Finksburg artist finds new canvas for creations

Change: Todd Shaffer is abandoning his career as a cartoonist to work on oil paintings of Colonial America.

June 20, 1999|By Jennifer Sullivan | Jennifer Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Todd Shaffer casts a critical eye whenever he sees Lucky the Leprechaun, the Trix Rabbit and Cap'n Crunch dance around the television screen praising their sugar-coated cereals.

Instead of longing for marshmallow charms and "crunchberries," Shaffer, a Finksburg-based animator, looks for ways he could have made the characters different.

Shaffer, 33, returned to Maryland two years ago after a decade as an animator in Los Angeles. He helped create more than 90 commercials, dozens of cartoons and Warner Bros.' animated version of "The King and I." He returned home to pursue a career in oil painting.

"He's always been critical of his art," said his mother, Glenda Shaffer, who added that she and his father, Harold, have five of his drawings scattered throughout their Finksburg house. "Of course, I think he does everything well."

Shaffer recently earned the winner's purse of $1,000 in the Maryland Wine Festival poster design competition. The poster will be used to promote this year's wine festival, held each September at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

"We all thought he would win the wine festival [contest], but he didn't think he would," said his mother.

Shaffer, a Howard County native who graduated from Montana State University with a degree in film and television production, has traded in drawing Fred Flintstone -- a feat he claims to be able to do "with his eyes closed" -- to create works depicting Colonial American life.

"I've been doing art since I was a kid," he said. "My heroes were not animators but always the early American illustrators."

Since returning, he has studied in Baltimore, Annapolis and Washington. Shaffer said he hopes to hold his first art show with 20 large-scale works depicting Colonial life along the Chesapeake Bay next spring. An exhibit site has not been determined.

"I am just fascinated with the way [the colonists] lived. It was a much simpler, freer way of life," said Shaffer, who has been tapped by the Carroll County Arts Council to lecture about art this summer.

While he will miss drawing the Honey Nut Cheerios Bee, whom he describes as "a good character with a lot of energy," he wishes he could avoid cartoons. But Shaffer has not left animation behind: He is doing free-lance jobs.

Since moving into his parents' home, he has worked on Cap'n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles and Budweiser commercials -- earning about $7,200 per advertisement.

Shaffer hopes to start painting after he finishes a commercial for Raid. He has hired his grandparents, wife and friends to pose in 18th-century garb. Each art piece, as large as 40 inches by 30 inches, could take as long as three weeks, he said.

Thumbnail sketches depict tobacco traders, ladies in full skirts and men reading the newspaper in short pants and wigs. The small charcoal sketches are plastered on the walls of the concrete basement. Tables covered in books about Colonial America, smeared paints and pencils are crammed into the room filled with Christmas decorations, old mattresses and two cat litter boxes.

Although they had to make room for their son, his wife, Melissa, and their two children, McKenna, 3, and Greyson, 1, Mrs. Shaffer said she and her husband support their son's decision wholeheartedly.

"I think people should do what they want to do and God gave Todd this talent," she said.

The Shaffers have supported their son's artwork since his mother enrolled him in an art class when he was in elementary school. She remembers him drawing while his brother Craig played with toys.

He gave one piece of art -- "a pencil drawing of a horse in the moonlight by a fence" -- that received a good grade to his father -- who works for the federal government -- for Father's Day when Shaffer was a junior in high school.

"I thought the picture was good then, and we like horses," Mrs. Shaffer said, adding that it remains her favorite piece.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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