Our Lead Illustrator: Michael Blackmon II

From comics to Pixar and Disney to “The Fresh Prince’s” Uncle Phil, Michael brings a fresh and fun illustration style to Cetati.

After earning a BA in visual communications from the University of San Diego, Cetati Studios’ Lead Illustrator Michael Blackmon II, took advantage of family connections and got a job in the shipping department at Pixar.

“My sister was a production assistant on the Pixar film “Monsters University” and once I started working there, I hustled my way into different departments. When I first started, I assumed everything was done on computers and didn’t know they used illustrators and needed design work for certain projects. They had a lot of in-house events they promoted and I saw posters around and I figured they could do better. I found out who was involved in promoting events and designing t-shirts and opened doors by talking to people in the studio store.”

Pixar didn’t like pulling artists who were working on feature films off of those projects to do illustration work and that’s where Blackmon stepped in. Some of the projects he did included creating illustrations for the Al’s Toy Barn retail store at the Shanghai Disneyland and multiple attractions at the Pixar Pier at Disney’s California Adventure.

Blackmon grew up in Hayward, California and started drawing when he was about 7 or 8 years old. His cousin had a bunch of comic books and instead of reading them, Blackmon began drawing what he saw on the covers and pages. His comic book start with art came full circle when he illustrated a mini-documentary special feature for the “The Incredibles 2” DVD/Blu-ray about Samuel L. Jackson entitled “The Coolest Guy in Show Business.”

“Samuel L. Jackson talked about how he grew up in the South in the ‘50’s during segregation. He read comic books and was inspired by superheroes. Now, at that time, there were no black superheroes in comic books. So that means he was inspired by white characters—by characters that didn’t look like him. I think black representation is a good thing, but I didn’t think we should wait for black representation before we move or do art or try to be an inspiration ourselves. I was so honored to do those illustrations because that’s how I feel. It was fun doing it comic book style as there were a lot of parallels.”

Blackmon used to do graphic designs for wedding announcements or cards for special events on the side, but has tapped the brakes on that kind of art for a while. He worries about his main outlet of artistic expression becoming just a work obligation which could suck all of the fun out of doing it in the first place. He’s a firm believer in sometimes creating art simply for art’s sake. One example of that is a mashup illustration he created of James Avery, the actor who played Uncle Phil on the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles villain The Shredder, who was voiced by Avery on the popular ‘80’s cartoon.

“I tell young artists to make sure you also do your own stuff—that you pursue your own weird, crazy ideas that have nothing to do with a corporation. Like when I did the Uncle Phil/The Shredder thing—that wasn’t for anybody. I just did it because it was a weird idea. I want to keep illustration fresh and light and fun.”

A quote attributed to numerous people, but most likely coined by actor/comedian Martin Mull goes “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” So too is writing about art. To get a more accurate taste of some of the exquisite creations that have flowed from the mind and hand of Cetati Studio’s Lead Illustrator Michael Blackmon II, please visit his website at http://www.michaelblackmondesign.com/.