough to be able to attend one, then I would probably do that. If I had the chance to do a couple of years of general atelier style art study – painting, sculpture, drawing etc – I would definitely do that. That kind of training is invaluable regardless of which field of art and design someone wants to work in.
A: Who are your biggest inspirations?
K: When I was a young kid, my dad. He used to draw me Ninja Turtles and I was in awe at his drawing ability. I think seeing him draw so well encouraged me to draw better.
As I grew up I got into Calvin and Hobbes, Monkey Island and Wallace and Gromit – my biggest professional art heroes today are still Bill Waterson and Nick Park. I love their art, their sensibilities but also their attitude towards their work. The worlds they have created obsessed me as a kid and that appreciation is still with me today. Nick Park’s work is what got me into animation so I would put him above the rest in terms of inspiration.
Later on I got into the work of Nico Marlet, Peter De Seve and Carter Goodrich. The work they do on feature animation is inspiring. I also like the fact that they all have an illustration background, they bring a unique vision to the world of animation. I also wish I could draw like them.
In addition, I like the work of Johnny Duddle, Ian McQue, Drew Struzan and LD Austin but also old time illustrators and artists such as LC Leyendecker, John Singer Sargent, Monet and Alphonse Mucha. All these artists differ greatly in style and what they do – I think it’s good to take influences from different areas of the art world.
A: I love the characters you create! What do you base them on? Where do those ideas come from?
K: Thank you! That’s nice to hear.
Good question… I guess inspiration comes from anywhere. Some characters are just born out of a spontaneous doodle, others are a bit more thought out and maybe relate to a story idea I have. A lot of the time I am just drawing for practice and now and then something pops out which I genuinely like, at least for my personal work. I might also be inspired by the books or films I’m watching at the time or maybe an emotional state. I do hope in the near future to start creating characters based on story ideas I have, for books, games and comics.
I also get some ideas from travelling – I love to take off somewhere and explore and along the way I usually meet a whole host of wonderful and unusual people. No doubt they are all lurking in my sub conscious still, waiting to be drawn!
In case you hadn’t noticed, I love to draw pirates. I think this comes from playing Monkey Island as a kid but also from Pirate Lego. I loved that stuff. Those two things were staples of my childhood and I think I’m still drawing on that today. The more I think about it, a lot of what I draw is connected to that sense of nostalgia for the things I enjoyed as a kid, trying to capture a feeling I might have had watching films and cartoons and trying to pass it on through my work in some small way.
A: What do you find to be the hardest part about being an artist of the 21st century? What about the best thing?
K: Well, I guess these days being a commercial artist is a lot easier in the sense things like the internet have opened up a lot of doors. Which is a great thing! But it also means there is a lot more competition out there. Add to that, trying to keep up with advancements in technology – it really keeps you on your toes. It can be a bit overwhelming at times as technology moves so fast. Luckily for me, as a 2D designer, my skill doesn’t necessarily depend on tech and could be done with a pencil and paper. Another thing is social media and online artist platforms. There are so many of them! For a while I tried to engage in them all, but its hard work so now I have a limited focus on just a few.
The best thing is definitely being able to work with clients anywhere in the worldfrom anywhere in the world with just my laptop. It’s an amazing and liberating time to be alive in that sense. Technology is making this job very portable which I love. New gadgets are amazing – I love my cintiq and Surface Pro! Just ten years ago drawing in photoshop on a laptop screen would have been unusual. Now it is becoming the norm, which is exciting.
The other good thing is there are now so many new ways to get your art out there, make a living from it or to publish your own ideas. Artists are really liberated if they know how to engage in all these new platforms.
A: What’s the process you usually go through when creating a new art piece?
K: It depends.
Sometimes I get a flash of inspiration and have to draw what I see in my head before I lose interest or start to pick holes in the idea. In which case, I just start drawing and if everything goes well, the piece draws itself. It can be effortless sometimes.
Other times, the process is a struggle. I might have something I want to draw, but executing it is difficult. Maybe I cant get a characters pose right, or just cant seem to get in the drawing groove.
I usually start with thumbnails though, loose, rough sketches to figure out the idea. If it is an illustration, I am figuring out composition and mood. A character design and I will think about the overall big shapes and pose. Then I take a favourite rough and draw over it, or use it as a springboard and keep refining it until I have something. It’s not a complicated process, just going from a rough big idea and gradually working narrowing in on the details. If the subject is new to me then I will get some reference to refer to and draw upon that for ideas.
It’s only when I am happy with the pose, design and overall structure, I will maybe add colour or paint something up to a “finished” level. For a commercial illustration piece, this stage is inevitable. A lot of time is spent just chipping away at something, rendering light and forms and polishing things up.
Needless to say, if I am working on a commercial piece, I will narrowing in on a design with feedback from the client along the way.
A: What tip would you give to people who want to promote their art and sell it?
K: I’m not very good at selling my own art – I do have prints for sale but I don’t think I’ve sold one yet! So I’m not sure I can answer that.
However, if you want to promote your art as a service to get character design work, then I seem to be doing ok at that. I would get a nice website with your best work on it, make it easy to navigate and easy to contact you from. Also, make it easier to find on google! (There are ways). Your website is like your business card in a way – its where prospective clients can see what you do and decide if they want to hire you. Add social media to the mix and you’re winning! Social media helps to keep things alive and fresh – I update mine with sketches and doodles which sometimes draw potential clients into my main portfolio website.
I think the best thing to do however is to create the best work you can and make it available for people to see. If the work is good, people will appreciate it and in a sense it will begin to promote itself – the internet is a powerful networking tool if used well!
A: What is your biggest Art Goal you are working towards?
My biggest art goal would probably be to write and draw a graphic novel. I am working on one just now, but it’s very slow going as it is so involved and I really need to work on my storytelling skills and up my art game to execute it the way I envision it. My dream would definitely be to see it on a bookshop shelf somewhere eventually! But I would be happy at the moment just to make something of my own, from start to finish without anyone telling me to change this or that – to have full control over a project is appealing.
I think ultimately the biggest goal would be to finish a personal project – I’m pretty good at starting them but not so good at finishing them.
A: What is the one book you would recommend to read for every artist?
K: There are so many good and relevant books out there! For every artist though… that’s tricky as every artist is different and into different things so I’m not sure I could recommend a book to every artist. You can’t go wrong though with anything about the work of John Singer Sargent – he is my favorite painter and I have learned so much from looking at his work, which applies regardless of the type of artist you might be.
If I was to recommend a book for people doing what I do, character design and illustration, then I think it would have to be any of the Calvin and Hobbes books. Every frame of this comic strip is beautifully executed with energy and personality. It’s the perfect example of great character design working in context! Plus, Bill Waterson’s watercolor illustrations are beautiful.
A: It was a pleasure having you! Do you have any tips or ideas you would like to share with our readers?
K: Thanks again for taking the time to interview me!
Sure, I would just say, if anyone else out there wants to do what I or other artists do but is feeling a bit lost about how to go about it, just think – general to specific. Big picture to small details. The important thing is to not get bogged down in the details of your goals before figuring out the foundations. By that I mean, get started somehow, one step at a time. Solve the big problems first and the little problems will start to solve themselves. It’s the exact same method I use in my character design!
That was one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve had! Thank you so much for sharing all this information with us, Kenneth!
Did you guys enjoy it? Comment down below what’s your favorite art piece from Kenneth!
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