Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Are you reading this, Santa?

TI list member and good buddy René Milot alerted me to the current auction at The Illustration House. This because René likes to imagine me curled in the fetal position, shaking and sweating all over and muttering, "my precious" as I click through image after image of unatainable original art. Thanks buddy!

Anyway, in case Santa is reading this, hey Big Guy? Two words: "Lot 75".

What more can I say...

that hasn't been said better or more thoroughly elsewhere? Only that once again we can see why Al Parker (1906-1985) was called "the illustrator of our times" by Cosmopolitan magazine in 1953.

You can find a biography of Al Parker here and of course many other examples of Parker's work on my site.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Call Me Ishmael

But the world knew him (as I did until yesterday) as "Woodi". Woodi Ishmael (1914-) always signed his magazine and advertising work with his first name. I have no idea why, but that distinctive signature graced countless ads, usually for something mechanical or industrial. Ishmael clearly found his niche by specializing in machinery, though he was just as adept with the human form and natural environments.

A web search turned up this dense site of biographical info, art examples and even audio clip interviews all courtesy of the U.S. Airforce. It turns out Woodi really enjoyed painting airplanes, and Uncle Sam had plenty of work for him. Go check it out.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Countdown Begins

I've made so many purchases on ebay over the past year that I really need to start the Today's Inspiration Countdown to Christmas early this year... so please bear with me. I'll try to keep it interesting for everybody. For starters, here's a new find by the oft-requested Harry Anderson ( 1906-1996).

Walt Reed's "Illustrator in America" tells us that Anderson was allergic to oils, so what you see here is either watercolour or gouache, which Anderson learned to blend like oils. While Anderson was a major contributor to advertising and national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post for many years, he seems to have found his calling in painting religious subjects for the latter part of his career.

A fellow who was on the TI list for a while, Jim Pinkoski, has a Harry Anderson tribute page on his website that focuses on that part of Anderson's career. Jim actually met Harry Anderson and has many photos of the artist in his studio and at his home.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

I'm a Retro Kid!

...and proud to say so! The tireless Ward Jenkins of ward-O-matic fame has yet another side project called The Retro Kid group on Flickr. That's where Ward and his merry band of helper elves ( who go by strange but charming handles like "ticky-tacky", "grickily" and "sturdevant" ) post the images they've scanned that typify, as Ward puts it, "anything that was illustrated for kids at that time: (children's books), albums, 45's, commercials, ads, games, toys, etc."

Last week's look at Lowell Hess brought the Retro Kid into clearer focus for me so I jumped in their pool and the water's fine! If you too enjoy "that cool mid-century modern styling" then rush right over there and dive in. Especially recommended to the many cartoonists, animators and character designers on the list!

Friday, November 25, 2005

"You'll have to speak up"

" hearing's not too good anymore." When I first asked Lowell Hess if he would mind answering some questions about his career he gratiously offered to let me drop by that afternoon.

"Actually, I'm calling from Canada, Mr. Hess, I don't think I can make it there this afternoon."

"Well," he replied, " we're leaving here in January. Moving out, so.."

Lowell Hess is 84. I didn't feel it would be appropriate to ask, but the reason for a move at that age seems obvious. Hess has lived in this house a long time. "The oldest house in town", he states matter-of-factly.

I ask if he still does work for Graphics3, the greeting card company that was the focus of the latter part of his career. "No..."

Does he still enjoy drawing or painting for pleasure?

"Well, I have Parkinson's. There's no point trying to draw when your hands won't stop shaking."

I worry that I've taken too much of Hess' time so I tell him thanks for speaking with me at such length. I ask if he has access to the internet, explain that he could see these posts online.

"You just write it down and mail it to me. You have my address?" Yes, I say, and recite it back.

Ehh... if there's one thing I could add, " says Hess. "Tell them to approach every job with enthusiasm. One thing I always did, no matter whether it paid well or not, I tried to be enthusiastic about every one of them."

"Mr Hess, I just want you to know what an honour it was to speak with you, and to let you know that there are a lot of people out there, a lot of working professionals, who remember your work and who are still influenced by it. You've been a big influence on a lot of illustrators. Its great work."

"Well", says Hess, "you've made my day."

Next Week:

My local drug store had its Christmas decorations up while little ghost and goblins were still straining under the weight of pillowcases laden with mini-chocolate bars on the evening of October 31. So I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say I've been the picture of restraint when it comes to joining the orgy of commercialism that is the Xmas season. But the waiting is over... its all Xmas all the Xtime 'til you can't Xtake it anymore, from now 'til the 24th here at TI. HO HO HO!

Please comment

If you've enjoyed Lowell Hess' work, either for the first time this week or if you are a long time admirer, please take a moment to say so, not to me, but to Mr. Hess himself, by posting a comment here. I will be mailing Mr. Hess this week's TI blog postings and I know it would mean a lot to him to hear from you.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Golden Books and comic strips

When I mentioned to Mr. Hess that a friend had just made me aware of his work for Golden Books he enthusiastically proclaimed he had done thirteen storybooks for the publisher, "and one on math."

Oh, you also did a math textbook?

"No, it was a sort of 'Fun with Math' book," he explained.

I wondered if he had ever considered doing a newpaper comic strip.

"Yes, I tried one, but they weren't interested. I did the samples but it didn't sell. It was about a witch and her... frogs and things."

"But a few years later a strip came out by a fellow... Myers? about a witch and so on and for the first while it looked an awful lot like mine. I think they might have suggested it to him up at the syndicate."

Did they keep the samples up there, I ask.

"No, I got them back."

So this strip was never published anywhere?

"No. But I think they might have thought it was a pretty good idea. But by then I was on to other things. Greeting cards and things."

I tell Hess that this is how I first located him - through a greeting card company called Graphics3.

"Where are they located?" he asks.

In Florida, I reply.

"That was mine. That was my company."

At this point I was remiss in not asking Mr. Hess for more details about that stage of his career and later, after emailing Bob Herlin at Graphic3 with a request for more info, I realized how close it was to American Thanksgiving, but Mr. Herlin was kind enough to fire off this quick note before leaving for the holidays:

Hi Leif:

We are in the midst of Christmas selling season - and
departing for the Turkey gig today.
Lowell is a peach - a man of many talents well beyond his illustration

Bob Herlin

I hope to get in touch at a later date with Mr. Hess to flesh out some of the details and will post them here for Todays's Inspiration readers.

*A special note of thanks: To Drazen Kozjan of Hypnotik Eye for the Aladdin scans - thanx Draz!

If you would like to see more of Lowell Hess' art for Golden Books head on over to Eric Sturdevant's Flickr album - its part of the good work being done by the Retro Kid gang - with thanks to Eric!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanks Drawn!

I just want to shout out to John, Ward, and the rest of the gang representin' over at Drawn! for their article the other day. Their generous post about Today's Inspiration and this week's focus on Lowell Hess resulted in approximately five hundred hits each for both of the last two days, and several new TI list members. If you've never visited Drawn! get over there right now! Go on, scoot. We'll still be here when you get back.

"I did 22 covers..."

"...for Boy's Life." Lowell Hess is clearly proud of that fact, as well he should be. When I first set eyes on the Hess cover you see here I was, quite frankly, humbled. Hess did covers for Collier's as well, and countless interior illustrations. I ask him if it was a good way to make a living... did it pay well for the time?

"Not as much as what I thought it should" is the reply. "I had to supplement my income by taking whatever other work I could get."

Did the clients typically return original art?

"Not that often. Collier's was good... they sent them back, but a lot of others didn't. I wish they would have, I'd like to have more of them than I do. They didn't treat them very well once they were done with them. The pressmen, they treated them like garbage. I once got a piece back with a footprint right through the middle of it."

Whom did you admire among your peers? Who inspired you, I ask.

"Balet." says Hess without hesitation, "Jan Balet. He did great work."

"But for the most part, I found my own way. I look back at the work now and I can see a distinct style, my style. And it still hold up today, I think."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lowell Hess (1921 - )

Lowell Hess attended the University of Oklahoma and was working toward completing a four year program in art, but WWII was in progress and Uncle Sam had other plans for the young artist. Hess never got to finish his degree. After his induction he served mainly stateside, but was shipped overseas near the end of the war. "We were among the last to go," says Hess.

Six months later he was back in America and attending Pratt in Brooklyn. He spent a year studying there before working in a small studio for six months, then trying his hand at freelance illustration. "It wasn't easy to find work."

Hess signed with an artist's representative and began getting assignments from major magazines. "Argosy, Collier's, Bluebook, American, Coronet, Boy's Life," he rhymes off the names, "but not the Post. I never cracked the Post."

Did you ever try going up there, I ask. "No, no... it was understood that if you worked for one, you didn't try to work for the other," he says. "I worked for the Collier group of magazines."

He moved to Connecticut and worked from home. I asked him if he had had artist friends to socialize with, remembering the famous artist's colony in Westport in those days. "No." says Hess, "That was my biggest regret about working with the rep. You end up working in isolation and they make all the contacts."

Today, Hess enjoys a weekly get-together with several local cartoonists, including Bob Weber Jr., the creator of Moose & Molly for the King features Syndicate.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Your Comments

Your comments mean a lot to me - and I just want to thank everyone who commented on last week's Robert Jones posts. I plan to print out this week's Today's Inspiration posts and comments and mail them to Mr. Hess so please take a moment to post your thoughts - I know it will mean a lot to him as well!

Another Illustration Blog!

I just discovered this weekend that list member David Apatoff had also started a classic illustration blog - the link is now in the sidebar to your right. David has some thoughtful and thought-provoking writing on his blog and some fantastic art ( the Robert Fawcett original is worth the price of admission alone ) so I urge you to check it out and post your comments!

Hello, Mr. Hess?

"Is this Lowell Hess, the artist?" So began my conversation with a man who until yesterday I knew only by his name and his excellent cartoon art from the fifties. After posting last friday I decided to do a Google Image Search for "Lowell Hess". It turned up no artwork by Hess, but a black and white photo of an amiable older gentleman was the first return.

Clicking the link brought me to the website of a Florida-based greeting card company, Graphics3Inc, to the page describing a bit about the artist behind all their greeting card illustrations.
"Beneath the sheltering branches of a giant maple tree in a small seaside New England town, stands a saltbox home built in 1672. From his studio within, Lowell Hess conceives his award winning pop-up cards."

I contacted the company and enquired if this might be the same Lowell Hess who had done cartoon illustrations for many national magazines back in the fifties.

Hello Mr. Peng,

That would be Lowell. This email should reach him

Bob Herlin Jr

I was stunned. I quickly fired off an email by way of introduction, then waited on pins and needles all weekend, but no reply came.

Next I searched for a Lowell Hess in an online New England phone directory, figuring there could be only relatively few people with that specific name. There was just one - in Connecticut. Yesterday afternoon I called the number. This week I'll share with you what I learned from speaking with Lowell Hess.

Friday, November 18, 2005

And Finally...

...three fairly typical examples of Jones' work for the Saturday Evening Post. I assume Jones was hard at work producing advertising art at the Cooper Studios for several years before regularly contributing to the Post, and that must be how he honed his illustrative chops. Many other Post artists gradually developed their styles in print over a decade or so, but as far as I can tell this was not the case with Jones. He appeared there seemingly out of nowhere, fully formed and producing first rate work, at the end of the 50's and into the early 60's.

What's interesting to me about these three pieces is that Jones used exactly the same compositional trick to create dynamic tension in each of these boy/girl scenarios - the extended arm of the one player crossing over the second.

I'm not pointing this out to suggest Jones was lazy or that I spotted a flaw, but rather how well the composition works and how unique and exciting each piece is in spite of the same approach in all three. Jones cleary understood, "you don't fix what ain't broke"!

Next week: A look at the work of 50's cartoonist Lowell Hess. I know absolutely nothing about Hess' background and so far haven't located anything online so if you have any info you could share, please do!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

No way!

That's what I exclaimed out loud the other day at my local Goodwill while flipping through a stack of old records and finding this near the bottom. I like to drop in there once in a while to look for old books or "ephemeral finds" when, in what must be the ultimate moment of synchronicity, this no doubt rarely seen Robert Jones cover painting presented itself to me.

The people around me who's heads I'd turned with my exclamation must have thought I'd just stumbled upon a valuable old James Brown album that I planned to sell on ebay for a small fortune, but frankly this was better. Well almost.

I had hoped to share one of Jones' humorous pieces with you but didn't want to scan something from Mad magazine since you probably all have a stack of old Mads stashed away in your basement anyway. So it was great good luck and amazing coincidence that this fabulous example should present itself at the right moment in time, and it cost me all of 25 cents. Take that, ebay!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jones Does Crime...

...though rarely, I think. Where other Saturday Evening Post regulars like Stan Galli or Bernard D'Andrea often worked in crime or adventure genres for the magazine, this series, "Alibi for Murder" is the only example I've seen by Jones. He seems to have been called upon more frequently for romance features.

Going through these old magazines, I'm often startled at the shocking degree of brutality, especially against woman, that mainstream magazines of that time allowed their artists to graphically portray. In the context of the Leave it to Beaver world that those of us who were born after that time assume about the fifties, these images seem wildlly out of place.

Be that as it may, and though the vast majority of his work seems to have dealt with more "genteel" subject matter, when called upon to visually satisfy the public's bloodlust Jones was clearly up to the task.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Here's another...

piece by Jones for Woman's Day - also from the early sixties. I'm not sure why Jones used a painterly approach for his Saturday Evening Post assignments but this more linear style for Woman's Day... perhaps it was a preference of the different art directors? Whatever the case, I love it!

This technique, where elements are dropped out instead of rendered, first brought to prominence by Al Parker and others in the early fifties, was still very much in style ten years later, and was still being taught to us at art school in the eighties. I notice it being used with great success by some of the hippest young illustrators even today and often wonder if they are operating intuitively or if they are aware of the style's legacy. Its a powerful reminder of the importance of negative space!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Robert Jones (1926- )

According to Walt Reed's "Illustrator in America" Jones was born in LA and began "drawing animation" for Disney while still in highschool. He then spent time in the military before taking two years at USC and two and half more years at Art Center School in LA.

He was still focused on humourous illustration when he joined the Charles E. Cooper studios in New York and his early assignments for The Saturday Evening Post reflected that strength, but gradually his range expanded and he began illustrating in a variety of styles for many national publications.

TI list member David Roach wondered if this was the same Robert Jones who regularly contributed to Mad magazine for many years up to and including the 1970s. With the help of list member Neil Shapiro, who has interviewed Jones, it was determined that this was indeed the same artist.