Home » Jim Salvati: Disney Fine Artist, Film Concept Artist, Art Professor, Chill Surfer

Jim Salvati: Disney Fine Artist, Film Concept Artist, Art Professor, Chill Surfer

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. 

But no. 

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:

Eddie Van Halen by Jim Salvati

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.

For fans of Salvati and Lilo and Stitch, this piece is available, by the way! Click for more info!
I don’t know anyone else who would create an image like this one…
“An Evil Task” by Jim Salvati

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.

Brave Merida by Jim Salvati
The Warmth of Love by Jim Salvati
We’re Simply Meant to Be by Jim Salvati

You can see all Jim Salvati’s available art by clicking HERE.

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? 

A Harry Potter original based on his work as concept artist for the films

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:

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