On Saturday I was in a comic book shop and came across a real treasure of a book,The Artist Within: Portraits of Cartoonists, Comic Book Artists, Animators, and Others by Greg Preston (Amazon.com link). This hefty picture book features full-page photographs of over 100 prominent cartoonists at home in their studios. The long list of legends featured includes Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis, Alex Ross, Chuck Jones, Peter de Seve, Mike Mignola, Bruce Timm….and that’s just a small sampling. You name a famous cartoonist or comic book artist that is still living (or a few that aren’t), and chances are he or she is in this book.
The format is very simple. The left page of each spread contains the artist’s name, one small sample of his work, and a paragraph summarizing his accomplishments as an artist. The opposite page is one large, elegant black-and-white photo of the artist posing in his studio. If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite artist’s studio looks like, this is your chance to see where all the magic happens.
Many of the artists have allowed the photographer to shoot their studio “as is” with messy desks and cluttered shelves. While a few of the photos look very pristine and artificially posed, most do not. That’s refreshing, because it makes the studios of brilliant masters feel like places in the real world and makes these artistic giants feel more down to earth and accessible. Also, I can point to almost any page in this book and say to my lovely wife, “See? I’m not the only artist with a messy studio.”
Thumbing through the book I noticed that many of the artists have their studios crammed with books. More than a few have giant wall-size bookcases behind their drawing boards with books sometimes spilling out into piles on the floor. Since most of the artists are at least a decade or more older than me and built their careers in the pre-internet era, perhaps many of the books are filled with reference images (for you college kids, that’s how artists did research for an assignment before Google Image Search). No doubt many of the books contain inspiring artwork from other artists. As a hoarder of books myself, I can appreciate the value of a good book to help nurture my artistic brain.
It’s also fun to notice some of the unusual objects that may cross an artist’s desk. In various photos I’ve spotted a baseball, a hand-drill, a plastic skull, a handgun, a juke box, a stuffed poodle, and an Oscar (on Chuck Jones’ top shelf). And of course, there was no shortage of toys lining the studio shelves.
Some of the studios are large and open, others are small and humble, almost cramped. But each photo gives insights into the working habits of a great artist at the top of his/her field.
My wife and I are contemplating either moving in a year or two or adding on to our current house. This books gives me some great ideas to consider as I plan my next studio. I don’t claim to be anywhere near the level of the great artists featured in The Artist Within (Amazon.com link), but if anyone is interested here’s an old post that shows you what my current studio looks like.