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Character appeal: Irvine artist’s work featured at Disney’s WonderGround Gallery

Artist Jerrod Maruyama, 50, of Irvine, holds a balloon with his animation at Disney's WonderGround Gallery.
Artist Jerrod Maruyama, 50, of Irvine, holds a balloon with his animation at Disney’s WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Maruyama is a digital illustrator and character designer who will be featured at Disney’s WonderGround Gallery in Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

As is true for many contemporary artists, the work of freelance illustrator Jerrod Maruyama can be found in a lot of places. His art can be viewed on Instagram and Tumblr. Prints, mugs and other merchandise featuring his character concepts are available on sites like Amazon and Shop Disney. But one place fans can find Maruyama’s art that isn’t inhabited by most other artists, but could be considered prime real estate, is on a balloon. At Disneyland.

“This is my balloon,” Maruyama said proudly.

A purple balloon featuring mini versions of Alice from “Alice in Wonderland,” Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin” and the Beast of “Beauty and the Beast” bobbed in the air on a recent afternoon at Downtown Disney.

This month Maruyama, along with fellow artist Bill Robinson, will showcase his newest art featuring the Muppets at WonderGround Gallery at Downtown Disney District. WonderGround Gallery has been open for 12 years, offering unique gifts and souvenirs, and the boutique specializes in Disney-themed artwork and collectibles.

“It has been a little while since we have seen Muppet artwork at the gallery,” Maruyama said. He and Robinson will be part of an artist showcase on Nov. 5 at WonderGround, giving fans the opportunity to meet them and have select merchandise signed.

Illustrations created by artist Jerrod Maruyama.
Illustrations titled “Magic Kingdom Cuties,” left, and “Shanghai Disney Park Smiles” created by Tustin-based artist Jerrod Maruyama.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“WonderGround is great because it brings in a lot of local artists and artists from around the country to do sort of a different take on Disney characters,” said Maruyama.

The 50-year-old artist grew up in the Bay Area, where he studied illustration at San Jose State. He worked as an art director, but when he began sharing his Disney fan art on social media his fan base grew. Maruyama, who now makes his home in Irvine, was invited to show his work at WonderGround 10 years ago and has been invited back ever since. He attributes his popularity to his ability to make already cute characters even more adorable or even not-so-cuddly critters darling.

“I do have a certain style of drawing, and it varies, depending on the project,” said Maruyama. “What I like to do is boil it down to what the appeal is of that character is and try to highlight that but at the same time sort of simplify the physical look of the character.”

Maruyama said the appeal can be a costume, prop or even an expression.

“With the princesses, it is always the dress because the faces of my characters are pretty simple,” Maruyama said. “Like Cinderella, the dress is very iconic. Everyone recognizes that dress. Everyone recognizes her updo. So if you added a glass slipper, or mice, you are sort of enhancing that story that we are all familiar with, without it looking exactly like the character.”

He is especially excited about his new commission of Muppet work, since he considers himself a lifelong fan.

“I really grew up in that era of the Muppets, I started with Sesame Street,” said Maruyama. “Then ‘The Muppet Show’ and the films and everything that the Jim Henson Company represents. When the Muppets were acquired by Disney, it just kind of paved the way for me to be able to do this.”

Artist Jerrod Maruyama, 50, of Irvine, with one of his illustrations at Downtown Disney in Anaheim.
Artist Jerrod Maruyama, 50, of Tustin, poses with one of his illustrations titled “Main Street Treat” at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. On Saturday, Nov. 5, from 2 to 5 p.m., Maruyama will be signing new Muppet pieces at WonderGround.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Although Maruyama has also gotten creative with non-Disney characters and well-known personalities or celebrities like Count Chocula or Ina Garten, he is happy to get to work with a platform like Disney.

“Working with Disney, you get to work with characters everyone knows and loves, iconic characters that span generations. Our grandparents know these characters, and new kids know these characters,” Maruyama said. “Being associated with this company and working with Disney has been one of my biggest goals and one of my biggest accomplishments.”

Jerrod Maruyama will appear for signing at WonderGround Gallery, Downtown Disney District on Nov. 5 from 2 to 5 p.m.

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