Archive for August, 2008

This was linked to in a couple of other places, but I think it is worth reading. The LA Times has an article about when the Olympics honored the arts as well as athletics. I had no idea that the Olympics used to have an art competition where Gold, Silver and Bronze awards were given to various categories for the arts.

The article focuses on a Gold Medal award given to Lee Blair in the 1932 Olympics for watercolor painting. Lee was Mary Blair’s husband. Mary Blair is well known for her work at Disney and in children’s books and many other areas of the arts.

You learn something new every few minutes on the web.

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A post all about working in big companies. And an excuse to post some of my panel cartoons!

I do a lot of freelance work in design. I’m happy to say 80% of my work is now illustration related, but I still take on occasional design jobs if they are interesting or for a friend ETC.

Recently one company I work for occasionally, going back on 6 years now, went through a middle management craze. They hired several new middle managers who, to make up for their salaries, start ‘cutting costs’ everywhere else. Now I have worked at some of the biggest companies in the world, and in management. I’ve seen this happen, I’ve even been part of it at times. One outstanding story goes like this: a company hires two new Vice Presidents of some kind (Vice Presidents are like fleas. Multiple quickly and suck the blood out of living things.) and at the end of the year the big savings they brought in is $15,000. Of course this came by cutting out a massively helpful customer service software solution and switching it to a sub-par system. Two six figure salaries added, lots of angry customers and bad work done – a success! Of course in accounting, salaries are considered separate from project expenses. So particular higher-ups (the less bright ones) actually think they have saved the company money. Smiles all around. Good job! Please god, make this end.

Anyway it’s always interesting to see the middle management of a company swell. It’s like a middle class employment program. Marketing departments seem to swell by the minute. Directors, Executive Directors, Vice President of Directing. 99% of the time, those departments do very little to create, establish or enhance a product. More often, they create disasters. Look at Disney Feature Animation during the time of the great swell. Producers, managers, Vice Presidents doing who knows what (other than collecting a check).
Instead of bringing in a high priced consultancy group to help a company be more efficient, I wonder if maybe, just maybe, a large company couldn’t cut a marketing department in half and see a better bottom line, and empowered employees who actually do something. And this is the real point of this post. As a freelancer, you actually DO THINGS. You get them done. Projects are defined, problems solved. It’s very efficient compared to a marketing department where 3 or 4 people actually do work, writing copy, design, maybe some demographics work if you’re in an agency. But there’s twice that many who spend their time trying to find something to do to prove they have something to do.

Read a great quote recently from Roy Disney: “Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your product.”

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I drew editorial cartoons for the college newspaper at the UW Wisconsin and for the Capital Times in Madison. They were picked up from time to time nationally and my work was twice included in The Best Editorial Cartoons of The Year. My father was an editorial cartoonist at the St. Paul Dispatch so I grew up looking at, talking about and debating a good editorial cartoon from a bad one. But these days the field is in as sad as shape as newspapers in general.

I don’t think the public pays much attention to them anymore in this age of You Tube and the majority of cartoonists have turned towards straight-ahead comedy instead of real political content. Certainly most have given up on actually using the art form to its best advantage, where the art AND words carry the concept. Cartoonists have also divided pretty strongly along party lines. Which is sad, as historically the best American cartoonists played a valuable role of third-party. Calling out any public servant no matter what party they belonged to. But is this era of Fox News it is no surprise that cartoonists find their audience only among the converted. It seems no one wants to be forced to think about a political subject unless it has been prepared to appeal to ones political leanings already. And in this new era of ‘journalism’ media conglomerates like Fox have created a ‘shout at one another’ system where thought, introspection or the understanding that political judgment, like life itself, is delicate and filled with contradictions doesn’t make good ratings. There’s no room for gray on Fox. Remember, you’re either with us or against us. So much for negotiations…

That’s a long way of saying I don’t follow political cartoons much anymore. Except for…Pat Oliphant. He was one of the best 20 years ago and still is today.

He certainly does have a political POV, but he doesn’t make the point of his cartoons a cheap political ‘shot’. He lets the drawing speak as much as his words and his drawing even carries intellectual weight. I can’t think of a single editorial cartoonist working who has that ability anymore.

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In the middle of 100 degree heat here in Oregon, I’m thinking of fall with a new series of paintings. The playground, the weather, the suburbs… Makes me want to cry. Well, actually, this kid having no one to play with at the playground makes him want to cry. Last fall only my daughter and I would go over to the playgorund on bad weather days. People must have looked out of their windows and thought, “What a bad father, doesn’t he know she will get sick in this weather!”. Made me think…

This was painted in Photoshop. It is big. At original resolution (500dpi) over 2 feet. This is, obviously, greatly reduced.

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I have a great deal of interest in Walt Disney, as does almost anyone who works in mass media, drawing, animation and story telling. One aspect that really interests me is how after Disney died, the work went downhill, for many, many years. The films lost their ‘big picture’ appeal. And as Walt’s death was not unexpected, he seemed to do very little to see to the future legacy of Walt Disney Inc. (though from what I have read he badly wanted it to go on.)

I also think about Steve Jobs at Apple. What happens when he leaves that job? Pixar seems safe for the time being from the kind of collapse that happened when Walt died. Pixar seems to have been able to have a team of talented, creative people take the lead. I have no intimate knowledge of how Pixar makes a movie , and how the inner power structure works other than casual conversations with employees and such, but Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter (along with a half dozen other folks) seem to wield some power when it comes to make or break decisions. It seems that Walt didn’t like to share that power.

One of my favorite ‘kids’ books is actually Bill Peet’s: An Autobiography. He talks about his life and his time at Disney using his wonderful story-artist style. And from what I have gathered in my reading (far from academic I’m sure, but also Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney and a few other books) Walt and Bill Peet may have been too much alike. Both were BIG story people with the ability to get into the nitty-gritty of story beats if need be. But I wonder if Peet hadn’t been driven out of the studio shortly before Walt’s death, if he wouldn’t have been a great choice to build on what Walt had started.

The ‘9 old men’ that took over the creative direction of the studio to a great extent, while wonderful artists and animators, seem to come up short on the big-picture story side of things. These guys seemed good ‘moment’ people. But having recently watched a great number of the middle-years Disney animated films, they definitely had story problems. Perhaps a classic example of not seeing the big picture through the beautiful drawings. Bill Peet was never a lead animator (I believe) but was a story artist (after work as an in-betweener, can’t remember if he was ever an assistant) and later a screen writer. Walt seemed to see this as a negative, and made comments to Bill to let him know that Walt placed the most value on the guys who could ‘really’ animate. Of course, drawing really, really, really well isn’t THE most valuable skill when it comes to making a good animated film. But while Walt was alive, that’s what he needed around him. Great craftsmen and artists and designers to bring those stories to life.

I suspect Walt and Bill were too much alike. So the tensions and difficulties of these two egos would make it impossible for them to work together. I mean, who will win the arguments, Walt Disney or Bill Peet? Just look to the name of the company Bill was working at to figure that out.

This is all just water under the bridge. But I think legacies are especially important to creative companies and the fact is most people with the ego and drive to be in charge of it all, will not take kindly to another person who shares those traits. Yet, Walt probably missed the opportunity to hand the creative direction of the company to an employee who had the depth of story ability that Walt must have had. Instead he handed it to very, very talented animators. But they in turn needed a Walt Disney for those drawings to have any real meaning.

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A little bit of leftovers. From the archives. I did this years ago, back when I was using REAL pen and ink! Yup. No UNDO buttons. Living on the edge with drawing tools that can be used as weapons as well.

This was for a children’s book illustration course taught by Marla Frazee. It’s a pretty big file so clickers beware.

Click below and see the entire story.

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