“4 artists paint 1 tree” was originally a segment in a 1958 episode of “Disneyland” on TV. This short film served as a promotional spot for their upcoming film at the time: Sleeping Beauty. However, it goes much deeper than that. With Walt Disney’s narration we get a glimpse of the creative philosophy at Disney and the legendary artists working there at the time. This philosophy can be applied to what you’re doing even if you’re not in the business of animation. If you design websites, develop software, or even run your own small business you might take away something that will help you find your own way of doing things.

Advice to art students

Walt begins the segment by telling us that the Studio frequently receives letters from art students asking how one should paint and what styles one should imitate. Walt says:

Students become confused by honest admiration from one school of painting, mixed with the recognition of the success and popularity of another style, along with advice to follow a still different approach.

Walt’s advice is what artist Robert Henri says: “Be yourself. Don’t imitate anyone.”

4 artists 1 tree

Walt then shows us how the staff at Disney embodies this philosophy of Robert Henri. We meet a few of the artists working on Sleeping Beauty: Marc Davis, Eyvind Earle (my favorite), Josh Meador, and Walt Peregoy. Each artist has his own individual style and brought that when sketching out concepts for the main character Princess Aurora. Making an animated film is a cooperative effort, however, so each artist ultimately contributed to the final drawing of the Princess. The final result would not have been as great had it not been for each of the individual styles of the animation team.

These 4 artists then go out into a field to paint the exact same tree. They each narrate aloud their thought process and approach to painting the tree. One artist sees the tree as architectural form. Another sees the tree trunk detail and wants to focus on that. And so on. The resulting paintings as you might expect are very different. Walt says that each painter didn’t simply paint a tree but his own response to what the tree represents. He ends the film with another quote by Robert Henri:

The great painter has something to say. He (or she) does not paint men, landscapes or furniture, but an idea.

I wish this clip was available on the Internet somewhere, but it isn’t! It is available on the out-of-print version of the Sleeping Beauty DVD in the bonus features section. I’m not sure if it is available on the newly released version that came out this week. If you have the new version can you comment below if it contains this short film?