Saturday, August 06, 2011


Every year at Comic-Con I check in at the booth of Craig Elliott, a talented artist who works for Disney and Dreamworks on animated films such as Mulan, The Emperor's New Groove, Treasure Planet, Shark Tale, Flushed Away, Bee Movie, and Enchanted, Monsters vs. Aliens, and The Princess and the Frog.

I like the strong designs in Elliott's visual development and layout work for the movies.

But  I especially like that Elliott is one of those artists with the ambition, energy and curiosity to keep growing after his day job is through.   Every year when I see him, he seems to have broadened his horizons further.  

His core style is in what he calls "the grand tradition of American illustration, Japanese scroll paintings and woodblock prints, fantasy illustration, and great artists of Europe."  He works in both digital and traditional media, including oil paintings (for exhibition in Paris and the US), sculpture, landscape architecture, and he has now started designing jewelry as well.

Elliott is one of the artists featured in the new Flesk Prime book from Flesk Publications and is the subject of the upcoming book, The Art of Craig Elliott.  If you don't know his work, it's certainly worth a look.


Laurence John said...

everyone you've written about from the comic-con are artists you're familiar with.
did any unknowns / newcomers catch your eye ?

Anonymous said...

Is a tawdry and juvenile sense of sexuality simply endemic to sci-fi/fantasy artists? It sure looks that way. But Julie Newmar's catwoman is looking downright sophisticated.

MORAN said...

I was not familiar with his work. I especially love those first four pictures. Beautifully staged.

Tom said...

Gotta say, the second one draws my attention most. I like the organic structure of the cave. It's like the bowels of an gigantic creature.

António Araújo said...

Nice the landscapes, and the first girl is very nicely stylized.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Excellent question. My original plan was to select five young, upcoming artists from Artists Alley, the Art Show and the Small Press booths. I never wanted to write about headliners at Comic-Con.

I looked and looked. I saw some promising young talent, such as Joelle Jones (who I also thought had some interesting things to say: "I love the isolation of the job. For me, the worst part is the self-hatred that comes from looking at your work too long.") And I also saw middle aged artists who were experimenting with some interesting projects, such as Paul Guinan's "Boilerplate."

But for the most part, I was hugely disappointed by the majority of the younger talent at Comic-Con. There was dazzling technical skill, but very little variety or personality or originality. As I walked through Artists Alley, I saw artist after artist drawing the same predictable barbarians, vampires and pin ups, working in the same fungible style: high contrast, pumped up bodies, deep dramatic shadows, clenched teeth, inflated breasts, starkly defined muscles, and everywhere, explosions and broadsword strokes. There was an astonishing amount of hard work but very little freshness. There was a lot of courage (it takes bravery to draw in a fishbowl) but very little thoughtfulnesss. I spent honest time looking for distinctive voices but couldn't find five such artists on which to focus. How could I justify focusing on one artist as opposed to the artist to their rigt or left? So when I came across artists like Seymour Chwast, there was no contest.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff! Is that third picture digital?


mega said...

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chris bennett said...

Interesting reply to Lawrence David.
Fantasy has become a genre rather than just ‘fantasy’. It has entombed itself in its own tropes, many of which you itemised in your reply.

This is probably in no small measure to do with the fact that the industry is driven by big time money people. Which means that most of the decisions about what is green lighted are safe bets: The teasing out of what has gone before replacing a call for genuine originality.

The blame is not all on the money people of course; some must be placed outside the doors of the artist’s studios themselves.

Laurence John said...

"I spent honest time looking for distinctive voices but couldn't find five such artists on which to focus."

David, that's a shame. i'm surprised too. there's a bit of a mini comic-renaissance going on over here in the UK and i wondered if something similar was happening over there. it's more with the graphic / cartoony side of things... a generation of younger artists who might never have considered comics before they saw Chris Ware (i can hear flick knives opening already) and there seems to be more styles emerging in comics that would once have been considered only suitable for book or editorial illustration. i'm sure many comic purists aren't happy with these developments, but to me it looks very healthy... i'm not a fan of the muscles and spandex world either.

António Araújo said...

Laurence John,

>there's a bit of a mini comic->renaissance going on over here in >the UK

Any recommendations you might share?

Laurence John said...

António Araújo said...

Thank you!

António Araújo said...

Luke Pearson seems really interesting.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Nice picture of Julie Newmar. I think the issue, which has reverberated in previous discussions of pulp magazine covers and Ashley Woods' paintings, is whether a "simple" view of the world can have its own superior strengths as well as its own sophistications. Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most sophisticated directors of all time, yet he chose to speak through the vehicle of thrillers.

MORAN-- I agree with you. Elliott kept a whole notebook of his work for the movies at his booth at Comic-Con, and it contained some truly beautiful work.

Tom-- Yes, I think that was a terrific cave, far from the stereotype that most of us would think of. It's an excellent example of Elliott's imagination and sense of design at work.

David Apatoff said...

Antonio-- Elliott clearly has a penchant for turn of the (last) century poster designs of women.

Anonymous-- I believe so.

Chris Bennett-- I had hoped that if I looked in the places I mentioned, I would find young artists with quirky ideas who had not yet been run through the homogenizing machine. Perhaps the next R. Blechman or R. Crumb or Lynda Barry or Seymour Chwast or Frank Miller-- someone with a strong voice and an unorthodox point of view. If they were there, I didn't see them. If anyone else saw artists I missed, and would like to recommend them, please do so.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence John-- Thanks for the links to these artists. I enjoyed some of them more than others, although they all seemed to be working on interesting paths. I didn't see anyone on Artists Alley who worked that way (although in fairness, I suspect that artists such as Ben Newman could not do their work sitting at a table at Comic-Con with a sheet of bristol board and a pot of ink.)

There were a number of books being sold at small and independent press tables with art in this vein. There were funny, personal statements such as Kate Beaton's "Hark, A Vagrant" with casual, whimsical line drawings that are entertaining to read but I would say they are not as ambitious (from a graphics arts perspective) as the artists I mentioned in this post.

Jack said...

I always wondered how do people do this kind of things... Look at this one as well: Drawings Paintings Prints, I'm searching art blogs to learn more about drawing, I really would like to develop it..
Following you through reader.

Craig Elliott said...

Thank you David for the post, and the complement of including me in your favorite 5.

I wanted to answer a question of a commenter regarding what work was digital. Of the work you have posted, only the 1st painting (for the Disney film Enchanted) is Digital, all the rest are traditional- either acrylic, oils or marker and colored pencil (the black and white ones)

Craig Elliott

Anonymous said...

Mr. Elliott, I am the one who asked about digital artwork. Thanks for your answer. I'm glad to hear that you did all those other works in traditional media. It gives me hope.

I love your work, and have started following you on line.


David Apatoff said...

Thanks very much, Craig. I'm glad you happened to discover us in this little corner of the internet. I enjoyed talking with you at Comic-Con and studying your most recent work. You are on a great trajectory and I look forward to seeing what you come up with in the future.

Anonymous said...

Craig is not only a damn good artist, but a damn nice guy.

ken meyer jr

David Apatoff said...

Ken Meyer Jr.-- I don't know him except from our brief chat at Comic-Con, but I definitely got the same impression.

Craig Elliott said...

Thanks David- I think I most appreciate that you noticed my interest in expanding and growing my art in whatever directions seem to fit for me. It is a conscious effort, and I don't know how much people actually pick up on it. Thank you for doing so!

Ken is a nice guy too, and a wicked awesome watercolorist. In fact, he gets a mention in the upcoming Art of Craig Elliott book! ;)

David Apatoff said...

Craig Elliott-- it was impossible to miss your interest in growing and expanding your horizons. As noted in response to a comment above, there were so many artists at Comic-Con who seemed to be working on the same assembly line-- very facile, skillful artists on Artists Alley who poured astonishing numbers of hours into making the same, predictable pictures, or oil painters who continued to churn out one technically flawless painting after another of elves and barbarian wenches and sorcerors. You, on the other hand, had a day job as a visual development artist in digital animation but had plenty of creativity left over to experiment with oil painting or designing jewelry, and enough curiosity to mix influences from different eras. As I recall, you were working with Peter de Seve on creative new projects and creating a body of work for gallery exhibitions; I must say admire that.

Rachel said...

"There was dazzling technical skill, but very little variety or personality or originality. As I walked through Artists Alley, I saw artist after artist drawing the same predictable barbarians, vampires and pin ups...."
"There was an astonishing amount of hard work but very little freshness. "

Interesting. I said something very similar not too long ago. But it wasn't about noobs. It was about the pros. If I haven't seen the same things over and over again by many of the well-established Fantasy artists out there, I'll eat my own hand.

Sticking to what you know/have always done/what is safe, therefore bankable, is not an issue limited to the "younger talent". There's a whole lot of "old folks" who seem about out of "freshness" as well. Just sayin'.

*waves to Craig* Hi, Craig, I'm still at it, apparently! XD