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Claire Keane // Art & Stories




questions & answers


Q. Where did you go to school and how do you feel the experience helped you develop as an artist?

A. I went to l’Ecole Superieure D’Arts Graphiques / Penninghen in Paris for 5 years where I studied graphic design. The school was grueling but it taught me discipline and through my own struggles with it, I learned my own strength and how much I could actually accomplish. They followed the Bauhaus philosophy of form following function. It was this philosophy that has been very influential over how I work. It is what has helped me through every design problem I've ever been faced with. For example, when working on Rapunzel's murals, I dove deep into the core of who she was before putting form to her paintings on the wall.

Q. Did your dad have an impact on your desire for a career in artistry? Or a career with Disney? When did you decide you wanted to be an artist like your father?

A. When I was little, I always asked my dad to critique my drawings. He was such a patient and inspiring teacher. After high school, I studied fashion design for a year but soon realized what I really loved drawing was the people wearing the costumes- not just the clothes. So I switched schools to focus on illustration. For my school thesis project I chose to illustrate a fairy tale book. I loved all the exploration that I was able to do prior to completing the illustrations. I told my dad how much I enjoyed the development process and that's when he described to me the job of a visual development artist in animation. That was the first time that the thought of working in animation had crossed my mind. He told me they would soon be needing some visual development art for a movie he was making about Rapunzel. It all sounded too good to be true.

Q. Who are your biggest artistic influences?

A. Henri Matisse for his simplicity of line, color and composition. Rembrandt for the theatricality and mystery in his lighting. Gustav Klimt for his beautiful juxtaposition of patterns and human form- also I love all the gold he uses. Marie Laurencin has the ability to make her paintings feel whimsical and magical. Her women are full of grace and so serene. Her shapes and colors are in perfect harmony. I love Ronald Searle also because of the storytelling he gets in his sketchy line. His illustrations are poignant and funny. These are also the reasons that I am crazy about Sempé's work.


A. It’s a funny question, because I would say I’ve always felt comfortable with my art but I haven’t always been comfortable with the end result. I guess you could say I’ve gradually grown comfortable with the struggles that art has consistently brought me.

Q. Would going to a college like Savannah College of Art and Design or California Institute of the Arts for a masters be useful?

A. I think so depending on what you are trying to get into. Both of those schools have a wide variety of careers they cater to. I always think going to art school is a good idea. Even if you CAN learn everything on your own, taking those years to be surrounded by people who you will eventually be working alongside of is very beneficial. It builds community if nothing else. It is also a time where you get to experiment with what it is that you really love doing without the constraints of having to take on jobs just to pay a mortgage or something.

Whether or not one should continue on to do a masters is difficult to say- that would depend on if they feel they have gotten what they needed out of their previous years of school. But there is no more prestige in obtaining a masters degree over a bachelors degree if you’re looking to get into animation or illustration. Having a good portfolio is key.

Q. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG ARTISTS looking for a good drawing technique?

A. Draw what you see- what you really see. Try to understand it as a sculptor would need to understand it. Don’t get caught up with trying to draw in a certain style. Just get acquainted with how to draw the physical world around you.

Q. What's your preferred media to work on?

A. It depends on what I’m trying to depict. I like using pastel if I want to illustrate depth or brightness but I like line drawing (for which I have become very fond of Shiyoon’s Photoshop brushes) for simpler story ideas.


A. Cinderella! She is the epitome of grace and kindness in the face of cruelty and pettiness.

Q. What's your artistic process using analog VS. digital while exploring and finalizing your ideas?

A. Sometimes, I start with a sketch in a sketchbook because I like to take the moment to get away from the computer. But once I have found a solid idea I like to sketch it out in photoshop where I lay out all the ideas (drawings and text) in one large file so I can see them all together. Once the ideas are solid, I decide which medium is best for the project - usually pastels or Photoshop.

Q. What would you recommend to a student who wants to work at Disney? What are the best schools for its education?

A. CalArts is a great school for animation students hoping to get into Disney as a designer / storyboard artist. The school has a great relationship with Disney and the community is strong - especially among storyboard artists. It also helps that it is nearby. Disney also offers internships and apprenticeships for students and recent grads. 

Q. Do you draw everyday?

A. I  just spent a whole day typing out answers for my website... so not really.


A. Take the time to study and draw the subject so that you can understand all sides and aspects of it. Tight drawings come from a lack of confidence in the subject you are trying to describe in drawing. Once you understand what you are trying to draw you can take the liberties of using shorthand to describe it.

Q. I've always been into drawing figures silhouettes and designing outfits. Do you think I would stand a chance in animation as a designer of some sorts or would it be wiser to dive into the actual industry of fashion designing?

A. In order to work in animation you must enjoy telling stories through your art - even if you are designing costumes. If this is the type of drawing you enjoy doing while designing, then it’s for you. If you are more into the actual fabrics and seeing your designs become reality, my best bet would be that a fashion career would be more gratifying.

Q. I would like to know if there is hope for talented and imaginative illustrators that are not connected to people in the industry.

A. Yes! Being connected can be very helpful but being talented is even better. The internet is great for showcasing your talent. You never know who may be the right person- so don’t focus on that. Focus on your art.

Q. What size/resolution of artboard/canvas do you typically start with when working digitally? Favorite brushes? Photoshop or another program?

A. Often I start on a large-ish digital canvas so I can make lots of thumbnails. I then edit these roughly during my back and forth with the editor until the ideas are solid, then I illustrate the final pieces on 300 dpi files at print size.  Shiyoon’s Photoshop brushes are really nice.

Q. What do you like best about working with pastels, and how did you get into working with that medium? What paper do you use?

A. I like that I can mess around with an idea a lot before committing to it. I can “erase” lines by adding more pastel on top- so it never feels like I’m starting over. I dread a blank paper so this cures that fear a bit. I also like that I have to work big (in order to draw the details). It becomes more of a gestural thing and I like that. I tend to use newsprint paper- I feel like the pastel sticks better to the newsprint (which I understands makes no sense). may also be that I’m just too cheap to use quality paper.

I only work with chalk pastels but I’m not a fan of the dust and the mess it creates. I’ve recently created a pastel studio for this purpose of keeping the rest of my studio dust-free. I also have to wear a mask while working so I don’t breathe in the pastel dust which can be carcinogenic…  All worth it though.

Q. I feel like many budding artists struggle with style-consistency and finding their "voice" as illustrators and animators. What were your struggles in developing your style? And what would be your advice to artists who are trying to find their own special vibe in this big world of memorable styles?

 A. Your style is your own unique way of perceiving and interpreting the world around you. You don’t need to find it since you already have it and you have had it since the day you were born. That’s why it’s so important to do what you love. Who you are is dictated by what you love - like little clues to a bigger part of yourself that you cannot see yet.

I remember feeling like I didn’t have a personal style because I liked to do a myriad of different things in my art and am inspired by lots of conflicting styles. It wasn’t until recently when people started recognizing my work as mine that I realized that personal style is something that oftentimes we can’t see ourselves - like our own perfume that we become desensitized to. I still can’t tell you what my style is or what it is that people recognize in my work but I can’t help but think it is just me that they see.

Q. What type of drawing exercises do you recommend for character designs or cartoon figures?

A. Everybody designs characters differently and each designer finds inspiration in different ways. For me, it is essential to draw the character in situations where she is interacting with her environment and the characters around her. The script or manuscript will be your roadmap for this. I would also highly recommend life-drawing classes where you can spend time getting to know how to draw the human form in order to be able to stylize it efficiently.

Q. How do you go about choosing the colors and palette for your illustration?

A. Prioritizing the elements in your image by order of storytelling importance has been helpful. What is this image supposed to convey? Which part of my composition conveys that best? Then I plan my colors accordingly. I usually want my main character to be an immediate read so I try to keep my main character in opposite (complementary) colors or tone of his/her surrounding so he/she stands out. (Photoshop color tip: Control + i will invert your selected color giving you it's complementary color)

Q. How to balance work and kids when working as an artist at home?

A. I need to be able to focus on one thing at a time to be able to work… and to parent. I discovered this early on when my first baby was just a few months old and I was trying to work. I always felt torn and frustrated for not having gotten enough done and yet guilty for not simply enjoying the time with my baby. Once I found full time childcare for her, I was able to focus on my work knowing she was being cared for. And when my working hours were over I could focus wholeheartedly on her. Having a dedicated workspace (with a door!) has been essential for me to be able to work from home. As well as an amazing nanny who keeps the kids happily occupied on their own projects that they forget all about me ...until I interrupt them for cuddles and kisses.

Q. I'm hoping to become a visual development artist in the future. What are some tips you would give someone pursuing this career, and what steps would you recommend taking to achieve this dream?

A. Taking classes in illustration and/or concept design is a great step toward becoming a visual development artist. Create a portfolio in which your drawings "tell stories" through their actions, colors, compositions etc. Your character designs should be about the character and his unique way of navigating through his world and environment. Your environments should say something about the characters that live there - whether or not they are actually in the drawing. I have found it helpful to make my main character interact with his/her environment in these environment pieces as it brings up a reality of that environment that you may not have thought of before putting him/her in it. Above all else, do what you love. Be conscious of your strengths and use them to help give you the persistence to push you through your weaknesses.

Q. What are your artistic goals? And what are some that you have already achieved? 

A. Over time my artistic goals have changed. When I was in school, they were much less artistic and more about survival. I went to a militaristic art school in France where our ranking dictated whether or not we could pass to the next year. My artistic goals were about trying to achieve something the teacher would deem acceptable. But as I navigate through life, I am realizing how important it is that I be doing work that I love and approve of before asking for feedback. My goal today is to do work that I am proud of and that I enjoy. I have been fortunate enough to work on many projects on which I felt this way. These have led me to continue to crave equally satisfying and personal projects in the future.


A. Mainly it is a general idea or concept that I want to communicate. It may be something aesthetic that I saw that I want to integrate into my project or it may be an idea or a relationship between two characters that inspires me.