Friday, July 11, 2008

Storybook Stylists and their Influence on Animation

While reading an article in the November 1954 issue of American Artist on "Art for Television Commercials" I was struck by a point I think I have always intrinsically been aware of, but had never fully considered...

The storybook stylists of the 1950's had a profound influence on cartoon animation, both in terms of character design and the look of settings and props. Their influence was so powerful that decades later, second and third generation animators are still looking back to the work of these early pioneers for inspiration.

Consider this: some of the best known and most beloved storybook artists of the 50's began their careers in the animation industry of the 1940's. Alice Provensen worked at Walter (Woody Woodpecker) Lantz Studios and her husband, Martin, worked at Disney - as did other reknowned storybook artists Gustav Tenggren Aurelius Battaglia and Mary Blair.

The significance of this influence can not be overstated!

If you were born and raised in North America since the advent of television and watched endless hours of old Warner Brothers and MGM cartoons, or grew up as I did on a steady diet of Hanna Barbera's made-for-tv fair, or went to any Disney movies from the 'Aristocats' era, then you'll recognize the similarity of style in the look of the work done by the 50's storybook artists and the buildings, trees, picture frames, chair legs, salt and pepper shakers and a million other props and environments in the cartoons you watched.

Some of you grew up and became animators and illustrators - and when I look at imagery all over the Internet today, on your blogs and websites, its clear that the childhood memories of styles these storybook artists originated still resonate powerfully for a great many of you.

This brings us to one particular storybook artist who stands at the crossroads between storybook and animation art: Mel Crawford.

While the other artists mentioned above created styles whose influence can be seen in the work of animators, Crawford brings the process full circle by adapting the animated cartoon back into the storybook format. He understands the technique and stylistic nuances of the storybook artist -- and the cartooniness and dynamic movement and exaggeration of the animator.

Crawford manages to create a hybrid that is the perfect, delightful synthesis of both!

Crawford is an amazingly versatile artist. Though he is best known for his storybook adaptations of tv cartoons (for which he is adored by a legion of illustrators and animators) he is equally adept at realistic illustration.

Some might be surprised to discover that this work below is Mel Crawford, too.

While preparing this post I was thrilled to discover that not only does Mel Crawford have a website, he also has a blog where you can see many more examples of his wonderful artwork.

I'm really running behind this week, but there's more to show on the subject of the storybook style. Stay tuned and I might just fire off a second post later today!

My Ads with Storybook Styles Flickr set.

My Mel Crawford Flickr set.


  1. Holy smokes, those are illustrations of RIN TIN TIN, a TV show I grew up loving as a kid. Will certainly check this artist out. Amazing, beautiful work.

  2. Anonymous11:04 PM

    I am absolutely loving these last few posts. These drawing and painting styles never fail to get me all worked up into an illustration frenzy. They are eternally fresh. I'd love to see an enormous world-class museum devoted just to this storybook style and the general "mod" 40s-60s style of illustration and animation.

    Thank you for all of your generous sharing and insight.

  3. Anonymous4:42 AM

    Wow, his is wonderful.