It’s March, practically Spring and the month of International Women’s Day. Due to how many events and parties on going through-out March, it feels the whole month is now full of possibilities, empowerment and championing lush ladies and all who fist pump equality and female success.
Seems apt I am able to use this blog to pretty much channel and showcase all the wonderful people that I admire – and as it’s March and all about #lasses – this month I’m championing Digital artist Sheryl Jenkins as Digital Makings Artist of the Month for March.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Sheryl during her delivery of participatory arts workshop for kids with animation. She’s dreamy to work with; fast paced, full of energy, great at facilitating creative experimentation, brilliant with young people and fun to work alongside. You can watch the result of her recent ‘Crafty Animations’ session at Gateshead Central Library HERE.
Sheryl describes herself as a freelance animator, an anarchic creative and filmmaker who often works on collaborative projects with artists, schools, community groups, and education and arts organisations. She is also involved in independent film productions and residencies, producing film content for online education resources and random bits of animation.
What comes across from Sheryl’s showreel (give it a watch – it’s brilliant) – is that she really loves her work and has great fun producing it. That vibe is infectious to be around…… I’m all about positivity and people loving their work.
I caught up with Sheryl recently and wanted to find out more about her practice, her love of things Digital, her involvement in Thinking Digital and her favourite films……
Hi Sheryl, tell me about your journey into digital arts?
At the moment I’m interested in using tablets as animation and filmmaking tools. The apps available make it possible to include a variety of styles including drawn, model, photographic sequences, rotoscoping, green screen and cut out. It’s kind of the perfect point for me to reach because I’ve always been interested in being able to create animated work where ever I like. The iPad is like an animation sketchbook and means I can create animated work in response to anything on location. So that’s where I’m at now.
Going back in time, I was always interested in drawing and making things, I used to pretend I was presenting Blue Peter, when I was younger we had a BBC computer and I used to write games for it. Most members of my family had a camera of one sort or another whether it was 35mm, Super8 film or a video camera. I enjoyed taking photographs – I’d’ve been obsessed with Instagram if it’d been around when I was growing up. My brother and I used to make animated films with my Dad’s video camera. We used our toys and made models – I still have some of those films.
I studied Graphic Design before studying Animation at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. It was great to meet and work alongside so many other people interested in animation who had such a broad range of styles. At that time we were using a combination of rostrum camera and reel to reel mixed with newer audio technology and editing software. I always like the idea of mixing old and new. I like to feel a creative connection (for want of a less naff description) to what I’m making. I don’t want tech to come between me and the process of making. I like that creative closeness. It probably sounds like I’m contradicting my practice that I talked about at the start but it’s all about a balance and taking advantage of what a piece of technology can offer.
I’ve been freelance for about 17 years. During that time, through working with different groups and other artists my practice changed and I went back to university to explore my more abstract style that had emerged. I think that change in style had come about through working with schools, community groups and so on. It was the influence from those groups and the need to create animated work quickly that had changed how I worked with animation. During projects I had to take a process that you would normally think of as slow and steady and speed it up and make it accessible. Those groups have had an impact; I like it when someone questions the process or suggests a different approach.
At the moment I drift between traditional narrative, abstract ideas and anarchic creativity – Anything could be a possible beginning of something and if something catches my eye I start thinking about the possibilities.
Why animation and film making?
The process of animation is fascinating. After all this time I’m still amazed when I finish at bit of work, whether it’s an independent piece or part of a collaboration, and it appears to move itself – just magic. I often use optical toys in workshops and things like the zoetrope are amazing – everyone loves those. I don’t know if it’s because you’re watching live animation, there’s no camera and you’re not watching a TV; it’s happening in front of your eyes. It’s just mad. When I was a kid I had an annual about an egg-shaped, gem stone called Ludwig and on the bottom corner of several pages was a series of drawings that you could flick and they’d move – it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.
I had ideas about being an archaeologist or an astronomer – maybe I was working my way through the alphabet but didn’t get very far – but it dawned on me that if I did animation then I can become all of the other jobs I’d like to do, in a Mr. Benn fashion. So through animation I get to explore, learn about, work with other professionals from other areas and make films in response to my experience.
In his animator guise I love Terry Gilliam. I used to watch a lot of Monty Pythons Flying Circus and I loved the cut out animation sequences. I liked the style – it didn’t use drawings like Scooby Doo and it wasn’t smooth like a Disney film. I liked the use of images from photographs and paintings. It was charming, quirky and just bizarre.
Another favourite animator is Norman McLaren – I like how he experimented with technology and the animation process. I often show his films in my workshops.
Another favourite is Barry Purves. He has made some amazing model animations. I’ve heard him speak at festivals a few times and I love to hear how passionate he is about animation.
I like to know about other people’s filmmaking process – that’s what interesting to me – I think that the process ultimately adds an energy and presence to the work. I heard Caroline Leaf, who has used sand in her animations, talking about her work and someone asked her what happened if she made a mistake and she said that there were no mistakes because they all become part of the film. I like that – it’s like growing a piece of animation.
Favourite film maker/film?
I like filmmakers who get immersed in the process or are determined to make their idea and take creative risks. I’ve got to say Terry Gilliam again. One of my favourite films is Time Bandits.
There are a lot of artists from other backgrounds that I like – It’s often people working with shapes, the idea or suggestion of movement, and shadows.
Do you have a favourite project you’ve worked on so far?
Sometimes projects are memorable because of the people you work with – everyone enjoys themselves and works well together.
One of my favourite film outcomes from a project was an animation – Invasion of the Chocolate Monster – made with Year 3 children in Carlisle over three days. I really like the narration, voices and sound effects in that one.
As part of my degree I worked alongside English Heritage who were recording prehistoric markings in Northumberland and County Durham. That was interesting. I was working outdoors with my cameras and pastels, inks and paint – tricky in the wind and rain. I could’ve done with the iPad then. The film I made was a mix of all sorts – drawn sequences, Super8, 35mm photographs, mixed media, digital clips.
I worked on a project a while ago with Darlington Arts and people on Firthmoor Estate. During the project we made life-sized, MDF cut-out versions of people and animated them around the estate. I don’t think I’d worked on that scale before.
I like to collaborate with other artists and professionals. I like to observe how they work and consider how their process could be adapted or applied to my animation practice. I’m always looking for new ways of working that keep things fresh and challenging.
Tell me about a current/recent project?
I recently completed a residency with Newbiggin Hall Estate and Newcastle Arts Team. I worked with community groups on the estate over about a year and a half. I felt very welcome and people were interested in being involved. We made animated film, live action, there was a bit of photography, some painting and crafts, and a bit of textiles. It depended on what the groups’ interests were. We had a great celebratory event at the end where everyone came together for a creative fun day and we premiered one of the films.
When a project comes to an end I hope that people continue to use what they’ve learnt because I always think that there’s so much more potential and scope for animated work and I would like to see where they go next with their ideas.
At the moment I’m working with The Cultural Spring and St. Clare’s Hospice in Jarrow. I’m working with Day Care visitors. The sessions are relaxing and fun. We have a laugh and come up with some absolutely bizarre ideas – they often become a random stream of ideas – “then this happens, then there’s a dog appears, then a shark eats a duck …” and so on. It’s all very Monty Python.
Do you have a favourite age group to work with?
I don’t have a favourite age group that I like working with. I like working with anyone if they’re interested and want to be involved. I like to see what ideas and skills people can bring to a project. Some people, often older groups, worry about the technology, but the technology is only a small part of things. I’m interested in the creative side of the process. And there’s always a role to suit everyone whether they’re interested in making things, designing, filming or animating, or telling everyone else what to do.
Do you do commissions/independent stuff? Tell me a bit more!
I make my own films. It’s tricky, partly because if I have start a project then that takes priority, and also because if I’m working by myself there’s no-one to chat to about how it’s going or keep me motivated or focused, so that’s all down to myself. I have several independent projects that sit on a shelf and every so often I revisit whichever one I’m in the mood for. Taking a break from them probably helps me to come back with a fresh view.
I collect a lot of archive material. I have a stash of old photograph albums and loads of slides. I’ve used them in projects but there’s potential for other projects with those. For a while, I’ve been working on a series of images that are made from animation sequences. I take each frame and build them up on top of one another into a single, still image. I look at it as a record of each stage in one picture. It came out of some work mixing animated, morphing sequences which had been inspired by Spirograph patterns. I sometimes set myself creative tasks, some might take a day to complete and some last a whole year. They challenge me to think and solve technical and creative problems.
I’ve been commissioned to create artwork and animation for theatre, television, galleries and festivals. I like seeing my work projected, shown or displayed. I see it on a screen while I’m making it and it’s good to see how it looks somewhere else.
I see you’re involved in Thinking Digital this year – how did that come about and what are you doing? And most importantly, can you get me a ticket for mates rates?
I was asked if I had any workshop ideas that would be good for Thinking Digital. I thought it would be a great opportunity to deliver a mobile workshop along the Quayside with participants using their own tablets and apps. There are plenty of interesting landmarks and some lovely architecture to take inspiration from.
My plan is for the group to use tablets to collect and create visuals, add sound and edit. There’ll also be scope to create artwork using art materials and then add that work to graphics, sketching and animation apps as part of the post-production process. The workshop is an opportunity for participants to develop creative use of their tablets at their own pace, share knowledge, and gain inspiration and ideas for future animation work of their own.
I haven’t had any word about mates rates!
Can you tell me any sneaky peakies about any future projects?
I am working with The Hepworth in Wakefield, the Rheged Centre, and young people from Whizz-Kidz over the next few months. I have my fingers crossed for a successful funding application result in the near future! And I’m always interested in collaborations. Plus I have my shelf of on-going personal projects and I quite fancy doing something about chaos theory and motor racing circuits (but not at the same time).
Well how insightful and exciting – like Sheryl, I love hearing about how other creatives work and I adore the concept of mobile animation – so accessible. Watching her show reel is a testament to that – both old and young, engaged and enjoying animation.
I have the pleasure of working with Sheryl over the coming months as part of Arts Council funded Digital Makings project…….and if you know any budding young animators looking for something lush and exciting to do over the Easter holidays, well we’ve got it covered. Sheryl is running an all-day Culture Camp on Thursday 20th April at Gateshead Central Library – so get booked up!
That’s all for now Culture Vultures.