Wednesday, December 6, 2017

2017 Update 3 - CTNx Round 2 (ding ding)

I’ve been to CTN Animation Expo every year since 2013, but I’ve only gone to shop around a professional portfolio once before, in 2014. (My recap from that occasion can be found here.) This was the 9th year of the convention.

For those who don’t know what CTN is or have never been to a convention of any kind before, there are 3 basic components of the weekend - 
  1. Individual artist tables, where artists and illustrators (generally those working within the industry) are selling prints, enamel pins, art books and various other Etsy-esque products 
  2. Live art demos, Q&A panels, and workshops 
  3. Industry Giant booths, AKA large sections of the floor where Disney, Dreamworks, Sony, Nickelodeon and the like are set up to do portfolio reviews and recruit potential new talent.
Essentially it’s a giant networking event for the animation industry, with a side focus on art for gaming and illustration. I’ve made acquaintances from all my classes at the Concept Design Academy over the years, but very few of them were there, so it was a good 3 days straight of me talking to people I don’t know for 8+ hours. (If you know me personally, you know this was hard.)

I was genuinely shocked, after submitting my portfolio for studio review in advance of the convention, to get a recruitment call-back from Nickelodeon, who I almost didn’t even submit to because I figured my stuff wasn’t their style. This meant that I had a professional interview with them on Saturday morning of the convention at their booth. Getting that email was the best kind of validation of the past few art-focused years of my life - a professional at a major studio had looked at my work and determined I was worth talking to. 

Because I hate drawing things out, I’ll cut to the chase and let you all know that I feel like the interview went... okay. It was fast - they roll people through there like Krispy Kremes on a conveyer belt. (Mmm.) The recruiter was really kind and genuine, took his time looking through my work, and gave me some feedback (more props, especially vehicles, was my main takeaway.) I didn’t get the sense that it was a “We’ll be calling you ASAP” type of situation, more of a “You’re on the right track, keep going and stay in touch” situation. Which is a great thing! I mostly wish I hadn’t gotten so nervous right beforehand and done the entire 15 minutes with my face beet red. I wanted to fly casual and I definitely did NOT fly casual... just call me Tomato. Oh well. Acting Natural is not my strong suit.

I had some other portfolio reviews throughout the weekend - you could wait in line to meet with people from DreamWorks and Blue Sky, which I did, and those were fairly positive (although again, not glowing. It’s a competitive industry). I got quality, actionable feedback from Brett Bean and Justin Rodrigues, two great artists (and personal favorites of mine) who I’ve gotten to know over the years, who both told me to simplify and push my shapes - which was going to be my next directive anyways. :) I caught up with Kelsey Eng, a former CDA classmate whose work & career have taken off, and attended a great panel about doing authentic work, featuring presenters Peter de Seve, Carter Goodrich, Nick Galifianakis, and John Kascht (whose name I initially didn't recognize, but who I was delighted to discover I knew of as I've posted about him before). Most of all, it was truly wonderful to meet in person some of my fellow Oatley Academy mentees from the summer - I had a great time hanging out with down-to-earth Natalia, hilarious Leanne, super sweet Melissa, uber-talented Amie, and beautiful Dooz. You should make time to check out all of their work, it’s truly phenomenal and I was privileged to be in their company. Other notable new friends from the weekend include fellow OA students Craig Russell, Laura Belevica, Abigail Kraft, Gabriel Leal, Rebecca Whitley, and Nora Jirau.

Photo from an Oatley Academy meetup at Simmzy's in Burbank

Two of my best interactions came completely out of the blue at the very end of the day on Sunday. I just happened to strike up a conversation with DreamWorks TV character artist Ivan Mendoza at his table - I actually didn’t even know who he was, but right off the bat he was extremely easy to talk to after 3 days of exhausting, slightly awkward conversations. He ended up taking a huge chunk of his afternoon to chat with me about my portfolio and draw a personal caricature in the art book I bought from him, which was more than kind. 

Immediately afterwards, on a whim, I decided to get a ‘portfolio’ review from renowned caricature artist John Kascht (the one who I’d recognized in a panel the day before - I'd connected with him briefly afterwards, during which he’d told me to come by and talk to him on Sunday afternoon). 

I had only these three feeble Hirschfeld-wannabe attempts to show him, but he was more than complementary, practically demanding that I continue my pursuit of caricature (something I’d been interested in, but putting aside for some time to focus on the animation portfolio). It was the best kind of conversation with an artist you look up to - meaningful, motivating, and fun. In the space of 20 minutes we managed to get deep about what the art of caricature means and the ways in which humans relate to each other visually. He told me when I get into the weeds on a portrait that I’ve been working on for a while, to go back to your very first, initial impressions of the face, and “hang on to them like a life raft in a raging storm.” And he recommended me to two new caricature artists’ work for reference - William Auerbach Levy and Ralph Barton - who both worked in the simple, linework-focused, reductionist style that I’m trying to achieve. It was a wonderful exchange, made more so because I could sense that he was as delighted to talk to me as I was to talk to him.

It was on this note that the weekend ended, and my fifth year at CTN came to a close. Going forward into 2018, I have a few directives: 
  1. Concentrate on creating characters and illustrations with simpler, bolder shapes and lines 
  2. A new simplified-style portfolio story, tailored for my passion genre, kids’ educational TV (now that Pinga is leaving me alone) 
  3. A few personal mini illustration series that I’ve had in mind for a while
  4. Caricature study on the side
  5. Finally start pulling my weight in terms of house settling-in and decoration so that I don't get divorced
But first... the annual Sous Family Christmas card calls. Happy holidays everyone!

© Gina Florio 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

2017 Update 2 - Oatley Academy Mentorship

Over the summer, I was off of work for 4 weeks between July and August. That hiatus happened to line up perfectly with ‘First Flight,’ a 5-week online visual development workshop being run by the Oatley Academy of Visual Storytelling. I’d done some learn-at-your-own-pace Magic Box lessons over the years, but hadn’t taken an actual course with OA yet; I decided to take the plunge and, after much deliberation and thought, added on a personal character design mentorship with Chris Oatley himself, to be conducted alongside the First Flight workshop lessons. 

The workshop was essentially a self-directed portfolio development course, giving guidelines, tips and prompts to develop and create the art for your own story as the basis of an animation or gaming concept art portfolio. The addition of the mentorship meant that once a week Chris would be checking in with me (along with 15 others) to see how the work for my portfolio was coming along and give feedback... so I had better do it!

I spent much of the first two weeks brainstorming, writing and doing research for my story. The workshop advised taking a story already in existence from fairytales or myths and altering it somehow - a common practice was to change the location and culture of the story. Following this directive, the Greek goddess Artemis became Pinga, a teenage huntress in the Inuit culture (specifically Kalaallit) in Greenland in the 1800s.

When the course and mentorship ended in mid-August and I returned to work, I had not much completed besides a ton of sketches. I dreaded the end of my hiatus - in the past, I hadn’t had much luck carrying my artistic momentum back into full-time job mode. But the fact that I had done so much writing about Pinga meant that her story stuck in my head. She had become somewhat actualized to me, as if I knew her personally, and every day I didn’t spend time drawing more of her story, I could almost feel her rapping her knuckles on the inside of my brain, yelling that I hadn’t finished her yet and I needed to get back to work. (Since the major feedback from CTN 2014 had been that I didn't seem to really care about my characters or story in my portfolio, I considered this a very good thing.) I dutifully found time to compile my best sketches into a series of pages and got to work finalizing the work & fleshing out the story visually. Here’s what I came up with!

When I finalized the last page, I felt tired but happy - my home life had consisted of nothing but Photoshop for the two weeks prior, but I also felt (and still feel) that this was absolutely the best work I could do at this point in time, which meant that every other consequence was out of my control. I could now, for the first time in a few years, relax in the knowledge that I’d officially given it the old college try.

I completed the majority of the work on October 26th, just in time to submit for professional recruiting for CTNx 2017. More on that in the next post...

© Gina Florio 2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

2017 Update 1 - New Personal Work & The Sous Hoose

Hi all- a very long, long time no see!!

It’s been quite the year. I’m rather depressed about the state of the world, but I’ve been very fortunate to have good things happening in my personal life. 

My husband Dave and I spent the first half of 2017 hunting for, bidding on, and finally purchasing a house, and then of course moving and settling in (the latter process is still happening and probably will be for some time). 

The house is in L.A. county, albeit the very northwestern edge. We went from our Hollywood, city-centric apartment to extreme suburban living in one fell swoop - instead of hipsters and walking-distance bars and restaurants, we now reside in The Land of Big Box Stores and strollers - but on the flip side, it’s a 30-minute drive south through the mountains to Malibu & the Pacific Ocean. The house itself is wonderful - old school craftsman-style, with a beautiful backyard, wood beams in the living room, and an original stained glass window in the dining room. It took me some time to adjust to homeowner life, but I’ve been embracing the new normal lately.

I’ve also been fortunate to have a great art year. For those of you active on Instagram, I post fairly regularly there and have made my account art-centric (no personal photos). Here is some of my personal work that I hadn’t posted on the blog quite yet.


RIP Prince.

An inside joke between Dave and me... we got ourselves laughing one night imagining Agent Carter set in Boston (or Bahston).
Work from CGMA's Color & Light class, taken summer 2016

Work from CGMA's Color & Light class, taken summer 2016

Final painting from CGMA's Color & Light class, taken summer 2016

Model: Stacey Walker at The Drawing Club
Peter Pan interpretation

I also finally, FINALLY completed a new professional concept art portfolio for character and prop design, and I took it to CTN Animation Expo two weeks ago. More on that in the next post...

© Gina Florio 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017

Lyft Animated Short "June"

Happy New Year!

Cartoon Brew posted this delightful animated short back in December. I just had the chance to watch it and wanted to repost it here - it's directed by 'Paperman' director John Kahrs and a really beautiful example of branded content that achieves its purpose in promoting the product while still bursting at the seams with artistic merit.

Check out the full post, including an interview with the creators, on Cartoon Brew, and watch the making-of below.

I'm in full-steam-ahead mode with my portfolio and website, more updates to come soon!

© Gina Florio Sous 2017

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Proko Video: Sketching People with Stephen Silver

Online figure drawing teacher Stan Prokopenko recently produced this 15-minute video, wherein he observes and talks with acclaimed character designer Stephen Silver while Stephen sketches people in public. I found the whole thing informative, entertaining and chock full of useful tips - it got me just in the right mood to go out and draw people of all kinds in their natural habitat.

© Gina Florio Sous 2016

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rebecca Rebouché on The Great Discontent

My best friend and fellow illustrator Kristen Boydstun turned me on to The Great Discontent, a print and online magazine featuring interviews with creatives of all types. A recent interview with Rebecca Rebouché, a New Orleans-based artist and designer, had a great section that I'd just like to copy and paste here for my own remembering purposes.

What advice would you give to a young person who is starting out? I often find that young people are searching for a benefactor or patron, or some big gig to set their careers in motion—someone to believe in them, to quiet all of their anxieties and polish all of the brilliant, but rough, parts. I’ve found this to almost never be the case.
My best advice comes in two parts: First, bold delusion. It all boils down to that. You have to believe in yourself in an almost crazy way. You have to be bold enough to make something from nothing over and over again. And you have to be delusional enough to think that your ideas are valuable, which is, of course, not delusional at all.
The second: You have to build the ship to sail on. In other words, you can’t tell people about the ship you are thinking about building and expect them to buy tickets for the first ride. Instead you must first put in the work. That often means heavy lifting, isolation, heaps of doubt, and epic failures and setbacks. It’s a lonely place to be when you are building your ship. But when you do it, and you set sail, people will see how beautiful and majestic it is, and there will be a line to buy tickets. This can be applied to any creative endeavor, especially when you consider that the better you build your ship, the longer you can sail before you have to make repairs and improvements.

Read the full interview here.

© Gina Florio Sous 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Reflections on Hiatus 2016

I've been very fortunate to have the past two months off of work to concentrate fully on studying and creating concept art and illustration. I go back to work on Monday, and as I wind down my final week, I wanted to share some reflections on what I've learned during this time off, where I think I can do better, and my goals for the future, to keep myself motivated and accountable to continue the art hustle while also maintaining a full-time job.

Throughout this post, I've used pictures of some post-it notes that I've put up around my office that help to illustrate my current mindset.


My two goals for this time were (1) to gain the courage to make art consistently (and have fun doing it), and (2) to level up my artistic skills.

I haven't spoken publicly about this, but I feel it's important to know that at the beginning of this time off, I was just starting to recover from a long stretch of artistic burnout. I never stopped drawing, but my relationship with art was bitter, caused mainly by the pressure I had put on myself to turn my hobby into a full-fledged career. Fear was controlling every aspect of my approach to artmaking. Sitting down to draw hadn't been fun for a long time, and it showed. This had gone on long enough, and caused enough distress, that I knew I needed a major change of attitude if I was going to make another portfolio push, which is a time consuming and exhausting effort.

Enter the campaign of Make Art Fun Again 2016. Over and over again I had encountered the idea that if you don't enjoy what you're doing, no one else will. So my main goal with this time off was to get loose, approach it with a sense of joy and fun and play, draw stuff that my six year old self would have requested, and generally just start enjoying the process again. With that in mind, I took all thoughts of my professional portfolio off the table for the first few weeks, and just made whatever I felt like, with the goal of not defeating my fear, but learning how to live with it and still create.

Coinciding with this campaign was an equivalent effort to take my art ability to the next level, especially in the digital realm. I updated to Photoshop CC, bought Kyle's Brushes, and dedicated myself to truly learning the ins and outs of digital painting.


1. Sketchbook habit
I really wanted to start looking forward to time spent in my sketchbook instead of dreading the blank page. One thing that really helped kickstart this was discovering the Pomodoro technique (I used an app called Be Focused to help me with this). By setting a timer for 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest, my brain immediately wrote off that time as "not so bad," and I was able to approach the sketchbook with much greater ease. I've done at least one set per day every day since I've been off, including weekends. Some days I literally scribbled black clouds because I couldn't think of anything else, but some days I ended up doing more than one set because I was having so much fun just playing in my imagination. I'm very happy to say that I found a lot of happiness in this practice, and I consider it the #1 best thing to have happened during my time off. It sparked a lot of the illustration and character ideas that I'm hoping to incorporate into my new portfolio, and I'm confident I can continue to find 25 minutes a day to sketch while I go back to work.

2. Learning Photoshop
It would have been easy for me to write this off as a way of avoiding making art, but I decided to really invest a good chunk of time each week into watching Ctrl+Paint videos, experimenting with brushes, and looking up digital painting techniques. This was huge. I feel as though I now have full command over the brush tool, and it has taken my ability to express myself visually to the next level. I even spent a few hours one day simply learning (and writing down) Photoshop's most useful hotkeys, which has completely changed the game for me and I consider it one of my best-spent chunks of time.

3. CGMA class on Color and Light
A week into my hiatus, I signed up for CGMA's 'The Art of Color and Light' online course, with lectures by Ty Carter and feedback and Q&As by Kristy Kay, both favorite artists of mine. This was a big decision as I knew it would majorly cut into my artmaking time (and it has). But - and I do not say this lightly - I believe this class was the missing brick in my Wall of Art Education. I find it extremely fortunate that I chose this specific course over some of the other ones I was considering. I'm shocked that it took me this long to realize, but color and light is everything when it comes to creating narrative images, and the lessons I've taken from this class have helped tie everything else I've learned together. One note for anyone considering taking this or any other CGMA course - as with most of the other classes I've taken, what you get out of it depends on what you put into it, and obviously, student-to-student interactions are much more limited than they would be in an in-person class. I do wish you could save the lecture videos; it's a bummer that you can't.

4. Saying no
In the past, I've said yes to almost every major and minor project that came my way. Now that the people in my life know I'm an artist, I get a fair amount of requests for logos, greeting cards, T-shirts, personal cartoons, you name it. After realizing that I was never going to do it myself, my husband Dave strongly encouraged me to stop taking these on, even the ones with offers of compensation, in order to preserve time for my own work. This was one of the things that was the absolute hardest for me to do, as I am an intense people pleaser (and also I would rather put off the hard work of thinking about my own art in order to do the easy work of just drawing what someone else tells me to draw). But this has made a huge difference. Had I not consistently turned all those little projects down, this time would have been completely lost to classwork and other people's projects. I did do one (paid!) commission for a friend who works in animation and wanted a full-page illustration done for a animated feature film pitch that she's working on - I thought this lined up perfectly with my own interests, and it was a very fulfilling job. Also, last week I put a little extra time into one request, reaching out to former classmates of mine in order to help a coworker find an artist for a Save the Date card commission. The person who ended up taking the job was perfect for it, and I feel like I paid it forward all around.

5. Sources of inspiration
Again, this may sound like a no-brainer to some people, but I began to value time spent just in pure inspiration mode - i.e. looking at art that speaks to me, and analyzing what I like about it, and why. When I made my current portfolio in 2014, I remember starting a Pinterest board (which is how I save all my art references) for visual portfolio inspiration, and just pinning tons of concept art to it willy-nilly, with almost no filter other than "I like this and it looks cool." This time around, I'm curating a very specific selection of art and artists that I love and want to emulate, and I took a few hours one afternoon at the beginning of the time off to write down a list of the common threads that I saw that I want to incorporate into my own work, which has been super helpful to return to anytime I'm starting something new or feeling lost in the middle of a piece.

6. Get physical
From taking a few deep breaths to going for a walk, stopping down my brain and standing up and moving my body around was key to keeping my mental energy from depleting over the course of the day, week, and month.


1. Time management
One of the reasons I'm actually looking forward to going back to work is that I struggle mightily with time management. Having a limited amount of time to devote to art will help (I hope) to really focus what I use those precious hours for. Although I feel I've used my time off wisely for the most part, there have definitely been days where I've lost a few hours to distraction and procrastination.

2. Working harder instead of smarter
This is closely related to #1. When feeling the pressure to get things done, it's often tempting to jump straight in and keep my nose glued to the computer for the entire day. It's hard sometimes to remember that the quality of my work improves when I take time to plan out what I want to do (and how I want to do it), or, if I'm feeling stressed and spinning my wheels, to take that time to physically step away and take a walk, have some tea, look at some art to get myself inspired again. But it's so easy for my brain to dismiss those activities as 'wasting time' (especially since I don't want to fall into the procrastination trap), and I end up working longer hours on sub-par content as a result.

3. Being overambitious
I guess this one sounds like a humblebrag, but I really am way too ambitious when it comes to making artistic plans or figuring out what I want to get done in a given day. This only leads to disappointment when I don't finish everything to perfection. It would be better to make modest, achievable goals and just keep in mind that every step brings me closer, no matter how small.

4. Stress, pressure and fear
This comes from too many places to name, and I feel it creeping back in with extra vigor this week, borne on the knowledge that my time off is coming to a close with "not much to show for it" (except, you know, a bunch of full sketchbooks, a major update in Photoshop knowledge, 7 weeks of classwork, a full-page animation-related commission, and a few personal oneoff illustrations). But sometimes I can't shake it. It happens to the best of us.


I'm happy to have accomplished my sketchbook habit goal; I can now make rough sketches until the cows come home, and I have so many ideas that I'm excited about. But the biggest thing I have left to work on is to consistently take my favorite sketches and ideas to a finish. This is something I didn't do a ton of during the time off - my sole disappointment is that I'm returning to work without many new portfolio-quality, finalized pieces to show off.

My other major goal is to get a new, clean portfolio website up and running. I'll be using Squarespace for this and I'm excited to have a blank canvas in which to arrange some great new art.

In the spirit of not getting overambitious, and of using my time wisely, I've made some modest goals
to keep myself creating regularly while I go back to work.

Daily - at least 25 minutes of experimental, inspired, playful sketchbook time
Weekly - Get out sketching in the world for a few hours - coffeeshop, interesting location, lifedrawing class
             - Take one small piece, like a character or simple illustration, to a portfolio-quality finish in Photoshop
             - Continue to stay inspired, curate favorite art/artists, and analyze what I like about them
Monthly - Finish a larger portfolio-quality piece
             - Take time to verify that I'm still working towards my goal in effective ways

So these things are what I'll be focusing on for the next few months. As it gets closer to 2017 (eep), I plan on seeing where I'm at and reassessing what my next course of action is, but I feel good about my ability to accomplish these things with the time I've given myself. I'm sure life will continue to happen as it always does, and I plan on being forgiving and not beating myself up about missed deadlines, just shaking it off and moving forward.

One final word: my brain is obsessed with time, and it's pretty much constantly screaming that everything I'm doing is a waste of it. This can manifest in positive ways, like how I've more or less stopped playing videogames. But in other ways it can be quite unhealthy. For example - Art is a waste of time because I'm not seeing instant results. Work is a waste of time because it isn't my One True Passion. Cooking dinner is a waste of time when we could just order something. Hiking is a waste of time when I could be at home getting stuff done. It's telling me right now that writing this blog post is a waste of time, even though I know that it's helpful to gather my thoughts on what this time off has meant, and taking time to analyze and plan is always useful in the long run. My brain is very action-oriented, always wanting to jump right in without a plan, to do-do-do and go-go-go and get instant results. But, as usual, I'm striving to just be present, and remember that the journey is its own reward.

Relax. Everything's going to be ok.

© Gina F. Sous 2016