My Atlantic Center for the Arts Experience – Part 1. 

As many of you know, from October 11-31st, I was in New Smyrna Beach, Florida attending a Graphic Novel Residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA). Three Master artists were in residency there during that time: Paul PopeCraig Thompson and Svetlana Chmakova. Each master artist had eight associate artists and I was one of the fortunate few to be accepted into Paul Pope’s group. Going into this, the only thing I knew for sure was that we were all going to live down in Florida for three weeks and that my group would meet and work with Paul for at least two hours every day. I had high hopes, but no idea what I was really getting myself into. What I experienced was something beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. Since I know a lot of people are curious what this experience was like, I thought I’d go pretty in depth with posts on it. Try and cover a bit of everything.  This is part one of four.

Let’s start with who and what the ACA is. The ACA is it’s own little art center carved out of the middle of the Florida jungle. And I do mean carved. Every building and pathway was completely surrounded by palmettos, pines and other flora. Not to mention all the fauna. I saw all kinds of critters on my way to sessions — lizards, turtles, raccoons, and even my first ever armadillo (which if I’m being totally honest, creeped me out quite a bit).

The ACA campus is made up of nine or ten separate buildings (gallery, library, theater, dining commons) and studios (painting, dancing, writing, sculpture and music). Elevated wooden pathways connected the various buildings and it was probably a one minute walk from housing to any other area of the campus.

Each of the three groups set up in a different studio. Svetlana’s in the dance studio, Paul’s in the painting studio and Craig’s in what I’m told was usually a computer lab. Even though each group had their own studios, all the other buildings on the campus were available to us 24/7 (there were no other groups or students on the campus at the same time as us. Just the 24 associates, 3 master artists and the ACA staff). Having that total access and freedom was awesome. Want to grab a couple friends and talk privately? You could just head to the writer’s studio at 2am. Want to watch a movie on a 20′ screen? Go to the black box theater. Nothing was off limits.

Meals were provided for us by the awesome Chef Tom. Yes, we had our own chef! Meals were at a set time, so everyone from all three groups and the ACA staff would all gather as one big group. That might not seem like a big thing, but that fact that we would always meet as one big group was the perfect way to break the ice and get to know everyone from the other groups. Instead of three separate, segregated groups of eight, we turned into one big group of 24 just a couple days in. You’d find yourself eating lunch with two people from your group, three from Craig’s and two from the ACA staff. Chef Tom made such awesome food, that I’d basically try anything he put down in front of me. And anyone that knows me well, knows I’m not an adventurous eater (if you’re from the midwest, you eat meat and potatoes for every meal…and like it that way). I’d love to be able to tell you what some of the delicious new things Chef Tom got me try were, but I really have no idea! He cooked them, I trusted him and so I’d just eat whatever he put in front of me.

The other aspect of ACA that promoted mingling, hanging out and collaborating with your fellow artists was that the whole campus had wireless internet except for your dorm. It kept you from hiding out in your room the whole time. Instead, you’d chill out with everyone, passing from room to room and group to group, always striking up new conversations.

So that’s a little about the facilities and the type of creative environment that ACA had setup for us down there. What about the other associates? Well, we had people from all over the world: three from Australia, two from Toronto, Canada (three if you count Svetlana) and one each from Italy, Malaysia and Ireland. Overall, the group was split almost 50-50 between guys and girls. Everyone had pretty diverse artistic backgrounds as well. Few people from animation, some from illustration and a couple from advertising. The educational background was just as diverse. In Paul’s group we had someone from Ringling (Francis Vallejo), SVA (Sean Pryor), Pratt (Harry Bogosian), two from Sheridan (Sam Bradley and Katie Shanahan), one from the Kubert School (me) and two basically self taught artists (Chris Hunt and Shahriah Shadab). 

So what the hell did we actually do down there? Each of the three groups had a different focus and plan. Craig Thompson’s group was all about long-form comics — projects of at least 100 pages. Craig feels the one of the biggest challenges in making graphic novels is the lack of editorial feedback you get on it — from book publishers that are relatively inexperienced with the comic medium and from a mainstream comic medium and from a mainstream comic industry which is used to shorter, serialized stories. Everyone in Craig’s group (Sam AldenThi BuiPat GrantDave KiershCecilia Latella,Jed McGowanSarah Joan Mokhtar, and Jake Wyatt) came to ACA with a project in progress. They had written and thumbnailed their entire stores, which in some cases I think was 200+ pages. They spent their time reading, discussing, critiquing and drawing as much of their projects as possible. Oh, and they played. Craig’s group was definitely the most active. They went to the beach, biking, swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding, and occasionally arm wrestling.

Tomorrow in ACA part 2, I’ll talk more about what Svetlana and our group did.