So, it’s been quite a few months since Inktober actually happened. It might be difficult to understand quite why I’ve been extending my thoughts for this long. However, I think it becomes less strange when I consider this not only a look back at the experience of drawing daily during this past October, but also a look back upon my inspirations and how they came to influence me and my work. The entire purpose of this month for me was to shed some of my fear that I have about truly looking back and embracing the things that I love and loved.
One of those things was a little film called “Once Upon a Forest”.
As I mentioned in previous posts, my method for what I drew for Inktober was purposefully random. I can get hung up on choices and having a list of 30+ choices for each day of drawing very much overloaded my brain. The random method really helped me to keep things in order, keep myself motivated, and also helped to build my excitement for each following day as I looked forward to the results of the random rolls. It was about halfway through the month, however, when I made the choice to forgo the random method for the final two days. For the final day, I wanted to draw my own characters as a culmination of the things I’d learned from my various inspirations. For the second-to-last day, I wanted to draw one of my biggest inspirations as a kid as well as a personal goal post.
It’s always difficult to fully explain what something can mean to us when it comes to inspirations, but I think laying out some history can paint a clearer picture of what it meant for me to work on this picture and relive those memories associated with that time.
Despite being my favorite film, I did not first see Once Upon a Forest in theaters. In fact, I barely remember what it was like seeing it on VHS for the first time. At eight years old, I liked the movie a lot and I found the characters to be cute, but it was just one of many movies we’d rented. I liked the movie enough that my parents even bought it for me. However, it wasn’t until about a year later that the movie burrowed its way forever into my subconscious.
It was the summer of 1995, and my folks had saved up enough money for one of our biggest vacations yet: A summer log cabin. My parents, being insane lovers of all things outdoors, were ecstatic, but I was very much the opposite. By this point, I had just recently developed an all-encompassing fear of bugs and the outdoor world that they inhabited. There are layers to how I came to get that fear, including such wonderful memories as having a beehive somehow thriving in the walls of our house, but all that you really need to know for this is that I wanted nothing to do with nature by this point in my young life.
Because of my desire to stay inside as much as possible and also because my parents loved a good movie themselves, my folks allowed us to bring along a small television and a VHS player. I was allowed to bring only one or two movies for the entire week-long trip, and the only movie that I remember bringing along on the trip was Once Upon a Forest. By this point, I was nine years old and my love for anthropomorphic animals was growing exponentially. I would spend a lot of time drawing pictures of Bright Heart Raccoon and anthropomorphic plant men, and I had found that looking at pictures of cartoon animal characters lowered any stress or fear I had. So, while we were driving hours up to our campgrounds and what I expected to be a terrifying outdoorsy log cabin, I spent most of the trip reading my first ever experience with Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes via the book “Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat”. I also spent a lot of time just looking at the box art for Once Upon a Forest, since it was one of the few other things I had to look at during the drive.
Spending significant time looking at box art may seem a little strange to some folks these days, but it was very much a different time. For one thing, VHS cases like the ones I had were huge and strangely ornate, with all sorts of little details hidden in the cover art and on the back of the box. Secondly, even at that age, it was clear that I was crazy about art and cartoons, and I could stare at any picture for a solid 30 minutes or more and soak in everything about it. I would daydream about the characters moving in the picture and wonder what laid beyond or before the scene that I was looking at. I would create entire stories from just staring at a single image. With few other distractions available to me during the trip, soaking in this box art was just a natural thing to do.
It was during the first night at the cabin itself that left the biggest impression. After having this movie in my sight for the entire trip up, I oddly wasn’t that excited about watching it. It wasn’t going to be new to me and it wasn’t my favorite movie of the time. Still, I was extremely nervous about the entire cabin experience and I was starting to be afraid of the dark, so watching a cartoon was most certainly preferable to whatever else we might do. When my parents put the movie on and I started watching it again, however, it felt different.
The cabin was pitch black aside from the blue glow from the TV. It might as well have been a movie theater, considering that my entire world for that hour or so was that film. As I watched the movie, I had this weird thought that, despite owning it for many months by now, it all felt new to me. Whatever plot I remembered the movie having, I’d gotten it entirely mixed up with something else. All of a sudden, I was engaged and had no idea what was going to happen next. I cared deeply about what was happening to Abigail, Edgar, and Russel, and all I could think about was going on adventures with them. I got excited, I got scared, and, by the end, I even cried because of the relatively somber message and music of the film.
It was then that I gained one of those lifelong memories… My father looked at me after the movie was over, and he got mad at me for crying. He told me that he didn’t want me crying at that movie again. The exact wording is something that I’ve since forgotten, but the impression he gave was that I was being a baby for crying at a kids film. Ironically, the mix of emotions that hit me then made that movie and that moment eternally important to me, and I only latched onto it harder. I wanted to watch the movie again and again because of the way it made me feel.
And so I did. I watched that movie every night that we stayed at that cabin, sometimes multiple times. I think my mother got mad at my dad for yelling at me, since he didn’t stop me from watching it again that week, but my parents may have also been okay with me watching the movie multiple times because it inspired me to be more adventurous during that week. I wanted to go out in nature like the characters did and see the trails and animals all around. I still got scared and still avoided bugs at all costs, but I weirdly felt this confidence by daydreaming about joining up with the Furlings for adventures.
It turned out that the entire cabin trip would be ludicrously important for my personal development. I gained major motivation from having a park ranger compliment me on my drawings and how well I drew animals. I had an incredible experience with a gang of raccoons coming up and ‘talking’ with me through the cabin screen door, making some of the most haunting and beautiful calls that I can ever remember hearing. I learned about racism from my father showing me “All in the Family” for the first time and having his first ever talk with me about the topic and some of what he’d experienced in his life. And, at the very end of the trip, after seeing him at the cabin on just the previous day, my grandpa passed away and I had my first true experience with death.
Thinking back on it now, it’s little wonder that the entire experience at that cabin felt so impactful.
|Believe it or not, Edgar here wasn't my favorite character in the film!|
These were some practice sketches I did to get ready to draw him
for the first time.
In the years that followed, I kept watching and enjoying Once Upon a Forest, but I also grew increasingly embarrassed about liking it. I eventually started only watching it when I was alone or, at the very least, only when I didn’t have any friends over. This was also the point where I started gaining confidence in my ability as an artist. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but watching the movie in such a focused fashion and having it in the back of my mind resorted in my art style and preferences being greatly influenced. It wasn’t until years and years later, when I was starting high school, that I recognized that my art style had been gravitating towards the style of that film (along with the style of the Sonic comics books that I ravenously consumed…). It was right about then that I started setting art goals for myself.
The goals were simple: I took a piece of art that I loved and I tried to copy it. If I was successful, then, I reasoned, I was truly a skilled artist. I had several such pictures set aside specifically for this purpose, and I failed at mimicking most all of them, but recognized that I was growing with each attempt. My holy grail of achievement, however, was being able to draw a scene from Once Upon a Forest. I would constantly tell myself that I wasn’t ready to attempt it and that I wasn’t good enough. It was like a roller coaster ride: “You must have X amount of artist experience to attempt this!”
Eventually, I worked up the courage to try it and I sat down and absolutely studied the frames of this movie that I’d loved so much. I was afraid that it might take away the magic somehow; that I might see the cracks and the ugliness and that the movie wasn’t as good as I let myself believe. What I saw instead was the beautiful linework of the animated frames and the gorgeous background paintings. I studied the designs of arms and hands and eyes and, by the end, I was crying again. It all felt extremely natural and welcome, as if I had always been trying to draw in this style and was finally understanding it. It was like I’d discovered some powerful secret that was mine and mine alone. I never managed to draw a full scene from the film like I wanted. Like most of my art goals back then, the point was never the finished product anyways.
All of this is the reason why drawing the Furlings for this Inktober was so impactful for me. You see, I had not made a serious attempt to draw these characters since those days. After learning what I did, I moved on to other things and incorporated what I learned into my characters and style. I wasn’t aware of it until I started drawing these characters again this October, but I had subconsciously kept Once Upon a Forest as one of those unreachable goalposts. It was something I’d told myself I would never be good enough to pull off. My rubric for many years of character creation had been “How close can I get this to feeling the way that movie made me feel as a child?”
I had not realized that I had already achieved it and, in some ways, even passed it.
It wasn’t until I was putting these characters down on paper for the first time in almost two decades that I felt like I really understood how far I have come as an artist. It is no longer my limitation, but instead my inspiration.
|One of my favorite scenes in the film.|
The colors and expressions and poses just communicate
SO much all on their own!
Well, thank you all for joining me on my little trip down memory lane. I don’t often get to just muse about past experiences and thoughts like this, so it’s been fun and also kind of useful. Looking back in this way helps me to feel a bit reinvigorated and reminds me of my goals and hopes. It also tends to dig up very old memories that I’d forgotten, but still might find useful for future story concepts or writing prompts.
I’m not certain what will be next for my posts here. Musing in this fashion about the deep past is certainly fun, but I feel like it may be time to try and start thinking a little more about present times or even the future.
Happy reading, all!