Quarantined summer doesn't stop art students from creating

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 1:31 PM
Quarantined summer doesn't stop art students from creating by Thomas Taylor
Contributed Artwork: Audrey Cole

A spring move to online learning, followed by a partially quarantined summer, didn’t stop Edinboro art students from honing their craft.  

“I’ve been doing a lot of illustrations and tiny GIF animations,” said Leah DeJohn, a junior animation major. Using programs such as FireAlpaca and Blender, she is able to create these small pieces. “I do little 2-D illustrations, and I can create little walk cycles for a character. Or for some of my illustrations, I make the character blink or move their hands.” 

While the world dealt with COVID-19, DeJohn got much of her inspiration from Twitter, sharing this connection with others. “I’ve been in a community of other animation students and industry professionals, so I think a lot of my inspiration comes from their work, or from challenges people have been putting on,” she said. 

 “I think it’s been good for the industry to be doing work remotely. There’s a lot more outreach and artists in different places you wouldn’t expect when you have to start working remotely,” added LeJohn. 

For Audrey Cole (artwork featured above), a sophomore majoring in traditional animation, she found quarantine inspiration in online panels hosted by professionals in the industry, particularly Rise Up Animation. The group, which can be found as @riseupanimation on social media platforms, was founded over the summer with a focus on elevating people of color voices in animation.  

“They had weekly Zoom webinars, with animators that worked at Disney, Blue Sky (Studios) and Pixar, and they shared with us their story, how they got into the industry,” said Cole. “They gave tips and tricks. Just seeing how passionate they were about their craft really inspired me to get back into art.” 

After introducing themselves, the animators would share their screen, showing their work. “They’d go through their whole process — the storyboarding, they’d show their whole process from beginning to end for a show or a movie,” explained Cole.  

One instance that stood out to her was going behind the scenes for the 2018 Pixar film “Incredibles 2.” “They were so inspired and so into it. Seeing their thought process and how they loved doing their work so much, that was really cool,” said Cole. 

The animators would answer questions sent by viewers. “For the first one, I think there were probably one to two thousand (viewers), I believe. It really varied on who was speaking and what their interests were,” she explained. “Some people worked on backgrounds, some people did character animations or development; it really varied.” 

 Cole added that at the first meeting, they had more people watching than expected, so they had to increase the limit on how many could enter the Zoom session. In addition, the podcast “Animation Happy Hour” played a role as the hosts were panelists on Rise Up Animation.  

She referred to their own life stories and experiences as advice. “They explained things you wouldn’t get online. It was really genuine and really nice to see their honest tips and tricks, and it was a really cool experience.”  

Cole views these experiences as helpful to her in her career. “It’s very rare to be able to get an in-depth view of like the industry itself from people who have either worked in animation, or from people who are currently in it,” she said. “Being able to learn from them, especially being able to learn how things are done currently, that’s super helpful because as I continue to go through my college career, I’ll be able to take those things I’ve learned and apply them to my own work.” 

Continued education and art production went beyond animation students, though. Taylor Peyton, a senior art education major, started an online business back in June. “On the side, I like to make jewelry. I like to make crystal pendants, rings, keychains,” she said. Using skills taken from her art classes, she applied them to her business.  

For Peyton, inspiration can come from a variety of places, including contemporaries in the field. “Definitely talking to my peers and other artists, and we collaborate, talk about ideas. Art history, and other artists that I’ve never met but I just know of,” said Peyton. 

Her supplies come from a combination of small businesses online, with retailers such as Etsy, or just regular craft stores. Peyton noted she gets some crystals from a small Virginia-based artist.  

For the EU artist, the only tools she uses are two pairs of pliers and her hands. “It’s really only wires and those two simple pliers and a lot of work with your hands,” she explained. Peyton added that her hands can get sore from doing this process. “I’ve known of people that have actually gotten surgery on their thumbs just from the repetitive motion of it.” 

As for her goals, Peyton explained that, “Right now, most of my buyers are still friends and family, but I’d like to grow to the point where I have buyers and interactions with customers all across the map.” In fact, she currently has a map where she can fill in where the order is coming from, which she considers a form of goal-setting. “If I get a new order from a state where they’ve never bought anything from me before, I can fill that state in,” she said.  

Right now, there’s 16-18 states filled in. “My goal is at least to get every single one in the U.S.,” said Peyton. She even has artwork up in Canada and gets many of her buyers from California. 

For all three of these artists, watching their mental health played a role in how they continued to learn and make art through the stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I think there’s a lot expression-wise in house-made animation…having the free time to do that and reflect on your own struggles,” said LeJohn on the experience.  

For Cole, it was about the positivity in life. “I think a big thing is trying to see things in a positive way. Instead of thinking about everything bad that’s going on, try to see the beauty, and trying to draw and animate things that make you happy. Just drawing things that bring you joy in your life, and trying not to focus so much on the negative, because that can really drag you down.” 

Peyton actually has a background in mental health, as she works at a crisis center part time. “It (art) gives me something to focus on, and kind of something to divert my attention…it’s a distraction but it’s also comforting. It really lets you explore new ideas and it really gives you something to be excited about, something to have fun with, to use your creative outlet.”  

She added that she’s exploring the possibility of getting a master’s degree in counseling. “I want to show students that art just isn’t…it’s not just another special; you can use it in your everyday life. There’s math in art, there’s language in art, there’s so many different subjects involved in art, so they can learn so much more.” 

Peyton continued: “It’s a coping mechanism too, and helps with anxiety and depression, so I hope to always be an advocate for art and mental health. And hopefully combine the two someday.” 

Throughout COVID-19, artists at Edinboro have continued to learn and create. Even in the darkest of times, art can bring a little bit of light and truth to the world. 

Thomas Taylor is a staff writer for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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