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I just got through reading a great article by an animator I have never met, Ward Jenkins—I stumbled on his blog through some art connection, and through his blog also found a blog of his wife Andrea’s doing. They are both on my regular-reads list. The title of his piece today is Meeting Giants where he relates well a touching story of getting to meet a couple of old animators—two of the Disney’s famed Nine Old Men—who were doing a signing at a place near him.
It was my turn. I walked up to Frank and shook his hand. That hand. The hand that gave birth to many inspiring characters, many incredible scenes. The hand that has drawn perhaps millions of drawings, each one a small birth of personality and life. The hand that has moved millions, perhaps even billions, on this planet to tears, to laughter, to sorrow, to pain, to wonderment, to exhilaration, to joy, to love. I shook that hand and time stood still for me. In this frozen moment, I wanted to be some kind of conduit where all his experiences and knowledge of the craft somehow channeled into me. Oh, if only. If only I could gather all his thoughts and feelings about animation, even the anguish and hardships that seems to be so evident of the art-form, and suddenly become this new creation myself, the Tenth Old Man, or something.
It reminded me of how I always look at hands.
Some hands do not capture my attention for long. Others draw me in. Few and far between are pretty hands, in my opinion, but many hands are interesting. I, too, place great importance on the hands of talented people. Whenever I am in the presence of great artists, I always look at their hands. If they are particularly famous, and “made it” a long time ago, and have been living in fabulous wealth for several decades, however, I look at my feet. But that’s another story.
My three-best-friends-ever all make their living with their hands… well I suppose most do. I mean, my good friend Celine Dion makes her living with her voice, but she still does that chest-pounding thing with her hands. Anyway…
Morgan Weistling is great painter. His hands look no different than anyone else’s, but the control they have is amazing to me.
Brock Meeks is an amazing fellow. He decided he wanted to be a writer about 15 years ago, and with no formal education or great grades in English or writing, went to the library and got books on writing, and made himself a writer. He’s now one of the top writers at MSNBC.com. Same thing with photography. He wanted to become a better photographer, so he got books (and some good camera equipment) and dang if he didn’t turn into a world class photographer.
Then there’s my high school best friend, Rick Gerber, who’s a magician. Was in high school, and still is, 30 years later. Full-time! You can’t help but watch his hands. The things he does with coins, cards, scarves, sticks, napkins and lovely assistants will make you sure that his hands are truly magic.
We always look at the hands.
But the hands are just a tool. An extention of the mind. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the hands are the vehicle of experience. You don’t look at a Frank Lloyd Wright home and then stare at his saw. There’s just too much more inside the man.
Ward Jenkins reflects that the old animator gave him a distilled solution to being successful as an animator
DRAW, DRAW, DRAW
You can substitue your own fundamental skill for Draw, but that’s really the heart of excellence isn’t it? Observe everything. Communicate Well. Draw, Draw, Draw.
See, it’s drawing—the most fundamental element of art—that is the most critical element of all great art. New art students do not appreciate how critical to their future works is the fundamental regimen of drawing.
Drawing makes you observe, and observing makes you see better, and seeing is what makes the artist. Not the hands.
Seeing makes the great writer, not the hands.
Seeing makes the great magician, not— well, maybe that doesn’t work. But you get my point.
My father was Salesman of the Year in various companies he worked for, a pattern that started in the early 1950s. He was not your typical salesman. He was your friend. My dad was the living example of applying the Old Animator’s Advice to his profession as a salesman. The drawing my father did was in studying the client, finding out their technical needs and communicating with his own companies production teams and engineers what the client wanted and building detailed proposals for the other company’s engineers to peruse.
At my father’s Memorial Service, a gentleman named Don Baumann came walking up the aisle to an open mic and told the audience about the day Bob Darrow came to work for him. Don was my dad’s new boss. Don found out that day that my father was the replacement for someone they fired. The company hired my dad to work under Don without telling Don. And the man they fired? He was a very close friend of Don’s.
“Bob, I don’t think you’re going to make it here,” Don told his new hire that day.
My dad heard similar slams over the next few months as his boss wondered why my dad never turned in Expense Reports—the expected evidence of wining and dining clients, taking them to clubs and dinners and golfing.
My dad was busy drawing.
“Bob, I don’t think you’re going to make it here…”
At the end of the year, my dad outsold everyone in the company and remained the top salesman for his many years there. In short order the company restructured their sales procedures to model my dad’s methods. Everyone was required to get to know the clients’ needs, build solid proposals, observe and communicate.
My dad was fond of a phrase
Listen to Understand, Not to Respond
Still… I miss his hands.