Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with Shannon Jahnel Lanktree of Watermark Creative to find out a bit more about her work and what inspires it.
Shannon is an award-winning illustrator and animator who brings a sprinkle of fun, a shake of humour and a tsunami of energy to every project. A Brazilian born Kiwi who loves the outdoors, she recently finished a project called ‘Beasts of New Zealand’, where photos of our landscape become the backdrop for wild creature creations. “New Zealand’s untamed landscapes and weather patterns can be both breathtaking and a little scary at times.”
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry?
I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil. When I was 12 I moved to NZ with my mother and my younger brother because my mum wanted a better, safer life for us.
I chose to do art and design classes in high school but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after it finished. I lived very close to a Polytech and decided to try out their 3 year Visual Arts and Design course to see if I liked it. I absolutely loved it. I graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design majoring in Graphic Design, and a brand new perspective on the art world. From there, I continued my studies and went on to do a diploma of Film and Animation in Wellington at Natcoll Design Technology (now known as Yoobe School of Design).
I decided that work experience would serve me best, so instead of doing a second year of study, I went job hunting. I was lucky enough to find work at Teaspoon, a boutique animation company in Wellington, where I was doing a variety of work – from storyboarding, to character design, illustration, 3D modeling, and 2D and 3D animation. After about 3 years I moved to Auckland, where I worked at Mediaworks for a while before joining Watermark Creative, a collective of very talented artists, storytellers, problem solvers, and creatives.
How long have you lived in New Zealand and how does it differ from where you grew up in Brazil?
I’ve been in NZ for about 16 years now. Life here is very different to what it was in Brazil.
I went from venturing no further than my backyard in Brazil to exploring the streets, forests, mountains, lakes and rivers of New Zealand – without fear. Because I lived in a large city in Brazil, a lot of the country’s natural beauty wasn’t something I could access. Living in NZ it’s all in easy reach, and I’ve taken full advantage. Until this day, it amazes me that this whole country is my backyard.
Your beasts of New Zealand project responds directly to the landscape… How does where you live inform your work?
The activities you do, the things you see, the people you meet, your interests and hobbies can change with your environment, and all of that can inform your work.
The idea for this project first came to me because of the constant winds that blow in Wellington – I ignored the geographical and scientific reasons for the winds, and instead came up with my own version of why it’s always so windy in the capital. There were other events that occurred too – when the Christchurch earthquakes kept shaking the land I again came up with my own reason for the occurrence. The more places I travelled to within NZ, the more I played around with the idea of how the country’s landscapes and weather patterns are formed.
Other than the landscape – where you do you draw inspiration from?
E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. Honestly. The videogames I play, the books I read, the animations, films and plays I watch. The sports I play, the people I meet, other artists, different cultures, personal emotions, even a discarded cardboard box on the side of the road. Inspiration is everywhere, and I think that as an artist, you end up absorbing it consciously and subconsciously.
How would you describe your particular style of illustration?
I would say that my illustration style differs from project to project, but where I usually like to go is a really playful territory. I don’t worry too much about proportions and realism, I let the shapes and forms do what they want. I sometimes enjoy mixing the cute and cuddly with the NSFW and watching people’s reactions. I just like to have fun with my art and my characters, and the world they live in.
What does your typical working day involve?
It usually starts with struggling to get out of bed in the morning, then heading into Watermark Creative’s shared studio space in Auckland’s city centre. From there it really depends on what projects I have going – I might spend the day illustrating, animating, 3D modelling, creating some character designs, coming up with some creative concepts and terribly drawn storyboards, emailing clients, etc. I go to the gym every lunchtime to help break the routine and keep fit. This also allows me to come back to a project with fresh eyes, which can be really helpful in the creative field.
If I’m not too busy with client work, I’ll spend my time working on my own stuff, updating my portfolio or working on personal projects.
Once the work day is done I’ll either play sport, play games, play DND, binge watch a series or a movie, or work on my own personal projects.
Your animation work for Starship Children’s Hospital and the Reach awareness campaign have won coveted Designer’s Best awards. What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
I’m quite proud of a few projects I’ve worked on, but to me, the most rewarding projects are those that make a difference to someone’s life, even if it’s really small. If something I’ve done can put a smile on someone’s face, make them laugh, or have an emotional response, then I think I’ve done my job right. Projects like A Dog’s Story, the Starship Children’s Hospital Interactive walls and Reach had extremely positive incentives, and positive outcomes, and puts them at the top of my list.
And finally, where to next for you?
I have so many things I want to do! But my next ventures involve doing as much travelling around the world as I can, and continuing to work on my personal work – I have a very long list of my own projects to chip away at, including making my own range of toys and developing a game. And maybe learning to code haha.