Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Mary Blair was born Mary Robinson on October 21, 1911. I had never been aware of her name, until now. But her work---that I did know. And this might be the same for you.

She was the illustrator of several children's books...
...some of which are still in print.

But in reading about her, it is very clear that her connection with Disney Studios is what gave her the room and the encouragement to so fully develop her art.

Everything she did exhibited such a love of color, such an air of excitement and energy---
Buildings in a Disney World---don't know which one

---even in buildings! She is just another example of the unerring eye Walt Disney employed in his choice of artists. So many Disney artists from the 30's, 40's and 50's are among the brightest and best of our children's book illustrators.

 I often disagree with Disney plot lines and adaptations of traditional stories and fairy tales, but I must in all honesty acknowledge the great gift Disney gave the public through his support and employment of so many incredible visual artists. 

I hope you'll take a bit of time to read more about Mary Blair, and to look at her work online. I've only scratched the surface here. As for me, I would like to soak up some of her wildly uninhibited enthusiasm for color and form, and apply it to my own work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


In a recent email with a colleague-friend , I described myself as "persnickety." He emailed back with the above. After examining this image, I decided that perhaps I should avoid being "persnickety." I'm sorry to come to that conclusion----the word rolls off the tongue in such a delightful manner. 

The moral? Don't be seduced by the superficiality of appearance or sound; it's the content that matters.

Friday, October 9, 2015


This is one of the double-page spreads I created for "The Cats In Krasinski Square", written by Karen Hesse, and published in 2004. It's a large piece, 24" wide, and executed in pencil, watercolor, and ink. The story was challenging to illustrate, set as it was in Warsaw, Poland, during WWII, and dealing with the hardships of Jews, both in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Since the story was historical fiction, I relied heavily on photographs to construct my illustrations. When I had roughed out this composition, using xeroxes of photos and my own very rough figure sketches, I showed it to my dad, Aldren A Watson, the well-known illustrator who was my professional mentor until his death. Dad looked at my compostion for several minutes, clearly uncomfortable about SOMETHING. Finally he said, "You've got an American steam engine here, not a European steam engine." 
 As it happened, my father was not only a terrific artist, but an expert on old trains. (And just a note: I learned that American steam engines had cowcatchers at the front end; European engines had bumpers.) He sent me sketches, photos, and books of European steam engines, as well as historical information about the manufacturers of steam engines, indicating which kind of engine was likely to have been in Warsaw in 1940. Thank goodness he caught this mistake---I'm not sure if anyone else would have seen it until it was too late.
I began to revise my sketch. It was hard to find photos clear enough for me to see all the details of wheels, drive shafts, and other mechanical parts. "Just add a lot of steam" my Dad said. We artists know about "adding steam". Sometimes that's a cop-out; other times it's a practical solution. As my son always said about film and the stage (and equally applicable to illustration): "We're creating an illusion of reality, not reality itself."
On a separate transparent layer I next worked out very carefully the arrangement of the clouds and steam behind the engine.The separate layer avoids messing up any drawing on other sections of the compositions.
Next came the figures of the pursuers...
...and of the pursued.
I combined all these layers into my master sketch. I carry out this process with transparent vellum, but the process is exactly the same if one is doing it on a computer.
And voila (after 4 days of painting and inking)---the finished illustration.