Profiles in Art: Hayley Garden

Hayley Garden is a New York-based motion designer and illustrator. She recently received her MFA in Computer Arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She holds a BFA in Animation and Motion Media and a minor in Photography from Emerson College, Boston.

Hayley is passionate about animation and motion design. She is currently combining these skills with her love for Internet culture by creating digital artwork for social media. Her extensive knowledge of how to best capture the audience’s interests online has allowed Hayley to grow the social media presences of companies both big and small throughout her career.

Interview conducted by: Kathryn Cooperman

Edited by: Kathryn Cooperman and Morgan Moore

All images provided by Hayley Garden.

What is your backstory? How did you get started as an artist?

Believe it or not, I was not very artistically inclined as a child! I was athletic and mildly convinced I would follow my parents’ footsteps and become a doctor. My artistic awakening began when I was about twelve years old, and enamored with a television show. The pure passion I had for this show led me to draw fan art as a means of processing my emotions, a practice I still occasionally indulge in these days. It was not until high school that I learned that art could be more than just a hobby. My teachers nurtured my talents and gave me a space to flourish, which culminated in a six week pre-college program at the Rhode Island School of Design studying graphic design. It was there, after a life-changing viewing of the film Toy Story 3, that I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life immersed in art and animation. I was accepted into Emerson College a few months later and the rest, as they say, was history.

Talk about your experience at Emerson College, and your first job in Los Angeles.

Emerson was interesting. Not exactly the RISD-caliber level animation program I had dreamed of attending in high school, but looking back, it was exactly what I needed at the time. My courses at Emerson provided me with my first exposure to almost all of the tools and tricks that have become staples in my day to day work as a designer and animator, such as the Adobe Creative Suite for 2D animation and illustration and Autodesk Maya for 3D animation. These softwares are industry standard and are imperative for anyone with aspirations of pursuing a long term career. Emerson’s animation major was small, but the skills and connections I acquired there have served as the building blocks for my career. The small community of animation majors also ended up being some of my dearest friends, and I would not trade them for anything. 

In our last semester, we made the journey out west to study on Emerson’s special Los Angeles campus. The Emerson Los Angeles (ELA) program was a hybrid learning experience where students took eight credits of classes and spent the rest of their time at an internship. I had the opportunity to intern at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, on Spongebob Squarepants, during my time at ELA. My three months at Nickelodeon were nothing short of magical. While it was more on the management side, I was working on my favorite show and meeting influential people in the industry every day (including Mr. Stephen Hillenburg himself). I ended up moving away from a career in both TV animation and in Los Angeles, but the time I spent there was crucial to my professional growth.

A screenshot from Ozymandias, a video that Hayley created while at Emerson.

What did your MFA at the School of Visual Arts New York City entail? What was your thesis project?

SVA’s MFA Computer Arts program was the most challenging, yet rewarding experience of my life thus far. Being a prestigious program at one of the top art institutions in the world, the department expected nothing but excellence from its students. The highs and lows I experienced in order to achieve that resulted in immense creative and personal growth. 

The department is divided into three tracks for students to take courses in, though it is encouraged to not simply stick to one track, and experiment with your course-load. The tracks are: 3D Animation, Motion Graphics/2D Animation, and Fine Arts. I started out at SVA on the 3D track – after struggling with it in undergrad, I figured it was time to give it a second chance. That didn’t quite work out in my favor, and I only spent a semester dedicated to 3D animation. I switched over to the Motion Graphics second semester track to focus on strengthening my skills as a 2D animator and motion designer. Our department chair had a saying, he always told us to “fail early and often.” As an artist, it’s important to step out of your comfort zone and take risks with your craft, even if it doesn’t work out in the long term. My thesis film, a 2D animated short film entitled How The Oreo Became Kosher, is a 2D animated explainer video that documents the Oreo’s journey to Kosher certification. This film educates viewers on the Jewish dietary laws of Kosher, and takes them through the process the most popular cookie in America took to becoming accessible and consumable by everyone. How The Oreo Became Kosher is a multi-layered teaching piece. On the surface, it illustrates to viewers the intricacies of Jewish culture and the strength of Jewish will. But on a deeper level it participates in a larger conversation on religious identity.

A screenshot from How the Oreo Became Kosher.

What was it like to work at Madison Square Garden?

My six month long internship at the Madison Square Garden company was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’d never worked with brands as big and ubiquitous as the ones owned by MSG before, so it was incredible to create content for household names like the New York Knicks, New York Rangers, Radio City Rockettes, and MSG concert series. 

The marketing department at MSG, both on the creative and strategy sides, was full of bright-minded individuals who had a very clear vision of the company’s brand identity and integrity. It was a privilege to get insight into the minutiae of how these large-scale advertising campaigns are created and executed.

It was a thrilling challenge trying to figure out how to showcase my creativity as an artist and designer while adhering to the strict visual guidelines of the pre-existing brands. I learned a lot about myself as an artist during those six months, and I have a much clearer understanding of the sheer amount of work it takes to run a branded Instagram page.

Promotional material created for Madison Square Garden.

Describe your current freelance job.

Currently, I am working for an exciting start-up called Hellosaurus. Hellosaurus is an iPhone app currently in development that houses interactive content for young children. The company teams up with well known YouTube creators and inserts captivating interactive elements, known colloquially as ‘do-its’, into their videos. I help with video editing and asset creation for the ‘do-its’. The goal of the app is not to replace school for the children, but to provide fun, engaging entertainment with educational components sprinkled in. Hellosaurus is an app that will certainly thrive in the current Covid-19 landscape. In a world where children are at home and glued to their screens, adding an interactive element to a video is sure to capture any child’s interest for hours. However, I am confident that Hellosaurus and its unique technology and forward-thinking approach to children’s entertainment has immense potential for longevity that will far outlive the global pandemic. I look forward to seeing how the app grows in the coming weeks.

What is your process? What inspirations do you draw upon?

It truly depends on the project! In general, I am inspired by stories and I always have been. Art is all about storytelling, and there is nothing more powerful or inspirational than a good story. Stories emotionalize information and give color and depth to otherwise bland information. They exist in so many forms, from feature films to advertising campaigns, to the recap of my weekend vacation. My goal as an artist has always been to touch others with my artwork and inspire them to create art, the way art has done the same for me.

As far as my technical process is concerned, I always like to do research before blindly jumping into a design or animation task. It’s important to understand how other artists are tackling the same ideas you are. Pinterest is the perfect place to gather inspiration for that. You can never have too many pinboards on there!

What do you love most about your work? Alternatively, what frustrates you as an artist?

I often hear that my illustration style is “cute.” For so long, that felt like an empty platitude. However, as time marches on and I grow and learn, I have grown to love the cute nature of my illustration style. Color is also a strong suit of mine, and I always love the way I pick my color palettes. I think I do a great job evoking mood and tone through color in my work.

The most frustrating thing for me is when I have trouble fully executing an idea as it exists in my head. It’s so annoying when I have a specific vision of how a composition looks in my head, but due to the nature of my style or the limits of my skills, I can’t quite execute it the way I had envisioned. Sometimes, this can be a blessing, and I love the finished piece for what it is. But it absolutely can be annoying when things don’t work out the way I wanted them to!

One of Hayley’s assignments at the School of Visual Arts.

Do you see a glass ceiling in your profession?

I don’t think so. While it is far from perfect, the animation industry is more willing to criticize the status quo and try to enact meaningful changes than most other industries out there. Women in Animation, known colloquially as WIA, is a prominent organization in the animation industry that exists to make sure this glass ceiling is never hit. WIA acknowledges and understands the current gender gap in the animation industry, and works tirelessly to usher in more diverse voices. Their goal is to close the gender gap to 50/50 by 2025. As a student leader for the SVA chapter, I was heavily involved with WIA while in school, and it was one of the most fulfilling activities I partook in. 

The rise of social media is ripe for the rise of innovative artists and animators that would have been overlooked in the pre-social media age. A quick perusal of the ‘motion graphics’ hashtag on Instagram will yield some incredible results, from professionals with impressive credits to their name, to hobby artists who share their work for fun. Social media has given artists a space to share their work, connect, and inspire each other like never before. 

In television, many of the breakthroughs being made in terms of diversity and inclusion have been happening in animated spaces. Children’s cartoons like Steven Universe, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Owl House are providing people of all ages, races, and sexual orientations with positive and meaningful representation that is simply not seen in live action TV right now. These shows then inspire creators who are LGBT/of color to pursue their passions and provide their much needed voices to the industry. Some of the most outspoken and fervent supporters of the #BlackLivesMatter movements have been from the animation industry, or people looking to break in. Check out the #DrawingWhileBlack hashtag on Instagram and Twitter! Very inspiring.

Finally, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has put animation in the creative forefront in a brand new way, especially in advertising spaces. Live action shooting being rendered impossible has given agencies and studios opportunities to explore the depths of what animation as a medium has to offer in ways that they had never considered before. 

In my opinion, people are only just seeing how powerful of a tool animation can be. We have barely scratched the surface on how much potential there is. Like the larger fight, progress is being made incrementally. But I believe that there are more opportunities now than ever before to make animation a more inclusive space.

Are you doing any independent work at the moment?

Not really! I spend most of my creative energy at work, and after a long day of drawing and editing, all I want to do is relax and play some video games or read a book. It’s just as important to consume other people’s art as it is to create my own, and doing that during my downtime helps get me re-energized for work the next day.

I have been illustrating small pieces here and there for fun, but I have nothing big going on right now.

What are some of your interests outside of your field?

I love video games, which feels like cheating a little because I could easily pursue a career in the gaming industry with my skill set should I want to. However, I prefer to keep it a hobby, because I believe that not every aspect of the wider animation industry needs to be folded into my professional career. Video games take my love of stories and add a special interactive element to them. I love the illusion of control that I have when playing a game; it feels like I am a part of the story in a way that I don’t quite feel when watching a movie or a TV show. I especially love video games where I get to make narrative choices that drastically affect the outcome of the story. One of my favorite games is the Mass Effect trilogy, a series of three games where decisions made in Mass Effect 1 have visible repercussions in Mass Effect 3. The potential for a unique gameplay experience is very enticing to me. I am currently playing a game called Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the Nintendo Switch, which has this kind of decision making in spades, and I am having a blast.

Completely unrelated to art and animation, I love running and fitness. Nothing hits the way those exercise induced endorphins do. I enjoy cooking. I have been getting back into reading lately in the wake of Covid-19. I also love music! My ability to engage with music on a critical level is limited compared to that of visual art, but I love the visceral emotional reaction that music inspires in me.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Animation is such a rich medium / form of artmaking. It is bigger than Disney or Pixar, and those types of studios are not the be all/end all for a career in the industry. Keep your mind open and don’t write anything off just because it’s not in a larger studio or in Los Angeles. There are opportunities to have a thriving career in animation all over the country, you just have to reconsider your relationship with the medium.

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