Illustrator and animator Angela Kirkwood leads us through her “weird and wonderful topsy turvy world”
Making a brave career change during the pandemic and falling in love with animation, the Edinburgh-based creative hasn’t looked back since.
- 27 January 2022
- Olivia Hingley
Loving to make work “that feels light-hearted and joyful, mixed with a sprinkling of awkwardness or tension,” Angela Kirkwood’s animations are an absolute pleasure to watch. Featuring rocket launching houses, cats ignoring the telephone and pogo jumping blobs, their complete lack of sense or linear plot is what makes them so charming. And, with their wobbly, grainy and vibrant style inducing a “warm fuzzy nostalgia”, they’re a welcome reminder of the retro cartoons of our childhood.
Quite ironically, due to their nonsensical and surreal themes, Angela views her animations as having a certain biographical element. Describing feeling like “such an awkward oddball” growing up, she tells us that her “characters and their silly situations are probably a reflection of that in some way”. Born and raised in a small seaside town of Dunoon, on the west coast of Scotland, Angela moved to Dundee where she studied for a degree in illustration at Duncan of Jordanstone. She has now lived in Edinburgh for the past six years where she works as a freelance designer and animator.
After graduating in 2015 Angela didn’t feel quite ready to pursue a career in illustration, but, in need of money to pay the bills, she gravitated toward graphic design. Beginning with a “really inspiring creative director” who “taught [her] so much about design”, Angela initially enjoyed the profession. Though, over time, Angela began to feel her enjoyment waning. “This was especially so within an agency environment where work goes through so many rounds of feedback, that ideas become diluted and lose their power.” With the pandemic offering Angela “the time and space to reflect on what [she] really wanted out of life,” she realised a change was essential. She didn’t, however, plan on imminently quitting her job. It wasn't until her boss lost her temper with her on a Zoom call that Angela quit on the spot, a moment she describes as “extreeeemley thrilling!”.
It didnt take long for the initial excitement to turn into terror, with it being a “bit of a rollercoaster figuring out freelance life,” but, despite this, Angela stands by the decision. After quitting and spending a lot of time messing around with Procreate, her first animation focused on a cat with a pair of binoculars who couldn’t stop looking at the sun. Whilst it wasn’t “great technically or aesthetically” Angela describes being “filled with an indescribable joy” upon its creation. “While animation can be quite labour intensive, the magical feeling when your drawings vividly come to life makes it so rewarding [...] It is a world of pure fantasy where physics, time and gravity don’t need to exist if you don't want them to!”.
Inspired by the similarly wacky work of illustrators like Sally Cruikshank, Priit Pärn and David Shrigley, Angela’s animations are full of bizarre, nonsensical occurrences. Describing her process as “spontaneous”, Angela doesn’t like to spend too much time planning. Usually beginning with a scribbled thumbnail and some vague notes, she tries her best to get animating straight away, “I feel like this always has the best results, making for more humorous and unexpected outcomes! If I start laughing while I'm doing my drawings I know that’s usually a good sign.” As for her characters, Angela begins with their distinctive eyes and then sees where this takes her. Varying in length of the creation, some can be a simple sketch, whilst others take much longer, with Angela adjusting their angles, size, pose and facial features to form the right expression. “I really like to create characters that feel very expressive. As I draw them I imagine them with their different personality traits – excitable, worried, delusional, insecure.” And certainly, Angela’s expressive characters give her work an amusing – and sometimes painful – relatability. In Picture Perfect the character watches in distress as their face becomes gradually distorted in a photo they once liked and in Much Better the character frantically pops a smiling spot, only to (of course) make it much worse.
Recently, Angela completed her first commercial animation for the Toronto-based band No Frills’ upcoming single Copy Cat. Set to be released this coming spring, the video follows a cat who is “completely obsessed with a dog and goes to desperate lengths to be just like them” and with the animation running for a whole three and half minutes, it is Angela’s longest yet. Being “really pleased” with the final outcome and viewing the project as having been a “steep learning curve”, Copy Cat is a clear indicator of how far Angela has come in just one year, and how exciting her road ahead looks.
Angela Kirkwood: Copy Cat (Copyright © Angela Kirkwood, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.