Snow White portrait by John Coulter

profile / alumni / illustration
June 12, 2019

A Fine Art Fairytale: Meet Artist, Costume Designer John Coulter

ArtCenter: What are you working on right now?
John Coulter (BFA 93 Illustration) Disney fine artist & costume designer:
I’m costuming a Phantom of the Opera musical to be performed in Italy this summer. And at the same time, I’m always working on new fine art pieces and merchandise for the Disney galleries and parks.

AC: What is the most unique thing you’ve designed?

JC: Well, I don’t know if it’s the most unique thing I’ve designed, but right now I’m designing a mouse-ear headband to be sold in the Disney parks for a new designer Disney line.

AC: You played Prince Charming and other characters at Disneyland — how did this experience impact your work as a Disney artist?
JC: It seems my fairytale has come full circle from performing as many of the Disney characters to painting them. I suppose I may have a deeper understanding of how to translate their different personalities onto canvas. I definitely have a deep affinity for all of the characters I paint. What’s exciting about my job is that I get to put my own fingerprint and style on these classic Disney characters.

John Coulter

It seems my fairytale has come full circle from performing as many of the Disney characters to painting them.

Ursula portrait by John Coulter

AC: Do you have a favorite Disney character?
JC: I enjoy painting the villains most. They are such expressive characters, plus I get to add my love for elaborate theatrical costuming, combining both my worlds!

AC: How do you define success?
JC: Success is a tricky word. As soon as I feel I’ve reached it, there’s always that next level or the challenge of maintaining success. So today, I would have to say success is getting to make a living being creative.

AC: What’s the one tool you can’t live without?
JC: My boring answer is the computer. I’m an old-school painter who still actually paints with paint and sketches with pencils, but the computer is a great tool for research and layout.

AC: What’s the first site you look at when you open your computer in the morning?
JC: I’m not going to lie — it’s Instagram, but I’m trying to kick that habit. Pinterest is also a hole I find myself falling into when looking for references or inspiration.

AC: Where do you go when you’re taking a break?
JC: I love yoga, the beach. I’m also on a master’s swim team.

AC: If you could trade jobs with anyone for one day what would it be?
JC: I would want to be in anyone’s shoes on the Broadway stage.

AC: What book is on your bedside table?
JC: Always A Course in Miracles and another book. Right now, it’s Becoming by Michelle Obama.

AC: Describe a moment in your childhood when you first identified as a designer.
JC: As a child, I used to collect Smurfs. I would create elaborate environments for them and sculpt miniature foods, props and sets. My Smurf town made the Tucson newspaper!

Princess Jasmine portrait by John Coulter

Alumni Q&A

Submit the Alumni Q&A questionnaire to share your story. We want to hear about your accomplishments, what you're working on and your advice for future ArtCenter students.

AC: What’s your most irrational fear?
JC: Sharks, which is unfortunate because I love the ocean.

AC: What’s your most prized possession?
JC: I’m definitely not a minimalist; my house looks like a museum. Right out of ArtCenter, I spent 25 years traveling the world as a fashion model and actor. I collected many beautiful things that hold great memories (and dust) from those travels. The past couple of years I lost both my partner to cancer and my best friend to a tragic surfing accident. That changes the way you look at all material things. My most prized possession is “today.”

AC: Where is my happy place?
JC: My happy place is in my studio creating, laughing with friends and family, the theater and the beach (although I will only go in the water about three feet, sharks, remember?).

AC: What is the best advice for an ArtCenter student who’s interested in following your career path?
JC: Take on projects that push you out of your creative comfort zone — that’s where growth and discovery happen. Find a style that expresses you and get good at it! Drawing skills, drawing skills, drawing skills. A strong foundation always shows, even if you want to paint like Picasso.