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Finding yourself: an exploration of personal style with Anna Ginsburg

An interview with Anna Ginsburg on how chasing joy and pleasure in creation can cultivate your own personal style

“...Maybe not being able to recognize your own style is like not being able to see your face; not really being able to know what you look like. Then you look at someone else's work, and it’s so screamingly obvious that they have a style. I guess you do too, it’s just super hard to see it for yourself.”

It’s an interesting statement coming from animator and film director Anna Ginsburg, whose style is very much considered distinct and recognizable. But as she wisely articulates, that elusiveness is at the core of how we frame and define “personal style.”


Whether you feel in tune with your personal style, or you’re at the soul-searching stage of finding your own unique voice, this conversation is for you. Originality, personal taste, the importance of playfulness, burnout, and the discovery in collaborations—it’s all here. In this jam-packed insightful interview with Ginsburg, we explore the meaning of personal style.


 

Wix Playground: Personal style can mean different things to different people. It could be visual, such as using a specific technique; a theme or idea one is drawn to; or a certain motivation to create. What is personal style for you? Where does your style originate?


Anna Ginzburg: "For me, the idea of personal style will always revolve around the idea of joy. It’s very basic, really: this belief that doing something that sparks joy is always going to be pleasant to watch, and by definition will truly reflect who you are.

In my experience, making something that looks like something I've done before is never where I’m gonna find joy. So I will often seek it through collaborations and working with other designers and illustrators. Essentially, trying to push the boundaries of my medium of 2D animation, by involving other aesthetics or techniques I have access to through those collaborations. These experimentations, and not being bogged down by some idea of ‘brand’ I have in my head, are always what makes me feel I can push myself in a way that feels natural.”


WP: Has that always been the case for you? Going back to the beginning of your career, what led you in finding that joy?


AG: “When I started, I wanted to be a stop motion animator using puppets. That was followed by getting into live action and animation hybrids, drawing over live action, and interactive animation within the real world. Sadly, because production value tends to be very low — whether it's a commercial or music videos — I found myself regressing back to hand drawn animation, simply because it was so cheap. You literally just need a computer and a way of making a line, no need for any physical space, lighting, or props. I ended up getting very into 2D, as it allowed me creative freedom with shoestring budgets.

That continued in the last four years, as I moved through many different realms and many different collaborators and personal projects. I’m always inspired and learning from the person I last collaborated with.

Stylistically, or medium-wise, I think I have been all over the place. I’m not one of those animation directors who specialize in one technique and then master it for ten years. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but for me there hasn't been something that keeps the momentum in that type of method. So it’s been more a case of finding joy through collaborations and experimenting through working with others.”



WP: As you say, your collaborators greatly influence your work and style. Do you find yourself drawn to artists who have a very distinct style? And how does working with others help in navigating your own style?


AG: “I think I have been drawn to illustrators who have a very ‘stylish style’ to them. A few years ago, I worked on a film for Selfridges with Sara Andreasson, who's an incredible Swedish illustrator. Knowing her style, I kind of knew that she was going to bring a crazy use of colour that I have always admired. It was a time in which I found myself struggling with colouring. No matter what I tried, I always ended up with a rainbow-y palate. So working with her was a real joy, she brought that aspect that I knew I needed, and indeed she ended up using gorgeous crazy browns and reds, which I never would have gotten to myself. It was so cool watching her artistic eye and her approach to color.


Another great collaboration I had was with a painter called Melissa Kitty Jarram for the film Ugly, made for World Refugee Day in 2019. The film was made all in her style, which is very different to what I usually do. As much as I brought elements to it and helped the composition, it was very her. It was such a cool process with the two of us: she would create these tiny little drawings that might link together, I would storyboard them, then she would work on them some more, and give them back to me. It was all done on paper, so we ended up with all these amazing paintings. With her, there was also a technical challenge for myself, trying to use photoshop in a way that really mirrors tactile physical paintings, learning to use brushes in a really subtle way. That was very cool, a new way of working that I discovered thanks to our collaboration.”


WP: You mention how you enjoy experimenting through collaborations. Do you feel that being experimental is a part of your identity, as a person, not just in your style as an artist?


AG: “[Laughs] The thing with animation is that it’s such a discipline in and of itself. It’s so grueling, and a lot of the time terribly boring! I guess it’s hard to think of yourself as a whacky free-spirited experimental person, when at the end of the day all you do is sit and draw the same thing over and over and over and over and over again, until you go mad. The need for experimentation derives from how I need to get motivated: if I'm gonna spend three months not moving and eating nothing but biscuits — I want it to be for something that excites me, something that will feed me, otherwise I can’t motivate myself to do it.”


WP: Speaking of repetitive work: many creatives get to a point where they feel they are replicating their own designs, as though by mastering your style, you end up boring yourself. Do you ever feel like that? What do you do to fight this?


AG: “Of course, I think this happens to all of us. Especially working commercially in a visual industry, often people will keep trying to pay you to do the same thing over and over. Which is great, we all need to get money, but it can mean that you’re being forced to stay put. It happened to me with Private Parts, my film with the talking vaginas and penises. I made that film, and didn't get any work from it at the time. Fast forward two years later, and suddenly vaginas are a thing! And I find myself getting commissioned to draw vaginas repeatedly. And it was great that the film started paying for itself, but at this point I was just like oh my god… you guys, I'm over it, if I draw another vagina I’ll go mad. It's not like I was the first person to draw them, but all of the sudden brands just wanted fannies everywhere! It was really annoying! [Laughs].

Sometimes everything is stacked against you evolving as a creative person. Because you keep getting seduced by money to do the same thing over and over again. The problem with that is, sometimes it’s good to say no. And if you get a wave of something that feels authentic and feels like, ‘oh, I now have something to say that’s different,’ it's really important that if you can, carve out a bit of time to do it. Because otherwise, your spark will get dimmer and dimmer and dimmer, because you’re bored. So my advice with those ruts is not to put too much pressure on yourself. Sometimes it's good to just turn off your phone, turn off the internet, and get a paper even just for crap little drawings. You can try writing lists of things that you care about and things that you're interested in, and just see what comes up. Give yourself space to think about the world, think about how you’re feeling, think about your relationships. Out of those things, you might suddenly get a feeling that you have something new to say. Then, just try and make room to act upon it. Write a mini-pitch, write a brief or synopsis for a film, do some research.


Even if nothing comes out of it at that very moment, you never know what can come out of it in the future. I have a folder of ideas that have been rejected but that I still want to make, so that if someone’s knocking on the door saying, ‘have you got any ideas for something,’ I always have something ready that I’m passionate about.”



WP: How often will you find yourself in that cycle of feeling fulfilled and self-actualized, to then realizing you're in a creative rut?


AG: “I think it's about every two years that I’ll feel like I need something new. I’ll do a piece that I care about and feel satisfied from, and then have space for a cycle of commercial work. About two years later I’ll snap out of it, realizing I’m bored. I think that’s how it should be, that’s completely fine. There’s nothing wrong with treating your creative process like a job, because it is your job. You don't need to be soul-searching all day long. Sometimes you just wanna do your job, go home, go to the pub, and have a little chat with your friends. You can't be constantly creating precious babies that you’re totally obsessed with, because that would also be unhealthy and unbalanced.”


WP: Do you find that going through major life events impacts your style, or changes it in any way?


AG: “With the pandemic for example, I experienced some positive impact, professionally. I’d done many collaborations just before Covid, which resulted in me losing my confidence in my own style. I haven’t designed something that was purely ‘me’ for ages, so I started questioning my own eye, feeling that I always need some design support. During the first lockdown I made my little bus film, Just The Two of Us — it was just something I wanted to do. No funding, no studio, no collaboration. Obviously it was very silly and very short, but a really good exercise in stretching the slightly weakened design muscles. That led me to creating A Love Hate Relationship, which was designed by me as well. Basically, the isolation pushed me to be a jack-of-all-trades again, and not to rely so heavily on collaborations.”


WP: And what about personal life events? Are those catalysts for change and style exploration?


AG: “Absolutely. I wouldn't have had so many of my films if it wasn't for my personal life! It’s always in moments of crisis, when something big goes wrong. That fight-or-flight mode brings with it a place of reflection, and then you realize you've got something to say. It’s in those moments of big change that it happens. I treat it like a gift, it's like therapy. To be able to process through writing and drawing, often through very painful emotions. With What Is Beauty it was for my little sister, who was extremely ill at the time, and with Private Parts it was for all my female friends who I love very much and weren’t enjoying sex.”


WP: Were personal issues always a path to explore creativity? Is that when you feel the “real you” comes out in your work?


AG: “I think until I was about 25 I didn’t want to paint myself vulnerable. I wasn’t ready to talk about things that were real to me. And during that time, creating music videos was great, it was safe for me and it was great fun. It takes a little while to be really personal with your work, and you shouldn’t pressurize yourself. When the time is right you’ll know.


The added bonus with personal work is the extra layers of gratification. You’ve done something that is scary and made you feel exposed, but then suddenly people relate to it, and your work makes them feel less alone. And this is where the magic of those projects lie, because you learn that humans are so similar, we go through the same things. It’s basically all you want as an artist, isn’t it? Whether you’re a musician, director, or illustrator, you want to connect. And when you do, it’s always the best feeling.”



WP: How important is originality to you as an artist? Do you look for it in other people? Is it even a thing in an over-shared world, dominated by social media?


AG: “I don't think originality is that important. I think doing something that feels challenging is where you’ll find your originality exists.


Personally, I never understood fads and trends. I never understood them fashion-wise, and I never understood them animation-wise. Obviously I would notice things — suddenly, everyone around me is drawing oversized hands and feet, and I’d be wondering if I should do that too, but I wouldn’t understand why. That doesn't come from a place of wanting to be original at any cost, and obviously I’m not above trends. We all see them and recognize them, and I’ve probably been inspired by, and followed visual fads in my work hugely. But, I guess trying to be trendy has never worked for me.


Thinking about social media, I often pity young creatives today. When I was studying animation all I had was a Facebook account, which I rarely checked. I didn't even have a smartphone, so was never immersed in that endless feed of visuals, which can be paralyzing. It was so much easier for me, because I haven't seen anything else! I was free to think what I'm doing is cool and good enough. When you’re just starting, you need to be able to make mistakes, experiment, and create crappy projects, because that’s the only way to get better and make the good stuff later on.”


WP: You mention joy and fun as a catalyst for creation and motivation. How do you encourage joy-seeking in your work? And how do you think it ultimately translates to finding your style?


AG: “When I was in uni, each year began with a really short project: making five films in five days, and then ten films in ten days. It sounds really stressful, but it was the best fun we’ve ever had. You have a very clear and tight deadline — you have to upload your film at midnight. So you find yourself doing all this stuff you would never have done if you had longer. I would experiment with techniques, doing stuff I would never have tried because the stakes would have been too high. It just liberated me — that notion of, ‘it's gonna be rubbish anyway, so I might as well have fun with it.’ You get so many insights because you’re stimulated. It was such a good lesson in finding that creative joy. Nowadays, I’ll need to do weird little tricks to help me stay playful. I personally am always seeking external deadlines, such as applications. I’ll have a deadline to submit, and I have to do it. Finding a way to get things done is important, because otherwise it can be hard to motivate yourself.


I guess I worry, especially talking to young people, that they are very aware of having to ‘establish a brand,’ and intentionally trying to build their personal style. That can mean that they do work that could potentially feel a bit stifled, like they're putting pressure on themselves to be easily put in a box. It generates work that is created to fit the zeitgeist, to be trendy. Whereas actually, the work that people love, is the work where you can see the creative is being playful.

I would love it if people are never locked down in the idea of style. Because, like I said, if you’re taking pleasure in making something, your style will be there — in the same way that you can’t write in something other than your own handwriting. Ideally, we’d all be released from this worry and just create what we enjoy creating.”


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