Category Archives: Inspiration

Weekend Wanderings; 2 Short Animations you Must see

This is the part of the week where I take a look at the things I saw that connected with me, made me laugh, or were just interesting in general and report back. This particular week that means I’m talking about two animations; lets get to it.


Alight is a short animation less than three minutes long about a fire boy (Sparker) and a water girl (Aquanna). It was made by over 20 people; Jason Keyser was the one that posted it online. Before I get into any more detail, watch the animation.

Alight from Jason Keyser on Vimeo.

When I watched Alight there was an instant connection with the two main characters; you understood who they were and what they were about straight away and even though the animation was short you really felt sad when things didn’t quite work out for them.

The style was beautiful, the animation well executed and seemed to breathe, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Dream Maker

Dream Maker took four years to complete, and once featured in Siggraph (among other film festivals) winning the jury honours award. The creator, Leszek Plichta, is a short film director and CG Artist to this day and you should definitely follow him on LinkedIn after you’ve checked out this short.

DREAMMAKER from Leszek on Vimeo.

Dream Maker’s story is touching. There’s no other way to describe it really; you really want things to turn out well with the characters, the plot makes sense (both marks of good writing), and it has a happy ending. The visuals are gorgeous and you can see a lot of work and thought has gone into the whole thing.

Very well done Leszek!

If you haven’t already seen them, remember to take a quick look at this weeks posts. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Inspiration; James Turrell

From famous glass-blowers to someone that can loosely be described as a light artist.  In this post we’ll be looking at a completely different style of creation and what we can learn from the spirit behind it.  Last week we looked at how changing the parameters of a craft can turn it into an art form, this week we’re looking at how science and research can enable our work.

James Turrell; The light psychologist

Turrell came to art in a more round-about fashion that most; he was a student of psychology and mathematics, an approach that’s carried across into his work since.  He never sculpted or created paintings, instead he’s been using light installations to evoke emotions in his viewers on a more basic level.  He believes that by using light in certain ways you can create a space in the mind to start exploring your own sense of spirituality.

The Roden Crater in Northern Arizona houses his largest experiment.  Using the natural light he’s created different rooms in the crater in order to control how the light is perceived, with the ultimate aim being to make people feel different, powerful emotions within each one.  According to James, light, our understanding of it, and its effects on us are key to how we perceive the world.

The Allure

I’ll be the first to say that he wasn’t an obvious choice as a role model for me personally.  Looking at his art online you don’t really get a feel for what he’s trying to achieve; it was only after seeing how people viewing the rooms in person reacted that I became more interested.  Using art as a way to help people connect to themselves and the world around them is, I think, one of the things that defines great art.  If art is a conversation, then art that can connect and prompt thoughts and emotions is doing something right.

“I always felt that art was more interested in posing the question than it was in getting the answer, but I’ve come to more recently think that art is the answer.” James Turrell, interview with Egg.

Useful Lessons from a Lightsmith

There’s two things I’m choosing to take from Turrell’s approach.  The first is that science and more technical skills don’t have to be separate from art and creativity – in fact, they’re more linked than not!  Using what we’ve learned through research and ‘techie’ skills we can have greater freedom to create something wonderful.

The second is that art must have a purpose and a meaning.  Well, I guess it’s possible to have ‘art’ without either of those things being intentional… Looking at the great artists of the past and present though, are there any that didn’t have something to say?  New thoughts, new ideas, new twists, perspectives, conversations – aren’t those more important than any creative or technical ability?

How can we use this?

I propose that as a community we should be moving towards expressing ideas and truths, without restricting ourselves to purely technical or purely artistic methods.

Programmers can create incredibly beautiful things using some lines of code.  Artists can do the same using some lines on paper.  The means don’t matter.

However one question to ask yourself before creating, or maybe even after (if you’re the sort of person that likes to just pick up your things and start), is important.

What’s the point?

Inspiration: Dale Chihuly

Every profession has its heroes, and every individual in a profession has people they take inspiration from.  This is particularly important in ‘creative’ industries, though you’ll see it happening across the board.  The more aware you are of your preferences and role models the easier it’ll be to climb out of a slump when you need to.  Since I’m just starting to explore this myself, over the next few months we’ll be having a look at three artists whose work really resonates with me.  We’ll also look at how you can utilise your own heroes to launch yourself further towards your goals.

Introducing the Creator of Glass Forests

Dale Chihuly’s art takes the form of beautiful glass sculptures and installations, each exploring colour and form in new and natural ways.  He was one of the first glass-blowers to take the step from solitary work to building teams in order to create something larger and more intricate.

After studying architecture, he became fascinated with blown glass in the early to mid 1960s and has been furthering the craft/artform ever since with his installations, research, and innovations.  A lot of his influences come from his past; his mother’s gardens in Tacoma, his childhood, and his love of the sea.

When he first started out there was a huge amount of respect for his medium, which enabled him to learn from established professionals and study in the first hot glass program in the US (University of Wisconsin).

Why Dale?

The reason I find Chihuly’s work so interesting has a lot to do with my obsession with colour and contrast; through his experiments with glass he’s discovered new ways to tie his art into his environment.  Man made and natural.  Also he plays with light and dark a lot, especially in his later pieces (the Black Series in particular deals with setting the scene with darkness to show off the brighter colours and light).

Added to that is the fact that, as a person, he’s pushing the boundaries of what’s ‘acceptable’ and ‘normal’ all the time.  Through building such strong teams and creating such large pieces in glass he’s challenging the old stereotypes surrounding his medium.  Once thought of as a solitary craft, he’s shown us that it can be a collaborative art.  He’s doing what he loves because he loves it without worrying what anyone else will think.

How does this help?

I’m not a glass-blower.  I do like to create, and contrasts in life, emotion, what we see, what we hear, and so on… Delight me. I also like to be reminded that creating doesn’t have to be a solitary act.

Therefore summing up Dale Chihuly’s influence on me isn’t difficult.  By looking at his work I can see how someone else has tackled contrast in a literal sense, and from that I can start to notice subtler distinctions in my own work.  Having recognised that it’s such a huge theme for me, I’m now a lot happier to explore the bounds of that theme (and ignore them entirely when I choose).

Most important of all (perhaps) is seeing someone succeed at creating/working on something they love.

Who wouldn’t want that for themselves?

Take a look at your heroes; Who are you drawn to?  What do you like?  When I first did this exercise every artist I was fond of happened to be a digital fantasy artist.  Looking through them I eventually realised that they all had certain themes and focuses in common… one of those is contrast.

After identifying that I looked for artists in different areas using those themes.  Dale Chihuly was one of the first I came across and fell in love with (artwork, come on people).  Now I like the ‘new’ artists I found more than the older ones!

Give it a go, you might be surprised what you learn (I sure was).  Oh, and comment here too – who do you look up to in your field and why?


Chihuly’s Website and Artwork

Dale Chihuly’s Official Biography

Article about Chihuly

The Elf Blacksmith

Story Time

Once upon a time there was an elf.  No, not the Santa’s helper sort; a proper kind of elf.  Every day she worked hard making shoes for unicorns, starting in the stables until lunchtime then crafting them in her forge until late at night.  Weeks went by, and she kept going; but whenever anyone asked her if she needed help, or how she was doing, she’d just smile and say she was fine, doing good thanks.

The Lord she worked for ran a huge stable, and every week he’d buy more horses, unicorns, and sometimes even pegasi.  Since the elf always seemed happy and cheerful, he didn’t hire any more blacksmiths/stable hands to help her.  He assumed that, since everyone else came to him with their problems, she’d do likewise.

Time passed, the elf got more and more tired, but she kept on and kept smiling; though even the unicorns she shod were starting to notice her fatigue.  They urged her to take a break, but she wouldn’t hear of it – she was needed after all.  Finally she became ill to the point of being bedridden.

The Lord himself came to visit her and asked why she hadn’t spoken before;

“I love my work, it was no bother.”

He hired more stable hands.

Now, before anyone starts panicking – I’m not that ill, just a bit of a cold.  Further, I’m not that overworked, just starting to feel a little tired.  The reason I’m sharing this story with you (made this particular version up, though I’ve heard similar many times) is because we all live in a society where we’re expected to work hard.

All the time.  We’re taught that in general we’re not going to enjoy this work, and what we’re meant to aim for is work that we will enjoy working hard at so that it won’t matter that we don’t get to rest.  The danger I see there is in loving your work, and still never taking a break.  Further, we never ask for the things that’d help us even though the people we’d ask would be more than willing to give them to us!

Is anyone else falling into that trap?  How ill would you have to be before you stop for a while?  What would make your life easier that you’ve just never asked for?

Also, does anyone want a guest post? Just checking.

How to Stand Out: The Difficulty With Portfolios

I don’t know about you, but over here in Scotland we’ve been running around trying to put together our portfolios for the last few months.  It’s not much fun, let me tell you.  There’s a school of thought that says collecting your best artwork and showing it off should be fun, however there’s also a school of thought that says preparing your taxes is fun (no offence to any accountants or money-people out there).

The truth is that preparing your portfolio is nerve-wracking.  You do all this work, some of which you may not even feel that happy about in the first place (it happens, and we all know it), then somewhere down the line you’re expected to sift through it all and choose the best.  Except, that you’re not to choose the best; you’ve to choose the best within certain categories.  Life drawing, still life, abstract, imaginative (not gothic or manga, apparently art schools don’t like those).

So off you go to sort through what you have again, make the dreaded self-portrait, find more life drawing (because you think that the stuff you have isn’t anywhere near good enough), and spend a few weeks or longer stressed out, worried, and miserable.

Sound familiar?

The Problem with this Approach

The main problem I see here is that by following the guidelines universities set for your portfolios, you’re going to send in work that looks very similar to someone else’s.  This is fine if you’re really, truly good at what you do (though why would you be going to art school if that was the case?).  For the rest of us, this is a death sentence.  There’s always going to be someone better at life drawing, still life, and other very specific drawing skills like that than you are; with the amount of applications that universities receive chances are there’s going to be several people there that are technically better.

Further, because 3D and Art students all have to produce traditional work for at least part of their tutorial, the art students are likely to be better at it.  Even if you’re applying for an animation course, they may well have an edge there (unless you can pull it back with your other pieces, we’ll get to that in a minute).  Not to dismiss what art students do – I find their work amazing actually – but I ask you, does this seem fair?

Rise up and Revolt!

“That’s great,” I hear you say, “but what am I meant to do about it?”

I’m not suggesting that you cut out life drawing and traditional arts from your portfolio.  They are necessary, and they do show your technical ability; this is still important, if you can’t draw you’re not going to get very far.

Here are some things we CAN do about this though:

  • Be yourself.  By this, I mean go ahead and create all the requisite pieces of artwork (life drawing, self portrait, etc) but do it in a way that only you would have thought of.  Pose for your portrait in a costume, draw someone in a dynamic pose that no one else is likely to have, whatever it takes to make your work scream your name.
  • Bend the rules.  Good at drawing animals, but not so good at humans?  Why not draw a human with an animal?  That way, you can show your competency with animals, and steal attention from the less-awesome human rendering.  Or draw them with interesting props, possibly partially concealed, you get the idea here.
  • Have a theme.  Since most student portfolios (at least from the uninitiated) have a very eclectic feel to them and no real coherent message, you can get ahead by having something in each image that ties it to the others.  You see this a lot in professional portfolios and it seems to work for them, so why not steal the technique?
  • Stubbornly refuse to not have fun.  It’s your artwork, just have fun with it!  It may seem scary to think that someone you don’t know is going to sit and look through it at some point, and that your applications depend on it… but ask yourself this; if you were sorting through portfolios, would you rather see something soulless or something full of energy?
  • Get advice.  Preferably from your art teacher/tutor; they’ve been working with you for a while now; they know what you’re like as a person.  Chances are they’ll know how to portray yourself so that you’re seen in the best possible light.  Go ahead and ask, go through your work with them, it’ll help a bunch.
  • Change the way you present it.  Careful with this one; you’ll want to check with the universities you’re applying to before you mess about with too much here because in some cases they won’t accept portfolios unless they’re presented in a certain way.  Some things to consider if you can get away with it; Create a self-published book with your artwork, make a DVD, take photos of everything and mount them into a sketchbook, create one of those flip-file things people carry around in their wallets… use your imagination.  But again, only if your university will accept it.

Or… Play by the rules.

Personally, I don’t see why you’d want to follow their requirements exactly to the letter.  However when you’re running short on time and all you want is to finish your portfolio so that you have something to show during your interview; just do the best you can to make sure that all they ask for is in there.

Also, bear in mind, you don’t have to submit the maximum amount of artwork you’re allowed.  Usually universities have a minimum amount too; if you’re pushed for time (or even if you’re not) it’s worth considering only submitting as much as you need to.  So long as it’s the best you have you’ll do well enough without the extra, possibly less proficient, bulk to slow you down.

Conclusion:  How I’m dealing with it this year

I wish I’d realized all this at the start of the academic year.  By the time I figured out that I could tweak things like this, I’d already put together most of my portfolio.  That said, my self portrait isn’t what I’d call typical, some of my life drawings are… odd, and my method of delivery is different.

Still working on it; but after I take photographs of my traditional artwork (mostly in pencil, so this is a bit of a challenge) I’ll be submitting my portfolio for self-publishing.  I’m also going to build a quick DVD interface for my animations and 360 views of models to include with it.  I’ll let you know how that goes when I have an interview!

So what does everyone think – how are you going to make your portfolio stand out from the crowd?  Any more tips to add? Let me know in the comments below.


Self Publishing – Lulu

Portfolio Websites

Portfolio Tips

Photographing Traditional Work

Upgrade your Drawing

Challenges; Are They Worth It?

I’ve a bit of a confession to make.  Instead of trying to figure out what to write earlier today for this blog post, I got sidetracked and signed away a decent portion of my time to competitions.  While I was doing so, and getting very excited about it, it occurred to me that I didn’t even know about them until a month or two ago.  Since it’s been one of the most worthwhile things I’ve done over the last while (other than, oddly, starting this blog) I thought I’d share the pros and cons with you, and a few places you can go to find the challenges.

First off – What’s this ‘Challenge’ Nonsense?


Challenges are miniature competitions held online that involve creating something and competing with other people for a prize, often held in forums.  Sometimes the prize can be quite substantial (software, money, books, training, etc), other times the only real prize is the prestige associated by winning.  By their nature they’re more relaxed than offline competitions, and you can spend time getting to know the other entrants.

Further, since you have to post a work in progress thread (normally), you’ll often be able to ask for and receive some advice on how to improve your models/images/whatever the challenge entails.  You can also comment on and help other people with their wips should you choose; it’s a great way to meet new people.



Entering online challenges and competitions can have the following benefits:

  • Exposure.  Your work will be seen by potentially hundreds of people of varying skill levels and success.
  • Guidance.  Those same people that see your work may be inclined to offer advice and help with making your work even better.
  • Test.  Lets face it, being a student is great, but it’s not often we really time ourselves making models (or whatever your specialty).  Challenges have a much tighter timeline, and some of them only allow you a certain amount of actual time to complete.
  • Vast Improvements.  For some reason, perhaps because it’s out with college work, you’ll push yourself harder with these sorts of projects.  It’ll improve your work tremendously.
  • Fun!  It’s hard to imagine the thrill you get from completing something that strictly speaking you didn’t have to do, but that you chose to do in your own time.  Try it; you’ll see what I mean.


  • Prizes.  I almost didn’t include this one, because it’s not really the reason I join these things (though if I ever reached a ranking position I’d be very happy with them).  For some challenges the prizes can be fairly substantial, if this is a motivation for you.




  • Time.  As a student, or someone without much in the way of spare time, the amount of time it’d take to create something extra can be daunting.  Usually it’ll take less time than you imagine it will when you first start, however this can be off-putting for some people.
  • Delayed Recognition.  Sometimes it’ll take a little while for people to start talking to you in these challenges, and you can feel like it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t continue.  If you persevere you’ll become recognizable and people will be more inclined to talk to you.  Further, if you comment on their work they’re far more likely to take a moment to look at yours.
  • Failure.  Let’s be honest here, when you first start these you’re not going to walk in and win.  If this is going to upset you too much, perhaps you’re not ready to learn this way.  I’d say that it’s still worth doing for the reasons mentioned above.

Where can I find them?


There are a lot of forums that do challenges; some monthly, some weekly, some only a few times a year.  You can usually find them in most industry forums, but here’s a quick list to kick start your challenge search.  All of these forums also have a well-established, supportive community, so they’re worth a look even if you don’t feel like entering anything.

  • Threedy Forums – The accompanying forum for 3D Total.  They run several monthly challenges on a variety of different disciplines.
  • GameArtisans – They run Dominance Wars each year, though they also have a variety of other challenges.
  • CGTalk – Challenges run throughout the year for a couple of months each time.
  • – Informal challenges in the 3D forum, and a self portrait challenge each year in November.
  • ImagineFX – Monthly and Weekly challenges in digital painting.

If you’re looking for me on any of these forums, my username is TylinaVespart – feel free to say hi!



If you have the time to do it, it’s well worth entering a couple of challenges in your chosen subject area.  This month I’ll be entering GameArtisans’ chess mini-challenge, and the Speed Modelling challenge on Threedy Forums.  Let me know if you decide to enter anything / what your username is if you’re already part of any of the forums I’ve mentioned.

Also, remember that you can subscribe to my feed for easier access, and follow me on twitter if you want more general updates.  See you on Wednesday!