Friday, May 19, 2006

Will's Women

It should come as no surprise that Will Davies loves to draw and paint nudes of beautiful women. What came as a pleasant surprise to Will was that many beautiful women love to be drawn and painted nude by him!

Sometimes it was a fashion model hired to pose for a commercial assignment, sometimes it was one of his students at the Ontario College of Art, sometimes it was a friend, or a friend of a friend. Once they saw the nudes Will had done, displayed around his studio or often simply stacked in a corner, those women could imagine themselves interpreted through Will's paintbrush as dreamy satin dolls.

Will doesn't recall the exact date, but remembers, "It was during Watergate." TDF salesmanager Clayton Sloane had previously secured a few freelance assignments for Will from a Chicago art representative. The two men decided to take a few days to visit with that rep and see if more work was available. On that trip, Will showed Sloane a slide of the new piece - his spectacular nude - and Sloane suggested they try getting a portfolio interview at Playboy.

Will can't remember if they met with Playboy AD, Art Paul, but the magazine was very interested in using the piece. They kept slides on file and said they'd be in touch.

Two years passed and then, out of the blue, a call: did Will still have the piece? Playboy wanted to know. They still wanted to find a use for it. "But that was it," Will says, "after that, nothing. They never called back."

Not finding a publisher for his nudes didn't stop Will. He painted them for his own pleasure and showed them at exhibitions. They were much admired by all - Will's reputation for interpreting feminine beauty only increased.

But then came a controversy. Will had been teaching at the Ontario College of Art for some time. His figure painting class was a perennial favourite with serious students. During an awards dinner, the president of the college approached Will and asked him to do that year's open house poster. "I told him, only if I can paint a nude for it." He said fine.

I remember seeing that lovely piece in the window of a Toronto art supply store. A seated nude from behind. But there was talk that a militant feminist faction within the college had been outraged by Will's "offensive" poster.

"I was doing something in the school library one day," Will told me, "and this one girl [a female student] came up behind me. She says, 'You're the guy who did that horrible poster, aren't you?'"

In his own defence (and in a rare and tiny show of conceit) Will replied, "Sorry, but I'm too old and too big to care what you think."

Happily, what most people think is that Will Davies has a great respect and an even greater affection for the female form.

"And," says Will, "that poster went on to be the best selling one the college ever put out."


  1. I'd love to see a book of these.

  2. I'm with ya on that, Chip - and maybe our pal Ken Steacy will pick up that ball and run with it ( hint, hint ).

    TI list member Eric Colquhoun gave me permission to copy and paste his email message about Will here:

    Hi Leif,

    It was so good to see Will Davies get some "recognition" on your blog. Great artist and a very nice man.

    Your story about Will and his meeting with Al Parker kind of reminded me of the first time that I met Will.

    I went to Sheridan, Illustration, so I never had the pleasure of having Will as an instructor but I had been a fan of his work for a long time. My mother used to get these English women's magazines, from ever since I could remember, because she liked the knitting patterns in them. But they also had romance stories in them and a lot of them were illustrated by Will (second rights as I later found out). And I remember, as a kid, looking at them and thinking that they were so cool and so beautifully done.

    When I was at Sheridan I continued to be a fan of his work and marvelled at his drawing skill. And looking back at those old magazines and thinking,"Wow, this guy is good!"

    Anyway, jump forward a couple of years and I became involved with the Toronto chapter of CAPIC and I got to know the other illustrators who were invovled at the time. Tom Bjarnason, Rene Milot and Greg Ruhl, who shared studio space with Roger Hill, Tom McNeely, Tom Bjarnason and Will. (Is that a Hall of Fame line up or what?) I really liked Greg's work and he was nice enough to let me come by his studio and give me tips and show me how he worked etc.

    And then one day, just as I was in Greg's studio talking with him, Will walked by the door. He popped his head in to say something and Greg introduced me to him in a "Oh, by the way, do you know Eric Colquhoun..." sort of way.

    It was like meeting ones idol.

    I remember seeing an interview with the musician Jools Holland, who used to play in the band Squeeze, and he was talking about the first time he met Paul McCartney. Holland said of the meeting, "I don't think that it was something that he (McCartney) wrote about in his diary but it certainly was something that I wrote about in mine".

    It was kind of the same thing.

    The best part was that he was so down to earth, just a regular guy.

    After that I would som etimes bring work that I had done and show it to him and get his feedback on it. Ask him questions about pricing. I even got him to pose for me a couple of times as a model for jobs that I was working on.

    A class act.

    But you know what? They were all like that! They were all nice and class guys. They would give freely of their time when a "young struggling illustrator" would meekly knock on their door and want to ask a question.

    Maybe add some more Canadian people to your features, like Tom B or Tom McNeely.


  3. You're on a roll this week. Another great segment. Love the first pencil piece!

  4. These are gorgeous. Thanks!

  5. Anonymous3:19 PM

    Boy, I'd totally forgotten that OCA poster thing. Sad, but I don't think they'd get away with it today either...

  6. Sadly, I think you're absolutely right, Mark (not in Stephen Harper's Canada)


  7. Will is by far, equal to the Al Parker, Joe DeMers, etc. What an amazing illustrator! I'm glad we got to know him.

  8. Yow, this is great work, Leif! I particularly like the third painting and the second drawing-- both truly excellent. It has been great getting to know Will and his work throughout the week, but you sure saved the best for last!

  9. "Sorry, but I'm too old and too big to care what you think."

    That is one great line -- might borrow it if the need ever arises!

  10. My sincere thanks to you all for your great comments about Will's work. I know it'll mean a lot to him to read the print-out of this week's posts!

  11. Anonymous4:49 PM

    Clayton Sloane...yeah that picture of the girl lying down in her bed makes me so horny. I can imagine making love to that woman. That's something a lot of pictures don't do because they leave little to the imagination.

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