From Joe Sutphin: “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Aedan for the past 5 years. I can attest that his kindness and good nature never change, but his artistic sensibilities are ever evolving and growing. He’s a young artist who is already ahead of his time. He has more drive and desire than any young artist I’ve met and a self-awareness that keeps him hungry for more. I know this firsthand because a few months ago he spent a week with Gina and me, just working together on art every day. Some qualities that make him so teachable are his desire to learn new things, his ability to gladly accept constructive criticism and his overall passion for the process of making art. I am certain that we will be enjoying Aedan’s art for the rest of our lives in even greater formats than we are today. A lot of you might never meet him in person, but now you’re getting a chance to ask him your questions and get some great responses. I don’t think you will be disappointed.”
[Note from Madame Sidler: Aedan and I had a great conversation over the last two weeks. If you count questions you’ll find they don’t exactly add up to five. That’s because Aedan is pretty great and you all asked good questions.]
Madame Sidler: You’ve been drawing for a long time. How did you get started? And what led you to choose an animation major over an illustration program?
Aedan Peterson: When I was nine or ten, I went to Macaroni Grill with my dad to meet an animator named Tom Bancroft. We were meeting because my dad was commissioning him to do some character design stuff for The Fiddler’s Gun, my uncle’s book. At Macaroni Grill, the tablecloths are paper, and they give you crayons so you can draw on the table while you eat. During the meeting, Mr. Tom picked up a crayon and started drawing. I was awestruck, because suddenly Mickey Mouse was standing there, smiling up at me! I couldn’t believe that someone could actually do something like that! With a crayon no less! So that moment kind of started it all for me. From there, I got into illustrators like Justin Gerard, Cory Godbey, and Joe Sutphin, and I did studies of their work like crazy. I just didn’t stop drawing.
The fact that I’ll be studying animation is kind of funny, because I have no real experience with it. I LOVE animated movies, but I’ve always been more geared towards illustration, so I’m kind of stepping out of my comfort zone. Which, in truth, is why I’m doing it. I feel like it will challenge me and benefit my art in a lot of ways. I feel like animation is something I cannot learn on my own, while there are many ways to do illustration without going to college, so it seemed like the best choice. The really crazy thing is that TOM BANCROFT, the guy who inspired me to draw in the first place, is going to be my professor! So I’m really excited about it.
That is crazy and exciting! What are you doing in your internship at Magnetic Dreams?
I’m basically just the producer Chris Wall’s assistant. Whatever random stuff he needs done, I do. That can be anything from layout drawings, prop design, the Igiby cottage elevations, counting all the shots in a scene and recording how many seconds are in each shot etc. Sometimes I get interesting assignments and sometimes I get… not so exciting ones. But I’m willing to do anything to help out with the making of this pilot. So I haven’t had anything to do with the actual animation part, except watching other people do it. My skills are better used for pre-production and design work.
During the live chat a few weeks ago, you said that in working on Doug McKelvey’s story you were searching for the “moments in the story when an illustration would best support the text.” Can you tell us more about how understand your role as an illustrator?
I’ve learned from Joe Sutphin, Justin Gerard, and other illustrators that our job is to ask ourselves, “How can I best support this text without being redundant?” We don’t want to only copy exactly what the text says, because that takes away a little of the magic. A well-written book usually gives clues for the reader to visualize the scene anyway, so illustrators don’t want to take away from the power of the reader’s imagination. So before I start any illustration, I figure out how I can present the image in a way that invites the reader deeper into the story and fully engages their imagination. One way to do this is to incorporate small details and subplots not mentioned in the text. Doing that can make the world of the story more real and expansive. I also try to capture the atmosphere or mood of the story. This hopefully makes the reader more emotionally invested with the story because the reader feels like they are a part of the scene. This is the strategy I used for “The Places Beyond the Maps,” Doug’s story. It was so visually rich, that I had a hard time picking a scene that I wouldn’t detract from with an illustration. So I picked scenes where I could capture the spirit of the book, and I made my illustrations more symbolic. I hope that the illustrations integrate well with the text, but that’s for the reader to decide…
Anyway, my process varies from project to project, but hopefully that gives you a little glimpse into the things I think about.
I really appreciate the thought you put into this. The idea of redundancy is especially interesting—that you aren’t drawing to explain the story but to invite the reader into it. It sounds like it becomes a conversation between the author, illustrator, and reader, and I love the idea that this cooperative act of imagination expands the world. That’s beautiful. I’m going to look at illustrations in a whole new way now, and it might influence the way I watch film adaptations, too.
When you say other illustrators have taught you this, did they teach you directly, or have you picked this up just by observing their work? (Or both?)
The answer is both. I’ve heard Joe Sutphin and other guys specifically talk about these ideas at Hutchmoot and other events, but it is also apparent in their work. Naturally, I want to try and imitate what they’re doing, because they make beautiful art.
Do you ever hit stretches where do you don’t feel like drawing? What helps encourage you to continue creating?
YES! There are many times when I don’t feel like drawing. I’ll have stretches where I don’t like anything I’m doing, and it’s very easy to find something to do besides art. People have different ways of getting out of creative slumps, but for me, I usually just try to go back to the basics. Meaning, I get out a piece of plain copy paper and a normal pencil and I just draw. A lot. Almost all my drawings with be bad, but eventually some good ones turn up, and after a while I’m back on track. I’ve noticed that a lot of times my biggest breakthroughs come out of my biggest artistic blocks. Another thing I do is study the masters, just to remember how they do things. Seeing their wizardry and genius gives me the inspiration to keep on keeping on. Also, I think it’s sometimes good to take a break and come back to art later, so you’re energized and refreshed. But that’s just me. There are lots of different strategies. Just know that if you’re struggling with a creative block, you are not alone. Everyone has experienced it in one form or another. Just keep making art.
In comments a couple of weeks ago two readers said that they were mesmerized, fascinated with your use of color. What inspires your color palette and style?
First of all, I really appreciate those comments. Thank you! To answer your question, Nicholas Kole, Production Designer on the Wingfeather Saga team, has recently been a huge influence on me as far as color palette goes. I truly don’t know how he does it, but he is a total master when it comes to color, and he’s inspired me to really push myself in this area. I don’t have a method for color, so much of it for me is just messing around and seeing what looks good. It’s important to nail down shapes and values early on, but when I get to the point when it’s time to color my illustrations, I mainly just play around. Sometimes I get something I like, and other times it’s a mess. Sorry if that’s kind of a vague answer, but color is still something I’m trying to figure out myself.
What advice can you give for aspiring artists? Are there resources or habits you’d recommend? Any advice for people who can’t draw but want to?
My advice would be this: don’t stop drawing. That’s it. If you want to do art, if you love it, then you have to draw all the time. When I first started drawing, I knew as much as anyone else, but I just kept at it. The percentage of talent it takes to be an artist is dwarfed by the percentage of work, persistence, and commitment you need to actually make it happen. I just love to draw, and I’ll never stop.
When I first started getting into illustration, what I did, and still do, was find the artists that I loved and copied their work. I would try and imitate their drawings and painting as closely as possible because, as Justin Gerard says, “Your style is born from your failed attempts to imitate other artists’ styles.” Every time I make a mistake, do a bad drawing, or completely ruin a painting, I’m marching closer to my style and my own distinct look. Don’t start by trying to come up with your own style; that will happen with time. Instead, fill your head with great art, discover all the masters, read picture books, go outside and look at the world. So many people say to me, “Man, I wish I could draw…” And I always think, “Then do it!” Draw! You simply have to CREATE to start down the path to being an artist.
Thank you so much for asking me to do this!
Thank you, Aedan! This has been a great interview, and I really enjoyed talking with you.