Learning from the Masters: Heinrich Kley


I first discovered Heinrich Kley in college when my life drawing professor showed me a book of his amazing work. Kley was an Austrian artist/illustrator during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (he died around 1945). Though not well-known today, he achieved a certain level of fame during his lifetime. Among his many admirers was none other than Walt Disney, and the early Disney artists studied Kley’s work. You can see his influence in “The dance of the Hours” sequence from Fantasia.

I’ve learned a lot from studying Kley’s drawings. He was a master of the human form. His pen lines are confident, the strokes are loose and casual yet perfectly placed. He was a master at creating anthrapomorphic animals and creatures (i.e. frogs or elephants that walk upright on two legs, wear clothes, etc.) and made them feel both fully animal and fully human at the same time. Kley didn’t just draw well, he told stories with his drawings. His characters are always active and expressive, rarely standing still, and many of his drawings depict situations that are both dramatic and humorous at the same time. He was a true master.

The Lines and Colors blog has a nice write-up on Kley and his work. You can also view a gallery of Kley images at Heinrich Kley Online. Unfortunately low-res JPEGs from the internet don’t do them justice. To fully appreciate his genius, I highly recommned The Drawings of Heinrich Kley. Buy a copy or check your local library. I own a copy and I always get inspired whenever I browse through it.