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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Good Artists: A Dime A Dozen

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


"I'm going to New York. I don't know if I'll accomplish anything but I have to give it a shot."

Will was speaking to his employers at TDF. It was 1952. "The problem was", he says today, "good artists were a dime a dozen back then. Even when I was doing my thing during the 60's and 70's, there were so many good artists. We were a dime a dozen."


In New York, Will would interview at one art studio and ask them about their competitors. In that way, he'd find out about whom else he could approach for work. "I interviewed at Fredmann/Chiat", says Will, "it was the same year Bob Peak started there. If I had stayed with them, I would have been sitting alongside Peak. But I chose poorly. I chose to go with a studio called Byron Musser. The owners were very nice. One fellow even had me out to dinner at his home on Long Island for Thanksgiving."

"But they couldn't get me any work. And the one saleman there was terrible. I was glad to take work home, otherwise he'd be right there over my shoulder the whole time. It was awful."

Will remembers there were several artists at Byron Musser, a couple of whom he befriended. "The one fellow said to me, "Why in the world would you come to New York?'". Will had begun to wonder that as well.

By now Will had bought a house in Terrytown, NY and sent for his young family, but as his savings ran out so did his determination. Things might have been different if he had been single, but he had a family to support and there were better prospects back home in Toronto.

Taber, Dulmage & Fehely were only too happy to get back their star illustrator. What Cooper was to New York and the American illustration market, TDF was to Toronto and the rest of Canada. TDF's salesmen brought more assignments from more clients than Will could handle. By 1960 you'd have been be hard pressed to open a newspaper or magazine and not see Will's signature on either advertising or editorial art - or both.

In just seven short years since his New York misadventure Will Davies had gone from dime-a-dozen to top buck.

9 comments

  1. These are fascinating stories, Leif, and I really enjoy reading them. It is difficult to understand how fiercely competitive the NY market was until you read how it affected the lives of individuals like Will Davies. A lot of very talented illustrators bet everything on making it in NY, and the trail today is littered with their bleached bones by the side of the road. Of course, every once in a great while, one succeeded-- like the proverbial starlet who hits it big in Hollywood.

    I have had the pleasure of talking with other illustrators like Mark English, Bob Heindel and Bernie Fuchs who all struggled to get to NY from small towns, and who all spoke about the place with the same reverence that Davies did. Bernie Fuchs glows when he tells the story about arriving in NY and running into Al Parker, Coby Whitmore and Joe Bowler. They all took a long stroll together down Third Avenue, comparing notes on art and shopping for curios and props to use in their illustrations. Fuchs thought he had died and gone to heaven. I get the feeling that the opportunity to consort with those kinds of artists was as important as the pay and the clients that NY offered.

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  2. David;

    Will had a chance to meet many illustrators, agents and art directors during his year in New York and says they were all very nice people, helpful and friendly. He said one agent getting into a cab- he remembers his name being (Louis?) Renoit - to pick up an assignment at Esquire took him along in the cab to review his portfolio (in the cab!).

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  3. This is great stuff, Leif! Thanks!

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  4. Enjoying this series too.

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  5. Joe Jusko1:20 PM

    It's truly amazing how proficient illustrators of thar era were. They could draw absolutely ANYTHING thrown their way. It's mind boggling when you think about it.

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  6. lee Strugnell1:32 PM

    Kind of ironic isn't it that New York is now sending it's rendering work to us guys in T.O to get it done properly!

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  7. Joe: true that illustrators in general were proficient at all types of subject matter and most could do a variety of styles. I should clarify that, although Will does beautiful car illustrations, the cars in most of his advertising work for TDF were handled by another illustrator who specialized in technical subjects, and Will did the figures and environments. That sort of arrangement was very typical in auto advertising art.

    Lee: I suspect there are plenty of fantastic renderers in NYC - I suspect as in Toronto, thanks to digital art and email, most of them now work far from the city in dank basements and spare bedrooms like so many of us do.

    *But I appreciate your friendly jab at our southern friends. ;-)

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  8. Jeff Norwell10:31 AM

    Having the wonderful expeirence of working with Will(down the hall) for 5 years and learning from him is a memory I will treasure for a 'Leif"-time!
    A great man and a Giant in our community.A true man of class and gentle spirit.
    I am always humbled in the presence of him and his outstanding work!

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  9. Right on, brother - I can't say it any better - thanks! :-)

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