We have been following and watching animator Joanna Davidovich on her Youtube channel for a while now, so it only makes sense to chat with her about animation, her artistic journey, and her favourite tools, among many other things.
Hi Joanna, how are you? What have you been up to lately?
Hello, I’m doing as well as can be expected! Just trying to keep on keepin’ on.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m an animation artist. For about fifteen years now, I’ve been working as an animator, character designer, story artist, and miscellaneous jill-of-all-trades for commercials, promos, and series. As long as it involves drawing cartoons, I’ll always raise my hand and say “I’ll do it!”. Last year I illustrated a children’s book for the first time, and that was a wonderful experience. I keep busy with my own personal work too, and that includes cartoons, sketchbooks, music, and two little daughters! They keep me the busiest of all actually.
What was your first exposure to art and how did that impact you?
When I was in kindergarten, I had a painting sell at a school charity auction. My parents were quite proud and started telling me I must be very good at art. I was five- who was I to disagree?
Take us through your creative journey.
I was always drawn to animation and cartoons. I didn’t have patience for cartoons that barely moved like Scooby-Doo, but if you gave me “The Little Mermaid” or any Bugs Bunny cartoon I would wear out the VHS. It wasn’t until I saw “Animaniacs” though that I began drawing with the intent that I might make a career out of it though. I remember my first attempt at marketing my skills was in the fifth grade- I would try to sell my friends little cut-outs of a glittery frog character for ten cents a pop. Didn’t make me the next Lisa Frank unfortunately. But I kept drawing all through school and went to art college, all the time keeping my eyes and ears open for any chance to get paid for my silly drawings. I got an internship at a commercial house in my junior year of college, and have been working in the animation industry in some capacity ever since.
You are mainly known as an animator, was that your choice from the start or did you explore other types of art?
I just always loved drawing silly characters. I started with comics, terrible unfunny comics, because at that time animation was not really accessible to ten-year-olds. I made a couple flip books, and once computers became a force in my life I was making shaky little animations with my paper, pencil, and a hand scanner. They were really bad!
What is it about animation that you like so much?
I can’t pinpoint it… but I love how a great character has an ability to communicate thoughts and emotions wordlessly and so immediately to anybody across any culture or age. There is magic in the simplicity of it.
What are some of your favorite artists and works on any medium and why?
In animation, the master who inspired me most is Chuck Jones. He is so economical in his approach to animation, but with truckloads of appeal. It’s really unbelievable what he ands team were able to achieve. With regards to other artists outside of animation, it’s hard to say. I’m not terribly passionate about any “real” artists in particular, but I am trying to better myself. I really love the great illustrators and commercial artists of the early 20th century, and I have a particular fondness for the Romantic painters in the 19th century. More broadly speaking, I’m obsessed with jazz from the 20s-40s and find endless inspiration in music from the swing era. I also love classic film from the 20s-60s and have great admiration for a lot of filmmakers and performers from that era.
Take us through your career. What have the ups and downs, key learnings, things that made you a better artist?
My career has just been leapfrogging from one lily pad of opportunity to the next, trying to stay afloat. I’ve learned that failure isn’t so bad, so don’t be afraid to say “yes” to things you’re not sure about. You can only get better if you continue to challenge yourself. Disappointment is baked into this industry- you can’t avoid it. But you don’t have to let it weigh you down either. If I’m feeling nervous or down about something, I ask myself “will this change whether or not I want to draw tomorrow?” I’ll never be so successful that I’ll be tempted to put the pencil down and coast; nor will I ever be such failure that drawing will cease to be interesting to me.
..I don’t know if this makes sense written down, but in my head it is all perfectly logical.
Can you tell a bit about some of the best advice you received during your career so far, either from colleagues or elsewhere?
That is an interesting question. I often do think back to an anecdote one of my college professors had, talking about attending his “golden years” high school reunion. He was shocked by how old his classmates looked, all canes, walkers, and oxygen tanks, while he himself still had quite bit of vitality. He said the reason was stress. “Don’t let yourself get stressed out,” he said. “It’s a killer. Just try to enjoy life a bit. You only go around once.” It’s very good advice- I wish I could follow it!
What have been your most difficult struggles and how did you overcome them?
I’m in it right now. I’m struggling to find the time to get everything close to almost sorta being halfassedly attempted to being done. In other words, I’m being pulled in lots of directions and not getting much sleep. If I come out of this alive and figure out how to achieve the perfect balance, I’ll let you know!
You are very active with personal projects, how does that benefit you in terms of personal development?
Getting your own ideas out of your head and onto paper keeps you from getting burned out. Keep enthusiasm for your work alive keeps you seeking improvement. Self-improvement compounds your value artistically and commercially. Also, it’s just fun!
How would you describe your style? How can people see something and say “hey, that is definitely done by Joanna”?
I’m hesitant to claim a style. I don’t think I’ve earned that yet. But if you see an animated gif, drawn in scratchy pencil, featuring a cute baby and a frazzled mama- I probably drew it.
Artists can be inspired by many different things. Where do you get inspired and how do you process those into your own ideas, concepts, and designs?
I draw things that make me happy. Any music, movie, character, event, fashion, food, animal, table lamp… if it makes me happy in some way I will probably end up drawing it. I also like to vent my frustrations through drawing, hoping I can find the humor in any situation to siphon off the negativity I feel at the moment.
Your questions are quite intellectual and I’m afraid I’m being obtuse with my answers. But I honestly don’t think these things through with much analysis. It’s usually just like “ha.. a ferret dancing to EDM. That’s funny. I’ma draw that.”
For your own projects, can you take us through your pipeline/workflow? What software and hardware do you use in each step and why? How has this flow changed over the years?
Oh how I miss paper. But for efficiency, I have to use my Cintiq and Photoshop, TvPaint, Flash, Harmony… whatever the job calls for. I still keep sketchbooks though.
Almost always, an artist is part of a team. In your eyes, what are the factors that separates a regular artist from a great one in terms of working together?
No matter how good your are, to be on a team you have to be reliable and communicate well. Trust is as important professionally as your actual artistic skills.
Can you share how it’s like being part of a studio? Do the creative boundaries set by higher-ups make it more challenging? And how do you get your voice heard?
I mainly do more work remotely, so being part of a studio is not something I have too much experience with. For any job you are going to be constrained by the client’s wishes and time/budget. Getting your voice heard is easy, but having your ideas become actionable is another thing entirely. It’s a wonderful experience when you get to express your ideas and have them taken seriously, but honestly most of the time you’re hired to be a cog in a machine and your job with just to make the gears spin.
So dour, huh? Remember what I said earlier about the importance of personal work keeping you from burnout though!
What is the craziest project you have ever done so far?
Probably my own cartoon! Four years of work for a nonsense musical cartoon. Would that I had to energy to be so crazy again!
In the ‘old’ days it was all hand-drawn and these days primarily CGI I think? Can you share insights on the unique challenges of each method?
I have never and will never do CG animation. I have no beef with it, but it is so far removed from drawing that it might as well be auto repair for how much I am interested in doing it for a living or for fun.
If there is one character, full feature, or short that you wish you have made, what would it be and why?
I really want to animate some fairy tales. Old fairy tales, with all the darkness and weirdness the original tales had. They are so emotionally powerful- it would be such a treat to dig into them. I have one particular one in mind- it’s an obscure one, so I hope by the time I am ready to do it Disney still won’t have gotten around to devouring it yet.
How do you think animation will be in the year 2025 and what kind of purpose will it serve?
I think traditional animation might see some revitalized interest. There are a few projects coming out in the next couple of years that are going to make people notice how beautiful it can be when drawings move.
What are your personal goals for the next two to five years?
Keep my family somewhat fed, help my husband keep the roof over our heads, and if I can draw a little of my own work that’d be peachy!
After a week of hard work, where is the one place you go to relax and just enjoy free time?
Sorry- I didn’t catch your question through my hysterical laughter and intermittent sobs.