What is your name and your current occupation?
Sarah Harkey– Freelance Artist and Assistant Animator at John K Enterprises.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Not very much crazy… I worked as an usher at the Chicago Theater, a sales associate at Toys R Us, a Nanny for two awesome kids… all in all I tried to pick things that would still let me do art or be connected with art in some way… though some of those were stretching it!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I’ve really enjoyed working with John Kricfalusi. The longest gig so far was working as an assistant animator on “The Simpson’s” couch gag that preceded “Bart Stops to Smell the Roosevelts”, there was lots of inbetweeing, clean up, ink and paint, and texture painting… there was also lots of eating lunch on TV trays while watching Terry Toons, haha
How did you become interested in animation?
I’ve always really loved animation. As a kid, if it wasn’t animated it was really hard for me to be interested (thats still sort of true today… yikes). Being a little girl in the early 90s I was of course obsessed with all things Disney princess. I also had lots of compilation VHS tapes of early Felix the Cat episodes, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Rankin/Bass specials, strange fairy tale knock offs… if it was in a bargain bin at Wal-Mart in the 80s I probably ended up with it in the 90s. I always enjoyed drawing and art, but it wasn’t until senior year of high school that I made a last minute decision to pursue animation instead of an english degree… I’m glad I did!
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
There was lots of moving around when I was a kid, but when people ask “where are you from” I typically say Chicago. It’s where I lived the longest and where I majored in 2D Animation at Columbia College. Its hard to find a way to credit how I got into the animation business… in all honesty I feel that I’m still knocking on doors trying to get in! But, when I was in college my dad suggested I look up a story-board artist named “Kevin Harkey” who I had seen in the credits of lots of 90s Disney features (yeah… I was a strange kid who read the credits). We got to talking and one thing led to another and before I knew it he was helping me learn the fundamentals of story-boarding. He also helped me meet some of his friends who met with me in LA and gave me some invaluable information about getting into the industry. With that foundation, I started to narrow down what I was and wasn’t interested in doing in the animation industry. Immediately following college my fiance (John Kedzie) and I moved out to California in an attempt to find jobs. It wasn’t long before a friend of ours pointed us to John K.’s blog. He was looking for some technical and photoshop help. I wrote to him saying that I knew he was really only looking for one person, but that between John Kedzie and I we could cover all the bases… plus it turned out that we lived only a few blocks away! He had us come over and we helped him with the technical and photoshop work. I’m not really sure I know how we ended up working long-term for him… John K never formally told us we were hired, he kind of just gave me a few drawings and said “ink these”. I did, he liked them, and before I knew it I was coming in daily to help animate these John K style Simpsons. Since then he typically has at least one of us working for him on one project or another! I have a feeling that the REAL reason we were hired is because he liked that John Kedzie is another “John K”, haha
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
That depends on the work. I’m still very green to the industry, and also working freelance, so the work constantly changes. One day I might be trying to illustrate a high-brow children’s book, the next I could be cleaning up a wacky walk-cycle that includes bouncing butt-cheeks… it all depends! I also get lots and lots of requests for drawings of pin up girls… so some days I’m just drawing naked ladies!
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
The versatility. I like that I don’t do the same thing day after day, year after year. There is always a different character to draw, a different style of background to paint. I love that I can try lots approaches and that I am constantly learning new software, techniques, and styles!
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Not knowing what to charge. Not many freelance artists talk about what they charge, so it seems a mystery to me… I never know if I’m over or under charging. If you’re an artist for hire, you will no doubt find that there are lots of people out there that think you should work for free, for “exposure”, for un-foreseeable profit of the art… and that approach gets very old very fast. Avoid those people! I may not know what to charge, but I’ve figured out that I do need to charge something! Haha
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Lots of Adobe suite… but the current top 3 are Photoshop, Toon Boom, and Illustrator. I don’t like to turn down a job because I don’t know the software, so I’m always trying to learn more about programs and keep up to date with what’s “hip”!
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Being unsure of where work is coming from next. Freelance can be scary since there is no guarantee that you’ll have another project when the current one is finished. I’ve been pretty lucky so far, but it can be pretty unnerving! I hope that the business in general will become more open to young artists who don’t have 5+ years studio experience so that we aren’t all living job to job!
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Everyone I’ve worked with or who has taught me has been greatness! All my teachers, classmates, employers… all great!
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The decision to move out to Los Angeles, and to STAY here, has been really difficult. It isn’t easy to leave your friends and family on the other side of a continent! The people, lifestyle, weather… everything is different in LA. I’ve been very lucky to live in an age where I can still talk to everyone easily via phone and web… my friends and family have all been super supportive and every time I’ve gotten cold feet and thought of going back to Chicago they’ve overwhelmingly supported me to stay and keep trying. But… maybe they’re just sick of me in Chicago? Haha
Any side projects you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I don’t know if this is hobby, project, or neither… but I’m trying to get into the world of gallery-art. I’ve participated in a few shows and it has been really fun! It’s refreshing to have galleries that will accept my cartoony girls as art, not many other cities have those types of shows! Its been a great way to meet new people and see lots of different approaches to art. Plus.. a few dollars income here and there never hurt anyone!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I’m very talented at not being able to name my talents.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Talk to everyone! Shyness will really hurt you in animation, or really any business. Go ahead and apply to your dream jobs even if you don’t meet all the requisites. Email your favorite artist and ask for an interview or tips. Go to a comic convention and ask a famous artist if they want to get pizza and beer after the con. People are people, and just like the pretty girl in your grade-school math class, they’re probably bored and waiting for someone to have the guts to talk to them! The very worst that can happen is that they say “no”, and is that really all that bad? I’ve had lots of doors opened just because I gathered the courage to talk to someone. It’s scary, I know, we’re all shy and awkward artist types… but it is well worth it!