We have loved John Rowe since, well, forever. He has the incredible talent befitting a man with his impressive CV. He’s a movie artist with several high profile images including the poster for Miracle, and a screen-used brochure for John Hammond and his company InGen’s Jurassic Park. He’s an illustrator who learned from some greats like the legendary Saul Bass and created murals featured at Disney World, and is a fine artist who finds the layered meaning in whatever he paints. He’s also gentle, deep soul who infuses those qualities in his work, and takes every project to heart, be it a corporate commission, Disney fine art, or the portraits he creates of people he finds compelling.
In the span of time we’ve known John, we’ve become friends, and seen him create some beautiful Disney interpretive art, as well as lean into his fine art portraiture. He’s won some of the major illustration and fine art awards, while always maintaining his realistic yet emotionally evocative style. We’re thrilled to be able to offer the John Rowe Disney Fine Art Archive Editions Collection, all from John’s personal collection of Artist’s Proofs. In honor of the release of this collection, we interviewed the artist about his career, aesthetic, and where he gets the great ideas on which his most popular Disney images are based.
Leslie Combemale: What were the early indications when you were a kid that you wanted to work as an artist?
John Rowe: I used to draw every single day of my life. Even when my friends would come over and want to play, I would have to say, “Well, let me finish my drawing, and then I’ll go play football.” I just always loved drawing. When I was in elementary school, I wouldn’t fill out the papers they kept passing out to me, asking questions about dinosaurs or plants or whatever it was we were studying. Instead, I would draw a picture of them. So I would draw that dinosaur, or shark, or plant, I’d draw them perfectly with every fin and every element exactly. And then instead of turning in the work that the teacher had been passing out, which I thought was very boring, I would walk by her desk, and I would nonchalantly flip my drawing on her desk, because I wanted her to know that I was keeping up.
You were like an illustrator and training! Did you get good grades?
No! I was failing. And I was going to fail second grade. Then we went to a meeting with the teacher and my mom, and it wasn’t until then I figured out those papers are what they care about in school. I thought, “That is so weird.”
So you’ve always gone your own way, which is so important for an artist.
You have to kind of have your own agenda and your own vision of what you want to do, and then how you want to live your life.
How did you wind up at one of the most prestigious art schools in the world, Art Center?
I was going to become a history teacher, because I tested really high in history. But when I got up to Cal State, I couldn’t go through with it. So I told them I wanted to be an art major, and they told me I had to have a professor in the art building sign off, so I went to the building, and it was five stories tall, but there were no professors there because the semester hasn’t started. So I’m wandering around, and I run into Al Fiore, and he says, “I’ll sign this for you If you take my class.” I said, “Well, I can’t take your class, it’s an upper division class, and I’m just starting.” He said, “Just take my class.” So I take his class, and he also teaches at Art Center. He’s also a designer designing the new interior for the L 1011 airplane and the cockpit for some new Boeing airplanes. I turned on my first project and he says, “If you graduate, after four years here, they will never teach you to be better than you are. Let me help you get into a real art school.” And then he helped me get into Art Center.
Explain who Al Fiori is, explain the importance of him as an artist.
He was a designer, and he taught at Cal State, LA. He was the head of the design department there, and he also taught at Art Center. He mentored so many people.I hooked up again with him years and years later, just about 15 years ago. He said he got asked to take a sabbatical from Cal State LA because he was cherry picking all of their very best students out of the school art and sending them to Art Center. He said, “I had just been offered a job at NBC to do some design work for them, and as part of the job, they gave me a Ferrari. So I parked my Ferrari out at the loading dock, and I was interviewing with the dean of the school, who told him to take the sabbatical, and to reconsider not pinching students, and he could come back later. They said they’d pay for my year off. And I said i’m out of here,Just then the guy from the loading dock came in and said, ‘Hey, somebody’s Ferrari is blocking the loading docks. Anyone know who’s that is?’ And I said ‘That’s mine. Gotta go!'” He said that was the best exit he ever made in his life.
That’s a great lesson that it’s possible to be an artist and make money at the same time. You worked with one of the greatest illustrators in film history, Saul Bass. Can you talk about that experience and what it taught you?
I learned a great deal from him. He was incredibly meticulous. Everything had to be perfect. I had worked for months on the color for the Japan Energies logo, and he had done hundreds of drawings, and I was just painting color. I had two 8 x 8 inch pieces of art that I had made, and each one had to be identical. So the Japanese CEO would come in with his entourage, there’s about 15 people in the studio. And Saul and everyone is there, and they have my art, and they’re dropping a jeweler’s loop on it, and going over every every part of both pieces. They found a difference between the two. And they’re freaking out. “One piece has to go to Japan, and one has to be here. We need to be able to print worldwide from these two things.” They were busy on the phone trying to get a first class ticket to fly my art, because the CEO of Japan Energy was leaving in a few minutes, and it had to be fixed. My art couldn’t go by FedEx or any other way, ithad to be hand-carried to Japan.So I hear them on the phone, and they’re asking if I can fix it in the few minutes before the CEO leaves. Yes! Yes, I can fix it!” And I’m in my mind, I’m thinking that first class ticket is the same price and the fee they’re paying me!.
He didn’t deal directly with you, right?
Normally, no. One thing about Saul is,I did 30 projects for him. I would go in with the team of designers.I would be sitting there, and he never talked to me directly. He always told the designers all the notes and fixes needing to be done. I was just the hired help. Then one day, I had messengered a little oil painting over there, and he was sitting there, again with the designers there too, ripping my newest assignment to shreds, saying how pedestrian it was, and how it looked like what some shlock illustrator would do, then he looked directly at me. It was the first time he had ever spoken to me, and he said, “Nice painting yesterday.” He ripped the one I was there for to shreds, but the one from the day before he liked enough to compliment me.
That’s when you know they mean it!
When Saul did pass away. all Hollywood was going there because he had done so many film projects and so many things, and Walter Matthau was speaking at the eulogy and stuff like that. And Nancy, his project manager, called me up personally and said, “Hey John, I know Saul would have liked it if you were there, so your name will be at the door. Just come. It would be good.”
You’ve worked on some pretty high profile projects some folks don’t even know about. You’re full of stories!
I have a story about the day I didn’t meet Steven Spielberg. I was working for a designer friend of mine, and I was painting these gates, and I was up all night doing it. I have a story about the day I didn’t meet Steven Spielberg. I was working for a designer friend of mine, and I was painting these gates, and I was up all night doing it. I mean, literally, I got the assignment and I had to stay up all night. So I came in with no sleep to the Universal to a place I didn’t know, because I don’t follow movies, called Amblin Entertainment. I delivered this thing, and the guy at the desk says, “This is great. It’s wonderful. This is really cool. Steven will love this. Steven will think this is really nice. I can go back and show Steven, do you want to meet Steven?” I’m like, “No, man. Just show him the work. I’m so tired.” He goesand comes back and says, “Steven loves this. Steven wants another one tomorrow.”I go back home, and I tell my wife, “This guy I work for is just obsessed with his boss. He must have said the name Steven 100 times.” and she asks, “Where were you? Do you have a card?” I pulled out a card and I gave it to her and it said “Jurassic Park”.She said, “Do you know what the biggest movie next year is going to be? Jurassic Park.” I did a brochure for him for that, and it was used in the movie.
So in terms of projects that you’ve done that had a huge impact on your forward movement as an illustrator, what are a few? I know creating the covers for the reprinted Marguerite Henry books Misty of Chincoteague, that was a big deal.
I think those books were really important. Also one of the high points of my career was when I got a commission to do 12 stamps for the United Nations. Once you get a commission from them, they let you do anything you want. They don’t give you any direction, they just trust. Then once I delivered them I was able to go to New York and speak at Madison Square Garden and signed my autograph to hundreds of people’s first edition stamps. I was able to take my daughter, who was 17 years old at the time, and she got to see her dad do something cool.
You’ve also done a lot of images for Disney, some of which people see every day.
There’s a big mural in Animal Kingdom Park at the entrance. It’s 80 x 20 feet tall. When I did that mural, the director called me in, and she had a beautiful little drawing she’d made of all these animals. She said, “I hired two artists and both did a terrible job. We didn’t go forward with them. I’d like to do the same with with you. I’m gonna blow this up to eight feet and then you can paint on top of that.” I looked at it and it was a nice drawing but not the kind I’d need to do a photorealistic painting, so I told her “I’d love to do that, but I can’t work on paper, so I’ll transfer it to canvas myself and then I’ll do a sample of that.” Then I corrected all the things that needed to be fixed and perfected and did the sample and she loved it. You can see those murals today at Disney World.
You’ve done some really beautiful images in your partnership with Disney fine art. What was the inspiration for kind of that aesthetic?
The stories that Disney tells, I think they touch us. We’re influenced by them because they really relate to real life. When I painted a Disney story, that’s what inspired me. I had one that’s really personal to me, The Little Mermaid piece called “Fathoms Deep”, and when I painted that, Ariel is dreaming about a better life like a real person would, and just below her I had the good fish, and deep below I had the monstrous fish.
I painted them looking very realistic, but very evil. And I met a young woman who was 20-something who had that image tattooed on her leg. She came to me and she said, “This is my life. I grew up in gang violence, my parents were murdered when I was young, and I was raised around some bad people. And I’m that little girl wishing on the star, and wishing for a better life. And below are represented all of the gang violence and all of the things that I came through and I got out of in my life. That really made me understand how these stories, although they’re animated cartoons, have a real life story, a resonance within them that’s deeper than that. So I wanted to paint realistic figures, realistic people, and realistic scenes, because I think our emotional experience of these animated films is not the experience of a cartoon, our emotional experience is experience of how real people live life.
That desire to connect, to speak to real life experience, extends to your other fine art.
I do feel the same way about fine art. I don’t want to just do a nice, pleasant painting, I want to do something that speaks to something deeper about the model I’m painting. Almost all the models I use are people that I meet, and then I photograph them and talk to them, and find out something about them. That way, the painting can have some relation to the kinds of experiences they’ve had in their lives, but also that the viewer can relate to and find inspiring in some way.
You can see all of his Disney work on our website HERE. You can see his fine art on his website HERE.
Who doesn’t love a Top Ten Halloween Cartoons list? Something about classic scary cartoons stirs up nostalgia more than the average every day animation. Is there something about being scared at the same time as entertained that we hold on to from childhood?
Every year at ArtInsights, October has offered the opportunity to play all the best classic Halloween cartoons over and over, since they’re a gallery favorite. This year seemed like the perfect opportunity to list the best creepy cartoons ever made. None of these are too scary for most kids, and perfect for playing on a family night at home.
Our experience in the gallery, however, is adults are far more likely to sit and watch them over and over than their kids are. Of course, no one needs an excuse to play The Nightmare Before Christmas one more time, a movie we have the soundtrack to in three languages … (English, French, and German). It is, however, an opportunity to educate our friends about it’s greatness, as well as the greatness of other creepy classics. And with that in mind, here is my list of the top 10 Halloween cartoons of all time:
No. 10 — The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949):
Packaged as part of the post-war Disney featurette The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Legend has a terrifying and great scene of Ichabod being chased by the headless horseman, not to mention narration by Bing Crosby and a great song. It is loyal to the original story by Washington Irving, which means it leaves some doubt as to the survival of Ichabod at the end. Enjoy the music and one of the best villains in Disney history, who “achieves his aim” with the least amount of airtime.
No. 9 — Lonesome Ghosts (1937):
Four green phantoms invite Mickey, Donald, and Goofy who are “Ghost Exterminators” over to their haunted house to drive them crazy—a gorgeous piece of vintage animation, with classic characters we all love. Note the detail in the backgrounds. Goofy’s quote “I ain’t afraid a’ no ghosts!” was used in some movie later.
No. 8 — Broom-stick Bunny (1956):
The first cartoon to use June Foray’s voice for Witch Hazel in a Warner Brothers cartoon, and it is widely considered the best of the WB cartoons featuring the character. The backgrounds are highly stylized in the tradition of the best of the Chuck Jones directed cartoons, and critics gave high praise to the witty dialogue written by Tedd Pierce.
No. 7 — Hyde and Go Tweet (1960):
This Friz Freleng directed cartoon is arguably the best featuring characters Sylvester and Tweety. It brings knuckle-dragging into your dreams at night! Tweety accidentally drinks a formula that makes him a huge yellow monster with bulging eyes and he terrorizes Sylvester—as he still terrorizes Tweety lovers whenever they watched the cartoon. Notice how “monster Tweety” breathes. Hilarious!
No. 6 — The Skeleton Dance (1929):
Black and white Silly Symphonies cartoon with skeletons rattling their bones joyously. It’s like the perfect Halloween Busby Berkeley cartoon. Creepy! A very early Disney cartoon before many experiments lead to advancements in animation, and yet still plays as one of the most beautiful cartoons ever made.
No. 5 — Water Water Every Hare (1952):
Bugs as a beautician, fixing the tennis-shoe wearing monster Gossamer’s hair—who doesn’t remember that classic cartoon moment? “Monsters are such interesting people!” And the big-headed evil scientist as he floats in an ether induced haze, while edited from more recent versions of the cartoon, is a classic example of “anything goes” in classic Looney Tunes!
No. 4 — Trick or Treat (1952):
Another result of legendary Donald Duck cartoon director Jack Hanna, but this one is many a Disney aficionado’s favorite. It introduced Witch Hazel, who was voiced by famed voice artist June Foray (who we mentioned in No. 8, Broom-stick Bunny). With Huey Dewey and Louie’s costumes and the stylized backgrounds, it showed just how vibrantly colorful a Disney short can be.
No. 3 — Night on Bald Mountain (1940):
Horror fans will point to Fantasia as their favorite movie not because of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but because of the dark and emotionally intense segment with the demon Chernabog, and at one point, bare breasted redheaded harpies! …and in a Disney cartoon! Leave it to Disney animation genius Bill Tytla!
No. 2 — It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966):
Some will argue for this Peanuts classic, and the third special, to be No. 1. Linus as the eternally hopeful optimist does inspire fierce loyalty in fans, and rightly so. It also makes subtle reference to open-mindedness and tolerance towards less traditional beliefs. Linus waits with the sign “Welcome Great Pumpkin” for him to appear in the pumpkin patch on Halloween. We have all the usual delightful suspects to enjoy, and Linus’s philosophizing to deepen our and our children’s thinking.
No. 1 — The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993):
Back when it was released, this was a sad little bomb, but it was MY sad little bomb and I have the original underwear, tie and watch to prove it. It has traveled in time and become a colossal cult classic, helping to keep teengoth store Hot Topic in business. The songs, the love story, the diverse cast of lovable secondary characters, the amazing world created in the mind of Tim Burton, and directed by Henry Selick, all come together into a Halloween masterpiece.
*This blog is reposted from my site Cinema Siren, written in 2011- I’m happy to say these ten are still my top ten!
To see some images based on these great cartoons and other Halloween frights, you can go to our
As I recently mentioned (in my latest blog, about the museum show “Ink Tributes” by Marlon West) I’m going to include blog posts about new films, animation and film art news, and other subjects that are not about art in ArtInsights. I’m hoping these (fascinating!) posts will have you coming back when you ARE looking for art. In the meantime, let me tell you about the new film The Peasants, by the filmmaking wife and husband duo DK and Hugh Welchman, who brought the Oscar-nominated film Loving Vincent.
Here’s the trailer for the movie, so you get a sense of what it looks like, and why it’s a big deal:
Before I get into all of this, I want to tell you why you want to read the whole article:
FIRST: the story of this production includes these filmmakers literally saving artists..they were working on The Peasants in the recently opened studio in Kyiv, Ukraine, when Russia invaded and started an unprovoked war. DK, Hugh and all the folks at BreakThru (the production company making The Peasants) had to get the artists out of the country, and they did. You can read all about their rescue in The Guardian newspaper HERE.
SECOND: as with Loving Vincent, art from The Peasants is available for purchase, and DK and Hugh gave me a discount code for readers of this blog, in case they want to buy any of the oil paintings created for the movie. The art is going fast, especially the art priced at $250 and $500 — although so far they’ve been adding more art every few days… (and yeah, we’re talking about oil paintings that are around 20 x 26 inches, so that’s quite a deal for production art from such a gorgeous and inventive film)…you can see all the art for sale HERE.
You can read my 5-star review of The Peasants on the Alliance of Women Film Journalists site HERE.
Now. On with the blog:
Loving Vincent featured an animation technique in which live action is filmed, then oil paintings are created based on that footage. It was a way of celebrating the art and live of Vincent Van Gogh, and was appropriately lauded for its laborious yet gorgeous style. I interviewed them about the movie for the AWFJ, and you can read it HERE.
A more technical explanation, taken from their press notes:
“The over 100 painting animators who worked on the film did so on specially designed PAWS units (Painting Animation Work Stations), which Breakthru developed for Loving Vincent, in four studios in Poland, Serbia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. The experienced film crew shot live action footage, then footage from the live-action shoot becomes the reference footage for the painting animators. They then use this reference footage and paint over this with reference to the style (brushstrokes, colors, level of detail) set by the design paintings to paint the first frame of their shot on canvas, sized 67cm by 49cm. They then animate the shot by painting the subsequent keyframe, matching the brushstrokes, color, and impasto of their previous frame, for all parts of the shot that are moving. At the end, they are left with a painting of the last frame of the shot. Each frame is recorded with a Canon 6D digital stills camera at 6k resolution.
The keyframes created by the oil painting animators are then sent to the in-betweening process, which takes the style and brushstrokes of the original oil paintings and adds some digital brushstrokes to come up with the inbetweened frames. The amount of oil painting done per shot varied from every frame to every 4 frames at 12 frames per second.”
Yeah, that’s pretty technical. Suffice to say, Film is shot, then artists make paintings of that footage. Here’s a video of the making of the movie:
Just when you think animation can’t be any more technically complicated and time-consuming….
Most of the artists hired as painters for the film were women, and 30% of them were working in Ukraine, so not only did the pandemic cause problems for the production, so too did the war. Once Kyiv was secured, they re-opened their studio there, but bombing was so constant, they lost electricity. Hugh Welchman started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for a generator, so the artists would be safe and warm during the frigid Ukrainian winter.
As I mentioned, I interviewed DK and Hugh about The Peasants talking to them from their home in Poland. Here’s an excerpt of the interview:
There’s a new animated feature from writer/director wife and husband team Dorota Kobiela (DK) and Hugh Welchman known for the Oscar-nominated film Loving Vincent, called The Peasants. It’s based on a novel of the same name by Polish 1924 Nobel laureate Wladyslaw Reymont, a thousand-page tome so well-known in Poland that it’s taught in schools, and considered one of the classics of world literature.
The novel’s story is meant to deliver a complete and evocative look at the customs, behaviors, culture, and daily life of people in Lipce, a small Polish village, and unfolds over the four seasons. Although the original book follows multiple characters, including Boryna, the village’s richest farmer, his son Antak, Antak’s wife Hanka, and young, beautiful dreamer Jagna, The Peasants centers on Jagna. She is an optimistic artist, and quite a beauty, and all the men of the village want her, including Boryna. Against her wishes, Jagna’s mother makes a deal for a marriage to the old farmer. Jagna is guileless, and chooses her own lovers and interests, which include the married Antak. This causes judgment and hatred from the religious women of the village. This feature film shows the devolution of Jagna’s life resulting from her determination for independence and autonomy.
Created in the same style as Loving Vincent, The Peasants was filmed in a technique in which live action is shot, and then used as reference and interpreted through oil paintings, each created by hand at four studios in Poland, Serbia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Those oil paintings then are shot and become the images seen as the finished film. Women made up 75 to 80% of the artists working on the film.
Not only did the pandemic prove a challenge for the production, but so too did the war in Ukraine. Female artists in the Kyiv studio in Ukraine (most men were not allowed to leave the country) were evacuated to the safety of the Polish studio. The Kyiv studio was reopened after the fighting in Kyiv eased, but bombing plunged the space into darkness, so the producers started a Kickstarter campaign to buy a generator.
The film, in keeping with the novel, is often very serious and sometimes emotionally oppressive, but every frame is nothing short of gorgeous, and really demonstrates the level of artistry animation can reach as an art form. It takes the work DK and Hugh Welchman did on Loving Vincent and expands upon it, showing the possibilities of their technique through this worthy interpretation of a classic novel.
Leslie Combemale of AWFJ spoke to filmmakers DK and Hugh Welchman about their latest project in this exclusive interview:
Leslie Combemale: Can you talk about how the visual language of The Peasants reflects the artistic style of the Young Poland period? I know Wladyslaw Reymont was part of the literature of the time. You use symbolism in the paintings, like, for example, the use of red with Jagna, and that’s part of the movement. Can you talk about that, what other aspects of the Young Poland period are represented, and in what way?
Dorota Kobieka (DK): Yes, we definitely reference aspects of that movement, using it as inspiration, more often than quoting the paintings, although we do have particular pieces that we quote. Mostly it is in elements like the composition and colors. There are a number we do use, like the painting Indian Summer, where Jagna is lying on the grass playing with the bit of fluff in the air, which is by Jozef Chelmonski, one of the main painters of that period. There’s another, with flying storks, when the farmhand and the boy are in the fields looking at the storks, that’s called Bociany, or Storks, also by Chelmonski.
Hugh Welchman: We have 42 direct quotes in the film, and actually 15 of them are Chelmonski, so he became our main guiding light, although we took inspiration from around 30 different Polish painters, and also more broadly across European realism. For example, we have a direct quote from the French painter Jean-Francois Millet. We wanted to draw on that whole movement. The Young Poland painters were particularly appropriate, because they were presenting this view of Polish culture trying to keep Polish identity and national spirit alive during the partitions, and the period that Poland had been wiped off the map by the three empires. They’re showing Polish life and Polish culture, and were presenting a positive image as well as trying to show how life was really like. That seems really appropriate for Reymont, because he presents his characters, warts and all, with their failings, but at the same time, he has a very affectionate view towards his characters. Even though they can be awful sometimes, you still love them, feel for them, and can understand them, even if they sometimes do some terrible things. Also, his descriptions are so beautiful, very often it’s magical realism rather than straight realism, because of his poetic descriptions, and his bucolic portrayal of nature and the peasant world. The Young Poland movement and the realist movement seemed to be the best ways to bring his prose alive.
LC: The transitions into each of the four seasons are a particular opportunity for stylization. DK you were part of the editing team, which was an important aspect of those transitions, but what were the discussions around that with production designer Elwira Pluta and director of animation Piotr Dominiak? Were each of the four sections of the film, in each seasons, separated stylistically?
DK: That was very big part of the development process, there’s a divisions of the story by the seasons, because that’s how it is in the book. It’s actually divided, originally, into four books, each book for a different season. We thought them really good for representing a certain mood and part of the film, so we tried to design around them. Mainly the colors represent the seasons, and we tried to find the mood of each season that is represented in the story.
HW: It was a big part of it actually, from when we wrote the script, because in the Reymond novel, the transition to a new season, he has these long descriptions at the beginning of each novel, so it was an opportunity for us to be visually quite flashy. We wrote these very long camera moves at the script stage. For example, when we went from autumn to winter, we always wanted to have a continuous pullback to represent the change of the season. Then with spring to summer, we wanted to have the 360 degree camera move. I think those transitions were always going to be set pieces for us, which reflected the fact that they’re set pieces in the book. One of the things that attracted us about making this into an oil painting animation is if you take three pages of his description of the winter storms coming in, we can do that in one twenty second shot.
LC: It also offered you the opportunity to advance from the style of Loving Vincent, and show many other ways in which you can utilize the techniques you use.
DK: It was absolutely more liberating to be able to do more camera movement and more challenging animation.
HW: We didn’t want to do Loving Vincent 2. A lot of people were asking what artist we would be doing next, and it was really important for us that we found something that would show that oil painting animation can be more than that, so that we can show the many possibilities of the technique. DK was very clear not to repeat the restrictions that we had with Loving Vincent. Part of the concept was was bringing portraits to life, so it was a talking heads concept. She wanted us to do something that was much more free, and have dynamic camera movement. The story of the ever-changing seasons and landscape, and the very volatile, dramatic story of the characters lended itself to this dynamic approach. In the novel, you have these amazing celebrations, and we saw that as a great opportunity, and you can see that in the dances, the battle scenes, and the wedding.
LC: The Peasants feels like a mixture, in terms of paintings, of portraiture, landscapes, and paintings of people in nature, like the one we discussed of Jean-Francois Millet. Was that intentional, and how did you determine the composition of the shots?
DK: Yes. exactly. In the book itself, Reymont uses different styles, which is very interesting. It’s very unusual for one novel to mix so many styles. He uses realism, Impressionism, and symbolism, depending on who is speaking, because sometimes he uses inner monologue of a character, and sometimes it’s the external narrator, who is very objective. Sometimes it’s the village itself telling the story. So it’s very interesting, and we thought it would be great to find the way to represent that in the painting styles.
HW: DK and Piotr put together an enormous file referencing nearly 400 paintings, and so while we only directly reference 45 paintings, there were over 300 elements of paintings that went into the film, like the clouds from a Ferdynand Ruszczyc painting, or the trees from another painting, so we not only had landscapes and these peasant portrait paintings, but we also had elements from lots of other paintings as well, like skies and sunsets.
DK: It was also something that we discussed a lot with our cinematographer, who was very sensitive to the painting style and he also didn’t want to shoot this like a movie. He was always thinking, “How would a painter sitting at an easel paint that?” We wanted to be true to that.
You can read the entire interview by going to AWFJ.org HERE.
As a lovely gesture to me, knowing I own an art gallery, Hugh and DK offered my clients a discount on art when they buy it on The Peasants website. ArtInsights doesn’t make any money on this, and that’s 100% fine with us! The money goes to maintaining their studios, including the one in Ukraine, supporting their artists, and helping them in both promoting The Peasants and allowing them to move forward with their next project!
The discount code is artinsights_peasants_10. You can use it only once, and for a maximum of 2 paintings. (Paintings are between 250 and 2000 Euros) Be advised that shipping to the US is $300 via DHL. The paintings that feature Janga (the story’s protagonist) go very fast, but they seem to be adding paintings every few days. I do know it’s the studio manager doing the adding, and they’re pretty focused on getting US distribution for the film and promoting it wherever and whenever they can, so they’ll show up when they show up!
I’m aware that many or most of you will want to see the movie before you buy any art! That’s fine! Hopefully it will be playing at a theater near you soon enough. In the meantime, let’s just celebrate the creativity, compassion, inventiveness, and badassery that it took and takes for these folks to keep moving animation forward as they are doing!
It’s not all about ArtInsights, sometimes it’s about someone really cool doing something inspiring…It isn’t often that my work with ArtInsights and my work amplifying movie artists below the line collide, but here we are! As I move into my the new phase of ArtInsights online, I want to cover some artists and their work that goes beyond the work our site carries, because animators and film artists do so much more than the work they create in their careers in animation. It seems perfect, given my own passion for activism, that the first “Artist Insights” is Disney artist Marlon West.
Disney special effects artist Marlon West’s collection of comic book illustration-styled portraits are being featured in an exhibit called Ink Tributes. Formerly shown at the Museum of Social Justice, they are now at the Saint. Louis University Museum of Art, at an exhibit that opened on August 25th, and will run through December 30th, 2023.
The series is a collection of portraits of victims of police brutality and racial discrimination, as well as heroes and icons of Black excellence. Speaking about the images upon the opening in St. Louis, West explained, “For many of us Black nerds, Marvel’s characters are particularly relatable. They are often hated and hunted by the powers that be. They are aliens, or born different, or having to deal with harsh cards dealt to them. They are feared, despised, shunned, and misunderstood. There isn’t a more American form of portraiture than black ‘inks’ over white, to honor those that faced this nation’s fear and loathing of the Black body.”
A St. Louis native, West is known as an award-winning animator, Head of Effects, and Special Effects Supervisor at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios. Some of his most recent credits include Encanto, Frozen and Frozen II, and Moana. With a career that has spanned over 25 years, he also worked on classics like The Lion King, Pocahontas, Hercules, Mulan, Meet the Robinsons, and The Princess and the Frog. You can watch Marlon talk about his career on this official interview with Disney Plus:
I became “friends” with Marlon on Facebook after I interviewed him about Frozen II for The Credits, which was shortly before the pandemic.
(You can read the interview I did with Marlon HERE.)
By the time the pandemic was in full swing, Marlon was already posting his drawings on social media, and I noticed them right away. Some of my favorites were of John Lewis, who I met at San Diego Comic-Con when he was doing a panel before mine. I got seriously tongue-tied, because Representative Lewis was a major hero of mine. He was called “the conscience of the Congress”, and was famous for what he called “good trouble”. If you don’t know about John Lewis, you can learn about him in this documentary:
Many of the Ink Tributes are of victims of police brutality, some during the pandemic, like George Floyd, Bryanna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbury, which sparked the historic Black Lives Matter movement, others are of lives lost throughout recent American history, like Emmett Till. Till’s portrait is a positive representation of the young man before he was brutalized, bringing humanity to an American citizen who could have made an important difference in society. West created over 40 images of important figures in the Black Lives Matter movement, including allies like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kamala Harris.
Marlon also spearheaded a black and white photo of Black animation professionals at Disney, “A Great Day in Animation”, as inspired by “A Great Day in Harlem”, a photograph of 57 jazz musicians taken in 1957 by Art Kane. “A Great Day in Animation” was taken by Randy Shropshire, with Jeff Vespa as production lead. Marlon envisioned the photograph to feature Disney Legend and all around wonderful guy Floyd Norman in the center of the picture, surrounded by Black Disney professionals.
You can read more about it on the great website Good Black News, HERE as well as on Variety HERE, where there’s a video of the day they took the photograph, and includes Marlon talking about his inspiration to get these animation professionals together for it.
You can watch Floyd talk about his experience in animation on one of the San Diego Comic-Con panels I have moderated for ArtInsights and ASIFA Hollywood, and on which I have had the honor to celebrate him:
To read about each tribute in Marlon West’s Ink Tributes, you can go to the Museum of Social Justice page about the exhibit, which includes images and short biographies about each person illustrated HERE.
You can visit the Ink Tributes exhibit at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art anytime between now and December 30th. The museum is free of charge, and open between 11am and 4pm Wednesday and Sunday.
Not many people know just how impressive and historic the career of Ed Levitt was. He not only worked on some of the most beloved classic Disney animated features, he also had a huge impact on the design, look, and story of a diverse collection of cartoons released in the 50s and 60s. He was considered by his peers to be one of the best layout, background, and storyboard artists in the history of animation. He started at Disney at the age of 21 during the making of Snow White, doing rotoscope tracings. Disney quickly moved him to working on backgrounds, which he did for Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi.
Ed Levitt is actually quite in step with what’s happening right now in that he was very pro-union, and picketed during the 1941 strike. He did return to Disney to work on the propaganda film Victory Through Air Power, which had a huge impact on turning the tide of World War II. You can read about just how important that film was on this Walt Disney Family Museum blog post. Shortly thereafter, Levitt enlisted in the Marines, creating training films as part of the Marine Corps Photographic Section, in Quantico, Virginia. His liberal politics drove him to make several anti-war films considered very much ahead of their time, including “Where Will You Hide”, a 1948 short about the risk and perils of nuclear war. Jim Bacchus was one of the narrators, and it was only his second film.!
You know that famous Peacock logo used by NBC? Levitt chose the colors for the technicolor version when the studio switched from black and white in 1956.
Levitt went on to work in animation in both advertising and pop culture, including mid-century styled cartoons like Crusader Rabbit and Gerald Mac Boing Boing, which had a story by Dr Seuss, and during which he worked under none other than Bill Melendez. He also worked with Melendez at Playhouse Pictures, creating commercial spots for Ford. Then in 1964 Melendez opened his own studio, and immediately hired Levitt to join him there.
As for his part in the Peanuts cartoons many of us know and love, Levitt worked on 12 Charlie Brown tv specials, starting with A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965. Beyond having created some of the best backgrounds for that great classic (like the famously stylized and hyper-colorized Christmas tree lot), one of his greatest claims to fame was that he alone predicted the cartoon would become a classic in the future, and be played every single year.
When everyone else thought they had a flop on their hands, Levitt said, “Don’t be silly. This film will be shown for a hundred years!”
He also coined the term “graphic blandishment”, which was what Melendez used to allow credits for the various artists and animators who worked on the Peanuts cartoons.
As we all know now, A Charlie Brown Christmas became a huge classic, even winning a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children’s Programming. It also won a Peabody Award!
It was during the long stint working with Melendez Studios that Levitt created the cover for the storybook version of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. He really captured Snoopy’s joy, and the fun of the Halloween special:
Levitt was very involved in the support and recognition of workers in the animation business. He was a 2-time president of the Screen Cartoonist Guild and an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
During the 60s, he worked on 12 of the Peanuts TV specials that have become classics, but also contributed to many other TV shows, as well as movies like It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (on which he worked with famed titles designer Saul Bass) and The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
Meanwhile, in the mid-60s, Levitt bought a ranch in Lake Hughes, and commuted an hour to work at Melendez Studios, growing fruit and raising cattle in his spare time. He ultimately retired from the film business in 1973, and committed himself to ranching full-time. He lived a long, happy life and died at the age of 96.
We at ArtInsights sold the original art of Ed Levitt’s cover art for the 1967 It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown book. This image not only captures Snoopy at his most joyful, it’s also a testament to Ed Levitt’s lasting impact on the history of animation.
I’ve not written any blogs on price alerts before, but this seemed Charlie Brown and Snoopy art by Dean Spille, and Peanuts art signed by producer Lee Mendelson, who passed away in 2019, seemed a good time to start!
These Peanuts art pieces are all based on Dean Spille storyboard color keys, so they are based on Peanuts production art from the history of Snoopy and Charlie Brown TV specials and features.
The Sopwith folks are loathe to increase prices. They’d rather just sell the pieces out and call it a day, but as many of you know, the pandemic put a wrench in prices all up and down retail and wholesale. We’ve been reeling from the price increases in the wholesale for custom framing and moulding supplies. There are mouldings that cost more wholesale than we had them listed for retail! Sopwith has had that same trouble with printing supplies and wholesale printing. They can’t continue selling any of their pieces at the current prices, so AS OF MONDAY, MAY 22nd, (YES, 3 days from now!!) all the art will have a price increase between $100 and $300.
The Lee Mendelson-signed art “Triple Play” is on alert, as there are only 10 more available, so we bought as many as we were allowed, but will sell them very quickly, since we’re selling them at $750 until 11:59 Sunday night.
On Monday, the price will increase to $1000. Click below or HERE to find out more.
The rest of the Dean Spille Peanuts limited editions will also have a price increase on Monday. None of these pieces are signed by Dean (who lived in France for 40 years, and died March 8th, 2021), but this is a rare opportunity to own a limited edition image based on production art by the artist!
For people who love all things Peanuts, and love Snoopy, Charlie Brown and friends, these are a wonderful addition to a Peanuts art or Peanuts collectibles collection. There’s so much history behind these images! You can read all about Dean Spille HERE, and you can watch Lee Mendelson in his interview with Leslie (co-owner of ArtInsights and rabid Peanuts fan) below:
Since this is the first blog of the new year, I wanted to ring in 2023 with something interesting and fun, and really tried to think what connected with starting over, new beginnings, turning over a new leaf and all that. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, although I respect them in other folks. My new year, since I’m pagan, is the Winter Solstice. Still, there’s something magical about the turning of the clocks, and the fact that it happens all over the world. So. Let’s say we are ALL in need of a shift, and that we could use some inspiration by way of accountability.
Enter Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s official conscience.
THE HISTORY OF JIMINY:
Jiminy Cricket was first introduced as Grillo Parlante in italian novelist Carlo Collodi’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio: Story of a Puppet in 1883. The character appears in the book four times, and in every instance he represents common sense and Pinocchio’s own conscience, although the Italian Jiminy Grillo Parlente, is actually killed by Pinocchio, only to come back as a ghost, and then be resurrected. (!)
For Disney’s 1940 animated feature Pinocchio, Jiminy is given a much bigger role as Pinocchio’s companion, and his official conscience as appointed by the Blue Fairy.
Beyond being anthropomorphized, Jiminy’s design differs significantly from real crickets. Real crickets have very long antennae and have six legs, while Jiminy has four. He was designed to look like a gentleman from the late 19th century, with a top hat and spats. His name is based in what might be defined as the G-rated oath used instead of Jesus Christ, “Jiminy Christmas!”, which dates back to at least 1803!
Jiminy Cricket was designed by character animator and member of the collective known as Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ward Kimball. In addition to Jiminy, Kimball was known for his work on Mickey Mouse, some of the most beloved characters in Alice in Wonderland, including the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum, plus Gus and Jaq and Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella. He was a supervising or directing animator on Fantasia, Dumbo, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Reluctant Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella, and won an Oscar for his work on Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom in 1954, and the 1969 Disney education film It’s Tough to be a Bird.
For those geeky enough to get excited about seeing Ward Kimball on Groucho Marx’s What’s My Line, (like me!) here you go:
THE VOICE OF JIMINY:
As to Jiminy’s voice, the original artist for Jiminy in Pinocchio was Cliff Edwards, who was nicknamed Ukulele Ike. He was one of the most popular singers of the 1920s, and had a song that reached number one on the hit parade, “Singin’ in the Rain”, a song which he introduced. Yes, THAT Singin’ in the Rain:
He was actually one of the first singers to show scat singing on film, as exampled here with Buster Keaton in 1930’s Doughboys.
Edwards contributed Jiminy’s voice for both Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free, and sang one of the most popular and enduring songs in the Disney cannon, “When you Wish Upon a Star”, which is now largely considered the studio’s signature song. It was deemed culturally significant and added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2009, and the American Film Institute named it as #7 in the top 100 songs in the history of film.
Edwards had died in poverty in 1971, and when the folks at Disney Studios found out, they paid for his tombstone. They subsequently made Cliff Edwards a Disney Legend, an honored bestowed on him in 2000.
In more recent films, other voice artists were commissioned, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the 2022 live-action adaptation of Pinocchio. In Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, it was Ewan McGregor who did the honors, although in that film, the character is referred to Sebastian.
INCARNATIONS OF JIMINY CRICKET
There are a number of times in which Jiminy has appeared onscreen, which is important for animation art collectors who collect original production cels to bear in mind, because the value of art representing the character varies widely depending on which incarnation you are potentially adding to your collection.
First, Disney’s Jiminy appeared in Pinocchio. Here he is, doing the opening narration of the film after singing his most famous song:
Subsequent to that, he appeared in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free.
He was represented in Disney TV specials, and the various incarnations of WaltDisney’s Wide World of Color or The Mickey Mouse Club, where he taught kids to spell ENCYCLOPEDIA! Here’s a great example of how Jiminy looks in the cartoons of the 1950s. Note the very thick ink line that outlines his figure:
He also appears in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Here is a trailer for the cartoon from 1983.
More recently, Jiminy has appeared in the Kingdom Hearts video game, bringing him and his wonderful spirit to the youngest of generations.
IDENTIFYING JIMINY CELS:
All versions of Jiminy look different both onscreen and as art. Cels from Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free are mostly on nitrate cellulose, and are hand-inked. The eras are close enough together that you have to watch the cartoon to track down your cel, and that’s something I always recommend, no matter what era the cel you have or are considering for purchase. Cels from Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free will be presented as Courvoisier setups, with mats and backgrounds that are either wood veneer or simple hand-prepared backgrounds from the Courvoisier studios.
Of course, videos from The Mickey Mouse Club era are way harder to track down, and sometimes even impossible to find. MMC Jiminy cels will be presented as Disneyland Mat setups, and that means they’ll be cut down, will have small mats, litho backgrounds, and seals on the back. Disneyland Mat setups are almost always stuck to their backgrounds, and often are shown on backgrounds that don’t belong to the shows from which the cels are derived.
Cels of Jiminy from Mickey’s Christmas Carol are definitely problematic, in that most of the cels sold by Disney from that cartoon are laminated, cels of Jiminy included. Laminated cels from the Disney art program are mostly going to deteriorate in a way that makes them look shriveled and bubbly, and restoration doesn’t fix them. It’s a sad fact, but a true one.
Ultimately, if you love Jiminy and can save up for a cel from his most famous film and Disney debut Pinocchio, that would be best, but if you’re looking for the character without spending as much, a Disneyland mat setup would be a lot less money…and of course, you can get interpretive images created by Disney artists right here on this website. (you’ll see interpretive images of him below)
Jiminy remains a beacon for doing good and feeling compassion, as well as letting your conscience be you guide. That expression can’t help but bring images of Pinocchio’s conscience to mind. As Disney characters go, Jiminy is one of the most positive and uplifting. He was the embodiment of “if you can dream it, you can be it” and all that stuff made popular recently by books like “The Secret”. He’s everyone’s cheerleader. When all else fails to pull you out of a funk, try Jiminy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star”. At the very least, it will help.
A big part of Jiminy’s lasting legacy is the classic song, which has been covered repeatedly by a lot of big stars. The latest is Cynthia Erivo, who sang the song as part her role as the Blue Fairy in the recently released live action Pinocchio.
You can find all the Jiminy art available on our site HERE, or contact us if you’re looking for original production cels of the character, but for now, enjoy a few of the interpretive Disney pieces created of Jiminy and his friends in Pinocchio:
This holiday season, many of us are less fearful of getting together with family and friends, even if we still might have to be cautious. That’s great news! It’s certainly been a tough few years, and now it’s time to celebrate the ones we love who are here and healthy, and raise a toast of gratitude.
Still, shopping online sure makes gifting a lot easier, especially for those of us that have folks that are really hard to shop for! Of course we’d love to see you at the gallery, especially for our 30th anniversary celebration on December 11th between 2-5pm in Reston Town Center, but for our distant friends and clients, we’ve put together the 2022 holiday gift guide with a few suggestions to take the struggle and down-the-rabbit-hole searches out of your holiday equation.
Animation and film art is a great gift for just about everyone, as long as they love movies or cartoons, and who doesn’t? It’s a gift you know is special and unique enough that they haven’t bought it for themselves. It’s also highly unlikely they’ll get it from a less inventive, creative giver. The nostalgia of film and animation art creates a feeling of warm memories and happy times. So let’s get to it. Let’s find the perfect art!
Holiday Gift Guide for the Marvel or DC fan in your life:
To see all the Alex Ross Marvel and DC art, click HERE. To see all the superhero one-of-a-kind original production art click HERE.
For the magical dreamer in your life:
The above limited edition by John Alvin of Ariel from The Little Mermaid comes from his estate and his hand-signed. The edition has been sold out for years, and we have only one for sale for $1950. It is gallery wrapped and ready to frame or hang on your wall. Contact the gallery at email@example.com to buy.
The above image is by Disney and Warner Brothers art director Alan Bodner, who also loves all things musical. You can see all his art HERE.
Holiday gift guide for your most esoteric traditionalist:
The above is a great image from the sold out Fantasia limited edition collection. You can see others, as well as all the art available from Fantasia, by going HERE.
The above beautifully framed image is an original concept graphite from Ben and Me. You can see more original concept art HERE, and original production drawings HERE, although we have more, so contact us for even more images.
Holiday gift guide for the Peanuts lover in your life:
There are some great sold out limited editions, original drawings, and original production cels available right now on our website. Find them all on the Peanuts page by clicking on the below image, or HERE.
We have several new key set-ups on the site, and are getting (and selling) new art every day. Check it out!
For the sci-fi and fantasy lover in your life:
These three images are all by John Alvin, and all are signed by the artist. To see everything available by one of the most successful movie campaign artists in film history, go HERE.
Great finds for your feminist friends or family member:
There’s so little approved and official art from Big Hero 6. The above image is a great representation of the film as a whole, but also stands beautifully as an ode to girlpower!
That’s right. Catwoman is the ultimate cat lady, and we love her like that. FYI cat ladies can be really into cats, love their independence, AND be super hot. #CatLadiesAreHot
But of course, you know feminists are comfortable in their own skin and love what they love, so CLICK HERE TO SEE EVERYTHING we have for sale in descending order of addition to our stock.
Gifts for swinger and cool cats:
What’s that you say? You want to bring romance to the holidays? We’ve got you covered.
Also remember we have hundreds of pieces in stock and ready for shipping, and are happy to make suggestions if you’re looking for that extra special gift or trying to match your budget with the best image for your loved one. You can see our curated collection of images ready to ship HERE.
It’s been our pleasure to work with you, frame for you, and find friendship with you for the last 30 years!
ArtInsights has some strange and wonderful connections to the art of Sleeping Beauty, and further, to the artists who were integral to making the Disney classic. This blog will talk about that, and also offer a few great images of Sleeping Beauty art for Disney collectors!
First, take a look at the original trailer from 1959:
In July of 2022, we went to San Diego Comic-Con, producing and moderating a panel with some wonderful animation professionals, two of whom worked on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Both made a significant contribution to the art of Sleeping Beauty. Jane Baer, who was a special guest of the convention, and was awarded the Ink Pot Award for her contributions to the animation industry, and Floyd Norman, “Disney Legend”, Winsor McCay and Ink Pot Award winner, went to the Art Center in Pasadena together in the 50s. They then wound up at Disney Studios at the same time, working on Sleeping Beauty with some of the most storied, famous artists ever to work at Disney.
Here for the first time, we publish the video of our panel “Legends Talk Animation”, where Jane and Floyd dish about the goings-on during the production.
This panel doesn’t just talk about Sleeping Beauty, it goes into the many other projects that became Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Filmation classics, on which Jane Baer and Floyd Norman had a major impact!
That’s not the only connection we at ArtInsights have with Sleeping Beauty. In 1999, we were fortunate enough to welcome Mary Costa, the voice of Briar Rose, to ArtInsights for an event. People say you should never meet your heroes, lest they fall short. I can’t say I was particularly a fan of hers, or felt one way or the other about her before I met her, but I was a fan of the film. It’s truly beautiful, and represents all the best of Disney animation, in invention and story, and has traveled through time really well, keeping a magical quality that has never faded. Once I met Mary, though, and spent time with her, I learned she was one of the most luminous, positive, joyful, and, I’ll even say, “magical” people, that I’ve ever met.
As someone who was raised Christian and had a bad taste in my mouth from my own experiences, Mary Costa showed me there are open-hearted Christians out there, who truly walk the path of what they believe Jesus did, showing kindness, openheartedness, compassion, and love. While it didn’t bring me back into the fold, she was revelatory. There ARE a lot of “followers of Christ” out there, and she is definitely one of them!
Here was my experience with her, and it is very personal: Our event was planned for Saturday, June 19th, 1999. She was arriving on June 18th. My sister Jane had been killed on December 17th of 1998, and the family had planned to bury her ashes on her birthday, which was June 18th. I called Mary a few days before she was arriving, to let her know why I wouldn’t be picking her up from the airport. Instead of being disappointed or put off, or just getting off the phone, she immediately asked me if it would be helpful for her to come to the event. She said she wanted to be present for our family. She said this as someone who had never met me. I was touched, and taken aback, but thanked her, and told her we’d just see her on the day of the event. We met a few hours before it started. She wanted to say a prayer beforehand, and asked that we all hold hands. I was cynical, and thought, “oh boy…” but she brought my sister Jane up, asked that she be there in spirit, and asked what other religions were represented in the circle. She called upon all the other belief systems, INCLUDING WICCAN(!) and then prayed that we all be blessed, and asked for a positive experience. When my family came, she stopped whatever else she was doing, and spoke to them about my sister. She told my dad she was honored he had come, and meant it. I think they even shed a few tears together, and this was when the gallery was full of people. For Mary, it was all about connection, first and foremost.
Just last night I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of interviews with Mary, and noticed again how well she listened and focused on those around her. It has been her gift a long time!
Once the event was over, we went to dinner together. It was just Mary and me. She had been married to a famous producer in the 50s and 60s, and talked about spending weekends with the rat pack. She shared great stories about Frank, Sammy, and Dean. She also shared, in whispered tones, she had a huge crush on Van Johnson for years. Then we went to see Disney’s Tarzan on the opening night. One of the main characters’ names was Jane, and the character looked like my sister, which we both thought was wonderful. She had lots of opinions about the voice acting and story, and it was all fascinating! What a trip it was to watch a Disney feature with one of the classic voices in Disney animation!
Perhaps some of you have met someone you think of as an “angel on earth”. I’d never really thought of that expression before meeting Mary Costa, and honestly I’ve never met anyone else who I think fits that description, but Mary Costa definitely does. Now when you think of Briar Rose, you can imagine that character being voiced by a truly wonderful person.
My other connection to the art of Sleeping Beauty was more accidental. I was traveling with movie poster artist Steve Chorney to his home outside of Santa Barbara, a place I’d never been. We drove together in his convertible, headed to the place he’d kept some of his classic original movie poster art. When we got there and drove into the driveway, I noticed a huge, gorgeous tree at the house across the street. I remarked to Steve that it looked like one of the trees in Sleeping Beauty. He told me that Sleeping Beauty concept and background artist Eyvind Earle had lived there, and that was where he had been inspired for the trees he drew in his work for Sleeping Beauty. That tree had been his inspiration!
You can see more about Eyvind Earle and his art in this wonderful, classic Disney film, which shows four Disney artists painting a tree. There’s a lot of art of Sleeping Beauty in this film…You should DEFINITELY watch this!:
I should have asked what tree it was, and taken a picture. I did neither. I was too overwhelmed! There, before my eyes, was the tree that we all know from Disney’s classic film! I guess it was one time when my Disney geekiness took over.
How much do you know about the art of Sleeping Beauty, or about the film itself? I’ve talked about it before in an ArtInsights blog from 2015 HERE.
Sleeping Beauty is based on a European fairy tale, the earliest version of which was in the 1300s. The more famous version of it, by Charles Perrault (who also penned Cinderella) was released late in the 1600s as La Belle au Boite Dormant. The Brothers Grimm also offered a version in the 1800s called Little Briar Rose. Of course there have been many versions told since then, including the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky in 1890, which was Disney’s favorite ballet, and one of his favorite pieces of classical music.
The 1959 Disney film was directed by Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman. The voices, in addition to Mary Costa’s starring role as Briar Rose, were supplied by a number of Disney favorites. Maleficent was voiced by Eleanor Audley, who also voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather were voiced, respectively, by Verna Felton (who also played Briar Rose’s mother, Queen Leah, the fairy godmother in Cinderella, and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland), famed radio actress Barbara Jo Ellen, and Barbara Luddy (who played Lady in Lady and the Tramp and Kanga in Winnie the Pooh).
The art of Sleeping Beauty is unique in Disney history, in that it was a time of great experimentation, and also the last film that was completely hand-inked, so there was a level of meticulousness and specificity that is unparalleled. The hand-inking in Sleeping Beauty was more intricate and complicated than any of Disney film before or since. The drawings of the characters, especially Briar Rose herself (whether by herself or with other characters) were so intricate, the animators sometimes only completed one a day. That’s how much work these characters required! It definitely shows in the art left behind from the film.
Enjoy this great short film about the making of Sleeping Beauty:
Here are some new original pieces of the art of Sleeping Beauty available now at ArtInsights:
You can see all the original art of Sleeping Beauty available for a limited time on the ArtInsights gallery website as well as the limited editions currently available, by going to the art of Sleeping Beauty page HERE.
So far Alan Bodner has had a career that inspire aspiring artists, and should capture the imagination of animation and film fan, and it looks like he’s just getting started. The Emmy and Annie-award winning art director, illustrator, and fine artist has worked on many favorites from the recent past, and was even the art director of the beloved cult classic animated feature The Iron Giant.
Bodner grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland, to a family that was forever inspiring to him. His aunt was a dancer who had worked in Martha Graham, and his dad had a toy business. His childhood was full of toys, and games, dance and music, and it stuck with him. Though he planned on studying to be a dentist, fate and his own talent had other plans. He wound up studying, instead, at the Art Center in Pasadena, then almost immediately got a job in the animation industry.
He began his career by working at Filmation Studios in the late 70s, surrounded by some of the best artists in the business, and was eager learn from them. He was also an immense talent, and started being recognized as such. One of those taking notice was Brad Bird, who was looking for an art director for his 1999 project The Iron Giant.
He has since worked at nearly every studio, as a background artist, in visual development, and as an art director. He was at Filmation in the early 80s, where he created backgrounds for She Ra, Flash Gordon and Blackstar, to name just a few. He was spent part of his career at Warner Brothers, where he worked with some of the greatest artists in animation history, and was a background artist on shorts like Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters, Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers, and Box Office Bunny. At Disney, he art directed for beloved fan favorites like Kim Possible and Phineas and Ferb, and won a Daytime Emmy for Tangled: The Series. He is currently art directing on Mickey Mouse Funhouse.
All through his career, he has set aside time to work on his personal art, which is inspired by his childhood, the nostalgia of bygone days, and the mid-century modern style of the 50s and 60s. We are thrilled to add original art to the limited editions recently announced and highlighted at the gallery.
We spoke to Alan about his life, career, and art. What were his inspirations? Who helped and inspired him along the way? What excites him as an artist? Learn all this and so much more in this exclusive interview!
ArtInsights: Tell us about your childhood and how it informed your work and aesthetic as an artist.
AB: I have to admit my childhood was extraordinary on so many levels. Number one, my father was a very creative person, and he was in the toy business with his brother, and they had a couple other partners, they had a toy distribution business up in the Northwest. They were distributors who serviced several states. There was this huge toy showroom, that was really the backdrop of my childhood. I would see all the new toys that came out, and I would get to see showcases for the different people who come in from different stores look at these things. There’d be demonstrations of the toys.
It was so overblown with color and design, but I feel like that just hit a chord with me from the beginning.
I just loved all that fantasy. Plus my dad also had a little connection to the celebrities of the local television station in Portland. Some of these guys had their own kids shows but we knew them because they were bringing commercials from the toy company to the television station. Of course, I didn’t really know a lot that was going on, but I had some pretty great moments. I had a birthday party as a little kid where I came through my kitchen and there was this guy by the name of Dr. Zoom, who had his own TV show. He was sitting there having breakfast with my dad and mom. Fantasy was brought into my life at a very early stage.
On the other side of my family, my grandfather was a women’s coat and suit manufacturer. There were tailors in my family from past generations and I just think that the artistry, from clothing to physical art, it seemed like it was a natural progression for me. I remember as a little boy going to my grandfather’s manufacturing company. He was at the tail end of that business, where a lot of it was like ghosts of the past. There was all these tables and sewing machines but there was nobody using them. It was really like I built in my active imagination all this stuff happening. So for me, I imagined in this showroom all these fashion shows with the coats and suits. My brother and I would pretending we were having fashion shows on full stage.
Did you actually see any fashion shows there?
Unfortunately, I never got to see those, but I saw them via my mother, because she was very fashionable, and there was, continuously, around fashion from the get-go. It didn’t affect my cousins or my brother, but for some reason it hit me and I just loved that stuff from the very onset, so I’m really thankful that happened.
What other influences did you have as a child?
As a kid I took dance lessons and singing lessons. I love my great aunt, which was my grandfather’s sister, in her early days, was a dancer with Martha Graham. She was one of her first students, and they had a lifelong friendship. I saw beautiful photographs of Martha Graham, and my aunt was like my Auntie Mame. She would take me to plays, and had us playing instruments in the house, and we’d be marching around, I mean, she was really great. I’m thankful that I had people like that, who also inspired me to be creative. I had another aunt who sang. My father, at one point, was the president of the Portland Opera Association, and for that year, and I was really a little boy when this was taking place, I remember being taken to the Portland Opera, and seeing that stuff on stage. It was just so incredible to me all that color and design in the costumes and sets. I think in the back in my mind I was just destined to do something with that stuff.
So you went into the arts immediately?
The funny part about my story is that I didn’t think I was going to be going into the arts. I really thought I was heading toward being a dentist, which is what I was studying all the way up to my first year of college. I wanted to be a dentist, because my uncle was a dentist and he was a fabulous person. I thought this until one day I was taking this class at University of Oregon. It was really an art class for my own enjoyment, and the instructor came over to me one day, he says, “What is your plan with your art?” And I’m like, “Nothing. It’s just fun.” He just said, “No. You need to be in a professional arts school. You’ve got to do something with it.” It was just like a lightbulb went on. I had been doing art all along, not really thinking seriously, “this is my path.” My passion took hold, and that fire just lit, and from that point out, I knew I had to find a way to do it.
Your personal work lands right at the intersections of nostalgia and art. The beauty of production and illustration art and the artists who create it, I think, is that with illustration, graphic, and so-called “commercial art”, the artist has to stick to strict guidelines and still create something with their own aesthetic and style, which is much harder than just being inspired and drawing whatever you like. I think that’s just so cool and very undervalued, although it’s changing.
You put it into really good words. That really resonates with me because I’ve had this conversation with other artists that I know who are fine artists and there was always this layer from their side of like “well, you’re doing commercial art. My work is fine art. But I still feel like my stuff is in the realm of real art. I mean, I like the fact that it’s commercial art. I love working at art from that perspective. But at the same time, I feel it’s just as just as good or just as valuable. I’m interested in making something ecstatically pleasing and beautiful at same time as it performs its function, whatever that is.
When an artist is creating something in which they have a brief to follow while at the same time making it aesthetically pleasing and recognizable as their work, I think that’s challenging. So I find that so impressive and exciting.
I love the collaboration that takes place with other artists, especially in animation. I really appreciate what other people do and what they bring to it, and finding my place in there is really wonderful. I learned so much about design and color from animation. There are so many great artists in the history of animation and to bring me into that industry as an apprentice and learn from some of the greats. It has had such an impact on me.
Talk about that! Where did you apprentice?
Well, my first job in animation was that Filmation Studio. It was a really great time because it was the late 1970s, and a lot of older animators and artists in the animation field were retiring and all of a sudden, they started to realize “We don’t really have a young core here, and we’re haven’t really been pushing this.” They really knew that they had to make a choice, and they started to have these apprentices. I started to call around to the animation studios, because I loved animation. I was so influenced by the commercials when I’d sit there watching these cartoons every Saturday. I thought, “Where’s that?” Because in art school, they never pushed animation. Their noses were very much up in the air about animation and never I brought it up in school because, like, “that stuff is not art”. And I was like, “Well, yeah, it is. It’s really beautiful stuff.” So I went into Filmation and showed my portfolio and the man who saw me was in their layout and character design. He looked at my stuff and he said, “You probably could do drawing here, but you have a color sense that’s nice. I’m going to take you down to the background department.” I had no idea with that, but I walked into the background department and was introduced to Erv Kaplan and on his wall were just these unbelievably beautiful paintings, these little tiny, beautiful paintings and scenes from all these shows that I had loved as a kid. too. And he says, “I like your work.” About a week later he hired me. I’m grateful to this day that he did that, because I learned so much. So so much more than art school, I went to a really good school, there’s no question about it. I was finally able to understand what it was that I was supposed to be doing. When I got this job, the artists in the department would really become mentors to me. There were so many amazing talents. These people were Disney artists, Hanna Barbera artists, and they were all in this room. Everybody had been in major studios, and to have these people literally take the tools out of my hand and say, “You need to do this when you’re painting.” There were so many things they helped me understand, and I was working hard but it was so much fun.
What were some of the projects that were really fun at Filmation?
On the Fat Albert series, there was this little section in there called the Brown Hornets, which had a design-y style that the kids in the show would watch on television, I remember. I loved that stuff, and I really started to gravitate toward the more stylized looking cartoons.I really got some amazing education there.
What were the steps that got you from Filmation to becoming the art director of The Iron Giant?
I was at Filmation, they went through a big strike about four years into my working there, and at that point it didn’t look like animation was doing all that well, so I went to New York and was working at ABC news there as a news graphic artist for four years. I made a connection before I left to go to New York with Dick Thomas, who was doing some art for a toy company, and I got to do some art for him. It turned out that Dick Thomas was this great background artist, and he was also working at Warner Brothers. And, and he had been with Warner Brothers, Disney and Hanna Barbera. He was really a seasoned talent, and we had a nice rapport. While I was in New York, I would periodically keep in touch with him just see how he was doing, as he was getting older. About four years down the line, I decided to come back to Los Angeles, and I connected with him and he said he wanted to hire me. That was the beginning of my 15 years stint at Warner Brothers, which absolutely is one of the highlights in my career, with some of the most incredible artists, who at that time were still alive.
At that point, yeah! Unbelievable. Geniuses, really.
That was a tremendous learning experience. It’s like I went from first grade through high school at Warner’s. It was absolutely wonderful. I learned so much about designing color, I got such a gift on that one. I was in Warner Classics, which was a very small boutique department. There were really only 30 or 40 of us at the most. We were doing shorts, art for the stores, and we did commercials, and it was a beautiful time period. I worked with so many great talents and was so honored to be part of that. Mel Blanc, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones were all working there then. These guys were really part of that those crews that did the most classic cartoons for Warner Brothers. I was so touched that Mel Blanc gave me a credit in his autobiography, he actually talked about me as one of “the new kids”. I went to Mel Blanc’s birthday party on the lot. I just thought, “Man, I really don’t know how it gets any better than this.” To be in the room with people like Kirk Douglas, who were his buddies, it was crazy.
That’s so funny, because I started selling animation in 1988 and just got to meet and get to know so many great artists before they passed. We were both so lucky, and I think we knew it even then.
I could not agree more. Just to be around Maurice Noble, I would show him my stuff. I was such a huge fan, and to have him there, when I was trying to sort of maintain the feeling of what he had been doing in the 50s and in his work on those cartoons. I’m very influenced by it, and I don’t have any problems saying that.
I see in your work influence from Maurice Noble, and that spectacular intersection of shape, form, and color. He was just in a class all by himself. When you see your work now, where do you see Maurice Nobl
In my shape language. I can really get things very abstract. I love working abstract, just to loosen me up. And I have lots abstract pieces that I just are all about interesting shapes against each other in different color combinations.
(see below for original 3D art by Alan Bodner, inspired by his love of abstract shapes and color designs)
And I think that’s something that Maurice nobles was a master of. It wasn’t so much that the perspective was right. I don’t really care about the perspective being right. It’s more about what shapes look good against each another? It’s a balance of shapes. I try to create art with shapes that flow into each other and show movement. I think that was a very big thing, even in What’s Opera Doc, the backgrounds and the shapes of those columns. The last thing he was thinking about was making sure that the perspective was correct. He was just trying to make sure everything was kind of weighted properly and it’s believable perspective, but it doesn’t have to be accurate. I love that because it’s so freeing. .I can just say, “This is what it is”, and the viewer believes it.
After saying that, I can your influence and your inspiration from Noble in your art direction for so many shows!
With so many creators you couldn’t get away with anything like that, because they were so interested in proper perspective. But who cares about that?
It’s a cartoon!
Exactly! That’s why I like stylized cartoons! Because it’s fantasy. That was not quite the case in Iron Giant. I had been doing all this Warner Brothers stuff, and going home and working on my own art, which I started to do about that time, and I was starting to do abstracts, I went in to talk to Brad Bird, and it was a friend of mine, Harry Saben, who recommended me. We had done all this stuff together at Warner’s. He went to art school with Brad, and Brad saw him told him he was looking for an art director and asked for recommendations. Harry was gracious enough to bring up my name.
(Below are some wonderful images created by Harry Saben and Alan Bodner together for the WB stores)
I really did not want to leave Warner Classics. I was enjoying myself. I really didn’t have any desire to go, because I was enjoying it so much. But I went and I saw Brad, and I saw the stuff on the walls, the development was so cool, the whole idea of a giant robot, and it was a feature. I’d never worked on a feature, and quite honestly, I was just beginning to be an art director. I had only done like a couple of things where I was being given the title of art director. I was really a background artist, and I loved being a background artist. When I went and I talked to Brad, he said, “Well, I really do need an art director. I like your work, but what I really like is your color and your abstracts.” I was showing him my own personal work. It wasn’t really my backgrounds from Warner Brothers that interested him, it was my fantasy stuff. Then he called me back and said he wanted to hire me. He wasn’t sure what exact position but he wanted me on the film. I knew that I really didn’t know what an art director fully did. I started to do what I thought were color scripts.
I’d go through the film and take out different moments and put together a little color script of these major moments. I was still painting. The computer was coming in, but it hadn’t hit me yet. I was trying to learn how to use the computer, but I was still painting traditionally, and there wasn’t a lot of time for me to be doing these little colored rendering, because my job included me going around to the background department and layout department, and talking with the heads of those departments, and then meeting with all of these artists, and I had never had to deal with 15 artists in each department.
That must have been a lot!
My day would generally be I would walk around to each department and see what everybody was doing. I would come back, and I would meet again with Brad, and he would look at it, and I would be with him. I really trailed him for a couple of years. It was like college education again. I’m learning from him. I’m hearing everything he’s saying. He’s making references to live action films. Now I’m watching live action films. I’m actually going through live action film, and copying scenes that look very dramatic. He was telling me “Don’t look at animation stuff. Look at live action stuff.” I started to do that, and I found it very fascinating, and I started to really go through it. I would keep on building, go back to my room and build that color script. I really wish that I had more experience on the computer back then. Now, I use computer every day and I love it. I remember at moments, I was excited and thrilled and at the same time scared half to death because I had to deal with all these artists. I’m very diplomatic. I don’t ride people. As a director, I just really want them to do the best they can and take ownership of what they’re doing and at the same time have fun doing it.
How has that changed over the years since now you’ve been an art director for many years.
If I love any aspect of the show I’m working on that I will take a lot of ownership of, it is in color scripts and color comps. I still like doing that, and I feel like, you know, I can keep a consistent and interesting look to the show. I don’t spell those things out to the Nth degree that I’ve painted the whole thing, I just give a very simple color direction. I’ve often felt that the simpler I can make this, the better it’s going to be for them, because then they have a lot they can bring. I don’t stifle creativity. I’m looking at the whole story.
That worked really fabulously on Tangled, because those stories, those are like little features. We were doing a feature for every episode. I could put in the color script in the characters and the backgrounds very simply, and get a whole point across. I’d have the director and the producer in my office every week looking at these color scripts, and we’d go through it, and once that was hammered out, then I’d hand that over to other stylists, and to the background painters. It worked out beautifully. It was consistent.
And you’re working on Mickey’s Funhouse now.
On Mickey’s Funhouse. It’s not so much about color scripts, as it is, the environments. I get really involved in, “What’s that environment looking like?” I want to make sure that it looks different from the other one, and I want to try out different colors. I don’t have to make blue skies, I’m not interested in that.
What other colors will make this thing interesting and fun and playful? I’m very involved with that, and I hand that stuff off to the background artists, and the color stylists, and layout department. It’s a joy to play to all the strengths of everyone working on the show.
Looking back on some of the shows and movies you’ve worked on, what is a great example that represents your aesthetic as an artist and something that examples the influence you’ve had?
If I was to think of a show that really resonated with my own styling, it would probably be Kim Possible, because I started just to tell myself how little can I get away with on this background and still feel like there’s lots of dimension to it, and how little I can put into these backgrounds texturally and still feel like it’s full and gutsy. That was really challenging and really fun, because, there’s a lot of depth designed to those things, and I got to work with some amazing talents on that show.
I’m going to shift a little bit to the art that that you’re doing now and have been doing for quite some time, your personal work.
I started doing these musical things, when I was at Filmation. I put them in a box and I let them go. But then as the years went by I started asking a question to a lot of people who were retiring, and getting older. “What are you going to do when you retire? What’s your plan? Are you going to do your own art?” They’d say, “Yeah, I got plans to do my own stuff. I don’t have the time to do it now.” And I watched this unfold. A lot of them didn’t. They’d say they’d be working for 45 years and they didn’t want to do art anymore. And something went off on me again, I just said, “You know what? I am not going to do that. I’m going to start doing my art now, and maybe I’m only working on it a couple of nights a week, but I’m going to do it now.” I started asking myself what I really loved and what I wanted to do for myself. What do I really enjoy?I just decided to take themes that I’ve always loved. I wrote a list. I love dance, music, movies, tv shows, commercials from when I was a kid.
(for his personal work, Bodner started with colorful images of women in music and dance images..)
To see all art available by Alan Bodner, go to his ArtInsights artist page HERE.
And I said, “Okay, so now you’re going to do 10 pieces of each one.” At least I set a goal. And I work a lot, but I committed a long time ago to keep at this list of what I’m passionate about and what brings me joy. I keep adding to the work as I go.
I absolutely love the cereal boxes and kid commercial stuff you’ve done. It’s everybody’s childhood!
I love those things. They’re really great designs. I want to do my homage to that stuff. I love my version of fan boy stuff. I’m not really a superhero kind of artist, but I thought maybe if I take the shows that I liked as a kid, I’ll find my voice in those things. Some of them became like a comic book page. I thought it was kind of fun, because It’s not just one piece, but it’s like I’m telling a little story. I love doing these things. I also love doing these dimensional pieces. They are just a joy to do.
I can tell you’re a fan of the Addams Family and the Wild Wild West and other shows that have this intense cult fandom. You get these little nuances in the art that show you loved to watch each episode. It’s clear you’re a fan.
All those shows are so incredible. I could watch them forever.
You have a list of shows you still want to do, right?
Oh yeah! Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, Man From Uncle, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch, Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Charlie’s Angels. But there are so many great shows. I love so many and I remember them from my childhood and from reruns and they are just so fantastic.
There are also musicians and musicals that have inspired you.
Oh yes. I love music from all eras. Sometimes I wonder how I have so many different kinds of music and styles existing in my head at once!
You said you wanted to mention one particular artist who was a great talent and a close friend.
Yes. Someone who was a great influence on me and is really one of those unsung heroes is Nyla Clayton. I met Nyla at Filmation. She was in the back of the studio airbrushing cels. And you’d never even know that this woman was Nyla of Beverly Hills in her day, which is an interior design house. She did these lavish, elaborate parties, and she was a larger-than-life figure, who was angry with life at the point when I met her, but we became friends. It turned out that she worked on Alice in Wonderland and the Enchanted Tiki Room, and snd she was in Imagineering at Disney for many years. She and Walt Disney kind of went head to head. She was a very strong person, and Walt didn’t like that, but she was very influential for quite some time. She was really good friends with Alice Davis. I inherited some things from Nyla, she gave to me. She was an assistant to Mary Blair for many years, and so I have a Mary Blair in my office here that was Nyla’s, and I have these little tiny totem poles that Nyla made that were the prototypes for the Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s hard to find pictures of her, but she was something else. When she came to Los Angeles, as a teenage girl, she went to live at this home that was like a hotel for aspiring actresses, and became really good friends with Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. And I have a letter from Katharine Hepburn to Nyla. She was lifelong friends with these people. By the time I met her she was pretty embittered, but I was very, very happy to get to know her. I was in an art show at Filmation many years ago, and she came up and said she wanted to know who did that painting. It was a figure I did and some dance, and I was just starting to do these things. We became friends and I would you know visit her and talk to her. I know that she was a feiry fighter but she was very sweet to me. I always feel like there’s some thread of her work that comes out of in mine. She did these dimensional pieces that would have blown your mind, and now they don’t exist. Her family didn’t save this stuff. She had a lot to do with the Electric Light Parade in Disneyland. She was very influential. The only person who could really tell you in depth about her would be Alice Davis. It’s so sad that women like Nila from the history of Disney are unsung heroes.
You have to fit creating your personal work in between working full time at Disney, right? You’re art director for Mickey Mouse Funhouse.
Yeah, I’m art directing that, and we’re in our second season. It’s been a joyous show. And I was so excited because some of the influences that I was really hoping that we could look at and get influenced by were from the Mouseketeers, and the Mickey Mouse Club, and I put a wall together of pictures from Mickey Mouse Club and the sets that Annette Funicello and the Mouseketeers danced in front of. They were fun and so cool looking and I thought this is kind of what the world has got to feel like a reflection of for Mickey Mouse. This is his world. Let’s bring him back with his roots here. Of course his roots are also my childhood. We did that, and we looked at that and went to Disneyland and looked at buildings in Toon Town and the Alice in Wonderland ride, and said, “We’ve got to get influenced by this stuff again, and not try to make this show look like every CG show that’s on, so it really is kind of nice that the studio got behind that, and liked the fact that it was an homage to the history of Disney.
We are thrilled to be able to offer the art of Alan Bodner, and premiere his original art inspired by the nostalgia of his youth, and you can see them all HERE!
When I started doing research for this blog, I had no idea the wealth of fun and info Pixar has created for its fans. Sooo much cool stuff! It was a joy to discover. Hang tight and you’ll be able to discover it, too, through this blog!
For many years, we didn’t have access to the fine art of Pixar. For sure, there were a few stunning pieces out there. They were created by folks in visual development who actually worked on the concepts for Pixar movies. There was work by Daniel Arriaga from Up and Brave, and a wonderful piece called “The Pixar Storyline” that they created a deluxe edition of in only 10 images that I loved, especially knowing it was made by someone who had worked on these films!
Then there’s the work of Lorelay Bové, who started at Disney in visual development during Princess and the Frog and then worked her way up to assistant production designer on Encanto. This image from Ratatouille is based on her own visual development for the film:
2007’s Ratatouille, the 8th film produced by Pixar was not only loved by critics, but won over 50 awards, including winning an Oscar for best animated feature, but it was also nominated for best screenplay, music, sound mixing and sound editing Oscars. It was developed by writer/director Jan Pinkava starting in 2000, but was picked up by Brad Bird when Pinkava left Pixar in 2005. Bird and other creatives on the film went to Paris for inspiration, and visited some of the top restaurants in the city. Michael Warch, the sets and layouts department manager, had been a culinary academy trained professional chef before working at Pixar, and helped consult with animators about making the computer generated food look appealing and artistic. The final dish of ratatouille served in the film was created in real life by a famous chef, Thomas Keller, who had allowed Brad Lewis, the producer of the film, to intern in the kitchen of his restaurant. On the less savory and delicious side of the food spectrum, compost piles the rats ate, depicted in the film, were based on photographed images taken by the art department of 15 different kinds of produce in the process of rotting.
Patton Oswalt was hired by Brad Bird to voice the lead character after he heard him doing a comedy routine about food. Bird created a test by using the audio from the routine and putting it together with footage of Remy. Here’s a recording of the (NOT SAFE FOR WORK and FULL OF CURSING) routine to show just how inspired Bird is in his casting:
Here’s Patton talking about the experience of voicing the character. By the way, Patton Oswalt grew up literally 5 miles from ArtInsights, in Sterling, Virginia. In fact, one of my friends remembers him from his brief stint as a wedding DJ. His parents used to come into the gallery from time to time, and they were lovely.
Remember I mentioned how much great stuff has been created by Pixar for the fans? Well here is the first one, from their “Pixar by the Numbers” series:
Now back to the art of Pixar…recently, Disney Fine Art started releasing more images celebrating Pixar films created by their artists, including Tim Rogerson, Stephen Fishwick, Michelle St. Laurent, and Tom Matousek. You can see all the Pixar art available on our gallery page for Pixar, HERE. Of all the recent releases, I particularly love Rogerson’s Incredibles to the Rescue, even though it doesn’t Edna Mode, my favorite character from the movie.
I loved the film so much, especially the Grammy-nominated music by Michael Giacchino. It was his first Pixar score. He went on to get nominated for an Oscar with Ratatouille, and then won for his work on Up. Director Brad Bird was looking for something specific, basically the future as imagined in the 1960s. If you think his score sounds like a James Bond movie, that’s no accident. The first trailer used John Barry’s music from On His Majesty’s Secret Service.
When Brad Bird’s pitch for The Incredibles was accepted by Pixar, he brought many of the artists and creatives from his work on the failed but wonderful The Iron Giant. The Incredibles two Oscars, one for sound editing and the other as best animated feature that year. It also won a whopping 10 Annie Awards, including one that went to Brad Bird for his voice work as Edna Mode! Originally, Bird had hoped Lily Tomlin would voice the character, but she told him she couldn’t possibly do a better job that he was doing.
There’s a great article on the making of on the Disney site, talking about the first in a series of the videos called “Pixar Scenes Explained” on this storied Pixar YouTube page, which is where all that fun I mentioned can be had. It features Director of Photography Patrick Lin and Lead Layout Artist Robert Anderson talking about the film’s finale. You can read all about it HERE.
And that brings us to another super cool and very informational video created by Pixar I want to include in this blog, one that explains rigging specific to The Incredibles. You’ve been wondering what the heck that is for a while, right? Well, digital rigs are ‘the virtual bones, joints, and muscles that allow models to move’. A rigger starts with a 3D model of a character, and figures out how that particular character should move and then creates hundreds of points on that subject where motion can be controlled and manipulated.
I have pretty much loved all the Pixar movies, but Up and Monsters Inc. are two movies I’ll watch whenever they’re on, (even with the sad first minutes of Up). The image below just reminds you of how many great characters were developed for Monsters Inc. I couldn’t pick a favorite (although Randall is right up there).
The first time I saw it, Monsters Inc. just seemed so inventive and original, and even after many viewings, it still does. Here’s a video that explains the importance of story, and how stories get revised to ultimately craft the finished product we love.
Of course Randy Newman won an Oscar for his song “If I Didn’t Have You”, but he was also nominated for his score. He won his only other Oscar for the song “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. It’s pretty crazy that will all the great scores he’s written, he’s only won for songs! I mean, have you HEARD the score to The Natural? Also, Monsters Inc. was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar that year, but lost to Shrek. That didn’t age well. How often do you watch Shrek vs Monsters Inc.?
For no reason other than I just love it, here’s a video Pixar made as part of their “Pixar Remix” series, relating to Monsters Inc.:
If you’re as big a fan as I am of the movie, you’ll want to go to the Pixar page for Monsters Inc. to see all sorts of other quirky, inspired, artistic making-of information HERE.
Here’s another from their “Pixar Remix” that I love, and I bet you will, too!
Here’s a beautiful image from Disney Fine Art that I think captures the love between Wall E and Eva, and it does so in such an artistic and edgy way, it really compliments the movie and makes a great addition to the art of Pixar. I wish they had more art from this film!
Up is like the most heartwarming movie that could possibly exist for deeply cynical, grumpy people. Who better to capture that aesthetic than Ed Asner, who many of you know I have loved for years, met once, and and wrote about when he passed. In writing the character he plays Carl Fredricksen, writer/director Pete Docter said Asner’s award-winning portrayal of Lou Grant was essential to getting the right balance of kindly older man and unlikeable curmudgeon. Bob Peterson, (who appears in the above video “Story is King”) voiced Doug, and wrote the line “I have just met you, and I love you.” based on what a kid told him when he was a camp counsellor in the 1980s. Here’s another of those “Pixar Scenes Explained” videos, this one of Doug!
Tim Rogerson created an image similar to his Incredibles piece for Up, and I love how he captured the ingratiating and joyful expression that pretty much lives on Doug’s furry face. It really says, “I have just met you, and I love you”:
Pete Docter’s inspiration for Carl was, in part, working with Disney Legends Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Joe Grant. Grant gave advice on building the story of Up before he passed away in 2005. Docter said, though, that it was Ellie, Carl’s intrepid, optimistic wife that was closer to Grant’s personality. Speaking of Ellie and Carl, here’s a really cool video from the “Pixar by the Numbers” series about Pixar couples:
The newest release of the art of Pixar is my favorite, created by concept artist and surfer extraordinaire, Jim Salvati, inspired by Soul.
I interviewed Soul Art Director Daniel Lopez Muñoz for the Motion Picture Association’s The Credits about working on the film and specifically about the character of Joe, and how he and the animators specifically studied the hands of Black jazz musicians as they played piano to figure out how to draw Joe’s hands when he’s playing. Jon Batiste, who shared an Oscar with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their combined work on the score, was instrumental in capturing the essence of Joe Gardner as a jazz pianist. The animators examined video footage of Batiste’s hands to see how they his fingers moved on the keys. Batiste is on fire right now, having just won 5 Grammy Awards in 2022! If you don’t know his work outside Soul, I heartily recommend you check it all out on his website HERE.
Lastly, there are two other favorite videos I found while researching Pixar which are part of their “Studio Stories” series. One is about the fact that they actually have a Battle of the Bands on the Pixar campus:
The other is about the costume contest they have every Halloween in which they seem to completely lose their minds:
I only touched on a few films here, obviously. I love Toy Story, too, where it all began! There are Pixar art images from most of their films, and I just didn’t have the time to write about every one of them. We at ArtInsights created a page specific to Pixar art, though, showing all currently available images, and you can see them HERE.
Now that you know how much great content Pixar has out there for fans, have you gone to their YouTube page and subscribed? Because this kind of fan service should be rewarded! If you’ve watched others you loved, let me know in the comments.
If, like me, you’re a diehard fan of all things Peanuts and Charlie Brown animated specials, you’ve seen the 1974’s Emmy-nominated It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!. When my friends at Bill Melendez Studios found some great art from the special, I thought it might be time to not only feature the art but talk about the history of the cartoon. The image of Snoopy bounding through the grass doing the happy dance and offering painted eggs to all the children of the neighborhood and frolicking with bunnies runs in my head on repeat this time of year.
Of course the origins of Easter are based in the pre-Judeo-Christian pagan worship of the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Oestre. As part of a festival dedicated to the renewal we see at Springtime, eggs, which represented the dawn of Spring, were buried and eaten. As with many other traditions adapted by Christian missionaries, Oestre was celebrated as a way of encouraging conversion. In this case, eggs were symbolic of the renewal through Christ’s resurrection, and new life given through the forgiveness of original sin.
Many pagans and Christians mark the holiday with Easter traditions like egg hunts, fancy hats and dress, and family gatherings for a feast. In Catholicism, that feast means the first time many can eat and drink what they gave up for Lent, which originally included eggs, because dairy products weren’t eaten during Lent. Many give up wine and chocolate (or alcohol and sweets, if you prefer), and Easter is the first time they can indulge in these delights! In the US and Europe, that’s partly why there’s so much chocolate that has made its way into Easter celebrations.
Painted eggs have been traced back over 2500 years, when the ancient Persians painted them for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In the 12th century, England’s King Edward I gave over 450 eggs painted with gold leaf to his relatives during the Spring season. In 17th century Germany, gifts to children and Easter egg hunts became popular. Queen Victoria popularized the tradition by having egg hunts and filling artificial eggs with candy for the children. The US got into the spirit by having its first Easter egg roll in 1878, during the presidency of Rutherford B Hayes. Interestingly, though the Easter egg roll was meant to be secular, some imbued it with the symbolism of the rock being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, allowing followers to see he had been resurrected.
Cut to Peanuts and Charles Schulz. As is clear from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Schulz was Christian. His faith and spirituality had a big impact on his work from the beginning. As examined in Stephen J Lind’s book “A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz”, more than 560 of his Peanuts strip contain a spiritual, theological, or religious reference, with 40 that directly mentioned prayer. His first animated special in 1965 explored ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, with Linus famously quoting from the bible, a rarity for a primetime cartoon special. One of the beauties of the Peanuts strip and of its creator is he believed there were many paths to the sacred, including many outside the Christian faith. He also valued joy and kindness, and showed it through is characters and stories, especially those involving Snoopy and Charlie Brown. So it makes sense that in 1968, he introduced another of Snoopy’s alter egos, The Easter Beagle.
His first appearance in the strip was April 14th, 1968, but it wasn’t until April 11th, 1971 that he was called The Easter Beagle:
The strips that made up the story of the Easter Beagle is what they used to construct the 1974 cartoon, which was the 12th Peanuts animated tv special, and the 4th to commemorate a holiday. It was first broadcast on April 9th, 1974.
If you know the special, you know there’s a scene where Snoopy dances, holding the paws with a circle of bunnies. Those bunnies are based on the Snoopy’s favorite (fictional) storybook series, “The Bunny Wunnies”, written by Miss Helen Sweetstory. They were first introduced on July 26th, 1970.
Here he is in the special. No, I haven’t seen any cels of these sweeties in about 20 years, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it onscreen and continuing my search for them!
Notice in the above scene, when he approaches the Bunny Wunnies, he happily shouts, “Hey!” It is one of the only times Snoopy ever speaks in a cartoon.
One of the most joyful sequences in all of animation, here’s Snoopy delivering painted eggs as the Easter Beagle. The music that accompanies him is not by part of the score Vince Guaraldi created for the special. It is the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A Major.
We got a small and very wonderful selection of original production cels from It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown to sell from the Bill Melendez Studio. You can find some of them in the above clip! If you love It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, seek out these images before they sell. You can find them all now on our site for a limited time, at a special Easter price, HERE.
All of this is to say, this time of year is a time of celebration. I’m writing this blog during the Pink Full Moon, which for pagans is a big deal, and also a time of renewal and new life. For Muslims, Ramadan has been going on since April 1st, and will continue through to May. Whether you are pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, a secular humanist, or atheist that just loves Snoopy dancing with bunnies, may you find joy in your weekend safely, and perhaps even with the aid of Snoopy as the Easter Beagle in this timeless Peanuts classic cartoon.
You can watch It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown on Apple TV. While you’re there, check out the new Peanuts special, just released on April 15th, created in commemoration of Earth Month and in time for Earth Day. The cartoon features a charming new song by Ben Folds, part of which you can hear Sally singing in the trailer:
We’re incredibly excited to announce the art of Alan Bodner, which is inspired by mid-century modern design styles, is now available at ArtInsights. The first release will include limited editions featuring classic tv, great Broadway shows, and your favorite musicians from all genres. As you know, we are committed to highlighting artists that actually work in the industry. The art of Alan Bodner fits perfectly with that mandate.
To people in the animation and film industry, Alan Bodner needs no introduction. Fans best know him as the award-winning art director of animation projects as diverse as the Bugs Bunny short Carrotblanca, the cult classic animated feature film The Iron Giant, and Disney’s popular shows Kim Possible, and Tangled: The Series, for which he won a Daytime Emmy Award. Animation insiders, however, know Bodner well. He’s been working in Hollywood since his first gig as a background artist at Filmation. He started in 1979, with The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids soon followed. He was destined for success.
If kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s were to list their favorite Saturday morning cartoons, no doubt he’s worked on a significant share of them. He lent his talents as background artist to Ghostbusters, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and a slew of Looney Tunes shorts. The wonderfully wacky Daffy Duck shorts Duxorcist, Quackbusters, and The Night of the Loving Duck number among his projects. In the 90s and into the new millennium, he painted backgrounds for Garfield, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Avengers, and Phineas and Ferb, just to name a few. Proving his range and skill with a wide variety of art styles, while developing a look of his own that would be recognizable, Bodner began getting hired as art director. In that position, he could dictate and orchestrate the look and feel of entire projects.
However, it wasn’t his art direction in animation that got him the gig as art director on The Iron Giant. Bodner had been at Warner Bros. Classic Animation, working under legendary background artist Dick Thomas, when storyboard artist Harry Sabin brought his name up to Brad Bird. Though Alan showed the core team his work, he later found out it was his fine art, his abstract paintings and his use of color in them, that inspired Brad Bird to hire him, even though Bodner had never worked in feature films.
Bodner found the experience immensely educational. He says it was through that project that he learned how to create a cohesive and inspired look. He explains, “It wasn’t just about a single painting; I was really learning to understand how to tell a story through color. I think that’s what Brad imparted to me. I watched movies with him and he would point things out to me. It was like I was going through a college course in cinema. I remember taking frames of black and white films and just copying the lighting. A lot of the films were film noir, filled with mood. The challenge with The Iron Giant was to go from a happy place to a very dangerous one with the film’s color.”
Alan continued his ascent to well-known and respected animation art director with Kim Possible in 2002 and 2003, art directing the first season, and laying the groundwork for the show’s visual palette. He went on to both create backgrounds for and art direct on Phineas and Ferb, and art direct the critically acclaimed Tangled series.
Most recently, he’s been art directing a new project on Disney Junior, Mickey Mouse Funhouse. It has been particularly rewarding for Bodner, because he was able to draw on his memories watching The Mickey Mouse Club as a kid when considering the styling and feel of the new show. As he told Jazz Tangcay of Variety, the bold colors used in 1951’s Alice in Wonderland were an inspiration for “Mickey the Brave”, the premiere episode of the series. You can watch Mickey Mouse Funhouse now on cable, or many of your streaming providers through Hulu + Live TV and DirecTV Stream. It’s perfect for little kids, and the colors are joyful and eye-popping.
All this background about Alan’s storied career should make it clear why we’re so exciting to be able to get art representing him for our clients. The artist has a singular style and vision that’s super fun and joyful but also harkens back to the look of the great movie poster artist Saul Bass and other famed mid-century modern masters. He himself says he has been very influenced by the art of Warner Bros. background artist Maurice Noble, and you can see how he’s expanded upon that influence and made it his own.
Alan will continue to create visual worlds for Disney and other studios in the coming years, so it’s exciting to know you can get both original and limited edition art from this award-winning animation insider.
Prices and timing for commissions have not yet been ironed out, but do start thinking about what might groove you. Alan also creates some art in 3D, and those pieces are a sight to behold!
The program is starting with this first release, but there are lots of other wonderful pieces coming soon, all of which you can see on Alan Bodner’s website. That site offers the opportunities to buy other collateral products like phone cases, pillows, shower curtains, and a host of other cool doodads that you’d be buying directly from Alan, so by all means, check all out. Here’s a link to a lot of other images from classic tv, many of which will be turned into limited editions as the program catches wind. Honestly, I can’t wait for the Adams Family piece to premiere! There are lots of other categories, like music and Broadway, but I’m a Little Shop of Horrors fan from way back, so that’s my favorite for sure. His website also has more info about his career and projects. You can explore HIS WEBSITE HERE.
If the above images spark joy in your heart, contact us soon. We have low numbers for these new limiteds right now, and can deliver them quickly, but who knows how fast they’ll go? He’s pretty great, and at the very least the Rat Pack and Fab Five images will blow through and sell out soon!
Lastly, please contact us if you’ve already figured out what you might want as a commission, because we can put you on the waiting list. He still works full time with the studios, and doesn’t have unlimited time to create these beauties!
Ah, Mickey and Minnie, that quintessential Disney couple…with the holidays coming up, families and couples all over the country are planning their holidays alone or with beloved family. It’s about making memories that will last with family and friends that mean the world to you and bring you joy. Since there are lots of interpretive Disney images featuring Disney fan favorites Mickey and Minnie Mouse showing the power of togetherness and celebration, whether it’s unwinding by the beach, or traveling around the world together, it seemed like a perfect time to talk about the iconic Disney couple, and show a bunch of delightful images of them making memories. Maybe you’ll see yourself or your family represented in one of them.
If the mood strikes you and it seems the perfect gift this holiday season to bring joy in the form of cartoon critters, peruse your options on our website at your leisure. Get your favorites ordered by the end of November to be sure and get your order in time for Christmas.
You can see all the art featuring Mickey and Minnie together HERE.
Walt Disney made Mickey and Minnie’s relationship clear early on, saying in 1933, “In private life, Mickey is married to Minnie. A lot of people have written to him asking this question, because sometimes he appears to be married to her in his films and other times still courting her. What it really amounts to is that Minnie is, for screen purposes, his leading lady. If the story calls for a romantic courtship, then Minnie is the girl; but when the story requires a married couple, then they appear as man and wife. In the studio we have decided that they are married already.”
As many of you know, Mickey Mouse was first animated for an ode to Charles Lindbergh, Plane Crazy in 1928, but that short wasn’t released until after March 17th, 1929. It was Steamboat Willie, released November 18th, 1928, in which he made his first public appearance. He did so with his future lady love Minnie as co-star. Did you know Steamboat Willie was a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, released in May of that year? Walt Disney himself not only directed Steamboat Willie, but supplied the voices of both Mickey and Minnie for the short.
From the very beginning, Mickey was meant to have a love interest. Concept images of him showed a female mouse by his side. As with many relationships, however, it took a few years for them to become a steady couple. The early cartoons show Mickey wooing the flirtatious, musical mouse, and Minnie repeatedly rebuffing Mickey.
It’s in 1929’s Mickey’s Follies, the short that follows Steamboat Willie, in which we learn Minnie’s name and her place in Mickey’s heart is made clear. It was in the song MIckey’s You Hoo, which went on to become a theme song used over the next 90 years. It included his first direct address to the audience, in which Mickey says ‘he’s got a sweetie’ who is ‘neither fat nor skinny’ and that ‘she’s my little Minnie Mouse’. 12 more shorts were produced with Mickey in 1929, but Minnie only co-starred in seven of them, largely playing the role of damsel in distress.
Did you know Pluto started out as Minnie’s dog? In 1930’s The Picnic, Minnie introduces Mickey to her pet dog Rover, marking the first, albeit misnamed, appearance of Pluto. Cat lovers know she also appears in her own shorts with her cat Figaro, who was first introduced in Pinocchio.
Both characters underwent a character redesign in the late 1930s and early 1940s, replacing their rubbery squash and stretch-friendly shapes with more fleshed out figures. Minnie’s new look was introduced in the 1939 short Mickey’s Surprise Party. At the same time, Mickey’s character went further away from troublemaker and more towards everyman. Minnie’s roles started diminishing around this time, going from 50 shorts in the 30s, to a total of 10 in the 1940s. In part, the fact that Marcellite Garner, an ink and paint artist who had become Minnie’s official voice for 1930’s The Cactus Kid, left the studio in 1941 had a huge impact on the character’s inclusion in subsequent cartoons. She voiced over 40 cartoons while continuing to work in the ink and paint department, partnering with Walt as he continued to voice Mickey. Walt was very supportive of Marcellite as she developed Minnie’s character, carving time out between recording sessions to describe and act out all the parts.
Much like Mickey, who didn’t appear in any shorts released theatrically between 1955 and 1983, Minnie has a long break starting with a brief cameo at the end of 1952’s Pluto’s Christmas Tree and lasting until she joined Mickey in his first appearance since 1955, with 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where they play Bob Cratchit and his wife.
One of the most romantic stories involving Mickey and Minnie begins with the introduction of artists Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor as the voices of the the cartoon couple. Allwine was only the third person to provide Mickey’s voice, and did so for 32 years, from 1977 till his death in 2009. Taylor, who was also an award-winning sound and sound effects editor, won the role of Minnie in 1986, when she beat out over 200 other hopefuls for the job. Allwine and Taylor worked closely together for years, falling in love in the process and secretly getting married in 1991 in Hawaii.
Explains Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, “Everyone saw it coming. Just watching them work together, I could see their relationship develop into something deeper than a working relationship.” They kept their marriage private because they didn’t want it to color how fans saw the characters, who had remained unmarried. (As far as we know! The two mice might have had a secret wedding too!) Both Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor were made Disney Legends for their contribution to Disney history. They were said to have made each other better people, which is what love should do. It was after Russi passed away that Farmer is quoted as saying, “When they were together, like Laurel and Hardy, they were just meant to be together as a team, and as a lifelong team. They were just so in love and so wonderful together. I think that love came out in their performances, and gave it a little something extra.”
There were a number of cartoons during the couple’s heyday that celebrate activities couples do together.
From dancing, playing instruments, singing together, or going out on the town in The Barn Dance, Mickey Steps Out, The Shindig, The Whoopee Party, and Mickey’s Gala Premiere…
…going on international adventures or navigating exotic climes as they do in cartoon shorts like Mickey in Arabia, The Klondike Kid and Hawaiian Holiday…
…to celebrating holidays together in Mickey’s Surprise Party, Mickey’s Birthday Party, and Pluto’s Christmas Tree…
There are the times they just show their love, like in Puppy Love and Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but they also enjoy sports or practical activities, as in On Ice, Camping Out, Plane Crazy, The Beach Party, The Barnyard Olympics, Building a Building and The Steeple Chase…
Of course they are always getting each other out of scrapes and jams, as good partners do, like in Shanghaied, The Firefighters, The Gorilla Mystery, Pioneer Days, The Dognapper, and Brave Little Tailor.
Whatever the scenario, this couple is enduring and steadfast, as their 90+ years together attests! You can watch a fair number of these cartoon shorts on Disney+ (although they don’t have a section specific to shorts, remarkably) or of course if you’re curious about any of the many cartoons in which these lovebirds co-star, you can find them by typing them into google or searching on YouTube. Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all get up to some fun and fancy free activities together this holiday season whether at home or off on an adventure. Remember to find some joy and stay safe, and when the stress of family gatherings or holiday shopping makes you feel crazy, watch some cartoon shorts with your favorite Disney couple!
You can see all the art featuring Disney’s iconic couple, Mickey and Minnie HERE.
With Halloween coming, it’s the perfect time to talk about the Art of Snoopy in general, and Snoopy as the World War 1 Flying Ace specifically, because the Flying Ace made his first animated appearance, in all his heroic glory, in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown right before Halloween on October 27th, 1966. Of all animated characters ever, Snoopy is my very favorite. In part, it’s because my dad read us the comic strip when my sisters and I were little. We had all Schulz’s books of published Peanuts strips in both French and English. We weren’t alone. Peanuts had fans all over the world. By the 70s, the Peanuts strips had been translated into 21 languages and sold in over 75 countries. You can read a hilarious take on how the French fell for Peanuts in this archived article from 1975 in the New York Times.
We watched the special together as a family before I could even talk, and I’ve watched it every year ever since. Of course I remember the rest of the cartoon, like Charlie getting a rock, Lucy wearing that gaudy lime green mask, and Linus showing he was and always would be an eternal optimist. What struck me though, and made it most memorable, was the sequence with Snoopy climbing up on his Sopwith Camel and fearlessly fighting the Red Baron.
There’s very little distance in time between when the Flying Ace was introduced in newspapers on October 10th, 1965, and his inclusion in Great Pumpkin barely a year later.
Schulz created this incarnation of Snoopy just months after the US started sending troops to Vietnam. At first it wasn’t the plan to parallel Snoopy’s trials with the goings-on in Vietnam, but in time he began using the Flying Ace and his challenges as a means to express his opinions about the horrors of war. He himself had been drafted into World War II, so he had a lot of compassion and empathy for the soldiers over in Vietnam. In fact, he had to leave his mother, who was suffering with cervical cancer at the time, to report for duty, and she died only a few days before he left for basic training. From very early on, soldiers would use images of Snoopy the Flying Ace on their equipment, and created banners and patches of the character in various guises. They proudly carried or wore them as they attempted to survive what must have been hell on earth.
Snoopy was introduced to the Peanuts comic strip on October 4th, 1950, with his first interaction with Charlie Brown happening on October 10th of the same year.
Schulz came up with the name because his mother said if they got another dog, they should call him Snoopy. Little did she know part of her legacy would be naming one of the most famous fictional dogs in history! Snoopy’s first appearance landed shortly after the US entered the Korean War on June 27th, 1950. Peanuts had been nationally syndicated in 1950 and started getting really popular in the late 50s. By the mid-1960s, it became the most widely read comic strip in history.
There are references about the Korean war early on in the strip’s continuum, as exampled by this strip from May 3rd, 1954.
There are lots of inspirational stories about Snoopy from the Vietnam war. One of the best is one in which his name was used for a frequently airborne canine mascot that a sergeant in the 554 Recon Squadron kept in Vietnam. This sergeant related that Snoopy had repeated scuffles with a very territorial mascot pup of the 388th squadron, coincidentally named the Red Baron. Snoopy flew all missions with the 554th squadron, but his frequent flyer status changed when his owner Robby Robinson, who survived his time in the war, went home. He went on to live a full civilian life riding in cars, boats, and motorcycles in Michigan, California, and Texas, and died an old pup in 1980.
Other references to Snoopy as the Flying Ace include a psychedelic band that used the name Sopwith Camel. They were one of the first San Francisco psychedelic bands to record for a national label.
In 1966, the boys in a band called The Royal Guardsmen were inspired by the character from the comic strip for their song ‘Snoopy vs the Red Baron’, which sold 3 million records. It debuted at #122 on the ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100’ on December 10th, 1966, and peaked at #2 on The Hot 100 the week of December 31st, 1966. It’s interesting that Great Pumpkin, which debuted Snoopy Flying Ace, was released in October, and the Royal Guardsmen released their song in December of the same year.
Schulz was not amused. He and United Features Syndicate sued the Royal Guardsmen for using Snoopy’s name without permission. UFS won, and all the publishing revenue from that song went to them. Schulz did let the group write more Snoopy songs, though, like this Christmas song ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’, which appeared on the album ‘Snoopy and His Friends’ in 1967.
As far as the art of Snoopy as the Flying Ace goes, it’s nearly impossible to find. Part of why I was inspired to write this blog is because we got one from a Rival Dog Food Company commercial dating back to somewhere between 1969 and 1973.
Rival has a fascinating and storied history. In 1932, they were the first company to promote canned dog food, when most folks were still happy to just feed their pups table scraps. Rival held their products to a high standard (which included NOT using horse meat in their formulas), creating food nearly up to human standards. It helped transition dogs into the house to be treated as family members. Rival dog food was so well-made that when the US entered World War 2, Rival stopped creating dog food and pivoted to create rations for the troops. Their plant was already operating under government inspection, meeting the stringent requirements for canning human food. Rival ultimately shipped over 200 million cans to US servicemen. They continued successfully through several company shakeups, and in 1973 were sold to Nabisco, ringing the death knell for the famed brand. It was in the late 60s and early 70s that they enlisted Snoopy to promote their brand, with the last materials being created in late 1973. You can read all about Rival HERE.
Here is the one limited edition available celebrating Snoopy as the World War Flying Ace:
That brings us to my favorite Peanuts cartoon featuring Snoopy. It’s the absolutely classic animated feature Snoopy Come Home, released in 1972. I watched that cartoon many times, but what had even more impact on me was the board game I used to play with my sister, Joëlle. We used to sing “No Dogs Allowed” repeatedly while playing it.
Though our game was thrown away in the 80s, I guess, I finally bought a replacement when doing research on this blog. It should be here any day!
Snoopy Come Home has lots of special features unique to it as a Peanuts release. First, it is one of the only Peanuts animated cartoons not using Charlie Brown’s name. It’s also the only Peanuts film released during his lifetime with music composed by someone other than Vince Guaraldi. The music is all created by famed Oscar-winning duo, Disney Legends Robert and Richard Sherman. The producers figured that since this was a full length feature, not a TV special, it should have a feel that was different from the specials. You know that ‘No Dogs Allowed’ song? It was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who is also famous for singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ in the 1966 tv movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Here is a video featuring the many voices and songs of Thurh Ravenscroft. He was wonderful and prolific!
Snoopy Come Home also features the on-screen debut of Woodstock, Snoopy’s BFFF (Best Fine Feathered Friend) which you can see the original trailer leverages, using music by the Sherman Brothers.
My friends who work with Bill Melendez Studios (Bill created all the traditionally animated cartoons based on Schulz’s comic strip) scoured their archives for something special for me to offer, as we enjoy the Halloween holiday and enter into the Christmas holiday season. I specifically asked for older Snoopy art, and they did not disappoint.
Speaking of the art of Snoopy, here is a production cel featuring nearly every major character from the Peanuts specials, also including some really hard-to-find secondary characters. In fact, this scene is quite historic. It is the first appearance EVER of Franklin in animation. It includes the original cel setup and the layout background from the scene.
We also have one-of-a-kind rare cels of Snoopy and Woodstock from these scenes:
And we talked them into going into their archives, and letting us sell their very last piece in this very sold out limited edition, “Home Coming” from Snoopy Come Home.
Which you can see in the last scene from the cartoon:
One of the most endearing qualities of Charlie Brown, and why we all relate to him, is that he is an eternal optimist. He doesn’t think much of himself, and some folks can relate to that, too. Creator Charles Schulz made the character, not only in his own image, but in that of the everyman. The latest art release in the Peanuts Lexicon Series, “Chomp: Charlie Brown vs. The Kite-Eating Tree” really captures Charlie’s positive perspective, as he faces defeat once again, with that ‘stupid’ Kite-Eating Tree chewing up his kite and ruining the prospect of his and Linus’s kite-flying fun. Given the last 18 months we’ve all endured, Charlie Brown is all of us, and like Charlie Brown, we’ll make another kite and go out again to fly it tomorrow and every day, until the wind raises it to the sky.
The Kite-Eating Tree, a favorite of Peanuts fans, has a long and storied past. In his strip, Schulz considered it one of the series’ 12 major set pieces. Inspired by his own experience losing kites into the trees of his childhood home as well as when flying them with his kids, the first time he mentions a kite getting caught in a tree is way back on April 12th, 1956. Then Charlie names his nemesis the Kite-Eating Tree on March 14th, 1965:
The kite-eating tree went on to great popularity, and Schulz created a number of strips featuring the non-human character.
In January of 1969, the Kite-Eating Tree showed his truly voracious appetite in a series in which they ate Schroeder’s piano:
The Kite-Eating Tree appears again in 1977, on February 22nd:
As part of this storyline, Charlie Brown bites the tree, after which he gets a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lucy says he’ll get ‘thrown in the slammer’.
The last appearance of Kite-Eating Tree was on a Sunday strip on February 26th, 1995:
Given its popularity, It was inevitable that the Kite-Eating Tree would be featured in Bill Melendez’s animation of the Peanuts stories. The first cartoon from Melendez was of course the Christmas Special in 1965, but the Kite-Eating Tree made its first appearance in the opening sequence of 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Here is a layout drawing showing the character with Charlie:
Here is the opening sequence from the cartoon. Interestingly, the parts with the grinning tree were cut out of the version that plays on Hulu (where you can stream the cartoon if you have an account)
The limited edition was designed by Director of Art Development Sandy Thome, who works with the BIll Melendez Studios, and Emmy-winning animation director Larry Leichliter. It is inspired by an original drawing that Schulz sent to Bill of Schulz as Charlie Brown, which was tacked up in the studio for many years. There’s a great story that goes with it…
Larry Leichliter explained it when I spoke to him about the new piece.
“There was this gag with a kite-eating tree. There was a cartoon, a single strip, that was part of the inspiration for the limited edition. The story is that Bill would send out a small Christmas gift to just about everybody that he knew at Christmas time, and it was something simple, like a T shirt, or a little letter opener, or some some little gadget of some kind. One year he made a kite with “Bill Melendez Productions on it, and sent it out. Everybody really liked them, because they were they were fun to play with. Pretty quickly, Schulz sent back this cartoon showing him posed as Charlie Brown looking up at his tree with his string going up to the tree, saying ‘That stupid tree ate my Melendez kite’, and the tree is saying, ‘It tasted like a taco.’ Obviously because Bill Melendez was Mexican.”
Larry Leichliter, speaking to Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights in September of 2021.
What’s really cool from my perspective as gallery owner, is that, having worked with the Bill Melendez Studios for many years, I’ve gotten dozens of Christmas gifts. They’ve sent them every year, and I’ve loved them all. We’ve gotten an umbrella, a phone stand, a notebook, a backpack, a measuring tape, a hat, a puzzle… I’m not even remembering the weirder items. I never knew the tradition was based on the one they had in-house, and now I appreciate them all the more.
Here is the Chomp limited edition cel and the accompanying giclee of the ‘making of Chomp’ graphite drawings made and signed by Larry:
As usual, Larry drew many many drawings in an effort to capture the mix of incredulity and frustration on the face of eternal optimist Charlie Brown. There’s a ton of nuance that goes into the design, and lots of back and forth between Larry and Sandy, both of whom worked for years with Bill Melendez. They really want to capture the essence of both Bill’s directive as director of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and Schulz’s character design. There are dozens of permutations before they choose the final possibilities. Here are a few that didn’t make the cut:
I asked Larry, how the development of the limited edition progressed, and how it came together:
I think the first correction I made to it was the size of the tree, because when I first drew it, I drew it way too small in relation to Charlie, and I realized that he could just strangle the tree and pull it down, so I made it bigger! Then I decided to add the teeth and that sort of thing. All the time, I was working on his expression and his attitude. There was a lot of back and forth between Sandy and I, about what what would be the best pose? And at some point, we added Linus I mean, originally, it was just going to be Charlie Brown, and the tree, and the word CHOMP, you know, because we wanted to do this small series of limiteds as a tip of the hat to Schulz by putting these words across the screen. He would put mostly sound effects, or kids laughing, which we used on the first limited edition…the letters onscreen were used pretty often by Schulz, and it was fun when it translated to animation. We really liked doing them.
Larry also talked about his challenges in creating just the right image for Chomp:
Charlie Brown had so many expressions connected with his moment when the kite gets stuck in the tree. There’s frustration, and disappointment and distrust and even outright anger. But mostly it’s just, ‘poor old Charlie Brown’. Resignation. So I was trying to get a dismayed look, because the grimace and the sidelong glance just didn’t seem quite right. Also, at some point, we decided to add Linus to it. Just because Linus is Charlie’s support. In the process, we just try one expression, one drawing after another, until something seems to fit.
As far as the difficulty in drawing Charlie Brown in general, Larry had this to say:
It’s gotten to where it’s not that difficult. Really, Schulz had a great designing sense, and once you kind of tap into it, then you know when you got it right, and when you don’t. He definitely has a different look when he’s facing forward and when he’s in profile, and there are certain proportions, of his hand to his body, the height of his legs and the width of this neck, things like that, that you get used to. One thing is I try to face him towards the camera if I can, because I think most people like that, and I like seeing Charlie Brown looking at the world, but in this case, the profile seemed to work best, so that’s what we went with. As far as what I enjoy about it is just, that, again, the design Schulz has for this character, there very few characters where the design makes them so easy to draw. Another one is Mickey Mouse, and of course he’s iconic as well.
Of course, I figured I’d might as well ask about animating Charlie Brown, as well.
As far as animating Charlie, he really isn’t that easy to animate, because of certain things like the shape of his head, and how it changes when he turns, but then all of the Peanuts characters are like that. They have a different design in profile than they do straight on. There are techniques that you can use in animation to fool the eye into not seeing how the head changes when a character turns. Then there are other things, like the fact that they have very short arms. What do you do if you want him to scratch his nose or take his hat off, all places that his arm won’t reach? You have to stretch his arm to do that. There are ways around it, which Schultz, in many cases, has already thought out for you, and all you have to do is refer to his work. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll see something that will inspire you to to do it in a way that Schulz would approve.
But why stop there? I asked which characters WERE the hardest to animate.
The hard ones are the ones that you don’t get to draw very often. Like Frieda, for instance. She’s got all this crazy, curly hair and animating it, trying to keep it from just wiggling all over the place, can be a challenge. That challenge can distract you from what you’re trying to do in the first place, which is animated character with some personality and movement. But the more you work with a character, the easier it becomes. Linus is difficult, partly for the same reason, his hair can be very distracting, but also the shape of his head. Linus, Lucy, Frieda, and Schroeder. There are two different head shapes, basically. There’s Charlie Brown’s head shape. And then there’s Linus’s head shape. All of the characters have one or the other. I would say Charlie’s head shape is a little easier to work with than Linus’s. The most difficult is Snoopy, believe it or not, but he’s also the most fun, because both drawing him and animating him is a challenge.
The Peanuts Lexicon Series is really about celebrating the collaboration between Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz and director and animator Bill Melendez, who, along with his team of artists, translated Schulz’s work into the beloved classic cartoons we love.
When I spoke to Sandy, she explained that Charles Schulz was integral to the development of story for Peanuts animation. He always got writing credit for the shows and specials, but it wasn’t a vanity credit, he was really involved in creation.
Mr. Schulz would show Bill strips he’d worked on, and they’d create the storyboards from those strips. We still have a lot of copies in our archives that really represent the seeds of the animated shows.
Sandy Thome, speaking to Leslie Combemale on September 27th, 2021.
Larry added his thoughts on the origins of both the Lexicon Series, and Chomp.
The Chomp kite-eating tree limited edition was actually an amalgam of a couple of shows. Everything really goes back to Schultz and his strip. When we were doing the shows, we were constantly referring to his strip, because one thing that everybody realized early on was that he really enjoyed working on the shows. Bill would go up and meet with Schulz, and the two of them would hammer out a story and Bill would come back and we’d work on the board together. Just the fact that Schultz enjoyed the process of filmmaking as an extension to his strip, I think, which made us more conscientious about studying his work and understanding his drawing, and his characters, and sense of humor…all those things. So you’ll see a lot of his strip in our shows. And that’s why.
Here are two interviews. One that shows Schulz’s personality on an interview with Dick Cavett, and the other that captures Bill Melendez, who famously was considered one of the nicest people to work for in all of animation, as interviewed by animator and historian Tom Sito.
I wanted to go back to the cartoons and find a few examples of those scenes where they interpreted Schulz’s use of lettering. There are many more, and I bet you can even guess some of the expressions (like POW! and Snoopy’s howl OOOOOOoooo!), but I just wanted to give you folks a sense, so I found moments from the below specials, and made screen caps. The only one I can get for a collector is the Snoopy image. The rest have been sold for over 2 decades. There are only a few cel levels with words for each scene, so Sandy explained that once she put together about 4 cel setups, the scene was gone!:
I was fortunate enough to get some original drawings and cels that capture Charlie Brown’s struggle with the Kite-Eating Tree. If you’re interested in buying any of them, you can find them all, along with all our currently available Peanuts are, HERE.
And remember, whether you can relate to Charlie Brown, the Kite-Eating Tree, or both, you can buy the limited edition for $1700 HERE. There are only 50 pieces in the edition and will sell out quickly, so get to it if you are so inspired!
Meanwhile, can YOU guess what the third limited edition after Chomp will be in the Peanuts Lexicon Series? They won’t tell me, so I don’t know, but there are lots of great choices, and I can’t wait to see what they release!
Write your thoughts about Chomp in the comments, and don’t hesitate to contact the gallery via email (artinsights at gmail) if you have any questions.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all stay as positive and optimistic as Charlie Brown is. It comes in handy and is the best possible trait when times are tough!
If you love the Genie from the 1992 animated feature Aladdin, Phil from Hercules, Louis from The Princess and the Frog, or enjoyed 1995’s Pocahontas, you love the work of Disney animator Eric Goldberg. He co-directed Pocahontas and was responsible for some of the best character designs in the New Golden Age of Disney. The artist knew he wanted to be an animator by the age of 4, started making flip books at 6, and began making films at 13, after he got a super-8 camera for his bar mitzvah. His most important mentor was Roger Rabbit director Richard Williams, who offered him his first professional job animating on Raggedy Ann and Andy, then invited him to come to London and work at his studio. Goldberg’s diverse illustration and art training at Pratt came in handy working with Williams, whose projects required being well-versed in many artistic styles.
Goldberg was also a fan of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld from childhood, and Hirschfeld’s influence can be seen in his art from the very beginning of his tenure at Disney. It is once again in evidence on his new Disney project, coming soon to Disney+.
ERIC GOLDBERG GIFTS US NEW GOOFY SHORTS
Goldberg is the director of a new series of 3 HAND-DRAWN shorts releasing on DisneyPlus in August, Walt Disney Animation Studios Presents Goofy in How to Stay At Home, featuring ‘everyman’ (or should I say ‘everydog’?) Goofy in “How to Wear a Mask”, “Learning to Cook” and “Binge Watching”. Goldberg pitched the cartoons to Disney execs Jennifer Lee and Clark Spencer in the fall of 2020, and they loved the idea. While he directed all three shorts and was the supervising animator on “How to Wear a Mask”, he enlisted two other longtime colleagues in traditional animation, Mark Henn and Randy Haycock, to act as supervising animators, Henn on Binge Watching and Haycock on Learning to Cook. They’ll play on Disney+ beginning on August 11th. Of course Disney Legend Bill Farmer, who has voiced Goofy since 1987 will bring the character to life with his delightful vocal stylings.
It’s a well-balanced mix of the classic look Goofy had in the ‘How To’ shorts of the 40s and 50s and the more modern style of contemporary animation. There are also some homages to older Disney shorts. In How to Wear a Mask, there’s sampled music from 1942’s How to Play Baseball. In Learning to Cook, Goofy is wearing the outfit he wore in 1942’s MIckey’s Birthday Party, and the new short uses the same score as the classic short. In Binge Watching, the use of squash and stretch, one of the basic building blocks of Disney’s classic traditional 2D animation, is essential to making the humor work and the story hold together.
Can you see Hirschfeld’s influence in the new Goofy shorts? Goldberg himself would say you can see the power of line in all great animation, but specifically in these new cartoons, he wanted a thicker yet crisp line and great flow that would give the character an updated look, but, perhaps not coincidentally, harkens back to the style for which Hirschfeld is so famous.
ALL HAIL HIRSCHFELD
Goldberg has long had a fascination with and was highly influenced by the work of caricaturist and illustrator Al Hirschfeld, whose work he’d followed since high school. Hirschfeld was inspiration for many of the character designs in Aladdin, especially Goldberg’s Genie, which was created with flowing lines, based on the curvilinear drawings for which Hirschfeld was known. Animating Genie was a completely different experience from the norm, in that the film’s directors and co-writers Ron Clemens and John Musker created the character with Robin Williams in mind.
To pitch Robin Williams on doing Aladdin, Goldberg, at the suggestion of Musker and Clements, took some lines from Robin Williams comedy albums and animated Genie to them. One day after he had a few scenes done, Jeffrey Katzenberg walked in with Robin Williams, and they showed him Goldberg’s work. He had animated from the famed Williams routine talking about schizophrenia. He had created a second head for Genie to talk to himself. He made him laugh and it helped persuade Williams to play the character. Much of his scenes were ad-libbed. Goldberg would review his recorded dialogue, then select the best lines and animated the character around them for each scene.
Musker and Clements loved the Hirschfeld-ian design of Genie, so they decided to have all the roles drawn in the same style. Glenn Keane was animating Aladdin, and Goldberg partnered with all the other animators to create a cohesive look in all the characters, making this unified cast. When Hirschfeld saw Aladdin, he gave the team of artists the ultimate compliment and confirmed they were successful by saying, “It all looks like it was drawn with the same hand.”
For Fantasia 2000, Eric directed and wrote two traditionally animated sequences, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Carnival of the Animals”, aided by and his wife Susan, who took on the role of art director. Rhapsody in Blue, chosen by Goldberg because it’s his favorite piece of classical music, was a complete artistic love letter to both New York and Al Hirschfeld, and the artist actually came onto the short as official artistic consultant. As part of his desire to be true to his hero’s style and aesthetic, Goldberg actually hid Hirschfeld’s daughter Nina’s name, just as the artist himself did in hundreds of drawings, in various locations in the short, like in Duke’s toothpaste tube and Margaret’s collar.
GOLDBERG DISNEY-FIES HIRSCHFELD FOR SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND
When Shanghai Disneyland was being developed and built, Imagineering wanted to build a Brown Derby or Sardi’s style eatery decorated with Hirschfeld style drawings of Disney characters. Dave Bossart, head of special projects at Disney at the time, looked to Goldberg to create the over 200 drawings. They made a book of all the images called “An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters, and displayed some of the original drawings in person at D23 in 2015. If you ever go to Shanghai Disneyland, you can see his finished work at Mickey and Pals Market Cafe.
Goldberg himself explained what makes Hirschfeld such a remarkable artist. “Hirschfeld’s poses were always very strong, very clear, very readable. And my favorites of his work are the ones that are very simple. I think those were his favorites as well. He used to say, ‘When I don’t have the time I make a complex, fussy drawing and when I do I make a simple one.’ Because it does take some effort to boil things down to their essence and Hirschfeld was a master at that. It’s just amazing.”
Goldberg got to spend time with his hero when they had become genuine friends. The studio had him out to Disney a year after Aladdin was released. Eric and Susan Goldberg got to take Al and his wife Dolly to Disneyland. Over the years he was able to get to know the artist very well personally, and the man didn’t diminish, but rather enhanced the legend. Eric and Susan requested Hirschfeld to allow them to use his style for a new short, and after some contemplation and time, he gave permission to use any and all characters he’d drawn in his career. Ultimately, Hirschfeld worked as artistic consultant on what became Rhapsody in Blue, which was one of the best sequences in Fantasia 2000.
GOLDBERG, HIRSCHFELD, AND JONES
To allow Goldberg to express his love for the Hirschfeld line, the folks working with Warner Brothers and the Chuck Jones family engaged him to do his treatment on the classic characters of Chuck Jones. They’ve turned them into limited editions signed by Eric Goldberg himself. In each drawing, he has captured not only the characters but the Hirschfeld style. It’s not easy to encapsulate Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, or Marvin Martian and K-9 with such simplicity. We now have all Eric’s Chuck Jones images from the Fine Line series available for purchase on our site.
Andrea Alvin comes by her strong sense of nostalgia honestly. Born in 1947, she grew up in 50s Fresno, California, which she says was ‘always a little backward, always a little late in everything. If you wanted hip and new, you had to go to LA.” There was a candy store around the corner from her grammar school, and they sold sweets through the fence to Andrea and her friends. Six years younger than her only sibling, her brother Mel, she often spent her time alone, drawing in her room. Her mother was, as Andrea puts it, “a major force”, who owned a bustling beauty salon, so Andrea always believed women could do whatever they aspired to. She remembers her mom was almost always on a diet, but every once in a while would give her and Mel $20, a LOT in those days, to go buy candy at the store, and the three would sit together, eating candy and watching movie musicals all day. If there’s a better recipe for imprinting nostalgia than Jujubes and Judy Garland, I can’t imagine what it would be.
In high school, Andrea was popular-adjacent. Her two best friends Donna and Suzy were the most popular girls in school. She graduated early. She always knew art would be her career, so in 1966 she applied to Art Center in Pasadena.
At the time, women made up only a fraction of the student body, and all potential students were encouraged to go to a junior college first. Also there were lots of soldiers coming back from Vietnam just starting school. That put the average age of students in their 20s. Still, barely 18, she and her pal Carol applied and were accepted. Her parents were very supportive of her artistic aspirations, but they did expect her to make a living at it, so she focused on advertising art and illustration. When Andrea graduated in 1969, she had already gotten a job working as an animation designer and animator at Film Fair, quickly followed by a stint at Spungbuggy Works. In both places she created commercials for products like Tootsie Roll and Chicken of the Sea. She also did work for the newly created Children’s Television Network, which would go on to create Sesame Street.
All the while, she was honing her photo-realistic painting style, which she had discovered through her interaction with famed artist photo-realist Robert Cottingham.
In 1970, she was introduced to John Alvin by a friend. Explains Andrea, “Wendy had too many boyfriends, so she brought John over to my house thinking we’d hit it off. It was like, ‘Here! Take him!’”, Andrea laughs. When asked whether they clicked, she responds, “It was instantaneous.” They were married in 1971.
From the very beginning of John’s career as an iconic movie poster illustrator, Andrea worked and partnered with him. Her influence and perspective is in evidence in a number of famous posters. She contributed substantially to the creation for ad campaigns like Batman Returns, Batman Forever at Warner Brothers, and Pinocchio and The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Disney. She has won awards for her illustration and design work in film, and was an equal partner in the company Alvin and Associates, which she started with John.
When John passed away unexpectedly at 59 in 2008, Andrea had more than just emotional pieces to pick up, she found her voice as an artist had changed. While she’d been exercising her photo-realistic talent all along, she wanted to reflect on and integrate how loss had impacted her. As it turns out, even now, nostalgia continues to be a comfort and a subject that speaks to her, as it always has been. But, she explains, her art has definitely evolved.
“As far as nostalgic images, I had started painting a lot of these subjects before he died. It took me a long time to process what I wanted to say, and how to say it in my art, and in the last 4 or 5 years, somehow I’ve come to this more detailed type of painting I’ve been doing, that started with the candy canes and the gumballs. I pulled back from my subject matter. I had one big subject. Now I’ve pulled back, and you get more subject, but also more detail. I don’t know what that says or how that happened, but I have a wider view. I’m not rushing through to complete anything. I have the solitude to sit and look at my work and the detail has come from that. With my more recent work, there’s an atmosphere. There’s a mood.”
Andrea has created official images for Warner Brothers and Disney, engaging her appreciation of animation and film while incorporating her unique style, and she has also created art that speaks to her love of all things nostalgic. Her fans and collectors are grateful. Whether it’s candy, toys, or cartoon characters, Andrea Alvin gives joyful moments from our childhoods back to us in ways only she can.
I spoke to Andrea Alvin about her career and asked her about her newest work in this exclusive interview:
LC: What does the word ‘art’ mean to you and what about being an artist fulfills you as a person?
Andrea Alvin: That’s a big question. Art takes many forms, for example my daughter is an artist, she sings and performs. Art brings beauty and social consciousness into the world. It makes us think, it evokes an emotional response. Being an artist is who I am. I have always wanted to be an artist. It influences how I view the world, both literally and figuratively.
LC: What in your childhood drew you to becoming an artist? How did your inner artist express itself when you were a kid?
Andrea Alvin: I was a very shy child and was happy to spend time alone drawing and coloring and living in my imaginative world. Both my parents and my brother were extroverts and I was not going to try to compete for attention. My brother is six years older than me, so a good portion of my childhood was like being an only child, spending time alone or with adults. Art was my company and my escape.
LC: You went to Art Center. What was the experience of that as a female artist? Were you clear on what style and modality you wanted to work in? How did it form you or help you hone your skill?
Andrea Alvin: When I went to Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, I was one of about ten women in a school of five hundred. I never thought about being a female artist until I saw how much of a minority we were. I think it just made me work harder. Also, I wanted to major in Advertising Design, but I was told that girls only majored in Packaging Design or Fashion Illustration. I started as a fashion illustration major, but I couldn’t draw in that style. I was really bad at it! So, I switched to Ad Design and also took as many painting classes as I could along the way. My parents were set on me having a career, that paid actual money, when I graduated. Art Center was very demanding and accepted only a high level of skill and craftsmanship from every aspect of its curriculum. I have been able to use those skills over the years in the various journeys throughout my career.
LC: You were half of “Alvin and Associates”, which was focused on film advertising design. Your partner and husband John created some really iconic posters. Can you talk about what role you played in creating imagery?
Andrea Alvin: This is where my Ad Design major at Art Center came in handy. When John began getting illustration jobs for movie posters, I was the unknown person in the background helping with concepts, copy lines and critiques. One of my more famous “ghost” contributions is on the Blazing Saddles poster. I came up with the idea to put the Hebrew lettering on Mel Brooks’s Indian head band that says, “Kosher for Passover.” A painting did not leave the studio without my second set of eyes helping to determine that it was ready to release.
When John and I formed Alvin & Associates, we didn’t have any second thoughts about whether we could do it. We were great partners. I was strong in design and concepts and I knew what John could do with an image. We had an unspoken shorthand. A great example is the re-release poster for Disney’s Pinocchio. The image is of the Good Fairy looking down on the little puppet and touching him with her magic wand. I created the layout, chose the specific models and knew John would create the magic that turns him into a boy. I created the concepts and designs for “Batman Returns” and “Batman Forever.” Those posters were a design challenge because all of the movie stars’ likeness contracts. I knew John could make the various images into a cohesive image. I won a Key Art Award for best design of a poster for Batman Forever.
I was the one who moved us into using the computer and Photoshop very early. I saw a demo and knew this was the future. I’d say we were on the bleeding edge of its use in creating movie posters.
LC: Describe your artistic aesthetic, where it comes from (in terms of inspiration—artists you loved, movements that inspired your own work) and what kinds of images draw you to paint them?
Andrea Alvin: Over time my work has become a melding of Impressionism with Photorealism. The brushwork is evident and in some cases fairly loose, but it resolves photographically from a short distance. They look extremely tight in a photograph, but in reality they are not. My objective is, that it definitely looks like a painting and the viewer is aware of the artist’s presence.
As I mentioned earlier, I went to a design school and studied advertising. Andy Warhol and other Pop artists inspired my subject matter. They opened the door to using subjects from popular and commercial culture. In reality, no subject was off limits. In the 80’s, Photorealism became a movement and I really connected with it. Artists like Ralph Goins, Wayne Thiebaud, and Audrey Flack were painting photo-real still lifes of every day subjects with superb mastery. Chuck Close influenced me with the way he filled the canvas with his subjects. John Singer Sargent’s brushwork is inspirational. I still look to the work of those artists.
LC: What is it about nostalgia that makes you want to capture it on canvas?
Andrea Alvin: I started painting subjects that had a nostalgic aspect because I wanted to paint things that were very “American.” To me, the toys and snacks that I grew up with seemed to define my generation and those beyond. We are a consumer society. These are subjects that everyone can relate to. I found that if I used light and atmosphere in my work, it evoked a warm feeling in the viewer. I also find it humorous to elevate these subjects in a grandiose manner. Having a four foot square painting of Oreo Cookies hanging my living room makes me smile.
LC: Could you tell us a bit about some of your most recent pieces?
“Samuel’s Candy Canes”
Each year, Rhinebeck, the town I live in, has a winter celebration called Sinterklaas. It is a combination of a Norman Rockwell Christmas and Mardi Gras. The whole town participates and it brings in people from all over. One year I brought my camera and was shooting pictures throughout the day. I wandered into Samuels Sweet Shop, the town’s only candy store, and it was appropriately decorated for the event. I saw the candy canes in the vintage bucket draped with festive lights, and it really spoke to me. Whenever I look at it I think of SInterklaas and the feeling of the winter holidays. It’s cold outside, but here I am in a warm cozy spot and I’m going to enjoy something sweet. I hope it makes the viewer feel that way as well.
“Got a Penny?”
Generally I only paint from my own photographs, but once in a while, someone has a photo that inspires me. This one, of the gum ball machine was taken by a friend that I went to high school with, Jerry Lane. He’s a professional news cameraman, so it was of excellent quality. Thank you Jerry!
It reminded me of going to the store with my mother. These machines were strategically placed outside the door, so you couldn’t miss it, whether you were coming or going. “Please Mom, have you got a penny? I really need that gum.” We always knew if a mother gave in to the annoying begging, because the gum would turn our mouth and teeth a bright red or green or blue for hours.
“Putting Out the Fires”
I grew up in Fresno, California. It is a place of scorching hot summers with temperatures in the triple digits for days on end. Squirt guns were great fun and a way to stay cool. I was really taken with the shapes, colors and transparencies of these toys. When I completed the painting and was looking for a title, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school shootings took place. It put a different spin on the subject. Was there a way to portray the subject of guns, even though they are whimsical toys. was not negative? Thus, the title, Putting Out the Fires. Sadly those fires are still burning and the shootings continue.
LC: You’re working now on a piece with ice cream sundaes called “In the Good Old Summertime”. Why did you pick that subject and what is it saying?
Andrea Alvin: My friend in Los Angeles, Lynda Fenneman, took this picture. There is a motel and coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley that has been restored to its original mid century grandeur and is used as a movie set. I connected with this photo because of the iconic nature of the ice cream sundaes and their setting. I’ve cropped in on it to make them even more heroic. Nearly every town had a movie theater and a restaurant with a soda fountain. In my town, we had Carnation. My older brother and his high school friends would hang out there. They called it “The Flower.” “Meet me at The Flower” was a Saturday night invitation. For my grammar school friends and me, it was the lure of the cone shaped glass, chocolate sauce and whipped cream that beckoned to us. It’s those shared memories and the fun of painting those reflections and surfaces that drew me to this subject.
LC: We did a project on candy hearts. What about that was fun or engaged you as an artist?
Andrea Alvin: The candy message hearts are so iconic. They are a perennial Valentine candy. We had fun changing up the messages to be more inclusive to today’s culture. From the traditional Soul Mate and Party Time, we added Love is Love, Queen, and Butch. The colors are sweet and fun and they are really like chunks of chalk, so painting them was a bit of a challenge. We donated a portion of the sales to the Trevor Project, so it felt good to give to a worthy cause.
LC: How has the pandemic effected you as an artist and how has it been integrated into your work?
Andrea Alvin: When I knew we were on lockdown, I thought, “this should be a very creative time.” Unfortunately, I had a very hard time concentrating on art work. It took me a while to get back into painting regularly. I think that my subject matter is a perfect distraction from the bad news and depression that so many people felt. It always makes me feel better.
LC: What one bit of advice would you give to artists who want to be successful?
Andrea Alvin: First, hone your skills. Go to art school or study and practice to be as good as you can be at your chosen art form. Do it for the love of the process and not for the money. Success is not about sales or how much money you can make, it’s about being good at what you do and constantly growing and creating. It takes a lot of drive and a self recognition that “you can do it” no matter what obstacles come your way.
LC: If you have to pick one quote that expresses how you approach life, what would it be and why?
Andrea Alvin: From the artist Chuck Close – “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Jim Salvati is doing the artist thing the right way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the artists I know during this pandemic. Of course I’m thinking of artists of all kinds, including actors, musicians, and filmmakers, many of whom haven’t worked regularly in what is now over a year. There are also visual artists who have continued to create images, sometimes for art galleries, sometimes in work as illustrators or concept artists. Regardless of the artistic expression, the pandemic has surely had an influence, if not on their income, on the way they create, or find a way to continue in the face of such unprecedented times, or what they are doing to find ways to continue to express themselves.
Of all the artists I know, one I knew would internalize what’s been happening and express it in art, as well as stay centered and forward-moving, is Jim Salvati. The man is, paradoxically, both really chill and really intense at the same time. Here’s a guy who has been a working illustrator, movie concept artist, fine artist, and art professor for over 30 years. Deadlines are a part of his daily life, so it seems reasonable to imagine he’d be pretty stressed out.
Raised in the beach culture of Southern California, Jim has always found a balance of his own art and the water has helped him to keep centered. When the surf’s up, he works from the crack of dawn to 2pm and then goes surfing. When there’s no surfing, he can work 12 hour days until the project is done. Either way works, because both art and nature feed his soul.
As an artist, Jim is a storyteller, and has always been drawn to intense, or complicated subjects. He seeks to find both the darkness and joy in them. He tells his students at the Art Center College of Design to get their passion out in their work, and to express their own experiences through the work as well. It makes sense then, that what he has seen and experienced in the pandemic is reflected in his art. He is quoted as saying, ““The different emotions, gestures, moods, environments, and style of people in my life and those that I cross paths with, all become part of my storytelling.” Here is a piece he did as a commission of Eddie Van Halen during the pandemic, which is part of the Jim Salvati art series of musicians:
I love that he looks like he’s praying, but the deity is music and his own craft as a guitarist. The image is both chill and intense, right?
This expression of intensity and getting to the depth and the meat of his subjects is nothing new. Even as a Disney fine artist, he finds the emotion and simple truth at the heart of the image. Here is a Lilo and Stitch original titled “A Part of the Family”, where he captures what it means to be family in one moment.
There are lots of other examples from his work with Disney that have the same intensity. His paintings are layered and thick with paint. believing an uneven surface adds to the emotion of the story. Even in limited editions, those layers translate visually.
I asked Jim to answer a few questions about his life as artist during the pandemic, what music inspires him, and other things that offer a glimpse into the brain and art process of Jim Salvati. Here are his fascinating answers!
Leslie Combemale: What does art mean to you, and what about being an artist fulfills you as a person?
Jim Salvati: Art means pretty much everything to me. I was raised in a art family, and very influenced by my uncles to get into this industry. It is a very rewarding career to see your work on the big screen, magazines, posters and on collectors’ walls. A very rewarding career. It’s difficult for sure to make every painting, whether digital or analog, perfect every time. It’s the pressure and the looming deadlines. You could say I am 100 % addicted to art and it’s pretty much on my mind 24/7, day and night..when I need sleep.
LC: One of the things I most love about working with you is commissions are always even better than I could imagine. What about doing commissions inspires you as an artist, and can you name a recent one that you really enjoyed?
Jim: Commissions are very exciting, and very scary at the same time, and always challenging, because there’s pressure to make it perfect. I’m always hoping the client is just as happy. Recent 2021 commission is the new book Moby Dick. It’s a huge project that has not been printed at this level since 1930..the “Rockwell Kent Edition”. 15 Paintings and inkings. It’s a legacy project. This one is for the history books.
LC: What are your favorite Disney and your favorite non-Disney pieces you’ve done lately and why?
Jim: Recently doing some Disney concept work that is not produced yet. I took a break to deal with some family stuff. My incredibly cool Dad and I had a intentional break away from art that was very much needed, because I have never been unemployed, and have never taken a break, ever.
I am now getting back to Disney work, all new and not yet seen. Being a perfectionist, I will send in the Disney work when I think it’s ready and perfect, to keep the tradition of always sending in my best work to them.
LC: Do films and tv shows impact your artistry? if so, what are a few that have impacted you lately or continue to inspire you and why?
Jim: I consider myself a film and music nerd. My taste in film is very eclectic. It’s all over the place. I love films and soundtracks so much. All films inspire me. It’s such a great art form. Films are almost impossible to make. It’s such a difficult industry . There are so many moving parts, that it is amazing some films even get made. I also watch the ‘Making of’ documentaries. Just watch Heart of Darkness and you will see the ‘Making Of Apocalypse Now‘. It was impossible to complete, and almost killed Martin Sheen and Francis Ford Coppola. Even student films are tough to complete. I have recently been into small independent films. The most recent film I loved is NY fine artist Julian Schnabel’s film about Vincent Va Gogh, Eternity’s Gate. I loved Jojo Rabbit for the filmmaking, story telling, and the Bowie soundtrack. Julian Schnabel is the business model I follow: art and filmmaking.
LC: What is the most valuable way you’ve found to find joy as you’ve moved through the pandemic?
Jim: I consider myself a music nerd as well. My taste in music is very eclectic and extremely all over the place. I listen to it all, and I’m looking for new music all the time. Can’t list 5! My brain is spinning even thinking about that! David Bowie is my go-to. I also go through phases from art jobs that influence my listening, like a project I started that had me revisiting The Doors and even watching the film Doors live at the Hollywood Bowl from 1968. It is astonishing to watch, because the band members are trying to keep up with Jim Morrison! It’s a great concert, but if you watch closely, it’s stressful because of Jim’s unpredictability. I do love his lyrics. I am always a bigger fan of written lyrics.
LC: What is the most valuable way you’ve found to find joy as you’ve moved through the pandemic?
Jim: That’s easy. I engulfed my life in producing art that took on a ton of work…then took a break to concentrate on family and fitness, which benefits mental health. I worked out by riding, hiking, and of course surfing, and doing anything to move. About one year ago I was at a concert with thousands of young people, shoulder to shoulder, and one of the best concerts I have ever been to… I mentioned my eclectic taste…this concert, which was exactly one year ago, was electronic music by Dj Destructo, with actor Idris Elba, who started his career as a DJ, then became a great actor, but Idris still does concerts. It was one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. No one sat down the whole time. It really reminded me that the electronic music industry is totally influenced by Kraftwerk! I really love it live music and miss concerts so much. That is what I miss most, then travel. I survived the one year shut down and it makes me feel so fortunate…especially since I sold more paintings lately then before the pandemic! The break was good for me and now back neck deep in art. The Disney work is coming soon!
LC: How has the pandemic impacted your creativity or painting?
Jim: The pandemic and my intentional break in not doing art for awhile has made me more creative and fresh. I am working on a film now that is so incredible. It’s fresh, new, and a never-seen-before concept. It’s rewarding and so creative to be part of something new. Disney will be with me forever. I needed a break to re-boot and get a fresh new direction. Disney has been in my life and career since I started. I have never been without my Disney family.
The pandemic is wearing on me for sure, so I’m trying my best to give back to people in need, and to the students who are so 100% engaged and committed in their education..I want to give them my best.
Here, in honor of Jim Salvati’s love of surfing, is this blog’s Covid Comfort Cartoon, from 1972’s Snoopy Come Home:
Disney and Star Wars concept artist William Silvers, ‘Bill’ to his friends, has the sort of Olympic level of chill a traffic controller would envy. He looks like a surfer that just stepped out of a particularly bitchin’ wave. The only time he doesn’t have a mellow smile on his face is when he’s concentrating on his painting, and even then, one sneaks out from time to time…and why wouldn’t he smile? He’s living the life most artists only dream of, and he knows it. What’s more, he appreciates it.
Bill was born in a small town in Ohio to hardworking parents. He remembers from his very first memories being inspired by his dad, who was also an artist, but tucked away his aspirations to work at a factory to keep his family in food and shelter. His dad supported Bill’s love of drawing, and applauded him when, even as a young child, he copied cartoons from the paper. Explains Bill, “My happy place was drawing for hours and creating different characters. This was my escape from the reality. Even as a child I already knew I was going to leave the small town.” It wasn’t an automatic he would go to college or study art past high school, though. With six kids in a household struggling to make ends meet, financial resources were limited. Thank goddess for his teachers, who believed in him and pushed him his senior year to do whatever it took to pursue his art after graduation.
Once again inspired by his dad’s work ethic, Bill took factory jobs and worked in restaurants while keeping up his studies, all to raise the money for college. He attended Bowling Green University and left Ohio at 23, heading to the big city of New York. There he found endless inspiration from the artists he met and connected with, all of whom believed in him and offered a sort of cheerleading that made him determined to succeed.
It was having some of his art featured on Seinfeld episodes, Season 5 Episode 17 “The Wife”, and Season 4, Episode 19 “The Implant” (which featured Teri Hatcher), that brought him to the attention of Disney.
You’ll know the Teri Hatcher episode from this little gem:
They approached him about a position as a background artist in the Feature Animation Department for the film Mulan. He took the job, and has been working steadily and successfully ever since. You will see his backgrounds in some of the best films of the New Golden Age at Disney, including Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear.
He relayed a story to me about how important working fast was during his time at Disney. He got used to painting both very precisely and very quickly, because time was always in short supply. The problem was, he painted way faster than some of the other folks working there, so he’d be done with his daily projects hours before anyone else. He still can paint very quickly, but likes going back through his work and adding even more layers. It’s why his originals, regardless of the style in which he paints them, have such visual depth.
William Silvers has clocked time at nearly every film studio, on some of the most beloved properties, including Star Wars. He worked for Industrial Light and Magic, a division of LucasFilm, in 2004. In Revenge of the Sith, if you watch the scene where (spoiler alert!) Anakin strikes down the young padawans, you’ll see some of his gorgeous work.
He relayed the story to me of one day when he was working on that scene. No one who goes into the studio is able to bring in anything, including cell phones or computers, lest they leak important plot points or images. Everyone signs a non-disclosure contract. During a break, he was checking in with his wife Ewa, and told her he couldn’t tell her anything about what he was doing, but to remember that day. When the film came out, he showed her that scene, and told her he knew that day he had worked on the darkest storyline he’d ever be part of. He says he still feels that way, all these years later.
In addition to Star Wars and multiple films at Disney, he also lended his artistry to the backgrounds in The Day After Tomorrow, as well as DreamWorks films How To Train Your Dragon 2, (where he created backgrounds for the scene where they discover the secret home of the dragons, among many other scenes), Mr Peabody & Sherman, The Croods, Rise of the Guardians, Puss in Boots, and the Kung Fu Panda franchise. He also worked with Warner Bros, and Sony on a number of films.
All these projects brought him to the attention of Universal, who hired him as senior designer, and he has since been involved in the design of their theme parks worldwide. If you’ve ever ridden Skull Island: Reign of Kong and enjoyed it, you have him, in part, to thank!
Some years into his career at Disney, he started working creating Disney Fine Art with several of the official companies, ultimately landing in the enviable position of dealing directly with Disney at the theme parks. He always has the support and help of his wife Ewa, who, to be honest, is the perfect partner and compliment for Bill, with her personality traits of gentle kindness and sensitivity, as well as her listening skills. She is always in attendance when he is featured at the artist special events throughout the year. You can meet him in person during one of these events and see his smile and experience his laid back attitude in person the next time your visit to Disney World coincides with an art event there.
Here are some great limited editions available through ArtInsights, that you can find by going HERE.
We at ArtInsights are blessed to not only be friends with Bill and Ewa, but also represent his art at the gallery, with images of his artists proofs from before he worked with the parks. From Lilo and Stitch to Disney Princesses to some great images from the Star Wars saga, we’ve got exclusive images that come directly from Bill, and what’s more, you can access both art designed much like the backgrounds he created during his stint there, as well as art created in a more fluid, subjective style that he also loves to do. You can only get these images through ArtInsights! From time to time, we also have access to original art, so keep checking back to see what goodies we’ve gotten from our very artistic, joyful, and inspired pal.
Bill knows he is incredibly lucky to do what he loves for a living. He attributes his success to his background. The trick is to keep going, and do what only you can do. He reasons, “What I realize now is my small-town upbringing and limited resources, as well as my heritage, has preserved in me a personal code and standards. These are the things I live by every day and teach my children; to retain your individuality, to work hard with dedication, to follow your dreams, but stay grounded.”
What I love most about Bill is his sense of optimism and inclusivity. He believes every time we help each other win, we all win. When it comes to art, being the very best isn’t as important as doing your best, and finding joy in that journey of always working to be better. Says Bill, “There will always be someone with skills greater than your own. I’m not looking to follow others or pull them down. I don’t compete with anyone but myself and I’m myself am my most harsh critic! I don’t create art just to make money. Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed by amazing opportunities to work for the best studios in the filming, gaming and theme park industry. I’ve work among some of the most influential and creative individuals. I’ve been truly blessed, and that’s my greatest reward! I guess I’m the proof that ‘all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them’, even if you are just a small-town kid. “
We asked William Silvers a few questions about his life and career:
What is your favorite movie you worked on and why?
Mulan was a perfect film to kickstart to my film career. I was able to start on the film in the early stages of development, taking me through the entire process of preproduction all the way to post. The experiences and knowledge about the film industry I gained was invaluable. Mulan will always have a special place in my heart.
What is one of your best memories in terms of learning experiences as part of your career?
Although the Disney backgrounds were traditionally created in Acrylics, the directors for Lilo And Stitch decided to use the watercolor technique abandoned since the 40s. This made Lilo And Stitch one of the most challenging and fun films to work on over the years. As a training exercise, the background artist would take trips to paint in watercolors throughout the Disney parks. We also studied the film classics, like Snow White and Pinocchio.
Can you describe your process in creating art for film?
As background artist, we were responsible for the mood and color of the films, we created the entire environment the animated characters lived in. Theatrical staging was a key feature of the backgrounds painted for Disney films. Similar to backdrops on Broadway, the backgrounds were painted to enhance the main characters and not distract or overpower them by attracting too much attention. Although Mulan was a stylized film, we looked to Bambi for inspiration on staging and painting style.
You have two distinct styles. What about each of them feeds you as an artist?
I have a natural tendency to paint in a very detailed way, so I love to challenge myself to be as loose and impressionistic as I can. I believe this is good exercise to help me be more creative in the painting process.
List your 5 favorite movies:
Pinocchio, Snow White, Bambi, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch and Star Wars.
You listen to music when you paint, yes? How do you decide what you’ll play, and what are some of your favorite pieces or songs to listen to when working?
Music to me is very important when I am painting. During the block-in stage, I listen to hard rock. I have a tendency to lose myself while I’m painting, as my concentration is focused on the painting. The block-in stage can be intimidating, so the music helps to keep me focused. After the block-in stage is finished, the detail work is done with softer, more meditative music, more Andrea Bocelli and less Guns and Roses!
What do you find is consistently the thing that brings you most inspiration as an artist?
There is truly nothing more exciting then challenging yourself and broadening your creativity with some of the best artists in the film industry. Disney Feature Animation was at the height of popularity during the Mulan years, and all the artists were treated accordingly. It was during a visit from John Lassiter to the Disney Animation Studio that I realized the wave would not last forever. John brought with him the first finished sequence to Toy Story to screen for the studio. I was blown away by what I’d seen, and immediately bought a computer and started preparing for the inevitable shift from 2D to 3D animation. I found out I love working on a computer as much as I do in the traditional way, with paints in my hand.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing for a living?
I have always loved architecture. If I wasn’t an artist, I most certainly would have been an architect.
What is one sentence that reflects your philosophy of life or the best advice for living?
Life is short! Focus it on doing what you love and what will make you happy!
We did an interview in person with Bill some years ago, where he talks in-depth about his career and his art styles. Check it out!
With the exciting news that a Willow tv show is officially happening at the Disney+ streaming service, and starting production next year, I thought it might be a great time to look back on the beautiful illustration art created for the original John Alvin Willow posters. The art represents many different aspects of what made John Alvin one of the greatest as well as one of the most singular movie poster artists in history. In this blog, I’m going to show a number of John Alvin’s art created for the Willow movie campaign, some of which have never been published before.
First, a bit of information on the new show. Ron Howard, director of the original film, is executive producing. The only official star of the film is Willow is Warwick Davis, reprising his role as Willow Ufgood. It will introduce all-new characters to the world of enchantment that features fairy queens and two-headed Eborsisk monsters. Says Davis, “So many fans have asked me over the years if Willow will make a return, and now I’m thrilled to tell them that he will indeed. Many have told me they grew up with ‘Willow’ and that the film has influenced how they view heroism in our own world. If Willow Ufgood can represent the heroic potential in all of us, then he is a character I am extremely honored to reprise.”
Jonathan Kasdan and Wendy Mericle are executive producing, with Kasdan writing the pilot. Also getting an E.P credit is director Jon M. Chu (of Crazy Rich Asians fame) who will be directing the pilot. “Growing up in the ’80s, Willow has had a profound effect on me,” said Chu. “The story of the bravest heroes in the least likely places allowed me, an Asian-American kid growing up in a Chinese restaurant looking to go to Hollywood, to believe in the power of our own will, determination and of course, inner magic. So the fact that I get to work with my heroes from Kathleen Kennedy to Ron Howard is bigger than a dream-come-true. It’s a bucket-list moment for me. Jon Kasdan and Wendy Mericle have added such groundbreaking new characters and delightful surprises to this timeless story that I can’t wait for the world to come along on this epic journey with us.”
The original Willow film was released in 1988, and though it wasn’t an immediate triumph at the box office, it became a huge cult classic, leading to the creation of a board game and a number of computer games.
John Alvin was brought in quite early in the 88 production, and in those days, John, who was already storied for creating the E.T., Blade Runner, and Cocoon posters, had a lot of interaction with both Ron Howard and producer George Lucas. The Alvin key art for the Cocoon movie poster is a perfect example of that “Alvin-izing” that drew fans to films with ‘the promise of a great experience’.
John started working before he had seen any final movie images. Some of his earliest designs for the film were extensive sketches that intentionally called to mind the art of Frank Frazetta. Those were drawn on grey Canson paster paper and have a beautiful classical quality. Some of the original poses of the lead characters found their way into the finished posters.
John Alvin did three movie posters for Willow, which in itself is a rarity. He was one movie poster artist that would get the entire campaign to work on, from start to finish, including the teaser poster, and all other marketing designs, including images for buses, and other ancillary locations.
For Willow, his first image was the teaser, and really leveraged his ‘Alvin-izing’ to full effect. It was released 9 months before the film’s release, and just created a magical quality to pique interest in seeing more. Swirling clouds of orange and yellow are lit by the sun and magical light, and said “forget what you know or what you think you know”. This poster represents another aspect of John’s unique abilities, and that is his ability to create logo treatments. John Alvin loved creating his own typography or logo designs, as he did for E.T., and a number of other films. Willow is another example of that. Most movie poster artists stick to painting, often from other people’s ideas, but John would often come up with the idea, the composition, the painting itself, and the logo treatment. It’s what makes John Alvin so unusual and important to the history of film art.
His second poster was one that blended the iconic design style he was known for (again, the ‘Alvin-izing’) and told more about the film by presenting the characters. It had all the magic of the teaser image, but also celebrated the archetypal imagery reminiscent of Joseph Campbell’s ‘A Hero’s Journey’. And why not? George Lucas was involved, after all.
It still wasn’t the ‘kitchen sink’ design style represented in the best known one-sheet he did with all the faces of the characters. In the book The Art of John Alvin, Andrea Alvin called the second poster ‘The Journey Image’, which was compiled from various production shots he got as inspiration. It’s interesting the number of designs he came up with that could have been the one-sheet, some of which I think are more inspiring and visually compelling than what they ultimately chose.
The final one-sheet again incorporated elements from both the first and second poster, while also showing the lead actors in close-up. What I’ve mentioned as ‘kitchen sink’ design was used to great effect early on in the history of film art and classic movie posters, but with traditional illustration, there was always room for creativity and additional storytelling, as with John Alvin’s Blade Runner poster, which prominently showed Harrison Ford, as per his contract, but also featured the architecture and world fans of the film recognize as unique to the film. Creative kitchen sink designs were used beautifully by Bob Peak and Richard Amsel, two other greats of film history.
In the process of John Alvin painting the final one sheet, he created a finish for which he got notes to alter the faces a bit, which he did. However, the finish he sent in in advance of that one was still used for the computer game. Notice the differences.
As Andrea explains in her book, it is very rare for a movie poster artist to be able to create three unique posters that build on one another, as is using a unique logo design created by the illustrator. For that reason, Willow is a great example of John Alvin’s important place in film history. His work also turns out to have had a significant effect on inspiring the longterm fans of the film, who number the Willow posters among their favorites in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. It’s wonderful to think that a movie on which he had an impact as artist will now live on and build a whole new set of fans in a new incarnation.
We celebrate John Alvin every day. When you watch the new series, think of his contribution to the beloved classic, and to the whole of film history.
*The estate of John Alvin is currently not accepting offers for purchase of single images from his Willow art collection. For more information about the work and art of John Alvin, contact Artinsights.
We just got two gorgeous Cats Don’t Dance original backgrounds. I knew John Alvin did Cats Don’t Dance production art. He created the movie poster, so I started researching about the history of the flick when we found the backgrounds. I watched the movie, and read up on this poor under-appreciated cat-centric cartoon.
This overlooked animated feature from 1997 is so much fun! I decided to write about this week on the Artinsights blog. By the end, you’ll want to watch Cats Don’t Dance, whether you’re already a huge fan, or you’ll be seeing it for the first time…
The coolest thing about Cats Don’t Dance is the original idea for the film came out of the semi-feral cats that have roamed around the Warner Brothers lot since the beginning of the studio.
Scott Bakula as a singing cartoon cat in 30s Hollywood is something that sounds best to his obsessive fans, most of whom know that he started as a performer on stage in New York, and has quite the singing chops. So it should come as no surprise that he starred in the oddly under-the-radar cartoon geek cult favorite Cats Don’t Dance.
Need confirmation that Scott Bakula can sing? He was chosen to perform at the Kennedy Center Honors for Stephen Sondheim in 1993:
Cats Don’t Dance is a highly entertaining animated feature from 1997 that should have been a hit, but was released at the worst possible time, when Turner Feature Animation merged with Time Warner. During the last gasps of Turner Feature Animation, head management kept rotating in and out, and every transition meant drastic changes in the movie. Ultimately, it just got lost in all the upheaval and studio noise.
The story is of optimistic, fresh faced (or whiskered) cat named Danny (Bakula), who dreams of fame in Hollywood, and arrives from his hometown in Indiana with stars in his eyes. He lands a small role in a movie called Li’l Ark Angel, that stars Darla Dimple, a super creepy animated parody of Shirley Temple, which sort of morphs Temple with Tiffany, the bride of Chucky. He plays against love interest Sawyer (voiced by Jasmine Guy, sung by Natalie Cole), a white cat that could be the feline version of any number of human actresses like Judy Garland or Ginger Rogers. Darla is determined to keep Danny, Sawyer and their animal actor colleagues in the shadows and away from her spotlight, so trouble ensues.
Here is a trailer for the movie:
The list of performers cast as the animals is impressive. It includes Kathy Najimy, Betty Lou Gerson, voice of Cruella de Vil in 1960’s 101 Dalmatians in her last role, Hal Holbrook, Don Knotts, and René Auberjonois, who won a Tony Award for the musical Coco in 1970, way before voicing the chef in The Little Mermaid. Director Mark Dindal did voice duty with Max, Darla’s muscle-bound valet and enforcer.
Fans of Emperor’s New Groove should know Cats Don’t Dance’s director Dindal also helmed the new Disney classic, and is currently working on an animated feature about Garfield. Clearly cats are a thing! (Maybe you recall that Yzma turns into a cat. Not only did he animated that, he was the cat’s voice for about a split second..)
Also notable is that the film was originally meant to be a Michael Jackson vehicle, who was going to star, produce, and help with the choreography. At that point, it was going to be a live action and animation hybrid. All the musical numbers were written by Randy Newman, who was hot off of 1995’s Toy Story and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach. Song and dance legend Gene Kelly acted as choreography consultant. The movie was his last project and was dedicated to his memory.
Our pal, cinema artist John Alvin did the movie poster for Cats Don’t Dance, and he was with the project from the very beginning. Alvin and Associates, which included both John and his wife Andrea Alvin, created some wonderful concepts along the way. Says Andrea of the experience, “It’s basically a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie. I really liked it, and had a great time designing one sheets that looked like those old movie musicals from the 30’s and 40’s. It was one of those that I had a lot of design influence, and John refined and painted.”
Here are some images of John Alvin Cats Don’t Dance concept art, many of which are being shown to the public for the first time:
I had known the art from Cats Don’t Dance was in the Warner Brothers archives for a while, since I’d seen some of it when I visited the studio years ago. At that time, the art hadn’t been available. When someone inside WB offered me two Cats Don’t Dance original production backgrounds of iconic Hollywood landmarks, I leapt at it.
Who doesn’t want their own Hollywood sign? Click for more info or to buy!
This great piece is from the opening sequence of the movie, and is shown at 1:18 in Danny’s Arrival Song:
We also got a Cats Don’t Dance production background that captures those famed iconic movie openings at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre:
So much of Hollywood history happened there. Here are a few premiere videos:
And one more, because any excuse to post a video of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell…this is the two gorgeous bombshells putting their hands in cement…
Isn’t it time you checked out this charming little film about optimism and working together that deserves more than being forgotten?
You can watch it here for $1.99, and probably on lots of other of your favorite streaming services:
There are few artists I’ve enjoyed working with more than Disney interpretive artist Tim Rogerson. He is not only one of the most successful artists in the Disney Art Program, selling out his editions and originals at the Disney parks and around the world, he’s one of the most joyful, optimistic people I’ve ever met, and he’s been a friend for over 15 years. We’ve worked together on dozens of commissions over the years, including pieces that wound up becoming his most popular sellers as limited editions, like one of his earliest piece, ‘L’Amour‘ from Lady and the Tramp, the Alice in Wonderland art ‘Dreaming in Color’, ‘Fantasia’, and ‘All Their Wicked Ways’, which had so many villains, it took almost 2 years to get approval from Disney!
A few Tim Rogerson limited editions based on ArtInsights commissions:
As to commissions, here we are 7 years ago, as he is painting Dreaming in Color with Alice in Wonderland, talking about his ideas and inspiration:
There are so many more I sold but didn’t commission. I feel like I sold ‘Micasso’, but I can’t remember who wound up with it!
In any case, it’s one of the favorite paintings he ever did, and altered the trajectory of his career and cemented his aesthetic. I love all his edgier Disney art, as do many of his avid collectors. Disney fans know Tim Rogerson. For those of you who don’t, you can read his bio HERE.
For those who already know and appreciate him, as much of a fan as you might be of the artist, there are probably some things you don’t know about Tim Rogerson. You also might be wondering what he’s been doing during the pandemic, and what some of his favorite Disney art pieces he has done recently. We’ve got you covered there! We spoke to Tim about all that, and more.
First, some basics: How did you get your start at Disney?
TR: “While I was attending Ringling College of Art & Design, I would drive up to Disney World on the weekends, to work in the main street gallery of the Magic Kingdom behind the register. It was a sweet part-time job that allowed me to be surrounded by art, with front row seats to the light parade and fireworks every night. I would stare at paintings by Peter Ellenshaw and James Coleman all day. Funnily enough, they would become great friends 4 years later. At the end of my first year at Ringling, we had a signing event in the gallery, with Disney Legend, Ralph Kent. He worked with Walt back in the day, and was the official, “Keeper of the Mouse”, which meant every piece of art with Mickey had to go through him for approval. You could draw the perfect Mickey, and he still would draw over it to make it better. At the signing, I told him I was going to school at Ringling, and wanted to work for him one day. He put me on the spot right there, and asked me to draw Mickey for him. He told me he can read everything about an artist by the way they draw Mickey. The pressure was on, my hand was shaking, and there I was, about to draw Mickey for a Disney Legend. As soon as my hand touched the paper, it was muscle memory, the drawing I’ve been practicing since I was 4 years old. Still to this day, it’s one of the best Mickeys I’ve ever drawn, and it was perfect timing to do it for Ralph.”
So that’s how you first got hired?
“Yes! He hired me right there, I trained with him the whole summer, and it was an experience I’ll cherish forever. Ralph was like Mr Miyagi, but instead of ‘wax on, wax off’, he made me draw 10,000 circles on my first day. His office was on the 2nd floor of the animation building, and I would always take the long way around to peak into production of Lilo & Stitch. I was the last artist Ralph hired and trained before retiring. After training, I went back to the gallery, but now as a character artist behind the animation desk, drawing characters for guests to purchase. I did that and designed close to 1000 t-shirts for the parks before graduating from art school in 2004.”
“Upon graduation, it was devastating when 2D animation closed it’s doors before I could start my internship, but another opportunity walked through the front door of the Magic Kingdom gallery. It was Michael Young, with Disney Fine art. We hit it off right away, and I sent him some paintings as a tryout. Most of the other Disney fine artists were landscape painters, with tiny characters off in the distance. I was the complete opposite, painting the characters larger than life, filling all four corners of the canvas with bright bold colors. That was 16 years ago, and it’s been an amazing journey ever since, painting for Disney Fine Art!”
How did you get the D23 official artist gig?
“It still amazes me to this day that I had the honor of painting the official art for the first ever D23 Expo in 2009. I was just starting to create really complex cubist pieces, combining lots of characters together in interesting compositions. I had completed ‘The Enchantment of Snow White’, ‘Of Mice and Music’, and ‘Strings of Temptation’, which had caught Disney’s eye, thinking I would be able to combine all these elements of D23 Expo into one painting. I’ll never forget the infamous conference call, with 18 executives, that spanned the whole Disney company from Feature Animation, ABC, Radio Disney, and ESPN, to Disney Channel. They all wanted their own thing in this epic painting, and at the end of the call, I had a huge list that took up multiple pages.”
Did you feel pressure or start freaking out at that point?
“The crazy thing is that I was never nervous about it. If I had known how big D23 Expo would become, and that this painting would hang in the Disney Archives forever, then I would have been a nervous wreck. Instead, I figured out early on that the concept behind the painting would be the simple idea, that it all started with a mouse. Everything at D23 Expo exists because of the success of Mickey Mouse, back in 1928. So I drew a big classic Mickey to fill the composition, and then intertwined with Mickey, were all the elements of D23 Expo. It was like putting a puzzle together, and everything clicked into place. That painting and that event changed my life. Seeing 100,000 Disney fans wearing my shirt and buying my art, while fans put together a 15 foot tall mural of my painting out of legos, was surreal! I was the official artist again for D23 Expo in 2013, and have been the official artist for the Winter Olympics, Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, Disneyland 60th, and Mickey’s 90th.”
How does music play a role in your creative experience?
“I can’t paint without music, and you can easily tell how a painting is going by the music I’m listening to. If you hear classical music, that means I’m struggling, and trying to summon the renaissance masters to show me the way. If you hear Red Hot Chili Peppers, that means all is good, and I’m having a blast painting. I can’t wait to hear their next album with John Frusciante’s return. My favorite music to listen to are film scores, especially Thomas Newman, who has a rhythm and mood that’s perfect to paint to. If it’s raining outside, it’s gotta be Miles Davis or Norah Jones. But honestly, I listen to all good music, it doesn’t matter what genre, just as long as it has soul. Just discovered Jacob Collier the other day, and I truly think he’s Mozart reincarnated.”
What are your favorite recent paintings that have been released as limited editions?
90 YEARS OF MICKEY MOUSE
“This was an official piece celebrating Mickey’s 90th Birthday since his debut as Steamboat Willie. I choose 9 different Mickeys, with each representing a different decade and era of the mouse, from sketch to paint. Mickey has always been a big part of my life, from the first drawing I did at 4 years old while watching my father draw Mickey, to drawing Mickey at 18 years old for Disney Legend, Ralph Kent, who hired and trained me as a character artist for Disney. My first painting for Disney Fine Art 15 years ago was of Mickey, and even my good friend from art school is now the official voice of Mickey! Walt once said, “It all started with a mouse”, and it’s so true for me, too. It was an honor to be able to paint a piece for Mickey’s 90th, and give a gift back to the mouse.”
CAST OF TOYS
“Toy Story was released almost 25 years ago, and changed animation forever. As I was drawing this piece, and figuring out how to compose all the main characters, I found an interesting layout showcasing the old into the new. On the left side, you find all the old vintage toys, from Woody’s round up and the Potato heads, that generations have played with. On the right side, you find all the future galactic toys from outer space. And in the middle is Andy’s room, where both worlds collide. In a way, it’s also the story of animation. Woody represents the old school 2D, vintage, hand made way of animation, and Buzz is the shiny new 3D way of animation.”
MOANA KNOWS THE WAY
“I find I always paint my best work when I make it personal. To most people, this looks like a painting of Moana and Maui, but for me, this is a painting of my daughter growing up and becoming a strong leader, as I help steer the way as a father. If only I was as cool as Dwayne “The ROCK” Johnson! When people ask me who’s the hardest character to paint, I now answer Maui, because of the tattoos. Each tattoo has a meaning, and you can’t mess those details up.”
What have you been up to since the pandemic hit? How has it impacted your creativity or painting?
“I’ve been joking with my wife for years that I wish I had a pause button, where I could stop time, and finally catch up with commissions and projects. I’m always struggling to keep up. It’s a good thing for an artist to be busy, but you also don’t want collectors waiting two years for commissions. This pandemic is not what I had in mind, but it has given me the opportunity to finally catch up. I had close to 30 commissions in March, and now I’m down to 8. I’ve also had the time to experiment, and try new techniques that I’m really excited about implementing in my next works. For my fans, I hope it’s something to look forward to in the next releases!”
TEN THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DISNEY ARTIST TIM ROGERSON:
1. He loves wine.
He doesn’t drink it to excess, but as a celebration. We used to come visit a friend that lived only a few doors down from his house who had an insane wine cellar. He could literally pick dozens of bottles of wine for any year of the 20th century, and would open them in honor of a birthday, a special event, or just to mark a gathering of friends. Tim would walk down to our friend’s house, and we’d sit by the pool and drink champagne or wine so expensive that most of us would never even dream of buying it, and talk about movies, music, and art.
2. He loves movies.
Of course he does! Several times he’s been at ArtInsights for events or shows and we’ve had an evening of movie watching. He and my husband Michael and I have seen lots of movies for the first time together. If you are a film lover, he’s one of those guys that will be a kindred spirit. It’s rare when he can’t find something to love about a movie, and he loves all genres. I remember telling him about the movie “Tigers Are Not Afraid”, by Issa Lopez, knowing he would love it. It’s a terrifying, moving, gorgeous film, and I just knew he’d dig it. That’s the thing about him, and lots of artists that paint Disney. They see the whole picture: the good, the dark, the sad, the joyful…and it all goes into their work, no matter what they are painting. His favorite movie-watching experience was in Rome.
Tim relates, “Sitting in the coliseum in Rome with my iPad watching Gladiator was an absolutely EPIC experience! It was like being surrounded by genius filmmaking and the ghosts of the past at the same time.”
When I asked him to name 5 of his favorite movies, he said:
“Oh boy, that’s impossible! I’ll just tell you what they are as of today:
Indiana and The Last Crusade (Greatest film ever made)
A New Hope,
Road to Perdition,
Superman the movie,
The John Woo masterpiece, Face Off!”
Of course I had to make him explain why The Last Crusade is his favorite.
“I love Raiders, but Last Crusade humanized Indy. Plus: The River Phoenix intro! Never being able to impress his father Sean-freaking-Connery! The epic tank battle! And the powerful ending to save his father, who finally calls him by his name Indiana! Literally as I was typing Last Crusade, I heard “You have chosen…………….wisely!”…so it must be true.”
3. He is obsessed with Nicolas Cage.
He explains, “I was a nick cage junky as a 13 yr old. I was obsessed with The Rock, then Con Air. Had to sneak into Face Off, which was R-rated, not knowing anything except John Woo and Nick Cage. It blew my brain!!”
He also loves television shows, especially those with complicated stories and anti-heroes. He took inspiration from one such show for a piece of art:
4. Peter Pan is his favorite Disney animated feature film.
“Peter Pan always fully captured my imagination as a kid, and it’s still my favorite Disney animated film. To fly, never grow up, and spend your day fighting pirates…Sign me up!”
5. It all started with a mouse. Again.
It might be that Disney said, “It all started with a mouse.”, but that is literally true for Tim Rogerson. His dad Danny was a director at Disney and worked closely with Don “Ducky” Williams, who taught his dad to draw Mickey. He would watch his father draw Mickey all the time. When Tim was 4 years old, Danny went to Tim’s class for a parent day, and he taught the whole class how to draw Mickey Mouse. He followed his dad’s directions and drew his first very own Mickey Mouse, and from that day on, he was hooked. Tim knew his calling was to become a Disney artist.
6. His sketchbook is his diary.
Tim Rogerson never goes a day without drawing sketches in his notebook. He takes it everywhere, including Paris, Riyadh, and everywhere else he has traveled. Entire series have been created out of his daily drawings, like his Food and Wine fine art images. It goes all the way back to when he was a kid. Some people have diaries, Tim documents his experiences and speaks his own truth through art, and he does it with pen and pencil on paper. He has lots of filled notebooks all lined up in chronological order in his studio.
7. Lately, he’s been inspired by Pixar concept artists.
At Pixar, the concept artists are free to create in any medium. Whether they are moved to do watercolors, or use cut paper, or paint in oils, inside Pixar, the folks in charge believe that kind of unique, personal exploration will be invaluable to story, and the finished film. Many of them have looked back at the Disney artists of the 50s, like Claude Coats and Mary Blair. It’s all about shape and color. Tim has found inspiration for his art from both those old Disney artists, and the new artists creating designs inside Pixar.
8. He’s a night owl.
Not least because Tim Rogerson always has at least a dozen commissions lined up, he’s always very busy. Still, he finds he does his best work at night, especially when just everyone else is asleep. He is also a dad to a little girl, and he wants to enjoy her childhood, so he spends lots of his daylight hours with her. Night is for art. Around 11pm, he cranks up the music and gets to work. Many is the time I’ve gone over to his house at 11am and he’s still working. Usually he’s discovered some new music at some point during the night, and added some inspired element to the art that wasn’t there the night before.
9. He loves all genres of music, but in his soul, he’s a jazz cat.
When I asked him his favorite music, he immediately had an answer. His favorite album is Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis. It’s a go-to when he truly wants to look inward for inspiration while creating. A Love Supreme by John Coltrane is a close second. As to his favorite song, it’s been the same a long time: Crash by Dave Matthews.
10. Don’t ask him what his favorite color is. (Tim explains why:)
“I get asked all the time what my favorite color is. It has become a hilarious mind trip that I can never answer. It’s like asking a writer, ‘what is your favorite letter?’ or a musician, ‘what is your favorite note?’ You have to combine letters to make a word. A musician has to combine notes to make music. That’s how I see color, so to pic out one as a favorite is impossible.”
*Tim Rogerson also does commissions, although he is always working down a 20-30 commission requests, so it does take some time between when you order a piece and completion. If interested, contact the gallery via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We were thrilled when, this week, we happened upon a gorgeous little collection of Batman original production backgrounds. These are from The New Adventures of Batman and Batman Beyond, and they are exquisite. One of them is over 28 inches long…
Holy Priceless Collection of Etruscan Snoods!
We’ve been working to find key set-ups and original backgrounds from the Batman tv series since starting our gallery nearly 30 years ago. We found very few from the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, which is what started it all, but we have had some from the second season, and been on the lookout for backgrounds from The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond. While the look of the characters changes, the style and design of the backgrounds remained much the same, and is one of the ways the various shows have some continuity.
Before Batman: The Animated Series was suggested, created, and introduced, there weren’t cartoon series that looked like them. You’d have to go back to one of the inspirations for Warner Brothers cartoon, the 40s Superman cartoons from Fleischer Studio to find animation that looked remotely like the new show.
The critically acclaimed 85 episodes of Batman: The Animated Series (or BTAS as the cool kids call it) prepared the way for The New Batman Adventures (often shortened as TNBA), which allowed the existence of Batman Beyond, and then Justice League and a host of direct to video releases. Each series has its diehard fans and its great qualities, but it is BTAS that created the hardcore following that continued to watch continuations and other incarnations of the caped crusader’s story. It also created Harley Quinn, which has launched a thousand comic books and even her own feature film.
Thought this collection of backgrounds is from TNBA and Batman Beyond, their aesthetic is anchored in the original 1992-1995 series. Batman: The Animated Series was created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, and won several daytime Emmys and one Nighttime Emmy (for Robin’s Reckoning, Part 1). Timm and Radomski did an early, minute and a half animation test to show what they had in mind for a Batman show, and the producers loved it.
Here is a great primer about BTAS, TNBA and Batman Beyond, from Comics Explained:
You can also find out a lot more, if you haven’t already seen it, from the video released with the BTAS home edition, which has all the major creative players interviewed.
Interview with Background Designer Don Cameron:
I spoke to background designer and layout artist Don Cameron, who worked on the first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and asked a few questions about his experience and the aesthetic of the show.
Working for WB and especially on Batman is a really big deal. How did you wind up there?
“I was aware of it because I knew someone at Warner Brothers who had gotten a tape of the test that Bruce Timm did. I saw that tape and was just blown away by it. I thought it looked amazing, and I immediately thought of the Fleischer Superman cartoons. The guy mentioned to me that they were looking for background people and he could get me a test. I took the test and got a call from Bruce Timm later that day asking if I was available for work. I got hired, and I was one of the first people, but there were a bunch of us hired on the same day.”
Other than the Fleischer Superman and the pulp magazines and book covers of the 30s and 40s that Bruce Timm had pasted up all over, what additional inspiration do you remember was part of building the look of the show, and since you worked on the backgrounds, that specifically?
“As to the backgrounds mostly we were told to look at the work of architect Hugh Ferris. There was also a comic book out at the time called Mr. X. Those were the two main sources to look at, as well as the Superman cartoons, obviously. Ferris was huge, especially with the early versions of Gotham, they were taken straight from his work.”
Hugh Ferriss was an architect from the early part of the 20th century who considered the psychological conditions of urban life and was a huge influence on other architects of his generation. He architectural drawings are famously dark and moody, often presented at night, light by spotlights, or surrounded by a mysterious fog. He is so famous as his craft, that every year the American Society of American Illustrators gives out an award in his name for architectural rendering excellence.
Mr X was created by Dean Motter. Mr X is an architect of a dystopian place called Radiant City. He believes he must fix errors in its construction, so he rarely sleeps and stays awake thanks to a drug he engineered. His design theory is called “psychetecture”, which leads its citizenry to go mad. It is influenced by Bauhaus and Friz Lang’s Metropolis.
Mr. X, in turn, influenced Tim Burton’s Batman, which was also an inspiration to Bruce Timm in creating the look and feel of Batman: The Animated Series.
How many designers were there? How many folks working on your part of the project?
“I think as far as background designers, there were 5 or 6, and then background layout was probably another 4 people, then maybe 4 more people working to turn them into production backgrounds. It’s so different now, but we were drawing on the old animation wheels and we would draw on animation paper, and then they would take those drawings and transfer them onto black board, and then they would airbrush the final image onto the black board. To have 4 people making all those backgrounds, that impressive. Batman backgrounds, when you see them in person, are pretty spectacular.”
how you were directed in terms of creating? What kinds of guidelines were you required to stick to?
“One time in particular I did was a warehouse, and Bruce really liked the design that I did. Basically, we were told to look at the inspiration, and then you had a lot of freedom. ’We need a warehouse, it’s gotta have a skylight and a door right here.’ That was about it. You were left to just take off and do whatever you wanted, as long as it fit within the style. I never remember feeling really confined with anything.”
How did you learn what you wanted to do, since architecture requires a very specific type of drawing?
“I actually wanted to be an architect when I was younger. I tried it, and then soon discovered the artistic aspect was sometimes secondary to regulations and rules that you’re required to follow when you’re designing. I had done some study of it, though. I also worked as a machinist for 8 years so I was very 3D oriented, having worked on blueprints and that sort of thing. The Batman stuff came very naturally to me, because it was very geometric.”
“I did a pan on the very first episode, that was the “On Leather Wings”, the scene with a couple of policeman in a blimp, and they’re drifting over the city, and you cut to a shot from their POV of the buildings passing by as they drift over. I actually did the layout for that scene, and it was 3 fields wide. The field would basically be the image that’s on your tv when you look at it, so 3 fields is 3 tv widths across. I drew the city from the angle that they would see it, which was a 45% angle. I remember it took me a week to do that one shot.”
“We had a lot of freedom as long as it looked like it belonged in the city. I was taking components and maybe flipping them around or turning them on the side. You do whatever tricks you can to create entirely different buildings. You’re basically working with shapes and how you arrange them, and the rest is up to you, and your ideas.”
You just worked on a feature film for Bob’s Burgers. How was that different than your experience on Batman?
“I was a background designer on that, too. It was far more difficult. I thought it would be easier. The thing with Bob’s Burgers, you have to draw everything from real world and you have to draw it to scale. Since they’ve had a show that’s lasted 10 seasons, it’s important when you design a room, that it’s perfectly to scale, so that it can be used somewhere down the line. You can’t change the scale of doorways from one scene to the next, because over time that problem will compound and become more obvious. There has to be cohesiveness to everything. These are very very detailed backgrounds. It was difficult but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it.”
At least it’s digital, though, so if you make a mistake, it’s a lot easier.
“Yes, it’s all digital. I got into 3D as well about 10 years ago, and I did a little clip on YouTube. It’s just a few seconds. I actually built a 3D version of Gotham and I did a little scene and I was able to draw it, animate it, and color it all within a few days. That was just my little test to compare the old ways with the new ways. It’s pretty amazing what can be done with the technology.”
You said you have a cool and special story for my readers, that few know about on Batman. Do tell!
“On one of the episodes, a character layout artist on the crew, his name was Charlie Bean and he came to me and said he was leaving the show. I thought he was crazy, because he was on one of the biggest shows around. He said he was leaving to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua. I thought, ‘You’re leaving Batman to do a show about a cat and a chihuahua?” He thought it looked cool and he wanted to try it, and of course it was Ren and Stimpy. His final episode is one with the Scarecrow called Nothing to Fear. There’s a scene in which Batman gets one of Scarecrow’s grenades thrown at him, and Batman starts to hallucinate, and he sees a bat appear in front of him. That was the final scene that Charlie worked on before he left for Ren and Stimpy. If you look at it very carefully, for a few seconds the bat looks like Ren from Ren and Stimpy!”
What are you left with in terms of your memories of the show in retrospect?
“The thing that was cool about Warner Brothers is you’d get off the elevator every morning and there was the shield. I got to meet Stephen Spielberg because he was around the studio a lot, working with Tiny Toons. That was so great. I was really young when I worked on BTAS, and I got to be really free in creating and I loved that, but I think it was only later that I realized just how lucky I was to have been on the show. It’s got a huge following, and people just continue to love it. I am so glad to have been able to be part of that, and even now I’m really glad I get to do this, do art, for a living. There are thousands of people lined up who would love to do this job, and I still get to do it every day. I know I am very lucky.”
In terms of Batman original production backgrounds, we have one key-set up with Joker and Harley from Joker’s Millions (which, by the way, Don Cameron actually worked on) which is gorgeous:
“The Joker’s Millions” is both a comic book story and an animated TV series episode where the Joker suddenly inherits a massive fortune, only to find out too late that he has fallen victim to an elaborate scheme to humiliate him.
We also have several hand-painted production backgrounds from Batman Beyond.
The first is from Rebirth, which is episode 2 of Batman Beyond.
“Rebirth” is the two-part premiere of the show. It depicts Batman‘s retirement when Bruce Wayne steps down, and later rebirth as Terry McGinnis years afterward. After Bruce becomes aware of his declining health and lays down his mantle, Gotham City is without its protector for twenty years until Terry discovers the secret then takes the batsuit to avenge his father’s murder, which revives Batman in Gotham City.
From episode 6 Heroes, This background is around 20 x 10 inches. Doesn’t this remind you of Blade Runner? That film was also inspired in part by the designs of Hugh Ferriss.
“Heroes” is about The Terrific Trio, a group of scientists who became superheroes after gaining powers in an experiment gone awry, who make their way into Gotham and become media sensations. But Magma, Freon, and the 2-D Man soon learn that the accident that gave them their powers was not really an accident. The Terrific Trio were based upon the Fantastic Four, a superhero group created by Marvel.
“Dead Man’s Hand” is the eighth episode of Batman Beyond. It depicts the first time that the Royal Flush Gang fights the new Batman. After learning that Batman is back in Gotham, the Royal Flush Gang returns to take revenge. Meanwhile, Dana breaks up with Terry but he finds a new girlfriend: Melanie Walker. Unbeknownst to Terry, Melanie is actually the Gang’s “Ten”. Now, both of them must deal with their dual lives while trying to be with each other.
“A Touch of Curaré” is the twelfth episode of the show. It depicts the first appearance of the assassin Curaré. Gotham City District Attorney Sam Young has been marked for death by the Society of Assassins, who have sent their best member: Curaré. Now Batman must face off against one of the world’s deadliest fighters. Making things worse, is the fact that Commissioner Barbara Gordon, Young’s wife, isn’t as liberal as her father was when it comes to costumed vigilantes, despite having been one herself.
“Mind Games” is the tenth episode of the second season of Batman Beyond. It depicts Terry‘s first encounter with people wielding psychic capabilities. After saving a supposed family from a car accident, Terry starts receiving strange messages from the family’s daughter. He soon learns that she’s contacting him telepathically and that she’s been kidnapped by a group called “The Brain Trust”. Now Terry must fight to save the child from super-powered individuals.
I love getting pieces I wasn’t expecting. This is the most fun part of owning an art gallery that specializes in film and animation art. I can’t wait to see who winds up with these beauties!
I’ll leave you with the opening sequence from Batman Beyond, which I love:
Looney Tunes and Bugs Bunny are forever entwined. His 80th birthday is coming up, and we must start celebrating early! But once again this week, I am unexpectedly and accidentally timely with my subject matter. The premiere of HBO Max on May 27th means the release of their new show Looney Tunes Cartoons coincides with my release of exclusive original Looney Tunes production art. I had no idea!
I had in mind Bugs Bunny’s 80th anniversary, which would be officially o July 27th, since it was back in 1940 in July that the rascally rabbit first made his appearance in Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare.
Always wanting to get a jump on all things birthday, I had planned the animation collection release of more recent Looney Tunes original cels a few weeks ago, for this week, with an accompanying blog. My pals who officially wholesale the Warner Brothers cels and I came up with a cool thing where we’d get Eric Bauza to give a signature with the art we sell. Eric is a Canadian voice actor extraordinaire and, as of 2011, he has been a member of the Looney Tunes family, voicing Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, and many others. His former work includes shows like Ren and Stimpy, Adventure Time, Rick and Morty, Lego Star Wars, Steven Universe, SpongeBob Squarepants, and The Loud House, and, as it turns out, he is now voicing Bugs and other classic characters on Looney Tunes Cartoons! According to Warner Brothers,Eric is actually their official voice of Bugs, Daffy and Tweety.
Oddly, I hadn’t been on the marketing radar for the folks promoting their new animated series, I mean, at least sometimes my two lives of film journalist, and animation historian and art gallery owner converge, and you’d think this would be one of them. Then my editor at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Jennifer Merin, asked me to review Looney Tunes Cartoons for that site (which you can find HERE.) Conflict of interest alert, I thought! Upon reconsideration, I figured if the show was no good, since the cels in this collection are from earlier shows, it wouldn’t really matter, and if the show was great, all the better. Then I watched the new series and not only breathed a sigh of relief, I was thrilled for all involved, especially the fans of these classic characters. Looney Tunes Cartoons is, in a word, spectacular. (Here is a link to my review on the Alliance of Women Film Journalists)
You, however, may groan at the idea of once again bringing Looney Tunes characters to life, thinking the WB folks (who, by the way, own HBO) are going to try to “update” and “reboot” the classic characters and cartoons that you love.
As we all know, they don’t need updating, they’re perfect.
Gratefully, the producers and creators involved with this new iteration clearly love the 40s and 50s originals, and they bring that love to every moment of these new shorts. Geniuses like Bob Clampett, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, Chuck Jones, and Tex Avery may no longer be with us, but their influence is in evidence. Classic Looney Tunes music, like Carl Stalling’s ‘What’s Up Doc”, gets a modern adaptation by composers Joshua Moshier and Carl Johnson, which just adds to the immersive feeling fans will get as they watch.
Take a look at this short example of Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner. Notice the animators of Looney Tunes Cartoons keep Chuck Jones’s traditional look for the characters, while giving them little touches, like his protruding fang:
Just for fun, here’s a vintage clip from Chuck Jones for comparison. When you watch them side by side, you can see the loving attention to detail for each character and the loyal throwbacks to the original the team for this new show considered. Here’s a teeny bit of Chuck’s first Wile E and Roadrunner cartoon, 1949’s The Fast and the Furry-ous.
Says creator Peter Browngardt of the Looney Tunes Cartoons designs, “Our characters are more rounded, more squat. We gave Bugs yellow gloves, and Daffy has the longer, thinner bill. Porky is Clampett’s version, with the bigger eyes and head. We definitely did a lot of homework!”
“The people who made the original shorts invented this art form. They took the baton and ran with it.”
Here’s another Looney Tunes Cartoons short called Pest Coaster, featuring 80th birthday boy, Bugs Bunny, and Yosemite Sam. Eric Bauza’s voice gets some getting used to, but only because he stands on the shoulders of Mel Blanc, a giant. The inklines are designed to be very thin, which is a callback to the way they were inked in the very early days. There are a few subtle differences like the gloves, but Bugs’s head is exactly the way it was drawn in the early 40s at the beginning of his ‘career’.
You also may have noticed influences from the design aesthetic of iconic Warner Brothers cartoon background artist Maurice Noble. That just adds to the nostalgic quality of the show.
About stepping into the role of Bugs, Eric Bauza rightfully says, “It’s one of those characters that’s like the holy grail of cartoon voices.” He has some pretty impressive tools in his arsenal of vocal tricks, and I think we’ll all get used to his style, especially since he’s also contributing his talents to Tweety and Daffy cartoons. Eric actually started out in the animation industry as a layout artist. He explains. “I came to the US to study animation. I worked at a couple of studios, not the big ones, but some of the smaller animation houses around town. One of them was 6-point harness, and they actually allowed me to leave in the middle of the day to audition for voice work and then come back and finish what I was doing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their help. All the artists and creators that I met, knew that I wanted to do voices, and offered me to do voices for their pilots, and I took those opportunities.”
He has great appreciation for the man he calls the ‘Looney Tunes godfather’, and knows his great fortune in picking up the mantle. Eric explains, “When you do a voice-match of a classic character there’s definitely an essence to the character that has to be there for the audience to latch onto. As far as the character, maybe you want to bring them into modern day, if it was from the 30s or 40s. There’s some room to make it your own. In fact, you have to make it your own, because in the originals, the Looney Tunes godfather, Mel Blanc, set the bar so high. I don’t even think anyone was expecting those characters to carry on, but companies like WB have these amazing characters that deserve new audiences. I think the WB cartoons are the best, and I grew up on watching the reruns. I grew up watching the cartoons of the 90s, too, and everybody jokes about them, but I adore them. I grew up watching classics, and remakes, and now in the present day, I get to be a part of that. I think it’s awesome.”
Here he is, talking about voicing characters:
With all that in mind, it’s pretty cool that we just scored some gorgeous original production cels of everyone’s favorite Looney Tunes characters, like Bugs, Elmer, Daffy, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, and Tweety and Sylvester.
Cooler still is the fact that for every piece sold, we’re getting a signature from vocal artist Eric Bauza! Some of the pieces in the collection are from before his time as an official Warner Brothers voice, but we figured that fans who love Looney Tunes would like having his signature anyway, so we’re putting them on cards instead of him signing the art. Frame the art with it or without, as you see fit.
I did a lot of research into the shows these Looney Tunes production cels come from, and it was all fascinating work, but my favorite part was learning new things about my favorite Looney Tunes characters. For example, Carrotblanca is one of the only times Tweety plays a villain, or is the character that appears in the end sequence. I also knew nothing about The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries, which are actually quite good! I have already had two tuxedo kitties, and both were scaredy cats like Sylvester, so I’m a fan of Sylvester for sure. Here’s a great Sylvester production cel on a pan background from the cartoon:
I’d never seen a lot of the corresponding cartoons, like Box Office Bunny, Blooper Bunny, Quackbusters, and Carrotblanca, which I especially loved. Way to cross pollinate the film and animation properties at Warner Brothers! If you love both Looney Tunes and Casablanca, you’ll find this spoof particularly funny. I loved Tweety taking on the signature qualities of Peter Lorre!
I guess it’s not best to consider the cross-species relationship between Bugs Bunny and Penelope Pussycat. It’s funny, regardless. All’s fair in love and cartoons!
I hope you find something great for your animation art collection with these new images. My favorites, probably because images of these characters are so hard to find, are the Tasmanian Devil, the Tweety cel, the Tweety, Granny, and Sylvester cel, the Foghorn Leghorn cel, and the Daffy Duck drawing and cel of him trapped by hunters. There is also some great Looney Tunes Bugs Bunny art. All classic images!
So let’s end this blog, as I’ve been doing lately, with a COVID Comfort Cartoon. This week, it’s a full episode from the new Looney Tunes Cartoons, which includes a new Bugs Bunny cartoon, so we can properly start celebrating the Bugs Bunny 80th annivesary! Hopefully it will give you and your kids something fresh and new to do together, solidifying their membership in the Looney Tunes and Merry Melodies fandom.
After all is said and done, Harry Potter is about love. It’s about tolerance and hope and acceptance and teamwork.
One of the things that has struck me in the last few days, with HARRY POTTER DAY (the anniversary of The Battle of Hogwarts), is how inspiring the stories of Harry Potter are right now, as it relates to how we deal with and get through this horrible, challenging time of the pandemic.
I thought of how we can approach it all, and how can can help each other heal…Many have heard about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s success at “doing what few countries have been able to do”, and contained the spread of COVID-19. The country has had far less than 100 deaths from the virus, due to a number of measures, ones that the entire country committed to and supported, as well as the clarity of the message coming from the government. Unlike other countries that declared “war on COVID-19”, the message was about coming together, and “unite against COVID-19”. The prime minister called the country “our team of five million.” When speaking to the country, she almost always ended her appearances with “Be strong. Be kind.”
That reminds me so much of the way Dumbledore spoke to Harry. In remembering and looking at some of the brilliant wizard’s quotes, he has so much to teach us about how to approach, survive, and maybe even thrive during this pandemic.
The headmaster knew that how a leader speaks to his or her followers can make all the difference:
“Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
Dumbledore knew the importance and power of kindness.
“Just like your mother you’re unfailingly kind … a trait people never fail to undervalue, I’m afraid.”
On patience and compassion for those who are vulnerable as we move forward in the coming months:
“Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”
On the universality of the whole world dealing with this pandemic and the profound losses it has created:
“While we may come from different places and speak in different tongues, our hearts beat as one.”
“… we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided … Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
On the challenges we are all facing, and staying positive:
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
On the issue of disagreements about testing, mortality rate, and how the president is doing:
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends”
There are so many other quotes from the books that resonate right now, but perhaps it’s Sirius Black who captures how we must all proceed, both in terms of how we treat others around us, and how we find a way beyond our own despair:
We’ve all got both light and dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
Sure, there’s an actual battle, which is part of a war against the forces of darkness, that leads to the climax of the series. I would argue the fight, or the war, is not on the virus itself. It’s on the apathy, despair, and hopelessness the pandemic has caused. People showing compassion and concern for those on the front lines, for the most vulnerable among us, the poor who are more at risk: that’s the new Dumbledore’s Army. It is based in kindness and love, just the kind the Jacinda Ardern has shown in her leadership as New Zealand’s Prime Minister.
With all that in mind, we decided to offer, as we so love to do and are inspired to do right now, a charity donation for all sales of Harry Potter art to the HOUSE OF RUTH, a charity that empowers women, children and families to rebuild their lives and heal from trauma, abuse and homelessness.
As you may have heard, domestic abuse during the pandemic and in quarantine has been on the rise, and we want to help those who are put at risk. The spirit of Harry Potter and Dumbledore’s Army, seems perfectly suited to that challenge.
For every sale, we will donate to HOUSE OF RUTH, through July 31st, Harry’s (and J.K. Rowling’s) own birthday. Harry had to deal with domestic abuse. Let’s help some people get past it in the real world.
Artinsights continues to celebrate the art of Harry Potter, with Mary GrandPré book cover art, Jim Salvati Harry Potter concept art, and Stuart Craig art of the Harry Potter production design, all official Harry Potter art. (Harry Potter art is the only art program that has steadfastly required art that is sold be only by artists who actually worked on the film or illustrated the books. Fan art is another matter, but you all know that!)
We’ve spoken about Harry Potter book cover art with Mary GrandPré on a number of occasions. When we first focused on it and released the first official images, only a few books had been released. It was great fun going through the next 4 books or so, and then the movies, talking to her from time to time. She had a few favorite images, and they changed, of course, as the story of Harry Potter expanded and the boy grew older and, sometimes, sadder. When you look at the collection of deluxe book covers, (and it’s not as easy to do when you just have the books) you can see how she worked with JK Rowling to go from bright colors of The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, to a more and more monochromatic palette in Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire to Order of the Pheonix and Half Blood Prince and finally to a very adult-looking cover for The Deathly Hallows.
Mary GrandPré told me the last cover was her favorite, although she told me she loved the special images released as Escape From Gringotts and Number 12 Grimmauld Place so much that she wished those two images had been used as Harry Potter book covers.
As for the smaller images which were the first released as official art, she also said she had particular favorites.
Counting the Days, with Harry and Hedwig, Diagon Alley, which captures Hagrid and Harry’s found-family friendship, The Enchanted Car, and Battle with the Dragon, and Mirror of Erised were all images she mentioned to me by name. We also talked about A World of Infinite Magic, which she did early on and had chatted with Rowling about. GrandPré wanted to create an image where you could stare at it for a long time, and still see new things.
Notice a lot of elements are in different locations in this art. Rowling changed some of the places things were as the books went along, something that concerned Stuart Craig as he was designing the environments in the later movies. Rowling said that as the world of Harry Potter is magical, it would make sense for things to change! Magic is your continuity friend!
Speaking of Stuart Craig, when I spoke to him about his career and his work on the Harry Potter film series, I got the sense of his pride in his work for the movies. He knew, rightly, that his impact on the consistency, his ability to weave a visual magic through all of the films, made them something fans could return to and celebrate again and again. It wasn’t easy getting Stuart Craig Harry Potter art added to the official roster of images available to collectors. Doubt of the story with the boy that lived, and its longevity, once again reared its ugly head. He’s someone who just thought Harry Potter film art wouldn’t sell, especially his. We are so grateful he was able to be persuaded to the contrary!
Here is the interview I did when with him when the film series was coming to a close:
The Stuart Craig art released based on his work on the films were created from his original drawings and the full-color images created by architectural artist Andrew Williamson, showing once again that the finished product we see as fans is built from many artists’ hands. What we see in the theaters is the result of an impressive creative community made up of hundreds of talented people working together..but beyond the director, someone, an artistic leader with a singular vision, has to lead, and that someone is two-time Oscar winning production designer Stuart Craig.
So. Let’s pivot to Darren Criss, which seems like a turn into left field, but it isn’t. Why? Well, first off, as many fans of both Harry Potter and Darren Criss know, without Harry Potter (and StarKid) he would not be famous. Darren got his start with a little thing called “A Very Potter Musical” (or AVPM) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Very_Potter_Musical Along with his pal A.J. Holmes, he wrote the music and lyrics to the parody, and it made him Harry Potter-famous. How famous is that? Famous enough to get hired on Glee, which made him a huge star. Just listen to all the squees on the “Future of Harry Potter” panel from 2010…(Yup. That’s me, right next to him..)
Darren has a new miniseries from Ryan Murphy called Hollywood! Here’s the trailer:
It connects well with Harry Potter, because, let’s be honest. Harry Potter, regardless of what has happened since the release of the series, is about inclusivity, and that’s the subject of the new show. There’s also a connection between Darren Criss and animation (apart from his famous love of Disney songs).
He’s just been announced as the new voice of Superman, in Superman: Voice of Tomorrow coming this summer, with Zachary Quinto as Lex Luthor! It follows Clark Kent working as an intern at The Daily Planet, and features villain and anti-hero fan favorites, Parasite (Brett Dalton of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.) and Lobo (Ryan Hurst, who plays Beta on The Walking Dead).
For all those reasons, and because there are lots of kids all over the country and the world who didn’t get to celebrate their graduation and haven’t seen their friends in way too long, and, of course, to celebrate Darren Criss’s continued success, this week’s COVID Cartoon Comfort is being replaced with COVID Criss Comfort, through two videos, that go together wonderfully!
The first is his opening song in A Very Potter Musical in 2009. The musical, all told, has over 100 million views on YouTube.
The second is his performance of the same song at a concert in 2018. OK FANS, SING ALONG! (everyone else is!)
We hope you have found this little blog about hope inspiring. If you’re looking to find some artistic joy, maybe you’ll be inspired to add to your Harry Potter art collection. Either way, stay safe, be good, and remember,
“It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” <3
What do Vin Diesel, Sylvia Plath, Gun Control, Pete Townsend, John Alvin, and The Sixth Sense have in common?
They are all connected in some way to cult classic and critical darling The Iron Giant, which was famously successful Pixar exec Brad Bird’s directorial debut, back in 1999. At the time, it was a flop. In fact, after sitting through the film on opening day surrounded by only 6 other people, producer John Walker stood outside an LA theater and offered to buy people tickets to see the film.
While wading through all the wonderful art in the John Alvin art collection, we found original art he created for The Iron Giant movie campaign. Ever since I saw the giant make a dramatic cameo in Ready Player One, the big sweet robot has been more in my thoughts, so it was doubly exciting to find work by John representing the movie, especially since art from the film is so hard to come by. As with some of the best film flops like The Princess Bride, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Blade Runner, and Fight Club, The Iron Giant has grown in popularity and appreciation year after year, as more generations and savvy movie lovers get to see it and fall head over heels with it.
However, as I discovered researching The Iron Giant for this blog, there is much sadness surrounding both the original story and the film. I guess somewhere in the deepest recesses of my collective unconscious mind, I must have sensed it was the perfect film to highlight while our global family is struggling with the sadness and shock of a sweeping pandemic.
The story is based on a book called The Iron Man: A Children’s Story in Five Nights, by poet Ted Hughes, who wrote it to cheer his children through the loss of their mother Sylvia Plath, who killed herself by sticking her head in an oven, having sealed the room between herself and her children with tape, towels, and cloths. That’s a rather dire start, I’ll admit, but it came from a place of a parent’s desire to comfort, which resonates right now. The book was published in 1968, though for US publication, the name was changed to The Iron Giant so as not to confuse it with the Marvel character.
Vin Diesel was the voice of the title character, and he was hired for the role very early in his acting career, having only been really landed on Hollywood’s radar through playing Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. The Iron Giant also featured the voices of Jennifer Aniston as Hogart Hughes’s mom Annie, Harry Connick Jr. as beatnik Dean McCoppin, and Cloris Leachman as Hogarth’s schoolteacher Mrs. Tensedge.
Pete Townsend took the book and turned it into a musical. This is where it gets awesome. It STARRED NINA SIMONE! (and John Lee Hooker, and Roger Daltrey..) On the strength of stage version mounted in 1993 at The Old Vic, Warner Brothers bought the rights to the story, and that’s how the making of the movie got its beginnings.
Here she is, singing “Fast Food”, one of the songs from the musical:
Here’s a music video with Pete Townshend made for the breakout hit from the musical, A Friend is a Friend:
Since John Alvin had done work for the previous animated film by Warner Brothers, Quest for Camelot, Alvin Studios was brought in early on, to work on logo designs. They are some of the only images from the film out in the world. We are thrilled to have the only John Alvin art from The Iron Giant, all of which, if purchased, comes with an official certificate of authenticity from the estate of John Alvin.
Most of the production art resides, bizarrely, 650 feet under the ground in a salt mine that’s been in existence since the 20s, where Warner Brothers archives many of their films. The art is beautiful. (and you can buy a book on The Art of The Iron Giant HERE.)
One of the many reasons why the film didn’t do well in initial release, is the fact that other surprising films came out at the same time. Both The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project came out at the same time. Still, those films certainly don’t have the obsessive fanbase The Iron Giant has built since 1999.
As to gun violence? When Brad Bird pitched the idea after reading the original book, he said he wanted to make it a bit different, and offered, “What if a gun had a soul?” This came out of mourning. Brad Bird’s sister Susan was shot to death by her estranged husband.
“Maybe because I was still trying to draw together my own pieces after the death of my sister,” he said, “I had an epiphany: What if a thing developed a soul and what if that thing found out that it was designed to kill, but didn’t want to kill? What if a gun had a soul and didn’t want to be a gun?”
About his loss, he said, “When you shoot somebody, you’re not just killing that person. You’re killing a part of all the people that love that person.”
There’s a quote in the movie by Hogarth to his gigantic friend, “It’s bad to kill. Guns kill. And you don’t have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose.”
Brad Bird dedicated The Iron Giant to her.
The message of the film is about sacrifice, and, as the quote “You are who you choose to be” says, it’s about embracing who you are, not who others wish you to be, or what a hard life, or challenges, (like the ones we are experiencing now!) have allowed you to become. These are all so powerful, given the current state of the world. For most of us, nothing we are doing right now is easy. There are many sacrifices. However, we can go beyond the idea that we are just about money, and power. The world community can show right now that it is more than that. We can show love and compassion to each other.
When the weirdest, and I’d even say craziest thing that’s happened in our lifetime happened, and a disease started sweeping the world, as an art gallery and small business owner I started thinking about how we’d weather the storm, yes, but I also considered all the artists that we work with who also survive and even thrive on selling their art to fans around the world. I also considered the wholesale companies and representatives I love, (and I don’t love them all. I love several, because they are awesome human beings). How could we help not only ourselves, but the friends and collaborators we’ve known for dozens of years?
First up, I thought of Bob Singer. An old, brilliant, and I’d say formidable 92-year-old codger who has been part of the history of animation since the 50s. I’ve known him for over 10 years, and have had him on several of the ASIFA: Hollywood panels I’ve produced for San Diego Comic-Con. Luckily for me, for ArtInsights, and potentially for fans, we were able to get an exclusive collection of original art by this very important artist.
Bob Singer is an animation artist, character designer, layout and background artist and storyboard director for a wide variety of shows and studios. He wound of choosing art in a sort of random way. He says, “When I was in high school, I loved art and I also loved music. When I found out I had to buy my own instrument and we couldn’t afford it, I said, ‘all right, I’ll become an artist’.”
He graduated in 1955 from the prestigious Art Center College of Design in LA, started working in the television animation industry after spending a few years in the advertising industry. Yes, he was briefly one of those “Mad Men”.
Starting in 1956, he worked for Marvel, U.P.A, Shamus Culhane, and Warner Brothers, and continued to take projects from nearly every studio through his career.
It was at Hanna Barbera at which he spent the better part of 27 years of his animation career. He has worked on most of Hanna Barbera’s best shows, and you’ll see his indelible mark on The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Hong Kong Phooey, Jabberjaw and so many more cartoons that continue to be loved around the world.
He has said that his favorite tv show he has worked on is Scooby Doo. From Bob Singer himself:
“My favorite was far and away Scooby Doo. Those were some great shows that were designed in 68 and released in 69. And after so many years, it’s still running all over the world. I was part of the presentation crew that put it all together, although the characters were designed by the great Iwao Takamoto. My part was running the layouts on the show. I laid out the first Scooby.”
He was responsible for a lot of characters at Hanna Barbera, in part because he was tasked early on to start and run the character animation department. He explains:
“In the early days of animation in the 20s and 30s, most of the animators designed their own characters. At Hanna Barbera, the layout artists would be asked to create the incidental characters, like the cop, or housewife, and props like cars but they got so busy that it became a burden to the layout men, so that’s when we started the character design department. It was started with just two, and soon had 15 artists, doing all the characters for 7 different shows, making model sheets and it helped the studio run more efficiently.
everything was compressed as far as production, so sometimes we would work from a script, and other times from storyboards, but then the storyboard artists wouldn’t know what to use for incidental characters, so we’d do a quick sketch and give it to the artists to create the storyboard. Then we also had to get approval from the producer, so I’d design 3 to 5 different versions of the same character, and they’d pick one for us to draw and do turn-arounds on.”
Bob Singer also has a major soft spot for Pebbles, Bamm-Bamm, and the whole Flintstones gang, in part because Wilma reminds him of his wife Harriet, and the babies remind him of his grandchildren.
Singer says he loves drawing them, and it gives him a feeling of connection to his fans who also have families they love, and kids who are either babies now or are all grown up but parents and grandparents remember as little kids.
Many of the original cels we have gotten for this cyber show, which are from the later Flintstones cartoons, (as well as those from Scooby-Doo and The Jetsons), are signed by both Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. We have a lot of pieces that come with original backgrounds. When you purchase any of them, we’ll send the art to Bob Singer, and he’ll be hand-drawing a little image of Fred Flinstone, George Jetson, or Scooby-Doo. For fans and collectors, that’s a lot of cool in one place!
There are so many more images available than what i’ve included in this blog. I’m sure you’d enjoy checking them out!
Basically, Bob Singer has done just about every job that relates to design, character, and background in cartoons.
Here’s a short list of the many times shows on which he’s been a layout artist:
Johnny Bravo (1997-2001)
The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972)
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? (1969-1970)
Space Ghost (1966)
The Man Called Flintstone (1966)
The Secret Squirrel Show (1965)
Mister Magoo (1960)
A Storyboard artist/director or story director:
Droopy: Master Detective (1993-1994)
My Little Pony ’n Friends (1986-1987)
Pink Panther and Sons (1984-1985)
Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (1970)
A design supervisor:
The New Scooby-Doo Mysteries (1984)
The Smurfs (1981-1984)
SuperFriends (1984) and Super Friends (1981-1983) World’s Greatest SuperFriends (1979)
The New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show (1983)
The Fonz and the Happy Days Gang (1980-1981)
Laverne and Shirley in the Army (1981) **(also character designer)
Scooby-Doo and Scrappy Doo (1979-1980)
a character designer:
Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels (1977-1980)
Laverne and Shirley in the Army (1981)
Scooby’s Laff-A-Lymics (1977)
The All New Super Friends Hour (1977)
A production designer:
The Scooby-Doo / Dynomutt Hour (1976)-1978
The New Tom and Jerry Show (1975)
The Great Grape Ape Show (1975)
Hong Kong Phooey (1974)
Partridge Family 2200 AD (1974)
Inch High Private Eye (1973)
The Famous Adventures of Mr. Magoo (1964)
Gay Purr-ee (1962)
a background artist:
The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show (1978)
Mad as a Mars Hare (1963)
Mice Follies (WB Honeymooners Bob McKimson spoof in 1960)
Crocket Doodle Doo (WB Foghorn Leghorn/Eggbert Bob McKimson cartoon in 1960)
A Witch’s Tangled Hair (1959)
The Mouse That Jack Built (1959)
So basically he’s done work on many of your favorite Hanna Barbera shows, (and a number that seem the result of protracted drug trips), and some very classic Warner Brothers cartoons!
It’s a great time to get an original by the historic artist, and the original graphites come directly from him and the cels are signed are remarqued by him with characters that are some of his favorites from his career, means you can be assured he is benefitting from the sale, and you are having an interaction with someone responsible for some of the greatest cartoons ever made. (Scooby-Doo, I’m looking at you!)
We hope you’ll take advantage of this great collection of art, and the exclusive signatures and remarques by this animation legend. If not, we hope you enjoyed learning a bit about animator Bob Singer and the crazy cartoons he had a hand in!
Andrea Alvin, is known for capturing a moment, a piece of nostalgia, or a remembrance. Her work evokes the feelings that “I remember having that,” or “that was my favorite”…Now she is blending her love of nostalgia and her passion for tolerance with a new series called “Hearts With No H8”.
Her recent designs based on candy hearts, which are now (sadly) nearly impossible to get, have been a great success. Not only do they capture the romance of February’s romantic season, but they capture the sweetness of the first time a childhood crush reciprocated by handing you a candy heart or a paper valentine. Who can forget Sally reciting Elizabeth Barrett Browning from her candy heart in 1975’s “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”?
Exclusively at ArtInsights, we have Alvin’s Hearts With No H8 images, both the originals and limited editions, just in time to give to your favorite pal or loved one, whether they are an ally or a member of the LGBTQ community, and for every purchase, 20% goes to The Trevor Project, which is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people under 25. It’s also
Now more than ever, it’s important to support and celebrate our LGBTQ youth, and help them feel safe, seen, and celebrated. Because:
We have limited editions at $65 each, signed and numbered by Andrea Alvin herself, in an edition of 195. We also have the originals, which are $500, tastefully framed and ready to gift to the most openhearted of your tribe, chosen family, or cherished loved one, (even if that loved one is you!)
We have some other heart candy original paintings, and for any that are sold during the month of February, we will donate a portion of the proceeds to The Trevor Project.
Check out The Trevor Project and see all the amazing work this nonprofit, which is rated 4-stars on Charity Navigator, does!
AND HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY TO ALL, whether you have a sweetie, are your own sweetie, or both! It’s high time for a little TASTY TOLERANCE!
And just for fun, here’s the cartoon that everyone should see in February:
I have enormous respect for contemporary artist and former partner in Alvin and Associates with famed cinema artist John Alvin, Andrea Alvin, and so I spoke to her about her great new piece, Samuel’s Candy Canes.
She has been actively working as both a commercial and contemporary artist since the 70s. With her partner John, she was part of creating iconic movie posters like the ones for Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein and more recently, the advance for Tim Burton’s Batman.All the while, she was honing her style and aesthetic as a contemporary artist focusing on nostalgic imagery.After losing John suddenly to a heart attack in 2008, she wrote a successful book about his career, The Art of John Alvin, and is now slowly getting back to her own work. Andrea Alvin is creating intensely evocative paintings of objects that bring us back to our childhood memories, through visually considering and sharing memories of her own.
Her new image called “Samuel’s Candy Canes”, inspired by candy in Samuel’s Sweet Shop, in Rhinebeck, New York, is both a celebration of the season, and a choice to lean into joy, regardless of the time of year or the darkness of our current circumstances.I spoke to Andrea about this new piece, her career, working with her famous husband John Alvin, and her perspective still creating, 40 years later, while continuing to change as a person and an artist:
LC: You went to school with John, right?
Andrea Alvin: Yes, I went to Art Center College of Design, and actually I was a few years ahead of him.
LC: How did your aesthetic develop for nostalgic realism? Or is that how you’d describe your art?
AA: When I first started coming back to painting, I was stuck.I didn’t know what to paint.A friend of mine said, “Oh my god, your house is so full of stuff! Collectibles, and all kinds of things everywhere…why don’t you just paint your stuff?” That’s how I started just going around with my camera and editing through the camera and taking pictures and painting those scenes.In a lot of them it just was a view of homey-ness and somebody’s things. We had a lot of collectibles and toys around the house, so it started that way. As I started to refine it, I started thinking about what made me happy to look at, and what I wanted to say, I realized having my major in school in advertising design, I’ve always been focused on popular culture as it relates to advertising, and growing up as a kid in the 50s it made a real mark on me.One of the things I realized is there are a lot of iconic things inour everyday lives that were iconic then and are iconic even now. That’s where I started trying to focus on Americana and what was very American.What makes us who we are. What was interesting to me and special to me as a kid and what is also special to my daughter, or a younger generation.Or my grandson.
LC: When you say you were returning to painting, what do you mean?
AA: I graduated from school, and worked in animation up until John’s career started taking off, and then I had my daughter Farah.When she was able to go to school for a couple of hours a day, is when I started painting again.So that was in the late 70s.
LC: What did you see as nostalgic then?
AA: I don’t know about nostalgia then, because the things that were nostalgic to me where going back to the 50s. What happened inadvertently was some of the paintings I painted then are still or maybe even more evocative now. Like “Wow! I remember Peanut Butter Boppers!” Those are gone now.Or “That wallpaper sure is ugly but boy, do I remember it being popular in the 70s”…those things are very nostalgic now.
LC: How did or does being a women in art influence your style or perspective, would you say, or does it?
AA: I never thought about it that there was a limitation for me. The only limitation that I thought of was I didn’t want to be a teacher. That’s what I was told repeatedly as a woman in art. I had to be a teacher. When I was a teenager, and came to New York on a visit, pretty much one of the only artists I remember seeing was Marisol, who you barely hear about any more.There just were very few woman artists around. I still never thought I couldn’t do it because I was a woman.
LC: What about working with or at the same time as John. He was such a well-known artist in his industry.That had to be interesting, or a challenge. There are a lot of elements in the finished posters of his or of Alvin and Associates that are your work.
AA: Right.I’m the “Associates”…It was very difficult.John was the kind of artist as an illustrator, that if you asked him to paint a train in perspective coming over a hill with a haunted house, he’d just sit down and sketch it, and it looked pretty good! I can’t do that, or maybe I could if I concentrated really, really hard, but that’s not how I worked.
I’m have to be more deliberate and know how I’ll proceed. It made me nervous about painting because if I was going to paint, what was it going to be, and if I paint realism with John around, how is that going to work? Am I going to be compared to him? I just had to put blinders on and paint.We had different approaches. He would say to me, “Why don’t you do several sketches and then do them in color and go from there?” and I’d just think I would never get anywhere that way! I’d never get the painting done.So I’d say “Good idea” to him and “No.” to myself and keep my blinders on and go on to how I wanted to do it.Where being around him was super helpful and what I miss horribly every day is having that other set of eyes when I could say “I’m stuck. I know I need something. Something’s wrong and I can’t figure out what it is.” or the other thing was asking “Is this painting finished?” It’s always a tough call for artists and it’s so important to have someone you respect you can ask about that.
LC: I do remember John speaking of your talent often with respect and appreciation.He was, as many artists are, a bundle of neuroses, but always very clear about his belief in you.
AA:I think the big difference in our approaches is that John always wanted to be an illustrator.He wanted to tell stories.That’s why he was so well-suited for the movies. I don’t have a problem coming up with and painting things I wanted to paint, whereas when he was left completely open like that, I think he struggled.
LC: You’ve had some success creating official images for Disney and Warner Brothers, but you have found so much more freedom in creating your own work with imagery that sings to you and speaks to your own memories.Can you talk a bit about the new painting “Samuel’s Candy Canes” and how that came together?
AA: What’s so interesting is that is was just last night that there was a festival in Rhinebeck called Sinterklaas where there are thousands of people coming into our little town and there are activities for children and carolers and it turns the town into a Norman Rockwell Christmas and it’s really beautiful and then there’s a parade.It’s like a Mardi Gras parade, with giant puppets done by Sinterklaas creator Jeanne Fleming, the same woman that does them for the Greenwich Village Halloween parade. One of the first years I went to Sinterklaas was shortly after John had died.I brought my 35mm camera and I was taking a lot of pictures. It was just kind of a magical night.One friend I went with earlier in the evening and then she had to go, and I found other friends who walked with me for a while, and just when I was about to go home, another friend asked me to go to dinner. It was one of those incredible nights where I was worried about being alone and people just showed up for me.I took some great pictures that night. I dug them back up.I was trying to figure out where to go next in terms of subject, because I was tired of coming in really close like the cupcake or the cookie, so I went back to those old photos. There was this great quality of light in them.The candy canes were inside a store called Samuel’s, which was owned by a guy names Ira.We were just visiting with Ira and went in and took pictures in the candy store and Ira then passed away a few years ago in a very similar way that John had. He was close to the same age, had a heart attack, he was getting his life together…so it was a perfect thing to create art from being with him that night and those beautiful candies.
The store was bought by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Paul Rudd.They own the candy store now.They wanted to keep the store as Samuels, keep it the same and they figured if they didn’t buy it, someone else would buy it and turn it into something else and it would be gone forever.So I think that, by them, was motivated by nostalgia and just loving what the store stood for and what it meant to the town. That’s kind of the story.I went in there last night, and the bucket that they were in was still there. It’s different, but it’s still there.
LC: One of the great aspects of the art is it doesn’t just speak of the holidays.There’s an element of speaking to holding on to joy and of optimism.I also see an interesting connection to the time you were still in the midst of grief and found kindness.
AA: I realize inadvertently looking back at my work that lighting, especially since I moved to New York, lighting is very important in the paintings.Most of the photo-realism, and it’s difficult to call my work photo-realism, but most of the realists I know aren’t concerned with that, they’re concerned with the surface quality. I always have some background light that’s enveloping the subject.Yes, it’s happy, because you see that it’s candy canes and holiday, but the lighting is warm.It’s like fireside lighting.There’s a warmth to the lighting that’s different than if I were saying, “Look!This is a happy, happy candy cane painting.”It’s warm.Most things I see around the holidays with that subject matter would be in bright light, very Christmas-y kind of colors.This is darker than that.It’s almost like we’re sitting by the fireside, not at Christmas, but rather, reminiscing about holidays gone by, and holding on to those memories.
LC: Was that a conscious thing, to create an image that is about moving forward in the face of loss?
AA: Honestly, I don’t know.
LC: I think as artists, you guys sometimes get to a place with a piece, not knowing when you start, where you meant to go, but having gotten there, you realize that was the intention all along.Like the idea of knowing when it’s done, somewhat comes from having gotten the message into the art, and seeing it fully formed. I know you have a deluxe giclee that is hand-embellished, and you’re doing it, when often artists farm out embellishments.Why is it important to you to do it yourself? I know John was the same way about doing his own.
AA: It’s my work and I really wouldn’t want someone else going in and doing some kind of odd interpretation on it.John and I were both very hands-on. It’s why we wanted to be the people who created the art instead of the art director who guided someone else doing the art. We’ve both been art directors. I think that I look at it from the beginning from that point of view.On compositions, I have a tendency to push the boundaries of the canvas. There’s almost a tangency to the sides. I think my compositions can be unusual.It comes from my design background.
LC: In “Samuel’s Candy Canes”, you get two different feelings visually, one up close and one a bit further away.That’s cool, and that’s part of your style.
AA: Right. Great! I want people to see the brushstrokes.I don’t want to have it look like a photograph when you see the art in person.It looks like a photograph online. It looks very photographic, and they resolve photographically when you stand back from my work.When you go up close, you see all the brushwork, I’m not trying to hide it, I want it to be part of the image.
These images are giclees on canvas, and each, as with all the Art Outsiders, tells the story of the artist from all walks of life and how they changed the world, despite the struggles they endured as part of their work.
Come see these great new images this weekend and meet Tennessee Loveless, who will also be signing his new book “The Art of Tennessee Loveless: Ten x Ten x Ten Mickey Mouse Contemporary Pop Art Series”.
ABOUT THE ART OUTSIDERS
In this project, I will be creating portraits of people who were outsiders of their own field of work. From science, music, art, writing, fashion, and beyond, I will be writing the stories of each outsider’s life, and imbedding it into the structure of their portrait. Here the piece acts dually as a portrait AND a story, and all of them combined will talk about persevering through the darkest of times to create a different kind of beauty that changed the world.
Tennessee and I seem to mesh really well with the essential elements for inclusion in Art Outsiders. Some names came very easily, some led to a bit of arguing, and some we both knew instantly just wouldn’t be acceptable for either of us. In Tennessee’s research, he has sometimes encounted information that made continuing difficult. But history is fickle. Artists have sometimes had to be opportunistic, bendable, or have had questionable decisions. It becomes about a balancing act. When the destructive nature of their choices overrides how much they have inspired the world to expansion, we have to let them go. There are certainly some names that are very personal to us, and since it’s our project, we’re ok with that. We are also learning about people about whose influence we were entirely ignorant. That’s what makes Art Outsiders so beautiful.
The creation of the Art Outsiders project in Tennessee Loveless’s own words:
During the winter out in a warehouse space in Athens, GA I decided to paint something different. I was coming to an end with my project with Disney in where I was painting 100 different things revolving around the same silhouette of the classic Mickey Mouse face. From the beginning of this project, I started with the classic geometric shapes and lines that I was used to, but over the course of five years my aesthetic slowly started to change, . .and this was primarily forced into the project as .. how can one NOT change when trying to paint 100 of the same silhouettes and not be boring? I became less interested in communicating in color, and more interested in creating different and more complex content for the viewer. As I progressed past each one, my pieces became more saturated and more chocked full of emotional structures. The story became more in-depth, and by the last piece everything became so complex that it was impossible to just start over with anything being ‘simple’.
It was a perfect segway into this new project, entitled “Art Outsiders”, which was created by Leslie Combemale (Cinema Siren and head honcho over at ArtInsights Gallery) out in the Washington D.C. Metro area. Since I was riding on the waves of telling someone’s story and creating dialogues in my last project, we decided to extend this idea into telling the story inside the portraits of people. More specifically, all of these people have something in common, as they were ‘outsiders’ in their own element.
It was something that I could not only physically DO, but it was something that I could relate to. In every bit of the sense I relate to the outsider story. I was born colorblind, and yet continued to pursue my life as a painter. I failed out of art school, and my aesthetic was labeled as ‘nauseating’ by my teachers. I got a 2 bit degree from a no name college in apparel design and couldn’t land a fashion job to save my life.
I still worked.
I STILL worked, and gained recognition for my portraits of drag queens. I mostly showed in bars and coffee houses because no gallery would have me. I had no degree in painting, and no formal training, and wasn’t accepted as an artist in the fine art world.
I still painted.
I STILL painted, often working in the corporate world to pay the bills.. and it would be MANY MANY years until I’d have the chance to show in gallery spaces. I was insidious and relentless with my work. If a city wouldn’t accept my work as serious, I would often move to another place and start over there. I’d walk with my portfolio in the random cities I lived in, often to be turned away because my work was uninteresting and rudimentary.
I kept going.
I kept trying.
I kept doing.
I kept walking into galleries even though I knew I’d be rejected, and eventually people started taking me in. I ended up at the World of Wonder Gallery for Season 1 of RuPaul’s Drag Race in where I showed my work of San Francisco drag queens.
Things began to happen.
Eventually, and by complete accident, I ended up working for Disney in licensing and product development through a temp job that became permanent and expanded into something else, something more. It was here where my work was discovered, and I was given multiple attempts to prove myself as an artist. I was untrained as a painter and sketch artist, and I would fail MANY MANY times before I was pitched to Disney Fine Art.
And even now in my career with Disney that’s done quite well, magazine and television interviews, and multiple product lines developed with my drawings on housewares and clothing, I still am considered an outsider of the fine art world because I was not classically trained, and I have made a living as a commercial artist.
I am an outsider. My work does not neatly fit into any division of a current art movement. My work does not compliment others in group shows…. and I am often the neon sore thumb in a sea of classically trained works.
I am an outsider. I am story teller. I am a painter, and I will never stop working.
In this project, I will be creating portraits of people who were outsiders of their own field of work. From science, music, art, writing, fashion, and beyond, I will be writing the stories of each outsider’s life, and imbedding it into the structure of their portrait. Here the piece acts dually as a portrait AND a story, and all of them combined will talk about persevering through the darkest of times to create a different kind of beauty that changed the world.
We are thrilled there is a new retrospective about Tennessee Loveless and his 10x10x10 series, The Art of Tennessee Loveless, releasing on October 31st. It’s the first ever Disney publishing release featuring an out LGBTQ artist! Edited, with some notes by, and with the book authorship credited Disney insider Dave Bossard, it shows all 100 images from the collection. the 10x10x10 project lifted the iconic imagery of Mickey Mouse into the realm of contemporary art in new and vibrant ways, using the same silhouette but incorporating various world cultural and artistic references.
We’ll have Tennessee here to sign and talk about the project, with limited editions and originals from both the 10x10x10 series and the Art Outsiders. Stay tuned for the date! Meanwhile, you can pre-order it on Amazon HERE.
From the Amazon write-up:
“Tennessee Loveless-a Los Angeles-based contemporary pop artist-used bold colors and patterns to create a series of a hundred detailed Mickey Mouse paintings on 10 x 10 canvas. This deluxe art book showcases the beautiful art as well as explores the fascinating world of the artist behind it. Tennessee creates a poetic irony when one considers the fact that he is almost completely colorblind. Despite many obstacles throughout his life and career, he has persevered in pursuing his art. He is driven by his passion for painting people and iconic fictional characters in a way that strikes an emotional and nostalgic connection through the power of color.”
Jim Salvati, who i’ve known for over 20 years, is without question one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met. While he’s aware he has a unique eye, and is often very proud about and happy with his work, he’s also very humble about just how rare a talent he is. In fact, he told me when his wife asks him what he’s working on next, he always says “Just making another pizza”.
He has now turned his focus and considerable artistic insight towards our new partnership called “The Image Projects”, starting with “The Musician’s Image”.
So far, all the art he has created has been commissioned, because we want a limited number of images of the same person or group, and lots of collectors are excited about it and want to “adopt” their favorites. Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Queen, Green Day, and Morrissey are just a few either finished or in his queue.
Jimi Hendrix “Bold as Love”
We just got two images he created of Morrissey in the gallery. Sometimes when Jim gets started, he gets so excited about his work after the research and study of a subject, he can’t choose between his many ideas, and that’s when he creates two paintings. Such is the case for his works of the famed Smiths front man and historic Britpop figure.
Morrissey “Meat is Murder” detail
Morrissey “Meat is Murder”
Morrissey “Let Me Kiss You” detail
Morrissey “Let Me Kiss You”
I love how these two images capture different times in Morrissey’s career and shifting world view, one is pure musician, in the other, a deeper aspect of him, ever conflicted, is captured.
I’m constantly floored by Jim Salvati’s work. I sold some of his originals from Harry Potter years ago, and occasionally he has some personal paintings I am able to offer to my clients. It’s all great, but always shocks me is, even given my high level of expectation, how impressed I am with the finished commissions when they arrive. He has this way of not showing me any images beyond the concept stage so I become as excited and curious as my clients are. He never disappoints! I’m going to steal a word Jim uses when he’s talking about great images. His art is always “juicy”.
I love that after knowing Jim for over 15 years, he finally mentioned he had worked with the west coast studio Andy Warhol opened in Los Angeles. He worked there early in his career, the year before Andy’s passing. That’s the way Jim’s life has been.He’s always got some really cool project, so he rarely looks to the past behind him. He once did a collaboration piece with Herb Ritts for a book and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibition.He has created album and CD cover art for Radiohead, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackson Brown, Peter Tosh, Curtis Mayfield, The Hollies, and most recently, Frankie Valli. Jim became a licensed official Disney and Warner Bros. interpretive artist, worked on concept art for Harry Potter, Happy Feet, and a bunch of other movies. He still surfs most days (even though he’s not an unbreakable twenty-something) and teaches at the prestigious Art Center College of Design, which he has done since 1985 when he was hired by the legendary artist Phil Hays, who also introduced him to Andy Warhol.
No doubt i’ll find out some other fascinating tidbits as I continue working and spending time with him, but really how much more would anyone to read about him to be very impressed, and not a little exhausted by proxy?
I remember when I was just starting to consider doing proprietary partnerships with artists I love and trust. I had begun getting really excited about what Tennessee Loveless was doing with The Art Outsiders, and how well it was being received by collectors and contemporary art experts. One day I was sitting in my gallery, and Jim, who lives in LA, just walked through the door. For a few seconds I thought I was hallucinating, but then I realized it was indeed Jim standing there with a big smile on his face. He was exhibiting across the street at an international portraiture competition, (where he would win a place in the top 5, above thousands of other fine artists) had looked up my gallery’s proximity, (literally about 100 yards away) and stopped by. It was that day we came up with The Image Projects.
I’m really excited where it’s headed. If you’re a fan of Jim’s and/or love music, consider adding your name to the commissions list. You can contact me at the gallery about pricing and payments (email@example.com), but I assure you, whatever he does with your beloved favorite bands or musicians will be even better than you can imagine. I have the art to prove it.
When Tennessee Loveless and I started working together on his project Art Outsiders, we were moved and overjoyed at the reception and reaction it got from collectors and fans around the world. Since the start, he has built a solid foundation for the collection, having created images of “Art Outsiders” in a wide variety of important fields, including Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Alan Turing, Billie Holiday, Amelia Earhart, and Divine.It’s been quite a ride so far, and this very exciting rollercoaster doesn’t seem to be slowing down.Tennessee is also going full throttle with his own project, Drag Landscapes, and still making great DJ sets through his Beautiful Noise Broadcast, and I’m working to build several other collections with artists, as well as writing interviews and film reviews on Cinema Siren. Enter Vox Populi and PoMo Patriots…
We apparently didn’t have enough to do, so of course we decide to do another project together.
It started during the election.No matter your political affiliation, there’s no denying this country has been pulled apart and an ugly underbelly has been exposed.People’s rights are being taken away, the integrity of mainstream journalism is being brought into question, there are alarming ethics issues rearing their heads, and that’s just for starters.Yes, those on the side of the new administration will say all sorts of other things.The point is, our country is going to hell in a handbasket faster than anyone thought possible, and that’s saying something.
The forefathers and mothers of our country did not fight for our freedom and create a new country so we could light a match and put it to flames. Those same fathers and mothers stood up when they saw injustice, and over hundreds of years, they and countless critics of those in power have spoken out, risen up, and used democracy to keep America the inclusive, welcoming, melting pot it was born to be. As has been said many times, freedom isn’t free. We have to fight for it. We also have to fight to bring this country back together again.
Patriotism isn’t just a word for conservatives.All kinds of people, whether they’ve been in America for one day, or their family stepped off the Mayflower, love this country.It’s with this in mind we have started a new American flag project called “Vox Populi”. We are both incredibly passionate about it, and have been talking about it a lot: why we both feel we have to speak through art right now, why we want to call upon the many different voices of dissent in our country’s history, and why we are uniquely placed to do so, since ArtInsights is within easy driving distance of DC and the belly of the political beast. We both might be very busy, but together we decided we couldn’t NOT do it.
This President’s Day, many of us are reflecting on our current state of affairs and how we can make a difference to inspire change.We thought it would be the perfect time to release the first piece, “PoMo Patriots”, (or an abbreviated version of Postmodern Patriots).
The Sunday before Presidents Day, we went all over Washington D.C. taking pictures of Tennessee holding the original art in front of the monuments to the various people quoted. Below are some of the pictures of our adventure introducing the art to Washington and its important historical landmarks:
We saw license plates from more states than ever before as we drove around trying to find parking on an extremely crowded 70 degree day in the Nation’s Capital.Surprisingly, we encountered mostly positive responses, ranging from polite curiosity to awestruck enthusiasm. A few people were truly moved, which I hope meant they got the intense, emotional aspect of how Vox Populi came to be, the passion with which we are approaching every aspect of its release, and what it the project means to Tennessee and I as an artist and an art gallery owner.
To be fair, we did also get a fair amount of shade and side-eye, which would have been more helpful if they could have actually created cover for our exposed ginger skin. What, though, could they possibly have against two redheads carrying an interpreted symbol of our country? I’d say we all have a lot of work to do.
Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better…..This is a most valuable – a most sacred right – a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Abraham Lincoln
Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression…..because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.Malcolm X
Salvation for a race, nation or class must come from within. Freedom is never given.It is won. A. Philip Randolph
There is in this world no such force as the force of a person determined to rise. The human soul cannot be permanently chained.W.E.B. Du Bois
We need in every bay and community a group of angelic troublemakers.Bayard Rustin
Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down. Eleanor Roosevelt
Finally, let us understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When black, white and Hispanic people stand together for justice, we win.Bernie Sanders
So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy.Roger Nash Baldwin
A truly American sentiment recognizes the dignity of labor and the fact that honor lies in honest toil.Grover Cleveland
If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.Barack Obama
Hope will never be silent. Harvey Milk
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.Martin Luther King, Jr.
America was not built on fear. America was built on courage…. on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.Harry S Truman
If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.George Washington
I wanted to include Tennessee’s perspective on this new project , and his impetus for bringing Vox Populi to life:
“I love America.
I love my fellow Americans.
I love my fellow Americans even if they hate me because I’m queer.
I still love them.
I love America so much I am willing to use whatever ability I have, to fight for people to be here.
I love America so much that I am willing to create art as a mirror to show people, even though we were founded on a poisonous colonialist and ongoing imperialistic structure (which I dislike greatly and will continually fight against) that this ‘MELTING POT’ exists because of activism for ALL EQUAL RIGHTS.
I love America so much, that I have used my blood, sweat, and tears to create a piece about a pattern I am ironically terrified of because of people confusing “patriotism” with “nationalism”.
I love America so much that I used quotes of people who fought for inclusivity and equality like Malcolm X, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin and more…
I love America so much that I turned their quotes upside down on the flag so that my fellow Americans had to contort themselves beyond the pattern to read what America was about.
I love America so much that I flew to DC with this portrait and stood in front of every monument, INCLUDING THE WHITE HOUSE to talk about the state of our administration.
I love America so much that I fought through my fellow American’s jeers, shade, and disdain for what I was doing.. and yet I was overwhelming met with hugs and tears.
I love this country enough to know when its absolutely backwards and fighting itself… because EVERYONE BELONGS HERE.
I love America.
and yet I am afraid of the thing I love.
Regardless I will fight as an advocate with my cis white privilege ..
because my weapon and shield is a brush and my voice.”
We also displayed the art in ArtInsights, and PoMo Patriots got exactly the kind of reaction Tennessee was looking for, over and over and over. And…in fact, we could have sold the original four times the day it was seen for the first time, and all to collectors far more conservative than we would have expected!
Everyone contorts themselves and changes their perspective to read the many important messages of those who have loved and worked for the freedom of our country:
We have limited editions of this piece, (which was sold immediately upon displaying it) and you can find information on it HERE. If you love what you see, stay tuned for more from this project.We are so excited for you to see it come together! (ps. a percentage of proceeds from the sale of limited editions goes to the ACLU)
Famed Drag & Contemporary Artist TENNESSEE LOVELESS Releases First Images of His New Project “THE ART OUTSIDERS” at ArtInsights Gallery. Meet ‘10SC’ on May 21 & 22 from 2 – 4 pm
Reston, VA – In conjunction with the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival on May 21 and 22 at Reston Town Center, ArtInsights has the worldwide exclusive premiere of images from The Art Outsiders by Tennessee Loveless. The Art Outsiders is a portrait collection of important and influential creators who, through their struggle and determination have changed the world with their unique genius. The Chicago-based, internationally known artist will be making a personal appearance, 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22 at ArtInsights Gallery, 20907 Medinah Court, Reston, VA. The display of his original and limited edition art will continue as the collection expands, and as sales allow. As always, gallery admission is free. For more information, contact ArtInsights at 703-478-0778 and visit HYPERLINK “http://www.artoutsiders.net” www.artoutsiders.net.
The first seven images of the series, which are part of a growing list of over 40 names, include Divine, Van Gogh, Coco Chanel, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, David Bowie, and Judy Garland. The Art Outsiders Project is a collection of portraits of people who were outsiders of their own field of work. From science, music, art, writing, fashion, and beyond, Loveless is writing the stories of each outsider’s life, and imbedding it into the structure of their portrait. The pieces act dually as portraits and stories, and all of them combined will talk about persevering through the darkest times to create a different kind of beauty that changed and continues changing the world.
Although he only began working on the project in November, the originals have been commissioned so quickly he already has a backlog from longtime collectors who had pre-announcement access to the list. Art collectors interested in the project can go to the Web page of all current Art Outsiders available for purchase, or can nominate someone not currently on the list for consideration, as names are being added all the time. Loveless decides, from his own perspective, if they fit with his vision of the project. Says Loveless, “I know what it’s like being an outsider. Creating these images, being inside these creators’ lives as I paint them, moves me far beyond what I was expecting. Seeing the collectors connecting so viscerally, being moved too, is the most rewarding experience of my career.”
His fine art representative and partner in The Art Outsiders project is ArtInsights owner Leslie Combemale. From her perspective, the fact that Loveless is colorblind and limited in his ability to see color, is a fascinating after-thought in considering Loveless’ unique talent and artistic voice. “Tennessee’s art comes from his entire being, and his life experience. It’s true he has had to choose colors based on psychology rather than a personal visual understanding, but that is only one aspect creating the unique depth of his images. For The Art Outsiders project, for example, he is entirely immersing himself in the lives of the artists he is painting. He is speaking to their struggle, importance, and relevance. I’m thrilled it’s being so well received. People either love or hate his art, and I think that’s a great sign! It’s true for all iconoclastic contemporary artists”.
ABOUT TENNESSEE LOVELESS
Tennessee is inspired by his fascination with pop art, flamboyant fashion and film icons, and the underground drag culture. Although he attended the Savannah College of Art and Design, he began his career in earnest by painting drag queens in San Francisco. Simultaneously, while gaining recognition for that work, he became an product developer and artist at Disney, where he ultimately came to prominence with the 10x10x10 series, one hundred iconic silhouettes of Mickey Mouse’s face expressing a pop journey, exploring the history of the icon, while bringing global, societal, and personal context to the imagery. He has created art for an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, was honored with a Smithsonian Artist Residency Fellowship, has been the featured artist in Anthology Magazine, and made one of the “People of the Year” in Instinct Magazine. The darling of contemporary art collectors around the world, he has been an artist in residence in Berlin, Paris, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Chicago. He’s the 2016 official Summer Olympics artist with designs created for Speedo representing Brazil and USA. More information is available at HYPERLINK “http://tennesseeloveless.com/” www.tennesseeloveless.com
Loveless comes by his love of drag through his own experience as an accomplished drag performer both in San Francisco and Seattle with Trannyshack, the drag performance group founded by Hecklina at the Stud bar in San Francisco in 1996. He is also the founder and programmer of the Internet music show Beautiful Noise Broadcast, which has since morphed into Gorgeous Sound Underground.
ABOUT ARTINSIGHTS GALLERY
ArtInsights is a privately owned gallery located just outside Washington DC at 20907 Medinah Court, Reston, Virginia, in Reston Town Center. In addition to their focus on the art of film, the gallery is displaying the work of The Art Outsiders project, which is a partnership between Tennessee Loveless and Leslie Combemale. Open since 1994, and co-owned by Combemale, ArtInsights is expanding to allow the display of the contemporary work of artists and art projects represented by Combemale Creative, her company for international art consulting and artistic representation. The gallery has Loveless’ Art Outsiders art as well as representative art from his entire career, including drag queens and 10x10x10. Visit ArtInsights at HYPERLINK “https://artinsights.com/” www.artinsights.com. For more information about The Art Outsiders project and Tennessee Loveless, visit HYPERLINK “http://artoutsiders.net/” artoutsiders.net.
USED FOR THE BOOK “HEROES OF THE NEGRO LEAGUES”, AND FOR
THE FIRST COLOR BASEBALL CARDS OF THE NEGRO LEAGUE
April 3, 2008
Reston, VA- ArtInsights Gallery in Reston Town Center has secured exclusive rights to exhibit and sell the original watercolor art used for the bestselling book “Heroes of the Negro Leagues” by illustrator and DC Comics Art Editor Mark Chiarello. Many of these illustrations were used for the first color baseball cards for the Negro Leagues. The exhibit will include images of famed Negro Leaguers Satchel Paige, Rube Foster, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, and many others. Mr. Chiarello will be appearing in person in the gallery opening weekend of Major League Baseball, opening day of the new exhibit, Saturday, March 29th, from 2 to 5 pm. The show will run through May 30th, or as sales allow.
The publication of the original baseball cards that inspired the “Heroes of the Negro Leagues” book marked the first time most of the players ever appeared on a baseball card. Mark Chiarello says he and writer Jack Morelli were inspired to create the cards when they visited the National Baseball Museum in Cooperstown, New York where they saw a plaque for a player they’d never heard of, Judy Johnson. After some research, they resolved to correct the fact that they and other hardcore baseball fans knew so little of these great athletes. The cards were expanded into a book that was rated 2nd of all sports books on Amazon.com in 2007, with watercolors the New York Times called “evocative”. Los Angeles magazine said of the book, “Mark Chiarello’s dreamy watercolor portraits transport us back to a league that time (and most everyone else) has conveniently forgotten”.
Mark Chiarello is an award winning artist and the art editor of DC Comics, and has done illustration for LucasFIlm, Disney, Universal Pictures, Topps, and Universal Pictures, to name a few. He has won the comic book industry’s Eisner, Harvey, and Reuben awards. He is also creating art for instillation in the new Gaylord National Resort in Maryland’s “National Pastime.”
Says ArtInsights co-owner Michael Barry, “We’ve carried illustration art for quite some time, but never anything sports related. Mark’s Negro League watercolors are so beautifully executed, it was a perfect fit. He is more than just a skilled watercolorist, with these pieces he’s captured so much more”. A great deal of research was required for these portraits, and artist Chiarello says he often looked at more than 200 pictures of a player to find the perfect reference to use. Barry’s partner, Leslie Combemale, adds, “Of course they are historically important, but they definitely stand alone as great art. Many know the more famous Negro Leaguers, but these illustrations allow collectors to connect with some of the many unsung heroes who deserve more recognition. These watercolors offer an opportunity for baseball fans, art collectors, and history buffs to expand how they see the world, as the best art always does, and Mark has an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. We’re proud to have his art in the gallery.”
ArtInsights, established in 1994, is a privately owned business located in Reston Town Center, Virginia. In addition to specializing in creating and developing collections of animation art from Disney, Warner Brothers, Hanna Barbera, and all other major studios, The gallery is constantly looking for new and important artist of illustrative, animation, and film art to add to those they currently represent. Their roster includes Chuck Jones, John Alvin, Toby Bluth, Tim Rogerson, Mary GrandPre, and Jim Salvati. They recently had the international exclusive first release of limited editions of the Harry Potter book covers by Mary GrandPre.
With more than 30 combined years of experience in these art genres, owners Michael Barry and Leslie Combemale work closely with individuals and corporations to ensure the integrity of their clients’ collections. ArtInsights is the only art gallery in the Washington Metropolitan area authorized to represent Warner Bros., Hanna Barbera, and Disney interpretive art to the public.