SF Bay Area

Drawing Inspiration From a World Of “Pure Imagination”

Academy students and the wider San Francisco community captured characters from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” at ILL’s Costume Carnival

By Erasmo Guerra

The spring Costume Carnival hosted by Academy of Art University’s School of Illustration (ILL) was held on March 23 at Bradley Hall at 540 Powell Street. The theme was “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the musical film from 1971 adapted from the children’s book by Roald Dahl. At the entrance to the carnival, a chalkboard sign read “Welcome to the World of Pure Imagination,” referencing a song from the movie when awestruck characters are touring one of the magical, confectionery-filled rooms.

Julie Speyer, an Academy School of Animation & Visual Effects alumna (M.A. ’13) and a current Academy instructor who teaches a class on the history of visual development was busy sketching Willy Wonka as he posed in front of a candy-colored backdrop. As Speyer worked with charcoals and a sketch pad, she said Bradley Hall held a special place in her artistic development. “I learned to draw with charcoal in this room in a clothed figure drawing class by Lisa Berrett,” she said adding, “‘Willy Wonka’ is one of my favorite movies of all time” and then squealed when she spotted Slugworth, the villainous rival candy maker, hiding behind a candy cane tree.

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Figure drawing instructor Mark Simmons worked with acrylic paint pens during the carnival. Photo by Adrian Childress.

According to ILL Director Chuck Pyle, the twice-annual carnival has been happening for the past 20 years. “All media are welcome,” he pointed out, adding that while some students may shoot photos (as many did with their phones) to draw from later, he said most students “draw or paint on the spot.”

ILL Model Coordinator Veronique Bohne, who first started working with the Academy as a model herself before landing the coordinator job, said she started organizing the carnival two months ago. She scheduled 10 models to play the main story characters who took turns posing on three different sets that she decorated for the occasion. And, she mentioned, in a twist of non-traditional casting, for the role of Charlie she cast a young woman after seeing a local theater production of “Willy Wonka” in a community center in North Beach, where her own 14-year-old daughter played Grandpa Joe.

Robert Courtney, who played Willy Wonka at the carnival in a purple coat and a red top hat, said he’s been working as a model at the Academy for the past 16 years. And while he’s posed in a number of figure drawing classes, he said: “The carnival is more laidback and fun.” He added that “Willy Wonka” is one of his favorite movies and that in preparing for the carnival he watched it five times in the week leading up to the event.

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Students practiced their drawing in a variety of mediums, from traditional sketch pads and pencils to iPads and iPhones (to snap photos to draw from later).Photo by Adrian Childress.

The carnival was open not just to all Academy students regardless of department, it was also open to the San Francisco community at large, including students from Bay Area high schools who’d been invited to get a preview of ILL and to take part in the open studio environment.

Torriana, a 17-year-old high school student from Tracy, California, who’s interested in animation and graphic arts, said that as someone who usually just draws images that she finds online, being at the Costume Carnival with live models was “blowing my mind.” And, she said, it made her realize that “I really need to step up my game drawing people and their facial features and expressions.”

Working on her iPad in the Procreate app, Mercelle Padilla, a School of Visual Development student in her third semester, said, “It’s really cool to have a diversity of models.” At the carnival that weekend, she said she was focused on capturing characters and storytelling.

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ILL’s Costume Carnival drew a crowd to Bradley Hall on March 23. Photo by Adrian Childress.

Wesley Timms, an Academy student who has an associate of arts degree in illustration and is currently in his final semester of working towards a B.F.A. in the School of Art Education was seated cross-legged on the floor amid a crowd of others gathered at the set where Grandpa Joe was posed getting out of bed.

But not everyone who attended the carnival was there to draw the live models. Sylvia Zhang, an ILL student from Xian, China, who said she’s set to graduate this spring with an M.F.A. in graphic novels, was at the carnival to draw those drawing. She hung back around the outer edge of a crowd of fellow artists, whom she said provided a more inspiring challenge. “You have to be ready to grab the moment when the artist is in their flow,” she explained, before returning to her sketchbook.

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