Today we’d like to introduce you to Caitlyn Bidwell.
Caitlyn, before we jump into specific questions about your art, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I don’t know that many people that actually grew up knowing it was their goal to become an artist in animation, and I’m definitely not an exception to that. My introduction was through a well-loved collection of Disney VHS tapes that had these beautiful “making-of” segments. It was, in a word, captivating, especially when you’re at the age where you’ve never really thought to question where your favorite movies and shows come from. Besides that, I also read as many books as I could, played a handful of instruments, and looked forward to family trips to places like Shasta or Lassen National Park, where I found a love for nature. I let all of these experiences fuel me creatively, and they still influence my work to this day.
It wasn’t until high school that I started to honestly wonder why I couldn’t be an artist, too. I’d considered other options, but nothing I was really deeply passionate about (sorry, marine biology – you’re still really awesome, though). Around that time, I found artists who had online presences, such as Brittney Lee and Mingjue Helen Chen. That was the thing that made the idea of being an artist truly real – they felt more accessible than someone I only ever saw on big, official film segments. From there, it was only a short jump to apply to schools around the LA area and move there from Northern California to be closer to the animation community.
As of now, I’m officially graduated from Long Beach State with my BFA in Pre-Production for Animation and working on updating my portfolio while looking for in-house or freelance for background design and painting. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of Cartoon Network’s intern team last Fall and to have worked at Disneyland’s Animation Academy as a performance artist. To say that these experiences were incredibly inspiring would be an understatement; through them, I’ve met wonderful friends and fellow artists, and have learned more about this industry than I ever could have on my own.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely not. Is it for anyone? If anyone out there actually has had it easy, please let me know, I just wanna talk. Jokes aside, there’s that saying of “nothing worth doing comes easy”. Cliche as it is, they’re right. From the beginning, nothing was truly easy. I decided to become an artist pretty late down the line, and I grew up in a small town that had next to no resources for young artists.
I went into college with some stiff cartoon drawings and practical skills that didn’t go beyond an art elective class. I compared myself to other young artists constantly. I also wasn’t too sure I’d be able to even go to my choice college in the first place – I’m very grateful my parents believed in me and took a chance to let me go straight into a four-year school. I don’t know if I would have grown as an artist as quickly as I did if I’d stayed where I was.
Talk to even a couple artists, and you’ll start to hear similar stories about burnout, imposter syndrome, social insecurities, and general self-doubt. What I’ve realized now after hearing more people’s stories is that life is much easier when you start forgiving yourself for not measuring up to your own idea of what success looks like. All you can do is your best, whether that’s trying to learn a new skill every day, creating personal pieces for fun, or just sitting down and taking a recovery day. Just being kind to yourself can do wonders.
We’d love to hear more about your art.
I specialize in background design and painting for animation, as well as other aspects of design such as props, characters, illustration, and visual development. Basically, I help visually design and build the world a story exists in. I have an overarching appreciation for all of pre-production, which is why I try to make sure I have at least a basic understanding of how to do those jobs, but my true enthusiasm is in background design.
That could just be because I find it personally ironic (I definitely used to be the person that would groan over drawing a chair that a character would sit in, let alone the entire room), but to me, design is the icing on the cake of world-building. You’ve gone through the nitty-gritty process of mapping the world out, figuring out every minute detail, and writing the story – now you get to see it come to life! It’s extremely satisfying, and background designers get to have so much fun with adding details, playing with shape language, and “setting the stage” for the characters. It’s hard work, but the final effect can pay off in a huge way.
As for what sets me apart from others? It’s hard to say exactly, but I do my best to keep a sense of wonder and brightness in my work and life. In a world that gets increasingly harsh, and I want to make work that reminds people to stay open to the world around us, be brave, and stay kind.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
My favorite childhood memory is really a combination of the trips to Mount Shasta that we’d take to go visit family. There was this really old and huge cabin that my relatives owned, and it was the setting of a good number of my childhood fantasies. It was surrounded by trees, had a creek that ran along the side of the property, and only had a small community living nearby, so it was always quiet.
I remember doing things like taking a tiny, old, dusty raft out and my cousins attempting to ride it down the creek (it didn’t work as well as they’d hope), practicing archery, and playing hide-and-seek in that ginormous house. Those memories are the most vivid out of all of my childhood moments, and I recognize that home and those stories in my art and writing.
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