emily walus

Emily Walus Steven Universe layout designer Q&A

emilywalus , freelance illustrator and layout designer for the amazing show Steven Universe was nice enough to take time to do a Q&A with me! Check out all the great stuff she had to say! *Thank you Emily!*

Q- When you attended Rhode Island School of Design, what was your main area of focus? What made you decide to pick that focus?

A- I majored in Illustration at RISD, and took a few animation classes. Drawing comics, watching cartoons, and making fan art was how I got into art in the first place, and then I just ended up taking your standard art courses in high school. I was fortunate enough to have an incredible, supportive group of art teachers who steered me in the right direction, and introduced me to the fact that I could study art as a career! 

Once at RISD, it’s mandatory for all freshmen students undergo a ‘foundation year’; it was during that time that I was exposed to a lot of Golden Age Illustration through an elective course, and I just fell madly in love with the work of N.C. Wyeth. While I felt like my work and personality was already leaning towards Illustration as a major, Wyeth played a critical role in convincing me to go into Illustration 100%. I was obsessed with his work.

Animation (classes) came into the picture a little later. My roommate was an animation student, and while I was not gifted like she was in making things move, I did really like the process and separate pieces work that would come together to make this beautiful finished product. I took an intro to animation class, but it wasn’t until after graduation that the idea of working in animation became an option.

2. Q- What artists (or even cartoons) have inspired you?

A- I mentioned N.C. Wyeth earlier, but in general a lot of the Golden Age illustrators, specifically the Brandywine School, was a huge influence on a lot of my college work. More recently, I’ve been inspired by Sam Bosma, Kali Ciesmer, Sachin Teng, Kevin Dart, Fabien Mense, Virginia Augustin, Cory Loftis, Greg Manchess, (…the list goes on!), as well I my amazing co-workers on Steven Universe! I have a separate page dedicated specifically towards art I like and am inspired by, which can be found here: http://emilylikescolor.tumblr.com/

3.  Q- What are your preferred mediums? And what is your process?

A- Working full-time has caused me to work exclusively digitally on a Cintiq, but if left to my own devices (and time!) I love traditional pencils and inks, and ADORE working in gouache. 

The first, and maybe most important part of my process is to actually make time to leave studio and see/experience the things around me; This gives me fresh material, ideas, and content that I incorporate into my work. If I stay at my desk too long, my work starts becoming incredibly self-referencial, meta, and static. Sometimes, the best thing for my work is to actually stop working for a little while!

Afterwards, it’s really dependent on what I’m doing. I do sketches, gather reference, and then move towards a finished product.  This can be all traditional, all digital, or sometimes a combination of both.

4. Q- I know there are illustration students who are interested in freelancing after college and you have experience with freelancing. Could you tell us a little bit about your experiences and any tips/suggestions that you might have?

A-Freelancing is tough, especially when you’re starting out. You’re juggling a lot of things at once: professional work, business exposure (mailers, business cards, advertising, etc.), finding clients, and then balancing personal time/work. I highly recommend looking at Kali Ciesmer’s tumblr (http://kalidraws.tumblr.com/) for freelancing tips/advice sprinkled in between beautiful artwork!

5. Q- You recently got a job with Cartoon Network to create background art for the amazing show Steven Universe. Could you tell us a little bit about how you went about acquiring your role and what the process was like?

A-I was in a bit of an employment drought early last year, so one of the SU crew members passed a BG (freelance) test my way. I got a rough board panel, not unlike what I work with on a day to day basis now, and had to design/clean up an background. They liked my test, so I ended up doing freelance work for the 2nd episode, Gem Glow. I did okay, I think, since I got hired full time not soon afterwards!

6. Q- What made you decide to get into creating background art? How do you like it so far?

A-I love love love doing BG work. I struggle with creating characters and story, so I ended up doing some gouache landscape paintings during and independent study style class my senior year. I had an incredible teacher, Lenny Long, who let me have free reign on my personal project in class. I ended up doing a series of 12 4x6 inch gouache paintings, and that was really a turning point for me — backgrounds was all I wanted to do from then on.

7. Q- Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for aspiring illustrators like myself

A-Some advice/tips!

a. Never stop drawing; strong draftsmanship is always something that will be looked upon favorably, and is a skill that will never become outdated. 

b. Be a student for the rest of your life. Regardless what you do post-graduation, you should always be learning, either from self-exploration, from other professionals, or through additional classes (like life drawing).

c. Step away from your desk/studio when you can; My biggest regret in college was sitting in studio 24/7. Experience life outside of work!

d. Don’t be afraid to show your work! Put your most recent work up on your own personal website, tumblr, deviant art…wherever! Let people remember your work by making it available for them to se. Don’t ever be embarrassed or ashamed of anything you create.

e. Actively apply/look for jobs, be it 9-5 or freelance, but don’t worry if things don’t work out right away. Don’t let a job rejection (or even 2 dozen), determine your self-worth or your skill/life as an artist. Yes, employment is nice, but you are so much more than your job. That being said, be honest with yourself, your work, and how you spend your time: be proactive in your search.

d. Be sure to stay open to criitique and the opinions of others, and even if you disagree, listen patiently with an open mind.