On March 22nd, CMA NY hosted an Illustration Masterclass and Audience Q&A with Louis Henry Mitchell, Creative Director of Character Design at Sesame Workshop. Louis joined Children’s Media Association Members (and some younger artists, too!) to tell his story, impart some great advice, and help us draw some fun doodles of our own. If you don’t have some beloved characters hanging on your fridge right now, here’s some of what you missed.
All About Good Character
Part of Louis’ presentation was a fascinating look into his process for creating new characters. He starts with research: reading through documents, attending related seminars, etc. He considers their unique perspective and way of thinking about the world, and makes sure to think of the characters as real people. Louis pays attention to every detail he can because he believes that substance influences structure, and that the story begins the moment the audience sees the character.
Just Keep Doodling
As a creative director, Louis has done lots of drawing for work, but what he emphasized for attendees was keeping up your own “art life.” He practices drawing almost every day, whether he’s drawing something from his imagination, from life, or from a photo he likes. He says that it is important to draw subjects that you love because, while drawing is hard work, “drawing what you love is inspiring.”
The benefits of daily practice go even further than personal improvement. When asked about tips for the working relationship between production and creatives, Louis said that working on your own artistic projects outside of work as a creative helps to foster symbiotic relationships. When you “cherish the creative person that you are,” you will be able to keep it about the work without trying to take over.
Children Will Listen
Like many of us, Louis shared that he is inspired by the children for whom he creates. He believes that children are “the best teachers on the planet” because of their pure perspective on life. His respect for them takes the form of paying attention to the small details in his designs. Even when some might say they do not, Louis holds that kids DO notice the details, both in their daily lives and in visual storytelling.
Career Journey Wisdom
I love hearing about the career journeys of people who are succeeding in the children’s media industry, and I loved hearing about Louis Henry Mitchell’s career journey. He said that it is hard for him to give career advice without knowing specific desires and goals of the person he’s advising, but that didn’t stop him from imparting some amazing pieces of wisdom from his experience, including…
- Do what you love! Discover (don’t choose) what you want to do, and then embrace it. Knowing what you love will lead you to discover your gifts, and from those, your purpose.
- Pursue your passions, not success. Success on a path that isn’t yours “is probably the ultimate lack of success.”
- You need a tribe, or a group of a few people who absolutely support you.
- You’re going to be challenged. Whether it’s while you’re doing what you love or not will decide whether those challenges beat you down or refine you.
The upbeat and inspirational atmosphere at the event was palpable even while it was virtual. I felt re-energized by getting to hear from someone who so wholeheartedly loves what he does, down to the smallest detail.