I want to revist this photo I postd yesterday because there’s more of a story to it.
So my prof, her mentor (my grandmama of clay), her friend from Dallas, supaslim, and myself go to Trinity Brewhouse which is like a block over from the nceca confrence. This lovely lady is our hostess and she was talking about how great the people from the confrence were, how friendly we’ve all been, and how refreshing and enjoyable the group has been over all! She’s just an awesome hostess and our server has the same feedback about us. I think they were kind of almost sad that this group of awesome people are almost at the end of the stay (I’m kind of sad I’m at the end of the stay too. :( This place has been awesome!)
Anyway, this is the second time I had been to Trinity and their food is rockin’, and the service is rockin’, and our server and waitress were just so awesome and so excited about the group, I wanted to give them something to remember us by. So I was carrying some of my cups that I made last semester and just hapend to be carrying two! So I gave one to our waiter, who was excited, and one to our hostess so that they will hopefully always have something to remember this group of clay peeps by! Maybe one day they’ll take a clay class and be absorbed into the awesomeness of this community. I’m very proud of the clay community and I’m so happy to be part of it. NCECA is a magical event and has such an awesome energy about it. I always get to meet friends from tumblr (this year I got to meet mumblebeeproduction and sassysaffron! They are also made of awesomesauce!) and talk to great strangers and I just love it! I can’t wait till next year or the year after. NCECA always recharges my love for clay and community, though it never really dwindles. We are a fantastic community and I hope that never changes. I can’t imagine that it ever will.
Last night, I was honored to be invited to give one of several short (9-minute) local talks at Q Providence. Q is an evening focused on discussing how to advance the good, true and beautiful in our city, through the lense of faith.
In light of some of the major events in the news and in discussion, I am duly humbled and hope this will be taken in perspective- not to turn a blind eye and run into ignorance. Still, I believe small things do matter…especially in light of large tragedies.
This is my transcribed talk- I hope you will find it edifying in some way. This one’s for you, tumblr:
“Fairy tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” -GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
I’ll get back to the quote.
My name is Nicholas Kole. I am a Christian. I am a geek. I draw dragons for a living.
I Graduated up on College Hill in 2009 from RISD with a degree Illustration. After which I worked with the GAMBIT game lab at MIT, then as a character designer for a company some of you may have heard of- the ill-fated 38 Studios. Since then I have worked with Disney, EA Games and now Hasbro on the Play-Doh team (which is apparently a job you can have, who knew?)
I’ve been an illustrator, storyteller and a concept-artist. Most of which means that when a project needs a wizard designed, I’m the one with the sketchpad and the textbook full of medieval robe reference on hand.
I design clothing, creatures, locations- afternoons and hot air balloons, diminutive heroes, terrifying villains and warm hugs. Together with my team, we make worlds.
And nothing hurts more than to hear someone say “just entertainment”.
Just cartoons, just kids movies, just children’s books, just anime, just manga, just comics, just superheroes, just…nothing.
From where I stand I see a far-reaching cynicism in our culture and in our stories. A cynicism that has given up on meaning, hope, and lost the belief that small things done with great love can truly make a difference.
Bu I am moved to tears by cartoons.
I am inspired by the bravery of Peter Parker and the sacrifice of Harry Potter.
Animated musicals move and stir me. I weep with Simba over Mufasa’s death and I cheer with Wreck-It Ralph as he learns to accept himself. If you’ve every spoken with me, you know that I explain my feelings in terms of frightened Hobbits and big, scary adventures.
To that end, one of the most important things I was given by one of my professors at RISD- to boil down a number of excellent lessons into a single small thought- was this: “You are allowed to care”.
I needed to hear that, from an authority figure in that key time of my life. The things you love, that you can’t tear your attention away from? Those matter. Those aren’t “just” anything.
Things you might brush off as “just movies for kids”, “just cartoons”, “just TV shows” may be small in the grand scheme, but to those of us who love them they are nothing less than myths.
If you’ve ever been to comic-con, or heard of anyone who has been (you’ve heard of me. so. you have.) then you can know that those geeks- the ones that have spent so long being disparaged by the in-crowd? They love harder and deeper than anyone else. They just happen to love Darth Vader. In groups of nerd-fandom, there is a deep, uncynical impulse to love deeply, and we ought not to ignore that.
These works of “just fantasy” are obviously, evidently SO much more to people when seen in that context.
For all the weight and importance of high Russian literature- I’ve never known anyone who’s cosplayed as Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, but I have a few friends who’d gladly show you their lightsaber collection.
These things matter to people. They matter to me. And it makes me think that maybe we ought not to despair about our generation’s obsession with “just entertainment”- maybe we ought to dig in and care more.
Sift through the escapism and frivolity and you’ll find all these people seeking, finding, and trading meaning. People inspired, people communicating.
These are nothing less than the bedtime stories we are telling ourselves as a culture. These are the ways we make sense of the world around us- this is the language we’re using to talk to one another. Like it or not, these are a part of the cultural conversation. And the solution cannot be to check out and stop caring- it has to be to tell better stories. Make better art. Care more.
Because if they’re important to me, chances are they’re important to other people. And when people are paying attention, when people are caring and investing, when they’re looking closely at what you make and you’re caring deeply about making it- you can give them something beautiful. You can make them wonder.
A lot has been said about Providence’s festival of light- it’s hypno-chants and gondolas- I’ve heard it described as tacky. “Just” a trashy, overhyped piece of local kitsch.
I think it is nothing less than magic- It transfigures the city.
For one night that week, one day out of seven, a cluster of ordinary city blocks and a rather grubby little river, are suddenly the scene of a mystery- a place for music, romance, the smell of hot food, dance, strange figures in masks floating, eerily underlit by flickering flame.
And when it is gone, it leaves it’s magic on the place- those blocks are different now- they are suspicious. As if any moment they could be something totally different again. The city is, as a result, full of story now- It makes you look harder. It makes you think differently about that stretch of downtown. It makes you wonder.
"Fairy tales make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water."
A Dragon is “just a lizard with bat wings.” But dragons are amazing because lizards are amazing and bats are amazing.
I remember a trip to Roger-Williams Zoo- after months of sitting at a computer, wracking my brain for newer cooler ways to draw dragons- I stopped and took a zoo break.
I didn’t realize I was coming with new eyes. Suddenly, having gotten up from my drawing table, everything was amazing- the scales and colors of iguanas- the curvature and strangeness of a Giraffe’s neck- it all felt new again, like I was seeing it for the first time- and I was moved. It was electric. I went in with a head full of dragons and left shaken with profound wonder. God is better at my job than I am.
The world around me was full of wonder the whole time, and I just had to be reminded to notice. What we have is so good, we ought to cherish it, revel in it, celebrate it and tell others.
I learned that from “just dragons” and and “just Waterfire.”
We have to care. And then we have to keep caring, for our own good and the good of those around us. If we don’t, we might forget to look deeply and to wonder.
I believe that, as a concept artist, an illustrator, a storyteller- any of the hats and positions I’ve assumed- that my job has really been to love first and love deepest.
I am convicted in any situation that I need to find a way to fall in love with the project and the work of design, no matter how small. We are engaged in making things that we hope people will love- but how can we ask anyone else to love it if we don’t even love it ourselves?
And I don’t mean love like fleeting inspiration- Love isn’t easy or cute. Love is a choice, and a commitment. We ought to commit to the industries we’ve found ourselves in, and persist in designing well.
And here’s where my Christian faith has everything to do with my ethic about Dragons-
We need to sit and stay at the table- even when it is hard, and when it hurts us, because that is the way Jesus loved. When it is unsexy, unglamorous, uncool or unnoticed. Caring means you can be hurt- it means failure will be painful, but it means success will matter- and that is worth it.
That’s where the rubber meets the road, and I start to feel convicted- am I doing this myself? I’m trying to. Even though I am tempted often to give in to cynicism, I need to remember and to remind those around me not to give up on doing what we do with care and in hope.
Nothing is “Just” anything- and we need concept artists and geeks who care- and bakers who care, and plumbers who care, and civil servants, and teachers, and doctors and electricians who don’t believe anything is “just” anything. That it can matter- and it will because we care about it. Because we’re invested and we aren’t going to give up on it.
And that care will make us wonder, and that wonder will wake us up to what my faith tells me was there all along.
Seriously, this show was great and so underappreciated. Developed by Man of Action, who also did Ben 10 and comic of Big Hero 6, which the consulted with Disney on the now Oscar winning film. Great story, characters, and concept. Season 3 was REALLY good. It’s on Netflixs now. Check it out if you can! <3
The Columbus Theatre in Providence, R.I., was designed to look outdated. In the late 1920s, while the rest of the country was doing Art Deco, this vaudeville house was a 19th-century Italianate palace. It still is. The aesthetic of revivalism has always held a special appeal for artists with an interest in old forms — and so it was for the folk musician Jeff Prystowsky from the band the Low Anthem, who in the summer of 2011 began to wonder why the Columbus had been closed for years, perpetually “Opening Soon.”