The Hero's Journey with Kenya Barris

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The Hero’s Journey With Kenya Barris

teacher avatar Nikkolas Smith, Concept Artivist / Illustrator / Author

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Learning Experiment with Kenya Barris


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About This Class

In our latest learning experiment, discover new talents with Kenya Barris, as he learns digital illustration while making a movie poster with Nikkolas Smith.

Kenya Barris is a talented director, writer, actor, and producer, but he’s ready to try new things and discover hidden talents.  In this one-on-one session with artist and illustrator Nicholas Smith, Kenya learns the basics of digital illustration and character design to create a superhero movie poster based on Kenya’s own inner strength and superpowers.

They work together, discussing how they use their work to empower others to change the world. Join in and create your own superhero with them. While Kenya and Nicholas use a Wacom tablet and Photoshop in this session, the techniques taught here are not specific to those tools. You should feel free and encouraged to use the mediums that you take the most joy in.

Meet Your Teacher

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Nikkolas Smith

Concept Artivist / Illustrator / Author


Nikkolas Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, is a Master of Architecture recipient from Hampton University. After designing theme parks at Walt Disney Imagineering for 11 years, he is now a Concept artist, Children's Books Author and Film Illustrator. 

He also creates activist art paintings and Hollywood movie posters (Black Panther, Beale Street, Southside With You, Dear White People, Stranger Fruit). He is a proud 2016 White House Innovators of Color fellow. As an illustrator of color and an Artivist, Nikkolas is focused on creating captivating art that can spark important conversations in today's world and inspire meaningful change. Many of his viral and globally published sketches are included in his latest book Sunday Sketch: The Art of Nikkolas, a visual journey on life... See full profile

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1. Trailer: Hey, I'm Kenya Barris, a writer, director, producer, actor, activists, father and today I'm going to be an illustrator, thanks to Skillshare. I do a lot of our artivism, which is trying to make art to inspire people to change the world. Actually, these tattoos were flowers on my hands because I was like when I write, I remember that I want to grow beautiful things out of my hands. Wow. I do writivism. I said that before you said artivism. I'm just kidding. I know know. I like that. Get creative. It's Pretty cool. 2. Learning Experiment with Kenya Barris: Hey, I'm Kenya Barris. Writer, Director, Producer, Actor, Activist, Father, and today I'm going to be an Illustrator. Thanks to Skillshare. I'm terrified. Let's do some art. You're a great storyteller. I like to take stories that people like you make and then create movie posters. I felt like this would be an awesome little crash course if I just show you my typical process of creating digital paintings, and I thought we might be able to do a superhero movie poster. I love that. I do a lot of artivism, which is like trying to make art to inspire people to change the world. Artivism. Yeah. I like that word. Trying to find that thing that's broken in the world and how can I, through art, put that on display and figure out how to get people to fix it. I like that. I do artivism. I start that before you start artivism. Just [inaudible] on something else. I'm just kidding. Artivism. I like that. I typically talk about this with kids in schools and we do these superhero things, make yourself a superhero. I'm just thinking like for you, what would that be? I had asthma growing up. I was a big reader but comic book nerd and really loved X-Men. Like Professor X, he was the chess player with the chess pieces being the X-Men or whatever. As a show runner, you're the conductor or you're the Professor X and the writers are your X-Men. Idea of being able to use your voice to make change. These tattoos were for flowers on my hands, because when I write, I came from crazy neighborhood, but when I write, I remember that I want to grow beautiful things out of my hands. That's what are the flowers are about. I love that. The notion of trying to use your voice or writing a words to change the world. Some version of Professor X or someone that uses words or writing to change the world. Something if, I know that sounds corny, but that will be. Kind of dope. I think, especially with movie posters, have you ever seen a movie poster and you're just like, "I get that. I know what that film is going to be. I want to see it." 40-year-old virgin. You remember it was just like Steve Carell in [inaudible] yellow and he's just looking up with naive eyes, and you're like, "Oh, 40-year-old virgin", you've got it immediately. Tells it in a second. The whole challenge is trying to visually represent all of that, that you just said. So let's jump into it. Have you ever done any digital painting? No, but I have used a tablet, so slightly familiar, at best. I try to simplify this as much as possible because when I started out, I was super nervous about wanting it to be perfect, and I feel with digital painting, it doesn't have to be, especially my style. Like it's semi-abstract, it doesn't have to be perfect. Step 1 for me is just like throwing paint on the canvas, just getting a giant brush and adding color. I would go to the color picker and you see there's a million colors in that rectangle, basically tap and figure out which color you want to start with, what skin color you might want to go with, just tap in there where the orange is. It can go as light or dark as you need it. As melanated or not as you need it. Just do it a few test brushstrokes. Do I have to to click the button when I'm doing it? Act like it's a regular pencil and just draw something down. Got it. There you go. Don't feel like you're going to break it. You can press as hard as you need to. Got it. The harder you press, the more it actually, okay, interesting. Do I need to stay in the lines? Throw that paint in there for the face, through that space in where the neck is. At this point, you can get creative with what superhero are, what are they wearing that, that tells the story of who they are as a hero that's changing the world. My superhero is going to be a dude with a giant afro. Okay. I want my dude to be plain, but he's from the hood a little bit. I don't want it to be like, maybe he has a chain on. You know what I'm saying? Yeah, a lot of the art that I do is speed painting. I always try to tell people it's great to be as expressive and free-flowing and quick as you can. Don't worry about it being perfect, doesn't have to be perfect. My guy is going to have the biggest afro that I can possibly make. I wish I could still grow my hair, I would never cut it. I think my angle for this would be to probably talk about the CROWN Act to say, I don't know, maybe this guy, his fro mesmerizes people and he can hypnotize all these superintendents in the school to change the rules so that black kids can go to school and not have to worry about going to school with curly African hair, that's the problem in the world. Why is that not better? I love that. That's Samson from the Bible. Yes, Samson. Tips for the face. I try to keep it very simple. Basically what I would do is, I say this is the chin here, I would do a little half moon right above the chin. That will be like this shading underneath the lips. Okay. Probably I had a little line right above that. Got it. You go smaller brush? What brush did use to do that? I always stick with the same brush and just make it a little bit smaller. Where on yours are the lips? Is that little indentation above the chin, the lips on yours? This first curve that I usually do is the bottom of the lips, then that line is the mouth. Then there's always a little shadow under the nose. Now I usually just do a straight line, a little bit above the nose shadow for the eye line. The eyes are everything, right? What's the trick to the eyes? It's really the eyebrows for me, is the thing that will give you the expression that you're looking for. He might be super pissed off or something and he's got these eyebrows that are coming down. Okay. What's contemplative? I would say more so the eyebrows curving up a little bit, not so much down. But then there's always some wrinkle in the middle I guess. Looking good. Is it? I make my eyes. My eyes are feeling like, they are off. What if I want to do him over? I like it. I feel like he's thinking about something important. I like this sort of messiness of it. Yeah. I typically go with the rough edges as my default. I don't really like straight lines, clean lines. You can start to add in where, typical places where you're going to need more shading, right around there, where the chin and neck is separated. You might want to add a little bit of shading there, maybe even on the sides of the face. Always add a little highlight on the nose just to give it that sense of depth. Then also on the forehead probably where there's going to be maybe the cheeks. I'm liking it. Those last elements that you want to add to the shirt or maybe like you said, a chain. I don't know anything that helps tell the story of your character. A lot of the stories that I'm trying to tell are really ones that are about underrepresented people in America. I think there's so many stories that need to be told that just don't ever see the light of day. That's why I'm just going to start making my own. one one children's book called My Hair is Poofy & That's Okay. I love that. The celebration of life, looking at our differences is actually something that makes us dope. Seeing the shows that you created, and watching just seem blackish, stories that need to be on TV that were never told the way that you can tell it, has always been an inspiration to me. Thank you. Thank you. I always say we only get four stories to tell. The idea that we get the place we can do technology like this, let's us tell different stories and get our voice out there and more so than ever before you can control the distribution. You can show the platform. You're in control of how and who sees it. I love that. Being able to quickly digital paint, a little sketch and be like, "Okay, let me just visualize this thing before it leaves my mind." I love that. I typically will do this where, if it's a dark blue or something, I might grab a lighter color and then just do a few strokes at the edges that even give it a little bit more of a rough sense of unfinished. Sadly, a lot of that has tied into creating tributes of all these dark people who are unfortunately murdered and not here anymore and should be here because their lives were not able to finish. That's part of the artivism that I do as well, is just commemorate lives that should be deemed important. I think it's Important. I think the idea that your art lives forever. You know what I'm saying, you're starting in the right cases like it can, whether it's in someone's mind or just a recreation, like it could tell a story that stays with us forever. I love that. Typically what I'll do is, I'll have the students give a little pitch with their poster, so I'll just give mine really quick. This is The Crown. He is a superhero with this mesmerizing fro, and he represents the CROWN Act, which is legislation right now that will hopefully stop these schools from discriminating against kids who come to school with natural curly thick hair. Some kids are getting kicked out of school. This guy goes around and somehow magically mesmerizes the superintendents of the school to change the laws. He's got a little afro pick as a symbol. What you got? This is X, he finds off on things. You know what I'm saying, he can imprint his name or sign off. Pictures start off things by imprinting words or thoughts or ideas in your head that you didn't think about before. It gives you new ideas and new thoughts and subsequently changes the way that you think about things. You don't see him coming because he underplays himself or makes you maybe think that he's something else. He gets him places because he's not the person who people think is going to be, the person that actually he is who he is, he changes the way you think about things that get you to sign off on ideas. I feel like you've had to do that in your life. Yeah, man. I do it more as a dad, anything else but yeah, absolutely. I see like a kid on the South side of Chicago who may be loves to write and might be steered in other directions in life, but then they see this, maybe this film that you're creating with this movie poster, and they see themselves in that. They think, "I can be a writer". I remember thinking what a writer was when I was growing up and it didn't look like something I would want to be. For me, I grew up looking at ball players and dope dealers and stuff like that. The idea when I actually got some money, why run from that and go to what the people told me to be like and because that wasn't going to inspire little kids who look like me, to try change their life. Even in the title of X, I was writing it like, the notion of it was, we couldn't sign our name because we weren't supposed to know how to write. You know what I'm saying was, this was not all right. The only way we had to like X was how we signed our signature. That was, he signed your extra things. There's something to the idea that it wasn't even that we weren't writing our stories, we weren't supposed to even know how to write. Now this guy gets to mark his X Town and he does it in a different way. I love that. That's deep. Thank you. Thank you dude. This came out better than I was. It looks good. I would watch that movie. I would watch that. Thank you, man. I can't believe. Thank you so much. I'm actually proud of myself. I appreciate you. It looks great man. I love it. You've got it.