Blogs: Maxim Northover shares his insights

Filmmaker Maxim Northover is in his final year of MA Character Animation at Central Saint Martins and since embarking on the course has built up a strong blog. He is taught by Course Director Birgitta Hosea, whose own blog Expanded Animation featured in an earlier post on Digital Present. Here, we question Maxim on his approach to running his blog and how it benefits his creative and critical practice.

How long have you been running your blog?
I started my CSM blog in 2011, when I began my MA in Character Animation. Before that I had another blog but I always treated it like a website and rarely updated it. I much prefer having something that is constantly changing, it’s much more engaging than a static page of my films.

How often do you update it?
I try to update it at the very least once a week. But really whenever I see something of particular interest it goes up on the blog. If I’ve done some character designs I try to put them on the blog the same day. At the moment, because I’m at the research stage of my project, I’m posting something everyday.

Why do you use it?
Using the blog is extremely useful. I can keep track of all the things I look at online. Before I used the blog I was forever forgetting where I’d seen things. Although I don’t put everything I see on my blog I try not to get too worried about keeping it ‘relevant’ – that sort of happens by default as everything I post is in my pool of interest.

The blogs are assessed on our course, but it’s become part of my work process now, so I will continue to do it when I graduate. The blogs are also a good way of keeping up with the other students’ work, so I hope they keep up their blogs too.

What sort of things do you typically post?
I post a lot of photographs of my drawings and puppets or even my computer screen, to document the ‘making of’ process.

The great thing about the blog is being able to post YouTube/Vimeo clips and animated gifs. Studying animation means moving image is the basis of what I do.

The blog gives me the freedom to keep visual notes of all the movement I’m looking at as well, something that a traditional sketchbook doesn’t accommodate.

Music and comics are vital inspirations to my work so I also post what I’m listening to and reading. Even though it’s about animation I have the freedom to let it be personal too.

What are the benefits of the blog in terms of your creative practice?
The blog is really immediate. I can stick stuff up there as a pin board so I can refer back to them later. Plus it’s a useful record of the projects I do. I really enjoy the research and development part of animation; you have to look at so many different elements to bring an animated film together (e.g. environments, characters and their clothes, colours, stories.) The blog lets me indulge in this part. Now that I’ve got going with it, it’s a lot of fun!

Sending a link to my blog is so much better than sending out endless DVDs or just my YouTube page. Some people have left some really nice comments too.

Any limitations?
It would be good to have a few more quick and easy options to personalise the look of the blog. That said, having a blog that everyone can navigate is paramount.

How useful is it in terms of critical reflection of your own work?
In a personal sense it really helps. I can easily look back at work I was doing a year ago and see how much I’ve learnt. The blog encourages me to write more about my work and explain what I’m looking at. Even if it’s just a few lines per post, by the end of each project I’ll have written quite a lot.

My blog is quite informal, but I think that’s a good thing. I’m much more likely to keep posting if I don’t feel every thing I write has to be my finest epigram or to be dazzlingly insightful. Even if there are things in my work that I’m disappointed with I aim to keep the tone of my blog quite upbeat. No one wants to read someone moaning about ideas that didn’t work out, or how stressed they are. Maybe they do, I don’t know, but I certainly don’t!

Do you prefer keeping a blog than a traditional sketchbook (and do you still keep a sketchbook?)
I like both, but the blog can’t replace my sketchbook. They are opposites in a way: a blog is so public and a sketchbook is so intimate. But since starting the blog I just use my sketchbook for drawing and note taking. I used to be constantly printing out images and gluing them into my books. I hardly ever do that now, which makes the blog environmentally friendly!

Would you advocate staff encouraging their students to keep blogs?
Our tutors are already very encouraging about the blogs. They try to persuade more of us to use them regularly. Birgitta has left comments on my blog too, so I know she checks it. I suppose if we were asked to present our blogs at assessments students might use them more, but really it’s down to the students to figure out why it’s worth keeping a blog. It just takes a while to catch on, as an educational tool it’s still in its infancy.

In what other ways do you use digital technologies as part of your practice?
Pinterest is a useful tool. I just started that up in the Christmas holidays. I think using it in addition to my blog is going to be really helpful, but it’s even more general than my blog. I don’t really use Facebook as a place to put up my work. I much prefer to put it all on the blog.

All images taken from Maxim’s blog. Visit the blog and Maxim’s Pinterest page.