Graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2011 with an MA in Animation, and now residing in Brooklyn, NY, illustrator and animator Julia Pott was recently awarded Best Animated Short film at San Francisco International Film Festival for her third film Belly. At Pictoplasma earlier this year, Julia took to the stage to discuss her career so far, and Serbian collective Dis-Patch were lucky enough to interview her. Inkygoodness has been granted exclusive rights to publish this interview in English for the first time. Julia speaks to Saša Arsić about her characters, ideas & influences…
In your talk at Pictoplasma you referred a lot to the biographical side of your work. In that regards, do you usually have in mind certain people when you draw characters or there are things you are adding or subtracting? Are the characters mostly representing real or imaginary persons?
It varies. Sometimes I know who it is about only after I draw a character. On the other hand, often I can very specifically say who certain characters are. It is more about getting the feelings out and working out my relationship with a particular person. That is why they all have these human characteristics, they are mostly drawn from photos of my friends, pictures of animals on the Internet and stuff.
So unlike many people who take part at this conference, you are not imagining entire personal histories and naming your characters, imagining the worlds they inhabit? Or you would like to do more of that in the future?
There is a certain element about that. I am picking certain characters and putting some soul into them and a backstory. Usually they are based on friends of mine, so there is an element of my persona in it. For example, for “Belly” the character Oscar is based on me as a kid, but he is a boy, and an elephant, so it is an abstraction. Completely imagining someone’s back story doesn’t really appeal to me as a medium, it seems a little false. I know that people enjoy it, but I think that if it is based on reality people can relate to it, it is more universal, it is more human.
You showed some of you influences in the lecture, but there were not so many examples from the fields of fine art, or history of drawing…
To be honest I used to go to exhibitions of that nature when I was younger, but I am generally not inspired by other artists, it is more other film makers. I also don’t like to be influenced by art that looks like mine, quite the opposite. My favorite painter is David Hockney, and some people do compare my work to his, or say it is quite similar. But on the whole I am taking influences from an overall experience, I am not specifically looking at other people’s design or aesthetic, but how they are representing a story.
Artists frequently dedicate themselves to a personal project as a labor of love, not for a client, and then often succeed in reaching a wider audience; for example your music video for Casiotone for the Painfully Alone project, which achieved critical acclaim. Can you elaborate on the story behind this collaboration? Do you think more young animators and illustrators should pursue self-initiated projects? Does that moment of honesty and dedication brings the best work out of some people?
That particular project came about when I graduated in 2007. I went traveling and met him at one of his shows and really liked his work. I showed him my stuff and asked if I could make him a music video – free of charge. There was nothing to lose, of course, so he said yes. I wanted to make music videos for along time, but had never made one before, so that seemed like a good idea – even if he didn’t like it there was nothing to be lost. It also gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted, so that was really good. It pretty much got my name out there, and the next job was to do 20 minutes of visuals for The Decembrists, which came about after they saw the first video on Spike Jones’s blog. If I had never done that first video, I would also not have gotten the paid job.
I think creating the kind of work you want to make and be known for, helps you get more of the work you want to do in the long run. The work any artist creates should be personal. That is why I did it. Before the power of the Internet as we know it today, a lot of illustrators were working for really low fees, but now everyone wants to get their name out there, so even famous artists are into doing really cheap or free stuff. I would just encourage people to know when to stop, maybe do one job for free that you feel would be worthwhile, and then never do one again. You need to value yourself, and if someone doesn’t want to pay you what you’re worth, then they are probably not worth working for anyway. You learn from experience where those boundaries are.
In that regard, how do you see self-distribution and Etsy as a market medium? Also in terms of your own prints which you sell over Etsy, how do you see the relationship between limited and unlimited editions, formats and so on? How do those approaches go together, and do you feel that at some point you need to also change the approach to this in order to shift your overall profile?
At the moment Etsy just keeps me afloat, it is a nice way for selling little prints for not much effort and getting a little bit of money to pay my rent. When I started out I didn’t really think about how it was coming across as part of my “image”. So I was putting up anything I knew would sell because I knew it would sell, rather than because I was proud of it. You see other artists up there, and they sell only limited edition screen prints for way more money than I sell my stuff for so you think it might be better, but you come to realize that some of them rarely sell anything. So I think there needs to be balance; do you want to make money or do something else.
After graduating at the Royal College of Arts I made the decision to reduce my shop. I felt I was progressing and I valued the work I was making a lot more. Now my prints are of a really high standard and I collaborate with printers who can produce hi-quality screen prints. On Etsy, people don’t value that as much. People basically want to decorate their homes. Nobody actually cares if it is number 2 of 100. But if you have some kind of shop which is exclusive to your website, then you will attract people who are looking more for that one-off kind of thing, but you tend to get less traffic. So it is about a balance, and you need to decide what will work best for you.
And another “business” question, as many young illustrators are probably not familiar with the fact that as a graphic artist you can be signed to an agency or a label, pretty much like musicians. You are now signed to Hornet Inc. What kind of relationship do you have with them, is it an exclusive contract or just covers certain kinds of jobs? Are there things which are out of their control in terms of your creative and professional activities?
I personally signed exclusively to Hornet for worldwide territory, mostly for advertising and music videos. I can also pitch them film ideas, and they can decide if they want to fund a project or not, and how much for. That option is really appealing to me. They have different types of people on their roster, there are people who bring really high-paid jobs and a design aesthetic that many can relate to, and then there is me, somebody who maybe has more trendy work but is less “bankable”; by producing short films and traveling around festivals and stuff.
That is another aspect of the company which helps them to get their name out there. I have been signed to other agents before, places which work in different ways. For me Hornet is really a good place, especially because I was moving out to New York last October, and I was offered a desk space there, a legal team if I need it and things like that. But if a job comes in especially for me, which is low budget, I can choose if I do it through the agency or not. All of the bigger jobs, of course, I would have to do through them. All the other things like prints, exhibitions and illustration are totally on the side, they have nothing to do with that; I can have a different agent for that if I wish.
In regards to working with music, how important is that to you, who would be the artists you would like to do work for, or in collaboration with?
I look at a lot of animated music videos, and the things I tend to be drawn to are the live action ones. David Wilson and the Daniels are friends of mine who do these incredible live action videos, I would love to collaborate with someone like that; make a fully animated music video. But yes, music is incredibly important to me and it is a big influence. I am not sure if I am still pushing towards going down the music video route because it doesn’t quite get into the depth of the story that I like, I really love storytelling and I would like to develop those skills more. Music videos make you a little soft on storytelling, you’ve got a free pass to muck around more. But I would love to do a feature film and then choose the music, that would be more appealing to me.
What would be the music?
That would depend on the film. Things that I love to listen to, which I can hear again and again and again include Bon Iver and Prince, Beach House… Sort of sad music that you can listen to on repeat is the most appealing to me. The stuff everybody likes, I guess. I love John Cale, just heartbreaking music.
You’ve also mentioned the notion of “uncanny” in your presentation, a notion that seems to be becoming very relevant lately. Also related to your relationship to mindless comedy which you also mentioned, as contemporary comedy is more and more about awkwardness, which is increasingly present in humor. A lot of your drawings pass on a similar mood. Could you explain your relationship to this kind of emotion?
Art and film is becoming closer and closer as time goes on. The whole uncanny thing is so much a part of our soul; a weird feeling that you get and everyone feeling so awkward on the inside but acting confident… So it is just a part of who everybody is; it is a universal concept. Using humor is interesting, for example, the cult series “Twin Peaks” is hilarious, but at the same time it’s awkward, weird and uncanny. I think it works because it embraces all of the aspects of what it means to be a person. I like creating work like that, it is something that interests me a lot. I like investigating all the different aspects of it, the doubles, the loops, making something human that isn’t quite what it seems… I try to secretly put it in my work; you want something to make you feel weird. My friend made this film and found a sound that you cannot hear, a certain type of sound frequency which gave a feeling of a haunted house. He put it into his films to see if it made a difference, and I like it because it plays with what we are able to feel and not.
Is there a story that you is particularly interesting to you, as you’ve said that videos are not offering enough of narrative for you? Something you would feel really good about having a chance to work on, a Kurt Vonnegut novel or something like that?
Yes, I would definitely like to use stories as starting points, rather than starting from scratch. I am working on something at the moment, based on someone else’s writing, and the process is so much easier for me. You are getting outside inspiration from the get go, and you don’t feel like stumbling in the dark. I love short stories, like Tim Burton’s “Big Fish”, he made one of his best films from what was a very short story. Kurt Vonnegut – absolutely; “Cat’s Cradle” would be absolutely amazing to work off of.
For the end, what are the things you are working on now, and in terms of prints – do you have corpses of works which are a sort of an entity and then you start a new series? Do you do this with a plan, or just draw and then look at what you have, like clouds of work..?
Everything with me works in retrospect. There are periods and times in my life when I am working out different things, they are grouped together in terms of style I am working with, which is from season to season. The way I shade something, or the way I color something, what I am interested in. You get attached to some works, but the bits you like the most are usually not the ones that everybody likes the most. Work that you spend ages on and you think are really good don’t always get noticed; sometimes it hurts your feelings, but I guess they are all your children, you can’t not love them! (laughs).
Photographs & images copyright: Saša Arsić, Nathan Jurvecius
Interview series by Dis-patch Collective from Belgrade, Serbia. www.dis-patch.org
First published on Design Portal: www.designed.rs
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