Prolific Castle Shannon artist speaks at Sewickley’s Sweetwater

Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 5:11 PM


Castle Shannon artist Phil Wilson has illustrated 94 books, more than 80 collector plates, two award-winning TV specials, a music video for Tom Petty, commercials, DVD and video cover art, album covers, posters, jigsaw puzzles….the list goes on and on.

His childhood dreams, he said, have come true.

“Two things I always wanted to do is Disney and dinosaurs,” Wilson told the audience at an Artist Guild at Sweetwater Center for the Arts meeting. “And they fell into my lap.”

Wilson, who grew up in Oil City, graduated from the now-defunct Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 1968. He was unhappily working in Cleveland when he was tapped to illustrate a 30-second commercial for Group Against Smog and Pollution — GASP — with mascot “Dirty Gertie the Poor Polluted Birdie.”

“We had no experience,” he said. “But we did it.”

“We” included Jim Allan, the other half of Allan & Wilson Animation Studio. The duo would go on to create award-winning animation for two half-hour TV specials, “Allison and the Magic Bubble” on HBO, and “A Star For Jeremy” on Showtime.

In 1989, a friend from Los Angeles called, asking if Wilson could work on a music video.

He was packaging and shipping cels — short for celluloid — for Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream” two weeks later.

In 1992, during the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’ encounter with the Americas, Wilson had the opportunity to illustrate a sticker book, depicting Mickey Mouse as the Italian explorer.

“I thought it was my one chance to do Disney,” he said.

But Disney liked his work so much, they asked him to do a book, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” It was the first of many illustrations he would do for the media conglomerate as a “Disney-approved artist.”

Contrary to the common belief, drawing the popular characters isn’t just taking a frame from a movie and reproducing it, he said.

“You’re describing a scene that is 15 to 20 seconds on screen. You’ve got to distill it in one single scene,” Wilson said, holding up an example of his work. “Here’s an entire fight scene in one illustration.”

And though computer-generated technology emerged in the 1990s and changed animation, Wilson has never gone digital.

“They’re all hand drawn,” he said of his work, adding that his preferred medium is watercolor or acrylics.

Wilson has illustrated more than 80 collectors art plates featuring Disney characters for the Bradford Exchange. He’s also created nine original Disney characters.

He got into dinosaur animation when asked to illustrate renowned paleontologist Jack Horner’s columns for Wild Outdoor World magazine.

Wilson said he is content to be “cruising” at this point in his career.

“I’ve been very fortunate. I can’t complain,” he said. “If I never draw another thing, I could be happy.”

Wilson is a member of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators. For information, visit www.pittsburghillustrators.org.

The Artist Guild at Sweetwater Center for the Arts meets the last Monday of the month. For more information, visit the Facebook page “The Artist Guild at Sweetwater Center for the Arts.”