I was born/grew up in: Ottawa, ON
I now live in: Long Sault, ON
I completed my training/education at: Bachelor of Fine Arts (minor in Art History) at Queen’s University. Self-taught in Adobe Photoshop using online tutorials.
What I do at work
As a background artist, usually you are assigned to one show that you work on with a team. I’ve worked on a couple different cartoon TV shows like Lion Guard (seasons 1-3) and Tangled (seasons 1-2). My boss will send me a section of backgrounds for an episode. This is the line art and it look like a colouring book. It is my job to digitally colour in the backgrounds, save them, and send them back. I use a Wacom tablet and stylus and I work in Adobe Photoshop. Each section of backgrounds can be quite unique, so timing of completion varies depending on the show and scene. For example, when the character interacts with the background, everything has to be in a separate layer. Backgrounds like this that take quite a bit longer to do. If I have questions about colouring, my boss will direct me in making the right choice. I have to follow the style of the show, which someone else has designed. Everything I design has to fall in line with that style.
Usually, there is no set deadline. However, I am paid per background so it is in my best interest to work as efficiently possible. Sometimes I will get a concrete deadline if other departments are falling behind. Keep in mind that I do the background art and there is a team of other people who have different roles. For example, someone designs the episode; there are storyboard artists who make tiny thumbnails that form the storyboard for the entire episode; line artists or layout artists make the black line art; animators bring it to life; and someone puts it together at the end. We keep in touch via email and use a file transfer protocol (FTP) as a hub to exchange content.
My career path is
In high school, I made the decision to pursue art over biology. One of my favourite courses was computer science. I liked it because I got to dabble a little bit in each field (e.g. animation, creating a magazine, digital media, marketing). I also enjoyed creative writing. This really helped me with artist statements in my Fine Arts program to convey the meaning of artworks. I bought my first tablet in high school because I liked drawing and wanted to get into digital art. I taught myself how to use Adobe Photoshop using online tutorials, which involved a lot of trial and error.
I went to Queen’s for Fine Arts and while I was there, I actually stopped doing digital art. As my graduation from Queen’s was approaching, I knew I wanted to be making money right after graduation. To become an artist is risky and it’s hard to know what will happen, so I really wanted something with a little more stability. I also wanted to get back to digital art, as I genuinely like it and I had been doing it for a long time as a hobby. It seemed like a natural fit to be a background artist. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts, everyone did different things. Some friends became art teachers, some completed their MFA, and some pursued completely different career paths.
Once I had decided I wanted to be a background artist, I applied to a bunch of studios in Ottawa. My friend worked at Mercury Filmworks, and she put me in touch with someone who was recruiting background artists for the start of Lion Guard. I did a background test where they sent me three tester backgrounds and I had to colour them in. I sent them back, and they liked it! So my friend created the connection, but my own skill got me in the door. I work as a contractor, so I can also pick up work with other studios during slow times as a freelance artist. There is also opportunity within Mercury to move up or change departments, to try something new if I wanted to go that route.
I am motivated by
My nieces and nephews are all under 8 and they watch the shows to support me, which is pretty special. All my life I’ve enjoyed drawing and I knew I wanted to be an artist. This career allows me to get paid for drawing, which is something I love to do anyways. I find it exciting to work on different shows, mixing it up with different scenery and backgrounds.
One of my favourite things is that I am my own boss – I decide when I work, how I work and even how much I work. I love working from home because of the flexibility of my schedule, and I get to enjoy some alone time. I can vary my workload depending on other things going on in my life. I can also determine my own process and set up my environment for how I like to work.
How I affect people’s lives
It is pretty cool when you see a background that you’ve drawn show up on TV! I’ve watched the shows that I work on and I like the messages included within the episodes. For example, Lion Guard is all about this one lion that has friends that are all different animals with varying strengths and abilities. I like that the show includes important lessons for kids about seeing the value in others and collaborating to solve problems.
Outside of work I
Exercise is a big part of my life and I like to stay active. I started yoga and I am really enjoying that, and I also run in the summer. I like socializing with friends, and the flexibility of my job allows me to travel. I started a personal blog for some creative freedom, as it allows me to create exactly what I want. I also love decorating my home and I can see myself moving in that direction with my career in the future.
My advice to others
When I was in high school, there was a lot of pressure as we were told that our decisions in high school determine everything else - but that’s not always the case. There is so much potential for exploring different jobs and careers. You can hop around depending on your interests, or you can start a new career if you want to. Our generation doesn’t necessarily start a job at age 20 and stay in it for 50 years like our parents did. You can really forge your own path no matter what. If you enjoy doing something on your own time as a hobby or just for fun, then you should pursue that!