Monday, December 28, 2009

On my walls

It's taken me a little longer than usual to post any new drawings due to the fact that most of what I am doing these days is for feature animation and cannot be shared without terrible retribution from on high. So apart from the random drawing (see above), I am constrained to talking about work created by people other than myself, as difficult for me as that may be.
I've been wondering about exactly how to go about it though. After all, there are a LOT of people, dead and alive, whose work I love.
So I've decided to start with artists whose work I own. My goal, apart from the obvious one of showing off my collection, is to hopefully introduce some of you out there to work by artists you may not have heard about until now. I remember the first time I encountered some of this work and each one these artists opened up a new door for me.
I hope one or two of these will do the same for you.

This is a lovely watercolor by Harry Rountree, an illustrator from New Zealand, who had an uncanny gift for anthropomorphising animals. His talent, beyond his incredibly deft hand with the watercolor brush, was his ability to preserve the essence of the animal while still imbuing it with a truly human personality. It's one thing to draw funny animals, but something else entirely to really understand the creature you are exaggerating. Rountree was a naturalist with a sense of humor.

Heinrich Kley. There are very few illustrators I know who don't own the two Dover paperback collections of his work. They are like bibles to me and are so dogeared and tattered, I've had to buy backups. I became aware of Kley's work when some overzealous fan in my high school print shop (I know, what the hell is a print shop?) printed up a huge montage of his drawings on one big yellow sheet. I had the thing hanging over my headboard until I left home to go to college. I've often wondered if that poster functioned in the same way people used to think that if going to bed while listening to a recording of French lessons one could learn fluency in his sleep. All I know is that to this day, I will find myself drawing a familiar figure and flash back to one of the vignettes on that poster.
The drawing above was one of them.

Here is another Kley I picked up a few years ago. My favorite section is the women waving their sashes,
a gem in itself.

And then there is the genius, Winsor McCay. Not the inventor of animation per se, but the guy that showed us what was in store. I see him as one of those freakily gifted humans who pop up every now and then, like Einstein or DaVinci, to give us an evolutionary kick in our pants. This little ink drawing, done on a small yellowed piece of paper, is of Gertie the Dinosaur, and is one of four thousand that McCay drew to create the film. Gertie the Dinosaur represents a major milestone in the history of animation.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Sketchy Past reviewed in the New York Times Book Review!

Below is a review of my book, A Sketchy Past, The Art of Peter de Seve, written by Steven Heller, the former art editor of The New York Times Book Review and highly prolific author and editor of countless books on illustration, graphic design and popular culture.

Peter de Sève is much better known than kamishibai artists [a reference from the first section of the article, not shown here] , but he does the same job of telling stories. His numerous covers for The New Yorker tell ironic tales of the city. “Panhandler,” a fanciful drawing of the mythical half man, half goat Pan playing his proverbial pipes on a New York street corner, is as farcical as it is evocative of the real talents who busk for loose change. De Sève’s “Through the Wringer,” showing a flabby naked man walking through an airport metal detector (ignored by all the passers- by), captures the way many people actually feel when going through the ordeal. These and many more illustrations are collected in a gorgeously designed coffee-table book, A SKETCHY PAST: The Art of Peter de Sève (Akileos, $54.95).
The sketches implied in the title are probably the best part. De Sève’s finished pieces are very fluid and impressionistic while totally representational, with hints of caricature at every turn. But his looser sketches are the real masterpieces of visual erudition. He depicts character and expression so completely with only a few well-composed lines and shades. And among the most delightful, in a book that will doubtless serve as a textbook for today’s aspiring artists, are production sketches for the animated “Ice Age” films, for which he designed the amazing characters (under the supervision of the director Chris Wedge, who wrote the book’s foreword). Although de Sève is certainly a people person, drawingwise, I haven’t seen such a master with animals since John James Audubon, if Audubon had done caricatures of prehistoric creatures, that is.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The CTN Animation Expo, pt.II

Absolutely killer Kung Fu Panda maquettes sculpted by Damon Bard.
Oh, how I want one.

An artist shows her portfolio at the Blue Sky Studios table.

Very talented, way too young guy, Justin Gerard.


Kent Melton begins a maquette. Like a dope, I walked away
not realizing who he was.

Me, talking about Me, while Roger Allers politely
waits for Me to stop.

People watching me draw.
It was like something out of a fever dream.

Finally, a few minutes to post something on the CTN (Creative Talent Network) Animation Expo in Burbank,California. I must say, it was a tremendous event. I think everyone I met (and I met quite a few people there) expressed surprise and excitement at how well attended and well organized the whole shebang was. I do believe this thing has legs and will be even bigger next year.
More than one person described it as a distilled San Diego Comicon experience but just for animation geeks. Only the good stuff: various artists showing their latest work, including Craig Elliott, Andreas Deja , Kei Acedera and Bobby Chiu to name a few. Also on view were Damon Bard's Kung Fu Panda maquettes, translated so perfectly from Nicolas Marlet's flawless designs (do not get me started on how much I hate Marlet!)- more on that genius later. Mike Mignola was there with his wife Christine and their daughter. Mike had several masterworks for sale, one of which I scored. More on that guy later, too.
Beyond the work displayed by those artists and many more, was a seamless loop of drawing and painting demonstrations, both traditional (Craig Elliott) and digital (Justin Gerard) all staged on a platform near the center of the main room and viewable on large monitors all over the convention. You might be having a coffee outside the hall, look up and find yourself mesmerized by some dazzling display of draughtsmanship only to realize your coffee's gone cold while you sat there slackjawed. There were many panel discussions, (all of which I missed due to my own obligations that weekend), including a history of the maquette by the sculpting superhero, Kent Melton and a roundtable on character design including folks like Harald Seiperman and Greg Couch. Outside the main hall in the lounge area were ad hoc gatherings of artists sharing their sketchbooks with one another. In the same area were also displays of maquettes ranging from vintage Jiminy Crickets circa The Nine Old Men to finished painted models from Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland (designed by Kei Acedera and Bobby Chu). Beyond the sharing of ideas, techniques and general passion for the art of animation by both vets and newcomers, was the search for job opportunities, a central goal of CTN. Blue Sky Studios had a table set up and my Blue Sky pals, Sabrina de los Rios and Greg Couch spent much of the weekend going through countless portfolios, giving advice and taking business cards. Sony Animation was there and doing the same thing. I strongly suspect the other studios will follow suit next year.
The very kind Roger Allers, director of The Lion King, generously agreed to interview me on stage before an audience. Despite our jitters, confessed to each other only moments before going on, we had a great time and a lot of laughs.
For myself, I was especially delighted with the wonderful reception A Sketchy Past and the Duchess of Whimsy received. Every time I went to Stuart Ng's table someone was either perusing one of the books or had one in hand, ready for purchase. It was the debut for A Sketchy Past here in the U.S. and I could not have been happier with the response. Thank you to those of you who purchased it!
photos by Marianne Franco
And congratulations to Tina Price, for organizing such a successful weekend!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Finally, a NEW website!

After six years, I finally have a new website. Let me know what you think!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Chilly Reception

Every year in Kiruna, Sweden, 125 miles north of the Arctic Circle, a team of sturdy Swedes works from dawn until dusk (which, up that far north, means about twenty minutes) to complete construction of the famous Ice Hotel. It is exactly that, a hotel constructed from great blocks of perfect ice, harvested from the Torne river that runs through much of this wintery hinterland. The hotel is reconstructed every year around this time and it is there in very chilly Kiruna, that Twentieth Century Fox decided to hold a three day press junket to promote the release of the Blu Ray, DVD of Ice Age, Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
That's where I was last week.
Here are a few pictures:

A "wilderness picnic lunch" on a frozen river.

We arrived by dog sled and yes, we ate reindeer.

I went for one of the most beautiful runs of my life,

and did not see a soul.

It was cold, even by his standards.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Randall, The Duchess and I

The shameless self promotion continues!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shoes Make the Man

While we're on the subject of Norman Rockwell, please allow me an observation I've made about him as a character designer.
There are many who would quite incorrectly dismiss Rockwell as an artist enslaved by the photograph. The contrary is true. One of Rockwell's many gifts was his ability to choose what to use from a photo and what to throw out. More importantly, the photos he worked from were of subjects he posed and clothed himself. Now to my point: for a short but (I feel) illuminating lesson in character design, take a look at any Rockwell painting, and don't even bother with the faces. Look down. In every one of his paintings his figures are dressed in exactly the shoes that character should be wearing. Their color and patina, style and condition speak volumes about the wearer's history and personality. You almost don't have to look up again to know who's wearing them.
I am still not the costumer of characters I would like to be, not by a long shot, but artists like Rockwell make it very clear:
it's not the amount of details you choose to include,
but which ones.

The Norman Rockwell Museum and The Duchess

Have you ever been to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachussetts? If you are a fan of Rockwell or a fan of illustration in general, than make the trip sometime. The museum is world class. The galleries are large, beautifully lit and there are many of them. Most are filled with the very best of Rockwell's work and they are very impressive to see in the original. It's a beautiful museum in a gorgeous part of the country and well worth a visit.
As I mentioned, the NRM also focuses on the work of other artists as well and hosts events to help launch new books about and by contemporary illustrators.
Yes, you know where this is going, don't you?
Randall and I will be spending a couple of hours at the Rockwell on November 28th.,the Saturday after Thanksgiving, to give a little talk on the process of working together to create our book, The Duchess of Whimsy. The event will be absolutely kid friendly and will include a reading of the book and I'll be drawing some characters as well. I'm proud to say that there will be a little showing of my originals from The Duchess on exhibit, too. The idea for the talk and the exhibit arose pretty quickly, so the work will not be hanging in one of the formal galleries but in a more casual space near our presentation.
The museum has an excellent bookstore, which I'm proud to say will also have copies of A Sketchy Past, which I will be happy to sign for anyone who is interested.
One more bonus I should mention: Rockwell's final studio is situated on the grounds and available for viewing, just as he left it. It's always interesting to stand in a space you know one of your heroes stood and maybe screamed at the top of his lungs when a picture went badly.

Or is it only me that does that?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The CTN Animation Expo!

On November 20th, an organization called the Creative Talent Network, will be hosting a brand new convention in Burbank, California designed to bring together professionals in the animation industry to discuss their experiences in the business and share them with colleagues and people looking to make their careers there. Tina Price, the founder of CTN and the Expo, has flattered me with the invitation to be a featured guest and to take part in several of the events being held there, including a one on one interview on stage, with the legendary Roger Allers , director of the masterpiece, The Lion King. Other events will include workshops, panel discussions and simple meet and greets at the bar located within the convention ( you know where to find me.) The CTN Expo has been snowballing over the last several months and looks as if it might be shaping up to become something special.
You can find all the info here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Last Minute Announcement!

Randall and I will be doing a signing and reading of The Duchess of Whimsy at Book Court in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn tomorrow morning , November 8th at 11:00 am.
We hope you can make it!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Arludik and Books of Wonder

Look, I know that photos from signings don't make the most riveting posts, but
I do want to share these events somehow and this is certainly the best way. I'm doubling up this entry to include last Sunday's Duchess of Whimsy reading at Books of Wonder and the wonderful opening of my show at Galerie Arludik in Paris. Both events were very well attended and full of good cheer and encouragement, which believe me, is much appreciated. Thank you to all who joined us. Randall and I will be hosting a few more events surrounding both The Duchess of Whimsy and A Sketchy Past, all of which I will soon list in the upper right hand corner of this page. If you happen to be in this part of the world, please come by.
(thank you, Fabrice Leduc for the Arludik photos above and to Jessica Yeomans, for the Books of Wonder photos below)

PS: Our next reading/signing of The Duchess of Whimsy will be tomorrow, November 8th, at Book Court in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn at 11:00 am!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Duchess of Whimsy is officially released today!

Randall and I are delighted to announce that The Duchess of Whimsy will finally hit bookstores today! We will be doing readings and signings in various places in around New York throughout the next month or so and hope you will have a chance to join us.
First off and one of our most important events is this Sunday, November 1st at Books of Wonder, the biggest children's bookstore in NYC. It will be a reading/signing/sketching/eating of grill cheese sandwiches/pub party kind of thing from 2:00 to 4:00.
And it's BYOK.
We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

that's TWO for the books

I am proud to have the opportunity once more to blag ( I thought I coined this word first, but apparently I didn't) about being partly responsible for an actual entry into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Many years ago, I illustrated a very small pop-up book of Aesop's Fables which was designed by a fellow named Roger Culbertson. It was a minor affair and my work for it was admittedly middling, but still it was fun to illustrate a pop-up book and to invent amusing pop-uppish ways to tell the stories. Roger, was quite passionate about pop-ups and decided to recreate the book, but scaled up to a relatively enormous height of 4ft., thereby breaking the current World Record, and officially placing it in the Guinness Book of.
In an equally unintentional way, I have found myself once again associated with a record breaking entry. This time for an ice sculpture of a colossal Scrat, holding his acorn aloft and measuring 45 ft. high. To be clear, I just drew the thing and never picked up a chainsaw. That job was left to a crack team of fourteen ice sculptors who worked feverishly through the night to complete it in time for a promotional event announcing the release of Ice Age, Dawn of the Dinosaurs on Blue Ray and DVD.

The ice sculpture was unveiled yesterday in Santa Monica under brutally sunny California skies.

Sorry, I don't have any good photos of it and I'm not authorized to show my actual design, but it looks something like this:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dwuh and Swuh

I'd like to introduce you to two very nice and very funny fellows named Dwight and Swain. These guys have created a wonderful series of podcasts on the topics of illustration, comics and pop culture in general, which are posted on a site they call Sidebar Nation. Each installment is an hour long interview with an artist discussing his or her career. They were gracious enough to invite me to their show and I have to say, it is one of the most enjoyable hours I have spent giving an interview. 

You can find it here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


There are quite a few things to mention about my trip to Paris for the opening and book launch, so I might as well begin here. One of the very best things about traveling abroad and showing my work is having the privilege of meeting artists whom I've admired but never thought I would ever actually get the chance to meet. Such was the case with Juanjo Guarnido, the scary talent who illustrates the now classic Blacksad series written by Diaz Canales. it's an ultra pure film noir detective story that takes place in a Dashiell Hammett universe populated not by people, but by completely anthropomorphized animals, all perfectly cast to suit the character they are portraying. John Blacksad, the titular character, is a detective and a black tom cat, very much in the mold of anti-hero Sam Spade or in this case Spayed ( I had to say it!) The criminal underworld is portrayed by likewise suitable fauna-- thugs may appear as apes or rhinos, the police chief and his squad are vigilant canines and the kingpins of crime can be anything from a Greenstreet-ish albino tiger to a Soprano like frog. All of this is set in a quintessentially noirish city of the mind, tinted with the unmistakable patina of New York in the fifties.
Beyond the beautiful characterizations, Guarnido is a dazzling master of perspective and uses it in a powerfully cinematic way. It is easy to imagine this animated on the big screen ( but be careful, whoever you are, it will be a very delicate thing to get right).
One would think this guy would be a bit intimidating to meet, but I'm relieved to say he's a very nice fellow and humble to a fault.
My hosts, Jean-Jacques and Diane Launier kindly invited me to their home just outside Paris to see their amazing collection of artwork, movie and comic collectibles before meeting Guarnido for dinner at a restaurant nearby.
The restaurant,which happened to have a giant one hundred foot long sculpture of a plesiosaur skeleton hung from the rafters ( I'm still not certain why), served us a delicious meal. In the meantime, Guarnido and I got to exchange notes on artistic influences and found we have many heroes in common . He loves Rountree! He loves Sullivant! He loves Kley!  Look at their work and you'll see why. (more on those masters at some later post).
I made him a gift of my book and he surprised me by doing the same in kind. He gave me a precious, signed limited edition of his Blacksad book , Ame Rouge.  A glass of wine or two later, I fished out my pen and handed him back the book. He knew why and didn't bother to protest. Below, are photos of the two of us, (me, with the better end of the bargain).

After dinner, Guarnido was kind enough to drive me back to my new place near the Luxembourg Gardens. Having changed my sleeping arrangements three times since arriving a week before, I was a bit confused about exactly where my hotel was located. When we finally figured it out, Guarnido let out a sigh of relief and confessed he was glad he didn't get us lost, which apparently happens to him all the time. We were both laughing as he drove off and just as he turned the corner and drove away, I realized I was in front of the wrong hotel.

Oh well, there are worst things than being lost in Paris.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Any one who has known me for even a little bit, knows of my fondness for the work of Honore Daumier. He is one of France's best loved caricaturists and political satirists of the late nineteenth century and spent most of his energy attacking the hypocrisies and excesses of the bourgeoise. For me, his work has always embodied the ability to capture the essence of a character, with detail and rendering as lesser priorities.
On Tuesday, Randall, and my assistant and friend, Malia Hughes joined me for a trip to the Musee D'Orsay along with my two girls, Paulina and Fia. It's a spectacular place which was once a vast railway station at the turn of the century. Combing the various galleries, we stumbled upon a room devoted to the work of Daumier and there in a huge glass case were over thirty busts of the parliamentary figures of the day, molded in his characteristically energetic and unapologetic way. They look like as if he was rushing to capture the individual spark of each personality and if you look closely enough, you can still see his fingerprints in the clay. They are just as loose as his lithographs for which he is more widely known and are as alive as the day they were first molded into existence.
The following day, I was interviewed for a french television program about my work and influences. Daumier was fresh on my mind and I spoke a lot about him. Afterwards, I decided to take a different route back to the apartment we are renting in the Marais and strode along the Seine, taking my time. There, right before a bridge that would take me back to my temporary home, I happened to look up at a small building with a plaque set in it's face. "Here lived Honore Daumier" it said. Much of Paris has not changed physically since Daumier's time and it was easy for me to imagine him pulling open the front door and leaving the building with drawings tucked under his arm, ready to be printed by Le Charivari. It was a wonderful moment for me. I hope you enjoy these little sculptures. And if you aren't familiar with Daumier, than it is my pleasure to introduce you to him.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Crime of Passion

Above is Diane Launier, proprietress and co-curator of Galerie Arludik and me, in front of a broken window where my little one man show will open this Thursday evening in Paris. She is very upset because sometime in the wee hours of the parisian night, someone smashed the window of the gallery and made off with only one thing, a copy of my new book, A Sketchy Past
I'm not making this up! 
Naturally, she was very unhappy about it. 

Naturally, I wasn't.