SOFA alumna's tasteful art witnessed by millions on Katy Perry’s live-stream

Jul 07, 2017

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One of the coffee cup drawings Ilana Schwartz created for Katy Perry’s Witness World Wide live-stream. All images are provided by Schwartz.
Thumbnail for SOFA alumna's tasteful art witnessed by millions on Katy Perry’s live-stream
One of the coffee cup drawings Ilana Schwartz created for Katy Perry’s Witness World Wide live-stream. All images are provided by Schwartz.

by Aaron Garland

For many, coffee is beautiful in taste and effect.

But who knew a cup of Joe could be so good looking? School of Film and Animation alumna Ilana Schwartz (2014) has combined two of her loves, caffeine and art, to do her part in ensuring that it is.

Recently, millions found out how through watching a popular live-stream and NBC’s “TODAY” show — both of which Schwartz made an appearance on.

For six and a half hours of Katy Perry’s daring, 96-hour live-stream of her life, called Witness World Wide, Schwartz’s Perry-inspired coffee cup art was the focus of some of the many cameras hired for the intimate and honest marketing project that promoted the pop superstar’s recently released album, “Witness.”

The around-the-clock YouTube live-stream of Perry in a Big Brother-style environment amassed over 49 million viewers globally and captured her every move from June 8-12 — spectators could even watch her sleep.

But there was also other (more engaging) on-camera activity while Perry rested. That’s where Schwartz came in.

Schwartz was contacted and commissioned by Perry’s production team to create her admired coffee cup art on air from 2-8:30 a.m. one of the days to spruce up part of a slumber block. Below: A piece of art Ilana Schwartz made in front of millions of YouTube spectators. 

The art form is something Schwartz began practicing at RIT, and soon after her efforts became widely adored on Tumblr and Instagram. Javadoodles, as Schwartz designated her tasteful art, are exactly what they sound like: lovely, elaborate, recognizable drawings on disposable coffee cups.

For Witness World Wide — for which Perry moved into an apartment outfitted with an abundance of cameras — Schwartz designed Perry-themed cups that won the approval of the singer. Schwartz’s drawings developed from her own concepts and depicted Perry’s original album content, Schwartz said, to promote her music and brand.

Undoubtedly, given the mammoth popularity of the promotional tactic, Schwartz’ crafty to-go cups were seen by a huge audience. It was only amplified when the “TODAY” show cut into a shot of Perry’s live-stream while Schwartz happened to be on camera, doodling in front of a mass of YouTube onlookers.

For a time, Schwartz, a Los Angeles area-based animator and art director for Nickelodeon Animation Studio, was shown intently working, live on the well-watched news program, while a graphic with her name and title stretched the bottom of the screen (pictured below).

“I only had a few hours to prepare, as the gig was given to me on the day of the shoot,” Schwartz said of her involvement with Witness World Wide. “I did my research quickly, and conceptualized a lot of artwork in my head. Her album had a lot of eyeball-related art, so that kept it very simple. I did not do any practice drawings.

“It was really unusual, though, because I was drawing live for millions of people,” she added. “What if they saw my mistakes? What if they commented rude things? I just threw all that aside and focused on the work.”

Schwartz’s javadoodles subjects are wide-ranging. The drawings possess intrigue and emit nostalgia.

She’s drawn the Backstreet Boys and characters from prevalent TV shows and movies (“SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rugrats,” “The Fairly OddParents” — notice the Nickelodeon theme? — “Pokemon,” “Shrek” and “Breaking Bad” are a few examples). Sketches of actor Robert Downey Jr. and original animations have also been affixed to drinking vessels by way of Schwartz’s drawing utensils, too.

The work is so well done that Schwartz has a legion of fans, to the tune of more than 15,000 Instagram followers.

She even has a fan in Perry.

“Amazing,” Perry said on her live-stream, as she observed the Schwartz-designed, art-covered cups that lined her kitchen counter. Perry then grabbed a cup with a sketch of her dog, Nugget, and brought it close to the camera (pictured below) as a large bar crediting Schwartz as the artist — along with her @javadoodles Instagram handle — popped onto the screen.

“It was the most unusual and exciting thing to come out of my javadoodles project so far,” Schwartz said. “A lot of people really seemed to like it.”

Schwartz’s skills go beyond fashioning breathtaking coffee cups, though.

In the below Q-and-A, not only do we find out more about the genesis and evolution of javadoodles and how the opportunity to collaborate with Perry came about, but we dig into the work Schwartz, a Long Island, N.Y., native, is doing at Nickelodeon.

Question: What was it like to appear on the “TODAY” show as part of your role in Katy Perry’s Witness World Wide?

Ilana Schwartz: It was actually a huge surprise to me that I ended up on the “TODAY” show. It was around 4:30 a.m. in LA and 7:30 a.m. in New York, and it seems they just tuned into Katy Perry's live-stream during the time where I happened to be on camera.

I got a text from a few of my family members asking me why I was on the news. It was a very cool moment. I believe there was some mention of my art on the broadcast. Below: Ilana Schwartz works on a javadoodle.

Question: How did you link on with this high-profile project?

Answer: I was contacted by (Perry’s) associate producer. We ended up going to high school together and he thought of me for this project when the crew said they were in need of artists. Additionally, I had someone who had seen my work for another music-related project vouch for me. It was really cool to know that people have seen my work and think it's strong enough to be a part of these huge projects. 

Question: The live-stream was something that was highly talked about all over. How neat was it to be part of something that turned out to be such a huge deal?

Answer: It was outstanding. I did not see this javadoodles project ever getting this far, or this big. This is something I started at Java Wally's at RIT, when I was a sophomore. I just kept it going as much as I could, and it's evolved into its own brand.

I'm thrilled to see it thriving in the music world, and I want to keep sharing it with more and more music artists. I am additionally broadening my horizons. I've started dipping my toe into lyric videos, animated music videos, animated GIFs and other forms of content that I can hand-draw. Below: An Ilana Schwartz javadoodle for Witness World Wide.

Question: Take me to the days at Java Wally’s when you started your coffee cup art. How did it originate there?

Answer: I would go to Java Wally's in between classes and have my afternoon cup of coffee. However, when I was done, I would (just for fun) draw silly characters on the back of my cups. Then I would feel bad throwing it away. So it gave me an idea. I'd start to create art out of disposable cups. I'd photograph them and keep a record.

At the time, Tumblr was just getting really big, so I started a Tumblr account. It started getting LOTS of followers, and I realized that people thought the content was cool. Later on, I transitioned over to Instagram, when things became a little more phone-focused. I am now at 15,000 followers, and I don't plan on stopping. I wish to keep sharing content, evolving into new mediums and collaborating with other cool artists.

I love both of those things (coffee and art), and they just go together so well. Coffee drives my ambition to draw, I need it to stay awake, and I also really love the process of a good pour. It feels special that I started this project in Java Wally's at RIT. It was a comfortable and relaxed environment that sparked creativity, and that is something that I'll always need in my life.

Question: Is there a market for your coffee cup art? Have you commercialized your work, or is it more for fun?

Answer: I am currently looking into options for this. I am certainly open to ideas, but my focus right now is just to have fun. When it becomes too demanding, the spark goes away. I want to keep the spark of this project alive, and as long as it's something I do in a relaxed and cool environment, I think I can keep it.

I've thought about getting a coffee table book together to distribute in cafes around the world. It would ideally contain high-resolution photos of my coffee cup art, and describe each one. Like a mini-gallery. And hopefully it would inspire other artists to find an unusual way to distribute and create amazing content.

Question: Describe what you do for Nickelodeon Animation Studio.

Answer:I am an animator for various shows here, and also an art director for special projects such as music videos and unusual social-media content. I will also be teaching a 3D course here over the summer for employees and interns. I try to get as involved as I can with the community at Nickelodeon, and I try to encourage others to show their work and have fun doing it! 

Question: How long have you worked at Nickelodeon?

Answer: I've been at Nick about three years. I used to work at its NYC location, but I started in their Burbank (California) offices in November of 2016. 

I used to work in the on-air promos team — “coming up next, on Nick!" — so my animations used to appear on the Nick channel multiple times daily. However, the content I am producing in Burbank is usually seen online, on YouTube, Instagram and other forms of social-media profiles. Occasionally I'll work on an episode or two of a show, but it won't air until six months to a year after I animate on it. Below: Ilana Schwartz's coffee cup drawings are abundant in detail.

Question: How rewarding has it been working at Nick?

Answer: It's really amazing to work here. I'm amazed to be surrounded by such amazing and hard-working people. Everyone cheers each other on, and the environment is very positive. We recently moved into our new building, which is state-of-the-art, and there are so many fun and creative facilities at our disposal. It's difficult to go home sometimes because I really do feel like this is my happy place. 

Question: Did you grow up watching Nickelodeon programs? How surreal is it to think that you’re now working at such a well-known studio?

Answer: I did! It's extremely surreal, and I feel very fortunate that I get to be a part of the next generation of artists on this network.

Media is changing every day — the way we consume content and put out content for the world to see. It's difficult to see what the future holds, but I truly do think there will always be a need for what we do here, and there will always be a need for really GOOD cartoons. I am really excited to be a part of that transition.