Saturday, January 08, 2011

More scraperboard

Here's an interesting piece from the Walt Disney studio. It was apparently issued as a Christmas card in the 70s, but I believe the illustration actually dates from the 30s. You'll need to click on it to see the close up detail - extremely fine work indeed.

This was sent to me by the exotically named Rocket Calcutta, a musician and artist who has worked on Disney films himself. Mr.Calcutta wondered whether I could help to identify the illustrator.

I can't say for sure, but I'd take a guess at Gustaf Tenggren. The piece is very much after Arthur Rackham, and Disney was a known fan of the man. He employed Tenggren during the thirties, and Tenggren himself was heavily influenced by Rackham so it's not a huge leap to suggest that Tenggren had a hand in this.

Whilst this scene is superbly executed I feel that the two styles, cartoon and scraperboard, sit slightly uneasily together. I think maybe it's a case of Walt trying to weld a bit of instant class to the cartoon medium - rather like Hollywood studios drafting in George Bernard Shaw and Graham Greene to sprinkle stardust on their screenplays. In fairness, though, WD was always reaching for the highest standards.'Quality control' embodied.

And Disney are reknowned for maintaining the same standards today. I visited Disneyland Paris a few years ago with my then young family. We stood together on Main St., and watched the Grand Parade. A pretty girl clown on a kid's scooter twirled to a halt in front of me and gave me a brilliant smile. Awww, I thought, there's cheerful, and I smiled back at her.

We were with a group of friends, and before parting we all arranged to meet the next day, same place, same time: 4.30 pm. As we arrived the parade was once again in procession, and at bang on 4.30 the same pretty clown did her little twirl in front of me and treated me to the same dazzling smile. Blimey, I thought, it's Groundhog Day.

The sourine intention here, which I'm sure the Mouse would defend, is that the same flawlessly choreographed experience be delivered to all. There will be no off days in Disneyland, and no detail will be left to chance. We got talking to some of the 'cast' later in the week, guys from the Tarzan set. They told us that after a long campaign they'd finally won the right to wear their own underwear. Now that's quality control, Disney style.

UPDATE: Rocket has discovered that the above illustration was produced by Hank Porter - a new name to me. Excellent. I shall look him up.See more below, and at Rocket's site.

FOR MORE EXAMPLES of scraperboard work on this blog, take a look *HERE*...
...and a few bits and pieces of my own can be found *HERE*


Rocket said...

Astute observations, Steve. I am going to check up on whether Tenggren had himself any mad scraperboard skills. Walt was always seeking to elevate the medium and this, as you say, is definitely a case in point. He actually did as much, probably more, than anyone to lift animation up to be one of the great American artforms and many of the best 20th century draftsmen worked for Mr. Disney as animators, sketch artists, designers, background and layout artists. Thanks for caring about my interest in this picture, Steve and I am determined to get to the bottom of who the artist is! I will keep you posted - all the best, Rocket Calcutta :)

Steve Augarde said...

Yes, Disney always used very the best artists, writers and musicians. For all the negatives one might hear about him he was a visionary, and his studio's early work still stands up well to anything produced today.

Rocket said...

Update: I checked Tenggren's art for a match of styles: in particular the Snow White Disney story book that came out with the film, packed with Tenggren's art. I saw similarities but no clear correspondence, then something stirred. The Christmas piece reminded me of something and yet I couldn't say what until now; also in the wake of Snow White's release, Disney published a Snow White comic strip rendered in part using scraperboard. The artist of that strip was the lesser known but incredibly talented, Hank Porter. A further search revealed it was indeed Mr. Porter (Disney referred to Porter as his one man art department) who was the genius behind this marvelous piece.

Rocket said...

Further Update: Looking into the background to this piece has revealed that it is actually a pen and ink rendering utilizing "scratchboard-like technique" according to the Heritage Auction Galleries (who recently auctioned it). They wrote this in their description of the artwork: "Practically every square inch of this remarkable rendering is crammed with exquisite detail, in particular the gorgeous shading and shadowing effects and scratchboard-like technique, all created by lines drawn from Mr. Porter's pen." Hank Porter's daughter, Maxine is quoted within the Vintage Disney Collectibles blog as saying that her father "was a good pen and ink artist. That came from working on a...newspaper, and then having his own commercial art business. He [was] a crackerjack of pen, and ink, and scratchboard. I think this is why [Walt Disney] singled him out to do some of the illustrations. Most definitely, Maxine. He was a crackerjack of pen and ink and scatchboard indeed! Incidentally the same blog reveals that Porter studied under the master illustrator: Franklin Booth. Russ Cochran, who had the piece for auction sale the year before, said this in his description of it: "the inking of this page is simply perfect, stunning, and all other adjectives you can think of. This large (20"x16") ink drawing contains every technique known to comic art. Fine lines, cross-hatching, use of both black and white ink, use of scratching through lines (a la Herriman and DeBeck). This is it. I have spent weeks inside the Disney Archives when I was under contract to Disney in the 1980s. I've seen it all, and nothing matches this." He goes on to describe the drawing as "the single greatest piece of Disney black-and-white art of all time". I would have to agree!