Tuesday, August 30, 2022


This week the brilliant Ralph Eggleston, one of the joyful pioneers of modern animation, passed away before his time.

Eggleston was the art director for Toy Story, the first full-length computer animated film, as well as for The Incredibles and other films.  He was also the Production Designer for one of my favorite animated films, the ingenious, poignant and lovely Wall-E.  In his "color script" below, you can see Eggleston plan the movement of color and mood in the changing scenes of Wall-E:

Talking with Ralph helped me understand the importance of time and motion in this significant new art form.  He wrote me:
In doing my artwork, the element of time is foremost in my thoughts... I approach visuals with the idea of burning into the audiences's retina as much information as is needed as clearly and quickly as I can so they can focus on the characters and the emotional content of the story they are being told.
He was a wonderful creative force who did important work of lasting quality.  I'm sorry to be deprived of all that Ralph had the potential to achieve in the years ahead, but I'm grateful for all the gifts he left us.

Monday, August 22, 2022



When illustrator Mead Schaeffer was a teenager, he fell in love with a girl in his art class, Elizabeth Wilson Sawyers. He nicknamed her "Toby" because she posed for illustrations for the book, Toby Tyler.

When Schaeffer turned 20, he quit art school (giving up his full scholarship) to marry Toby and start work.  The couple moved into a 6th floor walk up in New York City where they formed a team.  

Work was sparse and times became hard.   Then Schaeffer landed his first big break-- illustrating the book Moby Dick-- for the publisher Dodd, Mead.  

Years later on Christmas day he confided to his children that he nabbed that first project by snooping around the desk of the art director and discovering that the assignment was about to go to N.C. Wyeth.  Schaeffer intercepted the project by volunteering to paint the first 6 illustrations for free.  "If any of the staff did not like the work... all bets would be off and...they would owe me nothing." The startled art director agreed to the test and handed Schaeffer the manuscript.  Schaeffer wrote about bringing that first manuscript home to his wife:  

Toby became his model, consulted on the art, advised on his layouts, took reference photos and became the business manager for the team. Schaeffer began keeping a scrapbook of his work, and devoted the very first page to a large photograph of Toby. 

Over a long career, Toby modeled for many of his illustrations.

The couple traveled all over the world together on illustration assignments.  When Schaeffer was commissioned to illustrate Les Miserables, he and Toby sailed to France to "follow in the footsteps" of the characters.  Here is the beginning of their trip:

Schaeffer wrote, "I got permission to go into the sewers of Paris and looked up old records.  We returned home with costumes, books on Paris in 1848 and sketches. We returned home with wonderful experiences but very broke."

Schaeffer thought it was important to visit the sites of his paintings, walk the streets and breathe the air.  He and Toby traveled to the south seas to illustrate the book Typee.  They traveled to Europe.  And for a series of covers for The Saturday Evening Post they traveled all around the United States. 

Here are Toby and Schaeffer embarking on another illustration trip in later years:

Traveling in those days was not without its perils.  The couple sailed to Asia on the Orient Overseas line, and received this certificate when crossing the international date line.  

The couple flew back to the US, but their ship got caught in a typhoon on the return trip and sank with all aboard. 

Toby passed away in 1973.  Shortly after that, Schaeffer retired.  He hand lettered an inscription about her and taped it into his scrapbooks:

Compare Schaeffer's lettering on that last inscription with his lettering earlier in his career: 

By the 1970s, his classical, stately design and colors had been replaced by neon colors applied in an offbeat script on trendy paper.  Apparently Schaeffer was trying to keep up with the times, even though he said, 

The art of illustration has gone to hell, that's for sure.... I lived in the golden age.  Now the photographer is more important than the illustrator.  I'm not knocking photography but in my day you had to learn to draw better than they could take pictures. 

For the graphologists in the audience, Schaeffer's lettering in his final years looks more feeble and uncertain.  His outlines falter.  But it seems the feelings he expressed remained undiminished. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


In 2020 I wrote a biography of golden age illustrator Mead Schaeffer published by the fine folks at The Illustrated Press.  

As part of that process,  Schaeffer's daughter loaned me his personal scrapbooks.  He proudly hand lettered large, heavy volumes where he preserved clippings of every published work, along with personal correspondence, notes and memorabilia.

Volume I, the first of a series

The scrapbooks contained dozens of strong illustrations where glue stains and wrinkles prevented us from reproducing them in the book.   

In addition, the scrapbooks contained old photos from the life of an illustrator in that golden age.  Below is a photo of a small party with next door neighbor and good friend, the young Norman Rockwell (standing in the doorway).  Schaeffer is on the sofa at the far right.

In an era before internet research, illustrators traded hand drawn letters sharing historical information such as  clothing and furniture styles.  Here is a note  from illustrator Norman Price with needed information about French costumes: 

Of course, much of the research for illustrators in those days was done with field trips, sometimes to remote and exotic locations.  During World War II Schaeffer received clearance from the Department of Defense to accompany military ships and planes for a series of covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

A tattered souvenir of an adventure on a Navy ship 

Here are Schaeffer and Rockwell on a roadtrip checking out a site for a painting:

Unused preliminary sketches and reference photos also made their way into Schaeffer's scrapbooks:

There are also plenty of reference photos of Schaeffer posing for his own illustrations:

Schaeffer also glued in his correspondence with the authors of the fiction he illustrated.

Today an illustrator's scrapbook is more likely to consist of digital files on a laptop.  Jpegs don't yellow with time or stain with rubber cement, but then again they lack the heavenly smell of thick, aging paper. 

So much of Schaeffer's life wouldn't fit in the 224 pages of the Schaeffer book, I'm pleased to share a little more of it on this blog.

Saturday, August 06, 2022


Maxfield Parrish's landscape of a still winter night gives us a feeling of tranquility. 

As you look at this picture, you're on a planet spinning at 1,040 miles per hour, or .3 miles per second.  (That's at the equator.  You can calculate your own personal speed by multiplying the cosine of your latitude by 1,040).  The earth spinning beneath your feet is at the same time hurtling around the sun at 18.5 miles per second.  In addition, your entire solar system is cartwheeling around the milky way at 140 miles per second.  Even at that incomprehensible speed, it will take 250 million years for you to complete a single rotation around the galaxy.

Pitted against these facts about your situation, this tiny picture nevertheless controls your psychological outlook.  It outweighs the cosmos and gives you a feeling of calm.