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In which The Art Assignment visits New York-based artist Toyin Odutola and receives the challenge to create a GIF! But not just any GIF--it must articulate something intimate that is indispensable to you.


1. Think of something intimate that is indispensable to you. (It doesn't have to be a body part. It can be an object, place, memory, anything.)

2. Depict it in the form of a GIF. You don't have to make drawings-you can use photographs, make a sculpture, or whatever you like.

3. Upload it using #theartassignment

4. Fame and glory (your response might be in a future episode)

Find and follow Toyin online: @obia_thethird,
and learn more about her work here:
Sarah Green: We’re here on this rainy day on the loose edges of the garment district in Manhattan to visit the artist Toyin Odutola who was born in Nigeria, was raised in Alabama, studied in California and now finds herself here. She creates highly detailed and dense drawings using ballpoint pen and a tremendous amount of energy and focus. Toyin is taking a new approach to an age-old genre -  portraiture - and she creates amazingly textured renderings of black skin, the likes of which we really haven’t seen before. Toyin mostly uses herself as her subject, showing the many ways that a single person can be described and the impossibility that any one person can be fully captured by one image. Toyin’s assignment today is a personal one and one that I’m looking forward to sharing with you, so let’s go take a look.

Toyin Odutola: Hi, I’m Toyin Odutola and this is our Art Assignment.


T: I was born in Ife, Nigeria, and my family and I migrated to the US when I was very young, um, and we lived in California, mostly grew up in Alabama. I think when you grow up as a kid and you’re constantly moving around, you like to have something solid. You wanna create something that you can say ‘this is here, this exists’ ‘cause everything else feels so precarious, so I guess that’s why I just... I took up art. I wanted to have something of mine that could exist in the world and I could claim. Unfortunately I didn’t really look at it until the dawn of the internet, that was when I really got to look at art because it’s difficult when you don’t have a lot of access to it, so that was my real art education. For me it’s like a teaching tool, a sharing tool. I like to kind of share my processes; I don’t want it to be sort of this propaganda, like ‘look at me’, but like ‘Oh, this is how I do it’. This might be, you know… there’s other ways to do it, but this is how I do it. Maybe this might inspire somebody to try something different.

And then I went into college and I had these amazing teachers who were like ‘You know what? This is really great, but I’m seeing something here which led to this, which is very interesting. Maybe you should try this out, you know. Just focus a little more’. And I’m like ‘OK, I’m gonna try it’ and then it became this thing and it was all because of that encouragement.

If I didn’t even mention Blackness, if I didn’t… and with a big B. If I didn’t mention, you know, being a woman or one of these, they always came up in the critique. It was something that had to just kind of come back to me and I had to address it. What is blackness? It’s whatever I make it. What is being a woman? It’s whatever I make it, and that’s the beauty of being an image maker. You can do whatever you want, you can create whatever you want and it’s all in the realm of how, you know, how vivid and how, like, broad your imagination is.

Your assignment is to articulate something intimate that is indispensable to you in the form of a GIF or GIF (jif), whatever you want to call it.

John Green: This I love. I think this is awesome. I love when people mix high culture and low culture and don’t make a distinction between them and, like, raise the populous stuff of the internet to art. That’s- that’s awesome!

S: Definitely. And it also brings up Toyin’s interest in comics, like she drew Timon from The Lion King over and over and over again as a kid. She’s also interested in artists such as Takehiko Inoue who makes really innovative comics and even someone like Kerry James Marshall who comes from the fine art world that has used the comic strip before.

J: I guess I don’t understand what comics have to do with GIFs.

S: Well they both think about breaking down a narrative into a series of still images.

J: So, like, a GIF is basically like a bunch of images that form an animation. A comic is a bunch of still images that form a narrative.

S: Right, right. And, like, it’s why they call it a moving picture ‘cause it’s like lots of individual stills strung together to…

J: Pfwwbbfffshhh!

S: To make it look like it’s moving. Pretty great, huh?

J: Pretty interesting.

S: So if we’re going to talk about moving pictures, we should probably discuss Eadweard Muybridge who started out taking photos of the Yosemite Valley in the 1860s. He sold prints as well as stereographs where two almost identical photos are placed side by side and when seen through a stereoscope look like a single 3D image. But then he began the work you’ve probably seen. In 1872, Leland Stanford asked Muybridge to photograph his horse and, so the story goes, test his theory that at some point in its trot, the horse would have all four feet off the ground. So he took photos of the horse at various stages of motion and displayed them together in a grid showing a progression of movement and proved Stanford’s point. Muybridge got better and better at it, experimenting with a wide range of animals and also humans doing silly things like fencing naked, boxing naked and even pole vaulting naked. He also invented the zoopraxiscope in 1879 which could project sequences of drawings derived from his photos onto a screen as moving pictures. You know, GIFs basically. Toyin’s assignment shows us how the format can be used for seriousness as well as silliness.

T: When I think of indispensable in, from me, something about me, I always think of my hands. I don’t think about my face, I don’t think about my body. They’re, they’re important… supplementary, but they’re not my hands. My hands are what really makes me go forward. And it can be anything really. I think like a chef would probably say his tongue, right, or his nose, you know, or a perfumer would say their nose.

What I proceeded to do was sort of envision how I would portray this, and there was a lot of different ideas I had. Um, I thought about putting my hand, like, to the side or maybe different formations or poses of my hand in different ways to make the GIF kind of interesting. But then I thought no, let me just do something that I tend to do whenever my hand cramps which is I tend to clench it and then I release it and I clench it and release it. I got my camera out and I proceeded to capture just that. So this is the clenched fist and then the open, uh, fist which ends up being this. So in between that there’s all these different sort of motions that lead to… in between the clenched fist state and the open hand state. So once that was sorted, I had the references for my drawings. This is the sketch, um, and this is how it starts and then I had to decide which colors to use. So this is sort of the finished state of the colors. And then if you want to see sort of an in between state, I’m working on one right now, which is this, so I’m just starting it out.

So I’m gonna scan these. Um, these are gonna be scanned once I decide how to finish them and I’m going to go on Photoshop and actually piece them together and figure out the timing and spacing between them. And it’s going to be, like I said, opening and closing so it’s gonna be front and back. So it’s gonna go through the whole five panels and then it’s gonna go back, and it’s gonna be this looped GIF or GIF (jif). I find that I like kind of getting lost in the act of drawing. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s like a… I keep saying this thing but it’s like a form of prayer in a way, like it’s like my form of, like, you know, writing a letter to somebody or something and, uh, I like that because it calms me and it centers me in a world that is very, very distracting and very, very intimidating.  There’re actually a lot of stuff on YouTube and a lot of stuff online that teaches you how to make a GIF, so it’s not actually that difficult. I didn’t know anything about making GIFs before but I just looked up online, typed in on, you know, Google and said ‘How do I make a GIF?’ and it was step by step.

Um, so I guess this is it. Um, I’ve finished with this panel. I have two more to go and, um, and then I’m gonna decide what to do with the black space or the shadows. So, um, it’s not that difficult. I wanted it to be quick and fun, and hopefully you guys can do something like that too.


T: And if I can do it, real talk, if I can do it, a five year old with serious laziness can do this, so don’t be intimidated. It’s all good.