Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Mary Blair, part I

My girl Mary Blair, mention of whom you will find elsewhere
in the archives
, was an illustrator, animator, and commercial
artist known for her brilliant color designs. She illustrated
children's books, designed TV and print ads, and was a top
Disney artist.

Today's post focuses on Blair's work for Disney. During her
nearly forty-year relationship with the Disney company, Blair
created concept art and color styling for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Song of the South. She also
designed Disney's It's a Small World attraction, and
was was one of Walt's favorite employees; he loved
her use of flat (but brilliant) color and her geometric
compositions, although they were difficult to translate into
Disney's more perspective-based animation style. Below are a
few concept drawings Blair did for Alice and Cinderella:

Left: early character designs for Cinderella.

Left and below: concept drawings for the marching cards, an oversized Alice, and the tea party from Alice in Wonderland.

These concept sketches give you a peek at Blair's genius for color. Among her many artistic gifts (including an amazing flair for creating beautiful compositions), I think it's really her talent for color design* that has brought about the enduring reverence of illustrators and animators all over the world. Even today, Blair's influence is evident in, for example, the abiding Disney palette.

Mary Blair was honored as a "Disney legend" in 1991, one of the first women to receive the honor.

I'll post three more Mary Blair posts in this series. We've still got her children's books and TV and print ads to look at!

Sources: Cartoon Modern, Animation Archive, Wikipedia, Sullivan Goss, this photoset on Flickr, this book, and this book.

* Allegedly, Blair was such a color enthusiast that she used to wear colored contact lenses -- blue, green, whatever matched her outfit. This was in the 1960s!

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