If you walk into one of Graham Denison’s Artist Loft workshops, there’s a good chance you’ll find him immersed in demonstrating how to draw Winnie the Pooh or another beloved Disney character to a room full of guests. Long before he became a master of illustrating these characters, Graham was fascinated by them.1“I was always drawing Disney characters in school, and getting in trouble for it,” Graham said, laughing. “I was drawing in math and science and all those subjects you shouldn’t be, and I was taken to the principal’s office and told to stop drawing Disney characters.”

But Graham persisted. He shared that he went after Disney because he saw it as the pinnacle of art quality at the time. After high school, he sent drawing after drawing to the Disney studios until they finally gave him a chance. At age 17, Graham began working at the only Disney studio in England at the time.

“At first, I was just the tea boy, but at lunch they would let me loose on a few projects,” Graham explained. “After about three months, they gave me my first real job – which was a Flintstones video sleeve that I did.”

Graham at work in Artist Loft during a recent voyage aboard Riviera
Graham at work in Artist Loft during a recent voyage aboard Riviera

And so it began. After three years, Graham left the studio as Head Illustrator, and continued creating Disney work for licensees on a freelance basis. The Paris and London Disney studios noticed his work and eventually brought him in for more training, and then took him on as an in-house character artist where he worked for the next twenty years.

It was the onset of computer-generated art that eventually provoked Graham to turn toward fine art and explore oil painting on canvas.

“I didn’t want to create a painting on a keyboard that was never more than a file on a disk,” he said. “I’m a traditional artist, so I like to have something that’s tangible, something you can hold, you can see, something that will be around for hundreds of years.”

Then Graham discovered a tool that would become an important part of his technique.

“I saw a gentleman using a palette knife whilst on holiday, and thought ‘wow, that looks like freedom,’” Graham said. “You can use it as an impressionism tool; it’s not for photographic reality.”

Graham and his wife with one of his vivid Venetian paintings
Graham and his wife with one of his vivid Venetian paintings

Graham loves the palette knife for the rich textures it allows him to create, and how he can sculpt and use broad strokes to create vibrant scenes. Even more, he’s completely self-taught. He’s never had any formal training, and after five paintings created with the palette knife, he had one he could sell. Graham now exhibits in galleries worldwide, receives numerous private commissions and sells to international art collectors all over the world.

“Today, really I paint what I feel,” Graham said. “I’m very fortunate that so many people love what I paint, and that they want to buy everything I do.”

One of Graham’s biggest influences is the renowned impressionist Claude Monet, and his signature water lily paintings.

“I do a lot of paintings that depict his garden in Giverny, especially with the lily pond, the famous Japanese bridge, his little row boat, but above all the water lilies floating on the surface,” Graham said. “And I do those with the palette knife which gives them added texture.”

With each original work of art, Graham includes a certificate of authenticity, a handwritten dedication, along with the palette that he used to create the work
With each original work of art, Graham includes a certificate of authenticity, a handwritten dedication, along with the palette that he used to create the work

Though Graham is inspired by every destination he visits during his extensive travels, one of his all-time favorite locations is Venice.

“I love to paint Venice,” he said. “Especially depicting the Carnival time during Lent with lots of different colorful Carnival characters with their masks.”

This autumn, we’re delighted to be featuring Graham in our artist-in-residence program aboard Riviera on a number voyages listed below. We invite you to admire Graham’s dramatic Venetian Carnival paintings, enchanting water lilies and more in Artist Loft. Plus, you can join one of his special workshops to learn first-hand from his incredible talent and artistic knowledge.

Aegean Adventures: September 7, 2015

Jewels of the Aegean: September 17, 2015

Greek Isles Getaway: September 27, 2015

Mediterranean Mosaic: October 5, 2015

European Hideaways: October 23, 2015

Isles & Empires: October 30, 2015

Artistic Discoveries: November 7, 2015

Visit Graham Denison’s website at: http://denisonart.com/

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