#4. A Conversation with Kristy Gordon
JA: Let's start this look at your work with one of your first professional positions, Art Director of Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon. How did this job come about, and what were your first interactions with series creator John Kricfalusi like?
KG: Well, it was the night of my graduation from animation at Algonquin College, and we had an open-house. During the night, I heard that John K. was there looking at portfolios! I was pretty excited, but didn't know exactly what he looked like. I even eagerly asked someone else from a different studio here in town who was looking at my portfolio if he was John K., and he was pretty confused. But alas, Johnny never made it to my portfolio and left kinda early. I was so disappointed! I heard through the grapevine that he was drinking at a local bar that night, so Nick Cross (also Art Director) and I drove to meet him! This time I got it right and introduced myself to the right guy. So there we were, drinking together, and he asked me to draw a character on a napkin! Horror! I was mostly a layout artist, and never felt totally comfortable drawing characters from animation. I had just finished this film in school, so I drew this totally pathetic drawing of my little girl character. Oh, thank the sweet lord that I don't still have that drawing today to post for everyone now. Oh yeah, for some reason I didn't even have my portfolio there with me that night! Fortunately, when I finally did get him a copy of the 'ol portfolio, he liked the layouts! Pretty soon he had me doing layouts and inking for The Ripping Friends. Later, when I heard that he was doing a new Ren & Stimpy series, I asked him if I could paint the backgrounds for it, to which he responded that I "would probably need a little more practice before doing that". He got me to do a "test", to just choose some Mary Blair paintings to copy and show to him. I did, and he said he pretty much couldn't tell any difference between mine and the originals, and I was hired. One thing led to another, and I started to get the hang of doing BGs for Spumco, although it was never easy! I was made BG Painting Supervisor, which I later found out actually means Art Director. I remember seeing the credits on Stimpy's Pregnant that said I was Art Director and thought it was some sort of weird, but highly flattering, mistake.
JA: You recently wrote that you developed a phobia of purple while at Spumco, due to John's agony of the cartoons from the eighties that used the same colours- pink, purple, and green- referring to them as "video-box colours". Tell me about the process you went through of finding the tone to match what John wanted.
KG: Oh, purple! You know it exactly; it's the purple, pink, and green that must be avoided in cartoons, and with that I agree. Yeah, the "process" I went through basically started with me first being told by Johnny to not use any primary colours, so I thought, "Great, now I get it. It's all about the secondary colours!". But no, I soon found out that they were all out too! I was pretty darn confused about things. I kept going through the colours in my mind, trying to think about which ones weren't primary or secondary. Isn't that all of them? I tried to remember, "isn't there a category called tertiary colours?" I finally discovered that pretty much all of the colours were acceptable, as long as they were generally pretty greyed down.
JA: How did you become involved in the voice work for the characters on Ren & Stimpy?
KG: That was really just because I knew Johnny. I hung out with him, worked with him, got drunk with him; I guess he heard my voice at some point and liked it. Doing voices is fun!
JA: John K. refers back to your work saying that you are "an incredible artist who is interested in many different aspects of art, a natural master of technique and detail. She just oozes with style and artistic elegance." Where did you draw inspiration from as a BG designer?
KG: Mary Blair was big, big, big! So were some really cool film noirs that Johnny brought in on laserdisc. He had the tech guy take the screen captures off for me. I had set my computer to a slide show of them when I was working on the Ren Seeks Help backgrounds for Mr. Horse's office. Johnny would also get us to go through magazines, like House & Home, and tear out any of the ones that had colours we liked and study why they worked. Then he would have us use the colours from the magazines, but done in the styles and techniques of Golden Books! Yeah, there were so many Golden Books, and he was always getting me to organize them. Sometimes he wouldn't even look at my BGs if the shelf wasn't organized. Rootie Kazootie was also big! A lot of Hanna Barbera for sure, too! He even had a couple binders made up of Hanna Barbera paintings, with instructions and analysis written up! I always wondered who put those together, and wanted to photocopy them, but never did.
JA: Let's go further back to what first inspired you to start creating art, what were your earliest influences?
KG: I actually started painting with acrylic on canvas when I was about fourteen. My mom was taking some painting classes and had learned how to stretch canvases, so I was stretching my own canvases too! She also had a lot of cool art books, like one by Group of Seven and Tom Thompson, a popular painting group here in Canada, and Alex Colville. I guess my mom likes a lot of Canadian artists! We also took out Art News magazines from the library in town, which I loved. I would try to do paintings of my own subjects, but in the styles and colours I saw in the magazines. Unfortunately, I lost that magazine, so my mom kinda had to pay the fine at the library for it. I later found it, and actually still have it today! I remember especially liking the German Expressionist painter, Ernst Kirschner.
JA: Your designs at Spumco were brilliant, not to mention very funny. John even commented on one of your BGs saying, "has anyone ever treated teats so reverently as our little genius Kristy has done for you?". How was the transition from working as Art Director at Spumco to teaching assistant for Yuqi Wang?
KG: Now, isn't that just so sweet of him? Yeah, it seems like Nick Cross was drawing such hilarious backgrounds, like that "cow pan", that I really didn't have to do anything to make them funny. I would just paint them kinda soft with FW inks.
While I was at Spumco, I was also painting landscapes for a couple of galleries here in Ottawa, and I had the sweet deal of them actually buying everything that I painted! That's pretty rare in the art world. Normally, paintings are put on consignment, and you really want that piece to sell, so I had a pretty sweet set-up. Eventually, I left Spumco to do my own paintings for galleries, and it went pretty well. One of my galleries asked if I do portraits, and I liked the idea. My mom always said that when you're applying for jobs and they ask if you can do something, say "yes", and learn later, which is what I did. I was also taking a portrait painting course at the Ottawa School of Art at that time. I received a few portrait commissions, and also started reading International Artist Magazine, where Juan Martinez had a six-part article on painting and drawing in the Academy way. He was teaching courses nearby in Toronto, so with my big landscape bucks I enrolled in one of his workshops!
Nick and I had all sorts of inspiring talks over glasses of wine about "imagine if I were a figure painter", and that was that. There was no turning back. I took more classes at the Academy of Realist Art in Toronto, and it was there that I heard about Yuqi Wang. I looked into it and discovered that he taught workshops at Andreeva in Santa Fe! Honestly, the rest is like a magical dream come true. I kinda mentioned to my mom that I would die if I didn't take that course. In an unexpected way, I actually found myself attending that two-week workshop on holiday with my mom and sister, Jessica (also an Illustrator- worked on The Ripping Friends ).
I fell in love with Santa Fe, and left there literally crying my head off in the airport. I was writing in my journal about how I was absolutely going to find a way to come back to take his nine month workshop later that year, which was way too expensive for me. I even saw an artist that I had met in Santa Fe at the airport while I was crying at a table alone. I stayed on top of things when I got home, and to my amazement I received an email from Jane Angelhart, a wonderful painter and the Director of Andreeva Academy at the time. She asked if I would like to be the TA for Yuqi's workshop, and also take it for free! I said yes right away, and didn't really tell anyone except Nick for months, not even my parents. My mom was pretty surprised when she eventually received a letter from Andreeva confirming my position. I didn't even know where I was going to stay! It is such a long and complicated story, but in the end I found myself in a Santa Fe hotel with Nick, one that he had sweetly rented for three days. That was the amount of time I had to find a place to live! I found the best place ever on the second night, and moved in the next day.
JA: As a recipient of numerous awards, including two Awards of Excellence from the Federation of Canadian Artists, Best of Show in the National Art Premier, as well as a Conference Scholarship from the Portrait Society of America; what goals do you have set for yourself as an artist, having already achieved so much at such a young age?
KG: Well, each time I accomplish one goal, I make new ones. Artistically, I just want to keep getting better. I'd like to work more narratives into my paintings and become looser with my brushwork. Actually, I've never painted a figure with a live model outdoors, so I want to do that soon!
Also, I often look to other artists that I admire to help me set specific goals for my career. I'm a big goal-setting person, I write them down and stuff. I guess I really want to get into New York, especially something like Arcadia or Forum Gallery, one day. A lot of goals like that. Other galleries that my favorite artists are in would be great too! I mean, at this point, to even think something like "being in world class museums one day would be nice" seems a little far-fetched, but that would be nice.
JA: If you had the ability to make the public more aware of one specific artist, who would it be, and why?
KG: Can't I choose two? I would have to say Jeremy Lipking, because he's my favorite living artist. There's never enough exposure for contemporary realist artists. Also, Yuqi Wang. He's another of my favorite living artists, and I find that he's really not that well known. He's a Chinese painter who now lives in Brooklyn, and yeah, he's just ridiculously good!
JA: If you could use only one word to define your work, what would it be?