Sunday, 15 March 2009

guest lecture: Damian Gascoigne

There have been three really Great guest lectures at college. Paul Davis, Andy Martin and Damian Gascoigne. Andy Pavitt’s was also really good and I’m not saying I didn’t learn anything from the others but these three were clean kills, heads severed at neck.

But I was worried when the lecture started. The title screen read “Stockporticus talk, 110 years in animation.” Oh fantastic, I’m shuddering at the back of the room ready to spend an introspective three hours dodging flake humour revolving around cats and chickens or some awful shit like that. And then the first slide is a picture of his mum.

You gotta see a picture of my mum.

How many times has he given this talk, I wonder. It is a low flying plane, all earnest and bold and neatly tied together.

I realise almost straight away that most illustrators hate talking full stop. Do they hate words, or just presenting themselves? Otto Dettmer was definitely an insular guy, and Damian Gascoigne isn’t exactly brimming with confidence, he seems like a low key guy. But it seems like he genuinely enjoys this, talking, thinking, discovering (to make it sound way pretentious).

He’s broken the presentation into four sections.

Number 1. Research: when you just got things going on.

He makes some jokes about his Fear of the North, his fear of his Auntie Lizza and I am right on board, he is a funny guy.

A theme that runs through the presentation is about how he is learning 3D animation software now, at a late stage in his life. He talks about tech, how it has improved so much so quickly. Anyone can be slick and do all this cool stuff but coming up with good ideas is just as hard as it ever was.

Creative people – they’re nosey, they need to be. He is so nosey. It’s part of creating. It’s all snooping, doodling, collecting. He shows a photo of the top of a supermarket carrier bag on the floor. It is an interesting shape, almost a rabbits head.

When you’re waiting around, even without a sketchbook, you doodle on receipts. He is amazed by students who don’t have a pen or a sketchbook to hand. Sometimes these doodles become something more, they stand out, put their hand up, ask to be used again, to stretch out. Some doodles he shows us.

To this end he talks about how, having none, he is into hair. Draws hair all the time. Also posture and goddamnit if I don’t love postures. It’s Egon Schiele’s fault. I love weird exaggerated poses, all twists and angles and he does too. He sketches and takes photos of people, strangers, his students, all in these weird poses. Maybe they don’t lead to anything, but they don’t have to.

That resonates with me. I’m always looking for drive and purpose. Not always, sometimes a thing is an end in itself, or it doesn’t have an end; you’re just doing it.

Maybe it doesn’t lead to anything, but it doesn’t have to.

This is the start of something big, Damian. He is pull the curtains on something I’d forgotten about: genuine interest in other people and things.

He draws everyday, all too often not from life. But man he shows us these stone bastard drawings he did in Lisbon when his class went there last year, or earlier this year. Lots of India ink and looseness, fucking awesome. But drawing from life like that sharpens you up, and when you take that to the studio it makes you fresher.

He wants students to notice the things around them, not to just have blank pages in your sketchbook to look at. He shows us a picture of a couple in a Korean café. He is rigid, in a suit, she is in a frock (?), a cardigan. His hands are on his lap, her drink has hardly been touched. He says it is a first date, you just know there isn’t going to be a second. For half an hour he was stood there taking pictures, peering into someone else’s life.

There are stories starting all around, he says, he shows us a picture of a child at the Tate Modern. The kid’s dad, in this art gallery, all he wants is to take a photo of his kid walking around.

This is why I like the music I like, the books I like. It’s stories, other people.

I have sketched out a couple of his photographs, just to get my hands moving, to feel more of a connection. I notice Anna has done the same, but I think she’s drawing Damian.

The next day, only a little hungover, I’m at Manchester townhall, drawing what’s around me. Loose, just to move my hands. I’ve bought two cans of Mountain Dew and I’m drinking one as I write this. There is an intense feeling of belonging walking around Manchester, the sun half out and all that. I can’t feel like this all the time, and I sort of miss the feeling already. But I feel very alert, very fresh and specialised.

Part 2: personal work.

Yeah he talked briefly about this gallery thing he did in Korea. It was interesting but not as interesting as

Part 3: Pitch Requiem.

You don’t get paid to pitch, suckers. It is deadly competitive. Last year he made seven pitches and none worked out. He shows us these pitches. They are clean. His commercial work is much, much cleaner than his personal stuff. Which makes sense and is fine. You can see how it all fits together and that’s the important thing.

His pacing of slides is fucking great. Mountain Dew is delicious.

You need nerves of steel for this job, the spirit of a gambler. Despite the seven that didn’t work out he got one, or two, that did. He’s more in love with his work than ever, but he’s now unemployable. He couldn’t have a boss telling him when to get to work, what to do, all that shit and I start thinking maybe I can be an illustrator, maybe this is what I am.

He talks about the conversations we’re going to have with ourselves, the ugly ones when the jobs don’t come. Why am I doing this? The sweat soaking stone whatever. You either walk out or you don’t, spirit of a gambler.

Part 4: new territory.

This presentation was a roving drive through Damian Gascoigne. He shows us part of an animation he’s working on. It’s good because it’s not generic. Has all this pen texture and 2d drawn quality but also this 3d thing going on. It was nice to watch, not to write about.

But it showed how the people around you become a direct inspiration.

He ends saying he’s enjoying the battle.

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