Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi

by Susan Henderson on March 5, 2008

Dice Tsutsumi is an illustrator, painter, graphic novelist, and art director. He’s worked on such films as Ice Age, Robots, and Horton Hears a Who. Because he has his hand in so many creative endeavors, I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the difference between collaborative and solo projects.


A current anthology he’s in focuses on this very idea. The anthology is called, OUT OF PICTURE, a term used to describe material that is cut from a movie. The book features the solo work of animators from Blue Sky Studios, including Dice and past LitPark guest, Peter de Seve.


From the forward by Chris Wedge, Director of Blue Sky Studios:

This process by which each contributes a focused ray of their own talent, then steps aside to allow the next the same is one of measured sacrifice. In giving only what is asked of them, each holds back a reservoir of creative potential that roils, impatient for escape, within their hearts.


You come from a family of writers, and yet you are a visual artist. When (and in what way) was it clear to you that you were a different kind of artist?

I always liked drawing since I was little while my sister was always into reading and writing. But I never thought I was that good of an artist. There were so many kids around me who could draw so much better. It’s just that I knew I wasn’t going to be a writer since I never did well in literature/writing classes.


Tell me about your career in the visual arts. How did you get started in this field? What kinds of projects have you worked on?

I studied very traditional oil painting. When I graduated, my visa didn’t allow me to stay in the States unless I got a full time job. That’s how I got into a video game company as a concept artist. Immediately, I fell in love with my job where I collaborate with many other talented artists. I soon made a shift to concept design for animated films.

I have worked on Ice Age, Robots, and upcoming Horton Hears A Who as a concept artist at Blue Sky Studios and recently I moved to Pixar.


How do you approach collaborative projects, and how are they different from the personal or solo work you do?

It has its own set of challenges. Team work is so important. There are so many artists who are just as talented as everyone else. They all have great opinions but not necessarily the same one. So lots of compromises. But when it works, the final product comes out a million times stronger. It is very educational. I feel like I’m learning from my colleagues everyday just like how it was in school.

You told me you consider yourself to be a storyteller, and yet, you are not a writer. How so?

I honestly don’t have the writing chops, especially in my second language. But I always love to tell a story. Even in my single image of illustration, I would like to tell a story. I believe you can tell stories just with images. I think of good old silent movies. Some of them tell stories so much better and more clearly than current movies.

That’s why my graphic novels are my true passion. I have a long way to go but I’d like to keep working on my visual story telling skills.


Talk to me about the Out of Picture project and about your contribution to it.

I came up with the idea of outside project with my artist friends at Blue Sky Studios. I always believed in my group who are all story tellers although we all illustrate someone else’s (our directors’) stories. I also managed the group along with Michael Knapp who is also a contributor of the book. It was a real tough challenge because managing your friends, especially if they are ARTISTS, wasn’t easy. Everyone had their reasons to be late or opinions on how to make the book. But someone had to still lead the group to one place.

Of course, on top of that, I killed myself trying to finish my own story which was really difficult. We all learned so much out of this experience.

Anything uniquely satisfying or difficult with telling a story through pictures?

Well, first of all, telling your very own stories with whatever talent you got is satisfying no matter what. Whether it’s in writing, singing, music, or images…

Looking back at OOP 1, there are things I would have done differently but that’s all part of the learning experience. I think my story for OOP 2 came out a lot better. If I can tell more with less writing, that’ll be my goal. Maybe I’ll do a graphic novel with no word at all one day.


Do you have any more graphic novels in your future?

Yes, Out of Picture 2 is coming out in June 2008. Out of Picture 1 just came out in December.

Do you read any of the graphic novels out there? And if so, who do you enjoy?

I read A LOT of Japanese graphic novels. I guess I still prefer it because lots of them tend to have subtle storytelling. I’m sure there are tons of amazing non-Japanese graphic novels too. I recently read American Born Chinese and Persepolis, and both were amazing.

You have a project with your mother in the works. Can you tell me about that?


My mother is a poet but she recently started writing children’s books. It was both our dreams to collaborate and finally we are making a children’s book that she writes and I illustrate. We are quite excited about it. It’ll be published in Japan but hope it’ll make its way to the American market too!


Can you tell my readers about Sketchtravel. What is it, and how did this idea begin?

This is a project my friend Gerald Guerlais and I came up where we connect with artists around the world through one little sketch book. Each artist does an original sketch on each page of the book and “hand delivers” the book to the next artist. It’s been about 18 months since we started and we have 26 sketches done. Check out the website so you can see what has been done.

We recently were informed that there will be a French film maker to shoot the documentary of the project. It is a long process but it has picked up quite a momentum on its own.

Any advice to young artists just starting out?

Hope you are in it because you love it. If you love it, the money you make, the social status you have, or praises you get from critics won’t matter. You will keep creating simply it’s so much fun and by default, you will have a solid training without knowing. It’s got to be fun.




Born and raised in Tokyo, Dice moved to NY in ’93. After graduating from School of Visual Arts in 98, he started his career as a staff illustrator for Lucas Learning Ltd. in San Francico. Two years later, Dice moved back to NY to work for Blue Sky Studios as a visual development/color key artist on their blockbuster film projects such as Ice Age, Robots and upcoming Horton Hears A Who. After his long adventurous 7 year run at Blue Sky Studios, he has recently accepted the new challenge to join as an art director at Pixar Animation Studios.

Dice has actively been pursuing his illustration career outside of animation as well. His graphic novel, Noche y Dia is a part of critically acclaimed anthology Out of Picture. His next short graphic novel, Dream of Kyosuke as a part of Out of Picture issue #2 is due May 2008 from Random House Publishing. He also has been involved with a few potential children’s book projects.

Meanwhile, Dice continues to create his plein air oil paintings that have been featured in numerous gallery exhibitions. He currently lives in San Francisco.


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!