There is an old folktale about two woodcutters, and it goes like this.
The two woodcutters were having a friendly competition to see who could chop the most wood during their shift. The one woodchopper kept chopping wood all day and as the other one walked away, he thought to himself "whelp, ok, guess I win then." But when the competition ended they came together and the other woodsman had more wood, the woodsman who spent all day chopping asked, "How did you get so much more chopped than me?"
“Well,” replied the other lumberjack, “while you were cutting, I was sharpening my axe.”
Ultimately, part of becoming a better artist is to just simply take time to do other things that are not immediately related to your practice.
The takeaway is that we need to step away from work to be good at work. Like the axe, when we take the time away to refine and refresh ourselves, it only serves to improve the quality and efficiency of what we do. So how do we sharpen our axe as creatives? For myself, research has been huge. Most of my work comes from an articulation of research. Anything I may be interested in drawing, I go out and study it, maybe even experience it if I can.
Above: Linetest took inspiration from their frequent hikes for this Larabar ad
After all, part of expanding the scope of what I can create is going out and creating experiences in my own life. Studying my surroundings, immersing myself in the stories of the people in my life, all of it comes together to lend some authenticity to the stories we tell in animation.
Inspiration is found in every particle of the experience.
Ultimately, part of becoming a better artist is to just simply take time to do other things that are not immediately related to your practice. For me, this includes stuff like hiking, going on long bike rides, playing D&D, reading about different styles of architecture, listening to my dad instruct me on how to identify animal tracks in the snow, and grabbing fried chicken from a 24/7 hour donut diner. The flavour you develop in your life will always be evident in the work you create. The things you see and hear, what you’re thinking about as you attend an online pottery course, the cutie across from you on the bus, they manifest in the choice of colours you use, in the way you articulate the weight of the whale's tail as it breaches the surface of the water. Those lived experiences and your senses within them are like spices when you set out to create something to be digested by the world.
One of the core elements of Linetest is its connection and collective fascination with nature. A lot of the subject matter I’m tasked with articulating includes mountains, birds, bears, and people interacting with the outdoors. Whenever I’m tasked with developing a new artistic style for a project with the voice of Linetest as a whole, I always make a point to explore and inject either specific elements from nature or narratives that seem to form themselves from a careful observation of the outside world. The undulating tides may manifest as the wave of a skirt caught in the evening breeze, while the motion of separating cream at the surface of a mid-morning latte takes shape as the parting of clouds in a vast landscape.
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- Production Company Linetest
- Director Hao Chen
- Producer Zoe Coleman
- Art Director Sean Richardson
- Art Director Duncan Patterson
- Animation Director Hao Chen
- Designer/Illustration Melissa Cho
- Compisitor Duncan Patterson
- Sound Designer/Music Ambrose Yu
These lived moments of truth take on new life in our imagined worlds. With these moments being so essential to our work, it only makes sense that we take time to venture out into the wild once in a while. When we embark on team hiking trips, our eyes are always hungry for the wide Canadian expanse, our ears always perked for the exchanging of each other's ventures in other countries or run-ins with the notable characters of Vancouver. We collectively marvel at the gentleness of the ferns and evergreens as their arms react to the wind. Inspiration is found in every particle of the experience.
In many ways, we are like the axe, neglecting to care and refine ourselves will only lead to us losing our edge.
Even outside the woods, walking home alone from work in the city is just another berry bush of creative pickings; a white noise of stories walking hand in hand or across from you in the bus, the latest fashion designs posed like character sheets for window shoppers, the movement of fractal compositions of light spread across the glass exteriors of apartment buildings, the dance of interweaving colours and personalities as a stoplight shifts to the walk signal, the park that resembles a Monet painting as we take our office dog, Zuli, out for a walk. All of these experiences, whether below the canopy of pines and fresh mountain air, or tall glass pillars and busy shoes, finds a way into the DNA of what we make.
The flavour you develop in your life will always be evident in the work you create.
While it is important to actually go about the work of executing tasks and being efficient with your time, an often underrated and easily dismissed element of this efficiency is the importance of taking breaks. It’s important to remember that our bodies and our minds need to be kept well maintained like the equipment we use throughout our work week. Around 4:00pm, between long hours adjusting lines, ironing out inconsistencies, and searching the libraries in our minds to push an animation further, we all put down our tools like the contestants of Hell’s Kitchen. We take a moment to put our tasks on hold and come together to do something, anything, that isn’t work-related. It can be dancing like a grandpa, challenging each other with outlandish riddles, leading each other through a game made up on the spot, charades, or even simply taking a walk outside. These breaks are like a sword and shield held up against the constant lurking threats of burnout and “bore-out”. Our minds are given the chance to surface and breathe above a tide of problem-solving and return, refreshed and renewed.
On top of all this, the distinctive personalities of our team are each given a chance to shine in a very collaborative process; As we step back from the work to bring the entire team together to brainstorm and review what we’ve done, in an almost kitchen table-style exchange, all of our collective lived experiences, obsessions, interests, and observations manifest as a messy and colourful mosaic of sticky notes on a board.
One of the core elements of Linetest is its connection and collective fascination with nature.
Circling back to the folk tale, the older woodsman reminds us that working smarter will always yield more wood then working longer. As animators and artists, we are so susceptible to getting stuck in the short term solutions, just chopping away at tasks and problems. In many ways, we are like the axe, neglecting to care and refine ourselves will only lead to us losing our edge. So when you’re asked if you wanna go on that road trip, or if you want to grab that coffee, or what you’re up to this weekend, consider giving that tablet pen some time alone, because if you were wondering what you can do to improve your work, you may have found your answer.