Friday, January 9, 2009

Operation 'Switch' - Startup

I started a long list of North-American art schools worth investigating, including Ringling in Florida, CCAD in Ohio, SCAD in Atlanta, Watts Atelier in California, and Sheridan and Max the Mutt in Ontario, Canada. It felt liberating to allow myself to look everywhere, without self-imposed restrictions or preconceptions. The sky was my limit but, of course, I had to be practical.

Right when I started to believe that Ringling, with its tuition of about $13000, might be affordable, someone clarified that this tuition is per semester. Top art schools in North America are expensive, and for most of these I severely doubt whether the education is worth its tuition. From a practical point of view, this made pruning down my long list a lot easier. Also, I had prepared a questionnaire I sent to the art schools listed, and quite a number of schools failed to respond. The Max the Mutt Animation school in Toronto was one of the schools that responded with a genuine interest in me, and I put this school at the top of my short list.

I was able to keep my short list short, mostly because the majority schools are not affordable for me, without any financial support, but also because I'm a bit wary about the political climate in the United States. I soon narrowed my search down to Canada, down to Toronto and decided to apply to Max the Mutt in the Fall of 2007 and, in case I was not accepted, to apply to Sheridan in the Spring of 2008.

In the meantime, my time with my employer had come to an end. A farewell dinner, presents and a farewell card, where my boss wrote that he would remember me when he saw the next Tom and Jerry cartoon. Now, it was portfolio time.

I took a month to prepare the required portfolio pieces, including an interior, an exterior, a drawing of my hand, still lifes, pages from my sketchbook, and cartoons. For the interior I choose Gouda's beautiful St. Janskerk, and for the exterior I went to Rotterdam's old water tower 'De Es'. This was more challenging than I had hoped, in a time of the year when days are getting shorter and colder, and I caught a nasty cold. I went to the Rotterdam Zoo 'Blijdorp' to add some animal drawings to my sketchbook, and I spent a few hours in the local mall to add some more life drawings; it was fun to see how much animals and people have in common. Concurrently, I prepared and passed the required Test Of English as a Foreign Language, and scored a nice 110 out of 120. I submitted the application package and moved my attention towards 'Wullie'.

Wullie was the name of the freelance company I had founded to get the flexibility to alternate between making money and operation 'Switch'. In December I got my first project, which involved programming a robot to cut huge slabs of concrete, which was a welcome diversion for someone who had always spent his time on relatively abstract, financial and logistical programming jobs. And then, I got great news: I was accepted by Max the Mutt!

It meant the start of period of formalities, mainly to sign contracts and to apply for a Study Permit, and to prepare my actual move to Toronto. This moved on quite smoothly and fit in neatly with Wullie. The first project came to an end, I failed to find a second project, because companies are reluctant to hire a freelancer who is ready to quit his job and leave the country. Disappointing as this was, it finally appeared a blessing in disguise: planning to move to Toronto is one thing, but actually moving is another thing...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Joseph Gillain

The usual colourful cover of 'Robbedoes' had been replaced by a simple black and white image, featuring a circle of cowboys staring at the empty spot in their middle. It was the summer of 1980: Jijé had died.

Joseph Gillain was the founding father of the 'Marcinelle School' of Belgian Comics, characterised by living lines and a great sense of humour. Quite a number of the heroes from my younger days, i.e. Franquin, Morris, Peyo and Giraud, had learned the art of comics from this one mentor, who is not only the spiritual father of Jerry Spring and 'Blondin et Cirage', but who can also be considered the spiritual grandfather of even more popular characters like Gaston Lagaffe, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs and Blueberry.

The special edition of 'Robbedoes' included a short overview of Jijés life and work through interviews with his pupils, radiating a warm affection towards their teacher. One fact mentioned has remained with me ever since: Gillain taught his pupils to draw without looking at their paper. As a 14-year old this grossly impressed me: someone who can draw without looking at the paper must be really really really good. And now, at the age of 42, I still think so.

This week, the second term of my education at the Max the Mutt Animation School has started. Yesterday I got my final evaluation over the first term. I got a Pass for 'Design and Composition' and 'Perspective and Structural Drawing', and a High Pass for 'Acting and Improvisation', 'Beginning Life Drawing', 'Principles of Drawing' and 'Representational Painting'. Of these, 'Design and Composition' and 'Acting and Improvisation' are finished. New courses will be 'Colour and Water-based Media' and 'History of Animation'. The other courses will continue into the second semester, although the teachers are shuffled around, to allow students to get a new view on old material.

Today I had my first 'Beginning Life Drawing' class by Vivian, a respectable lady who follows Nicolaides' 'The Natural Way to Draw to the letter. Other than my previous teacher she encourages us to draw without looking at the paper, in order to train our observation, as opposed to training our memory. This morning I once more felt the wisdom of this approach, and I promised myself to stick to it. It may mean a short dip in the development of my drawing abilities, as my eye-hand coordination feels a little below par, but I believe it is worth the effort in the long run. Let's see what happens...