James Coleman (American artist)

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James Coleman (born 1949) is an American painter who has worked for Disney as a background artist on numerous animated features. In 1991, after 22 years of working for Disney, James left to pursue the true passion in his life, fine art.[1]

Life and career[edit]

James Coleman was born in Hollywood, California. He got his first job at Disney Studios, in the mailroom, through his mother, who was a secretary there. His big break came when he entered a painting in the Disney Studio Art Show. Ken Anderson, a top artist and story man for Disney, saw his potential and encouraged Coleman to go into animation background painting.[2] This landed him his first job as a background painter on Disney's The Rescuers.[3]

Coleman's career took off after that:

This was a major event for me. At first, I didn't realize just how major it was. But it literally changed my life. I had no idea what it would lead to.[4]

This led to a career spanning nearly three decades and more than 25 films. But Coleman's true passion always laid in Fine Art, and he eventually left Disney in order to pursue this field full-time. He likens this life changing decision to a window needing to be opened:

Windows can be intimidating because you don't know what's out there. But once you step through it, you're faced with this enormous amount of possibility. I never liked looking at windows directly, because once I see one, I have to go through it.[5]

However, Coleman did not stay away from Disney for too long. Eventually he found himself mixing fine art with the Disney characters he had worked with for so many years.[6]

Selected filmography[edit]

Film Year Position
The Swan Princess 1994 Art Director
Beauty and the Beast 1991 Background Artist
The Rescuers Down Under 1990 Background Artist
The Little Mermaid 1989 Background Artist
The Great Mouse Detective 1986 Color Stylist
The Black Cauldron 1985 Color Stylist
Mickey's Christmas Carol 1983 Background Artist
The Fox and the Hound 1981 Color Stylist
The Small One 1978 Background Artist
The Rescuers 1977 Background Painter

Personal quotes[edit]

  • (On his short stint at art school)

One of the teachers said he was going to take us into his studio and show us a brush stroke he had worked his whole life to invent. I just looked at this guy and said to myself: 'This is a bunch of nonsense!' I realized he was intellectualizing something that, in my mind, was a spiritual thing. Painting isn't an intellectual study . . . it comes from the heart.[7]

  • (On his process)

Basically, I see something, store it in my mind and study it. Then, when I get back to the studio, it just comes out . . . Everything we see is imprinted in our brain. And if we're able to connect with those images, we can call them back and use them.[8]

  • (On Disney)

I can remember Walt Disney getting the Academy Award for Mary Poppins and thinking, 'That's what I want to do someday...'[9]



  • Doyle, Mark (ed.) (1995). The Life & Work of James Coleman (First ed.). Coleman Studios Inc. ISBN 0-9646447-0-3.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)

External links[edit]