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My Chat with Wolverhampton Artist Stephi Konstantinou

Today I speak with artist Stephi Konstantinou, a painter out of Wolverhampton, England, who originally hails from the island of Cyprus.

Stephi has been creating art from a young age, and, these days, she specializes in a pleasing variety of paintings and artworks.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that as soon as she began to take an interest in art as a precocious youth, teachers and fellow students alike began to take an interest in what she was doing, drawn, as they were, to her for her rare artistic talents.

These various artworks that Stephi has been creating, for many years now, range from ephemeral watercolours of landscapes, which feature romantically rich colour palettes and evoke different moods, to pure abstract works, to representative illustrative works featuring people and animals that show a more whimsical, fun side of life.

Her work is very wide-ranging in terms of style and content, but Stephi is the kind of artist who embraces the freedom within the artistic process, which I feel is evident in her work.  To someone who has more self-imposed mental and spiritual shackles, she seems infuriatingly free of such barriers. 🙂

In the art world at large, which is often so serious and snobbish, Stephi is one of the few artists I’ve encountered who seems to draw and paint for the sheer joy of it. She paints what she wants when she wants, and how she wants, yielding some very interesting results.

This is why I was very interested to chat with her, to see what drives such an artist to continue to create.  It can’t simply be inspiration and wonder, can it?

In these days of the trying to wring a penny out of every single moment, I was curious to see if behind Stephi’s radiant, smiling countenance was actually the gateway to a blazing furnace of raging ambition.

Here is my little Q&A with Stephi Konstantinou – enjoy!

I read that your dad was a big influence on you artistically.  Can you tell me more about him.

My dad was definitely a big influence on my creativity when I was a child.  I grew up watching him create stonework and he was also a wood sculptor.

You also mention somewhere that your first art teacher, Marie Constanti, taught you a lot of skills.  What would be the most important skills she taught you about art?

Miss Marie Constanti taught me some basic artistic skills, and I progressed from there. The most important thing she taught me, I think, was how to focus, and, most importantly, to create with your heart, rather than with your mind.

You are clearly influenced by nature.  What do you think is special about the nature in Cyprus?  What is it like there, in terms of geography, and also what is the mood like there around the nature?

I live near a forest, and the trees there bring me great inspiration!  In general, Cyprus has very nice greenery everywhere which I find very inspiring.

Also, hearing the birds or the wind blowing while creating is tugs at my creative impulses and leads me on to some new creative journey.

Do you think that politics have any effect on your artwork?  Although your art seems to be not about politics that I can tell, I wonder if you feel like some of the political unrest in Cyprus or elsewhere has influenced the way you work at all?  Maybe not in style, but perhaps in method?

My artwork is not political, in my opinion.  Rather it is simply about letting your imagination see another way to live, and to continue following your dreams.

I would say you have a very romantic style of painting.  It comes across in your landscapes and color choices.  Would you agree with this label – “romantic”?

Yes, I would say so.  I create with my hands moreso than with brushes, as I love the feeling of connecting my hands to the painting directly through the paint itself.

Related question…Are you an idealist?  Do you try to see things in a positive way, most of the time?  Or are you secretly a nihilist?

I believe through my life experience that I am an idealist.  I want to contribute something positive to society and I want to improve the lives of others through my art.

How long have you been in Wolverhampton and how has that affected your artistic style?

I have been in Wolverhampton for 4 years now. The journey there has inspired me and affected my artwork deeply, in both logical and more mysterious ways. 

My education as an artist really intensified there.  I had my studio in Chapel Ash.  Also, I have been participating in different kinds of exhibitions, and even volunteering to work on various murals. 

Overall, my artwork has seen a lot of development while I’ve been here. 

When it comes to mounting / framing your artwork, how do you do it?

When it comes to framing and mounting my own artwork, I have always done this myself, from chopping the wood for the frames, to stretching the canvases.

Some of your art is in black and white.  What materials do you use for that, and why is it some of your art is in black and white?

The black and white work I have done has grown into a sizeable collection by now, and, mainly, it has been inspired by traditional Japanese music.

All of my work has been created using acrylic paints, with some of them having been sold to Japan, while others to private collectors in America and Canada.

Your earlier work seems to have a more cartoon or caricature style.  Do you still work in that style?

My earlier work was like this, but it has since changed.  I have spent years developing my craft and finding my own style that is a merging of some of the previous incarnations of my art from over the years.

What’s your studio like?  Is it organized?  Messy? 

My studio is tidy sometimes, but it can get a little messy.  I am an artist, after all.

Is there an artistic medium you’d like to try sometime which you haven’t tried?

I am always into learning how to use new materials or other new methods, but, at the moment, I’m happy creating with acrylic paints.

When you paint a scene, are you basing it on a picture or just from memory?

Sometimes, I’m basing my work on a particular landscape, or I will mix reality with my imagination, and let the creative moment guide me.

What are your favourite animals?  Do you have one particular favourite, and why is that?

My favourite animal? I love all of them, but some I particularly enjoy most are cats, rabbits, and my dog.  Honestly, I just have a love for all animals.

Do you see art as having any elements of magic, or are you a hardcore realist who thinks magic and wonder are foolish pastimes?

There are definitely elements of magic in art. Also, I love dancing while creating. I feel like an actress in whatever I do.

You have a way with painting trees.  Do you know a lot about trees?  For instance, did you know that trees talk to each other?

I tend to paint a lot of trees, as there is something about them make them special to me.  Many times I do feel like they are whispering to each other.  Sometimes, when I walk amongst them, I feel like I’m going in slow motion and I am filled with a feeling of joy.

How long does it take you to paint a picture, on average?

It can take half an hour, to an hour to finish a work of mine, but there is no set time.  It depends on the process and the materials I am using.  I like to simply go with the flow.

Do you have a preference between paper or canvas?

Paper is my favourite material at the moment to work on, but you never know when that may change.

When is your next show?

Nothing in this life is certain.

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Cartoon Design and Character Development Basics with Animator Carlos Campos

Today I had a good talk with my buddy Carlos Campos, a freelance animator who I’ve worked with on many smaller productions, generally of the short animation variety.

In fact, if you have ever seen the Youtube channel Kindertunes, you may have seen one of his animated kid’s songs that we’ve done together, such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Teddy Bears Picnic, or Take Me Out To the Ballgame.

Here are some of his designs for bears that appeared in the Teddy Bears Picnic video.

On our animation projects we’ve done together, Carlos mainly uses Powerpoint, but there are of course other options for programs which can animate, none of which I know how to use myself. In other articles on this website, Carlos has given tutorials on how he designs shapes in Powerpoint.

Today, I grilled Carlos on how he goes about designing a character for one of his cartoons from the ground up. This process of character development, I would say, is animation 101.

It’s part of the process you’d need to know in order to start an animation project of any kind. This is why it was so interesting to me, that I wanted to ask Carlos how he goes about developing a character.

It so happens, he’s currently working on a character for a new animation project about an old rat, and that character is in development as we speak.

Enjoy our interview on the basics of cartoon character development!

Q: Hey, Carlos, I hear you’re doing a music video about some rats. Can you explain this a little?

A: Well, that is true! But not about any kind of rat, this one is an ironing expert!

Q: Oh really? Interesting…

A: Yes! Many Mexican children know about it, since it happens to be a character from a traditional children’s song.

Q: What song is it from?

A: The name is “Una rata vieja” which translates to “An old rat”.

Q: Ah. And so you are in charge of the video, and so also you must create some digital rats.

A: Exactly.

Q: How do you do that?

A: The process involves different questions, such as Why? How? What? and Where?

“Why?” is a crucial one. The answer has to be the motivation behind creating a character. A purpose. In this case, as it often is, it’s about transmitting a message. An uplifting, fun children’s song, in Spanish, from the rich, Mexican culture.

In order to convey this vibrancy, there are important elements to be taken into account. Using clear, simple, universal symbols that are grounded in reality in a creative way.

So I start with basic shapes such as triangles and circles. But they are very rigid and unlike forms found in nature.

I sort of smooth the edges and make each shape into something more organic.

Then, I put the pieces together to make a character model that can be tweaked, moved around and edited easily, which will simplify the animation process.

Q: Do you differentiate between a mouse and a rat somehow, or do you just aim for the basic form? I’m no animal expert but i’m sure there’s a difference. At the same time, I understand you’re focused on simplifying the shapes.

A: As you can tell from the pictures, the rat’s body is quite elongated. If it had been a mouse, I’d have made its body more compact, but that’s a very good question!
 
It depends.

The main difference is that a mouse is smaller than a rat. That’s it! I n this case the song revolves around a “rat” character and no mice are ever mentioned so it’s hard to see the contrast.

Q: What program are you using to do the design and animate, is it all one program?

A: Yes! It is Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 from the Microsoft Office Suite for the Mac.

Read my interview with Carlos about storyboarding in Microsoft Powerpoint

Q: How long have you been using it, and how does it factor into the way you design characters? Are there any other programs you’ve tried which are similar, that you maybe don’t like as much?
 
What’s the advantage of designing in Powerpoint? Sorry for all the questions…

A: I have also worked with the Adobe Suite for more specialized projects. The learning curve is quite steep though, and some of them such as Photoshop and Illustrator may be better suited for tasks such as photo editing and graphic design.

Then there is 3D software such as AutoDesk Maya. There are huge differences in how each program is used, and I honestly prefer the qualities of animating in 2D.

This also involves the “How?” aspect of character design. The medium used does affect the outcome. There are digital tools such as the ones stated above, and traditional ones.

One could create characters by sculpting, drawing or painting them. Writing them, too!

Q: So do you usually stick with Powerpoint then?

A: Yes! It is my platform of choice for this type of project.

Q: You could make them out of ASCII code.

A: Hahaha, very true! Must be hard to animate though!

Q: Do you ever draw the characters first or do you make them in Powerpoint from scratch?

A: I might draw them first but to me that’s very rare. I do it mainly for storyboarding. When creating them, I like to do it straight on PowerPoint.

Looking for other examples for inspiration is very helpful, too!

The style can vary dramatically from one project to the other if the niche is very different. A rat in a horror-movie animation will appear differently to that in a children’s video, of course, even though they’re based of the same animal.

Q: So how long will it take you to create a rat like this one here? What’s his name again?

A: Traditionally, it’s a “she”! In this case I’ve decided to have “genderless” I guess, so that any kid can identify easily with it.

Another key thing: making characters relatable somehow.

It doesn’t really have a name… “Rat”, I suppose!

Q: Does Powerpoint do any texture?

A: It has the option to add textures from a pre-existing library or through and image file.

Q: Do you think you’ll add texture to this rat, or keep it as is?

A: Again, I think keeping it simple might be a good idea, especially for younger viewers who might be overwhelmed with too much detail.

In some scenes there might be several elements on the background already or I might add texture on there too.

I’m open to new ideas and/or seeing how the style develops.

Q: So the design is partly to please the audience that might be watching, but also to make it easier to animate? Not to overcomplicate it….

A: Exactly! And it can also be a matter of personal preference. I tend to like keeping things minimal in all aspects of life. It will be part of the animation which is already in progress.

Q: How many basic picture templates do you have in a given animation? For instance, how many are there in this one?Do you need some basic ones to work with?

A: Oh, what do you mean by picture templates?

Q: As in, static images of the character.. where you just need to move certain parts of their body, not everything

A: Oh, right. Well, again it varies. A 30 second sequence could have 10 individual “slides” with the character. Then when the setting or the pose needs to change, I create another one.

Q: How long do you think this rat video will be when all is said and done?

A: The length of the song is around 1.5 minutes, so around that.

Q: And how many emotions would you say are conveyed in that whole time?

A: About 10, probably. Other scenes also provide context and do not necessarily include the character’s facial expressions. That give moments in the animation “room to breathe”, so to speak.

Q: So what would some of those emotions be? anything in there specific or complex like “indignancy”?

A: Hahaha…No. Maybe more like calm, shocked, then relieved…

Q: That’s part of the plot, I guess…

A: That’s it! They match the lyrics as the story unfolds.

Q: Right.. How about colours? How do you decide on some of those, such as the background?

A: The color palette is tetradic. That is, it uses four colors, made up of two complimentary color pairs, with their different shades. This is to make sure that they all look harmonious together.

The rat was originally meant to be dark gray, but the color was then changed to a grayish-light blue.

This change was made to avoid the cliché while making it look friendlier in a way. More “cartoony” yet still grounded in reality.

Q: Did you learn this somewhere or would you say it’s more common sense?

A: It also ties in with the other shade of blue used in one of the backgrounds. This is all color theory! It can be common sense to an extent, but it is also an important principle in graphic design.

The rest of the palette includes a warm, brick orange, vibrant blue and greens, and even variations of pink. They are all reminiscent of the bright colours typical from traditional Mexican architecture. Gives it that sense of fun and liveliness.

Q: Ah.. so the colours are fairly meaningful then

A: Yes! Imagine if they were all red, blue and white, or dark and eerie-looking? That would make people think of anything but Mexico!

Color is a big part of our culture of celebration. We actually call “hot pink “rosa mexicano” here, which translates as “Mexican pink” since we like those bold hues so much! They are part of our identity.

Q: Wow, there’s a lot of little details to be considered. I can’t wait to see the final result.

A: Yup! It makes every project an interesting one.

 

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Art Mom – Interview with Yoshe Karina Leigh

Tonight I had a nice chat with my friend and former schoolmate Yoshe Karina Leigh. We met years ago while in university at the University of Waterloo (in Ontario, Canada), while studying fine arts.
 
Here she is nowadays…

Dave Fox: Hi Yoshe Leigh, how are you tonight?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: great. . .

Dave Fox: like actually great or “great”?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I’m as great as can be with my seven year old son looking over my shoulder and reading as I type. . .good news. . .he can read really well. lol

Dave Fox: Oh.. well “hello” to him if he reads this

Yoshe Karina Leigh: thanks

Dave Fox: that’s kinda what i wanted to talk to you about..

Yoshe Karina Leigh: cool. . .

Dave Fox: first off, do you remember when we met?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: yep. . . year 1997/98 was it? U of Waterloo. 1999 I was studying in Mannheim, Germany for the year.

Dave Fox: oh really? i don’t know if i knew that…but yeah, back at the University of Waterloo art department

Yoshe Karina Leigh: yeah. . . .long ago now. . .

Dave Fox: Feels like yesterday, except not really I don’t think we’ve changed much personally

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I know……I feel I have. . . but not so much in the looks department. . .we’re still attractive. . . .I would like to think.

Dave Fox: someone told me recently that i’m a 7 and she said she was a 10

Yoshe Karina Leigh: lol

Dave Fox: i’m like.. hmm.. ok, i guess that’s not bad 7 is doable.. know what i’m sayinnnn

Yoshe Karina Leigh: okay. . .lol. . .ohhhhhhh. . .that is not really a compliment then is it?

Dave Fox: i think it is if you’re speaking to a narcisist

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I guess. . .lol

Dave Fox: Anyway so this is for my art site, this interview…i wanted to steer the ship in that direction…

Yoshe Karina Leigh: okay. . .

Dave Fox: like what did you get out of being in art school, for one thing? in terms of art skills, outlook, etc.

Yoshe Karina Leigh: you mean. . .what good I feel being a BFA student has done for me even to this day? hmmmmmm. . .

Dave Fox: yeah like even at the time…when you graduated, did you feel like a true artist at that time? like did going to school for it change anything

Yoshe Karina Leigh: well. . . .you know, I still hear Don Mckay (pictured below)’s voice in my head saying, “you will never be a great artist”. . . and well. . .I didn’t become a great artist but being a student has shaped my appreciation for art. And even to this day, teachers at the school, when they see the art I do with my students, say, you’re an artist aren’t you? so that feels kind of good.
 
At that time, I didn’t feel like a “true” artist. . .

Dave Fox: that’s what you teach right.. art? what grade?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I mean. . .I went to an all arts high school and took drama and dance. There I felt the competition and knew who was better than me etc. . .but as an artist.
 
. .well I could differentiate between students who were more technical in their art etc. . .but I didn’t feel competition. . .I actually teach Drama and dance. . .and spec. Ed in the morning.
 
. .but in the past I also among other things, taught art to my students.

Dave Fox: right so the artsier side of things

Yoshe Karina Leigh: yeah. . .I think I just appreciate art on the whole and I still remember some art history.

Dave Fox: yeah so you’re a well rounded art individual, but what i was hoping to get at is …you still do art anymore?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: When Tristan, my first was born, in 2010, I was very inspired and began doing painting with my year off with him. I loved to do his portrait. . . I had an art spurt.
 
I painted children like paintings for his walls. I painted his toys etc. But when my daughter was born, 2014, life with 2 kids took over. . .having a kindergarten kid and a new baby wasn’t easy.
 
I painted one painting over the summer but that was it. I painted 2 portraits of her a year ago but now I hold the paint when my daughter paints. . . Im her caddy.
 
. .but for painting. . .I recently bought new paint and a canvas with hope to paint soon again but haven’t started yet. . .

Dave Fox: So back in school again.. what was your style then?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I don’t know what my style was. . .many told me that I reminded them of Matisse (pictured below). I like colours and my depth perception was off. .
 
. lol.

Dave Fox: Do you have any pics on your computer of your work? that you could send me.. i vaguely remember some pieces but.. it’s foggy

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I’ll check. . .they are on Facebook too

Dave fox: I’ll take a look for thosebut in the meantime how do you feel like parenting affected your art? i’m sure there’s lots of ways

Yoshe Karina Leigh: well. . .for one, I don’t have time. . .and then when I do have time (meaning time to spare) I can’t take the time because my three year old will then be up in my business crying because she wants to paint too.
 
. .using my canvas. . .it doesn’t work. It affected my ideas of my art in the way that now when I think of a possible painting to do or drawing. . .it is usually a portrait of my kids.
 
. .

Dave fox: Riiight, so i guess just practically speaking there’s less time and i guess you’re not up at 3 am making time cause you’re just so obsessed

Yoshe Karina Leigh: lol. . .something like that. . .

Dave Fox: Right well i guess art never became a career for you in that sense so when kids arrived it’s not like your career was in jeopardy

Yoshe Karina Leigh: no . . . not at all.

Dave Fox: it’s just a hobby you like that you can’t do as much and really it’s just time management…figured out any hacks for it? ie i guess working with your kid is kind of a hack….people love life hacks

Yoshe Karina Leigh: true. . .but I don’t want to use kids as an excuse. . .however, remember Dave Poplow? he once said that art is like an itch that you just have to scratch.
 
And so I guess I can say that for the longest time, I didn’t have that itch. . .but Im starting too again.

Dave Fox: Yeah i see Dave sometimes around here. He worked at the library for a while curating shows and stuff

Yoshe Karina Leigh: oh cool. . .do you talk to him much. . .???

Dave Fox: but yeah it’s definitely like an itch…yeah we chat every once in a while…i see him around

Yoshe Karina Leigh: okay. . .cool. . .

Dave Fox: Do you ever do crafts with the kids? like more than other moms?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: Sometimes. . .more so when Tristan was little. . .

Dave Fox: are they particularly artistically inclined the kids?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: We did more recycling crafts like making back packs out of jug containers. whales out of milk cartons etc. not particularly but I do love how Jackie does her people.

Dave Fox: sounds pretty fun

Yoshe Karina Leigh: Here’s some pics

Dave Fox: ohh nice

Yoshe Karina Leigh: And more…

Dave Fox: these are from?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: First two from 2010.

Dave Fox: Nice they’re cool

Yoshe Karina Leigh: second one is from my daughter

Dave Fox: doing anything artsy with the kids?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I mean last one I sent. . .anything artsy?. . .just teaching drama and dance and in my classes I have done drumming circles.

Dave Fox: Yeah gotcha…sounds like a lot of art actually…what are you doing here?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: dance movements using the verbs Hop, Slide, and Step

Dave Fox: ah.. are you big on dancing normally? ie hip hop dancer 🙂

Yoshe Karina Leigh: yeah. . .in university I was in the swing dance club…I took dance classes during high school and even to this day I love it.

Dave Fox: nice. i wish i could dance

Yoshe Karina Leigh: next year I have a sabbatical and one thing I want to do with my time off is enroll in a dance class for moi. lol

Dave Fox: that’d be sweet…what kind?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I was thinking “lady of Sass”. . .or pole dancing. . .I want to feel sexy again. sexiness for me is inspiration.

Dave Fox: oh man.. well you’re at an age.. they say it’s an age where.. a woman feels things more strongly 🙂

Yoshe Karina Leigh:even when in university, other than when being at the art studio, I did a lot of my painting at home in my underwear when I liked my body. . .somehow I liked the image of the sexy artist.
 
. .but that goes away with having kids. tell me about it. . .

Dave fox: Well.. i never knew that!

Yoshe Karina Leigh: I have more sex on my mind than art these days. . .combine the two. . .well . . . . .that is hot.

Dave Fox: yeah sounds like a made for tv movie

Yoshe Karina Leigh: Not that I painted sexy things. . . .I just painted what came to my head . . .using people’s faces. . .yeah. . .could be. . . the having kids part or the painting in underwear part?

Dave Fox: just the sexy artist thing…or maybe some softcore porn…i don’t know…oh and lest we forget your hubby is an artist too…what’s his style?

Yoshe Karina Leigh: hmmm. . .I don’t know how to describe it. he now teaches art at Woodbridge art school…he loves it. he is definitely more technical…he is certainly a better artist…I am sorry.
 
. .I have to go now. . .again. . .mothering duty calls

Dave Fox: That’s ok thanks for the chat.. talk to you soon! 😀

Yoshe Karina Leigh: sure. . .