I think the biggest difference was that, this year, I wasn’t trying to show them what they wanted to see. I was trying to show them what I could do, what I planned to do, & what I was interested in.
Last year, I made my portfolio based on what I thought they wanted to see. This year, I made a portfolio from my continued study of animation, & then I picked out a collection of pieces that I thought best showcased my abilities. I don’t even think my figure drawings were great this year, but I think they had more of me in them.
I wasn’t that scared of being rejected, either. I was rejected last year, & I still managed to have a great year afterward, so I knew I’d be okay. I thought I wasn’t going to make it, so I just sent off what I had, thinking: “Well, CalArts, here’s what I’ve been working on over the past year. I know I’ve got what it takes, & this is what I’ve got that I think will prove it to you. I was working really hard on my pursuit of a career in animation in general & I did the best I could developing my art. So, if you don’t like it, fine—I’ll prove it better next year!”
Aside from the way I thought about my portfolio, there were 3 big changes that I made to my portfolio development:
1. I learned to manipulate media
I used a lot of different media to create my artwork, including ink, all kinds of colored pencils with different effects, markers, a lot of different kinds of paints, all kinds of pastels, the computer, etc. I learned their properties, how to manipulate them, & when to use them for different effects. I almost never worked with only one medium at a time.
I treated every page of my last 2 sketchbooks with a gesso mixture that I call “Gesso Juice,” which makes it so that I can work & rework all of my drawings, as well paint & use marker & just about any other kind of medium without bleeding or any other weird effects. It made my stuff look awesome, & it allowed me to experiment & showcase my abilities all in one place.
2. I made my artwork more interesting
I learned how to spend time on rendering & finessing my artwork. Last year, I barely ever rendered my drawings before, not even with shadows or texture or patters, or anything beyond coloring it in with a cool marker or watercolor. I knew how to do it, and I did in some figure drawings, but not in most other work.
I learned even more about what makes a good animation portfolio in general, & more about what kind of art I should choose for my portfolio. I learned about storytelling, filmmaking & many other types of art besides drawings. I read more animation & figure drawing books, I listened to animation interviews, & even benefited from some lecturers. Even though I didn’t end up needing half of this information, it still helped me make decisions. I got better at art, not just by making art, but by reading & researching about art-making.
3. I allowed myself to make art in my own way
Whereas last year, I think I was trying to draw in the supposed “CalArts style,” this year I allowed myself to draw in the way that felt most natural to me, using shape & form, rather than starting with line. I love using & pushing color, so I did, & I tended use colors that I personally found appealing (much more in evidence in my sketchbooks than in my Slideroom portfolio). I played with my drawings, my characters & my stories. I tried to showcase my skills & interests as a storyteller.
I also recognized that my drawings were far too “Disney-esque”, even if unintentionally so, & I knew nobody would be interested in that. So I “developed” my own style by doodling for hours until I found the ways that I tended to draw when I was at my most playful & expressive. I incorporated more these characteristic exaggerations & apparent “naiveties” into my drawings, & it had an instant effect of making them look more me, as if I’d been developing my style for years. Whether that makes me a better draftsman or a sell-out, I know it worked, especially when coupled with my tendency to start with form & silhouette rather than line. I had established by own way of doing things. They could teach me better later if need be.
So basically, I challenged myself with new media & new skills, I addressed the flaws in my process, but I also accepted my own unique approach, & found ways to show how that approach could produce some awesome art.
I think CalArts is much more interested in students for their ability to express their own artistic voice than for their raw draftsmanship. I ended up using my portfolio to show off my potential, more than I used it to prove my art skills.
And kid, you’ve got to love yourself. You’ve got wake up at four in the morning, brew black coffee, and stare at the birds drowning in the darkness of the dawn. You’ve got to sit next to the man at the train station who’s reading your favorite book and start a conversation. You’ve got to come home after a bad day and burn your skin from a shower. Then you’ve got to wash all your sheets until they smell of lemon detergent you bought for four dollars at the local grocery store. You’ve got to stop taking everything so goddam personally. You are not the moon kissing the black sky. You’ve got to compliment someones crooked brows at an art fair and tell them that their eyes remind you of green swimming pools in mid July. You’ve got to stop letting yourself get upset about things that won’t matter in two years. Sleep in on Saturday mornings and wake yourself up early on Sunday. You’ve got to stop worrying about what you’re going to tell her when she finds out. You’ve got to stop over thinking why he stopped caring about you over six months ago. You’ve got to stop asking everyone for their opinions. Fuck it. Love yourself, kiddo. You’ve got to love yourself.