“I get excited when something I have drawn by hand moves on the page and looks as though its moving in three dimensions and with style. The novelty is huge.”
Tom Sutton is an animation student, deep thinker, drawing maker, writer, and historian, living in Ottawa. He had a BA(Hons) in History from Carleton, an MA in History from UNB, and a PhD, he says, is probably in the cards someday. He has guided myself through a fairly classical education in storytelling, myth, history, film studies, psychology, philosophy, and drama. He also try’s to read a lot of books. I first really met Tom on the set of a short film he did back in New Brunswick called “Little Sister.” Since then he has recommended several fantastic books to me on the creative process and thinking in general. His intelligence, passion, and drive are inspirational, and I was very excited when he agreed to do this interview for creative life.
Right now, Tom is studying animation at Algonquin College. He’s passionate about public education, public television, the crafts of animation, film, storytelling and puppets, and sharing knowledge that makes people more self-aware and more compassionate.
1. What is the force that drives you forward? What fuels your ambition?
I guess its two things. I want to find my highest capacities. I know that I’m bright and that I’m capable of a lot, and I get excited every time I show myself that I can do something that I couldn’t before. I like a challenge and I love learning.
Secondly, I have a personal ideal that I strive towards. I try hard to be the person I choose to be instead of the person I can’t help but be. I want to make myself. I’m in charge of myself so I try to take charge.
2. Can you talk about your greatest “failure”? (something that led to your most significant shift in consciousness, and made you who you are today).
When I was younger I wanted to be a teacher, but after experiencing teacher’s college, what public schools were like and how much personal freedom I’d be giving up, I was pretty devastated and I decided against it. I felt like a pretty huge failure and really discombobulated. I had no idea what I was doing. I did my Masters degree in the meantime but that finished and then I didn’t have a lot to do. I couldn’t find work worth doing, my relationship at the time fell apart and I fell into a hard depression.
I was idle, but I read a lot. Too much? Mostly non-fiction, a lot of psychology, philosophy, mythological studies, neuroscience, and about whatever I was interested in that day. I had a couple epiphanies and a couple crises and it took a while but eventually I had to move home and try to reboot my life.
I decided that I needed to just pick something and chase it. I picked animation. It wasn’t something I felt “with my heart” or thought was my vocation. I just picked it, because I had a persistent interest, because I wanted to learn, because it had a novelty. I didn’t really have an art background, but I didn’t care, because I knew that I could learn what I needed to know. I’d just finished an MA and I did well, so anything else seemed just a matter of willingness. I applied at Algonquin College, knowing it was a very competitive program with a limited number of seats. I got medicated. I worked hard on putting together a decent portfolio as I taught myself how to draw. I wrote a good letter to the coordinator saying that I believed that I could learn to do anything. And I got in. So that’s what I’m doing now.
3. Are you happy? What does happiness mean to you?
I don’t really chase happiness as a goal in and of itself, and I think that makes me happier in the long run. Happiness for me is the rhythm of getting what I need and doing what I choose, a pattern of life that helps me strive towards who I wanna be, where I’m fed and stable and loved and I can chase my ambitions. Things ebb and flow. I don’t expect to have a good day every day. Things have been pretty good this year.
4. What do you think is your greatest strength? What is your greatest personal challenge (something you struggle with)?
I am a really good learner. I am very analytical. I have good retention habits. I can break things apart in my brain and try to understand how they work. This also makes me a pretty good teacher and tutor to my peers.
It seems like my biggest challenge has been depression but lucky for me I am medicated so I don’t have to just involuntarily emote all the time and I can get things done. I can sometimes be cocky because of my intellectual confidence, but I try to stay humble.
5. What do you love about what you do?
I get excited when something I have drawn by hand moves on the page and looks as though its moving in three dimensions and with style. The novelty is huge.
And its difficult! Animation is extremely demanding of your time, your energy, and your attention. It takes a lot of problem solving and mechanical skill. But I like that its hard. When I conquer a little piece of it, its very satisfying in a lot of ways.
6. What is the one habit that you’ve implemented that has had the greatest impact on your success so far?
Not getting out of the seat when I want to get out of the seat, and not getting distracted by my digital whatzles.
In animation, if you stand up before its time to take a break, or you stop working, then you’re killing your own productivity.
Drink water at your desk. Don’t let other people derail you.
7. How do you deal with doubt?
I don’t have a lot of doubt when it comes to animation, because I tell myself that I can learn anything, because I believe that I can. Everything is learnable. Every aspect of the craft, habit of the draftsman, stroke of the pencil, can be described in intent and effect. Its accessible. Its not mysterious. Its mechanical. If I’m stubborn then I will learn it, eventually.
Or if I’m having a little crisis I’m probably just tired and I have to go eat and sleep.
8. Is there a quality that you think artistically successful people have in common? What is it?
Ironclad work ethic.
9. Do you have any advice for artists? Perhaps advice that you wish you’d been given when you were first starting out?
You can learn anything. Its a matter of time and intelligent study. Break it down, math it out. Don’t worry about killing the mystery or the emotionality of it. In the end you still make beautiful things, and you’re less emotionally attached to your work, which lets you be more self-critical.
Take apart some masterworks and see how they do what they do, down to the thickness of a sharpened pencil. If you don’t know how the highest standard gets to be the highest standard, how can you hold yourself to it, and hope to be there someday? You can do it. Its learnable.
10. What is your happiest memory (could be related or unrelated to your field)?
I have no idea. Probably something sexy.
11. What is your favourite book? It could be about your craft, or maybe just an excellent story. If that is too difficult to answer, who are your favourite authors?
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is probably my favourite book. I’ve read it a few times. It always gives me something new each time I do.
Tumblr: Oh No Tom Sutton
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