Interview with Pascal Campion
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Griffin in Watercolor
Interview with Pascal CampionArtist Spotlight
by Constanza Ehrenhaus
Pascal Campion is a French-American artist that has a whimsical style, great management of light and finds magic in everyday situations. The one thing that did strike me the most about his art is how much it demonstrates the huge love he has for his wife and children. Please, join me reading this fascinating interview!
First, let me congratulate you on the arrival of your new twin boys!
Pascal, could you give us a summary of your artistic background?
I have been drawing since I was little and I guess I never stopped. I went to art school in France, at a place called Ecole des Arts Decoratifs and was in the illustration section, from which I graduated in 2000.
Right after graduation, I packed my bags and came to the states, where I still am now.
When I got here, I almost immediately got a job in the animation industry and never really got out of it. It was a little strange to me because I always thought I'd be an illustrator working freelance in France, but I was now animating art at a company in Portland, Oregon.
I didn't like what I was doing though... It was flash animation and all I had to do was to move symbols (cut out pieces of different parts of the characters) around. There was no drawing involved, and I was bored to death...
Luckily, the main storyboard artist for the company left, and they were asking around if we knew anybody who could do boards, so I volunteered, and soon became the main story artist in the company. That was an extremely fun job.
The company hit some hard times with the dot com crash, and I left for Hawaii where I got a job in an educational nonprofit company. I stayed there a little over a year and came back to Portland after that to work at a place called Bent Image Lab.
Bent Image Lab is a commercial production company. They do almost only commercials, and a lot of them used to be in stop motion. Now it's a bit of everything, but when I started there, the company was just beginning. There were only the three partners, myself and two other kids that left very early. It was a start up mentality and I credit working there for teaching me almost everything I know about being professional, efficient and fast.
We were working around the clock just about every day on commercials and pitches. My main job there was to create animatics, that turned out to be fully animated commercials, in rough form, to pitch to clients. I was doing one full commercial in a day or two (in rough form), and that's what made me become so much faster.
Eventually, I started directing spots myself and become a director with Bent.
After a few years, I left to come to San Francisco to be with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. When I got here, I started working at Leapfrog as a lead animator. Leapfrog is a toy company that also does video games for younger kids. I was doing design and a little tiny bit of animation there, but mostly, I was managing people, and being managed. It wasn't a great experience, but not a bad one either... it just wasn't for me. What it did help me with though was that it introduced me to a bunch of extremely talented artists from the Bay Area, and helped me establish myself as an artist here as well.
While at Leapfrog, I felt the need to be creative somehow because my job just didn't let me do that, so I started something called "sketch of the day." I decided that every day of the week I would start a sketch that I would send to a few friends. It's nothing incredibly original in the sense that a lot of people do sketch everyday, but it was something fairly new to me since I hadn't really been drawing for the past five or six years. I had only been animating
I honestly thought I was not going to be able to keep it up, but it's been five years now, and I'm still doing sketches of the day. At the time, when I started, I didn't realize how great of a training it would be. Not just because it would make me better at drawing, but because every day of the week I would generate a new idea that I would take from the beginning to the end; it made me so much more self-assured when it came to dealing with freelance work.
All of a sudden, doing commissioned work was so easy, because in essence I was doing that every day already. It was also good for discipline. I wouldn't let myself NOT do a sketch because I was tired or not in the mood... or because I couldn't find an idea... I kept pushing myself and every time I would come up with something. Of course, sometimes the sketches are not very good, but after a while, with the experience, I was able to create a similar quality every day, and that level of quality kept going up... and, hopefully, will keep going up!
Eventually, I left Leapfrog to be a full-time freelancer, and that's what I still do. I work in commercials as well as TV, features, some print work and am always doing my personal projects.
How do you think having studied in France has shaped your art?
Growing up in France, I was exposed to all these different types of art, from American comics to Japanese art and French graphic novels. Plus, I was always interested in paintings. I used to look at reproductions of Bruegel's work in my textbooks, and dream about being in those paintings. I think the simple fact of being exposed to so many different ways of doing art helped me realize that there is no one way of creating.
The school I went to didn't force us to draw or impose any technique on us. Their philosophy was that we needed to come up with our own way of representing the world around us, to develop our own graphic grammar in a way. The illustration section was not about nice drawings, but about telling stories through our images. Some of the students could barely draw, and would use different methods to create their illustrations... modeling scenes in clay or paper, cutting out pictures from magazines to recreate characters and stories... etc. etc.
A lot of us drew, of course, because we were interested in drawing, but being around people who didn't and didn't care for it while still wanting to be illustrators really helped me shape my outlook on drawing and its true importance in illustration. By this I mean that it is important for me to be able to draw what I need to say, but I don't necessarily need to "know" how to draw a centaur or an elf if it's not something I am talking about in my art.
If I was asked to do a piece that related to centaurs or elfs, I'd find a way to represent them, but I don't "know" how to draw them... does that make sense? I'll develop a visual for them based on the mood, the story, the goal of the piece. That's how I approach all of my work actually. I try and figure out what I want to say and find a way to say it through my images.
How did you find yourself working for companies such as Disney and Dreamworks?
When I do sketches of the day, I post them on my blog, on Facebook and a bunch of different places. People see them, and because I update them so often, my work gets around. That was the best marketing tool for me.
After doing a sketch of the day for about six months, I got an email from Disney TV telling me they'd seen my work on some blogs, and liked it and asked me If I wanted to do some work for them. That job crumbled as I was working on it, but I had pleased someone higher up at Disney and I started doing other jobs with Disney... and I still work with them here and there.
It's pretty much the same for Nick jr, and all the other major companies I am working with. They see my work on the internet, and send me an email.
Posting and showing your work as much as you can is not only a great way to grow as an artist, it's a phenomenal way to market yourself, which is primordial if you want to be a commercial artist. It doesn't matter how good you think you might be if no one sees your work!
There is a mild fantastic element in many of your illustrations. Do you think that fantasy art can be achieved without pointy ears?
I think what people call Fantasy IS the whole Tolkien universe. I like seeing good fantasy art but I'm not really into doing it.
That said... I like taking everyday situations and pushing them just so slightly out of the real world... and make them bigger than life. I usually use lighting to create this push... and that's where the "fantastic" portion of my work comes from. It's this slight push beyond what is usually there.
I don't always do it, though. A lot of times, I'll just focus on capturing a perfect moment, one of these instants that you see all the time, but never stop to really look at.
I did this drawing a couple of days ago of my daughter giving one of my new born sons a kiss on the cheek. She actually does that and it's really cute. But seeing that moment in the drawing made it even MORE special, to me. Capturing those moments and trying to not just show them but make the viewer FEEL them is what I try to do... and I sometimes cheat it a bit to make the emotion more "present".
Your style is very unique, saturated colors, beautiful palettes, whimsical even when depicting more adult situations... what were the factors that helped you develop such a style?
When I was in college, at the very beginning, I wanted to be the BEST artist in the world. I wanted to be able to paint, draw like the greatest... and I started doing gouache paintings. I had it in my mind that I would "master" academic drawing before I could do something else so I was into fairly realistic things.
Then one day, I started doing this gouache painting of an actor's portrait... and it took me a week to finish it because I wanted it to be perfect. By the end, it looked OK but I was drained, and hated what I had done. I realized then that I liked art and paintings a lot, but that I didn't want to DO it. At the same time, I really liked a certain type of comic book art... more specifically, I liked the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books that we had in France.
They were all drawn in Italy, and you could see they were done very fast, but they were all impeccable and you could always tell what was going on in the images, and even follow the stories without having to read. When I saw that, I made it a goal to develop a way of drawing that would be fast and efficient... that I was NOT going to go for the best-looking art in the world, but for something that could tell a story in the simplest form possible.
And that's still what I try to do today.
I do have a few years of experience on me now, so my drawings are a little more complex than what I set out to do, but they are still fairly fast and simple. In short... it was a conscious decision to prioritize readability and message over graphic "prettiness" that made me develop this style.
A funny thing I realized along the way though is that you will really only remember what you can understand, and that if you like the content of an image, you will tend to like the way it looks as well!
Tell us about how you work with light and why it has such a predominant role in your artwork.
Light is mainly predominant in my work because I like it a lot. I'll be driving or biking, or even walking down the street here, in San Francisco, and see incredible lighting schemes all over the city... in winter, in summer, in fall or spring, anytime of the day.
Since I like to let myself be inspired by what is around me, it was only natural that I start exploring light in my art. That said, it's not very easy, at least not for me, so I work with light a lot in order to understand it better. It's a whole subject matter all to itself.
Your family seems to be very important for you. Does being a freelancer allow you better interaction and more time with them?
Yes and no. Being a freelancer allows me to go home at 4 to play with my daughter and hang out with my wife, but it also makes me have to work odd hours, and sometimes on the weekends in order to complete jobs.
It's a give-and-take situation if you compare it to a full-time job. I don't have the same regularity, but I have so much more freedom and creative challenges that come out from my situation. As for my family... whether I'd be a full time or a freelancer, they always come first.
How do you balance a healthy work life and a healthy family life? Please, tell us the secret!!
It's easy. I love my family and I love my work.
I love my family so much more, so they always come first, but I need to work to make sure I can enjoy them... when you see it like that, it's easier to make balanced decisions.
What do you think is your best asset in your work? And what would be an area you would love to improve?
They ground me, they stop me from working too much, and they inspire me as well.
Also the fact that my life is not rooted in art..by this I mean that a lot of artist that I know, especially the younger ones, live for art and only art. I don't. I did when I was younger and that was a mistake. I feel like I love life, and use art to express that love.
That's why I say my biggest asset is my family... seeing all my work through them makes me put back in perspective what I do and why I do it!
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