Tiffanie has been in love with art since the age of six, which is when she began taking art classes while growing up in San Diego, CA. After high school, her desire to connect her creative pursuits with a practical career path led her to study animation at the University of Southern California.
“I really enjoyed doing visual development and illustration for films,” Tiffanie told me. “And so I took extracurricular classes more in that direction outside of USC. The USC animation program was great, but I didn't really just want to be an animator. I wanted to do more.”
When Tiffanie graduated, she landed her first job working at a gaming company as a concept artist. Though the game was never released, the experience there helped her further develop her animation skills, which set her up for future successes.
Art career breakthrough – loving Vincent
With the gaming company out of business, Tiffanie found herself between jobs. To help pay the bills, she took up a job as a PA at a production company. However, her time there would be short-lived.
“I don't tell people this, but I think every experience is important,” Tiffanie said. “I actually really like production as well, so I liked the job a lot. I really enjoy seeing that side of things, plus I learned a ton. I was there for three months, and I didn't tell them I was an artist. But it was such funny timing because one day one of the producers stumbled across my portfolio and asked me ‘‘You're an artist? Why didn’t you tell us sooner? We could have used you.’ Around that time, I also got an email from Breakthru Films, the studio that made Loving Vincent, saying that they wanted me to fly to Gdansk to take a test.”
Loving Vincent is the world’s first fully painted animated feature film, released in 2017, about the life of the painter Vincent van Gogh and the circumstances of his death. The film premiered at the 2017 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. It won Best Animated Feature Film Award at the 30th European Film Awards in Berlin and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 90th Academy Awards.
Although excited about the new opportunity, Tiffanie didn’t want to burn her bridges with the production company while taking a chance on a gig with Loving Vincent. After all, there was no guarantee that she’d land a spot on the film’s animation team.
“I made the decision to tell the production company that I was going to fly to Poland to take a test for another job,” Tiffanie continued. If I didn't get the gig, then I'd fly back. They told me they supported me, which was great. And it was crazy. Within a span of two and a half weeks, I decided to fly to Poland and take the animation test.”
Tiffanie said that the test was incredibly difficult and that she wasn’t very confident in her results in the end.
“It was the hardest test of my life,” Tiffanie told me. “They gave us a scene to animate in three days. And so for three days straight we had to animate at least four frames of the main character moving his head. Although it was a really simple background, it was also super grueling work. Previously I had thought, ‘I studied animation, so it should be easy.’ But it was so freaking hard. I thought for sure I didn't pass.”
Assuming her gut feeling to be true, Tiffanie called her parents to let them know she’d be home in a few days.
“But then I found out that I made it,” Tiffanie said. “I remember feeling so relieved and so happy. I ended up working on the film for six months after that. At that time, they were inviting a lot of international people from all over Europe and the states for testing because they really needed more help. After we passed, they told us that they had had over 4,000 applicants, and they only ended up hiring about 80 of us. Including the Polish artists, there were a total of 125 artists.”
Having gumption - pushing for what you want
It’s clear from speaking with Tiffanie that she has a lot of drive and passion. But what she has even more of is gumption. When she wants to do something, she’ll find a way to do it.
“At Loving Vincent, I worked on six scenes, but for the first one I got put on a particular 300-frame scene,” Tiffanie told me. “It would have taken me like a month. I was just painting Dr. Gachet’s face and I was really slow on it. So they took me off it. I don't think they really liked how I was painting him.”
Tiffanie was actually okay with the decision as she didn’t really enjoy working on that particular scene. But all wasn’t lost. After looking over Tiffanie’s portfolio, the team at Loving Vincent saw that she had a lot of experience painting landscapes and moved her to an appropriate scene.
“So they put me on a landscape scene, but they had someone else paint the first frame which, if you don’t know, the first frame pays the most money,” Tiffanie said. “Also, the person who does the first frame does the most painting because, after that, you’re just scraping it and animating it on the same canvas.”
As you can imagine, aside from being paid a higher rate, painting the first frame for certain key scenes on such a high-profile film was reserved for specific senior artists on the team. Tiffanie wanted a first-frame. She wanted it badly.
“They kept giving the important keyframes to one of the main design artists, but I really knew I could do it and I wanted to try,” Tiffanie told me. “So I actually just emailed the director myself and I said, ‘Hey, I would really appreciate being given a chance to paint my first frame for the next shot. I really think, under the supervision of Anna,’ my supervisor, ‘that I could really do it and I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a chance.’
Tiffanie knew the director and/or her supervisor could be upset about the email, but she figured that worst-case scenario, she’d simply not get what she wanted.
“Fortunately the director emailed me back with a positive response,” Tiffanie told me. “She said, ‘You know what, you've been doing a really good job and I was actually thinking about giving you the next keyframe to paint.’ And so that was one of those things I always remember: that having a little bit of gumption really paid off. Now I'm more of that kind of person. I won't sit back and just let things happen to me. I’ll make them happen.”
Moving on and changing it up
Once Loving Vincent was over, Tiffanie moved back to Los Angeles to do more concept artwork with a 3D production studio, but the job quickly burned her out.
“I did concept art for their projects and their shows,” Tiffanie said. “We worked with HBO. We designed projections for their Emmy parties. The coolest project I worked on was the Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere party. I got to travel back and forth to certain places, too. But in the back of my mind, all I wanted to do was paint landscapes.”
Tiffanie eventually quit to pursue her love of teaching and fine art and secured studio space in San Diego at Art on 30th, where she also taught gouache classes for beginners. After a year of living in San Diego, teaching workshops, and building up her fine art portfolio, she eventually moved to Poland, where she lives today.
What to do when you have a lot of ideas
Like many artists, Tiffanie has a lot of creative ideas, but not nearly enough time to execute them all. Yet somehow she’s managed to accomplish quite a lot and move forward with her creative and career goals. I wanted to know how she kept going in spite of all the noise.
Tiffanie says the secret is to latch onto the initial excitement as well as visualize the project’s potential. It’s not always easy to do both, but doing so as much as possible is critical in Tiffanie’s view.
“For example, I started my book, The Wolf That Howls to the Moon, without a plan,” Tiffanie explained. “I’m not really a writer, but I like writing. And the idea was inspired by my relationship with my boyfriend. We were doing long distance at the time. He would call me his Moon and himself the wolf. So I started writing a story about the wolf that howls at the moon. I just started writing a few verses as a long poem. Then I hit it hard for the next two months and I wrote a whole seven pages. Then I thought, ‘Hey, I’m an illustrator. I can totally illustrate this and I can release it on Kickstarter.’ That stuff gets me excited.”
That said, most of the time Tiffanie’s projects are well planned out.
“For most projects, I think it's about having an end goal in mind,” Tiffanie told me. “When I paint and when I do almost anything, I always have an end goal in mind. I'm usually not the kind of person who just goes with the flow and sees how it goes. I always have an end goal and if I get lost or shortsighted, I always come back to that.”
What Tiffanie's up to now
Tiffanie still has a passion for animation, but her love of painting has taken over most of her time.
“I would love to make my career as a fine artist,” Tiffanie said. “Right now things are good because I'm still freelancing on animation and commercial projects. But in my free time, I get to paint. I'm definitely independent. I like to forge my own opportunities. I've had my taste of working from nine to six and it's not really my thing. So, I’ll keep doing that.”
As such, Tiffanie is excited to announce that she’ll be launching her first-ever mentorship program in 2020. In it, Tiffanie will work with artists one-on-one to help them find their artistic voice in landscape painting.
“It’s an 8-week mentorship program that will be personalized for each student,” Tiffanie told me. “I will be creating individualized lesson plans, giving homework, and doing live demos based on students’ struggles and what they want to work on the most. That way they can come out of those 8 weeks feeling more confident in their drawing and painting abilities. Whether they want to work on digital painting or traditional painting, I will work with them to master techniques for either or both mediums.”