Discover the drawing magic of E Michael Mitchell

E Michael Mitchell was a Canadian-born artist who was known for his avant-garde illustrations in magazines like Cosmopolitan and highly imaginative conceptual drawing for the animation industry.

He was a close friend of J.D. Salinger and designed the dust jacket for Salinger's first edition novel Catcher in the Rye.

Illustration by E Michael Mitchell

E Michael Mitchell

In addition to his work as an illustrator, Mitchell also taught animation at the California Institute of the Arts' Character Animation School and worked on numerous television and movie projects, including the 1968 film Yellow Submarine. Throughout his career, Mitchell was known for his determination and dedication to his craft, and he had a significant influence on the development of animation artistry.

I was lucky enough to study with E. Michael Mitchell during my time in the Character Animation program at CalArts. Mike was a fantastic instructor who had been teaching for years and always found time to encourage his students, no matter their skill level or experience in animation artistry. He truly wanted all of us to be successful.

The sessions in Mike's class were always filled with creative setups that allowed us as artists to learn from each other's skills while also improving our own. It felt like every week there was something new we could try out on our own.

Mike was a Canadian-born artist who was close friends with JD Salinger. He designed the dust jacket for Salinger's first edition novel Catcher in the Rye, which became an international bestseller after its release in 1951. Despite being a teenager and having joined the Royal Air Force to fly combat missions over Britain during the German Blitzes, Mike realized that it wasn't for him. He soon developed an intense determination that he would later express towards Salinger in order to “avoid press at all costs”.

By 1950, Mike had already moved to the United States and became an illustrator for articles in “slick” magazines like Cosmopolitan.

His work was a marked departure from what people were used to at that time; it had more of an avant-garde feel instead of being literal realism like many other artists' pieces would have been during this era. Mike's illustrations debut in 1948 alongside two of Salinger's short stories, and his last publication was in Collier's on July 25th, 1953 with a drawing of a cat and monkey as the header for Richard Stern's story Women in Conflict.

While writing Catcher in the Rye in 1950, Salinger often visited Mike's house in Westport, Connecticut. He sometimes stayed overnight to write in the guest house where he read sections of his manuscript aloud to both Mike and his wife Esther. As Salinger moved to New Hampshire and became more reclusive, he began corresponding with Mike, who was then illustrating books and instructing at the Famous Artists School. In February 1955, Salinger married 21-year-old Claire Douglas in Vermont, where Mike was the best man.

Mike's illustrations also appeared in Lithopinion, the graphic arts and public affairs journal of the Amalgamated Lithographers of America in the early 70's, and he taught illustration at Parsons School of Design in New York in 1973.

The experiences Mike had early on in his career heavily influenced the production design of FernGully: The Last Rainforest in 1992. Between 1978 and 1996, he worked on more than 20 television and movie projects.

Mike's “sagging barn” studio in Westport closed down in the late 1970s, but he quickly rebounded by establishing a new career for himself as a visual development artist in southern California for Ruby Spears Productions and Hanna-Barbera Productions. He also worked on the 1968 Beatles film Yellow Submarine, but was not acknowledged. Mike took over as lead designer just before shooting began, replacing the previous production designer who had failed to complete his work on the film.

In addition to teaching animation at CalArts, Mike also appeared in a student-made video by Ben Adams talking about his work, and in another video, an instructor at CalArts, Mike Ngyuen (director of “My Little World), Mike can be seen talking about his visual development work on Ngyuen's film. Mike was a talented artist and instructor who had a significant impact on the world of animation and will be remembered for his contributions to the field.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from and work with Mike during my time at CalArts. He was a kind and patient instructor who always encouraged us to push ourselves and try new things. His passion for art and animation was contagious, and he inspired many of us to pursue careers in the field.

In addition to his work as an instructor, Mike was also a highly accomplished artist in his own right. He had a unique and innovative style that set him apart from other illustrators of his time, and his work was recognized and respected by his peers. Mike's contributions to the world of art and animation will not be forgotten, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations of artists.

As a student in Mike's class, I was constantly amazed by his wealth of knowledge and experience. He had worked on numerous television and movie projects throughout his career, and he was always willing to share his insights and techniques with us. His guidance and mentorship were invaluable, and I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such a talented and dedicated artist.

In addition to his work in the animation industry, Mike was known for his dedication to his craft and his willingness to help others succeed. His positive impact on the world of art and animation will be remembered for years to come, and his legacy will continue to inspire and guide future generations of artists.