Music, Lautrec, Classicism, and Cartoons

And many others. I can’t say ’em all, but I would list the myriad of influences that I have known in my (quote unquote) artistic career (for lack of a better term) if I could. I think I’ll focus on these four, and see how they connect.

Here we go.

The first time I’d heard of Toulouse Lautrec was (First connection!) in a cartoon. Like many other kids born in the nineties (and what a senseless and depraved decade that was) I liked to watch Spongebob Squarepants. I believe the joke was that Squidward was being moved to several different areas, and upon being moved into a parody of Lautrec’s “Moulin Rouge” poster featuring swordfish declared “Tou-louse Lautrec!” I get the distinct feeling that I’d heard the name Toulouse Lautrec before, but that I had never gripped the magnitude of its significance. Either way, I absorbed almost nothing more than the fact that Lautrec was a painter until high school when I began to take a keen interest in art history. Of course, the path to Lautrec was long and winding. And naturally the first artist I looked up was…well, I’m guessing it was Michelangelo. Or something. One can be assured that it was an Old Master from the period of Renaissance Classicism. From there, it was almost a direct path to the Impressionists, and from there, the Post-Impressionists(Second connection!).

Now naturally when I began to get truly serious about drawing, I revered the work of the Old Masters (particularly the linear classicists) above all others, and so I tried to imitate what I saw there. Which utterly failed. I would like to stress that I was learning, but one can almost never pick up on the subtle nuances of Renaissance Classicism the first time they try. And especially the first way they try. Now, if you were anything like I was when I first started learning (and how I can be sometimes today) you probably worked…

very….
CAREFULLY…..
And I made slight progress, but I eventually learned that I had much more fun doing quick gestural drawings, and working haphazardly. And that’s where Lautrec comes in. His vibrant, gestural, energetic work had an incredible impact on me, and got me interested in using pastels. I realized that I didn’t have to worry about smoothing out each stroke so that it blends, or making sure each color looked correct. I could let the reds and blues, the oranges and yellows sit where they were. After all, they were there. I just couldn’t see them. 

I let this manner of working continue, of course, and I began to realize that I could produce exciting results by allowing my arm to flail wildly across the paper, and letting strokes blend together. Drawing wasn’t just an exercise anymore. It was fun! And music made it even better. (Finally! last connection!) What I listened to often influenced the subject and mood of what I worked on. I started to (and often still do) lay down marks and tone and color to the beat of songs, singing along, and moving like a conductor if the page was big enough. 

And one can be assured that it is a terribly embarassing sight.

Naturally this changed the way I draw cartoons as well. Initially, I drew cartoons the same way I drew anything else. Very carefully, with a very thin line. It went through the same progression, and eventually I moved from trying to make delicate, anatomically correct cartoons, to ones where I wildly exaggerated facial and bodily features.

So, there we have it. Yet another exploration into the people and ideas that inspired me to work the way I do.

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My Ongoing Relationship with (dead) Disney Animators.

Well, here we are at the start of a new blog.

Nifty.

So, for my first trick I will be magically producing a few blog-posts about my sources of inspiration out of my (and we will be keeping our language classy here) bung-hole.

To start, I’d like to introduce you all to a group of dead men that I wish I could dig up and kiss right on their collective dead, worm-infested mouths.

These three men would be

Bill Tytla

Marc Davis

And Ward Kimball.

Hello, Ward.

To start, all three were (in their heydays) animators at Disney (save for Tytla who did some work at Terrytoons). Despite the common background, though, their work is somewhat dissimilar, and each one has influenced me in their own way.

I believe I’ll start with Marc.

I don’t think that it would be a great stretch to say that Marc Davis’ work is probably the best known of the three I’ve listed here, barring his (very competent) fine art endeavors. After all, Marc did clean-up designs for Princess Aurora (The eponymous Sleeping Beauty) and personally did designs for Maleficent (the bad fairy) and Cruella Deville (I can’t help you if you don’t know who this is) as well as the initial designs for the “Pirates of the Carribean” ride (one of which is seen above) and the “Song of the South” ride. It was a common consensus in the golden age of Disney that Marc was one of (if not the) best draftsmen at the studio. In fact, the only reason he switched from storyboards to animation was because Walt Disney himself loved Marc’s Bambi drawings so much that he reportedly took Marc over to Milt Kahl (a much-renowned member of the Nine Old Men) showed him a picture of Thumper the rabbit, and said “I want to see this, but moving”. I love Marc’s sense of line economy, as well as the flowing and decorative feel of his characters.Whereas the aforementioned Milt Kahl seems to take a lot of Cubist influences (he added a lot of hard-edged lines to the designs he did) Marc’s work just screams Art Nouveau to me. The attention to line weight and the obvious joy of drawing fabric really speak to me, as well as his dedication to working both inside and outside of the studio.

Then we have Ward Kimball.

Ward was… Well, he was Ward, I suppose. He was truly one of the most gifted caricaturists the studio had, and if he ever drew something that looked normal, I don’t think I’ve seen it. Ward was responsible for some of the more offbeat designs you’ll see out of Disney: Jim Crow and Bacchus, of course, but also the Indian Chief in Peter Pan, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (and quite possibly the whole “Walrus Sequence) and the Cheshire Cat in Alice and Wonderland, and the short-film “It’s Tough to Be a Bird”. He caricatured not only physical features, but also movement in his animation and design work, but I think a picture that acts as a sort of artist’s statement for Ward would be this group caricature of the Nine Old Men.

Whenever I sit down to do a drawing, I usually have to take a quick mental check to stop it from becoming too weird and caricatured. But, whenever I do want to make a funny drawing (and I do, in fact want to make those, usually when I’m trying to do something serious) I always think of Ward Kimball.

Finally, We come to my personal favorite.

Bill Tytla.
While Milt Kahl is often referred to as the “Michelangelo of Disney Animation” I have to say that I think that title belongs to Bill. Bill Tytla was responsible for the animation of the bullying rooster in “Cock o’ the Walk”, a good majority of Grumpy, in Snow White, Chernabog (the devil that erupts from a mountain) in Fantasia, and my personal favorite, Stromboli in Pinnochio. Bill Tytla was one of the few animators from back in the day (before the time of the Nine Old Men) that had some classical art training prior to his work with Disney Studios. After saving up money at a job in Terrytoons (what I like to call “The Bathtub Gin Studio” for its reputation for mediocre animation at low-cost, low-time rates) he travelled to Italy and studied there. He soon came to the conclusion that he could never beat the Old Masters at their own game, and therefore decided to get back into animation with the Disney Studio. There he gained a reputation for a passionate attitude towards his work (according to one of his wife’s anecdotes, she had to stand in a doorway naked to get his attention around the house) as well as a knack for powerful “heavy” characters (although he defied everyone’s expectations by animating baby Dumbo). We can see one of his most interesting performances, I think, in his portrayal of Stromboli. Stromboli is larger-than-life in many ways, but especially in his movements and acting. Everything is drawn out to its extreme; there’s no in-between with this character. In a way, it was likely a compensation for the performance of the voice-actor, but it also seemed like a caricature of Tytla himself, who was known throughout the studio as a passionate man.  What isn’t there to try to absorb from Tytla? He was a polished draftsman, an animator with a detailed knowledge of anatomy, and a cartoonist who knew how to stretch the boundaries of facial and muscular anatomy believably in the venue of animation, (see Stromboli above) being one of the first other than Freddie Moore to understand that such a stretched effect will look normal in motion.