Writing in Ink & Paint: A Conversation with Author Mindy Johnson

Award-winning author and historian Mindy Johnson drops by F├╝lle Cr. to discuss her critically acclaimed books for Disney, Tinkerbell: An Evolution and Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation. She also contributed to Taschen's The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies (1921 - 1968). In the latter, she writes poetically and in great detail about Peter Pan and Cinderella, her commentary being worth the admission price alone. We discuss all of the above and more below!

Jason Anders: I am sitting here with your book, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation, overwhelmed by the exhaustive effort that went into this study - where did the idea to research the women of Disney animation come from, and what were your first steps in bringing it to life? 

Mindy Johnson: I had completed my previous book, Tinker Bell - An Evolution, and noticed that the portions I'd included on the Ink & Paint/color aspects of Tinker Bell's development were the most anyone had explored about that part of the animation production process to that point. I pitched the idea of a book exploring the world of Ink & Paint - to be honest, my editor and I both thought it would be a charming 'little' book. Happily, we were wrong! It quickly became clear this was an epic story and this couldn't be a small book!
Do you remember how your fascination with Disney began?

Sunday nights as a young girl fascinated with a certain fairy who darted her way across our television screen each week!

When did you decide to pursue writing as a profession? What challenges did you face from that moment to publishing your first book?

With a background in music, film and education, writing had been a part of my life for some time, but the notion of writing a book presented a new challenge. Researching any subject can present a wide range of 'rabbit holes' that take you down paths you couldn't possibly imagine, or lead to complete dead-ends, but that's the fun of the writing adventure!

In addition to being a writer you are also a musician, songwriter, playwright, and teacher...

I enjoy the diversity of each of these disciplines. Often diving into another creative avenue can offer fresh perspective on what you're pursuing in another creative outlet. 
Where did the inspiration to write Tinker Bell: An Evolution come from?

I was mounting a campaign for a re-release of Peter Pan for the Studio and was exploring the artwork at the Animation Research Library for something unusual -- a new way to tell the story of this animated masterpiece. A staff member mentioned there was a folder that held a number of fairy images and they were all possibly Tinker Bell, but when we examined the folder, they looked nothing like the Tinker Bell we know and love. Thus began a seven year journey to connect the dots on the 'evolution' of this tiny fairy. Since she's one of my favorite characters, this book was a complete joy to write. I traveled to London several times for research and had the great privilege of reviewing J.M. Barrie's papers, photographs and materials - including leafing through a number of the small notebooks - his 'Fairy Notes' that he carried in his coat jacket to jot down ideas and notions about his writing. You could still smell his pipe tobacco seeped into the pages! 

Your pieces in Taschen's Walt Disney Film Archives book are so masterfully written - did you select the subjects or where they assigned to you by the editor?

I received an email from the Taschen editor inquiring about the possibility of writing these specific sections. With my Peter Pan experiences and, as Cinderella is also one of my favorite animated films, it was a perfect fit, but my main purpose for writing these segments was the ability to be showcasing the brilliant work of Mary Blair! She made such delicious color and style choices on these two films. It was a great joy to examine her work further and to cast light on the impact her artistry had on these films!
What is your favorite Disney animated film?

Cinderella holds a special place in my heart, but the same can be said of most of the animated classics from Walt Disney. From my work on Ink & Paint, I have a new found understanding of the artistry involved with each production and there is something magic about each of these films -- it's too hard to choose just one!

You're referred to as a Disney Creative Consultant - what does that title entail?

That's an all-encompassing title which covers a wide range of things from creating original content on various projects, writing books and/or producing docu-series for the new Disney Streaming service Disney+!

Reading Ink & Paint it feels like this project must have been a true journey for you personally...

It was - and continues to be - quite a journey! It was about five years of extensive research, interviews and writing which involved such adventures as from digging under people's beds and into closets to find artwork, photographs and materials that had never been published before, to finding a number of remarkable women who became dear friends and who granted me the privilege of sharing their stories and artistry.

What is your advice for writers pursuing a career similar to yours?

Find something that you enjoy and keeps you curious - it'll be a constant presence and a large part of your life, but well-worth the journey!
Tell me about your new book due out next year, Pencils, Pens & Brushes.

Absolutely! This delightful volume has been a joy to work on! In the writing of Ink & Paint, there were some remarkable backstories to so many of these unsung artists. Telling their stories for younger readers has long been in my mind and I'm elated this treasure is happening. It's perfect for all ages and I'm thrilled to have the brilliant artistry of Lorelay Bove' featured throughout this celebration of these accomplished women!  Pencils, Pens & Brushes - A Great Girls Guide to Disney Animation releases August 19th!

Purchase all of Mindy Johnson's books HERE