JA: You recently posted background painting instructions that were created for other painters to follow your keys; obviously Mary Blair was a strong influence on your background work with Spumco, but what BGs from other features or shorts were either an influence or perhaps pieces you studied?
KG: Yeah, Mary Blair was my life! I even watched Disney's Johnny Appleseed during most of my lunch breaks; even though she only designed the original backgrounds, and I just loved it so much! There really was no other person, just everything! I was constantly surrounded by amazing art, and had Johnny's highly discerning eye there to point out all of the cool stuff. We had so many Golden Books, they were definitely the other main resource. Also Mel Crawford, magazines from the fifties, Sokol, Hanna Barbera, and even Samurai Jack! Yeah, I had a couple of print-outs of Samurai Jack BGs; like a really cool one where the rain was coming down all diagonally and the colours were pretty grey. It was done by Bill Wray! Tin Pan Alley Cats is one old animation which I remember specifically referencing for a walking sequence shot in Ren Seeks Help. I was also looking things up on Google Images and making reference pages; like the one I made for one of our BG painters living in Montreal, Simon Dupuis. It was for the pan up in the fridge in Altruists. I think the ham was from one of Johnny's old magazines, and the rest was stuff I found on the internet.
JA: What is it about these backgrounds that stand out as being unique, and in what ways do you feel they could have been improved?
KG: They just seemed so confident and stylized! Just like Johnny said they should be, each brushstroke seemed to be done with flair! They had good, often muted, colours; and interesting textures.
I guess one thing that I noticed is that not too many BG painters these days were using the softer techniques, like they would in older illustrations. I forget which Golden Books Johnny had me copy for training, but they were of soft and furry animals, and also trees painted with watercolours. When I started doing the BG paintings for the show, I tried to achieve some of those softer techniques.
JA: Let's talk about your palette; what changes did you begin to notice after being influenced by Juan Martinez to start using black for the first time?
KG: My palette became a lot more limited after working with Juan. I took off many of the greens and blues, sometimes even all of them. He used colours that I had never tried before; like English Red, Persian Red, and Yellow Ochre Pale. Using those colours as the basis of my flesh tones, instead of Burnt Sienna, really helped tone down my previously over-saturated colours. He also introduced me to the idea of using black in a painting, something I almost never did. It is amazing how when you mix black with some white, it creates a colour much like blue that works very nicely in cool flesh tones. You could even add a little Yellow Ochre to make it greenish.
JA: Your blues, greens, and Burnt Sienna were all removed from your palette while in his workshops; seeing as how they have returned, what do you feel was missing from your work in the absence of these colours?
KG: Well, I think that was a necessary change at the time to help get my colours under control, but now I'm wanting to achieve more transparent shadows and things. The red oxides, English Red and Persian Red, are really quite opaque, so now I've added Burnt Sienna back onto my palette. I'm mixing up Burnt Sienna with Ultramarine Blue for the shadows quite a bit, as well as things like Alizarin Permanent and Sap Green. All of these colours are pretty transparent, and compliment each other to tone them down, without it getting muddy or too opaque. I'll still mix some black in there sometimes too, though. I'll use colours like Cobalt Turquoise or Cerulean Blue too; because I like to get some nice, clean cools into my shadows. I definitely use the blues and greens differently, and more sparingly, than I would before.
JA: You've mentioned Jeremy Lipking's "magic" mixture of Ultramarine, Titanium white, and Alizarin Permanent, which mixes a light blue and slight purple; your phobia of purple relates to the "old man" syndrome of artists trying to bring life into their later work with it's overuse, and also eighties animation. Have you experimented with variations of the colour, or are you trying to avoid it at all costs?
KG: Yeah, Jeremy Lipking's "magic" mixture is really so great. It helps keep all of the colours related, because I find myself mixing a small amount into many of the colours in my paintings. I also saw Yuqi Wang using Egyptian Violet, which is pretty much the most purplest of purples, with beautiful results. I actually have that purple on my palette presently! Amazing as it is, given my purple phobia, I don't quite use it the way Yuqi does. It's only ever made an appearance in it's greyest form in my work so far, so who knows? Maybe as I get older.
JA: You worked with various cartoon studios before arriving at Spumco, such as Nelvana and Dynomight; what did you learn at these studios that you were able to apply in your later work? Also, tell me about Graham Falk.
KG: Not to learn how to draw from crappy studio shows. Too many people pick up terrible drawing techniques and habits from the most generic television shows, allowing it to inform their own personal style!
The Untalkative Bunny was a show that I worked on though, which was created by Graham Falk, who really does have such a cute and neat style. The problem was that nobody understood his style, and actually thought that the "flat" style of the Bunny was basically equivalent to "draw as shitty as you can!" This was before any of the "flat" style had caught on at all in Canada. But yeah, Graham's drawings are so awesome, and the Bunny is super funny! Everyone should go to his website and check out his drawings and comics.
JA: Explain the O-Grant that you recently applied for; and what can students reading this right now do to help?
KG: It’s for students who have made a difference in their communities in some way. My application is centered on the volunteer teaching and mentoring and stuff that I have been doing for other artists. Anyone in the whole world can register to leave feedback, and the amount of feedback is taken into consideration when they choose the winners! Also, Canadian students can even vote on my video!