Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Rare Mix Of Influences....Part 1

Whenever I meet someone, one of the first questions they ask is "Who is your favorite artist?"
It is such a loaded question. Favorite? It is like asking someone what their favorite song is. Some days it is this one, sometimes that one, depends on the style, how old, etc. I certainly have favorites who are dead, other favorites who are alive. For a long time, I would respond with "I don't have one", not because I didn't like anyone elses artwork, but because the kind of artwork I liked, no one considered "Art". What is funny to me is that the vast majority of what other people call "art" like Rothko and Warhol I call....well,  I'll keep it clean. Below is a short list of my biggest influences and how they effected my work. If any of you are reading this, and have a rare mix of influences as well, leave a comment. It is always nice to learn of new people.
My favorite artist isn't considered an artist at all. He is an illustrator named J.C. Leyendecker. I was first introduced to him by one of my teachers, a guy named Mike Mattesi, who's name will come up again later. I think it is important to remember the people who introduced you to the things you love....and give credit where it is due.
 J. C. Leyendecker:

I love the angles of Leyendecker's work, the crispness of the lines, the superb draughtsmanship.
Some people have asked me "what about "Rockwell"?" I love Rockwell too, but not quite as much as Leyendecker....and Leyendecker came first. Without Leyendecker, there would be no Norman Rockwell.

James McMullan:


James McMullan is an amazing Illustrator. His Lincoln Center Theater Posters are world famous. I'm not going into his bio here, you can Google him. He also created the High Focus Drawing Program at the School of Visual Arts which changed my life. To this day I go back and read that book.

The beginning of the High Focus Drawing story doesn't start with him though. I was taking a class my freshman year from a guy named Jack Potter. I hated him and his drawing style. Cranky old, bald headed.....I said I'd keep it clean.... It's ok, he hated me too....so much so that he threw me out of class and told me not to come back. That was just his teaching style. It took me years  to realize it, but I respect his decision. He knew I didn't belong there, and sent me on my way.

 While I was wondering around that day, I walked into another drawing class and there was this guy sitting there drawing. He looked like a student, maybe a few years older then me. I  looked at the drawing.....it was incredible! I thought to my self "That is how I want to draw!" so I asked him who was teaching the class. He smiled and said - "I am" .....
His name is  John T. Quinn and  his blog is listed here if anyone wants to see his work, which is also amazing.

The following year John was hired by Disney, and I was left with Jim McMullan. I didn't know Jim that well, and I was a little intimidated. Jim is smart, really smart, the kind of guy that uses words you have to go home and look up in the dictionary. I can't tell you how many times I was either complimented or insulted and didn't realize it for hours.
By midway through my junior year I was teaching the younger students in small groups while Jim was teaching the whole. My senior year, we did an independent study together and I was sitting in on all of his classes. I might add that my senior year at SVA I needed four required credits to graduate, which was two more classes. I took one required class each semester and took a full 18 credits of drawing classes.

One of the classes I took was from Mike Mattesi. He was one of McMullan's students who was also teaching in the High Focus Drawing program. He introduced me to Leyendecker, and Mucha, and so many other illustrators I can't even remember. I took one of his classes and he would let me sit in on his other one. He has since written a great book on figure drawing as well called FORCE. More info is on his blog which is listed here. My Senior year at SVA I was drawing ten to twelve hours a day six days a week and working nights on the weekends to pay for it.....yeah, I was nuts.

There is so much more I have to say about Jim and the class that I could go on for pages but I have others to get to here. I will add this:  It was in the independent study with Jim McMullan when he told me to do a psychological still-life, which is in every painting I make. The personality I strive for in my work, comes from his teachings. He is a great man, who taught a great class, and wrote a great book. I owe him more then I have the words for.....and that he is aware of.

Above - One of Jim's High Focus Drawings. Look at the rhythm!

When I wasn't at SVA taking a class or sitting in on a class I went to a place called Spring Studio, on Spring St. In NYC.  Minerva, the woman who runs it, has three live models a day, seven days a week. Almost every day, I would get to class at 9am and leave Spring Studio at 10pm.

Comic Books

It all started with comic books. Yep, I said it. Comics introduced me to reading and drawing at the same time. They introduced me to Art, Superheros, Gods, Greek Mythology, literature, Moby Dick,  and girls.....girls who's looked amazing....girls who looked nothing like reality....you think Cosmo sets the wrong standard? Try finding a girl that looks like a Jim Lee or a Scott Campbell drawing.....you can't do it.....but anyway.

I started by copying drawings out of comic books. That led me to going to The Joe Kubert School in Dover, NJ right out of high school. I learned alot there, but it wasn't enough. Imagine every class clown with a bit of drawing ability all in one place at the same time......That was the Joe Kubert school. IIf you have never seen to skinny guys in batman t-shirts getting into a fist fight in the hall over who would win in a fight Hulk or Thor......yeah, I didn't need that, and I wanted to go to a school with a girl in it. A great teacher there named Barry Bryant told me to go to art school, a real art school. He said, after commenting on how much progress I had made in just one year... "You're not there yet, but you'll get there" I have never forgotten it. I'm still working Barry, I'll get there.

(Above) Batman drawing by Jim Lee who taught me that comic book drawings didn't just have to function, they could have grace and style.

(Above) A drawing of Spiderman by Todd McFarlane. McFarlane was one of my favorites when I was a kid and his work changed the face of comic books.

After Joe Kubert, I got into the School of Visual Arts in NYC. I remember on my interview, Jack Endewelt was looking over my portfolio and he said "Well, you can draw so we can't put you in Fine Art" He set up my entire schedule, picked my classes, and my major. I was now in Illustration, and I had no idea how I got there. I have often said that I never made any decisions in life, I just tried not to let things pass me by.


 *NOTE - The below was written in 2012, before I signed with Disney Fine Art. The story is from the late 1990's when I was trying to get into a different department at Disney. I am leaving the text below because it was true when I wrote it, it's still true actually, and it is very much a part of where I am now... and  right now, I couldn't be happier with where I am.

I drew a lot when I was a kid...constantly really, but it was just something I did, like a reflex. I'm not even sure I thought about it. It was like breathing. When I saw "The Little Mermaid" during my junior year of high school I started to think about it. "I thought, "That is what I want to do for a living". The following year Beauty And The Beast was released and it was then for certain!

A lot happened in between then and getting into SVA but this a blog, not a novel. At SVA I got into an internship with Walt Disney Feature Animation called the Boot Camp. Thirty Five kids, from the US and Canada get to spend four weeks at Disney.....A dream come true...maybe.
It was the summer of my junior year. I never expected to get into the thing. My school picked six people to go to the interview. I wasn't one of them. Myself and this other guy who wasn't selected thought we should have been so we went to the meeting anyway and plopped our portfolios on the table and asked the good people from Disney if they would look at our work anyway.....they did and the both of us got in.

McMullan had a week long workshop to be held over the summer at the exact same time as the Disney internship. He asked me if I would assist him in teaching it. Darn!! I couldn't do both, I had to pick one..  I chose Disney.
It is the one time in my life where I wish I could see a movie of how my life would have turned out had I made the other decision.

A year later I was invited to do a year long mentorship with Disney. It lasted about a month before my mentor disappeared mysteriously from the employment of Walt Disney Feature Animation.  I have never heard from him again.

After five more years of dedicating my life to the Mouse I sent a portfolio to Disney Consumer Products. This was in about 1999 I think. I have read that if you want people to believe you, never tell them something that is unbelievable, even if it is the truth..
This is the truth. I sent in my portfolio to Disney Consumer Products. They spent a lot of time asking me who my influences and favorite Disney Characters were. I told them Beast, and Ariel, and Pinocchio, and Jafar etc......and they gave me Piglet...Piglet. I knew nothing about Piglet, and didn't even like Piglet...but I got a Piglet test.
I passed the Piglet test. Interview time. I flew out to Burbank for the interview (paid for it myself). I can't remember ever being so happy. This was Disney! This was it! I passed the drawing test!

I went home full of the same joy. About a week later, while I was bartending in a crappy bar in AZ. I get a phone call from Disney. The woman said "I can't say anything official over the phone, but I just want you to have a GREAT weekend, and look forward to getting something in the mail from us next week.
I was IN!!!! Words will never explain the feeling. I had just gotten into Disney!!!
...well, that's what I thought anyway.
About a week went by, nothing in the mail.
I called.
I was told, "it's coming, don't you worry".
Another week went by, I called again.
I was told, "we are working on it, but we will call when we are ready"
......I am still waiting for that call.

(Above) A model sheet of Mickey Mouse

(above)  Artwork from  Pinocchio by Gustaf Tenggren, absolutely stunning drawings and paintings. I really love his work.

*Note - People either get the Disney thing or they don't. If you get it, great, I really think your life has a touch of magic to it. If you get it, but are disappointed with the company now, your life has a touch of magic to it, and you can also think. If you don't get it, let me do my best to explain why I tried so hard to get in. Everything I have read about Walt claims that he only wanted the best. Everything had to be perfect. There is a rumor that there is more footage of Snow White on the cutting room floor then there was in the film....I really respect that sort of thinking. When I saw The Little Mermaid for the first time and she comes up from the rocks and a piece of her hair gets caught by the air and hits her face....That's not real!! Glenn Keane did that, he thought of that, that tiny detail. He was also said to have crawled around on the floor while animating Beast but that is another story.

I love the Disney that made Pinocchio, Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, Mermaid and Beast. I even liked Hercules. I love the idea that animals and clocks can talk and sing. When I look at the character designs, storyboards, background painters, and millions of drawings that went into each film, I am in awe. I look through any book of Disney concept art, or drawings from the films, or sketchbooks and I am blown away by the skill these folks had. I think building a place of escape, with a castle, rides, trains, and fireworks, is a wonderful thing. Walt hired a bunch of guys that made drawings move, and sing and dance.

Daniel Greene:

Not long after I graduated from SVA, I started teaching a weekly figure drawing class at Scottsdale Artist's School. In the class was a fellow instructor at the school who suggested I start painting in oils. I knew nothing about oil painting. I had a class at SVA but we would work on these huge still-life setups and would sit ten to fifteen feet away from them. (the worst way to teach still-life painting I might add).

At that point I was doing a lot of figure drawing in pencil. I never liked the whole big brush thing so I started toning my canvas to the same color as Strathmore Charcoal Paper and working in Burnt Umber and White until I got good enough to add more colors. Again I could pause here for pages, but I won't.
For two years I slowly taught myself how to paint.

In 2002, Daniel Greene was to be teaching a workshop at Scottsdale Artist's School. He had asked the school if they knew of anyone who would be willing to assist him in teaching the workshop. The school asked me and of course I said yes. At that time I was back to working ten to fourteen hours a day on painting and drawing, and teaching two classes a week at Scottsdale Artist's School. Dan told me mid-weekend of the workshop that "I was very good, but with a little discipline I could be excellent" I thought to myself, I'm working fourteen hours a day, how much discipline do I need? He meant with the way I painted...
Dan asked me what  was doing that summer and If I would like to come to his studio in NY, and be his assistant for four weeks. I would get to paint every day, all day long. WOW, another fantastic opportunity. I sad yes.
I am not going to list here everything he did for me, or all that I have learned from him. A few of the important items are that he taught me are how to have the same approach to painting every time I sit down to paint. I learned about mediums, how to prep a canvas and a palette, and how to properly pronounce palette.... The list is endless.  He is the best painting teacher I have ever met. He can tell you so clearly what your mistakes are that he never needs to make a single brushstroke on your canvas, unless you ask him to. He gave me my first real easel, which I still use. He taught me how to see color and value, gave me wonderful career advice, and I even met Steve Doherty, from American Artist magazine there, who gave me my first article.
I was Dan's assistant for five more summers after that....Every summer I wish to be back there, but you gotta walk on your own two feet at some point.

(Above) An oil  still-life and a pastel portrait by Daniel Greene.

There are so many people who are a big part of helping me get to where I am now and just through life in general,  that I just can't list everyone who jumps to mind.  I have so far yet to go and I am looking forward to meeting those who aren't on the list yet. This blog is just about five of the influences that I think most influenced the visual look of my work. It unfortunately misses all of the influences in other areas.

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