Stephen Silver: The Passionate Opportunist
I had the great fortune of listening to Stephen Silver speak Tuesday night in Burbank for Animation Nation. It’s always a fantastic experience to connect a real person with works of art that seem larger than life. In this case, Stephen was the character designer for iconic shows like Disney’s Kim Possible and Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom.
He certainly came across as passionate! From the images he projected and just the way he carried himself (repeating the word ‘drawing’ as a life mantra!), he exuded an aura of infectious positive energy. He spoke about his background, work experience, self-publishing activities and urged his audience to fuel their enthusiasm for art by constantly drawing. Despite his lack of a traditional art education, he walked in to animation powerhouses like Disney, Warner Brothers and Nickelodeon.
I also came away with the distinct impression Stephen rarely said no to the opportunities life had tossed at him. By saying ‘Yes!’ to different kinds of challenges (backpacking in Europe! working for Seaworld!) and fearlessly presenting himself and his work out there (self-published art books! offering his art to local businesses!), not only did he keep himself busy and employed, he also banked on the connections and contacts he’s made throughout his career.
Seeing the sheer volume and variety of his work could easily be overwhelming but it was inspiring, too. To think that someone from such humble beginnings could rise to his prominence on sheer effort and will is encouraging. I admire his work ethic and appreciate the advice he dispensed related to art (which may have been directed at animation employees and students but felt applicable to visual artists like myself.)
“Excellence is never granted to man, but as the reward of labor.” ~ Sir Joshua Reynolds
Stephen said he wrote the quote above in all of his sketchbooks. I agree with the sentiment because great work shouldn’t just be attributed to vague notions of talent or genius. Skilled artists work on their craft tirelessly and the effortless nature of their art always masks the years of experience and toil for it. What makes the Stephen so brilliant is his dedication to the basics of drawing, his undying curiosity for subjects and experimentation and finally, his good nature and willingness to connect with people. Success didn’t just happen to him; this guy made it happen all the way.
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