Gyimah Gariba Interview

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study?  What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today? 

My name is Gyimah Gariba, I was born and raised in Accra, Ghana (West Africa) in 1992. I have an older sister an older brother and a little sister. My whole junior high experience was spent in an entirely French school in Accra. I think that influenced me artistically because my teachers respected Shakespearean literature and TinTin comics equally. Comic books were never seen as something that were less than other art, or just for children. My whole family is pretty artistic and while growing up my art teacher Mr. Gbagba was really determined to introduce me to brilliant artists that I wouldn't have otherwise known about like Basquiat and Picasso, even though I was 13 at the time and didn't fully grasp the genius of their work I still feel like it has a lot to do with the way I look at art and the way I break down shapes in my work.

Two months ago I graduated from Sheridan College in Toronto with a Bachelor's Degree in Animation and I'm currently living in Toronto. In my third year I had the opportunity to intern at Titmouse Animation Studios in Los Angeles and work alongside some of my idols on the first season of the TV show Black Dynamite. 

How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

When I'm designing a character whether its for personal or studio/company work I often base them on people that I know and go from there. I feel like when designing a character its dangerous to reference other similar characters that I've already seen because then its easy to fall into cliches of what a silhouette of a villain or a hero is for example. Whereas when you base it upon someone that you know you already understand the complexities of that person so even if its a villain, its easier to understand the humanity of the character and it makes it easier, for example, to figure out what that character would be wearing. To me designing a character comes down to what makes sense. I think about what that character would wear on a day to day basis, how that character would do their hair, or whether they eat a lot or what their body type is like. I do a lot of people watching and I often try to understand the elements of a person's physicality that makes you react a certain way to them, and then replicate that in my designs so that the character inspires the right emotion at first glance. Also depending on what type of story I'm designing for, I really think about stylization, how stylized a character or a whole design should be. My work process usually involves using prisma color pencils for my block in and roughs and from that point I can in those sketches and clean them up digitally because I prefer drawing on paper.

What  is a typical day  for you, and who are the people you work with?

I am currently working as a location designer at Guru Studios in Toronto. I am lucky enough to be working with a really young and talented crew which includes Alina Urusov, Scott Forbes, Martin Sokol, Sanatan, Perin McLean, Elton Lo and many more. I wake up at 5am and then I draw some warmups, then I go to work, then I get ready for work, I get there by 9ish, have a full work day until 5:30 or so. Most days on my walk home I sit in Trinity Bellwoods Park and sketch with a good friend and colleague Freddy Carrasco, and work on our two man collective Funk Fuzz. We make shorts and develop ideas under the umbrella of Funk Fuzz. When it gets dark I go home, listen to some music and do a sketch before bed.

What are some of the things that you have worked on? (Books, Movies, Games, Comics)

I was an intern character designer on Black Dynamite Season 1. I have made two short films, the first was a group film in the third year of my time at Sheridan entitled Poof and the second was my thesis film called Ghana. I've also done a lot of commissioned work with musical artists for their promotional purposes and I'm currently helping direct a music video that is coming out 2014.

Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?

Not necessarily. Most of my designs change as I develop whatever story I'm working on (in my personal work). There aren't any designs that I'm most happy with, but there are characters that I really like to work on.

What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)

I'm working on several three minute shorts with Freddy Carrasco based on original concepts and characters that we've developed in order to express our ideas visually. They're all different styles and we've tried to keep everything fresh and non conventional but still appealing. Several of the shorts will be done by the summer of 2014. I'm also working on some unconventional children's book ideas on my own as well as making personalized books for my nieces and nephews while they learn to read as well as doing some visual development for William Golding's “Lord of the Flies” for fun.

Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

Honestly too many to name. Jamie Hewlett, Lesean Thomas, Alexander McQueen, James Jean, Ronald Wimberly, Chase Conely, Kevin Dart, Egon Schiel and many more. They are all my favourite artists because of their taste, work ethic, and the fact that they are never constrained to one medium, they have several outlets for their work – animation, photography, theatre, comics etc. 

Could you talk about your process in coloring  your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

When I'm working digitally I usually prefer to work lineless meaning that there are no lines on the outside of characters to separate forms so I use the lasso tool in photoshop (CS6) to do a lot of my work. Because there are no lines separating forms I often rely on gaussian blur filters and values to create depth in the image. When I'm working traditionally I use watercolor paints most of the time. My process is pretty standard I usually do base washes while preserving the whites and work my way up from there.

What part of designing  is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?

When I'm designing the part that is the most fun is figuring out is doing the initial character sketches and figuring out who the character is. I like doing this part of the process on paper because I feel like when you have your previous designs laid out in front of you (without the use of control z) you are able to see what you did previously and why that didn't work. I also love the payoff of finally getting it right, of finally looking at a design and saying that's what I'm going for. The hardest part of designing is locking down a a final design because often times something gets lost between the stages of your rough which are energetic and rough and the cleanup which if done wrong can change the whole look and feel of what you had captured initially. 

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

I listen to a lot a lot a lot of music and go to concerts. I do things that have nothing to do with animation like hang out with my friends, or talk to them about what they do in their daily lives. I like to walk around and go out and meet people. 

What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?

The Incredibles because they are so stylized but are such believable character types. I also really like the deisgns in The Thief and the Cobbler because they didn't spare any amount of detail on the things that mattered. For example, on the character Zig Zag's fingers and how intricate they are. I also really like Jamie Hewlett's design sense and Kevin Dart's universe. I say universe because the aesthetic of all the designs that he does. They have such a clean finish and really beautiful colors. 

What is your most favorite subject to draw?  And  why?

People. Because I love talking to people and I love seeing how their personality feeds into their appearance. Although because of this new job I am slowly getting into the beauty of places as well.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

The people in my life, my dad was always artistic, my older brother and sister always loved to draw and I had really supportive friends and a really supportive art teacher. They never made it seem like being successful in the arts was anything that I couldn't do and I'm blessed to have that because a lot of people get discouraged from it. 

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

I've learned that if you want to see something done, do it yourself and don't wait for anyone to validate your opinion. The only way you are going to convince any one of what's in your head, is if you put it down on paper yourself. I sound like a broken record when I say that Lesean Thomas is an inspiration because he is self taught and is (slowly but surely) creating his own universe in the form of Cannonbusters. 
I always wanted to recreate the world in my own image, everything from fire hydrants to the characters on the street and the time and uncompromising attitude he's put toward the project have reminded me that I don't have to wait for anyone. 

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

Don't compare your work to anyone else's work because no one is actually trying to say the exact same thing. Especially for young artists that easily get discouraged by their heroes churning out amazing pieces and beautiful work consistently, just don't stop because no one has lived your experiences so even your favourite artists cannot articulate what is in your mind. What a shame it would be if the world had to miss out on the stories that you can tell just because you don't feel up to par.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

facebook: Gyimah Gariba

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

Not yet, but December 2014 Funk Fuzz (myself and Freddy Carrasco) will be putting out an art book filled with concept work from the shorts we will be releasing as well as day to day sketches.

Gyimah Gariba Gallery