Pro Juice Profiles: Guerrilla Artists on the Cutting Edge of All Things Digital | Jonathan Chong AKA Dropbear Digital
By Ariel Nishli
Tastemakers and fans of delectable eye and ear candies have spoken. They want to know who designed the choicest treats on their Pinterest boards, the animators behind the most viral of videos, and what VJs concocted the laser art spectacle at last weekend’s rave, let alone who produced the unworldly beats spun by the DJ.
They want to know who these artists are, the ones who remind them that our world is a beautiful place, and that in the digital world anything merely imaginable is just as real as a stretched canvas and smeared palette.
To answer the call, we’re running a series profiling five of today’s hottest indie digital artists. At one point, each was selected to reveal some of their craft secrets to the world on KoldCast TV’s Pro Juice, a show that brings the best tips, tricks and showcase clips to legions of creative types from the world of digital media.
Hosts Arlo Enemark and Nick Calpakdjian bring their fast-talking, shoot-from-the-hip style to talented artists who peel back the curtain to show you how the magic is made. Pro Juice has an indiegogo fundraising campaign in the works to bring you Season 2, a truly innovative multi-platform production for which they’ve lined up an impressive cadre of talented new digital artists.
FIRST IN THE SERIES: JONATHAN CHONG AKA DROPBEAR DIGITAL
Dropbear Digital produces motion graphics, animations, award-winning videos, documentaries, and visual communications. Dropbear has worked on everything from cute commercial spots for Purina dog food to hip-hop artist Lotek’s mind-bending music videos. In Episode 1 of Pro Juice, the brain behind the brand, Jonathan Chong, chats about the process for creating Spoonbill’s music video “Feather Leather.” He’s the finest example of how being nimble while staying true to your vision is a critical balancing act to master if you’re going to survive the jungle that is indie digital arts.
Click to watch Episode 1 of Pro Juice
What are the most formidable challenges facing independent digital artists today?
With easy and affordable access to such a wide range of digital tools and mediums, it’s a great time to be an independent digital artist. However, this also brings about some challenges. With so many people now producing content, it’s important to keep your work fresh and original so you stand out from the masses; so you constantly have to be striving to be on top of your game.
It’s always been about ideas so the challenge is to come up with the best and most innovative concepts you can. Secondly, time constraints and financial woes are also challenges we face as artists. As an independent you don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder and keeping you in check, so you really have to be disciplined, keep motivated and also do all the boring administrative stuff. Basically it’s a big balancing act.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to working as a “guerrilla artist” rather than as a company man for a major label, design company, or advertising firm?
It’s really great being an independent artist, as you can work flexible hours, you have creative freedom and the time to work on diverse and interesting projects. It definitely beats working for the “man.” However, there a few drawbacks such as financial uncertainty… If you don’t have a regular client, you don’t always know when the next paycheck will come.
Sometimes you can also feel a bit isolated. If you’re not sharing a studio it can get a bit lonely sometimes. Depends on how you prefer to work, but I like to have other creatives working in the same space as me. I like to bounce ideas off people and get inspired by what others are doing. It’s also nice to just have that social contact.
How did you get started as an artist? What kept you going?
I was born and bred an artist. My grandmother was a commercial artist in the 1940s so I think I got my creative streak from her. From very early on in life I’ve always enjoyed drawing and making things. This has lead to me exploring a wide range of creative fields, such as graphic design, printmaking, film, animation, photography, installation based work and painting.
Creativity for me is an intrinsic part of my life and I enjoy collaborating with different creative people on a variety of projects, as I believe it’s a great way to share ideas and skills. If I’m not creating new works, I’m not happy, so I suppose that’s what keeps me going… and my drive for perfection. As they say, you’re only as good as your last project!
How has the digital artistry landscape evolved over the last several years? In what direction do you see it going?
I’ve seen a big shift towards creating digital content for the Internet. The majority of the work I do is for the net. This has allowed people to connect and share ideas, concepts and work like never before. There are so many ways to communicate with people now. It’s so easy to work with clients on the other side of the globe! This was unheard of several years ago. With the boom of social networking, everything is so instant and rapid, so the biggest change I’ve seen is the speed at which everything happens.
Obviously, the other thing is the advance in the technology used to create digital art. However, I think this has also inspired artists to incorporate traditional techniques and methods into their work.
What are some of the most innovative projects you’ve worked on?
One of my most recent projects was a stop-motion animated music video called “Against the Grain” that was made for an indie folk artist called Hudson. The entire clip was made with over 1,000 colored pencils and it took over 200 hours to complete. It was a lot of work! Within the first two days of uploading, it had reached 500K views and from there it kept snowballing! I didn’t think it would do so well, but after it had been featured on some influential blogs it went viral.
I was totally overwhelmed with the response and it goes to show the power and speed of the Internet. I think it was also due to the fact that it was a hand-made piece and the choice of pencils really struck an emotional response in people… You know as kids we have nearly all used colored pencils and it’s probably one of the first things that we use to express our creativity. The clip has really opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve been offered some great opportunities to work on some interesting projects.
How important is a show like Pro Juice in helping to promote independent digital artists’ work, as well as provide new opportunities for emerging artists?
Pro Juice really is a great resource for all indie digital artists. First and foremost, they are generating useful and meaningful content that gives advice, skills and techniques to aspiring and also established artists. As an independent artist, it’s great to have access to as much advice and knowledge as possible and Pro Juice is an accessible resource to do just that. In the digital realm it can be hard to get your work noticed so Pro Juice is also an important platform to promote digital artists because they have a reputation for quality production levels and professionalism.
Tell us a personal story, point of view, or anything else you’d like the world to know.
I think that innovative, original ideas and concepts should always be the starting point for any of the work you do as an artist. These are the things that excite me and keep me passionate about my work. Create, share, connect, repeat.
Ariel Nishli is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sixth Wall. He’s got a big apple in his heart but moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2007, he worked in the motion picture literary department at ICM, then moved on to feature film development at Parkes MacDonald Productions. Ariel’s wardrobe has steadily devolved from designer suits to worn out slippers, as he now focuses on screenwriting and journalism when he’s not obsessing over this magazine.