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August 2006

Peter de Seve

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

THE NEW YORKER cover artist, Peter de Seve.

For years I’ve chosen books by their covers and read picture books over and over to my children because I enjoy them as much as they do. And all this time, I noticed the author’s name but not the illustrator’s.

More recently, as friends have had books published, I’ve listened to their joy and disappointment when they see the cover art that’s been selected. Again, I paid attention to the author and not the illustrator.

Then along comes a friend (I’ll introduce him later in the week), who talked to me about the process of designing a book cover and my eyes were opened to this whole other world. So today, I’m delighted to kick off my weeklong focus on illustrators who will discuss the process of drawing and collaborating, the career breaks that changed their lives, the choices they make between well-paying commercial work and the kind of art they’d create even if it never sold a penny.

My first interview is with a man whose art I’ve known for years and years but whose name – shame on me! – I never bothered to learn until recently. Like many writers, the moment I get The New Yorker in the mail, I take a long look at the cover and then rush to the table of contents to see who wrote the fiction piece.

But who has drawn those New Yorker covers for the past 13 years?

Meet Peter de Seve, an incredibly likable and generous man, who – besides creating magazine and book covers and Broadway posters and characters for movies like Ice Age, A Bug’s Life, Treasure Planet, and Finding Nemo – still makes time for my little blog!

Let’s start with the NYer. When did you design your first cover for them, and how did that job come about?

Incredibly to me, it was in 1993! I had done a few drawings for Chris Curry, the Art Director for the interior pages of the magazine. Francoise Mouly, the cover editor, contacted me and asked whether I would be interested in pitching designs for covers. I had always daydreamed about doing covers for the NYER but never imagined I’d get the chance.

I don’t usually go looking for an idea but I felt that this time I needed to go out and actually find one. I decided I would go to Coney Island. It had just the combination of character and atmosphere that I’m drawn to. My wife Randall and I went for a stroll down the boardwalk and it really is a creepy place. There’s something really depressing about old and chipped painted signage depicting cartoon kids of a different era eating hotdogs and ice cream.

Anyway, there we were, looking for a New Yorker cover, when Randall pointed to a rather rotund man selling balloons and said something like, “Hey, that guy looks just like one of his balloons.” And I said, “yeah, that’s cool, but we need an idea!” Well, of course that ended up being the concept for my first cover.

Can you describe the process of designing a NYer cover – do you have free reign? Do you have to pitch ideas to anyone? And please describe how you get an idea, how many drafts, and how long it takes to have a final product.

The process is unlike working for most, if not all of the mainstream magazines being published today. Essentially, Francoise is ready to look at any ideas I think are worth pitching. They can range from seasonal ideas to specific holidays, from the absurd to serious social commentary.

There are some rare occasions where she will call and ask me an artist to tackle something specific. For instance, during the first Bush/Gore race, ballots were still being counted in Florida and the outcome of the election was still anybody’s guess. Apparently, Francoise had commissioned a few covers but for some reason they hadn’t solved the problem. I never saw them, but my guess was that perhaps they were too decisive in one way or another and the only real solution was to be ambiguous.

The result for me was a drawing called “By a Nose”. It was a drawing of a donkey crossing the finish line ahead, but maybe not, of an elephants’ trunk. I had less than twenty-four hours from the phone call to the finish. It’s one of my favorite drawings. It has a spontaneous quality to the line that only pure terror can produce.

Generally, the process goes like this: I think of an idea, and email it to Francoise. I never title it or send an explanation. If, Even in this rough form, it doesn’t communicate the idea and requires explanation, it’s a failure.

Occasionally, Francoise will make a suggestion on how to improve it and that’s where the ballet begins. We both try to make our points understood without rankling the other. It has, more than once, ended in a stalemate.

Doing a cover is like telling a joke, one has his own style of delivery and a suggestion from another person doesn’t always translate. To her credit, though, I have to admit, Francoise has convinced me a couple of times to alter a drawing to its benefit. That’s why I always, at the very least, try to consider her suggestion.

If you want to say, I’m dying to know what you get paid per cover and what kinds of rights you give up.

I’d rather not say exactly what I’m paid for a cover but I will tell you that it is pretty well above the average in the magazine world. As for reproduction rights, the image is mine, minus the NYER logo and I must agree not to republish it within a year of it’s running on their cover.

I know you do plenty of other work – animation, book covers. Can you tell my readers about some of the other art you’ve created?

Over the years I’ve done drawings for book covers, including a fun series called The Enchanted Chronicles which was a very clever young adult series that took a wry look at the world of fairy tales. It was just right for me and allowed me to indulge my love of that genre without taking it too seriously.

I’ve created a few posters for Broadway shows, which were thrilling to do. It’s pretty wild to drive through Time Square and see a drawing that you’d done a few weeks before, plastered onto the side of a building, three stories high.

I worked in the trenches for twenty years doing editorial illustrations for countless magazines, including Forbes, Newsweek, Business Week and The New York Times. It was pretty demanding and required turning around two or three pieces a week at times. All of which was fabulous training but ultimately exhausting. Somewhere around 1995 I got a call from Walt Disney Feature animation, inviting me to help with the character design for “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and although the drawings went largely ignored, it began my career as a character designer on feature films, which continues to this day.

The invitation came at a perfect time for me, when I was starting to feel a little burned out by the editorial grind. It was a chance to let my sketches do the talking for once and have them be the final work. I always felt that, like most artists I know, that my sketches were some of my best work. To be honest, though, character design has been a little bit of a deal with the devil and has taken my energies away from creating finished work, which I recognize is ultimately what I need to get back to.

Speaking of character design. I just designed some for a Dodge car commercial involving a focus group of unspeakably cute characters and their reaction to a car that is designed to be “Anything but Cute”. I did this through Hornet Inc. who represent me for commercial work and it was animated by Framestore, a brilliant animation house in Soho, NY. The commercial started running the second week of June 06.

Where were you trained? And what’s the most helpful thing you were taught?

I went to Parsons school of Design and to say I was “trained” would be a little inaccurate. At that period in time, 1976-80, the philosophy at Parsons was to let the student discover things by himself, without being spoon fed techniques. Honestly, I wouldn’t have minded a little spoon-feeding. Most of what I learned technically I taught myself or learned from other students. In fact, I would say that the greatest thing about art school was the introduction to other young artists, each with a different point of view. It was from the other students that I learned the most.

Describe the difference (in satisfaction, pay, etc) between the art you do that is commissioned versus the art you feel compelled to do regardless of knowing if it will sell.

Here is my guilty secret: The work I am commissioned to do, is my art. When I am given a job, I bring everything I can to it and when I’m done, I just want to relax. I wish I were one of those driven people compelled to create, no matter what. I’m a pretty lazy guy when all is said and done.

I do enjoy sketching and have published a little book of those doodles (Editions Paquet) and am working on another.

While I’m on the subject, I should also mention another project that I’m a part of; A beautifully produced little anthology of comics by 10 of the visual development guys at Blue Sky Studios (Ice Age, Robots). They were kind enough to invite me to throw in with them and I produced a minor little four page story called The Mermaid. The book is called OOP (Out of Picture) and is again published by Editions Paquet.

You’ve received a number of awards. Which ones have meant the most to you?

I would say that The Hamilton King award remains the one of which I’m most proud. It’s given by the Society of Illustrators for the best piece in show by a member. Did I do the best piece in the show? Of course not, but I see the award as a recognition for being around for a while and still being worth a nod.

What do you consider your breakthrough job? How did you land that job, and what kinds of doors did it open for you?

I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what were breakthrough jobs for me. My career has evolved in a very gradual and organic way. From tiny jobs, to medium to great and wonderful.

Who are some of your favorite writers and illustrators?

I won’t presume to recommend writers but will stick to what I know. There were a whole cadre of artists that had a huge impact on me. It included Wally Wood, Graham Ingles, Jack Davis and of course Frank Frazetta. These were the EC comic artists from the 50’s. Their work appeared before my time but I discovered them through some of their artistic descendants; Berni Wrightson, Mike Kaluta, Jeff Jones and other comic artists who were in their prime during the 70’s when I was growing up. Collectively all of these guys made a huge impression on me. All of them were great draughtsman but with a love of humor and darkness, in equal measure.

Beyond them I’ve been influenced by and copied an endless stream of artists. Here’s a fraction of the list: Lautrec, Daumier, Kley, Frost, Dulac, Rowlandson, Doyle, Tenniel, Sorel, and well, tons more.

One other major influence I always forget to mention, but more and more recognize as having been defining, were the Chuck Jones cartoons. Especially Bugs Bunny. Now he was a great character.

I also love illustrated books, and years ago rationalized the purchase of any book that gave me any artistic nourishment. As a result, I’ve got a pretty good book collection. I’ve also applied the same rationale to purchases of original artwork, which of course has been severely limited by my budget.

The good news for me though, has been that I love the art of the sketch. I love to see how an artist thinks and to see his mistakes on the page. The half-erased drawings underneath the ink tell me volumes more about the artist than any of his finished work could. And lucky for me, sketches are cheaper than paintings!

Share 3 pieces of advice for anyone interested in this field.

1. Figure out what you love to draw and what you want to say, then find a way to do it in a way that also serves the illustrators raison d’etre: to communicate.

2. Never stop observing, even when you don’t have a pencil in your hand.

3. Do what I’ve never done enough of: EXPERIMENT! You’ve got nothing to lose!!

Thank you, Peter!

And to the rest of my readers, take a moment to notice who illustrated the book or magazine you’re currently reading. Maybe look up what other work they’ve done.

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Buck Lewis

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

My guest today is an artist with film credits you and your kids will recognize: MADAGASCAR, ROBOTS, LILO AND STITCH, TREASURE PLANET, ICE AGE, EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE, DINOSAUR, TARZAN, ANTZ, and two of today’s box office hits, OVER THE HEDGE and CARS.

I’m honored to introduce you to Buck Lewis. I think you’ll find that he shares some qualities with his drawings: he is engaging and full of both whimsy and depth.

Buck and his daughter, Audrey Rue

Can you describe the range of artwork you do and how those art forms feel different from one another?

My range. What a great question! My first impulse is to answer in a Pavlovian kind of slather about how I can do this and that with smudge sticks and Photoshop super XL and blah blah blah. But then I sink down a little deeper into the question and it feels more interesting, more inviting than at first glance. My range? What is anyone’s range? And how much a part do we, the creative self, play in defining that range? Now that is interesting to me. And so my answer, if I take the question to that place, would be something like – on a good day my range is much farther than I think it is. And I might add that my job, my function as an artist is to push that boundary of what I think I can do out a little further every chance I get.

And how do those ‘art forms’ feel different from one another? I am more interested in the inverse of this question – how do all these ‘art forms’ feel the same? To me, if an art form is successful and vibrant, if it speaks to us, it really doesn’t matter how it comes packaged – as a song or a painting, a theater production or a poem, a children’s picture book or a feature film.

sneak peek at Lice from ANT BULLY

Now as for my ‘art forms’ – I think for me it boils down to one word – story. I started my career out fascinated with the idea of capturing an entire story in a moment. Like a beautiful insect trapped in amber I thought about what could be imprinted into one moment, how much could be imbued into one image that other people could experience.

And so the first type of art that I began to explore was editorial illustration – a natural venue for the narrative moment. That lasted for a good ten years or so before I found myself bumping up against my own limits of single frame imagery. I was growing bored, and I was becoming more and more aware of the next fascination – which for me was (and still is to a major extent) picture books.

Osbert

I grew into wanting to tell stories that involve sequence, that unfold in a series of connected moments. And that, in turn has led to a more current fascination of mine – the long form narrative of feature film. All of this has been a vary natural evolution that has led me to my current vocation – I will be directing a feature film for a major studio that I have co-written the story for, and I will design the characters for the movie as well.

I have really enjoyed designing the characters for well over 20 animated feature films, and have also contributed to story development on several of those features through my character development. But I discovered when I wrote my own children’s picture book how cool it was to create imagery for your own story. It is a rare and beautiful experience – and so I am looking forward to exploring my own stories in both mediums – feature films and picture books.

Describe the difference (in satisfaction, pay, etc) between the art you do that is commissioned versus the art you feel compelled to do regardless of knowing if it will sell. And can I see a sample of the more personal kind of art you do?

I think it would probably be easier for me if I could make such distinctions, but I have never been able to maintain any boundaries like that. Whenever I engage in something creatively I am in for the whole ride, so to speak. And even when I have tried to limit my involvement or have told myself I will only allow myself to go so far creatively, I forget all of that once I get rollin’ wit da homies.

As for a sample of my personal art – the answer is anything and everything I do is personal. For me there are only varying degrees of how successful I have been at opening up. I have learned that my best moments happen to be my most candid.

One of the interesting things about poking around on your website is seeing all of the great character ideas that go unused. What’s it like to sketch ideas and have them turned down?

It’s difficult, I admit. The previous answer should give you an idea of how personal each effort is for me. To have someone brush that aside and choose another path is hard to work through. But it is all part of collaborating on a massive creative endeavor like a feature film. I think the more difficult challenge to weather is not when someone turns you down, but when someone takes credit for something that you have created – now that is painful to bear.

To be at peace in the world as a practicing professional in the arts I believe you really need to understand, really understand, your own value outside of the opinion of your peers, your friends and most importantly your clients.

Do these rejected ideas ever find life somewhere else?

If they are property of a movie in development, they die with the project, subject to the whims of the rights holders. I liken it to the Tibetan Buddhist practice of sand painting. All care and attention is in the moment of creation. Everything else is “dust in the wind”.

Winnie Mae

Where were you trained?

Studied under Tom Bostelle
Pennsylvania Governor’s School For the Arts
Rhode Island School of Design
School of Visual Arts
Taught at RISD and at Massachusetts College of Art

And what’s the most helpful thing you were taught?

Process. I was introduced the creative process by Tom Bostelle, a local painter in West Chester, Pennsylvania where I grew up. This enlightenment continued with some of my most treasured mentors at RISD. Process is a way of life, if you care to look at it that way. And I do.

What artists have most influenced your work?

As I mentioned – Tom Bostelle, and at RISD, Akira Arita and George Papas. Another significant influence is a dear friend – Levent Bolukbasi, who is one of those people that you are never quite the same after getting to know. And in my case that was a good thing. And finally I would add to that my friend Chris Wedge, who is an inspiration as a director and a fellow collaborator.

Other artists that have had a significant influence on my work – Hayao Miyazaki, T.S. Sullivant, Edward Murch, Chekov, N.C. Wyeth, Wim Wenders, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Rumi.

What do you consider your breakthrough job?

My first job – a 75-dollar spot illustration for BOATING Magazine.

How did you land that job, and what kinds of doors did it open for you?

Out of sheer desperation, after spending weeks pounding the pavement in NYC with my portfolio, I began to draw sailboats and various powerboats and took the results in to the art director of BOATING magazine. Brian Caniff was a kind person, and he took pity on me and gave me a job.

Share 3 pieces of advice for anyone interested in this field.

1 – I started out, long ago inking comics for Marvel. After one day of dutifully trying my very best to ink a couple of pages, I had an epiphany, one which leads into my rule number 1 – PAY ATTENTION TO THE QUIET VOICE INSIDE. You see, that was one of the first times in professional life the quiet voice spoke up – and it said something really unacceptable. It said I hate comics. And I was horrified. This was totally unacceptable – every self-respecting artist is supposed to love comics! What was I going to do with this information?! I JUST got my first job EVER as a comic book artist – and I needed that 50 dollars. Really needed. But as painful as it was to leave my precious dream of the world of comics behind, it opened the door to the next thing, which in turn led to the next and then so on, until here we are today, with me writing down my top three rules for navigating the creative waters of the art world.

2 – It’s not all about hard work; this is something that runs deeply contrary to my Protestant upbringing – but sometimes the profound can happen in an effortless instant.

3 – floss daily

Thank you for visiting, Buck!

Oh! One last thing because this is oh so cool: CLICK.

{ 4 comments }

Aurelio O’Brien

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

An illustrator crosses over and becomes a writer.

Today I want to introduce my friend Aurelio O’Brien, who opened my eyes to the art I’d always enjoyed but without recognizing the artists behind the work.

Aurelio has had a long career as a graphic designer and recently tried his hand at writing. His science fiction debut tells the story of a future society of humans living in a luxurious, genetically-designed paradise of eternal health and ceaseless pampering. But what happens when one member of this society desires (and designs for himself) a deliberately ordinary woman? That is the basis of EVE.

Time to meet Aurelio!

Most writers don’t design their own book cover, but you did. Tell me how this came about.

I was actually a professional graphic designer and artist long before becoming a novelist, so it was a bit like hiring my old self to work for my new self. Also, self-publishing gives you the freedom, okay burden, of doing everything yourself. I didn’t approach the cover until the manuscript was already finished. I do visualize a lot when I write, but I think writing and drawing use different parts of my pea-brain, and I could only focus on one thing at a time.

It’s funny, I started writing to have an alternate creative outlet to the art thing, so at first I was apprehensive to do all my own artwork. I worried it might feel like I was going backward, but then realized I don’t have to do just one thing exclusively.

Show me a little of your thought process with designing the cover.

These were some alternative cover designs I did for EVE . I wanted the final cover to be simple & graphic, eye-catching, and cause people to wonder what the heck the book was about, so they’d pick it up and check it out. The first was a satirical homage to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel painting of God creating Adam. I actually liked this one a lot, but when I tested the covers, people overwhelmingly preferred the final one with all the odd creatures.

The second played off of the idea of the character Eve being a product of genetic manipulations. This one doesn’t read very well, and was probably the least visually successful attempt:

Then I tried for a cover that would simply demand attention on a bookstore rack. This one makes the least sense as far as the book’s content. I like it, but I can’t really explain why, which means it’s probably not very good.

And the winner was . . .

This cover approach led to the idea to animate the creatures on my website and use them for advertising purposes. I have even had an appliance and a houseware company ask me if they could link to my site. Things like that crack me up because both times it seemed like they actually though that my products existed.

Were you a good boss to work for?

No! Not really! Any artist will tell you that what you capture on the canvas or screen rarely ends up exactly like what you sees in your head. When I am doing work for someone else, I am trying my best to get the image they want, so once they’re happy I’m happy and can let it go. With myself, I keep looking at the work and fiddling, hoping to close that gap between the mind’s eye view and the finished image.

How did you decide what these creatures would look like? What inspired you?

The world of EVE is pretty surreal, so artists like Heronimous Bosch, Rene Magritte, and even Dr. Suess had an influence.



I wanted a kind of marriage of creepy and cute, like, they are all appealing to look at but eerie at the same time. I think the Lick-n-Span© says it all:

Lick-n-Span© – Its antibacterial tongues slurp your dishes clean without spotting! Now with ScrubbinBuds!

Why did you decide to also animate the creatures that appear on your cover?

Well . . . I knew self-published books are generally considered pretty ignorable, so I thought, “What will get people to have to look at my site?” It’s like that song in Gypsy – “You’ve Got Have a Gimmick!” (I was fortunate I could hire myself for free because if I paid for my own animation I couldn’t afford myself.) I taught myself Flash with the book FLASH IN 24 HOURS. It was a LOT of work but a kind of a hoot to do too, because I was a one man studio. I did all the voices and vocal sound effects – crunching celery sticks for the Johndeer© and overdubbing 4-part harmony for TeeVee© That was tricky. But it meant I had no copyright problems or that I would need to get any signed releases from actors.

Tell me more about the copyright issue.

The copyright issue is a big one for animation artwork or really any artwork for hire, and believe me, it’s a hassle with most of my animation work being “owned” by the studios. When you sign on to a picture, you sign away your rights to any artwork you produce to them exclusively. On top of that, with “making of” film art being sold for big money to collectors these days, the studios get extra paranoid and greedy about it.

One picture I was on, they tried to limit my own access to my own artwork while I was still using it – in other words, they took my artwork away from me and locked it up before I was done using it for its actual purpose, as visual reference to make the friggin’ movie! It got more than a little surreal. Some studios have even tried to prevent artists from using artwork in their portfolios too, which is pretty crazy.

Any use of contracted artwork must be negotiated with the owner – the studio that paid you for it. That’s why I wanted to control all the artwork, animation, sound work, etc. for EVE and my website, so I generated it all myself. We’ve all seen when people do something that suddenly becomes successful, everyone suddenly wants a piece of it. I didn’t want those potential hassles, and besides, it was a whole lot of fun to do it all!

Did the gimmick work?

A: Hmm. Yes and no. When I first published it my site got linked on some popular sites like Boing Boing and such I had hits in the millions in the first few months. It was crazy! The site went HUGE and I had to upgrade to a professional-grade server. But all the attention didn’t sell that many books – most people came to play the animation and then left. I think general awareness of my book is quite high though thanks to the site, so it’s opened doors in that respect, and it really helped tremendously as a calling card when I solicited reviews.

Will you do the same thing all over again on your next novel?

Maybe. I’m still heavy into the writing, so I haven’t thought about it yet. Different part of the brain thing.

Thanks to the generous and oh-so-fun-to-tease Aurelio O’Brien for hanging out with me on my blog!

Of course, when I asked Aurelio to send me a photo of himself I could post on my blog, he could not send me an ordinary headshot.

This really is a picture of Aurelio as a young tyke, and I’ll end on that note.

{ 3 comments }

Norman Mallory

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

The heart of an artist: Norman Mallory

Earlier in the week, you met two artists getting steady commercial work. Today, I want to introduce you to an artist who has never been able to support himself with his art, and yet his art gives him life. He is a lovely man who will talk today about the heart of an artist. Please meet Norman Mallory, who was recently a featured artist on studio8.

Tell me about the range of art you do (medium, style, etc).

I draw and paint in many media. For several years I did only watercolor and egg tempera paintings, but recently I have returned to oil. I like drawing from life as often as possible in a full range of media. I used charcoal and graphite for years in working from the figure. Now I use brush and ink for comics, of course. I made many woodcuts when I was younger.

Where were you trained? And what’s the most helpful thing you were taught?

I know the world uses the word “training” quite conventionally, but I rankle at it a little. The tropisms necessary for learning to draw probably apply most here. I learned to draw mainly on my own, but many hours in the life rooms of some college and universities have helped.

I had a very good drawing teacher right from the beginning, in my teens. He was merciless and weaned me away from all the comfortable cliches I’d been rewarded for by earlier teachers. It was a kind of boot camp working with him, a real humbling experience. Slowly, very slowly on a kind of circuitous path, I regained the confidence he had rightly eroded, and, using the way he had taught me to see, I began to gain ground. The most important thing for me has been learning to look at nature clearly and draw what I see without letting tricky facility interfere. My teacher helped me there. He made me draw wearing boxing gloves.

Would you say that you’ve “made a living” at being an artist?

No. I made a living as a teacher in various colleges and universities. I got money and some free time from that job, but I have never considered myself anything but an artist and never considered teaching anything but a job. I think I needed the security that teaching provided me since I came from a very insecure home environment.

While I sell my work, I have never sought notoriety with any determination, never tried to become a star. I’d be embarrassed and think I’d lost my marbles if I had hundreds of banners, like Bill Viola, showing pictures of me up and down major boulevards in Los Angeles. Being Bill Viola must be hard at times, but it’s not as hard as spending thousands of hours grinding away at learning to draw the figure. As Stan Freberg says, “It’s all in the way you look at it.”

What have you given up or endured to remain in this profession and talk to me about whether it has been worth it and why.

I have chosen not to have children, for various reasons, most of them having to do with my art but also centrally because I would make a lousy parent. I have resisted going into debt. I own almost nothing except my books, my art supplies and a few stringed instruments. My wife lends me her car. l have always wanted to be an artist since I gave up the idea of being an astronomer at about age eight. I think I understood pretty early that painters who made a lot of money were fairly rare and resigned myself to the have-not group. Artists like Andrew Wyeth who make barrels of cash appeal to something in a broad audience I can’t (and don’t want to) reach. He should stop giving interviews and writing autobiographical notes on the sizes and condition of his model’s sex organs, by the way. It’s getting embarrassing.

Describe the difference between the art you do that is commissioned versus the art you feel compelled to do regardless of knowing if it will sell.

I have and will continue to make the largest part of my art without any hope of sale. The game – I call it the “wine and cheese pageant” – of being noticed, groveling, “making connections” is something I haven’t been able to manage, being constitutionally weak in the self-promotion zone. I can’t use business strategies at all, which is why I became a teacher – as a sort of refugee from the business world.

I have been paid from time to time for commercial work, including writing. And I have an agent selling mostly watercolors for me. But I could never subsist on sales or commissions. Last year I made a few hundred dollars on art, that’s all. Since making money is the measurement most people recognize when art is discussed, they don’t discuss me.

Cezanne was ecstatic when his father, a banker, died and left him financially independent and we all know what happened to poor Vincent.

What artists have most influenced your work?

Cezanne, Bonnard, from whom I’ve tried to learn about color. Picasso for drawing and printmaking. R.B. Kitaj and Lucien Freud in their eloquent handling of the figure and the weight of narration that emerges from their work.

There are many, many others, some of whom were “commercial” artists like Robert Fawcett, one of the most accomplished picture-makers this country has produced. I like abstract art too. Franz Kline, DeKooning, Rothko and Motherwell have had a profound effect on me spiritually, you might say. And there are other witty painters, like the Cuban Julio Larraz. Philip Guston’s late work is important to me, as it is to thousands of artists.

Avigdor Arikha, the Israeli painter based in Paris, has taught me much, particularly about the still life. Morandi and his marvelous subtle vision. Antonio Lopez-Garcia, the Spanish realist. Balthus for his mysterious eroticism and extraordinary painting technique. I’m fond of expressionism too, and have even been called an “expressionist”, whatever that means, in print. So – Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Bacon of course. I have an affinity for the English as you can see from my list. There’s a young man named Phil Hale who won the BP award in Britain a few years ago who makes marvelous illustrations in oil.

The Americans Morris Graves and Ben Shahn are central to me, for their ardor, social commitment and Buddhist (in the case of Graves) influences. Graves is a sort of Gary Snyder of painting. Brad Holland is an American illustrator I’ve learned from. And the marvelous Howard Pyle among the older artists. I could go on and on. I’m a careful student of art history, trying to learn something from everyone I look at. As an old teacher of mine said to me when I was young : haunt the museums. All the problems are already solved there.

What do you consider your breakthrough job? How did you land that job, and what kinds of doors did it open for you?

No breakthroughs, no landing, no doors opening. Really, my work is in very limited circulation. Sometimes I’ll visit the friend of a friend and, in their commodious home, see one of my pictures hanging on the wall nicely framed. That is very gratifying. And my work has appeared in print from time to time.

Who are some of your favorite writers and illustrators?

Again, this is a fun game to play but I could fill a small pamphlet with my lists of this kind. In addition to the illustrators I named above, I’ll throw some more obscure ones at you: Edmund J. Sullivan, Joseph Clement Coll, Daniel Vierge, Edwin Austin Abbey, Lynd Ward, Rockwell Kent – all for their use of pen and ink. I’m very, very fond of black-and-white illustration. Austin Briggs, Albert Dorne, Al Parker, Stephan Dohanos, Robert
Fawcett (whom I mentioned above) and all the “Connecticut Famous Artists” group. You know the ones who had the “Draw Me!” matchbook ads back in the fifties? Burt Silverman and his beautifully observed figures and portraits – what technique! Robert MacGinnis and his sexy ladies and tough cops and spies. That guy can paint anything well.

And of course there are the comic book-style illustrators: Alex Toth, Jean (“Moebius”) Giraud, Jorge Zaffino, Milton Caniff and Noel Sickles. There are hundreds. Mike Mignola among young contemporary comic-book artists is really extraordinary and a fine designer of pages. Even the violence-slinger Frank Miller, a terrific black-and-white artist. Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, a gifted draftsman, Wally Wood, Al Williamson.

Among writers I have frequented over the years: Borges, Rilke, T.S. Eliot, Louise Bogan, James Wright, Galway Kinnell and Elizabeth Bishop. Lots of Walter Benjamin, George Steiner and William H. Gass. The luminous and short-lived Bruce Chatwin, W. G. Sebald whom I read again and again. Samuel Johnson has been a constant companion, and one of his own favorites, Sir Thomas Browne. I love “Vulgar Errors” (“Pseudodoxia Epidemica”). It always cheers me up.

The brilliant and original little wild, chestnut-haired Emily from Amherst.

Melville, particularly in his shorter works, is just great – “Benito Cereno” and “The Confidence-Man” for instance.

In my former job I taught a lot of Shakespeare, naturally, and thereby came to know him better than before. Robert Burton, Dryden and Pope. Marlowe. Milton. I used to teach “Paradise Lost” and came to love its cadences and imagery.

Right now I’m reading Winston Churchill’s six-volume history of World War II. What a writer!

I read “The History of the English Speaking People” several years ago and loved it.

There’s a new Library of America edition of H.P. Lovecraft I just ordered. I have long loved his somewhat tangle-footed wannabe Augustan prose.

As Pound said about his “Cantos”: there are good things buried in there.

I went through a long period during which I read lots of Virginia Woolf.

V.S. Pritchett is a prodigious and complex writer who deserves more attention since his death, having lived and written for nearly a full century.

Bellow, of course, among our writers.

Nabokov, in all his disguises – letters, lectures, polemics and chess problems.

And William Blake, visual artist and poet supreme.

This is getting out of control. I’ll stop.

Share 3 pieces of advice for anyone interested in this field.

1. Observe nature attentively and copy it faithfully. Style will take care of itself.

2. Follow Flaubert’s dictum when it comes to your own style, but only after a long apprenticeship: “Not to resemble one’s neighbor; that is everything!”

3. Study the history of art. Be influenced by many. Don’t merely copy your hero(oes).

It was a pleasure to have you here, Norman. Tomorrow: my artist friend who opened my eyes. And Friday, an artist whose movies, last I checked, are currently number 1 and number 6 at the box office. Stay tuned!

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Enrico Casarosa

by Susan Henderson on August 31, 2006

Enrico Casarosa, the PIXAR artist who loves McSWEENEY’S

Real quick, before I get to today’s amazing artist, I want to thank all of you who sent me notes or called me regarding Ben Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident. I’m pretty upset, obviously, and not up for talking about it just yet. But thanks for caring. Okay. On with the show . . . .

Continuing my weeklong focus on illustrators, I want to introduce you to Enrico Casarosa, an Italian artist with a passion for Japanese animation.

Tell me about the range of art you do (medium, style, etc).

Ah let’s see: my day job is storyboard artist. In my spare time I do comics and often go out and sketch on location. I work often in pencil and watercolors (I love to journal travels and make autobiographical comics that way). I also use charcoal on newsprint for figure drawing and acrylics on canvas for paintings.

Where were you trained? And what’s the most helpful thing you were taught?

I attended several art schools, (European Design Institute – Milan, School of Visual Art -NY, Fashion Institute of Technology, NY) mostly in Illustration and Animation majors, but I never finished the course of studies anywhere, I don’t have degree. I think the most important thing I learned is a wish and need to keep on challenging my self with different media, approaches and attitudes. I had a couple of inspiring teachers push me in the right way . . . their approach was: “This is good, but what else can you do with that? Where can you take that next?” My short attention span also goes pretty well with that kind of thinking too . . . 😉

Describe the difference (in satisfaction, pay, etc) between the art you do that is commissioned versus the art you feel compelled to do regardless of knowing if it will sell.

Well, I am well paid and well taken care of on my day job as a Storyboard artist at Pixar Animation Studios. My work there is highly based on team work. As a team of story artists on a given movie we are focused on helping our director’s vision to come to fruition. Telling compelling stories in animated feature films is challenging and it certainly makes for an engaging job. That said though given the nature of these big projects I usually feel compelled to take time on the side to tell my own personal stories and be my own director. I found comics to be a perfect medium to stretch my storytelling legs, making my own decisions, following my instincts and taking my own risks. I have been lucky enough to find channels to express these more personal creative energies ranging from internet comics to gallery art shows, and it’s been a lot of fun. These side projects don’t bring much money and frankly I almost don’t expect them to. So for years now I have found a place for them in my spare time. So the only thing I wish sometimes is for 48 hours days to fit all these different things in my life.

What artists have most influenced your work?

Ah tough question, as many artists do, I have a ton of artists I like to follow and collect. Let’s see: Hayao Miyazaki, the japanese movie director, stands tall in my list of influences. Loved his work since I was a kid. His movies and comics have been a huge inspiration for me. Fine arts wise I’ve always loved Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Toulouse Lautrec . . . and many others. Lately I’ve also been inspired by some of the artists from the Kaikai Kiki stable, like Aya Takano and Takeshi Murakami.

What do you consider your breakthrough job? How did you land that job, and what kinds of doors did it open for you?

My breakthrough Job was probably the story artist position I was given at Blue Sky Studios on the movie “Ice Age”. I worked pretty hard to get that: interviewing a couple of times in a span of a few months and also doing a storyboarding test on spec. It worked out in the end and without that career step I am quite sure I wouldn’t be here at Pixar today.

You keep a blog. How would you describe it to my readers?

I fill it with what I love to do and links and recommendations to what I love to see. A lot of imagery with a wide range that goes from gesture drawings, photography, links to artists websites and exhibitions to comics and sketches I do, mobile phone photos I take, recs on movies I saw or want to see, anything I find interesting really.

On your blog links, you list McSweeney’s as “an inspiration.” Tell me about that.

I love Dave Eggers’ books, his interesting sense of humor is very much up my alley and I admire pretty much all he has done from McSweeneys to the inspired tutoring programs he started here at 826 Valencia in San Francisco.

Tell me about SketchCrawl.

SketchCrawl is a drawing marathon day I started at the end of 2004. At first I did it on my own, deciding to simply draw from morning to night on day out in San Francisco. You can see the results here . The experience was tiring but exhilarating, I filled 19 pages of sketches from 10am to 10pm.

Then the idea slowly snowballed into a World Wide drawing event that I try and publicize and organize from the internet. The basic idea is to gather anyone who might be interested and have a day out in your town or city, wherever you are, and record and journal that whole day with sketches and writings. My recommendation is to slow down our pace, stop to look a little closer at those details around us, to appreciate and really see those little things that we’re too busy to notice on any given day . . .

We set a SketchCrawl day every 2 or 3 months and we put out calls for artists to organize local meeting points and “crawl” together. I usually meet artists in San Francisco and at the end of the long day we reconvene and pass all the sketchbooks around, sharing what we saw and drew the whole day. The same thing happens on the web where people from different corners of the world can come together and post drawings and share thoughts on the SketchCrawl.com forums. One day maybe this will turn into a nice nonprofit and we’ll get more people to dust off those old sketchbooks . . . :)

Who are some of your favorite writers and illustrators?

Dave Eggers, Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, Italo Calvino to name a few . . . I like biographies and autobiographies too, loved Akira Kurosawa’s and Atoine de Saint Exupery’s. And I need those 48 hours days for book reading too! Not enough time . . .

Share 3 pieces of advice for anyone interested in this field.

Let’s see:
– Draw a lot but don’t forget to look first. Look hard at what you’re drawing.
– Tell personal stories, close to your heart. Reach deep into you and your past.
– Push your self to do things you don’t know how to do. That’s how you do them. Don’t sit back on what you know.

One last thing I wanted to mention is a small autobiographical comic I do, it’s called SketchCrawling and it contains small stories and watercolor sketches from the crawls. I self published Volume last year and I am about to do a second volume.

You can also read some of the stories online here and here.

Ok, that’s it ! Thanks so much Susan!

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I heart Enrico. If you’d like more, he’s also interviewed here about his 3 TREES project.

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