Nov 27, 2005
a sketch of Mary Pickford done while watching her in The Little American"
Everybody's got a blog, now. I've been online since the pre-WWW days, the days of mere Usenet message boards.
Which makes me really, really geeky, no question. But when the internet discovered graphics, boy oh boy, was I there. Not so much to post, although I did for some years have a website up devoted to Ernie Kovacs, a particular inspiration of mine(now down, someday to be revived)...no, I like to browse, read and learn--like everyone else. Look at eye candy. Laugh at funny stuff. Engage in debate, or not. See beautiful pictures other people take the trouble to not only make, but post(see my links).
So, in admiring all these sites and lately, blogs, I have felt the increasing itch to do my own. And what the heck--there's few enough of us out here as it is--oh, lots of guys, but fewer girls, who work in animation. I'm often asked why that is, by the by. The answer is--I have no idea.
One thing I do know: the girls I hung out with, none of whom were artists/cartoonists, all loved Bob Clampett just as much as I did(not counting Bob Clampett's own daughters, who went to school with me in the ancient days--that's not fair. Anyway, we weren't good friends, though they were a couple of red-headed and very smart cookies--that's another story), and Bugs Bunny, and screwball comedies, and hard-boiled film noir, and french new wave films...and so on and so forth.
One possible reason, if there is one, that more of my current colleagues aren't female is probably because they had no idea that you could be an animation artist. I didn't think of it myself until one fateful day idly browsing college brochures in the Immaculate Heart high school library. Suddenly, there it was: CalArts. Character Animation program. Eureka! I'd always thought I'd go to art school and be an illustrator, do books...because I'd spent my entire artistic life drawing stories. Not comics, oddly enough, but stories. Pretty much storyboarding.
Some of what I love best: films: pre-code, pre-sound, and pre-60s(that's a lot of ground, I know). The work of Ernie Kovacs. Maurice Noble, my friend and colleague. Carole Lombard. Fred Moore. P.D. Eastman. Anything ever done by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger(writer/producers/directors), Hitchcock, Mozart, Bill Peet, Rod Scribner, Hawley Pratt, Ward Kimball, Erich Korngold, Alfred Newman, N.C. Wyeth, Heinrich Kley, T.S. Sullivant, Andrew Loomis, Howard Hawks, Mitchell Leisen(director), Leigh Brackett(writer and screenwriter)...it goes on and on, thousands of things, people, places.
Since 1992 I've drawn storyboards for a living. Great fun, great people and every day something new. Not bad.
a flock of Blackwing pencils
They don't make them like this anymore. Really--they don't make these at all; production ceased in 1998, apparently.
I love these pencils--they're a joy to draw with, although I rarely use them now(a good 2B or 4B will do the job)...but their real attraction is the association they can't shake for me--that of the Disney studio of the 50s, of sketch artists and draughstmen and designers working on immortal projects, not only at Disney feature animation but all over Los Angeles: the maitre'd at Musso's taking a reservation for four in 1933; a script supervisor working alongside Preston Sturges making notes during takes of "Sullivan's Travels"; a student at Chouinard toiling on a design project in 1961; Henry Miller, or Bob Clampett, or Clarence Darrow or Ward Kimball or Ernie Kovacs or Raymond Chandler. Who knows how many yet remain in the musty drawers of retired writers and artists all over the city, from Arcadia to Malibu?
I first saw one of these on the desk of an animator at Disney's in the early 80s, and later on the desk of Cecil B. DeMille(untouched since his death in the 60s); there were some among T. Hee's studio ephemera, given to us at CalArts after his death. I ordered an entire box from the redoubtable Cartoon Colour Company of Culver City, many years ago. Little dreaming of its eventual demise, I recklessly scrawled away, and now my Blackwings constitute barely a fistful(none to share or sell, sorry).
It's a thoroughly romantic instrument: sleek and silvery, fast-moving and easy to sharpen, with a curious back end--a golden holder encasing a silver clasp cradling a removable eraser, the better to extract, flip and so extend its usefulness.
Among both pencil enthusiasts and stubborn pencil-wielding animators, it fights for prominience with the fat, round, green Blaisdell Layout, most famous as the longtime-preferred pencil of Glen Keane. I have a stub of a Blaisdell somewhere--really, a stub, barely two inches long. It's easy to see why it's so appealing, as it skates smoothly over the paper--best used as a blunt instrument with its wide smear of soft lead.
But I still swoon for Blackwings--surely the only pencil which bears its own motto--in quotes, no less--across its length: "Half the pressure, twice the speed". And it certainly seems to be so. A sorry world where such treasure is allowed to pass away. I am old enough to know it's the little things in life--particularly in an artist's life--that immeasurably enhance the day to day grind.
So, the Blackwing: I look over my shoulder and admire the gleam of the golden lettering on my desk. A glorious instrument with all the possibilities that art provides at its tip. And thus the blog moniker.