Saturday, April 25, 2009



Brittney Lee Interview

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

Hello! My name is Brittney Lee, and I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. My family lives on a lake, and my experiences and adventures there were probably the most influential parts of my childhood with respect to my artistic career. Outside, I had all of nature to observe and study and draw, while inside the house was filled with a century’s worth of artwork and design. The Victorian house we lived in is well over 100 years old, with much of the original d├ęcor, wallpaper, and artwork hanging on the walls. There is even a suit of armor standing guard at the top of the staircase! I grew up with this, and since I never knew otherwise, I always thought it was completely normal. My family also contributed to my somewhat skewed perspective of normalcy – my father was a pilot and daredevil who used a strip of orchard behind the house to build a runway and hangar for his ultra-light airplanes. By the time I was five years-old, I was expected to be co-piloting with my dad, learning to do back-flips on the Olympic trampoline in the backyard, and barefoot-skiing on the lake. In retrospect, it seems that most of my drawing time came out of pure exhaustion!

As I got older, I took every art class that I could find. I actually worked with my high school teachers to create extra independent studies in art. After high school, I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Film and Animation for my bachelor’s degree. There I became close with a very talented group of students, and met my advisor/mentor Nancy Beiman, who greatly influenced all of us who worked with her.

How do you go about drawing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

When I sit down to draw, I usually have a lot of things I am thinking about. I tend to start sketching with a vague theme, concept, or scene in mind, and do lots and lots of exploratory sketches while I repeatedly run a checklist through my head. Does this composition work? Is there a better one? How about posing? Is this the best silhouette value? Is the staging clear? Is it interesting? Most importantly, how does it make me feel? This sketching and exploration is the most difficult and thought intensive part of the entire process. It is at this stage that I solidify the general idea of what I want to create, and from here on out I am just struggling with myself to make the actual work live up to the idea.

Once I have a basic sketch that I like, I gather color references and do a quick thumbnail color key before any actual painting. Coming from an animation background, I know that 50% of the time spent on a project should be in pre-production, so I try to get things right at this stage to make my life easier later. If I am working digitally, I take a snapshot of my sketches using my webcam (because I’m too lazy to pull out the scanner) and then start to lay down layers of solid color in Photoshop. After all of the main compositional elements are laid out in a single color, I go back and refine shapes, add details, adjust colors, and add textures at the very end. Throughout this process I check with myself (and with any other available eyes) to make sure that the original idea and feeling is still being conveyed. And before I call anything complete, I like to get feedback from friends and other artists and make the last adjustments accordingly.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?

The past month has been an unusual time for me in that I have been completely devoted to personal work. My typical day has turned into waking up around 8am, walk over to my office, sit down and draw/paint/animate for 12-16 hours (with the occasional coffee break), leave the office to go to bed, sleep for a few hours, and repeat. My only office mate is a little orange cat who sleeps on my desk and occasionally spices things up by sitting on my keyboard, sketchbook, or whatever painting I happen to be working on at the moment.

I have been very lucky in the past few years, though, to work with some fantastic artists at a game company called Three Rings Design. There I worked with my friend and former classmate, Bill Robinson, designing and animating for an online Flash game. Other artists on our team include Rick Keagy, Jonathan Demos, Josh Gramse, Sean Keeton, Nick Popovich, and the extremely talented Ian McConville (of Mac Hall fame).

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I wish I could spout out an amazing list of things that I have worked on, but I’m still pretty new to this business. Nancy Beiman was kind enough to use some drawings from my thesis project as examples in her storyboarding book, Prepare to Board, but other than that I have very little in print.

My main project for the last two years has been making artwork for a social networking game called Whirled. I was brought in very early in the project to design and animate a base set of characters, furniture, backgrounds, and pets for the site, and I just wrapped-up my work on that last month.

What are you working on now? (if you can tell us)

Super top-secret things!

Actually, that isn’t true at all, I just wish I could say that. I am between projects right now, and have recently been focusing on some personal painting, design, and animation work.

Who do you think are some of the top artists out there?

Ohmygosh…so many.

I have to say that Glen Keane is the one artist who I have consistently looked up to my entire life. His incredible draftsmanship and obvious passion to breathe life into every drawing never ceases to amaze me. Watching videos of him explaining his process or teaching a class always brings me back to that initial feeling of “Yes, this is what I want to do for a living!”
I am also heavily influenced by the designs of Robin Joseph. His loose, flowing style is so unique and has such great character. He always seems to create the perfect rhythmic balance of tiny intricate details and long sweeping lines.

That being said, there are so many others who I look to for inspiration every day - Chris Sanders, Nico Marlet, Bill Presing, Andreas Deja, Daniela Strijleva, Kevin Dart, Chris Turnham, Lou Romano, Brigette Barrager, Nate Wragg, Freddy Moore, Chuck Jones, Ward Kimball, Eyvind Earle, Jon Klassen, Pierre Alary, Kei Acedera, Donnachada Daly, Deanna Marsigliese, Tadahiro Uesugi, Ronnie Del Carmen, Enrico Casarosa, and on and on…

Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

When I paint digitally, I mainly work in Photoshop to color my artwork. I like to loosely lay down broad areas of color and then refine the shapes using the eraser tool. I didn’t study color in school, so I am constantly collecting references to gain a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t and why.

I also like to work with any combination of watercolor, ink, gouache, and collage. I’m still learning and growing and developing my own style, so I have not really settled on a preferred process for working with real media yet.

What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

I find that designing is always fun, but rarely easy. For me, the most difficult part is refining the idea to a point where I am satisfied with the direction I am heading. If I have a solid concept, the execution should be the easy part. That is certainly not always the case because my own technical shortcomings inevitably get in the way, but I try to work through the problems and learn new things in the process. I love to draw, so I enjoy taking the time I need to get something right. That’s the fun part!

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

I like to start my day with a coffee and some scribble drawings to get creative juices flowing. It is a technique I learned from workshop with Nate Wragg back in 2007, and it really encourages experimentation with different shapes and compositions.
Staying physically active usually boosts my creative energy. I am a big fan of yoga, but I really love to try new things, too. A few days ago I took a trapeze lesson for the first time, and let me tell you, nothing gets your blood pumping like free-falling from 30 feet in the air!
Other than that, I try to surround myself with creative stimulus. I watch lots of films, listen to all kinds of music, see a lot of plays, and keep my work and living spaces filled with photographs, artwork, books, and other knick-knacks that inspire me. Having great friends to bounce ideas off of and to be inspired by always helps too!

What are some of your favorite pieces of art work that you have seen?

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the Totoro Auction at Pixar last fall. Just about every piece there was astounding, and I have such fond memories of them because not only was I looking at beautiful original artwork, but the artists were all right there as well! My favorite pieces from that show were Nick Sung’s “Spring Street, ca. 1942”, Bill Presing’s “Peeping Totoro”, and Dice Tsutsumi’s “A Totoro of Their Own.”

I have also had the opportunity to flip through some original Glen Keane animation drawings. Wow.

What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?


Gotcha! Those of you who know me were probably expecting me to say “mermaids”, weren’t you? Yes, I love to draw mermaids and girls and flowy hair, but I think that part of the reason why I am attracted to these subjects is the fact that they can move and be posed in such elegant and fluid ways. I love to draw dancers for the same reason.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

I was six years old when The Little Mermaid was released in theaters. Since “mermaid” was not really a feasible occupation, I decided that “animator” would be the next best thing. I had always loved to draw, but at that point my career path was pretty much set in stone. I was obsessed with every animated film that was released after that and made sure that I was able to see every “Making of” special on TV and to read all articles and books I could find on the subject.
My parents were also very influential to me becoming an artist.

My dad was an engineer, and always claimed that he couldn’t draw a stick figure if his life depended on it. When he would travel on business, he would always return with art books or posters and tell me that I could do anything that I saw in any of the books. The fact that he was so successful at what he did and yet encouraged a career path for me that was so far from his own really made me believe that I could do it, and also motivated me to work as hard as I could to succeed. My mom was so enthusiastic about my artwork that she would (and did) show it to anyone, including the girl taking our order at Burger King.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Honestly, everything I know came from other helpful artists. I learned a great deal while working with Nancy Beiman. She taught her students all about the importance of silhouette and clarity in staging, and to design characters while always keeping in mind the actions that they will need to perform. Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from her is to always support your work and to never make excuses for any shortcomings. If you are presenting something to an audience (be it a room full of classmates or executives), the worst thing you can do is start off with an apology. Work hard, be confident, and stand behind everything you present, and more likely than not your work will be received well.

What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?

I love blogs. My reader is full of artists’ blogs, interior design blogs, cooking blogs – anything that I can pull inspiration from.

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

I cannot claim to be any sort of authority, and in my mind I am just a kid who likes to draw. The only tips I can feel at all comfortable handing out to the masses are the ones that I live by, and those are to just do what you love and never stop learning. Enjoy yourself in the process!

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

Feel free to contact me at anytime.

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbooks, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

I currently have prints of my artwork for sale in an Etsy shop at I would like to do a book someday soon, so keep an eye out for that!

Brittney Lee Gallery