From the Flat File: 1988 – Piggy Stayed Home

Thanks to my friend Judy Soemer Gracie who I have known since we were kids, earlier this summer I was reacquainted with this old drawing of mine that I did when I was in high school for our church’s member cookbook. I don’t even remember drawing it, and yet it is familiar all at the same time.

Sure hope he doesn’t cook pork dishes.
You can see the young cartoonist in me trying to figure out how those pros would make their beautiful drawings. I hadn’t figured out yet that nice thick and thin lines were made with brush and ink, not single width pens.

A fun detail that I can tell is in the background is a portrait of large celebrity chef of the day Paul Prudhomme, having “him” sign the picture “Pig Prudhomme.”

Anyway, thought this would be a fun Throwback Thursday post. Neat to see what I was doing so many years ago.

Exploration of Character Design

I’m sharing with you today, some actual animation character design work I created a while back. Thought it might be interesting to give you a little taste of the process.

The assignment in this case was to create a little brother character for an already designed big sister. The only stipulation is that he needed to be wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers, and the script called for him to be mischievous. Hoo boy, what a task it turned out to be! You see before you about 20 or so exploratory sketches, but I did about 60 different versions in all.


Just a few of the many options explored for this character.


The client just couldn’t decide which way he wanted to go. Every time I presented a few versions, there would be comments and suggestions on how to change it whether it was the weight of the kid, his hair – whatever! Two other designers eventually got involved, too, and they experienced the same indecision from the client. It was certainly frustrating, because we wanted to please the client.

Eventually a design was chosen (one conceived by one of my colleagues), and then I created the turns (that’s the view of the character from all sides), and continued with some personality sketches, mouth charts, etc. I never would have thought a little boy would have been my toughest character design assignment, but it was.

So there you have it – some of the glitz and glamour of being an artist for hire.

From the Flat File: 2004 – Slots Landing

A number of years ago before I got into the world of animation, I was a very busy illustrator. I illustrated many books whether of my own design, or sometimes with a team of other illustrators. Much of my color work back then was created with gouache – an opaque water based paint I would apply with both regular brushes and airbrushes. I absolutely LOVED this work.

After having worked for a number of years in the world of animation, and not having illustrated much anymore, the urge to paint more came bubbling up inside of me. While some of my colleagues who spend their days with cartoons want to create fine art, I wanted to create illustrations, even if they were just for me and not part of a greater project. But, I didn’t want to use gouache anymore. The erratic, organic quality of watercolors looked mighty attractive.

So, I bought some tubes of watercolors – Winsor & Newton – the same brand as my gouache paints, and decided to take a crack at ’em. The first serious attempt at using this medium resulted in the piece down below. Watercolors make up the bulk of the piece, finished with the sketchy lines that colored pencils provided.


The name “Slots Landing” was suggested by my brother.


I was hooked, and never looked back. At least 80% of my paintings since then have been with watercolors. Gouache still creeps in now and then, as does purely digital painting in Photoshop, but I absolutely love watercolors, and try to learn more with each new piece that comes across my desk.

Even though this was my first serious attempt at the medium, it remains one of the more popular pieces with viewers, likely due to the subject matter. There’s just something about the loss of innocence when tempted by something bigger and meaner that we all can relate to. The alligator seemed like a natural tempter to the sweet, innocent rabbit who he is coaxing down to the riverboat casino with his luring words and the push of his tail. It seems like the key moment of a book, doesn’t it?

The image was inspired by a verse in the Bible found at I Corinthians 10:13 where it promises to those who have given their lives to Christ that, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

From the Flat File: 2009 – Thinking About Pooh

This past weekend my mind wandered to a show I started working on for Disney about seven or eight years ago. It was the CG animated My Friends Tigger & Pooh. It was such a delight to draw Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Lumpy, and anyone else who came to the 100 Acre Wood during those two and a half seasons that we created their adventures. You, however, only were able to watch two of those seasons. We actually were halfway through planning the third season before the network decided that the first two were enough.

We did something in our show that seemed to polarize the Pooh fans, though. Christopher Robin was not included. Instead, we introduced a little girl named Darby to the stories. Darby was voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz when she was just a wee lass. She has gone on to bigger things working in movies with directors like Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese, but once upon a time she delivered great enthusiasm in her conversations with Pooh and Tigger.

Despite all of Darby’s cuteness and charm, fans missed Christopher Robin, including Queen Elizabeth who purportedly had an aide call the Disney Channel suggesting that Christopher Robin be returned to the Wood. Regarding the young boy’s absence, “the Queen is not amused,” was the rumor floating around the studio. So, while Darby remained, Christopher Robin did return for a few episodes, though one time the gang spent an episode calling a frog “Christopher Robin” thinking that the boy had turned into the amphibian, naturally.

Another element of this series was that Darby led Tigger and Pooh as the “Super Sleuths.” It was a fun device where something would happen, and the residents of the woods needed help solving the problem. Every episode they would don their Super Sleuth outfits, then go off to “think, think, think” in an attempt to find the answer, often causing more chaos in the process.


After my work on the show ended in 2008, I created a series of watercolor sketches (such as this one) based on the show just for the fun of it.


You know, while working on the show, my mother sent me a drawing that I did at the age of 5 of Disney’s Winnie the Pooh. It was so surreal to see I had an interest in him all those years ago, and then was making a living drawing him. I tease you with that, however. Little Chad’s art is not available to share with you here at this time, but eventually it will find its way here on the ol’ blog.

My Friends Tigger & Pooh really was a delightful show, and had some really wonderful scripts by our writers led by Brian Hohlfeld and Nicole Dubuc. It was a treat working with everyone, and especially getting to see the great Jim Cummings work his magic as Pooh, Tigger, and the Beaver, Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) who was Eeyore, Ken Sansom who (though now deceased) was Rabbit for many years, Rob Paulson (famous for Pinky from Pinky & the Brain) who did a raccoon, Max Burkholder (from TV’s Parenthood) as Roo, Dee Bradley Baker who was an amazing dog (Buster), as well as even Mark Hamill (yes, Luke Skywalker himself) who did a recurring character of a turtle.

It is available on DVD. Settle down with your little ones, put on your thinking caps and watch all the charming adventures of Darby, Tigger, Pooh and the gang!

…From the Flat File: 2003 – Aquarium

Ten years ago my good friend and composer Nicholas Lawrence asked me to design a CD for him that was to feature his original compositions inspired by his love for sea life. Titled Aquarium, the concept lent itself to fun graphic possibilities, so I accepted!

I first met Nick when he was just a student in the film music program at the University of Southern California (USC) where some of his professors were Elmer Bernstein, Leonard Rosenman, David Raksin, Jerry Goldsmith and Christopher Young. He and I both attended the same church, and with his interest in composition and my love for film music, we had an instant common ground. Friendship had to ensue.

While I am an illustrator first, it seemed that Nick’s new concept album should be given a stripped-down minimal graphic treatment to the art. He performed his music for the album on electronic instruments in what could be considered a New Age instrumental style. So, using my illustration abilities, the cover art was created completely as a gouache painting just hinting at the variety of sea life the music evoked.

Nicholas Lawrence - Aquarium
This is the front cover of Nick’s CD called “Aquarium” (in case you couldn’t tell).


For the rest of the album design, I dusted off my old college graphic design training and played around with hand drawn art and digital type composited with Photoshop. Here is a sampling of what the CD itself looked like.


Nicholas Lawrence CD
This is the design of Nicholas Lawrence’s actual CD.


If you’d like to see the rest of the album art, and would like to hear Nick’s music, CD Baby is offering the CD for the low price of $4.99 right now. CLICK HERE to listen to free samples and to order your very own copy. This is the only CD art I’ve done for a commercially available item – unique in my artography!

…From the Flat File: 2005 – Happy Thanksgiving!



Whether you like white meat or dark meat, this turkey will taste like watercolor paint and paper. Bon appètit!


I thought I would reach into my archives this week and pull out a Thanksgiving themed illustration I did a few years ago based on a favorite television family of mine – the Barones.

I was a big fan of the Everybody Loves Raymond show on CBS, and often went to the live tapings on the Warner Bros. studio lot here in Burbank, CA. It was always so much fun to see the familial relationships played out amongst the actors who seemed to genuinely get along with each other. If they shot a joke a certain way, they’d do take after take with a different punchline until they got the biggest laugh, and all were funny.

I am also a big fan of Norman Rockwell’s paintings, a sentiment I share with many Americans who are moved by his idyllic depictions of life in this country. I was thrilled to see a traveling exhibit of his original work a few years back first in San Diego, then again in New York City. The exhibit included what have become known as Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” paintings. The Freedom from Want piece in that series always struck a chord with me with its portrayal of a family enjoying each other around the Thanksgiving table.


Freedom from Want
Well, it isn’t necessarily from Marie’s Italian cook book, but even the Barone family can enjoy a bit of a traditional turkey dinner. In one episode, they tried a tofurkey to great comical effect.


So, when I heard that Everybody Loves Raymond was going to come to an end, immediately Norman Rockwell’s famous painting came to mind. It seemed to be a perfect fit, all the way down to putting Robert in the lower right corner partially cut off as he would expect. Robert always felt he was getting the second fiddle treatment from the family. With a bit of watercolor and colored pencil, this piece was created just for the fun of it.

You know, during the time I was finishing up the painting, I took in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl where I bumped into Doris Roberts. She didn’t know me from Adam, so I probably spooked her a bit when the first words my mind thought to say were, “Oh hi! I was just painting you today!” Smooth, Chad. Smooth.

Pictured with the turkey is Peter Boyle (who passed away a few years ago) and Doris Roberts, then on the left Madylin Sweeten, Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, and Sawyer Sweeten. On the right is Monica Horan, Sullivan Sweeten, and of course, Brad Garrett. On the back wall is show creator Phil Rosenthal.

On an interesting side note, last year Brad did the voice of a character I designed for a third Zhu Zhu Pets movie that has yet to be released. It was literally a talking rock. It seems as though Robert Barone STILL can’t get any respect.


Enjoy Thanksgiving with your own friends and family this week, and remember not only to be thankful for the blessings in your life, but to whom that thanks should be directed. The holiday is modeled after the Pilgrims who gave thanks to the almighty God for their survival in this untamed land. In many ways it is still untamed, and God is the One who deserves our appreciation.

Psalm 136:1 “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”

…From the Flat File: 2000 – John Wayne

Recently I was going through some old digital files of mine and came across an ad I created at Disney Feature Animation for an employee screening of the classic John Wayne film The Searchers. I always really liked this caricature of Wayne and thought it deserved to get dusted off and shared here on the blog.


John Wayne
Brush and ink art of the Duke.


John was drawn entirely with brush and ink. You can see that I kept the line work thick and rugged which suited the subject matter well. Not only did John Wayne have a thick and rugged face, but I was going to be taking this art into Photoshop to try to make it look like it was cut into a piece of wood. The thickness was going to be an asset in that process.


The Searchers art
Here’s a close-up of the line drawing after being given the woodcut treatment in Photoshop.


Those years I spent at Disney Feature Animation were with the Artist Development department. It was our job to make sure the staff as a whole at the studio were up on the latest computer programs, inspire them with special guest speakers and screenings, and to keep the artists sharp by providing drawing classes whether that be life drawing or special classes with animals.

For a time we were regularly screening classic films, and for each screening I created the flyers that were posted around the building. This one for The Searchers was my favorite. I even made that “cowhide” from a wrinkled up piece of paper rubbed in coffee and pencil shavings. Notice the date on the flyer? I thought it would be fun to post it here twelve years to the day of the screening at Disney.


The Searchers Disney flyer
Here is the whole flyer never before seen outside the walls of Disney until now.


The drawing of John Wayne had one more day in the sun (not counting sharing it with you here today). Disney would allow folks who worked at Feature Animation to have art shows of their personal work. The Animation Research Library folks (you should visit their Facebook page) would help us post our art in a hallway in the Southside building where it would hang for a month, then move it to another building across town that we also used (called “Northside”) where it would hang for another month. There would be a nice reception on opening night where colleagues and friends from outside could come see the work. I put John Wayne in a frame and included him in the show.


William Sanderson
William Sanderson and Chad Frye in the halls of Disney Feature Animation’s “hat” building in Burbank, CA.


Thought it might be fun to show you the above photo of the Duke flanked on either side by yours truly and actor William Sanderson who came to see my work that night with his lovely wife Sharon. While he has been in many television shows and movies, Bill is often remembered for being on Newhart where he would always enter a scene by saying, “Hi, my name is Larry. This is my brother Darryl. This is my other brother Darryl.” I keep that photo taped up next to my drafting table where it reminds me of some good times twelve years ago.

Thanks for letting me share the art, memories and good times with YOU today!



…From the Flat File: 2004 – CAPS Cover Art

Since about 1997, I have belonged to a professional cartoonist organization called CAPS. It was founded back in the 70s by MAD Magazine stalwart Sergio Aragonès, writer Mark Evanier, and cartoonist Don Rico. I have really loved being a part of this group that meets monthly in Burbank, CA. We get together, have special speakers, and talk shop.

At one point, I started getting involved in the group, even serving as its president for a spell. One duty that I took on was as co-editor of the monthly newsletter. The other editor was Disney Legend Floyd Norman (check out a new book about Floyd HERE). Floyd and I would take turns every other month as it was quite a job putting together what often was a 32 page beast. If you couldn’t get members to write articles, the editor wrote them. If the members couldn’t spell, the editor had to spell. If there were no pictures submitted, the editor had to find some. If no one came through in drawing the cover, yep, the editor did it.

This piece is one of those times I had to come up with a cover idea, likely at the last minute. It was a fun challenge when the need arose, because deadlines would be so tight that it sometimes ended up being like cartoonist improv – whatever came to mind at that moment is what blorted out of your brush.


Comic Art
Boy, in THIS economy, some of those publications are probably funnier than the comic book!


I think this image came to mind because I was always seeing grown men be so business minded to where there was no sight of the kid inside. While the titans of industry would be reading The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, they probably started off reading comic books. Even cartoonists sometimes get caught up in the work of being a cartoonist that they can forget what that feeling of pure joy and escapism a few minutes with a comic book would bring when we were kids. Comic books are likely what got us interested in being cartoonists in the first place!

I came from a world where both business AND comics were an influence, and both came from my own father. Dad was a mortgage banker, but he grew up on comic books. When I was too young to read, he would sit there and read me tales of adventure from his old childhood comic books. His favorite character was Disney’s Uncle Scrooge of course. Scrooge, in stories by the great Carl Barks, became my favorite, too. But Dad didn’t stop there. Every day we would spread out the comics from the newspaper and he would read those to me as well. Peanuts, Nancy, Dennis the Menace, The Family Circus, and Beetle Bailey were all favorites.

I’m positive that my love for cartooning came from those reading sessions with Dad, and he taught me a lot about business, too. I’m glad, because the two go together. A cartoonist often finds himself working as a freelancer.

So, as life moves you forward, never forget the joy of the comics that you enjoyed as a kid. They’ll keep you young.


And to those of you who are cartoonists in the Los Angeles area, CLICK HERE to see what CAPS is all about. April’s monthly meeting just happens to be tonight where they will have a terrific panel (including Sergio Aragonès) talking about Will Eisner – the godfather of the graphic novel.