Animator, Illustrator, and Poet Wendy Rodriguez Shares “Things She Didn’t Know How to Say”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Rodriguez.

This article is part of a series profiling two UCSD artists and graduating seniors who were finalists for the annual “25 and Under” Art Showcase at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego (MCASD).

As a woman of color from a low-income community and a disruptive family environment, much of Wendy’s artwork is driven around her own identity; specifically, she is open about her struggles with anxiety and depression.

Wendy Rodriguez is a Visual Arts–Media major who came to UCSD studying the completely different discipline of astrophysics, not quite knowing what she wanted to do. As a daughter of immigrants, she is one of the first people from her family to attend college.

“Statistically, I shouldn’t have made it,” says Wendy, reflecting on her background. “I want to be able to tell people from my community [of San Fernando] that you can do it too.”

Although she grew up doodling and making “shitty handmade comics,” she didn’t start getting serious about developing her illustrating skills until freshman year, when she delved into Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, realizing that the only thing stopping her was herself. Wendy has always loved cartoons, so it didn’t take long for her to put two-and-two together and realize that she wanted to become an animator.

“There’s something about a moving picture…animation is different from film, where there’s a disconnect. Animating is you and your hand and what you’re drawing. Anything is possible with animation,” Wendy says, before adding that her dream is moving to Los Angeles after she graduates so that she can focus on animation as her career. “Ideally, my goal is to pitch a series to Adult Swim.”

She especially looks up to animators Patrick McHale (Over the Garden Wall, Adventure Time), Julia Pott (Adventure Time, Summer Camp Island), and Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), noting the importance of seeing other women in animation and how they got to where they are today.

A screen still of "Photographs," an award-winning animation by Wendy Rodriguez.

A screen still of “Photographs,” an award-winning animation by Wendy Rodriguez.

Wendy explains that her award-winning work “Photographs” for the “25 and Under” Museum of Contemporary Art showcase actually began as a class project for VIS 131: Experimental Animation, which she took Winter Quarter with Professor Erica Cho. She was inspired by a physical book of “photographs” she possesses, which includes several hand-drawn moments of her life. She decided to animate three selected moments: one with her friend Cameron, who she says helped her “become more of [herself] through knowing him;” a memory of her grandma, who “loves [Wendy] more than anyone,” peeling oranges for her at midnight; and lastly one of her best friend Austin, who moved from San Diego back to Texas last year.

“You can only experience moments once, but you can go back and remember it,” Wendy says about “Photographs.

Although “Photographs” is only one minute and seven seconds in length, the video took Wendy an entire month to produce. Nevertheless, Wendy is humble about her process, stating that she sticks to just a few main tools: her tablet, a computer set-up, and animation software such as Toon Boom. She is excited about the additional animating and illustrating she’ll be able to do with the $500 in Blick Art supplies that she received as Curator’s Choice First Place of the showcase.

Wendy has several other short works, including animations “Untitled” and “Untitled 2,” her ongoing senior media project called “Monsters We Know,” as well as a series she is currently working on titled Masters of the Bone Zone, of which the first episode is currently on her website.

Taken from the first episode of Wendy's series, Masters of the Bone Zone.

Taken from the first episode of Wendy’s series, Masters of the Bone Zone.

In all of these works, there are recurring themes of mental illness and childhood, intertwined with a “Halloween, spooky” aesthetic. Wendy is fond of using skeletons to humanize death as a coping mechanism. She also does not shy away from speaking about her own struggles with mental health.

“I want to tell people that I have this thing also and it’s okay to laugh!” Wendy says, referring to her mental health struggles. “Everything I make, it comes from a honest and personal place.”

Because Wendy is so vulnerable with her work, she is constantly worried about how she and her animations are perceived. Even though Wendy has worked on a variety of projects, she submitted “Photographs” to contests and festivals like the “25 and Under” showcase because it was the first animation she felt was absolutely complete. In fact, as a self-published poet as well as an artist, Wendy was reminded of her poetry writing process and says this animation felt more like a poem.

In early May, Wendy published her poetry collection titled “Things I Didn’t Know How to Say” on Amazon. The book includes 38 of her poems written between 2013 and 2018, and Wendy describes it as her “deepest, darkest secrets for $15.” Like her art, the poems deal with Wendy’s personal experiences with love and her memories with close friends.

You can find more of Wendy’s work through her website, Tumblr, Vimeo, and Instagram. As she states in the foreword of her book, she “hope[s] you find what you’re looking for/ even if you don’t know what that is yet”.

Isabelle Yan is the Managing Editor of The Triton.