Interviews

Meet the artist Alex Hillkurtz, storyboard artist and illustrator

Can you tell us a bit about you?

I was born in the UK and grew up in California. I’ve always drawn. I was that kid in the back of class drawing when I should’ve been paying attention. But it’s served me well. I went to film school and have been a storyboard artist and illustrator for feature films for 20 years now. I’ve drawn over a thousand TV commercials and just last year I storyboarded my 50th feature film – so I’m getting the hang of it now. I love the process of turning script pages into images, telling a story visually, and helping craft the look of a film.
And I love carrying a sketchbook with me. My film work is mainly black and white, and 100 percent digital, so it’s a welcome change of pace to draw with actual pencils, fountain pens, and watercolor on real paper. There’s nothing like the tactile experience.
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Storyboard for Angelina Jolie’s Film “First They Killed my Father © Alex Hillkurtz

My wife and I have had a fairly vagabond life, living in Los Angeles, New York, London, Vancouver, and now we’ve been in Paris for a few years. It’s an unbelievable opportunity to be able to walk outside and have such amazing scenery to sketch and paint. And this type of urban sketching is the best way I know of to really experience a place.
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© Alex Hillkurtz

How did you come to art, or how did art come to you?

Art came to me through my grandpa and my mom, both of whom are excellent artists. So I feel I got a bit of a head start. Neither of them were in a position to make a living from art, so I feel privileged that here I am, this third generation of scribblers, who’s able to make art my profession. But I feel art is more than just an ability you’re born with. Like anything creative… writing, music, arctic exploration… the trick to learn is curiosity, the desire to explore and try new things. So even though art may have come to me initially, maybe I’m still coming to art, and it’s just beyond my grasp. I’m better at certain things than I was a year ago, and if I remain curious, I’ll be better still next year. But it sure is fun living in this space of wondering what else is out there to discover. What new technique or way of seeing will I stumble across tomorrow?
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© Alex Hillkurtz (including coffe stain 😉 )

How are you working on your projects ?

I’ve been doing mostly urban sketching, starting with an ink sketch with fountain pen and waterproof ink, then I move on to watercolor. Sometimes I’ll have a clear idea of what I’d like to capture, and other times I just wander and see what catches my eye. I seek out interesting architecture, angles, and light that appeals to me. I spend a long time composing my sketches, looking at a scene and imagining how it will lay out on a page. I’m inspired by the way light shines on a certain building, or how perspective creates depth, how the atmosphere changes the colors of a scene. The trick for me is to keep each stage loose. I used to pile on intricate details, and my drawings lacked life. So I’m learning to invite in the energy of the place I’m painting.
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© Alex Hillkurtz

sketching trip to venice ! to change the mind and materials or to sharpen your talents ?

The sketching trip to Venice was an amazingly organic thing. Jp Schwarz and Pat Southern-Pearce were the instigators. The goal was to gather a small group of like-minded sketchers who’d never met before, travel somewhere beautiful, and sketch together! I knew Pat through Urban Sketchers on Facebook, though we’d never met in person. And the others I got to know a little on-line before the trip, but we were all basically strangers. It’s such a modern social media-driven concept, and in this case it worked brilliantly. In the last few years there’s an amazingly global on-line community of sketchers, all sharing work, commenting, and encouraging each other. It seems only natural that we’d start to meet in real life.
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© Alex Hillkurtz

So the first time we all stood face to face was that first evening in the apartment we’d rented for the week. And from that moment on it was an absolute joy. Each person brought their own individual style and approach to sketching. We were up and out early, sketching throughout the day, and into the evening. We inspired each other, borrowed ideas, made each other laugh… it was a dream trip. And to be in such a beautiful city. This was my first time in Venice so I was walking around wide-eyed at the scenery. It actually was overwhelming to be there. I’m used to sketching and painting in Paris which has its own color palette and light, so to be surrounded by all these warm reds and yellows, the southern light, the brilliant reflections on the water… it took me a few days to wrap my head around it all. I think we all felt at the end of our week together that we were only then getting the hang of it, and needed another week of sketching!

If you had to live inside a painting forever, what painting would you chose?

What a fascinating question! The first one that comes to mind, and I’m sure there are others out there that I’ll think of later, but I’m going with this first choice – Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. It might seem a somber painting, and I might get tired of all those browns and umbers, but what a cast of characters, and what a moment in a story! Henri Nouwen wrote a whole book about this painting, so there’s something there that’s worth spending time with. I’m not a religious guy, but the themes of redemption, forgiveness, jealousy, compassion… each person in a different stage of life, coming at this moment from different perspectives… I imagine there’d be some great conversations amongst this group!

Discover the whole universe of this incredible talent here :alexhillkurtz.com
and please- double tab on instagram : @hillkurtz !

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