Course Instructor Sarah Beth Morgan on the SOM Podcast
The instructor of the highly anticipated new course Illustration for Motion, Sarah Beth Morgan joins school founder Joey Korenman on the SOM Podcast
If you’re considering enrolling this session in Illustration for Motion or need some MoGraph inspo, this audio interview is right for you.
Don’t forget: we expect this course to sell out in record time — so be sure to log in as close to 8 AM ET on September 9 to enroll before it’s too late.
Sarah Beth Morgan on the School of Motion Podcast
Show Notes from Episode 73 of the School of Motion Podcast, Featuring Sarah Beth Morgan
Here are some key links referenced during the conversation:
The Transcript from Sarah Beth Morgan’s Interview with Joey Korenman of SOM
Joey Korenman: I bet, if you ask one-hundred motion designers what they wish they were better at, almost all of them would say illustration. Let’s face it, that hand-drawn look is very popular and probably not going anywhere. Having some drawing ability is a huge asset in this industry. It’s also a challenging skill to develop, and one that takes lots of repetition and at least a basic understanding of the principles underlying good work. Being a school, we thought it would be great to develop an illustration course tailored to motion designers. When we thought about who might be the right instructor for this class, my guest today was a no-brainer.
Joey Korenman: Sarah Beth Morgan is an incredibly talented illustrator and designer who has made a name for herself in short order, only getting into the industry about six years ago. Since then, she’s worked at Gentleman Scholar, Oddfellows, and is now freelancing for big brands and studios galore. Sarah spent many, many, many months with us developing Illustration for Motion, a twelve-week course that will teach you the principles of illustration, how to you use shading and perspective and, most importantly, how to utilize these skills in the world of motion design. I could not possibly be prouder of the class that Sarah and our team put together. It is amazing. You can find out about it at schoolofmotion.com.
Joey Korenman: In today’s episode, we’ll learn about Sarah’s background, and then we’ll dig into a Q&A featuring questions from you. Yes, you. Well, maybe not you, but we’re doing this more and more — asking our alumni and our larger audience to submit questions for guests like Sarah Beth. Your brain is going to be quite full at the end of this one. Let’s meet Sarah Beth Morgan.
Joey Korenman: Well, Sarah Beth, here we are. Finally, you’re on the School of Motion Podcast. It’s funny because I’ve actually been talking with you and actually hanging out with you in person lately. I feel like this Podcast is unnecessary, in many ways, because most of the time when I interview people it’s simply because I want to know about them. I actually learned a lot about you, and it’s awesome. Now I want to share that with the world and talk about a really special project that you’ve been working on. First of all, I just want to say thank you for coming on the Podcast. Thank you for working your butt off on Illustration for Motion over the last… Oh my God, I don’t know how many months.
Sarah Beth Morgan: So many months.
Joey Korenman: All of the months.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I’m really happy to be here. Thanks for having me on.
Joey Korenman: Awesome. I think a lot of the people listening to this are going to be familiar with your name, at least, and your work because you’ve managed to get quite a reputation in the industry for your work and your talent. I wanted to start by going back in time a little bit. I’m always really curious when I meet people who are really good at something that’s hard. I think illustration is hard. I want to know why they’re good at it. I suspect that people who are really good at something also generally like that thing a lot. They’re really into it, which lets them practice it without getting bored. I want to hear a little bit about the early days. When did you figure out that you really liked making art, and specifically illustrating?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, I always loved creative things. I don’t necessarily know that I always wanted to be an illustrator. When I was younger, I was always drawing. I think there are some videos of me from my parents from when I was like… I mean, I’m sure everyone draws as a kid, but lots of really intense drawing sessions with me at three years old. Then, on top of that, I always loved telling stories. I really wanted to be an author when I was little because I thought that was the only way I could tell a story. I did a lot of creative writing, a lot of art, lots of painting classes when I was little. I’ve always been into creativity, and drawing, and illustrating.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It wasn’t really until I got to college, or almost even after, that I realize I wanted to be an illustrator. I studied motion graphics in school at Savannah College of Art and Design. I didn’t know what it was when I first got to the school. I immediately clung to it once I realized what a cool medium it was. In school, I studied animation and After Effects, and all that. I thought that’s what I had to do to become a motion graphics artist. It wasn’t until after, when I was at Gentleman Scholar, that I realized I could just be an illustrator or designer for motion — not someone who actually brought those key frames to life. I was more like the beginning stages of our project, where I was concepting and creating the designs that the animator would later bring to life. It took me a long time to get where I am, and to figure all of that out. I’ve always known that I wanted to be some kind of creative person or artist.
Joey Korenman: Cool. Okay, let’s hang back in the past for a little bit longer.
Joey Korenman: The fact that you chose to go to SCAD to study motion graphics, I’m assuming, means that you realized, I want to be a professional artist. Obviously, lots of people are into art when they’re young and when they’re in high school, but not that many decide to just go for it and try to actually make a living out of it. I’m curious, what was your mindset when you decided to go to SCAD? Were you thinking, like, this is what I’m going to do for a living? Or, were you just, like, well, this seems like a neat thing to do for four years?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, my parents knew I loved art, and I loved art. I knew that I wanted to do it in college. I didn’t realize until I was a senior in high school that I could actually make it a career path. My parents were very supportive of my dream, but they were also like, ‘You should go to a state school or something that has multiple different majors just in case.’ It’s a miracle that I ended up at SCAD because that wasn’t really what they were suggesting for me at first. They were really supportive once I made my decision. Really, when I was thinking about art school, I wanted to be a graphic designer. I didn’t know that there were so many different mediums of art.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Actually, I think SCAD has forty-five majors or something crazy like that. I thought graphic design was the way to go. My parents told me that was probably the one that made money. I actually studied graphic design for my first year there. I knew I wanted to be a professional artist, but I didn’t feel completely at home in graphic design. I hate measuring things. I hate math. I liked typography, but there was just something missing, I think. Then, I think it was maybe after my freshman year, I was working as a summer counselor for high schoolers that wanted to visit SCAD. They got to do this SCAD 401 event, where they got to browse all the different majors. That’s actually where I found motion graphics, because I was just there helping the kids out…
Joey Korenman: That’s funny!
Sarah Beth Morgan: And then realized that, oh yeah, there’s this other major that I had no idea about. The chair of the motion graphics department was just standing alone at this table, and nobody knew what it was, so no one was going up to his table. I was just like, ‘Oh, I feel bad for him. I’m going to walk over and see what this is.’ Then, I immediately realized, I thought it looked amazing. There is stop motion. There was traditional animation, 3D animation, illustrative-looking stuff, typography, all of that mashed together in one major. I was blown away. I actually switched my major that day. I, at that point, knew that’s what I wanted to do. It took me awhile to find, it I guess.
Joey Korenman: That’s so cool. Okay, you’ve already said that you realized at some point you don’t really like doing the animation part. You also mentioned that graphic design, like strict old-school graphic design, didn’t really appeal to you either. I’m wondering if you could talk about what about those two things made you feel that way? It’s funny because, looking at your work now, it’s almost intuitive. It’s like your work is very fluid, and organic, and illustrative. When I think of graphic design… and I think when I say that term to most people they’re imagining like a poster with Helvetica on it, and Swiss grid-based design or something. That’s not what your work looks like at all. I’m curious, what specifically made you realize, like, okay, I don’t really like this, I don’t really like this, and eventually led you to illustration?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think my personality type is very perfectionistic, and I love structure in my everyday life. I think that I was looking for something that was a little bit more loose that I could go in. It was the opposite of what I am like in my brain — it was nice to have something where I could experiment and not have to worry about constraints. That’s why I went with illustration versus animation or graphic design. There’s a lot of more methodical thinking that goes into graphic design and animation, which is awesome. I commend people on that because it’s really hard to do, and you have to learn a lot about spacing, and packaging, and making sure everything aligns perfectly. It’s very meticulous.
Sarah Beth Morgan: What I loved about illustration, when I finally found it, was that there’s not really rules like that. Everything is more a matter of opinion. I could do what I wanted with it and not have to feel constrained by a box. I think that’s the main reason I was drawn to illustration. On top of that, I got frustrated with animation because it wasn’t something that was coming to me easily. I think anything that I get frustrated with immediately, and I’m not super passionate about, I tend to draw away from.
Joey Korenman: That’s fascinating to me that you just said that, because I think when we were talking initially about you making a class for School of Motion, I’m sure I told you that I wish I was good at illustration. That’s one of those things that I would love to have that power. I’ve realized over the years that, to get good enough, to get as good as you at illustration, I would have to spend my then-thousand hours practicing it. I just don’t love it enough to do that. I feel bad saying that. I almost feel embarrassed saying that. I think that’s why. It’s really interesting to hear that, for you, animation gave you that same feeling. It’s like, yeah, I respect people who do this. This is a really amazing art form, but I don’t have it in me to put in the pain and the sweat and the tears to get good enough. What’s even more interesting to me is that you then married an animator.
Joey Korenman: I’m curious, to everyone listening, Sarah Beth’s husband, Tyler, incredible animator who actually did some animation on her class and currently working at Oddfellows — do you guys ever get into it and talk about, like… because he’s a great animator. The kind of animation he does, he does all kinds, but he also does traditional hand-drawn, which to me is the most technical, the most tedious kind of animation. I’ve never had the patience for that. Watching him do it is pretty impressive. I’m curious how the two of you interact. It seems like you’re almost opposites in some ways.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Right. It’s funny because, when we met in school, he was actually studying industrial design. He hadn’t even tried animation at that point, and just took one class his senior year and then, all of a sudden, just knew. I don’t know if he thought in his head, like, I’m good at this. I could tell he was really good at it, and it came naturally to him. Then, over the years, slowly learned all that traditional stuff on his own by being around other artists. It’s pretty insane to me that he’s grown so much. He’s super talented. I think that we… How do I say this?
Joey Korenman: Tiptoe, tiptoe around it… It’s interesting, because I’m basically an animator. I can fake design when I need to, but I never considered myself a designer. I can sit in front of After Effects for fourteen hours. It’s awesome. I love that. I don’t know why, and I can’t explain it. You might have a complete opposite experience. It’s really interesting too, like, when… because there’s other power couples out there. You and Tyler are definitely a power couple. I’m curious if there’s any dynamic of, like, okay, so you really don’t like animating and Tyler loves animating. I assume he loves animating. I hope he does, because he does a lot of it.
Joey Korenman: I’m just always curious if that kind of tension between the sort of, I guess, left-brain thing that you have to do when you’re animating, and the almost total right-brain thing that you’re doing when you’re just drawing or designing, if there’s any, like… I don’t know… in a positive way, positive creative tension or anything like that.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, well, let me first start by saying that we have done some animation projects together, and especially when we’re at Oddfellows, since I was working there for almost two years. We worked on a lot of projects together, and it was really amazing to have him in my team because I really trusted his ability and I knew that he could get it done. There’s a lot of amazing creativity happening there where we can trust each other. He knows I have my illustration abilities down and he has his animation abilities down. I think when we do something simple, or collaborate on a team project, it’s really amazing how everything comes together.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Then, we also work on side projects, and really small little side projects are usually fine. I think when it’s just us working on a large long-term project together, it can get really… I don’t know if tense is the right word, but we just both get frustrated because it’s a super-long project. We’re both good at what we do. We both have very strong opinions on either end. I think I learned a lot from working with Tyler, especially on that long project we did, Cocoon, together. I think it took us about two years to make it, from start to finish. We were working on it as on the side of our jobs, our full-time jobs. There’s a lot of tension that way, but I think when we actually step back and look at what we created together, there’s a really nice flow between my illustration and his animation.
Joey Korenman: That’s so cool. What a cool… If you two ever start a family, I think it’d be very, very talented.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I hope so.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, yeah… I want to talk a little bit about your work experience, and then I want to talk about the class that you’ve built a little bit. You’ve worked full time for two really, really good studios, Gentleman Scholar and Oddfellows. They’re very different, too. They’re very different in terms of the styles they’re known for, and things like that. I’d love to hear a little bit about your experience working at those two studios and, specifically… Everyone who’s listening… In Sarah’s illustration class, there’s this incredible bonus lesson that she put together, and I think you called it, ‘It’s Okay to Fail.’ You show work literally from the time you’re three years old all the way out to the present. You talked about the experience of going from amateur to professional, coming out of SCAD and going to Gentleman Scholar. The increase in the quality of your work is just absolutely ridiculous — and so fast, too.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Thanks!
Joey Korenman: I think that that’s pretty typical. When you get into the field and you get into a studio and you’re around, it’s like going to the major leagues. All of a sudden, you have to up your game. I’d love to hear about that experience going from college to Gentleman Scholar, going from Gentleman Scholar to Oddfellows.
Sarah Beth Morgan: For sure. I think you’re one-hundred percent right, though — once you get out of school and you’re spending nine to five or ten to six, whatever your hours are, every single day for every weekday of the year, almost, you do learn a lot quickly. Your abilities accelerate really fast. I think that’s what happened with me, especially when I started at Gentleman Scholar, because it was like a bootcamp for me. I didn’t know anything about really working professionally in the industry. They welcomed me with open arms and lots of pranks. I was so fortunate to be hired by them right out of school because they were really pushing me to figure out what I wanted to do with my career.
Sarah Beth Morgan: They also were giving me encouragement and constantly saying that I definitely have the potential to become an art director. A very loving family feeling at Gentleman Scholar, but at the same time, there was also a lot of freelancers going in and out. It was in Los Angeles. There’s tons of different freelancers there, just working at different studios all the time. Imagine being a freelancer there and going from studio to studio. They probably learned a ton from different people, and then they got to bring that knowledge to Gentleman Scholar, and I learned from them. Lots of knowledge coming into my brain everyday, and new things I was learning.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Then, also, they were a very versatile studio. They do 3D, and live action, and illustration, and 2D animation, all of that kind of stuff. I got to work in all sorts of production and mediums. I even did stop motion while I was there. There were lots of pitches. I was doing photocomping, photocomping cars into scenes with wrecking balls and stuff, and then even writing for pitch decks and working on live action sets. Towards the end, I even art directed some. It was definitely a huge learning experience there. I think I gained a lot about what I know about the industry when I was at Gentleman Scholar. Then, that’s where I figured out that I wanted to be an illustrator.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think towards the end of my time there, I realized, oh, I can let go of this animation part of me that I don’t love and just focus on the design and illustration aspect. I got to lead into that, and a lot of pitches towards the end of my time there. Then, at some point, Tyler and I were not really loving L.A. We wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest, and we fortunately got job offers from Oddfellows, which was a crazy dream. I don’t even know… I’m very grateful that happened and feel very fortunate that they offered us jobs. At the time I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m way out of my league.’
Sarah Beth Morgan: Then, I think when I got to Oddfellows, it was really cool because it was a totally different vibe. I think Gentleman Scholar had, when I was there, maybe up to over thirty people working there — or even just in the art part of the department, in the art part of the studio, maybe thirty people there — with freelancers fluctuating. Then, at Oddfellows, when I got there, there’s about twelve of us. Since it was in Portland, there weren’t many freelancers going in and out. Everyone was working remote. I got to feel what it was like to work at a smaller studio and have more responsibility.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Then, I also got to work with some artists that I really admire, like Jay Quercia was there when I first started. I got to learn a lot from him. I think what I learned most at Oddfellows was pushing myself conceptually. There are less pitches than there were at Gentleman Scholar. I got to play around for a lot longer on concepts and initial sketching phases and everything. I was flushing out my ideas further when I was at Oddfellows. The studios were very different. I think I learned a lot from them respectively — just lots of different things.
Joey Korenman: That’s so great, and…
Sarah Beth Morgan: That’s a very longwinded answer, but…
Joey Korenman: No, it’s great though, because I want to talk about your class a little bit — and that was one of the things that was really cool for me when we started outlining the class and talking about what should be in it, what you’d like to teach. I think a lot of people, when they look at your work, what they’re drawn to — or maybe what they think they’re drawn to — is it’s beautiful and it’s well composed and you’ve got a great sense of color. The way you draw your style is very interesting. What’s invisible until you know it’s there is what you just said: the concept of it. If I’m going to draw a plant, you could draw that plant in infinite number of ways. Even something simple like that, am I flattening up the perspective? Why? Things like that.
Joey Korenman: That’s one of the things that I think is so cool about your class is that you really dig into that. You dive into all of the groundwork that you have to have in place before you have any chance of making a successful illustration. Let’s talk about Illustration for Motion. Everyone listening, you can go to schooltomotion.com. You can check out. There’s tons of information about the class, which is launching for its first official session. Registration opens in September of 2019. If you’re listening to this in the future, you can go check it out and maybe register.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Woo-hoo!
Joey Korenman: Yeah. We alluded to this — you’ve put a significant amount of work into this class. All of our classes are… When I recruit instructors, I always try to tell them, like, ‘This is going to be one of the hardest things you ever done. It’s going to take forever.’ You just absolutely kicked ass. It’s like, I’m so proud of the class, and of our team, and Amy, and Jeahn, and everyone who helped on it. What are some of the things in your class that you’re really excited for students to be able to learn, once it’s out?
Sarah Beth Morgan: For sure. First of all, I want to say that when you told me it was going to be the hardest thing I ever thought I’d do, I was like, ‘Pffft, yeah, right!’
Joey Korenman: Come on — tutorials, ma’am.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It’s so true. It’s been really hard, but so rewarding. I’m so excited for people to start taking it, because I want to know what people are learning from it because, for me, this is just knowledge that I have, and I’m not sure if it’s unique to me or if other people already know it. I’m curious to see what people are taking away from it. That’s exciting. In regards to that knowledge, I’m really excited to teach students about concepts like you just mentioned. I think there’s… How do I say this?… One thing that I try to emphasize in this class is methodically brainstorming, which is ironic because, earlier, I was like, ‘I don’t like being methodical.’
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think if you have a creative process to refer back to and creative [inaudible 00:24:29] a lot… if you know, okay, I start with mind mapping and deciphering a client brief. Then from there, after I’ve laid everything out in front of me, then I can start concepting. I think that’s a really important thing, that I emphasize in this class a lot, is just don’t worry about your concept until you figured out what the client wants — and then you can jump back into that. That’s one thing I’m really excited about. On top of that, the main thing for this class is, I’m really hoping to educate illustrators more on how to set up their files for animation, and for animators to learn more about what goes into the frontend of a project — and set everyone up for success in that way.
Joey Korenman: The things you just listed are… It’s weird. My philosophy with our courses, in a weird way, is that sometimes there’s this ‘Trojan horse, thing. Anyone who’s taken a School of Motion class will probably know exactly what I’m talking about. People are going to come take this class because they look at your work and they want to be able to make work that looks like yours. Or maybe not, doesn’t look like yours, but that’s good. They want to be able to draw well and all of that. There’s technique behind it. There are some principles and theory. You go deep into all of that stuff. That stuff is actually less important in a lot of ways.
Joey Korenman: If your goal is to do this professionally, all of those things, that’s just the price of entry. You have to be able to draw well to be a professional illustrator. That’s the price you have to pay, but that’s not enough. What has made you so successful, and such a great illustrator especially, in the field of motion design is your ability to think. As an example, for Sander’s class, Advanced Motion Methods, we commissioned two sets of boards from you. I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been able to work with a lot of awesome designers, awesome illustrators. Typically, the way it goes is, there’s a script and then there’s like a kickoff creative call with that designer, that illustrator.
Joey Korenman: I’ll say like, ‘Here’s what we’re going for, here’s how we need it.’ Then they go off. They come back a few days later and they show you something, and it’s great but you need to tweak it a little bit, and maybe they didn’t get this one part, so they got to fix that. You basically just gave us done boards. The whole thing, you thought out. I’m pretty sure there were revisions, but it was like you just have these abilities. You break down, what should I show right here and how should I draw that, so that not only does it tell the right story but that an animator can take that and do what they need to do with it. There are so many layers of stuff happening when you’re doing illustration.
Joey Korenman: That’s what this class is about to me. It’s like all the technical stuff, how to draw in perspective, how to add textures, what brushes you like to use, all of that stuff is in the class. To me, the most valuable stuff is actually… We spent an afternoon at Oddfellows doing a creative brief session with them. The students get to see what that’s like — very practical things like walking around Portland to some of your favorite spots and looking at things that inspire you, and then showing how does getting inspired actually translate into work. That’s one of those vague things everyone says, ‘Go walk around, get inspired.’ Well, yeah, then what? Then, what do you do with it? It’s a very practical class. There’s a lot of great stuff in it. For me, personally, that’s what I’m mostly excited about. Also, you really do learn the basics of illustration, and how to do it, and how to approach it.
Sarah Beth Morgan: For sure. I actually wanted to mention that deck I did for you guys for Sander’s class. I think that is something that I’m also really excited to teach in this class — is creating and talking about what it’s like to create things for clients. Because I’ve worked with a lot of illustrators and professionals, working on pitch decks and everything, and I think that being able to clearly communicate and organize your ideas into something presentable is also really key as an illustrator, even if you’re just a… I don’t want to say just, but… even if you’re an illustrator as a staff employee at a motion company or something — you still want to know how to present your work, even if you’re just presenting it to your boss or your art director or something.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I love creating loose illustrations and having fun with it. Then, being able to take those illustrations, write frame descriptions for each, put them into a nice looking storyboard, and then communicate your concept to the client, show the mood and reference all of that — and compiling it together to create something that’s ready to be animated is also extremely important as an illustrator for motion. I’m really trying to emphasize that in this class. I think we even have the bonus lesson on creating client decks. I don’t know. I think, after being in the industry for almost six years now, I found that to be one of the most useful tools. Different clients have gotten back to me and said they really like my deck and stuff. I think that just adds a little extra level of professionalism to everything.
Joey Korenman: Yes, one-hundred percent, one-hundred percent. Let’s jump in to the part of this Podcast that probably everyone’s most excited about. Before we move on, check out… Just go to schoolofmotion.com. You can find information about Sarah’s class. I’m so proud of it. She crushed it, if you’ve any interest in learning to illustrate, especially in motion design. It’s something you can look into. Email our support team if you have any questions. In preparation for this, we reached to our community and we said, ‘Hey, we are going to have Sarah Beth on the Podcast. What would you like to know?’ As always, we got some incredible questions from our alumni group, and from Twitter, and a few other places.
Joey Korenman: Let’s start with some questions about technique. By the way, this is another thing that was really eye opening to me, watching you in some of these lessons that you’ve built. In my mind, someone who can draw really well just sits down and just draws these flawless illustrations. It’s like, oh my God, it’s almost like building a house. You have to build a foundation, and then trace over things, and then adjust. Doing digital illustration actually makes that a lot easier. Let’s start with this, that you already alluded to this a little bit. The question is: How similar are design compositions to illustration compositions?
Joey Korenman: Then, they went on and said: Does Sarah think about a grid when she’s drawing, or is she more focused on contrast, for example? Does she use grids in general? I think the crux of this is, you have in the past just done straight-up design boards that don’t really have illustration in them, that are more graphic design looking. I’m curious if there’s a different approach with things that are pure illustration or do you still use those basic design principles
Sarah Beth Morgan: Right. I think you hit it on the nose. They go hand in hand. You have to think about each one slightly differently. For example, since I did study graphic design, I learned a bit about typography and type design. You always want to fix the leading and the kerning to have visual balance, zero tension between all the letters. That’s something that carries over into illustration. You don’t want to have awkward tangents or too much tension between elements. You also want to create balance. There’s a lot that goes hand in hand like understanding those underlying design principles. I think overall, I’m not always thinking about a grid as I’m illustrating.
Sarah Beth Morgan: There are certain things I think about like the rule of thirds and creating negative space that way by putting something in the left third of the frame and keeping the right two-thirds of the frame empty for visual negative space and contrast there. There’s a lot that goes hand in hand. Especially if you have a base in graphic design, it’s going to be a little bit easier to translate that into illustration. I don’t think you have to know both to be an illustrator. You don’t have to be a typographic designer first and vice versa. They certainly help and complement each other.
Joey Korenman: For me, what I found, having worked with designers who don’t really do any illustration and also illustrators who design and also just pure illustrators, is that the best ones seem to develop after years of practice these instincts that they’re not thinking about the rule of thirds and thinking about negative space. They’re just doing it because it feels right. If you don’t have tons of experience, I find that a few of those graphic design principles really are helpful even if you’re just taking photos.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, they’re helpful.
Joey Korenman: It’s all designer really, right? It’s really cool too because in the class, you talk about some of these things. It’s interesting because we a design class, Design Bootcamp, and another one that’s coming up, Design Kickstart where it’s taught more in a graphic design class. The way you talk about design principles is different because you’re primarily an illustrator. I thought that was really interesting and a really good question. Thank you.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yes, super good question.
Joey Korenman: Here’s another one, and actually a bunch of people asked this. I just consolidated it into one. This is actually a great question. How important is it to draw realistically in order to be able to draw in a stylized manner? Right behind me, it’s a podcast, no one can see this but my buddy, Steve Savalle, who… I know you’ve worked with him, right?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Joey Korenman: Steve Savalle. He’s an illustrator also as well as a brilliant motion designer. He can draw these photo realistic things with a pencil. It’s crazy. He’s amazing at it. Do you need to have some of that to then be able to break the rules and do the kind of stylized stuff that you do?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I know the answer should be draw lifelike stuff first then lead into your style, but I honestly struggled with life drawing in college myself. I did practice it and I had that foundational knowledge, I guess. It was never something I enjoyed. We’re talking about, A, you get better at something if you’re really excited and you enjoy doing it. I never liked doing it. I didn’t really understand the point of it. I definitely think it helped a little bit, but I don’t think that you necessarily have to go take a life drawing class before taking this course to understand how to start stylizing things.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Personally, instead of me practicing one to one still lives and figure drawing, I started pushing myself in the direction I wanted to go because that was what I was passionate about. I don’t think you necessarily have to start with that based foundation of life drawing to create your own style, though it certainly helps build understanding. If you have that foundational knowledge there, I’m sure you’ll know a bit more about like anatomy or the how things should be realistically in proportion. Especially something I emphasize in this class, I don’t have people draw anything lifelike first and then stylized it from there. Usually, we just go straight into the stylization.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. One of the things, I’ve taken one life drawing class and it wasn’t for me. The technical nature of trying to do realistic drawing and maybe that’s what you didn’t like about it either. With your drawing, it’s a lot looser and more fluid. Frankly, you can get away with imperfections where when you’re trying to draw something that looks real, you can’t. What I did learn from that experience is that you don’t actually know what things look like. You think you do. There’s this great… I don’t know if it was an experiment or something. It’ll probably be in the show notes, because our editor will Google it and hopefully link to it. I’ve seen this thing before where somebody asked a bunch of people to just from memory draw a bicycle.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Oh my gosh, I can’t do that.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. Everyone in their head, you can picture a bicycle. You don’t actually know what a bicycle looks like. It’s the exact same way if you try to draw a person, you don’t know what a person looks like. You will draw the head way too big, the legs won’t be long enough. This dovetails nicely into the next question. You already touched on this. How much do you recommend practicing proper anatomy in realism before jumping into more stylized cartoon illustration? How do you use references when you create more stylized cartoon illustration? I wouldn’t call what you do cartoon illustration. I think this question to me is about that.
Joey Korenman: It’s about like if you learn about human anatomy, then you learn these proportions. I don’t know them off the top of my head. It’s like the human head, take that, multiply the height of it times four, and that’s the length of a… There’s rules that you can follow depending on the age of a person and their gender. If you don’t, at least approximate that. Even when you stylize a character, it doesn’t look right. I’ll stop talking now, you answer it. Do you think that that stuff is important? How do you use a reference to help that process.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Right. Well, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that you shouldn’t have foundational knowledge because I think it really helps. I clearly had to do some of it in art school. I knew some of that before going into my more stylized look. I think it one-hundred percent helps if you know proper anatomy and perspective and all that first. I don’t want to discourage anyone from taking this if they haven’t ever done a life drawing class because I do actually jump a little bit into what realistic proportions are for the human body. We have a lesson on character design. It’s brief but I do talk about anatomy. I think the head is one-seventh of the human body or something.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I can’t remember the exact number. I think that for me especially… I’m not one-hundred percent sure what proper anatomy is if I’m trying to draw a character especially in a weird pose. So often, I will take my own reference photos, which is one of my favorite things to do. It’s super helpful and I think everyone should do it more. I usually take my own reference photos in a weird pose or something and then start illustrating from there. I’ll look at the photo and illustrate the pose based on that. Then, after that, you can take your transform tool, and Photoshop, and start expanding the head to be larger than life or smaller than life, and elongating the legs. When you start with those more realistic proportions, you have the ability to push them further because you know what’s going to look wrong. Looking wrong sometimes is good in illustration because it makes things look more stylized.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think maybe a good metaphor… Because I’ve seen different illustrators do it different ways. Learning proportions and using reference all the time, it’s almost like this form of training wheels where if you do it enough, eventually, you don’t actually have to look at a human being to draw mostly correct proportioned human being. You develop these instincts. When you’re starting out, you don’t have those instincts. There are some really great stuff in the class that you teach about how to overcome that lack of experience initially and you show lots of reference in this course.
Joey Korenman: I’m curious, one of the exercises in this class which is really, really fun one, by the way, is you have everybody draw their desk but basically with flattened perspective. I’m curious, and you show how you do this too. Even for something simple like on iMac, do you still like to use reference? Or do you get to a point where you’re like, I know what an iMac looks like, I’m just going to draw it?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. Back to what you’re saying about like training wheels, I think that’s one-hundred percent what reference photos are. I do want to emphasize try to take your own, don’t just grab one off the internet because that just ends up with people tracing and copyright and all that. I think that you’re one-hundred percent right, I didn’t have any idea how to draw hands in particular when I first started. Hands are so hard especially abstracting them. They are so easy to get wrong. You can just draw and be like, ‘I don’t know why that looks wrong. It looks super wrong. That is not a hand. That’s a paw.’ I think that over time after using my own reference photos or even just trying to draw it on my own, since I’ve had to do so many handholding phones for motion graphics to use this.
Joey Korenman: That’s awesome, sub-trope.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, I know. I feel like now I actually can draw them without actually looking at a photo. I have the more intuitive instinct because I practiced it so much. The same goes for illustrating your iMac. There’s a whole lesson in this course on abstracting things. What we start to do is to break everything down into their most geometric shapes. I actually take a photo of my desk and I turn that on low opacity and Photoshop. Then, I go over everything with either a square, rectangle, or an ellipse, or a triangle, and just break everything down super simply. Then from there, I build on it. Okay, I have a rectangle for the iMac, maybe I will add some rounded corners. Just starting at the base level of everything and building up, really helps to push abstraction and making everything look flat and iconic in your illustrations.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It’s almost like learning to… We have another class in production right now that’s a design class. When I was talking to Mike Frederick who’s the brilliant designer teaching that, initially, he was like, ‘Really, what I want this class to be… It’s learning to design, but really it’s learning to see.’ I think that that’s the trick to illustration too especially in the training spaces like learning to look at things and see them as they are and not as…
Sarah Beth Morgan: So true.
Joey Korenman: The mental image you have of them. That whole lesson on abstraction was probably my favorite one just because that is… It’s such an amazing technique for motion designers. Because maybe at some point, there will be a trend of everything’s hyperrealistically illustrated. I don’t think so, because that will be a lot harder to animate also. Everything’s abstracted and stylized because, frankly, it’s just easier to animate stuff like that. You can get away with more. That’s super useful. I want to talk about this next question which at first, I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t know if we should put this one in.’
Joey Korenman: I put it in because, honestly, this is the one that I would want to answer the most if I was listening. The question is, it would be amazing to hear some drawing hacks, tips, shortcuts advice. It’s funny because I think before I watched a whole bunch of your lessons, I would have said, ‘There’s not really any hacks. I mean, there’s not a shortcut to any of these.’ Actually, I think there are, especially doing digital illustration. I’m wondering, how would you answer that question?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. It’s a broad question, but let me think. In that desk exercise where we’re abstracting everything, that certainly a hack. Even after you’ve illustrated something completely and maybe it’s looking realistic or balanced in proportion, one thing you can do to stylize it is to literally just push those proportions super far so you could make the iMac massive and then the keyboard tiny and just maybe even skew some things and create some symmetry where there’s not really symmetry. Doing stuff like that is really going to add a bit more personality to your style. I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good drawing hack.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It’s something that really has pushed me a lot I think when I was at Gentleman Scholar. There’s was an ACD there, J. P. Rooney. He’s at Brand New School now I believe. He taught me to just draw something unrealistic proportions, and then take an element of it and just scale it down really, really far and see what happens, and then iterate on that, and copy that, and then scale another part of them down really, really far. He was always mentioning like, ‘Make the heads tiny or something on the characters.’ Which is totally a trend going on and I actually really like it.
Joey Korenman: The thing now, yeah.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, just taking something that you’re done with already and then just see what happens when you push those proportions is a hack in a way because it totally re-stylizes and reframes your illustration.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I’ll call out a couple of things that… I mean, they’re probably so intuitive to you at this point that you don’t even think of them as hack like drawing straight lines. Someone who has no illustration experience and you see a professional illustrator and all their line work is so great. If something’s a circle, it looks like basically a perfect circle. If you’re drawing on paper, professional illustrators have all these actual physical tools to help them do that stuff. These guides and these stencils and things like that that I never knew about until I started exploring that world.
Joey Korenman: Because you draw digitally, I’ve seen you use all of these tools and Photoshop that let you draw a perfectly straight line. If you have to draw a circle, you’ll first to choose the shape tool, and then you’ll trace that circle, and then you can erase part of it and connect it to something else. The way that you draw, I thought, it’s not… I mean, it’s just clever. It’s not a hack but it’s not something I would have thought of before.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, I know. I actually really like to combine shape layers and just illustration, like free hand illustration because… I mean, of course, I could go into Illustrator and create layers for everything and make it perfect. I just like the flexibility that Photoshop has where I can easily erase or masked things out. I can add a texture to the edges. I really like to combine shapes with hand-drawn line work. I think that creates a more geometric feeling in my work and anyone’s work who’s doing something similar because there are those really simply geometric shapes hidden in there. You can’t really tell when you’re looking at the illustration what makes that look so… I don’t know, simplified and geometric. It’s probably because I was using a shape layer that was a perfect circle.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Another thing that I knew that this a thing, but the way… Watching you do it reinforces how important this is, is that you’re not just opening Photoshop and drawing the final thing. There’s this building up process and sometimes you build up the composition using basic shapes and just sketching out some things, and then you redraw the whole thing.
Sarah Beth Morgan: That’s true. I almost always start with a really, really basic messy sketch that I would hate if I looked at it. If I looked at it maybe in college, I had this frustration in college where if I didn’t start and it looked pretty right away, I would erase it. Now, I’m like, okay, it has to look ugly and then we’ll mold and carve it to create something a lot more refined. I always start with something messy and I think that’s really important especially for students of this course, just let go of that initial phase and have confidence that it will turn into something prettier in the end.
Joey Korenman: Interesting. It’s like it can’t be pretty until it’s ugly first or something like that.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, yeah.
Joey Korenman: I like that. That’s really cool.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Well, actually, I wanted to mention one more little trick that I feel is helpful for illustrating. We talked a lot about that curve to straight trick that I mentioned in the course, which is if you want to make something look more simplified and geometric, have a nice balance of curve lines and straight lines especially meeting each other. One example that I always think of is a character’s leg or something. You have the back of the leg which would be, I guess, the hamstring area. The hamstring area would be a straight line and then the calf from there would be a curve line meeting the foot. Just looking at something organic in real life and just being like, I know that’s not a perfectly straight line but I’m going to make it a perfectly straight line. Then, it’s going to meet a curve that always create much more visual balance in your illustrations.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I remember when we were outlining the class and you told me about that. It blew my mind a little bit. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s such a cool…’ Because I love looking at things like that where a lot of art, it’s hard to quantify and create rules that this will make your art good or this will make your art feel melancholy, very difficult to do that. In some cases, you usually can’t. There are some patterns that you can recognize. That was one that I thought was really cool, the proportion of straight lines to curve lines can really affect how your illustration feels.
Sarah Beth Morgan: On the flip side, if you make something all curve lines, that could feel very friendly and harmonic and approachable. Then, if you go the other direction and make it all straight like diagonal lines, that can feel more aggressive and severe. Just basing everything in that conceptual knowledge really helps affect the mood of your illustration.
Joey Korenman: Totally. We’re going to move into the next topic of questions here. This topic is improvement. That’s one of the coolest things about looking at your body or work, it’s just that you didn’t just get to Oddfellows and say, ‘Oop, good enough to get to Oddfellows so I guess I’m done now.’ You keep getting better and you keep trying new things and pushing yourself and trying new styles and stuff like that. Just as a side note, I’ve gotten to interview a lot of awesome people from this Podcast and the ones that do the crazy stuff that we all talk about, Ash Thorp. I’ve interviewed GMUNK. I don’t know if the episode will be out by the time you listen to this.
Joey Korenman: That is a future episode. Artists like that are constantly pushing themselves, and reinventing themselves, and trying new things. It’s like that’s built into the DNA of the most successful artists, is you don’t just get good enough and stop. I want to talk about that a little bit because you definitely keep pushing yourself. The first question is pretty open-ended. How do you keep improving your skills after school?
Sarah Beth Morgan: That’s a broad question but I like it. I actually think that I learned way more after school than I did in school. Honestly, I learned the foundational knowledge I needed in school and then kept going from there. I think if you’re working especially as a staff employee somewhere, you’re undoubtedly going to keep improving your skills after school because you’re going to be thrown into situations that you would have never expected like, ‘Okay, we have a two-day pitch and we need it to be in this style like a vector flat iconic style. Have you done that before?’ ‘No.’ ‘Okay, let’s just do it anyways.’
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think that if you’re working at a company especially, you can keep improving your skills that way, just by being at work. On top of that, take classes like this one, or take other online courses, or reach out to a mentor or someone who has a lot of experience and learn from them. I learned so much from other people in this industry who had more experience from me. I would not know what I know today without learning from other people. I think the moments where I was taught little things at Gentleman Scholar and at Oddfellows are the learning moments that I remember the most. I remember those a lot more than what I learned in foundational drawing one or whatever, just because they were really practical and stuck out to me as I was illustrating my frames for a project.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. One of the things I was thinking about is you were talking about being at Gentleman Scholar and Oddfellows. You come across as very confident. I think that’s one of the reasons that you’re really easy to work with because I don’t sense… I’m guessing you’re just good at hiding when you’re scared of things because no one is fearless, nobody. What I tell my kids when they’re… Right now, my oldest, she’s about her nine and she’s in acrobatics and stuff. She’s learning to do like a back… I forgot what it’s called, it’s like…
Sarah Beth Morgan: Handspring?
Joey Korenman: A back handspring, yes, exactly. Thank you. Thank you.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Wow, cool.
Joey Korenman: Yes. She’s learning to do a back handspring. It’s scary to learn to do it. What I tell her is, ‘Don’t be scared.’ I don’t say don’t be scared, because that’s impossible. What I say is, ‘Be afraid, do it anyway.’ I’m curious if you’ve felt that when you’ve been put into these situations. I’m at Oddfellows, I’m surrounded by these killers. Jay Quercia is amazing. He’s one of many really great artists who have been at that studio. Did that play into it at all, just your willingness to be afraid and do it anyway?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. Actually, when I was at Gentleman Scholar especially, I was always so terrified. I didn’t have much confidence. I actually was called out for not having much confidence. I think that actually helped me work on it.
Joey Korenman: I want to ask you about something you just said, you said that at Gentleman Scholar, you were actually called out for not having enough confidence or not coming across as confident enough. I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting because I find you to be very confident. That means that that comment somehow got you to change to at least put on the appearance of confidence. How do you do that? Because a lot of people listening to this I’m sure feel the same way, artists tend… It’s like a generalization, of course, tend to be more introverted. It’s weird to be confident about your art skills, but it’s very important. I’m curious how you approach that.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. Not to say that someone feel not confident, get better. It was said with a lot of love and they were like, ‘Really…
Joey Korenman: Of course.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Want you to become art director and here’s some things I could help you.’ Obviously, kind of hurt because I was just like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ At the same time, I knew it was true. I felt out of my league when I first got there because I was right out of school and everyone knew what they’re doing. At that point, I had mentioned already, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a designer or an animator. I was still figuring out my place. I think that comment really actually help propel me forward. I listened to a lot of podcasts and reading a lot of books on confidence and that’s not always going to help you. What helps is putting into practice.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I talked to one of my coworkers while I was there and he was just like, ‘Sometimes you’re going to have dumb ideas or dumb opinions but just stick with them and don’t second guess yourself. That can evolve into something that is really plausible and helpful.’ That’s what I’ve implemented into my illustration work. I mentioned especially I think that’s helped with having something that looks ugly at first and then pushing forward with it and making it into something pretty. Just being able to let go of that like, okay, this might fail but let’s see where it goes, has really pushed me forward without doing that. I will probably just be stuck in that sketch phase forever. I think that learning to have that confidence and leaning into that failure in the beginning is really going to help anybody as an illustrator when they’re learning.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I love that we’re talking about this because I really believe that confidence can be learned as weird as that sounds.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yes, definitely.
Joey Korenman: As weird as that sounds. I believe that. Now, we’re going to go back into the weeds a little bit. This next question, I’m really curious to hear your answer to this because I’ve asked other illustrators this question and I wonder what you’re going to say. Are there any drawing exercises that you recommend to other artists?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. One that I’ve done before that I actually really liked is really similar to something we already talked about, is taking your own reference photos and then using those to illustrate. One thing I’ve done in the past is I’ll take a bunch of weird poses that I would never know how to draw of myself. I’ll just use my phone camera and put it on timer or something. It’s honestly pretty embarrassing. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Then, give yourself anywhere from five to twenty minutes and just time it and only let yourself illustrate for that amount of time. It’s almost like having a life drawing class with no actual nude model in front of you.
Sarah Beth Morgan: You just have some pictures of yourself that you’re working with and that has actually really helped me with character design. You can do that with anything. I’ve done a lot of pictures of my dog and stuff like that. Even simpler than that, there’s a whole warm-up sheet that we have in this course that students will get access to. The first thing that I have them do is just draw something that you really enjoy for five minutes. Say, you like drawing plants. You just get to draw for five minutes and just let go and have fun with it. Then, after that, they start practicing drawing circles with their whole arm so you’re getting that shoulder movement as well which really helps create nice lines in your illustrations.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Then, we also practice drawing toward yourself and away from yourself, just drawing straight lines. That really helps get your muscles warmed up. You don’t have to think too much about concept or anything. You just get to loose before you start illustrating.
Joey Korenman: Wow, awesome. Okay, that’s a new one for me. That’s something that I don’t think is intuitive to most people unless you draw a lot. Warming up before you draw can actually be really helpful. That’s amazing. Are there any specific projects that you’ve worked on that you can remember that have radically pushed your skills?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. I think the ones that pushed my skills the most are honestly ones that are outside of your comfort zone as it is probably for most people. For me, that comfort zone was like that confidence thing we were talking about and communication skills. Because at some point, I felt pretty happy with my drawing skills. I always know I can improve. The things that pushed me the most were projects that I had to art direct and everything. The campaign we did for a Google privacy at Oddfellows was super rewarding and I’m super happy with how it turned out. It was such a big endeavor and we worked on it for months. I got to art direct that.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It was five minute-and-a-half animations that had character design and had to stay within the Google design language and all of that. There is definitely a challenge with creating something that was on brand for Google. Then, at the same time, I had to manage these big teams. I had to learn how to communicate my ideas more clearly. I had to learn diplomacy and politics and how to manage clients and other artists at the same time and just keep everything friendly even when the going got tough. I was on that one for a really long time, obviously, because it was five long animations. Learning patience and all of that.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think maybe students just want to learn about the actual drawing techniques which are super important. I think communication and working with others and collaborating is the second most important thing especially for Illustration for Motion because you have to learn how to communicate your ideas to the animator and understand how that motion is going to work. I think having the qualities that I just listed and learning those are super helpful for this industry.
Joey Korenman: That’s such a great example. We don’t ask you about that a little bit. You’re at Oddfellows and this Google project comes in. This sounds like be afraid, do it anyway to a tee. Was there a moment where Chris or Colin said, ‘Hey, Sarah Beth, we need someone to art direct this. Do you feel comfortable doing it?’ Was there a moment where you had to say, ‘Haaaaa, yeah, sure.’ Did that happen?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. I definitely think so. They wanted to push me and have me work on something like that. I also tried to advocate for myself some and told them that I was willing to art direct things because I was trying to push myself outside of that comfort zone that I didn’t realize that it would be such a big project. Because it was I think one of the first things I art directed there. Of course, their creative directors are really involved with the project. I think Colin was creative directing that one. There’s a lot of support there. I wasn’t completely alone or anything. It was a little scary at first. It was like, ‘Whoa, this is huge.’ I’m just going to have to do it because you can’t really say no in a situation like that.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, of course. I think that’s really important to just call out to everyone that… It’s one of the themes that has been repeated on this Podcast in many different ways that talent is the price of entry. Motion design is not really a pure meritocracy. We’re just being good, just being better than the other person means you get that job or you get that gig, whatever. These personal skills, interpersonal skills, confidence, faking it until you’re making it sometimes, being afraid and doing it anyway has much, if not, more to do with your career success than just being a really great designer. That’s really awesome. It’s funny.
Joey Korenman: Because this conversation, we’re going in and out of the weeds. I think this is really cool. It’s really cool to hear more about your philosophy and stuff too. I’m not really surprised to hear any of this having been able to hang out with you and admire your work from afar. Almost every successful person I’ve interviewed, you fake it until you make it, you are okay being afraid, you take risks, and you work your ass off too. Let’s talk about your style and style in general here too. You have a style that is… I mean, it’s funny, because your work like a lot of the things you’ve worked on have gotten on motionographer and Vimeo staff picks and things like that.
Joey Korenman: It almost feels like the style of motion design is your style in some ways. I know that you’re a part of that, but also probably I’m sure reacting to that trend and playing off of it. The first question is, how much are you inspired/influenced by other artists and illustrations?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Well, I can’t say that I’m not inspired or…
Sarah Beth Morgan: Influenced by other artists because I’m constantly browsing Pinterest in my Instagram feed. Especially now, I make a conscious effort not to copy anyone’s work. I know that was really the question about copying. It can totally subconsciously happen if you’re looking at something a lot. I’m definitely inspired by the work of others whether I like it or not because it’s ingrained in my brain. I tried to do new things especially now where I feel like I’ve gotten to the skill level where I can create things without looking at other things. A hand illustration, for example, I don’t necessarily have to take a picture of it now or look at a reference. I can just draw it.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I’ve been doing a lot of that lately just trying to create a composition without referencing anything. I think that’s really actually key for someone who wants to make sure they’re not mimicking anyone’s work. Just a quick tip that I teach in this class is if you make a mood board, just try to write one thing down about each image you like and then compile that into a list. Then, maybe just don’t even look at your mood board after you have the list because a lot of times if you’re referencing back and forth between your mood boards and your references from the client, you’re going to probably make something that has really similar features. I’ve actually totally done that before. I’ve looked at other people’s work and then drawn something that looks eerily similar and then I’m like, ‘Oh crap, that’s wrong. I don’t want to do that.’ I erase it. It happens.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. There’s a fine line between inspiration and just straight uplifting. I one-hundred percent agree with you. I don’t know, maybe I’m naïve. I think in most cases, it’s not an intentional stealing. There are obviously cases where there’s no question. I think…
Sarah Beth Morgan: It’s subconscious.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Tell me what you think about this too because I mentioned that the style that you’re known for, and I want to point out to everybody and we’ll link to all of Sarah’s portfolio aside and Instagram and all of that. Check out her work, because you might have an image in your head of what her work is. She’s very diverse actually in terms of what she can execute. When we were thinking of who could teach this class, you popped into my head because I’m thinking of that Oddfellows look which is also a different flavor of the giant ant look which is a different… In motion design, sometimes there’s this echo chamber and things all kind of resemble each other.
Joey Korenman: I really don’t think it’s a conscious thing in most cases. I think it’s like, oh, that’s awesome. The next thing you draw is awesome in a similar way and it’s like things just start to get closer together. I’m curious what your take is on the echo chamber effect where there’s these trends of, ‘Okay, now everyone, when you draw a person, their head should be small. Okay, everybody got it, awesome. Okay, cool. Their legs should be too long. Got it? Okay, awesome.’ How do you look at that in our industry?
Sarah Beth Morgan: First of all, I think our industry is very intertwined. Everyone knows each other. Honestly, the same freelancers could be frequenting the same studios. Then, on top of that, we have clients who saw an illustration or an animation from another studio and they go to a different studio and they’re like, ‘Hey, I want something that looks like that,’ which happens all the time. It’s like totally fine. If they think it works for their brand, then that’s probably what they’re going to want to go with. I think most studios do what they can to create some variation where possible.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, of course.
Sarah Beth Morgan: You have to stick to the client’s wants and needs to a point. Then, there’s also just I think a lot of times someone draw something in a really cool way and actually works really well, it’s got a lot of balance and it’s visually interesting, and it got a lot of attention from people, I think subconsciously people are like, ‘Oh, I love how that looks. I want to try something like that.’ I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing unless you started uplifting. I think it happens and it happens in so many industries. I think beyond the arts, there’s stuff like that that happens all the time with music. I guess music is still arts. You see that happening everywhere, just people cling on to the thing that is standing out from a crowd and then it gets mimicked over and over. I don’t know how do I…
Joey Korenman: I agree with everything you’re saying. I don’t think anybody… Especially at the highest levels as trying to make a thing that looks eight-five percent like another thing. We all get into this to make cool stuff and ideally unique cool stuff. It’s very difficult. Are you conscious of this when you’re working on stuff? Maybe when you’re working on just a personal project, are you conscious of I don’t want this to look like everything else? Or do you even let that worry you?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think I let it worry me to an extent. I guess it depends on the project I’m working on. A lot of times if I’m just creating an Instagram illustration or something, I’m not too worried about it. Obviously, I’m not like, ‘Oh, I saw that one thing, I’m going to make something that looks like that.’ It just is something that happen subconsciously. If I’m making a passion project or I really want to push myself in a new direction, I try to really purposefully not illustrate the way that everyone else is illustrating. That’s really hard because I’ve learned all of my foundational skills by illustrating in those ways. I think some of them are just muscle memory at this point like using a certain texture brush and illustrating something with a very specific type of curve or something like that just happens. I try really hard to not copy or not fall victim to the echo chamber if I can.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, yeah. That’s just something that always existed in art and in motion design. I remember there was a time I think Psyop did a music video for… I think it was Sheryl Crow and they had these cool looking clouds and all of a sudden, those ruined everything. Then, Jorge animated something at Buck that had a bunch of circles moving around and all of a sudden, everything was just like shapes and circles.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. I know that the industry is so small where you can actually see where the origin was.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I want to know where’s the origin of like… I don’t know what plant it is, a fern or something, there’s like this leaf that’s in everything. You’ve drawn it and it’s like this curvy, swoopy fern like a…
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think it’s like a fiddle-leaf fig, is that what you’re talking about?
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That’s what it is. It’s almost like the Wilhelm Scream or something like that and everything.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It’s funny because I think that that came from… I mean, I’m sure it came from an illustrator at some point. Even just from the trend of house plants, I think that house plants were a huge thing twenty years ago. I could…
Joey Korenman: They’re so hot right now.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Not that I would know, I’m not like… Yeah, I think that it comes from other things in the world too and then they’re just fun to draw. Plants are really fun and they’re symmetrical and they look cool. People are just clinging onto that. It’s so true though.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I totally get it. Plants are so hot. Let’s move onto the next one. This is an awesome question. I know a lot of people probably were wondering this too. Color. I mean, whenever we ask our students what they’re struggling with especially in design, color is usually pretty close to the top. The question is, how often are you referencing and color picking palettes like with the eyedropper or something versus just crafting them yourself, just opening up that color palette and Photoshop and picking the colors manually. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, sure. I try to build all of them myself if I can help it. Of course, there are times when the client is like, ‘Here’s your color palette.’
Joey Korenman: Right, of course.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I have to strict where I try to pick a cool color, a warm color, a neutral light color and a neutral dark color, and then I build from there. A lot of times, that warm and cool color will be complementary colors or some kind of spin on that. Usually, I’ll just pick them like, okay, I want there to be pink in this so I’m going to do blue as its opposite. Then, I’ll use the RGB colors ladder from there to get them to a level I like. A lot of times, I try to make them myself. Sometimes I’ll color pick from a photo but I try to avoid color picking strip more reference unless the client has specifically asked for it.
Sarah Beth Morgan: There’s also this other tool that we go over in the course a little bit called Adobe Color, that is a great tool. It helps you pick like analogous palettes are split complementary palettes that you can play around with that. Maybe you pick one color and then it’ll give you some options for the other colors to use. That’s really handy. I tweak it from there. There’s also palettes from other artists on the Adobe Color side that can inspire you. I do my best to pick my own, sometimes I’ll even pick them from old illustrations that I did. I think in the beginning of my career, I probably color picked without thinking too hard about it from other illustrations. I’m glad I’ve moved past that.
Joey Korenman: It reminds me of what we’re talking about before, it’s like training wheels. When you’re starting out and especially if you don’t have at least some fundamental knowledge of color theory and how the color wheel is set up and you mentioned triads, and split complementary, and stuff like that. If you don’t at least understand that theory behind it, then it is very hard to generate your own palettes, if you don’t understand…
Sarah Beth Morgan: That’s true.
Joey Korenman: The value structure and stuff. It is like training wheels. Adobe Color is great because it gives you these starting points. I found every time I try to just use somebody else’s color palette, it doesn’t work because it’s so dependent on the design. It doesn’t work unless it’s for that design. It’s cool. It’s cool to hear you talk about just doing it yourself and that it’s possible to get to that level.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, for sure.
Joey Korenman: The next question is related to this. Because another thing that I really like about your work is that your use of color, you pick great color combinations and they look beautiful, but also your color choices sometimes are very interesting. There’s a lot of levels to choosing, if you’re doing a character, what color should their skin be? There’s obviously you want it to be in some cases at least a realistic skin tone whether that’s light or dark, but sometimes very often these days in motions, you’re doing these videos where a character is supposed to represent basically everybody. You don’t want their skin to be bright pink. You have to sometimes make people with purple skin and stuff like that. I’m curious, the question was, what’s your process for deciding when to go wild with color versus more natural? Any example with non-natural skin tones. How do you look at that?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. Well, I think it’s all rooted in the concepting phase. For me, color palettes are usually based on the mood and sometimes that’s what the client wants. If you want something that appears friendly and happy, I’ll use warm colors which are reminiscent of things like the sun, or nostalgic photographs that are worn down, or peaches, or something. Using warm colors for happy and then maybe the client is for MTV Halloween special or something and they want something that feels dark and scary, I’ll go with cooler blue tones and lots of darkness. Those are very extreme examples. I think it’s really rooted in concept. If the client wants something that feels diverse but they don’t want to specifically point to the diversity which irks me sometimes, they would go with purple skin tone or something. That gets into some Harry territory.
Joey Korenman: It does, yeah.
Sarah Beth Morgan: That happens. There’s no doubt about it that different clients are going to ask you for something that has an unrealistic skin tone exactly for that purpose. With that, that’s usually the client’s need. Sometimes I’ll go with something that has a blue skin tone purely because I think it works well with the other colors I’m using. Conceptually, I’m like, ‘Well, I want this to feel off-putting or tensed or something.’ I’ll make the character have an unusual skin tone, maybe something that feels like sickly and then that adds the overall mood intention of the piece. It usually starts with concepting.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I want to call that out actually because I think… When I read that question, it reminded me of the exact kind of things that I used to wonder about before I started learning about design. It’s like you need to let the horse lead the cart, not the other way around. If you say I want a beautiful color palette and that’s… I mean, in the beginning sometimes, that’s as far as you think and you don’t first do your homework. What’s the concept? What’s the vibe, kind of mood you’re trying to build? Let that then form your color choices, then you’re not going to get anywhere. That’s just another example of why you were the perfect person to teach this class because that’s the way you approach color and that’s what you’re teaching the students who are going to take your class. I think that’s a really useful lesson to take to heart.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. It also breaks everything down for the student too. A lot of times, you’ll start and you’ll be like, ‘I have literally no idea how to pick the color palette. I’m just going to grab this one from someone else’s work because I don’t know what to do.’ If you actually start thinking about the steps and you start from the very base level, okay, what is the mood? Then, that actually gives them more freedom to start thinking about what their color palette could potentially be if they made it on their own.
Joey Korenman: Right. All right, these next few questions are… They’re related in a way I guess. The first question is, when you are illustrating, what sort of things do you keep in mind in terms of making it animation friendly? It’s very nice when illustrators and designers think about the animator on the other end of it. How do you approach that?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. I always consider animation from the very beginning of a project like in concepting. It seems like everything is rooted in the concepting phase. In the very beginning, I try not to restrict my ideas too much because I can always bring them back down to earth in the storyboarding phase. Storyboarding is where it really starts come in together for the animator and me. First of all, I’m thinking about the key frames like, okay, here’s the moment the client is most interested in. I’ll build that out. Then, how do I transition that into the next frame that I’m trying to show?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I’m always thinking about transition and the flow of the piece and the narrative and how that all place together from the initial phases. Then, I’m also thinking here about like, okay, am I going to have a style animator on my team or would we just have an aftereffects animator? Then, that determines how I create my transitions as well. Of course, I want to leave some of that up to the animator so I don’t go too crazy with all of my transitions. Then when I actually get into the design phase, I also start thinking about my file. I try to label everything. I try to group things properly. Then at the very end, I try to make an animation ready file.
Sarah Beth Morgan: It doesn’t happen all the time especially when we’re pressed for time. I typically work in 300 DPI and I’ll try to down res that to 72 DPI at the end. Trying to think about the animator through the entire process is really important especially if you’re illustrating for motion.
Joey Korenman: I really appreciate that you said that on behalf of animators everywhere. Actually, these are really great lesson in the course where you really get into the weeds about the way that Photoshop files come into aftereffects and just some really simple things you can do to save the animator an hour of time down the road. That’s really awesome and thoughtful. I guess in that same vein, because you also do illustration, just static illustration sometimes, do you approach that any differently than you do something that’s going to be moving?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah, I totally do. If we’re just thinking about hardware, I would probably use like Procreate or maybe my laptop with a tablet instead so I could go work somewhere else like my couch or a coffee shop or something. A lot of times if I’m doing a static illustration, I’m not as worried about the file structure or anything. I’m not going to necessarily use Photoshop. I will use Procreate or something. Because creating something for animation is much different than creating something for a still image. In animation, you have to think about the whole picture and the movement that will go into it.
Sarah Beth Morgan: You won’t actually be sitting on your style frame for more than a split second usually. You have to think about how it’s going to move before and after you see your key frame that you’re illustrating. When you’re creating something that’s going to be static in the end, you need to make sure that it looks perfect in that one frame because you’re not going to see in any other way. You don’t have to think as much about transitions or anything. I don’t know. I never can decide which one I like doing better. They’re different for sure.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That’s a really interesting way of thinking about it too. When it’s static, you have to tell the whole story in one frame. I’m sure there’s more details. Then, when it’s going to be a motion design piece, you can save something for the next frame and then save something for the next frame and stretch it out. Is this one more challenging to you than the other?
Sarah Beth Morgan: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It depends on the subject. If I’m creating something, that has to be really clever and conceptual for an editorial illustration. That can be hard because I’m like, ‘Well, dang, I want this to move because I think it would illustrate my idea better,’ but it can’t. Then, same goes for animation or the opposite like, ‘Oh, I wish we could sit on this frame longer so they could see this detail,’ but I can’t. I think it just depends on the project. I think creating something for animation is much more comprehensive so there’s a lot more thought that has to go into it. In that sense, it’s a bit harder. I like both, I enjoy both.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Obviously, creating something that’s going to be used by an animator, I’m assuming there’s a lot more technical considerations too. With a static one, you’re just delivering the final thing in the end. It doesn’t matter how you made it. For motion, it’s very important how you made it.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yes, that’s true. You have to be a lot more conscious of your file structure and everything. Oh no, did I make it this too low pixel resolution, or whatever, or too high. There’s a lot more technical stuff.
Joey Korenman: Yup. Here’s a question that I should have stuck in the style section and I probably forgot too. This may seem out of place but it’s actually a great question. It says, often illustrators come up with a distinct style to set themselves apart and make their work cohesive as Sarah seems to have done in her work, does working in one style always feel natural or can’t feel restrictive? What do you think about that?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I do think I do create one style especially for my Instagram that is very poignant and I employ into a lot in my work, but I am pretty versatile. I don’t think I feel too restricted by one’s particular style. I actually really enjoy playing with different styles especially for clients because I get pretty bored if I don’t switch it up honestly. Especially in the motion world, it’s a bit more of a requirement to have some versatility as a freelancer especially rather than an editorial illustrator because people are usually coming to you because you either worked at a certain studio or they saw your work on a project. How do I say this?
Sarah Beth Morgan: A lot of times in the motion world, different clients will come to you with different needs and you’re going to have to switch up your style based on that especially if you have different designers on your team or different animators working. You have to be a bit more flexible. If I’m working on editorial illustration, typically, people will reach out to you because they like your very specific style. That’s not always the case in the motion world.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. What I was wondering about this question was… Because I know that you definitely are very versatile and you can draw in a lot of different styles. Then, some of those styles are more appropriate to the motion world than others and some of those styles are more popular right now than others. Just as a career choice, those factors affect to what you post publicly because you have, I’m sure, much more work than is on Instagram and on your portfolio site. Do you have to make people think that this is your style if you want to maximize the amount of bookings you’re getting I guess is the way I’m looking at it?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Maybe, not in particular. I think that the work I put on my website and on my Instagram is mainly because it’s the work I like doing and the work I’m proud of. I guess they all tend to be a similar style. If you look back from a year ago, I think it’s still evolved quite a bit. I think I just put the work up that I want to receive. If I put up something that was photocomped or was made in a collage style like Ariel Costa, maybe I’d be getting more work like that but that’s not really something I enjoy doing. I try not to showcase it if need be. I still like doing it from time to time because I like switching it up and I can learn new things from playing with those styles. If I had someone come to me specifically for something, I’d prefer doing the graphic illustration style.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That actually makes a lot of sense when you put it that way. I was thinking about Brian Gossett who’s another illustrator, who’s insanely versatile. When you go to his portfolio which we’ll link to in the show notes, you can see ten different styles. I never thought of it that it could just be a personal choice. You like doing the kind of work you’re doing. Brian loves doing a million different varieties of work I assume. I hope he does, because that’s what he’s putting on his portfolio. That’s really cool too. It’s almost like you choose what you put out into the world because what you put out generally comes back at you.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Yeah. I think I’m pretty fortunate to be at a stage in my career where I have enough of that work to put in my website that I really like. When I first starting out, I did put a big variety of work on my website because I wanted to show that I was versatile. At that point in my career, that’s what was important to me. I think it just depends on what you’re looking for as a designer.
Joey Korenman: Totally, totally. Two questions left, they’re both really good ones. Here we go. First question, how is freelance life treating you? There’s a whole lot of sub-questions in here. What I wanted to focus on was this one interesting part of the question and I’m sure a lot of other people wonder about this. You go freelance and you’ve got all this amazing work on your portfolio that was done at Gentleman Scholar, that was done at Oddfellows. I don’t know, are there any rules or professional courtesies or anything like that about showing that work?
Joey Korenman: Because I guess what this person is saying was, well, you art directed this awesome thing for Google and now you’re a freelance. If someone at Google sees this awesome thing on your portfolio, maybe they just go right to you. Is there any worry about that in the freelance world or the studio world where you obviously don’t want to do the wrong thing and take work away?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Right. I think there’s definitely a professional courtesy that goes into all of that. Personally, I always make sure it’s okay with the studio before I post on my website, always asking like, ‘Is this okay to be here and can I showcase it with credit, of course?’ I always credit the company and everyone who worked on it. Hopefully, if the client or whoever is looking at my website looks close enough, they’ll know that it wasn’t just me. Then, a lot of times if someone at Google came to me and ask me to do something like that, I personally don’t feel I have the capability to run a whole studio under myself at this point.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I’ll probably refer them back to Oddfellows because they’re going to have much more of the time and resources to create all these big, long animation pieces. It just makes more sense that they would go to them. I think there’s a professional respect and courtesy for making sure whoever is reaching out to me knows that it wasn’t just done by me and that…
Sarah Beth Morgan: They might be in better hands with Oddfellows.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know if I’ve actually heard of a studio doing this. At some companies, if you work there, they make you sign a non-compete clause so that if you ever leave the company, you’re legally not allowed to go to any of the clients you’ve worked with. I don’t know if motion design studios actually do that, but I think you used the perfect term, it’s professional courtesy. Was there ever anything explicit said about that as you were leaving Oddfellows? Or was there anything like a contract or is it just like, just do the right thing?
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think it was just do the right thing. I can’t really remember if I’m being honest. I don’t know, sorry.
Joey Korenman: It’s a good question I think, honestly, that this is something that we’ve started to get into a little bit on the Podcast, is just that just being nice and just being thoughtful and courteous goes so far. You don’t have to have… I mean, such thing, I talk about this in the Freelance Manifesto too that if you establish this degree of trust and everyone in the industry is looking out for each other, things just work themselves out most of the time. There are, of course, some bad actors but you’re definitely not one of them which is good. Hearing you talk about this stuff, I think this is the way it should be done, just do the right thing.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think especially as a freelancer, you want to make sure you’re not burning any bridges because if you do, other studios are going to hear about it and probably not want to hire you for that reason. Because this is an industry as big but also small, word gets around.
Joey Korenman: That is definitely true. It is really interesting how small the industry is. I don’t know how it feels to someone getting into the industry right now, it may feel pretty big. Once you’ve been in it for a while…
Sarah Beth Morgan: It’s all connected.
Joey Korenman: Everyone does know everybody, especially studio owners. All right, last question. I want to say thank you, Sarah Beth, for being so awesome and for being so good with your time and waking up super early on the West Coast to be with…
Sarah Beth Morgan: Of course.
Joey Korenman: Okay. The question is, after working for five plus years in an industry, how do you bridge the gap between being… Well, the way the question is worded is being really good to pro level. I’m going to reinterpret this a little bit because I think what I’d like to hear your philosophy on is, what’s the difference between someone who’s pretty good and can get a job and can be a working motion designer or an illustrator and someone who’s really good?
Sarah Beth Morgan: Between really good and really good, all right.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, really, really good.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think it’s hard to tell the difference if you’re just looking at these two people’s work. One of the big things and probably be the actual level of professionalism that you’re putting off like are you creating impressive client decks, are you able to communicate with your clients, are you able to communicate with the animators? I think that just levels you up if you have all of that knowledge. Obviously, creating more complex illustrations will help a lot. One practical tip that could help someone if they wanted to bridge that gap would be to work on passion projects.
Sarah Beth Morgan: I think that if you work on something you’re really excited about and something that motivates you to try a new style or concept without constraints, can really push you. Having that freedom will really push you to make something extraordinary, which in turn could build your skillset. Then, if you can present that in an interesting way or you have animators working on that, you can practice your communication skills and all of that. I don’t know. It’s a matter opinion sometimes between really good and really good.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I think you nailed it with the first part of that answer which is professionalism. In my experience, I’ve run a studio, I’ve hired lots of freelancers and the ones that stick around, the ones that seem to do really well are the ones that get it. It’s not necessarily the ones with the coolest work.
Sarah Beth Morgan: Right, yeah. You have to be cooperative. You have to be a good team player. You have to be professional and be on time for meetings, just all of that. If you’re an amazing illustrator but you’re always late and you’re rude, you’re probably not going to get hired again.
Joey Korenman: Check out show notes for this episode at schoolofmotion.com and make sure you check out Sarah Beth’s work if you’re into amazing illustration. If you’d like to learn how to do the kind of work that Sarah Beth is known for, check out her course, Illustration for Motion. All the details are available on our site. I cannot thank her enough for being such an amazing person to work with. She really has poured her heart into this class and she definitely wants our students to be successful. That is it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening. Bye-bye.