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Kenard Pak Illustrations for Disney, Dreamworks and Books

March 24, 2014

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Growing up in Baltimore and Howard County, Maryland, after studying at Syracuse University and California Institute of the Arts, Kenard Pak now calls San Franciso ‘home’.  He is a very talented illustrator, who has worked not only for Disney but also for Dreamworks and somehow finds time to illustrate children’s books too ! He likes to work with themes of memory, nostalgia, loss, nature, and the general mystery of our every day lives.

I love his calm, restful style of illustration and managed to track the busy man down and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions exclusively for Fishink Blog.

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You mentioned in another Q&A session that you had quite strict parents and chose to do art almost as an ‘act of rebellion’. I wondered if some of the lonely, quiet, figures in your empty roaming landscapes are based on any childhood memories, or are perhaps a visual escape for you, taking yourself off to ‘pastures new’ ?

These landscapes are revisits to my family’s pastoral life in Howard County, Maryland. My parents had different food businesses in the heart of Baltimore, and the farm suburbia of our neighborhood was a relief to downtown’s hardships. Those lonely figures are memories of my mother/father/brother going for long walks in the meadows and parks you find around Howard County. These images are visual strolls into memory, but they also function as reminders of where I am right now and what I need to do. As for my youthful rebellious artwork: most of it was copying cartoon and anime robot drawings.

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When creating your personal work, where does your starting point begin ? Photographs, visualisations from the landscape, sketchbook drawings. Do you work from real environments at all ?

My personal work always starts with memory, some moment floating around in my mind. Sometimes, a photograph or a painting will inspire a memory.  My sketchbook is more like a list of thoughts and groceries, and some chicken scratch that eventually becomes artwork.  I think artists, conscious or not, are always inspired by their physical environments.

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I love the use of textures and layering in your work, are these hand-drawn or created in photoshop with brushes and effects? (perhaps a mixture of both). How would you start putting textures and shapes together for a new piece. How much is the landscape developed in your mind prior to you beginning a new illustration and how much does it evolve within photoshop, during the images creation ?

My textures are mostly scanned rough watercolor paper with wet and dry paint washes.  I also have a good collection of personally built PS brushes that I’ve been tweaking through the years.  I first start with basic shapes, use adjustment layers with my scanned textures, and finesse or paint over with my brushes.  Lately, I’ve been integrating more and more traditional drawing and painting. The landscape, or whatever subject, does start in my mind, but I don’t necessarily understand it or know how to relay it.  There’s a lot of coaxing, which may explain my meandering process. Everything I do is ultimately unplanned (no matter how hard I try).  What I start with often has very little nothing to do with where I stop, but a general story or theme does carry through.

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Who would you say, are the people from the past and present, who’s work continues to inspire and amaze you ? Would you say that you have equal admiration for someone who can use painted media as you would for an artist working digitally ?

I used to be more impressed by how final artwork looks (and you can’t deny good art its credit), but these days artwork that communicates something personal, how quaint or severe, gets my attention much much more.  Funny part is sometimes the artwork I’m talking about isn’t always what most people typically deem as noteworthy.  To this day I love Andrew Wyeth, M. Sasek, Richard Scarry,  Adrienne Adams, The Provensons, Richard Bunkall, etc. As for contemporaries, I really like Ed Panar’s photographs.  I like to read WG Sebald.  I’m still impressed by that game Limbo. Most I know work with both traditional and digital, but we all seem to yearn for pencil, paint, ink, and paper.  I wonder if that’s because we give some sort of assumed gravitas towards the traditional arts?

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Would you confess to being a bit of a twitcher ? or are the bird illustrations more early research for your latest book ?

I’m far from twitcher, more like local bird watcher.  My cousins in Vancouver are good bird watchers, and I learned from them that you don’t have to go to special places to admire feathers.  I just know the birds that I see on my street, where I often drive to, the pool I swim at, or what I remember from Maryland. Have You Heard The Nesting Bird? is wonderful, fortunate circumstance:  an editor had noticed  my blog bird illustrations!  These birds have nothing to with picture books.  They were just fun to study and draw.

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When you’re working for Clients, pretty famous ones at that, how much free reign are you granted when creating new illustrations. What I mean is, is the brief you are given quite specific i.e. ‘We want a mountain with a sunset and a view looking from above’ etc or do you work from sketches and discuss how the image will form from those ?

So far I’ve been very, very fortunate with my editors and art directors.  Other than basic, simple notes I’ve been encouraged to explore and work with my themes.  That said, we always work from sketches, and I’m always open to good suggestions. My organic process may also provide my clients space to explore as well.  I hope this is the case because I do believe in group, communal efforts.

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The animation artwork I’ve seen on your website has stronger colours and more dynamic angles etc than you’re personal work. Do you make a conscious effort to work differently in these two areas, or does it naturally work out that way. One then becomes a pleasant change from the other in this way.

Yes, I make a very strong, conscious effort to differentiate between the two.  My layout background in Hollywood animation favours classic cinema grammar, deliberate lighting, and a broad colour palette.  Especially with 3D animation, the demand for realistic, cinematic detail is necessary.  In visual development, you’re paid to work as a versatile jack of all trades.  What I love about picture books is I can get much more specific and personal look with my artwork.  I can work with colours, themes, and spreads that closely remind me of things that I treasure.  I also love the book format because the reader has the time to explore a picture, versus cinema where the viewer more or less passively stares at a glowing box for a restricted period.

Kenard did some amazing illustrations here on ‘Madagascar 3’ to name but one film he’s worked on.

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Where do you see your work going in the future ? Any areas (like children’s books) that you would like to explore further or break into ?

I’m working on new picture books right now, but I’d like to write and illustrate one!  I really like the idea of children and adults slowing down and learning something from a picture book.  I’m exploring this.

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Finally, what was your finest hour, favourite piece of work, or happiest memory connected to your illustrative life to date ?

Working on my Sore Churchyard series was a great experience.  These paintings are based on very strange, childhood memories, and at the time I had a lot of time, quiet, and space to explore them.

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You can discover a little more about Kenard here at Illustration Mondo…

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and also over at the wonderful Ape On The Moon blog with Alex and Philip.

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Thanks again to Kenard for taking the time out to answer these questions so concisely. I know you’re a busy guy, much appreciated and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about the man behind the work. You can purchase some of Kenard’s prints here on the In Prnt site.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2014 10:08 am

    wonderful work, some of them convey a very strong sense of loneliness, I find it really beautiful!

    • March 25, 2014 10:15 am

      Thanks for your comment. I also find the sense of space and tranquility, appealing too

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