Zaruhi Galstian Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
I was born in Armenia and my family moved to the US when I was 6 years old. My parents aren’t artists but they are very creative people. My dad is a tailor and my mom is the best cook to roam this earth… she always adds such decorative details to her creations. I grew up with music as well, my dad played the saxophone and my mom played the piano, but we left all that stuff behind when we moved to California. We were pretty poor for a while, my sister and I never had cool toys, we would always make our own toys and sew clothes for our dolls from whatever scraps of material that was left from my dad’s alterations.
Besides all that, I drew from a very young age, and got into acting and was a part of a few plays in Junior High. It wasn’t until High school where I began to really take drawing seriously. I remember seeing a poster about CSSSA, a high school summer program, that’s when I read about animation and CalArts. It suddenly clicked! It all made sense, I got that feeling you get in your gut that you can’t describe because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, and the fact that I had the first act of The Lion King memorized was completely justified. CSSSA proved to me that this was it, unlike all my peers who were scrambling for colleges and things that interested them… I just knew! After High School I got into CalArts, which I just graduated from, and am completely in love with this art form.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Walt Stanchfield says something in his book that I try my hardest to think of every time I pick up a pencil; he says “What a horrible fate – to be just a drawing.” There has to be more in a drawing that just that, whether it’s the gesture, or a story, or something that communicates something about a character. So when I design, I try my hardest to come up with a story behind the design.
What inspires me the most is character and who that character is, especially because animation has the power to make people believe in drawings. Reference is one of the first things I do. If I’m designing a bird I’ll do a couple of pages of sketches studying the anatomy and how it looks in real life, so then I’ll feel comfortable caricaturing it. Most of the time, I’ll then do shape explorations in Photoshop with a tablet because it’s the fastest way for me to think about the shapes and colors as it pertains to the personality of the character.
I love to animate, so when I design I try to think about how that character would turn, and look at certain angles. Once I choose a direction I’d like to take, I’ll use Col-Erase pencils to solve drawing problems and give the character volume and 3-dimensionality.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
I graduated CalArts in May, and I haven’t yet found a job so all my days are spent at home working on my own stuff. I get up in the morning around 6 and go to the gym with my mommy. Afterwards I do the morning routine. I take my dog out for a walk and then we hop in the car and go to my favorite coffee shop. Me and my dog Ritchie sit outside for a while, I read from the Walt Stanchfield book and have my coffee and sketch. I absolutely love that book, it gets my brain thinking, and constantly reminds me of principles and ideas that are so important and inspiring. And sketching warms me up and gets me loose before I start working. We then go home and I work on my stuff for the chunk of the day, it’s hard working at home because there are a lot of distractions but I’m home alone for the most of the day so it works out well.
My biggest struggle out of school has been disciplining myself to get work done because I don’t have a job, and I don’t have the deadlines of school to govern me, I only have myself for all that. So I’ve been trying my hardest to stick to this routine to get stuff done!
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
Besides my student films at CalArts, and a few freelance opportunities here and there, I was VERY fortunate enough to have gotten the opportunity to do an Art Internship at Pixar last summer. It was one of the most amazing experiences I ever had. I got to work in the Art Department on Toy Story 3!
My mentor was Nate Wragg and I got a lot of help from Daniel Arriaga and Bob Pauley as well, those guys are awesome, I learned so much from them and about how production works, and what really goes into making these films, it was amazing!
Is there a design you have done that you are most proud of?
If I have to choose one, I would have to be the series I did about my family, and the poems that went along with them. Those designs came from a special place, my family is so amazing, and I’m a very lucky girl to be brought up the way I was. I know my family loved them, so it has a sweet spot.
What are you working on now?
While I was still in school, my boyfriend, Edgar Karapetyan, and I planned on making our own short films after school was done, and now that I’m done with school, this idea is becoming more of a reality. He’s a storyboard artist and definitely one of the main people I love collaborating with, so we’re throwing around a few ideas to start developing, which is very exciting.
Who do you think are some of the top artists out there?
I am really drawn to Tony Fucile’s work, there is so much personality and charm, and skill to every drawing he does. Not to mention the simplicity in which he does it. There’s a drawing of Jack-Jack in the Art of the Incredibles book where Jack-Jack has his hands in the air, there’s a single line to show the cheek, and with that one line, you can really feel the fleshy-ness and that softness of that cheek that babies really have, I feel like I can go into that drawing and squish it… it’s masterful, to me! I absolutely love his book “Let’s do Nothing” and can’t wait for him to do more!
I also love Joe Moshier’s work, Matt Nolte, Craig Kellman, Nico Marlet, Lou Romano, Teddy Newton, Shane Prigmore, the list is endless and so many people in this industry inspire me!
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
I love traditional media but find myself coloring digitally. Again, I’ll do a lot of reference on colors and lighting. I usually draw out the character on paper, scan that in, and paint over it in Photoshop.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
The fun and easy part for me is the explorations. It’s a completely different mindset, its very freeing and relaxing and exciting because the possibilities are endless. It’s the time where I put my imagination and observations to work and it’s a great feeling but it’s also difficult because sometimes it’s so hard honing in on a design.
The hardest part is figuring out the drawing problems. I’m not at the point where drawing isn’t an issue, come think of it, I don’t know if I’ll ever reach that point. I struggle with figuring out how a character looks at all angles. Like I said, I love animating and once I hone in on a design I want to make sure it’s animateable. That’s the hardest part because it’s a challenge, it takes so much brainpower, and the gratification is instant if I get it right.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
Spending time with my friends and family, especially Edgar, I bounce so many ideas off him, and we push each other. I draw back from my experiences with the people I love all the time and try to apply it to my art… they are so much of my memories and feelings.
And sketching keeps me creative. It’s one of the only times that I solely observe. It’s like spying on people and visually putting to paper what those observations are. I find that sketching people really makes me notice little nuances that I would never have noticed otherwise.
What are some of your favorite pieces of artwork that you have seen?
One of my all time favorite artists is Gustav Tenggren, I pretty much love all his work, but the work he did on Pinocchio really stands out. His attention to detail is amazing.
Also, I think the designs for Coraline were phenomenal! It had massive amounts of appeal, and it was unlike anything I had ever seen.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
I like drawing humans the most, especially kids because their proportions are fun and they automatically have a charm and curiosity which is so much fun to capture.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
Besides my parents, a lot of the Disney films, especially The Lion King. I remember crying my eyes out when Mufasa died. I couldn’t fathom that he was actually dead, that this was happening in a cartoon. I remember thinking any minute now he’s going to get up, and recapping to myself, if only this, this, and this happened differently, Mufasa would be okay… Scar… that bastard. I was so used to the happily ever after, and that scene just did something to me. It upset me, and it didn’t hit me till much later just how powerful this was, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
When I was doing my internship at Pixar, Nate Wragg showed me how to achieve the look of actual physical media in Photoshop with different brushes, which was a very helpful little trick.
And in general, just working with other artists is a learning experience all in itself. I learn the most when artists point things out in my work because I feel it’s very important to get an opinion from fresh eyes and to always be willing to give your work the opportunity to be better.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
I listen to a lot of the lectures on TED.com. They have amazing people speaking about amazing things, and it’s very inspirational and informing.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
To create! There’s an interview with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, which Edgar introduced me to, and Bergman says, “People ask us to give them something, and we have to give them, if we don’t we can go to hell, all of us.” Along those lines, Walt Stanchfield writes, “You must create. The injunction of life is to create or perish.”
We as artists have the privilege of observing and creating on a daily basis. Our ideas either get expressed or die with us. More so, as filmmakers we have the power to make people live through the characters we create and their stories, that’s powerful stuff… so create!
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Finally, do you have any of your artwork for sale (sketchbooks, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
I can definitely sell some prints of my work, if anyone is interested, just send me an e-mail!