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Peter Emmerich A Retro Eye

April 13, 2020

Hi Everyone, Happy Easter if you are celebrating this holiday where you live or a happy start to your week anyway. I’ve a special treat for you today with a toe dipping into the world of celebrity caricature.

I recently made contact with Peter Emmerich, whose stunning work has caught my eye for some time now and asked if he would like to feature in a blog post.

I half expected there to be a long delay in hearing back from Peter, (who must be a rather busy chap being Art Director at Disney TV Animation and having over 39,000 followers on instagram alone !), but to my surprise (and delight) he messaged back within ten minutes saying ” Hi Craig, I’ve admired your blog for years ! It would be a privilege and an honour! ” Wow I thought what a great start.

Hi Peter, can I begin by asking what’s your earliest memory of drawing, and who first got you interested in being an artist?

I can remember drawing alongside my brother who is also talented artistically (but did not pursue it professionally). My mother was very supportive when I was little and never inhibited me from drawing. If I said I wanted to draw, she would hand me a stack of typing paper and pencils or markers and allow me to just do what I wanted, as long as I didn’t make a mess. As I got older, I can recall both of my parents being incredibly supportive of my gifts and really encouraging me to use them.

How right to describe your artistic talents as ‘gifts’.

How long have you been working with Disney? Did they find you or how did your meeting come about ? Would you call it your dream job ?

This June  will mark a 25 year association with The Walt Disney Company. I was recruited straight out of college, graduating on a Friday from The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC, and starting at Disney that following  Monday. A marvelous woman named Cyndee Whitney who had been an animator at Walt Disney Feature Animation was now recruiting artists from around the country to be a part of an apprenticeship training program at Walt Disney Consumer Products. I was very lucky to be included and it was the best training of my life. A dream job, to say the least.

A Happy Quarter Century for June too !

I’m sure you can spot a few famous faces here today.

I read in your blog back in 2008 that you have a gent called John Quinn to thank for advising you to carry and use a sketchbook at all times. What advice would you give to young artists today who want to be like you and follow their dreams in illustration ?

John Quinn is a great friend and we were both part of the Disney apprentice program in 1996. He kept and still keeps the most beautiful sketchbooks. Watching him draw and keep his books filled had an enormous influence on how I approached drawing and learning to draw. It was his influence that made me pick up a book and draw it it daily. It was the most important influence on my draughtsmanship, and I am so grateful to John for having inspired me to do it. Learning to draw and observe things properly has allowed me to be able to have a career. I am always practicing my craft, but I would advise any young person to spend a period of their life drawing and keeping sketchbooks and truly learn to observe what they see and interpret it in their own unique way. Draw, draw, draw.

When you start work on a new caricature, what process do you go through to get the results you’re happy with ?

The process of caricature is something I have always been fascinated by. I gather lots of reference and study them all. Quite often when I start a drawing, I am drawing from my memory of the images and my interpretation of who I feel the person is, not directly from one photo. Sometimes one image dominates because it is the essence of who I feel that person is, but mainly I am drawing a feeling, not a photo. I will also listen to that persons music, or play their films, or even listen to interviews of them speaking. I believe it helps me to imbue their feeling into the drawing.

What mediums do you most love to use.. digital.. paints etc ?

I work in all media really. Most of my professional work is done digitally because it is faster and I can easily correct and change work according to the requests of my editors/art directors, When I am just drawing for myself it is a mix of both but I have a tendency to lean more towards traditional media, especially ink. I have been sculpting more lately as well as some collage work.

I love the book you have out at the moment, do you have any plans for other books or products ? Famous greeting cards come to mind lol.

There are other things in the works, but I can’t speak about them specifically at the moment. I will just say thank you for liking the new book, and know there is more to come!

Do you feel it’s harder or easier to draw famous people? There maybe hundreds of photos of them for reference but then everyone knows what they look like!

What’s funny is until I illustrated my first children’s book last year, A is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies from A to Z , I had never drawn any caricature for professional purposes, it was only for my personal joy. I tend to only draw people I liked or admire or want to pay tribute to, which means I have some level of emotional interest in them. Somehow that makes it easier for me. If you asked me to draw someone I was not interested in, I could do it, but my heart wouldn’t be in it quite the same way. I like drawing people I feel something for and it is usually the version of them that says who they are to me. I was once asked to do a caricature of Cher, which I was happy to take on, but I asked the person, “Which Cher? 70’s long and sleek Sonny and Cher, Cher? 80’s Moonstruck, dancing on an aircraft carrier Cher?” The period says so much about the person and how they should be interpreted. It goes beyond just hair and clothes.

Who has been the hardest to draw and why ? Who have you most enjoyed drawing ?
I had the hardest time drawing Michael Jackson in my first attempt. I had this very elaborate idea in my head of how I wanted him to be posed. Something that really reflected his energy and spirit. I roughed it out and labored over it for hours trying to get everything that would define his gesture just so. It was awful….I stopped and opened a new document in Photoshop and without much thought, from memory, drew an extremely closeup image of just his facial features. It honestly could not have taken more than five minutes and that wound up being the one I went with. It said all I needed to say, I just added some color to it. I enjoy drawing Liza Minnelli very much, she has so much energy and liveliness that whenever I draw her, it comes through very naturally and effortlessly. Nina Simone and Elizabeth Taylor are also subjects that I tend to return to quite a lot.

What ambitions do you still want to achieve and where do you see your career taking you in the future ? 

I am enjoying working in children’s books very much at the moment. Since we have had so much time where we are required to be at home, I am getting the chance to experiment with new styles and projects. I would like to write and illustrate my own books as well as illustrate other authors’ work. I would like to start designing and making short films as well. I am lucky because I get to enjoy my job developing children’s programming at Disney as an art director and I get to experiment with fun personal projects at home.

Peter thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions and be a part of Fishinkblog. It’s been great getting to look through your portfolio and I look forward to seeing what you have in store for the future. There’s plenty more of Peter’s work on tumblr, blogspot and Instagram.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2020 3:14 pm

    Absolutely beautiful work. Wonderful individual with a great unique style in his art! Thank you for sharing this.

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