The Swing

February 8, 2013

Jean Honoré Fragonard was known for his incredible facility in painting. I tried to learn something from this great master by attempting to recreate one of his pictures in oils (see below).

The Swing, After Fragonard, oil on panel, 11″x14″:


During a recent trip to the Wallace Collection in London, I saw the original up close. What a difference my experience was, compared to simply viewing the image online!


Disney Feature Animation Backgrounds: Lilo & Stitch

November 6, 2011

While at Disney I worked as a traditional background painter at a time when so many other artistic jobs were becoming digital. I was happy to be wielding a paintbrush and am now even more grateful for having been a small part of a particular legacy. It was the Disney studio that pioneered techniques in staging and mood for animation emulated by other studios today. But they took their cue from the past, from old masters such as Claude Lorrain. (See Origins in Staging for more on this.)

Director Chris Sanders wanted the background art in his film, Lilo & Stitch to be painted in watercolors, but no Disney film had been painted in watercolors since Snow White. As the story goes, Chris took his idea to the background department in Los Angeles where he was informed that such an undertaking would not be possible. We, in Florida, took him up on the challenge and the rest is history. Needless to say, painting backgrounds on Lilo & Stitch was special. Watercolor is an exciting medium because it’s unpredictable, difficult to control, and almost impossible to correct.  Building value while keeping a clean edge around the forms is also tricky (such as the painting below where the outline of Stitch meets the sky).  I like what John Singer Sargent had to say about watercolor, ‘Make the best of an emergency!’

The following are images of paintings I crafted by hand– from start to finish. But keep in mind, the character designs, story concepts, layouts, and time of day were created in a collaborative setting in the studio following a specific production pipeline. This pipeline is comprised of very skilled Disney artists, under two directors and a producer. If you’d like to learn more about the production process, I recommend Hans Bacher‘s book, Dreamworlds.

I appreciate what animation author, Tony White, has said about background art: Because the environment takes up most of the screen, it is ultimately the job of the background painter to ensure  your film looks like millions were spent on the production.

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

“With watercolour, you can’t cover up the marks. There’s the story of the construction of the picture, and then the picture might tell another story as well.” David Hockney

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Masterworks at the Legion of Honor

August 2, 2018

In 2012, I trained as a docent at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Following are my own interpretations of a few paintings in the European art collection at the Legion of Honor.

Rembrandt painted a portrait of Dutch naval captain, Joris de Caulerij in 1632. We know Joris is an officer by the bandolier and cavalry sword tucked in his left side; he holds a firearm in his right. The young officer would later become a war hero. Rembrandt, at 26 was starting out too, and it seems these men were seeing eye to eye on more than one level. Joris engages us with a confident and straightforward gaze.

Portrait of Joris de Caulerij    1632, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

A large shadow falls across the lower portion of the composition. Evidently, it’s being cast from a light behind the artist as he stood at his easel. Surely Rembrandt set the scene intentionally.



Neoclassical painter, Baron Francois Gerard, was commissioned to paint the Comtesse de Morel-Vinde and her daughter in 1799. The French Revolution happened in 1789 but these aristocrats managed to retain their titles and their heads–doubtfully by happenstance. These stoic and virtuous women are wearing column-like dresses that imitated Greek and Roman drapery, thereby rejecting the style and values of the Rococo movement.

Comtesse de Morel-Vinde and her Daughter (The Music Lesson) 1799, Baron Francois-Pascal-Simon Gerard

The daughter takes a break from her piano playing where her music sheet reads, “To my mother”. The two have lovingly clasped hands at the exact center of the picture. The gesture might appear slightly awkward at first but more conspicuously, Gerard has created the shape of a heart.



Masada, which means fortress in Hebrew, became an armed Jewish camp in revolt against Rome in AD 66.  According to historical accounts, the 10th Roman Legion laid siege to the fortress in AD 72-73. After  Roman battering rams breached the gates, the defending group of 967 Jews chose to commit suicide by dagger rather than submit to capture. This picture, painted in 1858 by British artist, Edward Lear, effectively conveys the searing heat, as well as the site’s tragic history.

Masada 1858, Edward Lear

Lear’s shadow shapes converge into a sharp point at the center of the picture, possibly like the tip of an ancient dagger.



This maritime painting made in 1641 by Jan Van Goyen is set in Dutch inland waters. The seafaring crew meet with a dramatic thunderstorm; a boat in the center of the picture is close to capsizing. Despite a severe weather beating of vessels, trees, and water these sailors are undaunted—a testament to Dutch marine prowess at that time. A sense of pride might be seen in the high-flying national flag.

Of particular interest is Van Goyen’s thick versus thin paint application. The top 2/3 of the picture, the thunderstorm, features thick, sweeping diagonal strokes of white oil paint (probably a lead white), pulled down as sheets of rain. That force is poetically contrasted with paint handling below the horizon. There, it appears Van Goyen used a considerable amount of solvent to thin and weaken his paint. Scumbling this mixture onto the surface, he creates submissive waves and delicate, bending trees. The effect is best seen while standing in front of the original.




Watercolors with Geraldine Kovats

November 2, 2016


I. To Painters:

Whether or not you’re an experienced watercolorist we can always advance our skill. During the course of this workshop we will work from life, making every encounter (however near or far) a true adventure. 

Materials will be discussed during our first meeting so you can make informed buying choices if needed.

In order to create effective paintings, it is essential to take a close look at color and light. Color is not an exact science and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what drove Claude Monet to say, ‘Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment!’. 

I’ll provide a historical overview of watercolor art, and you will also learn about my own approach to making a watercolor painting. I’ll share techniques I used in creating backgrounds for Disney’s, Lilo & Stitch, as well as Mathias Poledna’s film, Imitation of Life, (stylistically akin to Disney’s, Snow White).

More than any other paint, watercolors require both familiarity and finesse. But once mastered watercolors become a wonderful and exciting way to work.

Drawing is the foundation of painting and I believe color is best used as a means of furthering drawing. Color, and/or the reduction of color, can powerfully express mood, describe form and space, and convey symbolism. 

Should you wish to further explore the topics covered during class, please find a list of helpful links below.

I’m excited to become acquainted with you and your artwork!

II. Evaluation:

Upon completion of the course, I appreciate your honest feedback. You may fill out a Course Evaluation here: Survey Monkey Evaluation Form

III. Links:

Make your own color experiments using the Joseph Albers, Interaction of Color App: 


More about J.M.W. TURNER, from the Tate website:

  1. “Want to Paint a Blue Rigi?”
  2. “Veils of Perfection” 
  3. “Draughtsman and Watercolorist”

Watercolor examples from Disney Production Designer, HANS BACHER’S animation blog:


More about Disney Production Designer, TYRUS WONG:

  1. The Art of Tyrus Wong
  2. How ‘Bambi’ Got Its Look From 1,000-Year-Old Chinese Art
  3. Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106

A resource:


Where do artistic-grade pigments come from?

Color of Art Pigment Database



The Little Prince, 2015

March 31, 2016

It was a pleasure to have been asked to work out some visual problems for the animated film, The Little Prince. The film’s stop-motion sequences were being produced by Duck Studios in Los Angeles and directed by Jamie Caliri. Following are examples of my contributions.

The shot below came with Jamie’s comment, “This doesn’t look epic enough.”

Screenshot 2014-11-20 11.29.37

My solution:










Venice Biennale Project, Austrian Pavilion 2013

March 31, 2016

Film director, Mathias Poledna won the distinction of representing his country for the 55th, 2013 Venice Biennale. His animated short, Imitation of Life, can be seen at the Austrian pavilion. The exhibition runs from June 1- November 24.

Mathias paired with Duck Studios in Los Angeles to produce the short. The director’s work mostly pays tribute to 1930’s films and accordingly, he set out to make an animated picture reminiscent of early Disney movies: Snow White, Bambi, and Pinocchio. Mathias assembled a cast of traditional Disney artists, beginning with animation director Tony Bancroft.

It was important that the background art capture the vintage setting accurately. I had the good fortune to land the opportunity and help to establish a background style in watercolors. Once there we brought on two phenomenal painters to see the project through, Xiangjuan Jie and Kevin Turcotte.

Update: Imitation of Life can be seen at the Whitney Museum’s Dreamlands exhibition from October 28, 2016- February 5, 2017.















Academia: Demos

December 28, 2011

Class Demonstrations







A Selection of Paintings from My Days in College

December 28, 2011