Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Art and Flair of Mary Blair Exhibit to Travel!

I have anxiously been awaiting the return of two watercolors that I had lent to the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum's "The Art and Flair of Mary Blair" exhibit which ran from October 2007 until its extended closing in May of 2008. Word is out that the exhibit may be traveling overseas next year! I think I'll wait until things are more concrete before I divulge the exact location of the exhibition. I know that Mary has a lot of fans in the country that will possibly host the show, so they should be pleased to see her works up close.

I have three of these large watercolors that appear to be illustrations from period classics such as Dickens' "Great Expectations", Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray", and Dumas' "Count of Monte Cristo". Two of these were in the San Francisco exhibit and the third can be seen in John Canemaker's book, "The Art and Flair of Mary Blair". My guess is that they were done for Mary's Chouinard class in illustration taught by Pruett Carter, or they were done for her portfolio immediatedly after art school and just about the time of her wedding to Lee Blair - I say this because she signs her name, "Mary Robinson Blair" on all three pieces and she shortened her signature to "Mary Blair" not long after she was married. If you look at some of Pruett Carter's illustrations, such as the ones he did for stories in Ladies Home Companion and other magazines, there are some remarkable similarities in the compositions and mannerisms.
The image above is one of Carter's illustrations and a few similarities that struck me were:
1. The tipped lower floor plane showing pattern in both the floor and the striped chair. In Mary's vertical composition above, she shows pattern in the carpet to better advantage by tipping the ground plane down in an exaggerated manner similar to the Carter image.
2. The elongated figures - in an almost El Greco-like or Thomas Hart Benton-like manner, the figures in both Carter and Blair's work are impossibly thin and tall. This would have been standard in many illustrator's work at the time and I'm sure Carter would have brought this preference to his student's attention.
3. The halo of light around the figure's heads/faces. The values are carefully modulated so that the lightest light and the darkest dark in the composition are found at the main character's head; the focal point of each composition.

All three of these points would be common in Mary's work in the years to follow. I am really fascinated by how these pictures show the beginnings of Mary's personal style.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vance Gerry pitching to Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons,
Milt Kahl and Ken Anderson

Memories of Vance Gerry

Vance Gerry was a soft-spoken man. He had opinions, of course, but he never felt like it was his constant duty to express them (some of us, however, did feel that way). I never saw him angry or frustrated (others have, but they will acknowledge that it was on a rare and justifiable occasion). Here was the appearance of a man who had mastered life and had found contentment. He spent a lifetime drawing storyboards and personal illustrations, but he never lost his youthful enthusiasm for his own work and the good work of others. He did some of the best feature storyboard work I had ever seen.

I worked with Vance and Walt Disney Feature Animation during a time when many young artists were depressed with the quality of films that were in production – immediately prior to the success of The Little Mermaid. When artists much younger than he were complaining and expressing cynical opinions about the future of Disney Animation, Vance reminded the anxious young artists around him that there was never a time he remembered when everyone at the studio was happy and secure about the quality of films that were being made.

Vance, by example, showed those around him that there was never an excuse for doing less than your best work. He proved that good work can elevate average material and that this was the definition of a true story artist. While others would complain and stress about their work, Vance would quietly turn out sketch after amazing sketch that provided strong direction for the rest of the crew - for character acting and for the mood of the environments. I can’t say that it was the best drawing technique I had ever seen, his drawings were kind of simple with dough-y shapes but at the same time, terrifically charming – and the staging and lighting indications were always, ALWAYS wonderful.

He loved to dress up certain drawings with a simple color wash or some crayon – and he used the most humble, stupid “little kid” sets of watercolors and crayola crayons that you would find in any drugstore (shaming those who think they need the best materials in order to create their best work).

Vance was an inspiration to the younger artists around him. He was passionate about watercolor and loved the work of the California School of Watercolor. Many of those artists had worked at Disney or had some relationship to Walt and the studio; Millard Sheets, Phil Dike, Lee Blair, Art Riley, Ralph Hulett, Elmer Plummer, and many others had either worked at the studio or taught at Chouinard and then California Institute of the Arts. Vance would accompany some of the younger artists (including myself – a twenty-something neophyte at the time) to paint watercolors in the parks and other locations near the studio during lunch hours. I have one of his lunch hour watercolors - we traded one day after one of our painting trips.

Vance Gerry watercolor painted on his lunch
hour at Bette Davis park in Glendale, CA

He also was a fan of Jack Miller, an artist who worked in the Character Model department during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Vance had made a book from photocopies of Jack’s studio work – pirates from Peter Pan, caricatures of his co-workers, etc, and it was obvious that Vance’s drawing style owed much to that of Jack Miller.

Occasionally, I will look though my files and find copies of Vance’s wonderful work – and I still learn things from viewing his drawings. And then I miss him. So this blog entry is my tribute to the memory of Vance Gerry.

Friday, February 8, 2008


I am working at a fun place called Zookazoo - an online virtual community for kids. Games and other fun are designed in our Burbank studio - just up the street from the big mouse! The official launch is March 1, but you can check it out today. Tell everyone you know about the new place on the web where they can play games, create an avatar, have a condo for their avatar, and meet fun people masquerading as robots, monkeys, aliens, toilet paper rolls (really!) and other fun characters. Click HERE to go to!
Image © 2008 KD Learning. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Brilliant Other Career

Well, not exactly. Although I have sold a few of my watercolor paintings throughout the years, I have approached them as a personal pressure relief valve from my work in film. I became involved in watercolor when I was a teenager - when I first met Lee Blair - one of the guiding lights of the California School of watercolor which made national news back in the 1930's. I was so impressed with both the technique and the subject matter of those early California Style paintings. The technique was direct and spontaneous - unlike the East Coast and English Schools which are basically drawings that are then carefully tinted with watercolor washes. The Californians put it down quickly with broad strokes and very little preliminary drawing. The subject matter was considered ugly by some. Lee was especially famous for genre scenes of life in Southern California - sometimes showing the tawdry side of life. Some critics have classified these images within the "Social Realist" school.

My friend Steve Moore publishes "FLIP", an incredible monthly web magazine that just so happens to feature me in the month of January. I discuss my work in watercolor, what kind of thought that I put into each piece, and how my work in watercolor differs from my work in the animation industry. The images above are a couple of my favorites, and there's more at "FLIP":

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Robot Chicken Storyboards

This summer I spent some time with the wonderful people at Shadow Animation storyboarding on Robot Chicken. This is one of the shows aired around midnight on Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programming block. The pace is fast and furious putting out a show on a very small budget. One of the pleasures of working on the show was that production moved so quickly. The animators would begin working almost immediately on things that I storyboarded just a couple of weeks previously. The format of the show is sketch-comedy with some of the sketches being lengthy and some sketches playing as short as one or two seconds. Click HERE to see one of my favorite sketches from the Christmas episode.