Charles Payzant Biography

View Art by Charles Payzant

Charles Payzant (1898-1980) Born: Halifax, Canada; Studied: Victoria School of Art (Halifax, Canada), Chouinard Art Institute (Los Angeles), Otis Art Institute (Los Angeles); Member: American Watercolor Society, California Water Color Society. St. George Charles Payzant, as his birth certificate reads, was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. After serving with the 193rd Nova Scotia Highlanders and the Royal Flying Corps in World War I, he received art instruction in England and Canada. In the early 1920s, he moved to Los Angeles and continued his art education at the Otis Art Institute and Chouinard Art Institute.

By the mid-1920s, he was a freelance commercial artist, producing illustrations in watercolor and line art. Payzant also began producing fine art watercolors painted on location around Los Angeles. His background in illustration was apparent in many of these works and gave them a quality unlike what most of the California watercolorists were producing. They were very early examples of what would later become known as the California Style of watercolor painting.

In 1930, he began exhibiting these works in the California Water Color Society shows and as the younger artists were developing their style, he was refining his already developed approach and was winning a number of awards. He painted on location and often chose to depict city street scenes with people, cars and buildings. His approach to watercolor painting was direct and confident. One of his close friends and painting partners during this period was Hardie Gramatky.

The freelance art business in Los Angeles during the Depression was not very lucrative. In 1934, he took a job painting watercolor backgrounds for the Walt Disney Studios. He produced art for many cartoon shorts and did elaborate backgrounds for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Make Mine Music, Bambi and The Three Caballeros. The skills he developed while painting with watercolor on a daily basis greatly improved his ability to produce fine art watercolors when painting for pleasure.

After the World War II era, he left Disney to again pursue a freelance commercial art business. He bagan working with his wife, Terry Shannon Payzant, on a series of over fifty childrens books; she wrote the text and he did the illustrations. In addition, he became the director of the Dick and Jane series of school readers which contained over 6,000 pictures. Payzant also continued to paint California Style watercolors well into the 1970s.

Biographical information:

Interview with Terry Shannon Payzant, 1983.

Biography courtesy of California Watercolors 1850-1970,

©2002 Hillcrest Press, Inc.

California Watercolor


Charles Payzant-The Walt Disney Years