We all view the world through different lens, and some individuals are able to turn their thoughts and visions of wonderment into pieces of originality. Here at GKIDS we have created #GKIDSHighlights to share the stories of passionate artists. Inspired by their work, we have recently partnered with the talented illustrator Ashanti Fortson to create yet another unique perspective of a movie-goer’s experience.
Animated films have the ability to inspire and highlight incredible works of art from artists all around the world. What is your experience of seeing animated films like, especially in theaters? How do they transport you to another world, and inspire you in your own creative work?
How did you first get started as an artist?
I’ve been drawing from my imagination ever since I could hold a pencil, but I didn’t really start practicing and learning as an artist until around ages 11-13. What made a significant difference for me was being given a drawing tablet that I could use with a computer. I began looking at online art communities, joining some of those communities, learning from other artists, and making more complex pieces than I was making with my previous tools (pencil and printer paper–– which I still love now!).
Before having a drawing tablet and starting to become more aware of online art spaces, my experience of art was very insular and isolated. Broadening my horizons, in this case through the internet, has been very important in my ongoing journey through art. Later on, I continued expanding my experience by attending art school and cultivating in-person art communities. I’m always looking to learn and grow further.
Where do you find your inspiration from?
Everywhere! I mean it. Every walk I take, every conversation I have, every face I see, every leaf on the tree outside my window–– I’m constantly gathering inspiration from daily life. Most of that doesn’t necessarily make it into my work, at least not in a direct way, but I have a very holistic attitude to art and inspiration. My aim, as an artist and storyteller, is to depict people, nature, and the world in a truthful and resonant way. I’m always trying to understand life better, in all of its infinite possibilities and infinite emotions. Though I try to maintain a healthy work/life balance, I can’t separate my life from my art. Art is communication to me.
Visually speaking, though, I pull a lot of inspiration from textiles. I love the layering, accumulation, colors, and textures of fiber art throughout the world. I do different kinds of fiber art as well, so I’m always trying to find places to mix illustration/comics and textiles.
What do you if you ever have artist’s block?
Most of my artist’s block comes from burnout, so I try to take whatever breaks I need. Stepping back is really useful, whether it’s stepping back from a specific piece or stepping back from drawing for a bit. The latter isn’t always possible as a working illustrator, so I try to manage my workload to avoid burnout if at all possible. Sometimes the artist’s block is more about not being able to figure something out, but the same still applies. Breaks are great! Stepping back is great. It gives me time and space to recalibrate and come into the project fresh.
How did you develop your own personal/signature artistic style/voice?
I drew inspiration from other artists and media I loved, then dissected what I loved about them and why. I challenged myself to improve at aspects of artmaking and technique that I wanted to be better at, and I pushed myself to figure out where I wanted to take my work. More than anything, though, I drew a lot. I just kept drawing, and eventually a style or voice took shape. Refining an artistic style/voice requires thoughtfulness and intentionality when analyzing or practicing art, but with a large enough amount of practice and work, an artist’s “hand” will come through no matter what.
For your illustration with GKIDS, please describe the process. Did you immediately know what you wanted to do? Did you try out a few different drafts?
I usually do a few drafts when planning illustrations, but this one did come to me immediately! I knew what kind of feeling I wanted for the piece, and I had a composition in mind that would evoke that feeling. I spent some time figuring out the exact imagery for the various panels before sketching them out, and the sketching process let me figure out more of the details. Some illustrations take a long time to figure out, so I was happy that I had a more resolved vision for this piece from the start.
What have you been currently watching, reading, listening to?
I just finished a huge move, so I’ll admit that I haven’t read or watched anything in a little while! I’m looking forward to picking up a new book soon. A book I enjoyed semi-recently is Artie and the Wolf Moon by Olivia Stephens, a gorgeous and heartfelt graphic novel about connecting with community and navigating family relationships–– but with werewolves!
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What is one thing that you wish you were told when you were just starting out as an artist?
Don’t worry about the end result! Enjoy the process and experiment more.
Are there any illustrators in particular that inspire you? (Please give us names/social handles)
One of my favorite illustrators is Moebius/Jean Giraud. His sci-fi/fantasy works have always been deeply inspirational to me, especially the colorful sci-fi worlds he created. Another illustrator whose work I love is Eyvind Earle. The atmosphere and use of shape in his work has always astounded me. I’m also a big fan of the Impressionist movement in art history!
As for contemporary illustrators, it’s hard to choose–– there are so many amazing artists working these days! I’ll list out a few whose work really resonates with me:
Ikegami Yoriyuki (IG: @yoriyukiii) makes gorgeous, lush, expressive pieces filled with pure magic. I simply can’t look away.
Olivia Fields (IG: @tncts) makes such stylish work with a mastery of line, shape, and color. Her compositions are stunning and very worth studying!
Molly Mendoza (IG: @msmollym) is incredible. The raw energy, texture, and dynamism in her paintings – hand-in-hand with her amazing use of color – always leaves me breathless.
What is one of your favorite moments in animation (does not have to be a GKIDS title)
The ending of Only Yesterday impacted me like nothing else. Since it’s the ending, I won’t describe it much–– but know that I cried all the way through it! It’s my favorite ending to any movie I’ve seen.
Please let us know your top 3 GKIDS title recommendations, and one sentence why?
In no particular order, I would recommend:
Princess Mononoke. I always come back to this movie–– it’s a truly epic, painful, gorgeous story about suffering, joy, death, and life.
Only Yesterday. This is a very slow, quiet movie packed with so much genuine, heart-wrenching emotion…it’s a masterclass in storytelling, and a beautiful movie to experience.
Whisper of the Heart. If anything has perfectly encapsulated the emotions, hopes, dreams, and struggles of being a teenager who loves to tell stories, it’s this movie. Unforgettable.