I’m continuing my 2017 goal of doing a sketch a day. Each month has a loose theme. February was portraits of famous African Americans, while March had me sketching various small objects such as utensils, money and figurines. For April, I’m taking inspiration from Charley Harper, Howard Pierce and the dormant-yet-still-terrific Animalarium weblog. I will be sketching a stylized animal a day, rendered in as modern a style as possible. In fact, I like this idea so much that it will continue in June and September. Follow along on Whimsy, Inc. or Instagram!
Although I’m not the type for New Year’s resolutions, for this year I decided to take one on. In attempting to find a way improve my own self-discipline, creativity and drawing skills, the answer came while organizing a box of old stuff. I found an old, small sketchbook, 3.5 by 5 inches, unused except for a few pages. I’ll make a drawing every day! Armed with this, a 30 Day Drawing Challenge found via Google Images, and a bunch of pens and colored pencils, I went about doing this, cross-posting the results to Whimsy Inc (my illustration Tumblr), Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Although I run into problems fitting the drawings into my schedule (sometimes they’re the last thing I do before bedtime), this has been a great project. The small size of the sketchbook keeps it less daunting, and I will be refreshing the ideas behind the drawings every month. Next month, I plan to do 31 mini-portraits of prominent African Americans for Black History Month. If you like the pieces shown here, feel free to join along at Whimsy Inc or Instagram for more.
Since the early 1990s, I’ve made it a yearly tradition to illustrate, design and print my own holiday cards. That makes me a freak, I know, but there’s a lot of joy in thinking up new ideas and having no creative restraints. The cards end up looking individualistic, sometimes clunky, or surprisingly beautiful. I love them all.
This year was a struggle, since I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired after our horrible election season. Despite the added stress, the card design came out excellent. I thought about doing a drawing based on the famous “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol. Some inspiration came from a lovely book showcasing midcentury modern designer Alexander Girard (an anniversary gift from Christopher). Browsing the Glass Menagerie pottery on Jonathan Adler’s site crystallized the design. A rubber eraser, carved with a pear shape, completed the card.
Some of our other cards over the past 23 years are pictured below (click on each for a larger view). Happy Holidays.
Although it sports an unassuming, slapdash cover, Trademark Designs of the World is one of the most stimulating books I’ve ever had the pleasure of owning. First published in 1975, the slim paperback is the result of an offbeat collecting quest done by Japanese designer Yusaku Kamekura (1915-1997). All it amounts to, really, is a bunch of black and white company trademarks – 699 of them, to be exact – designed throughout the flourishing, consumerist post-World War II Modernist period. Kamekura arranges each trademark with great care and precision, with subtle numbered annotations next to each one (their credits and countries of origin are printed in an index in the back).
This book contains hardly any text, just page after page of ’50s-’60s Midcentury Modern Graphic Coolness. Although a preface by the famous designer Paul Rand might indicate that Kamekura’s collection is centered on iconic American trademarks (such as Rand’s IBM logo), most of the contents, surprisingly, are European and wonderfully obscure. While the pages contain a lot of the kind of austere, abstract stuff one would expect, most of the trademarks have a playful vibe, cleverly distilling letters, heraldry, and animal shapes to their most basic forms. Kamekura’s well-thought-out groupings of various trademarks on each page also inspire. I still find new, exciting stuff from paging through this book, despite having it for several months now. As a matter of fact, it’s proving to be a great resource for the visuals in my own upcoming how-to book.
In 1981, Trademark Designs of the World was reprinted as a low-cost paperback by Dover. While that edition has gone out of print, the book can be found cheaply at Amazon.com or Ebay.com. Highly recommended, folks!
Here’s a pristine issue of Vacationland from Summer 1982, added to my collection. This was a magazine produced by the Disney company and given away to hotel guests in Anaheim and Southern California. I remember poring through this particular issue as a kid on our somewhat frequent family vacations there, and it’s kind of a trip to see it again! Fascinating to see the company when it was prepping Epcot Center for opening, and constructing Tokyo Disneyland and a top-to-bottom makeover for Fantasyland in Disneyland.
As for the trip itself, I remember experiencing the TRON Superspeed Tunnel in the PeopleMover and playing a game of Frogger in the Starcade at Tomorrowland (in retrospect, kind of a weird thing to spend valuable Disneyland time on). Of course, our family tradition was making a beeline for Pirates as soon as the park opened, and we were wowed by the Main Street Electrical Parade. I also got ribbed for being a 13-year-old boy still into Disney. Guess what? I’m a 48-year-old man into Disney, and anyone who takes issue with that fact can kindly and gently shove it.
Here’s some photos from that issue – don’t forget to click the image for a full-sized version! And kindly keep your hands and feet inside the ride vehicle at all times.
I’ve been following Disney historian Didier Ghez since the mid-2000s, when he first started writing about old-style Walt Disney Studio goodness on his blog, Disney History. It was delightful to find that his labors have brought forth a fancy coffee-table-style book of vintage Disney studio art – the first of a series! The handsome 2015 hardback, They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s pays homage to overlooked artists who worked at the Disney studio in its prime.
They Drew As They Pleased gives a new spin to a familiar subject, shedding light on four particular artists with mini-biographies and a host of previously unpublished artwork. Even for those well-versed in what the Disney studio was working on in the ’30s – Mickey Mouse cartoons, Silly Symphonies shorts, the features Snow White, Pinocchio and Fantasia – there’s a lot of surprises within. Although the idea of using “concept artists” in film and TV production is pretty common today, back in the ’30s it was pretty rare. Indeed, Walt Disney was the first animation producer to realize the potential of hiring imaginative artists strictly for the purpose of inspiring the look and feel of the final product. The projects that these artists worked on included not just the classics listed above, but also films not released until much later (Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella) and shelved projects (Ballet de Fleurs, Streubel Peter, Japanese Symphony).
The artists profiled in They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s are pretty fascinating, especially given that I was familiar with just one (the brilliant Gustaf Tenggren). They are –
- Albert Hurter (1883-1942), Disney’s first story artist. Hurter’s imaginative, spontaneous pencil drawings provided visual flair to many a Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoon. Some of his stuff reproduced here pushes the limits, going in a surreal, Dr. Seuss-like direction. Hurter’s life story was as unique as his talent (Disney kept him on the payroll, even as failing health had him in a convalescent home).
- Ferdinand Horvath (1891-1973) lent his wide-ranging abilities to layouts, animation, gag drawings, illustration at the studio over a period of several years. Horvath had had a tempestuous relationship with Disney, although it doesn’t show in his whimsical, kinetic and polished work.
- Gustaf Tenggren (1896-1970). Like Hurter, Gustaf Tenggren was an eccentric European expat whose visual flair left its mark on a variety of Disney productions. Most significantly, his gorgeous production art brought an immersive Old World sensibility to Snow White and Pinocchio. That celebrated art is reproduced here, along with some fascinating storyboard art and production studies. Tenggren’s bio, like Hurter’s, reveals a fascinating, quirky life (will someone do a long-form bio on this guy? I’d snap it up.).
- Bianca Majolie (1900-1997). Besting Mary Blair by a few years, Majolie was Disney’s first female concept artist. A classmate of Walt’s from Chicago, Majolie endeared herself to Disney by contributing a feminine touch to a handful of short subjects (a few of which went unreleased) in the late ’30s. Unfortunately, the overtly macho atmosphere in Disney’s story department prompted Majolie to resign in 1940. Too bad – based on this book, her work was delightful.
They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age – The 1930s was published in 2015 by Chronicle. A follow-up volume, the first of two covering the 1940s, just came out last month. Ghez himself told me that there will be six volumes published, in total (yeah!). Both current volumes can be purchased at Amazon.com here and here.