500 Sheets


By Deepti Menon, Art Prof Teaching Assistant

During my junior year as a Film/Animation/Video student, I took a year-long animation course. Prior to this, I had taken the required introductory animation class, but this intermediate course was when I really discovered a new way to think.

Coming into this major, I had no prior experience animating, but knew it was a magical thing that I wanted to do. My prior artistic experiences and processes always involved a lot of meticulous planning and reworking of a single image until I saw it done. Additionally, my exposure to animation was pretty basic – character-based work with clean lines and seamlessly fluid movement. Therefore, this is how I approached my animations. I placed a lot of thought into creating the characters and story line and spent a ton of time on the details of each frame.


However, this all changed during one day of this intermediate animation course. My professor gave us each 500 sheets of printer paper and set a timer for an hour. We weren’t given any light boxes or ways to see our progress, just the paper and our pens. Our only instruction was to finish animating the 500 pages before the timer was up. To me, this was absurd. I would usually complete five frames in an hour, maybe six. Realizing my usual methods were not going to cut it, I was forced to rethink what it meant to animate. By the end of the hour, I had create a frenzy of shapes and scribbles dancing across the white page. Watching the animation, I could see the points where panic set in and the decision-making unfold.

The animation wasn’t anything like I had made before. I was amazed. Primarily, I was amazed that I completed the task. However, I was also so drawn to how the animation embodied the pace and panic of the task itself. I found that watching my classmates also taught me a lot. One student penetrated the whole ream of paper with a sharp object, creating a hole in each piece of paper that varied slightly with each page. The variety in rips created a subtle yet stunning animation that reminded me a lot of an organism breathing. Another student allowed a marker to bleed through the entire ream of paper, creating a stunning transition of ink blots transitioning and fading. I was drawn to the simplicity of these ideas and how they can create connotations with such minimal imagery.


Although my final product wasn’t something I was going to submit to film festivals, it changed the way I approached my ideas and the process of animation, paying more attention to how an artistic process can inform the content behind it. I also began to see how beneficial it was to challenge yourself with something like a time restraint. This led me to create another animation, “Shell”, where I had a time restraint and had to create movement from a static object.


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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.

Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.


Ask the Art Prof: Am I Actually a Visual Artist?

RISD Section 19

“I’m having problems with my creativity, as if I don’t have anything to share, show, or express to the world, and I am starting to question myself if I am actually an artist.”

In times of uncertainty, it is normal to be asking yourself about your identity as an artist. Every artist goes through this at some point, so it is perfectly natural to be experiencing these thoughts, as distressing and frustrating as they might be. So much of being an artist is the constant doubt that occurs in the creative process. If you’re not questioning yourself, then you’re not challenging yourself.

I do think that to become an artist, one has to begin with a fierce decision to become an artist.  Next comes the life long commitment to that decision, and then actually following through with an immense amount of never ending hard work and time.   The key to this is the following through part; anyone could wake up one day and decide to be an artist, but not everyone is willing to plunge themselves so deeply in such a consuming lifestyle.  That’s what separates people who are simply temporarily entertaining the idea of being an artist and the people who truly are artists at heart.

dusan makavejev

Serbian Film director Dusan Makavejev

One of my peers in art school was a film major and went to a lecture given by film director Dusan Makavejev.  At the end of the lecture, someone in the audience asked “What advice would you give to a film student going into the industry?”  His answer was “Don’t do it.” That’s a pretty cynical point of view, but it’s reflective of just how difficult it is to be an artist, and the enormity of the challenges that artists face.

As far as feeling like you don’t have anything to express, you’d be surprised at what’s sitting there right in front of you. Many people think that they have to search far and wide for something to express, when so much of the time, what could be expressed was at home to begin with.


I have an assignment that I give in my freshman drawing class at RISD where I ask students to make a drawing based on a routine that they have.  It sounds like a very simple directive, but every time this assignment produces some of the best work of the semester. The group critique turns into a confessional for many students, sharing very personal experiences that they’ve had.  The subjects range from hilarious to tragic to just plain weird, and I’ve had more than a few students break down crying at the critique because they cared so deeply about their subject.

When you’re feeling like you don’t know what to make, make work about something that you know intimately.  Your closeness to the topic will show through the work and demonstrate your personal conviction.

ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.

Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.

ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Related articles
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“How do you gain confidence in your artwork?”
“Do professional artists doubt their abilities?”

Thursday Spotlight: Daniel Sousa

Tell us about your background.

I was born in Cape Verde and grew up in Portugal, just outside Lisbon. My family came to the States in 1986. I studied at RISD, where I focused on illustration, painting, and animation. After graduation, I spent a few years in Boston, working at Olive Jar studios, where I animated and directed a variety of projects, mostly TV commercials.
I’ve been in Providence, RI, since 2001, and I split my time between teaching, freelance work, and personal work.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

I think for the most part I’m always trying to describe a very internal and private world. By reaching for that kind of specificity, I believe that I can connect with people on a more universal level. I gravitate towards work that achieves that kind of universal connection, or resonance. For that reason, I think nothing inspires me more than music, which can be so visceral. I grew up on British post-punk music, like the Smiths, Joy Division, Bauhaus, and I still feel a very strong emotional connection to that music. Unfortunately, I can’t play any instruments, so I try to achieve an equivalent emotional result through animation. I am also inspired by painting and other films, but not nearly as much. In terms of animation, I was very influenced by Russian and Eastern European animators like Norstein, Svankmajer, Kucia, Dumala, Kovalyov. Closer to home, I greatly admire the work of Steven Subotnick, Amy Kravitz, and Flip Johnson. Also, I owe a great debt to the poetry and film language of Andrei Tarkovsky.

In addition, I have been informed by painters like Velasquez, Inness, Freud, and more recently, Anselm Kiefer and Cai Guo-Qiang.

And then there’s just the world around me, everyday life. I think how you filter the infinity of information that surrounds you is what defines you as an artist.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

Thematically, I try to draw from cultural archetypes, mythology and fairy tales, as well as my own subconscious and childhood memories.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical processes.

It really depends on the project and the kind of graphic universe that it inhabits. Minotaur was a stop-motion film, so I used a variety of materials, including wood, wire, plastic, and paper. Fable was a more traditional 2-D film, so I worked on paper and then scanned the drawings into After Effects and composited digitally.
For my new film Feral, I roughed out the animation in Flash, then printed each frame onto paper and re-traced each drawing with pencil. The drawings were then re-scanned and composited. The backgrounds are usually acrylic on paper.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative?

Consistency. Good ideas come and go, and sometimes you have to work through a lot of bad ideas to get to a good one. But if you don’t do that you may never find that one good idea you were looking for. So discipline and faith in the process is really important.

What is the best part of being creative?

When you get into a groove where everything just flows and time stands still. Doubt goes away, and you’re just present with the work. Those moments are rare but they make up for everything else.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

Being an artist means something different to each person. What works for one artist may not work for another. So you have to be true to yourself and follow your own vision. Don’t be discouraged or frustrated by setbacks, but work through them to keep improving your technical and conceptual skills. It’s a lifelong quest, not something you master in a couple of years.

Daniel’s website
Daniel on Vimeo
Daniel’s Blog

Want to be featured on Thursday Spotlight?  Get information on how to submit your work here.

Thursday Spotlight: Paul Falcone

Tell us about your background.

My parents were both artists. My father ( Dominic Falcone ) a poet, my mother ( Yvonne Andersen ) a painter. I was nearly born in the Provincetown art gallery they ran because of a snowstorm. My mother got interested in filmaking and animation and incorporated them into the children’s art classes she was already teaching. So I grew up in a very artistic background and I’ve been making movies since I was 6.

Name some people, artists, artistic genres, etc. that have been influential in your work.

It’s hard to narrow down my influences. I’ve always loved fantasy but I can really get into a serious documentary as well. Some of my filmaking heroes would be Joss Whedon, Robert Rodriguez, Christopher Nolan. I’ve always loved comics and once considered becoming a comic artist.

Where and how do you get your ideas?

I just finished editing the feature film “The Final Shift”. For many scenes I was editing the music at the same time as the picture. Often when I am stuck on how to edit a project I will play music that reminds me of what I’m working on, and that will give me a direction. Since I shoot a lot of mini-docs and events I try to stay open to whatever is going on at the location and make use of it. When I interview people I try to keep it conversational and follow things where they want to go. Intuition is a big part of being an artist in any art.

What materials do you work with? Describe your technical process.

My main camera is a Canon 5D mark II. It shoots great video and stills. I edit on Final Cut Pro. I’m very lucky to be living in a time when a low budget filmaker has such professional tools to work with.

What do you find to be the most challenging part of being creative? What is the best part of being creative?

The most challenging part is to finish what I started after the initial enthusiasm has waned. Having assignments helps with that, but I have a bunch of unfinished scripts sitting in my computer. It’s great to be on a roll when your’e working on a project. I sometimes work through the night until I can barely keep my eyes open. That’s when it’s great to have a home office.

What advice would you give to someone seeking advice about being an artist?

My favorite quote is from the screenwriting teacher Syd Field. In referring to writing interesting characters he said “Character is action” meaning don’t have your characters say who they are, have them do what they are. The same is true for life. If you are an artist make art. It’s great and necessary to view other peoples work but you must make it yourself on a continuing basis to grow. I’m also a believer in the ten thousand hour rule. To master any craft you must spend ten thousand hours doing it.

Paul’s videos on blip
Paul’s videos on Youtube
Paul’s documentary on Clara Lieu

Drawing from film

I’ve been spending several weeks now thinking about how I can use the film footage as a reference for drawing. I started out by watching the footage, frame by frame, and drawing the sequence of poses that the figure goes through on film on the same sheet of paper.  It’s good for getting an overall sense of what a composition could be, but the poses get easily cluttered from all of the overlapping. I’m thinking that now the solution is to continue to draw frame by frame, but to draw each pose on a single sheet of tracing paper.  Next I’ll layer three of the drawings over each other so that I can separate the figures from each other.

Film Study

Film Study

Film Study

Film Shoot for “Falling”

I had my film shoot this week and worked with a stage actress and my husband Alex Hart. We planned to have two stationary cameras, one hand held camera, and also a still camera during the shoot. Alex has a lot of experience working on and directing film shoots, so he handled all of the technical aspects of getting the sound equipment and cameras set up since I have essentially no experience with all of the equipment. I set the “stage” with a black back drop and duvetyne on the floor to create a completely black background for the shoot. I felt both nervous and excited about the film shoot; this was a completely new experience and my lack of technical knowledge made me feel somewhat helpless in getting everything ready to go. Everything felt unexpected and new, which was both exhilarating and nerve wracking at the same time.

Film Shoot

Once the actress arrived, we discussed aspects of lighting and timing and devised a strategy for how to proceed during the shoot.  Together we decided that the way to begin was for her to run through several cycles of the motions around three to four times consecutively with breaks in between. One cycle involved three stages of movement:  “0-3”, “3-10”, and “10-0”, with the idea that there was an incredibly fast acceleration in “3-10”.

I’m used to communicating with students in terms of helping them develop their work, but I felt insecure and clueless about how to go about directing an actress.  I knew what kind of effects I wanted, but I was at a complete loss about how to communicate it appropriately in a clear and professional manner. On the other hand, Alex was really great in terms of directing the actress; he knew what I was looking for and was able to communicate directions in a clear and succinct manner. This experience definitely gave me a new sense of profound respect for film directors, it really is a very specialized skill which is challenging on so many levels.

Film Shoot

The primary motions and concepts we discussed in directing the actress were numerous. In it’s most distilled form, the central concept behind the movement was that there are two people involved within a single body: one person was physically and emotionally out of control, while the other person was trapped in the same body with this person. Another important concept was for the actress to physically inflict pain on her body by hitting and attacking herself.

Watching the actress go through these cycles multiple times over the course of two hours was an incredible experience. It was very difficult to watch, and I felt like I had chills up my spine during the entire film shoot.  The actress I worked with had a balance of intensity and subtlety which was quite simply, amazing to experience and watch.  This is an image and act that never gets seen; a few months ago when I was researching this topic, I did a Google image search of “tantrum” and discovered that all of the images were of toddlers having tantrums.  I couldn’t find a single image of an adult going through these motions.

Below are some still photos from the shoot.

Film Shoot

Film Shoot

Film Shoot

Film Shoot

Project Rules and Themes

I’m trying to put together a schematic which states in the simplest terms possible what this project is currently about and the “rules” I’m establishing for making these crayon drawings. My husband Alex who is an animator and filmmaker has told me in the past that there is a saying in filmmaking: you have to be able to sum up what your film is about in a single sentence. So although there’s certainly a lot more to these themes than what I’ve written below, it helps me to look at them in their most distilled form.

Rules for drawing
1. 5 sheets of clear Dura-Lar.
2. Each sheet is thoroughly sanded, in no specific direction.
3. Only the greasiest crayons are used: Korn’s #00 and lithographic rubbing ink.
4. All crayon marks are directly drawn, there is no smudging allowed.

Environmental Themes
1. Water as a sustaining and destructive substance.
2. Water consuming us, us consuming water.

Emotional themes
1. Isolation, specifically loneliness.
2. The most bitter form of loneliness is when it is experienced in a group context.
3. The experience of loneliness in a group context: feeling unseen or unknown in the group

In thinking about loneliness in its most concentrated form, I remember my sister once sent out one of those email questionnaires that have random questions for you to answer. One of the questions was “what is your greatest fear?”. Both my brother and I responded with “to die in a really terrible” way. My sister’s answer eclipsed our response: “to be all alone with no friends or family”.