Interview: The Disney Illustration Process with Jerrod Maruyama


There is one part of the creation process that freelance illustrators go through that always seems a mystery to me – the beginning. When the audience sees the final piece in a gallery or as a product in a store, what they don’t see are the hundreds of ideas that lead to that moment. Sketches. Stress. Internal debate. Emails back and forth, from client to artist’s cluttered inbox. A strong design gets its strength from looking like it could not have been done any other way.

When Disney’s WonderGround Gallery opened its second show Good Vs. Evil I saw that Jerrod Maruyama was once again featured, so I decided to make the trip down to the opening. We arranged to have drinks after the show. Over some cocktails at Trader Sam’s we chatted about the process of creating work for someone else. In this case, for Disney.




Jerrod Maruyama signing at WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama signing at WonderGround Gallery


ETDC: This was your second time being involved with the WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney. What’s that process like? Did you contact them or did they seek you out?

JM: Immediately after the first show in June 2012, Disney contacted me about the next show. They explained the theme of Good Vs. Evil and I got started right away on some concepts. Initially, there was a list of character couplings to choose from. I thought it was a fantastic idea for a new show with lots of possibilities. I’d send them sketches and concepts and we’d work from there. It’s pretty much the way I work with all of my clients. The art goes through an approval process. Some concepts are scrapped. Some things change along the way. It’s a pretty standard back and forth process. I was just thrilled to be back and to be able to work with some of my favorite Disney characters. Beauty and The Beast is my all-time favorite Disney film. So to work with those characters was really a dream come true.


Jerrod Maruyama signing at WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the WonderGround Gallery


Is the gallery invite-only? Is there a submission process for other artists looking to be involved?

It’s all up to Disney. They contacted me. I didn’t call them or submit anything initially. This is a brand new concept so I didn’t even know about the gallery until they contacted me late in 2011. I get a lot of emails asking for advice or contact information in regards to showing at WonderGround. There’s not much I can do personally. I just tell those artists to show your Disney work. Post your fan art. Get it out there.

I think the Disney people have been really great when it comes to finding interesting styles and different takes on their characters. Get your stuff out there and they’ll find you. Don’t be shy about your work. That’s really the best advice I can offer.


Jerrod Maruyama's 'Java Break' for the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama’s ‘Java Break’ for the WonderGround Gallery


This go-round your designs seem more involved. Java Break and Pinocchio have more going on than your previous work for the gallery. Is this just a natural progression in your style or did something inspire this approach?

I really take each piece as it comes to me. I didn’t set out to make these new pieces move involved. They just developed that way. Take the Pinocchio piece for example. One of the things I love about that film is all the fantastic detail in the backgrounds and environments. Geppetto’s workshop is filled with all this beautiful woodwork and charming detail. I wanted to have that in my Pinocchio piece. Also, with a theme like Good Vs. Evil there is sort of a narrative implied. You’re going to have more than one character and you want to convey that conflict somehow. I think the theme really called for more involved pieces this time around.


Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery


Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery


Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama designs at the WonderGround Gallery


Your Hipster Mickey design has been pretty popular at the gallery. It’s been added to more products in the last few months, from t-shirts to coffee mugs. How much do you consider the potential sales of a design before you start?

I really don’t think about the sales potential when I’m creating a piece. You definitely want people to like the art and to respond to it. But I am terrible at predicting what someone will buy. Throwing that concern into the mix tends to make me self-conscious about the art. You work on these things for such a long time it becomes difficult to view the piece objectively.

You tend to only see your mistakes or the parts you don’t feel completely confident about. So adding in the concern about profitability would overwhelm me. It’s a different mindset. I leave that to the folks at Disney. They know what they’re doing and I completely trust them with my art.

Are there any characters that you’re dying to do but might not be as popular with the Disney audience?

I would love to do a piece with Merlin and Madam Mim from The Sword and the Stone. Doing something with the Wizard duel would be tons of fun. I don’t know if The Sword In The Stone is a big sell or not but it would be a great piece to work on.


Jerrod Maruyama's 'Pinocchio' for the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama’s ‘Pinocchio’ for the WonderGround Gallery

Your portfolio is packed with great character work. How much of that was paid work versus work you did for yourself?

A lot of the professional work I do is conceptual designs very early in the production process. Much of it I can’t show or at least can’t show right away. So most of the images I show in my portfolio and on Flickr are personal projects. It’s a great way to keep drawing and trying out different styles and approaches.


Jerrod Maruyama's 'Warmup Mickey' at the D23 Expo silent auction.

Jerrod Maruyama’s ‘Warmup Mickey’ at the D23 Expo silent auction.


Are your illustrations finalized in Illustrator only or is there Photoshop or other programs used? Is there a pen and ink or pencil rough draft process?

I usually start with a paper and pencil sketch. Sometimes it’s a very rough sketch just to work out some basic characteristics and costume details. Often times the final image looks very different than the sketch. Using Illustrator makes it easy to make small adjustments and quick changes. All of my work is finalized in Illustrator. I very rarely use Photoshop.


'Disney Princesses' by Jerrod Maruyama

‘Disney Princesses’ by Jerrod Maruyama


You do concept work for projects that you can’t show or discuss. How do you find work if the bulk of what you’ve done you can’t use in your portfolio?

I’ve been very fortunate in that people and clients have found me. Through my website, through Flickr, Twitter, Dribble, etc. – they find my work and get in touch.  Through these online venues, the art tends to travel quickly. A lot of my work ends up on Tumblr. I don’t use Tumblr much myself but the artwork certainly gets around quickly through that platform. It’s amazing where it ends up.


Jerrod Maruyama's 'Alice in Wonderland' for the WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ for the WonderGround Gallery


Have you had a booth at Comic-Con or any convention like that? Do you see that as a viable way of getting your work in front of an audience?

I have not had a booth at any conventions as of yet. I’m not against it – I think it would be great fun. But it is a lot of work. One of my goals in 2013 is to figure out what to do next as far as merchandise.

I think once I get focused, doing cons will naturally fall into place. I don’t know that I would ever do Comic-Con. But certainly, some of the smaller cons and expos like Designer Con and APE are appealing.


'Happy Haunts' by Jerrod Maruyama

‘Happy Haunts’ by Jerrod Maruyama


How much time do you spend putting your work out into the world? Do you have a set time of the day when you’re on Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook? Is there a plan behind your self-marketing?

I am just always drawing. Whether it’s in a sketchpad or in Illustrator, I try to always be creating. Much of the fan art is a result of this. When I do a new piece, I put it up. I try not to be too precious about what I post. I like getting it up there and seeing what the response is. Everything isn’t perfect. Sometimes I end up not liking the image a few weeks later but that’s ok. It’s all part of the process.

I don’t spend a set amount of time on posting new images. But it is important to me. It’s how I get my work seen. It’s something I am always doing. Sometimes I save pieces to spread out the posts. Other times I post new stuff almost everyday. Just depends on my workload.

There isn’t an overall plan or method to my self-marketing. I’m sure that’s not a good approach. It’s something I hope to be more organized about in 2013.


'Modern Mouse' by Jerrod Maruyama

‘Modern Mouse’ by Jerrod Maruyama


How do most of your clients find you?

My website, Twitter, Flickr, Dribbble, Tumblr and Facebook – clients have found my work across the board when it comes to online presence. I don’t do mailers or much promotion beyond posting my work. I’m not saying this is a good thing or THE way to promotes one’s self. It’s what I do and it’s brought me plenty of work. But all of that can change in a second.

That’s why I feel the need to focus on a plan and be a bit more structured with my business model. The business side of things is the most tedious and the least interesting to me. I want to draw and create characters. That’s what I love to do. Business licenses, purchasing, taxes, insurance and all that paperwork are a bit of a struggle for me. That’s the real work.


'Hipster Mickey' by Jerrod Maruyama

‘Hipster Mickey’ by Jerrod Maruyama


What’s your average workday like? Do you try to keep a regular 9AM – 5PM Monday through Friday schedule or do you just work when you feel like it? How do you balance work and life when you work for yourself? 

 I get up pretty early. I am usually at my desk by 7AM. I try to check all of my sites and read emails. How it goes after that depends on the workload. I find the work tends to come in waves.

Busy days seem to be followed by slow periods. So, sometimes I work all day long and into the night. Other days, I am able to stop at 6 or so. There are of course breaks in there too.

Working from home allows you to do things at your leisure. I can stop and go to the bank or do a load of laundry. In the same respect, I tend to work longer hours. It just depends on the day and the jobs. But I love it. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.


Hipster Mickey by Jerrod Maruyama at WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney.

Hipster Mickey by Jerrod Maruyama at WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney.


Jerrod Maruyama at WonderGround Gallery

Jerrod Maruyama at WonderGround Gallery



Previously on The Evil Tender Podcast Series — Episode 1: Illustrator Jerrod Maruyama



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