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Elsa Chang Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
I was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to the United States when I was a year old. I had a love for art ever since I was two or three years old. I would constantly be bring my mom pieces of paper and a pencil and have her draw something for me. I was so fascinated by the fact that drawing was the ability to transfer anything you had in your mind on to a piece of paper. Soon after I began drawing everyday and I was obsessed with drawing animals and had a whole collection of animal videos and encyclopedias. When I was introduced to Disney movies, particularly Pocahontas and The Lion King, I told my mom I wanted to be an artist and work in animation someday. My parents supported me and enrolled me in private art classes. I attended classes once to twice a week all throughout elementary and middle school entering in art contests and putting together a portfolio for the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA). I got accepted into the school in 2002 and it was a really wonderful experience. I was surrounded by the talented and creative people whether it was in the dance, theater, creative writing, production design or film department. I was in the visual arts conservatory where I spent 4 years honing my skills with drawing and painting classes. OCHSA really let me discover who I was as an artist and allowed me to be limitless with my creativity. Right after high school I was accepted into the illustration department of Art Center College of Design. I learned so much there and grew to love art and animation even more.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Before I start sketching I gather a lot of reference materials. I research hair, clothing and cultural style and I also research or figure out the personality of the character. Having a voice actor in mind can help as well with the personality of the character. I then play with shape and try to balance the design with their pose. I go through a ton of bad sketches before I get to a decent one and with that one good drawing I lay a piece of tracing paper over it and try to add on to it and making sure there are no tangents. I still try to stay loose with it so that the characters don't lose their liveliness.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
I wake up and take care all of my pets (betta fish, cat and tarantula) and then I eat breakfast and hop on my computer to check my email to read the notes my work has sent me and then I work on that for the whole day with breaks in between. Usually I eat, browse blogs or play with my cat during in between my breaks. The cat is my "office mate". He is not exactly people but his main objective is to make sure I pay more attention to him than I do on my work. He can become a very big distraction when working from home so he needs to be played with when I get the time. I'll draw on my spare time or go to Disneyland to recharge on inspiration. Before I go to bed I make sure all my pets have been fed before a good night's rest.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
I just graduated from Art Center in December of 2010 so I'm fairly new to the industry. I've worked on smaller projects with peers and also got the chance to do some concept design for a t.v. animation pitch. I'm hoping to expand my work experience and take on many different challenges.
Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?
It really is an artistic curse to draw something and immediately dislike it afterward. However, if I am content with everything that I design I don't think I could improve or grow as an artist. I need to make mistakes and learn from them. Often times I have to toss out 30 bad sketches before I can get to one good sketch and then from there I improve upon that design. I am, however, pretty happy with this sketch of a crocodile that I did for a club contest back when I was in school. It was a preliminary sketch so it was never meant to be a finished piece, but the shape, look and personality of it was so appealing to me. I had a lot of fun designing that crocodile.
What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
I'm currently working as a character designer for SpeakeasyFX on a few animated projects and I'm also illustrating two books for Disney Publishing.
Who are some of your favorite artists out there?
Oh boy there are definitely a lot of talented artists that inspire me. My list of inspirational artists is constantly growing and I hope it never stops. I always admire the work of Nico Marlet, Claire Wendling, Chris Sanders, Dean Yeagle, Peter de Seve, Juanjo Guardino, Carter Goodrich, Rod Guenoden, Alessandro Barbucci, Lou Romano, Jin Kim, Tadahiro Uesugi, Brittney Lee, Lorelay Bove, Peter Sohn, Carlos Grengel, Miroslav Sasek, Mary Blair, Glen Keane, Ralph Eggleston, Shiyoon Kim, Arthur Rackam and the list goes on.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
For the longest time I preferred sketching or drawing over coloring. Even as a kid I drew in my coloring books instead of actually trying to color in them. It was not until I got into college that I learned to love color. I became more observant of my surroundings and looked at a lot of photographs of nature and cities. I studied the way color reacted to light and how to use color to tell a story.
Most of the time I sketch things out on the computer and other times I'll sketch things out on paper and scan it in. For traditional medium I like to use watercolor, gouache, col-erase pencil and pen and ink.
On Photoshop I would sketch out the illustration first and then on a separate layer I use a custom brush to block in the shapes and then lock the transparency and fill it in with colors that compliment each other well.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?
It should all be fun but challenging at the same time. Challenges allows you to think, it allows you to do something different that you've never done before. The toughest part is trying to take something that's already perfectly constructed inside your head down on to paper. Sometimes I wish technology was advanced enough to where you can stick your head in a scanner and print out what ever is in your head. But the process of drawing over and over again can be fun and allow you to try different approaches which may result in a different design which may turn out to be better than the one in your head.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
I watch movies, look at art of and comic books, go to Disneyland, look at art blogs, fashion, watch animals at the zoo, look at people's vacation photos on Facebook (especially if they just went to Europe. The architecture there is amazing!), go to antique stores, anywhere I can go to observe and find new things.
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
Any animal drawing by Nico Marlet, he really pushes the shapes and keeps it appealing and they're all incredibly charming. Peter Sohn designs amazing believable human characters, you could look at a character of his and sworn you've seen them at the grocery store or at the post office.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
Animals and ladies are my favorite subjects. I'm an animal lover so it's natural for me to like drawing animals. Girls are elegant and soft and I like expressing that through my line strokes. My mom kept a drawing of a nude woman that I drew when I was 7 years old. This woman had a large bosom and was was bent over in a pin-up pose. How I got the idea to draw that I will never know but I started drawing women and animals at a young age.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
Animals and Disney films were big contributing factors to me wanting to become an artist. I would watch the films and afterward I would draw scenes from the movies or make up scenes for my own story. I was really big into The Lion King because it combined my two passion at the time. My mom found and bought me the 'Art of The Lion King' book at a swap meet and for a six year old girl crazy about animals that was the best book I have ever owned. I flipped through that book so much that the binding is falling apart and it's the most beat up book I own next to the 'Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals'.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
I've learned a lot from my peers while attending Art Center. We would critique each others work over IM and provide feedback on color and composition.
I also learn a lot from guest speakers at school and cons.
-Watch a lot of movies and shows with strong emphasis on color, story and design.
-Don't be afraid of screwing up because it is important to eliminate bad ideas to get to the good ones.
-Photo references are important.
-Paint something with a story behind it.
-Don't put anything in your portfolio that you don't like doing just to prove that you can do it.
-Keep it simple.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
I'm still at that stage where I'm making mistakes and learning from them but you should love what you do and be proud of your work.
-Don't spend your whole life doing something you don't want to do.
-Be open to criticism.
-Always work on sharpening your skills and improving your weaknesses.
-Go out to draw with a sketchbook and pen.
-Have lots of fun drawing!
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted? (Email, Web page)
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
I do sell prints and have an etsy http://www.etsy.com/shop/Elsasketch but I prefer if people email me for them :)