Sharon Forward

Media Arts & Animation

Adjunct Faculty
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division

Headshot of Sharon Forward

I’ve always known [I was an artist]. There’s something deep inside that I was born with. Started drawing at 18 months. Never stopped. Sharon Forward , Adjunct Faculty , The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — Online Division

What would you say is the defining moment in your life when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

I’ve always known. There’s something deep inside that I was born with. Started drawing at 18 months. Never stopped. Professionally, I started in animation in 1979, at 24 years old. I became a storyboard artist. This job required film and storytelling knowledge, drawing from your imagination and being fast, fast, fast. No one coddled anyone then or now. Work is expected on time. I was fortunate and was able to keep a job and a career in a field where women were not really viewed as equals. 

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?

I know people who hire and fire in the business. They are my friends. I know what jobs are coming up and what it requires to make it in the industry. I share this information with the students, as well as my own work. I give them tips and mentor them when they have questions. I teach in a practical way. I make the material understandable for the student. I teach them as though they are professionals once they reach the 200 level. The 100 courses are easier and I teach the students not only how to create projects, but how to think about them. The attitude necessary for the animation business and how that applies to the work they are learning in class.  

Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits? 

My classes are well designed and doable within the time limit. I just finished ‘Life Drawing 102’ and found that to be excellent. I am always in contact with each student and encouraging them, even if they have apprehension. One student last week said—

"Confidence—I gained so much confidence in this course. Not only in my talent in drawing, but the confidence to continue drawing. Even if the composition is terrible, keep drawing. Patience—this is something I have struggled with for a while now. I have learned to understand what is being asked of me and what I need to do to complete this with the best of my abilities. Frustration and rushing are never the best nor the correct way to approach a challenge in drawing or in life. Understanding—giving myself the room to make mistakes has lifted the enormous pressure I have placed on myself. Before, I would procrastinate and make excuses to give my anxiety power over myself. I have learned to understand what my faults and flaws are and how they can affect my life and my work. Also understanding there are tools and practices that can help overcome them and making time to properly handle them so I will be able to present my best work without excuse. Lastly, understanding that the drawing may be a challenge but it can be fun and exciting. This was the hardest challenge to learn." 

What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project? 

Student collaboration is a wonderful part of the class. There is tremendous camaraderie and everyone gains something from it. 

In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career? 

I explain to them the importance of daily study—reading, drawing, blogging—and connection to the animation community by joining organizations such as ASIFA. I always comment on productivity and how no one will put up with entitlement in the business. Only hard work. And that’s not easy. This isn’t instant coffee. 

Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes? 

After years of opportunities in the small community of animation, I know how blessed I am. It’s an amazing career and love it! Movies, TV, entertainment that has given my students memories that influenced why that want to work in this field. It’s a pleasure!