Phil Wilson is one of the greatest living artists of our time. A Pennsylvania based artist, Phil has been a Disney artist for 18 years and during that time he has created 9 original Disney Characters and has illustrated 75 books. He has worked in every media there is from pen and ink, pastels and magic marker to watercolor, oils and acrylic. He has created character collector’s plates through the Bradford Exchange and Disney greeting cards through Gibson Card Co. and his relationship with Disney has lasted 18 years.
Phil not only paints Disney Characters, he has an incredibly diverse skill set and paints a huge array of subject matter across a wide spectrum from cartoon to realism. His love of dinosaurs has led him to illustrate the most beautiful prehistoric creatures with a realistic likeness. He has had an association with world-renowned paleontologists such as Dr. Jack Horner working together on magazine articles and books for the last 18 years.
He has a huge list of accolades to his name and included in this list of incredible achievements are; the animated TV special “A Star For Jeremy” which won the bronze 1983 New York International Film & TV Award for children’s programming. The Distinguished Achievement Award from the Educational Press Association of America two years in a row for his dinosaur illustrations that accompanied Jack Horner’s magazine articles “Dino-Speak” for Wild Outdoor World Magazine. He was Inducted into two halls of fame: The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and The Pennsylvania Association of Private School Administrators (PAPSA) both in 1994, and several local and regional ADDY awards in advertising, and several gallery show awards, including Best Of Show.
I am honored to share this interview with you. Take a look as we celebrate this great artist’s life and learn more about the man behind the artwork. The following interview questions were asked by myself and answered by Phil Wilson. This is the first in a two part interview. Enjoy!
Interview with Phil Wilson by Cindy Wider
Q: Hi Phil Please tell us where you were born and where you are living now.
A: I was born in a small town called Brookville. Pennsylvania, in the western part of the state, not far from Clarion, Pa. on December 30, 1948. My family lived there in Clarion for a few years before moving to Oil City, Pa. where I spent all of my years growing up. I still visit family there to this day. My current home is Pittsburgh, Pa. where I have lived since 1966.
Q: Phil, when did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist. How old were you and were there any significant experiences that influenced your decision to become an illustrator at that time?
A: I think I’ve always wanted to be an artist… at least I’ve always drawn, since I was around 5 years old. The baby journal my mother wrote about me contains a passage about me really liking to draw at age 5, so I suppose that’s the earliest recorded proof!
I remember that when I was in the first grade at school, the teacher gave us all colored construction paper to play with and I decided to make an origami-style alligator head that had moving jaws. The teacher was so impressed that she had me show the rest of the class how to make one as well. That made a huge impact on me at the time.
Drawing Talent Development
Q: Did you study art within any formal institutions and if so what were those experiences like for you? Did you learn most of what you know about illustration there? Did anyone in particular stand out as significantly contributing to your expertise in drawing?
A: My training really started in earnest during high school with my art teacher named Bill Applequist. He took a major interest in developing my talent. Through him, I became familiar with all the different media available and the results you can get with each of them. I credit him more than anyone for any success I’ve had. He passed away a few years ago, and I still miss not being able to ‘run things by him’.
I also had several influential instructors at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where I attended from 1966 through 1968. Tom Helwig, Tom Kouris, Bill Cockrell, and Stan Deverman are just a few of the excellent instructors that helped me to fine tune my abilities there.
Q: Your skills are so diverse, incredible really. Do you have a favourite subject, medium or style that you work in?
A: Thank you first of all, for the kind compliment! I enjoy painting practically everything, but two of my childhood favorites that have since become major parts of my career. These are the classic Disney characters and dinosaurs. I was fortunate back in 1992 to get the opportunity to illustrate a book for Disney that commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus sailing to America. These incorporated Mickey Mouse as Columbus and Donald, Goofy, etc. as his ship mates. That led to my illustrating their classics book series for several books. These opportunities in turn led to doing other Disney work such as character collector’s plates through the Bradford Exchange and Disney greeting cards through Gibson Card Co. My relationship with Disney has lasted 18 years.
At the other end of the spectrum is my love of dinosaurs. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with world-renowned paleontologists such as Dr. Jack Horner on magazine articles and books for the last 18 years.
I have worked in every media there is, from pen & ink, pastels, and magic marker, to watercolor, oils, and acrylic, but watercolor and acrylic are the two media I work in the most, also employing airbrush. I tend to use watercolor with airbrush for the Disney-type work and acrylic for the realistic dinosaur work.
This ends the first of our two part interview with Phil. Please leave a comment about Phil’s work below, we would love to hear from you. If you have any questions at all feel free to ask.