It’s usually every artist’s wish to be able to stay true to their own artistic vision while still being able to carve out a living. It’s a rare but much sought-after existence in the creative community. Kim Slate is doing just that, not only turning her work into a paycheck but also creating some of the most unique and expressive sculptures you’ll ever see.
We recently sat down to chat with Slate about her work with acclaimed animation studio Laika, her obsession with “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and unicorns with shifty eyes.
TrunkSpace: What drove you to pursue a career in art and animation?
Slate: As a kid I was a huge Disney nerd and loved all things art related. In high school I attended a summer animation program where I learned some basics and got to make my own short film. After that I was totally hooked and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
TrunkSpace: How would you describe your work?
Slate: I like to create scenarios with characters who look like they’re up to no good. Every sculpture or painting is trying to tell a story in one pose. I want the viewer to be able to imagine what’s going to happen next. I like to make art that is just fun and isn’t trying to be too serious.
TrunkSpace: Was there a particular artist or title from your childhood that you remember being drawn to and inspired by?
Slate: I was totally obsessed with “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” That film is the reason I wanted to work at Laika in the first place. I also remember being really drawn to the artwork in the book “Where the Wild Things Are.” In high school I started looking at artists like Aubrey Beardsley, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt.
TrunkSpace: Where do you find your inspiration for your work now?
Slate: I’m inspired by so many local artists here in Portland. There are a couple amazing galleries here that have incredible shows every month. I love getting to meet the artists and ask them about their process. I also have always been drawn to Mexican folk sculptures. I have a few of them on my desk to inspire me while I’m working.
TrunkSpace: You’ve been working with Laika Studios on movies like “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Coraline,” “Box Trolls” and “ParaNorman.” All of the movies have been not only critically acclaimed, but they all seem to have found a very passionate fan base. What has your experience been like working with Laika?
Slate: Working at Laika was an incredible experience. I specialized in facial animation for more than 10 years starting with “Coraline” and finishing at the end of last year. It was my first job after art school. It was inspiring to work in the same building with so many amazingly talented people, and I feel lucky and proud to have worked on those films.
TrunkSpace: We love your sculptures immensely and how you imbue the animals with so much personality. Can you tell us a bit about your sculpture work and why you enjoy creating animals?
Slate: My process has evolved over the last eight years or so. I always start with a sketch, sometimes just a scratchy doodle and sometimes a detailed illustration. Then I create a wire armature and use Sculpey to build up the form, and finish it with gouache and acrylic paint. I think the theme of mischievous animals came from an old drawing I did years ago of a unicorn with shifty eyes and lots of little teeth. Since then I’ve really loved creating characters that make people smile. Animals are so appealing to me. They are incredibly expressive and they can be sinister and friendly at the same time.
TrunkSpace: What would you say is the greatest strength as an artist?
Slate: To create work that’s authentically yours whether it’s trendy or not. There is pressure to shift toward what’s getting attention on Instagram but I love it when artists just do their own thing.
TrunkSpace: How has technology changed your process of putting ideas/script to page? Do you use the classic paper/pencil approach at all anymore?
Slate: In my career at Laika, my job was always done digitally, though most of what you see on screen is done by hand. In my own work I almost always use a classical approach… drawing and painting on paper. I do rely heavily on Photoshop for editing and tweaking what I’ve created by hand, but I’ve never made the leap to full digital illustration. I like the fact that there is an “original” painting or drawing when it’s done by hand.
TrunkSpace: What advice would you give another young aspiring artist who is considering a career in the art realm?
Slate: I would encourage an aspiring artist to try a lot of different things to see what he or she likes. It’s easy to get locked into a job and miss out on seeing what else is out there. Right out of school it’s hard to know what you’re going to want 10 years down the road, so I think it’s good to be open to different experiences and not limit the opportunities too early on.
TrunkSpace: What else can fans of your work look forward to in the future?
Slate: I’m excited about continuing to create more sculptures and participating in more art shows coming up later in the year. Currently I’m working on designing a short film that will be completed sometime in the next few months. I’m also really hoping to collaborate with friends to animate my characters in the near future.