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Q & A with Jo Dery (part 1)

We first learned of Providence, RI artist Jo Dery when we picked up her mini comics Plant Life for Human Lesson. We were immediately drawn to her bold style and interesting narratives, but little did we know what a multi-media talent she was (filmmaking, animation, screen printing, and sewing are just some of the things she excels at). Her work with us so far has included cards, a notepad, the wonderful book Quietly Sure - Like the Keeper of a Great Secret, and an awesome window display and prints for our SF store. Thanks to Jo for taking the time to answer some of our questions!

The characters of Quietly Sure seemed to already have a full life before you put them in the stories of the book. What is the background for these characters and do you think they will continue to appear in your work?

Some of these little guys have appeared in my little books Plant Life for Human Lesson. Each character is kind of an archetype, only able to understand so much about what is happening to them, around them... You know, I am positive I am done with these characters - for now!

How did you structure the writing of the book? Did you have the whole thing written and planned out ahead of time or did you write it as you were drawing it?

No, none of it was written out beforehand. I mostly drew it and wrote it straight through, going back to make changes if I had to.

You call it a book of stories and yet there are characters and certain plot points if you will, that play themselves out over the whole book. So is it a whole contained larger story or is that coincidence or just playful elements?

Yes, I think of it as one story where the traditional linear experience of time gets choppy... It is like everything is happening in parallel, and at certain moments there is an intertwining of events, of time and place.

It seems like your printmaking background informed the look of your book--was that a conscious choice you made when you were creating the drawings?

I think you are right, it seems the use of half tone is reminiscent of the printing process, particularly color separations. I also think that the way some images are composed reminds me of how I frame shots for animation. I had not done much layout in the computer before, so it was a big learning experience!

When did you start doing animation?

The first animation class that I took was when I was a sophomore in college at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was with a professor named Yvonne Andersen. For the rest of my education there, I studied live-action filmmaking, and only took one other animation class. But by senior year, I had the bug!

Talk about the animation process and what's involved for you. Where do you work on it?

Here's a photo of my animation studio so you get the idea as I describe this place...

I have a stand that I have built, fitted with a digital camera, lights, etc. This camera is connected to my computer. I take stills as if they were frames of film, and then I animate them, and mess with them in the computer. This technique allows me to maintain hands-on physicality while making animation. I love to play with objects and paper cut outs under the camera. For example, the other day I animated a pigeon wing I found in my garden.

The other part of it is the creation of the soundtrack. This is equally as fun for me, as I often collaborate with friends, recruiting them to make music or voices. I make sound effects and field recordings. Lately, I am editing animation and sound simultaneously in the computer, something that back-in-the-day my 16mm tools did not allow. These days, I have an enormous flatbed film editor in my place (called a Steenbeck), so now I could swing editing picture and sound for film. I do love film, and I love my film camera (called a Bolex). It is a wonderful machine.

In terms of my process, I usually build a narrative around one image, an image that comes to me like a vision and I can't shake it even if I try. For example, in Echoes of Bats and Men, I had a vision of a cloud of bats flying out of the factory smokestacks in Providence. So, I traveled to Texas to film bat colonies, and then returned home to make all the animated scenes.

Do you have an interest in doing longer-form animations? What else do you want to do with animation that you haven't already done?

I like to make films that folks might want to watch again and again, searching for interpretations, gleaning for more meaning. The project I am doing now will have (gasp!) not one, but two human characters with lip-sync dialogue. The main thing I am trying to insert into my animation right now is language.

I would love to attempt longer animation projects. However, I think I would need a team, or at least an assistant, and a stretch of years, too.

You attended an international animated film workshop in Poland--how long were you there and how was your experience of Krakow?

I was in Poland for about a month, Krakow for 2 weeks. I went to a workshop with the animator Jerzy Kucia, whose work is amazing. I was able to go because of a former professor, Marcin Gizyki.

Krakow is a magical place. I can't begin to say how it affected my work, and my experience of the world at large! It was a dream.

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