Q&A With Tim Burton
Scholastic Art asked Tim Burton about his drawings, his movies, and what life was like for him in high school.
Scholastic Art: What first inspired you to start drawing?
Tim Burton : Every kid likes to draw. But at a certain age, some kids are told they can’t really draw. I was lucky to have two amazing art teachers. They were supportive, even if you didn’t think you could draw. Only your desire mattered. I liked drawing, but I didn’t think I was very good at it. It helped me to communicate and explore ideas.
SA: Can you talk about the art teachers who inspired you?
TB: I had a great teacher in junior high. There was another in high school who recognized each individual for who they were. She’d look at what kids liked to do and let them explore. If I hadn’t had that, I would’ve thought: “I can’t draw. I’m not good at this.” It’s important to have teachers who inspire you to keep at it.
SA: As a kid, did you win any awards that encouraged you in your art?
TB: I won $10 for a garbage-truck antilittering campaign. It was in Burbank, California, my hometown. My drawing was displayed on garbage trucks for about six weeks. I thought, “All right, yeah. A $10 check, garbage trucks for six weeks. Very good. Not bad.”
SA: Have you always drawn in the same style, with loose, expressive lines?
TB: No, I tried everything. One day I was sketching at a farmers’ market. I was very frustrated about my inability to draw accurately. Then I remembered one of my teachers saying, “Don’t worry about how you should draw it. Just draw it the way you see it.” And in that moment, I thought, “Well, that’s it. I don’t care how good or bad I am. This is how I do it, and that’s it.”
SA: Many of your characters are outsiders. Is that how you see yourself?
TB: Yeah. That’s where Edward Scissorhands came from. I think most kids experience it. In my new movie, Frankenweenie, all the kids are weird. That’s the truth of the matter. You feel like you’re the only weirdo in class, when in fact that’s pretty much how everybody feels.
SA: Which artists influenced you most?
TB: It’s like movies—there are so many inspirations. I remember the first time I saw Van Gogh’s paintings in person, the landscapes. They blew me away. And Matisse. When you see the work of certain artists for real, it’s mind-blowing. My studio is where [British book illustrator] Arthur Rackham once lived and worked. I’m lucky to have certain key things that inspire me.
SA: Have you faced any setbacks?
TB: Oh, yeah. For years I thought, “I’m not that good at animation. Maybe I’ll try illustrating children’s books.” But that door closed. It’s never a smooth path. Many of my projects are 10 years in the making.
SA: Your show at the Museum of Modern Art blurred the line between fine art and filmmaking. How did that come about?
TB: The museum curators came to me to do the show. I felt in good hands because they weren’t presenting me as some great artist. They were presenting a process. The best part was having people who don’t go to museums or art shows say, “Well, I can do that.” And it’s true, they can.
SA: Do you have any advice for aspiring young artists or filmmakers?
TB: It’s best just to have passion. If your passion turns into something that somebody else likes and wants, great. But if it doesn’t, at least you have it. Go with your instincts. If you’re sitting in class and you want to be a filmmaker, go make a film. You can do it. The tools are there.