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

Jan Balet, Pioneer Stylist

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Throughout the 50's, while the public and the industry were still fully immersed in the idealized realism of the "Cooper look", one artist was forging a unique path of stylized illustration - and getting more than enough work from both advertising and editorial clients: Jan Balet. Part cartoonist, part whimsical storybook illustrator, part fine artist, Balet was the darling of many a magazine art director - especially of women's magazines. Only a handful of illustrators, people like Aurelius Battaglia, Jane Oliver and Thomas Vromann, were producing uniquely stylized work for the mainstream magazines of the 50's, and none of them had as much of a presence on the page as Jan Balet.
So its particularly maddening that there is barely a scrap of biographical information about the artist anywhere that I've searched. He was born in 1913, he did some childrens book illustration besides his advertising and editorial art. He went on to do fine art prints. Sadly, beyond that, Jan Balet remains a mystery.

More examples of the artist's work can be found in my Jan Balet Flickr set.

A Gift Friends Always Use

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TI list member Brian Postman has been sharing with me a wealth of rare, classic illustrations from his collection for some time now. This 1956 cover from Famous Artists Magazine by Al Dorne is only one small example. Many thanks, Brian!A gift of Al Dorne art is a gift friends can always use so today friends, I'm re-gifting you with Brian's beautiful scan. Its a perfect fit to accompany this other Xmas-themed Dorne ad I was holding back until the Countdown to Christmas.

They're both now tucked away in my Albert Dorne Flickr set for your viewing pleasure.

Santa: Illustrated by Anonymous

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Seems like back in the 50's every art director charged with laying out an ad featuring anything from teevees to toasters arranged his square-ish product photos and type elements and then came to the conclusion that some sort of little cartoon element was needed to seal the deal.More often than not the job of providing these clever little stylized artworks was passed to that studio/ad agency/printing house's staff artist - a talented multi-tasking jack-of-all-trades who could go from pasting up an art board to rendering a happy family to fill the hole in an ad's layout.
I'll bet that sometimes it was an aspiring young illustrator who would go on to a full-time career of drawing and painting who rendered these unsigned spots. But just as often - more often, I suspect, it was probably the job of a seasoned studio vet. Somebody who preferred the security of a 9-to-5, in spite of the mostly mudane day to day tasks, over the "thrill" of full-time freelance illustration.In spite of their anonymity, these talented folks deserve a little recognition for the work they did. The multitude of stylistic variations they producedare not only a reflection of their individual personalities, but are part and parcel of "that 50's look" we all intrinsically know and love so much.You'll find today's illustrations and a whole bunch more in my most popular Flickr set: Ads with Cartoon Elements.

The Countdown to Christmas Begins... Once Again

Monday, November 27, 2006

What? Is it really that time again? Yes. Yes it is. I'm afraid so.Join me, won't you, as we once again begin The Countdown to Christmas here at Today's Inspiration.

For those of you who are thinking, "But Leif, its not even December yet, for pete's sake", I should point out that this year I saw retailers displaying Christmas Chrap (tm) before Hallowe'en was over.

So really, I should be applauded for showing tremendous restraint. Thank you.

*Today's illustration has been added to my Haddon Sundblom Flickr set.

Don't Blame Me

Saturday, November 25, 2006

If you've enjoyed this week's look at Dean Cornwell, don't blame me! It's all TI list member, Tom Palmer's fault.It was Tom who requested a look at Dean Cornwell. When I told him my files on the artist were pretty slim and my knowledge next to nonexistent, Tom supplied both information and artwork - right up to yesterday afternoon, when more rare Cornwell treats arrived via email. Among them, the image above and - even more fascinating - the article excerpted below showing the models (all famous illustrators) from Thursday's main image. Among them is Tom's old instructor from his art school days, Frank Reilly.

Tom's not the only list member who helped out this week, though: My pal Drazen Kozjan sent along a step-by-step series of scans from the book A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning and Painting showing "How Dean Cornwell Paints The Dawn of Abdominal Surgery"

As if that wasn't enough, another good pal, Ken Steacy, came through with a series of three more Cornwells - here's one of them below.What you see here is just a small sample of what awaits you in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set. To everyone who gave so generously of their image collections and their knowledge of the artist, my sincere and heartfelt thanks. Its your contribution that makes sending out Today's Inspiration so rewarding!

Seeking a Larger Place in History

Friday, November 24, 2006

The following is from the pages of the Warwick Hotel website: Wanting to fulfill his true passion to become a muralist, Dean Cornwell went to London to study with Frank Brangwyn. Then, in 1927, Cornwell began his devotion to mural painting in California by painting beautiful murals in the Los Angeles Public Library and the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands. He went on to complete over 20 more well known murals at sites including the Detroit Athletic Club, Rockefeller Center, the 1939 World’s Fair, New York’s General Motors Building, the Bethlehem Steel Company, “The 21 Club” in New York and The Warwick Hotel. Paintings by Cornwell have also been exhibited in the Whitney Museum of American Art, The Chicago Art Institute, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

Legend has it that William Randolph Hearst built the Warwick Hotel Apartments at 63 West 54th Street in New York City as a place where he could ensconce a mistress.Whether there's any truth to that or not, he did hire Dean Cornwell to paint a mural in the main dining room of The Raleigh Room, the Warwick's restaurant. My good friend Jeff Norwell owns one of Cornwell's original pencil drawings from this mural and has graciously agreed to share it with us today. It measures about 2 to 3 feet wide and about 4 feet tall. Jeff purchased it at The Illustration House and to the best of his knowledge it is the only surviving pencil drawing from the Warwick mural.
Here's another interesting tidbit: Jeff has heard from a knowledgable source that the guard in the back row on the extreme left was modelled by a young Charles Bronson.Again, from the pages of the Warwick Hotel website:
The history of the murals dates back to 1937, when William Randolph Hearst commissioned Dean Cornwell to paint murals in the main dining room of The Raleigh Room, the restaurant inside his Warwick New York apartment hotel. Cornwell completed the murals in 1938 and he received the sum of $100,000 for his work. The breathtaking murals depict Sir Walter Raleigh receiving his charter from Queen Elizabeth I in 1584 and Raleigh landing at Roanoke Island.The large mural depicts the Queen providing Raleigh with a charter and a patent granting him title to any lands he might discover in the name of the crown. After Raleigh returned from Roanake Island, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I.Upon completion of the murals, a dispute arose between Cornwell and Hearst regarding compensation for the work. Enraged and seeking revenge, Cornwell painted images, at the time considered obscene, onto the murals. Due to the controversy, one mural was covered for more than 40 years. The concealed mural included a man urinating on the Queen and another man urinating on Sir Walter Raleigh.Another pictured an Indian with bare buttocks. The dispute was eventually settled and Cornwell painted out one of the obscenities but the others remained.
* My thanks to René Milot for sharing his scans of the finished Warwick mural with me so I could post them alongside Jeff's Cornwell drawing. All of today's images can be viewed at a larger size in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set.

* Drop by the TI blog this weekend for a final post showcasing a variety of scans of Cornwell's work contributed by various TI list members.

Magazine Illustration: Flimsy and Impermanent

Thursday, November 23, 2006


The list of advertising and editorial clients that sought out Dean Cornwell during the 20's and 30's is as long and as highly placed as any illustrator could hope for. But by the 1940's, Cornwell was becoming disenchanted with magazine illustration. It was his ambition to leave his mark on society and to that end he chose to pursue mural painting.

We'll look at that aspect of his career tomorrow, but its interesting to note that Cornwell returned time and again to advertising and editorial illustration because it paid well and he needed the money. This in spite of the fact that by then he was troubled by the "impermanence and flimsiness" of work done in that field.

In the 1942 article in American Artist, interviewer Ernest W. Watson had this to say about Cornwell's illustrations: Dean Cornwell's illustrations are invariably painted in oil. But he does not recommend this medium for present-day illustration. It is not suited, he points out, to the type of work editors are now demanding. For one thing, oil lacks the wide range of values and brilliancy of color offered by watercolor, particularly by the powerful aniline colors used so much today. It is all a matter of keeping up with the times. The radio, movies, rotograure and picture magazines - indeed the very tempo of modern life - have changed the whole aspect of illustration.
*My thanks to René Milot and Dominic Bugatto for providing some of today's images. You can find all of this week's images, some at larger sizes, in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set.

His Life's One Ambition

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


In his 1942 interview in American Artist, Dean Cornwell said: "The measure of the illustrator is his ability to take a subject in which he may have neither interest nor information, tackle it with everything he's got and make the finished picture look like the consumation of his life's one ambition."

So its not surpising that Cornwell produced a multitude of roughs, preliminary drawings and colour comps before tackling any of his finished pieces. He used photos almost exclusively for reference of small details - the actual subject matter he drew and redrew until he found it to be satisfactory. "Go to the source," he told his students, and "get the smell of the place."

For Cornwell, the secret to a successful illustration was not in how realistic a painting he could do - it was in how successfully he had composed the picture. "A composition is not just a nice arrangement with everything filling in the space," he said in his American Artist interview. "No matter how satisfying it may be from an abstract point of view it is meaningless in illustration unless it is built around and wholly expresses an authentic idea that motivates the particular picture."

* All of today's images were generously donated by my good friend René Milot, who scanned the originals from his private collection so we could enjoy them as well. Many thanks, mon ami!

You'll find larger versions of today's images in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set.

Exacting Standards

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


As a boy Dean Cornwell, the son of a civil engineer, loved to draw machinery. Even then he could not gloss over the details of his subject matter. At age 13 he would stand on the riverbanks near his Louisville, Kentucky home, returning again and again over several weeks, drawing, erasing and redrawing the details of the steamships that passed by. 18 years later, during a lecture he was giving at the Art Students' League, Cornwell said, "Unless you consider illustration so fine a thing as to be worth your last ounce of strength and effort - don't be an illustrator."

Dean Cornwell's exacting standards must have been one of the reasons his war-themed illustrations were so popular with both his clients and the public during WWII. He would study photographs and documentary footage at length to make sure that details were as accurate as possible.

Sometimes, his efforts confounded the military departments who necessarily had to approve his illustrations: though they at times withheld "secret" details of military equipment, Cornwell would ferret them out through meticulous research. One such incident involved an illustration of an anti-aircraft gun Cornwell depicted with such accuracy that the War Department called him figuring that there had been a security leak. The "top secret" part was the addition of some sort of electronic device attached to the gun, which Cornwell saw in some tiny photo, and included in his full page painting for General Motors in all the magazines.

But the artist simply could not help himself. A 1942 article in American Artist had this to say about Dean Cornwell: "The goal for [Cornwell] is always over the hill of today's achievement: a seven-day week of work and study is insufficient to attain it."

*Much of the information and some of the images this week are from a 1999 article in Step-By-Step magazine written by Holly Angus. My sincere thanks to TI list member Tom Palmer for generously taking the time and effort to make this and other material from his Dean Cornwell collection available to me. Thanks Tom!

*All of today's images can be seen at a larger size in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set.

"The Dean of Illustrators"

Monday, November 20, 2006

For all but the most knowledgable of fans of classic illustration, the name Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) might mean nothing; but during the 30's and 40's his impeccable work and his name were well known and loved by not only his peers in the industry but by the public at large.I must admit that with my own narrow focus on illustration of the 1950's I had only a passing awareness of Dean Cornwell. That's because his work is not present in the mainstream magazines that make up the bulk of my collection. But with the assistance of a couple of TI list members and a few nice Cornwells I did manage to find on my own, I can now show you a week's worth of his art and pass along a little information about this worthy artist.So let's take a look at the life and art of the man who was called "The Dean of Illustrators": Dean Cornwell.You'll find some of this week's images at a larger size in my new Dean Cornwell Flickr set.

Life During Wartime: Part 5

Friday, November 17, 2006

Babe Lovell was trying to kill himself. He was trying to cave in his own skull against a nearby rock but no matter how much he flailed his head, he couldn't reach it.
This is how the Canadians fought in Italy during WWII: slogging over hill and mountain from one tiny village to the next with nothing but their determination and the worn out equipment cast off by other armies. Doing the dirty work of fighting house to house, room to room, hand to hand while no one helped, watched or, as far as they could tell, cared. Relentlessly ever pushing north, forcing the Germans back.

This is how Babe Lovell found himself fighting for his own death: wide awake and trapped under the rubble of an exploded house, his shoulders pinned under the weight of a heavy wooden beam, his legs pinned under another, his body twisted, broken and bleeding, while fire slowly burnt off his feet and legs. Somewhere above him, through the smoke and dust, wood and stone, his mates and the German soldiers they had encountered were blasting machine guns at each other, oblivious to his screams of agony.

Was this God's punishment for Babe's misspent youth? At sixteen, Babe had heaved a teacher through a glass door at school. He'd had the strap so many times as a boy, he finally stole it. Was this payback for the Italian farmer he had shot and killed during a street fight? Or maybe it was the German soldier he had killed a few days before Christmas of '44. But Babe was already punishing himself for that one. He had plundered the dead man's pack only to discover a letter and toys for the dead German soldier's children. The guilt that came with the realization that his enemy was just a man like him on the other side of this war was punishment enough.

How much pain can one man bear? It depends on the man and, more important than his physical strenghth, it depends on his strength of will. Babe's legs burned for more than an hour before the Germans retreated and a Canadian scout could search for survivors. First he poured buckets of water down through the rubble where the screaming was coming from, then the digging began.

Babe Lovell had spent his whole life in one fight or another and had whipped pretty much anyone and anything that had come at him, but in the end he was beaten by a girl. When May finally found him at the hospital back in England he would not return her embrace. "You can't marry me," he said. "Not like this. Its all changed. I'm a cripple. You shouldn't have come. You'd better go now."

It might have ended there, but Babe had underestimated May's stubborn determination. Though she left the hospital in sadness and confusion, she was back the next day and this is what she said: "Babe Lovell, we are getting married. I love you, and I don't care what you say."

It can be difficult for those of us who have lived only in peaceful lands to fully realize how much others have endured on our behalf. As this Thanksgiving weekend approaches, let's take a moment to appreciate the sacrifices of those who know what it is to live life during wartime.

* The accompanying art by Noel Sickles is provided courtesy of Josh Sheppard but was first clipped by AD Don Smollen, who then gave them to Star Wars poster illustrator, Tom Jung, who passed them along to Josh. Josh would like to give credit to Don's 40 years of collecting great classic illustration. You can see these images at full size in my WWII Flickr set.

Life During Wartime: Part 4

Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is not how the Canadian Forces were equipped for their fierce fight to push the Germans up and out of Italy during WWII. If any of them managed to lay hands on this issue of the Saturday Evening Post during those times, I imagine they would have been pretty envious of their American allies as portrayed here by James Sessions.Most people don't even know that, while the world was focused on Operation Overlord at Normandy, some 70,000 Canadian troops where doggedly battling their way up through Italy, forcing the Germans to split their focus, their troops and equipment on another front. These forgotten soldiers, who's efforts went largely unreported in the news, who's sacrifices remain mostly unrecognized to this day, significantly impacted the success of D-Day.

How do I know this? Because my life-long best friend, Wade Hemsworth, wrote a book about how his grandfather, Howard "Babe" Lovell, fought on the frontlines of the Italian campaign.

When Wade was a boy, his grampa was an affectionate, jovial, attentive rascal of a man who got around on two wooden legs. Though I never met him, Wade relished the telling and retelling of the many adventures and hijinks he had enjoyed in the company of his gramps, usually at the cottage home in the North that Babe had built for himself and his wartime bride, Wade's grandma, May. But the smile would fade from Babe's face when talk of the war came up, especially when his young grandson would ask him to tell stories about his experiences there.

Years later, long after Babe and May were gone, Wade, now a man, a journalist and a published author, decided to write a book about his grandparents - and most especially about his grampa. He asked a trusted uncle, Babe's only son, Ian, about the idea of the book, about digging up the stories that would explain at last why Babe walked on two wooden legs.
Ian told him it was possible. By talking to friends and relatives, by researching it thoroughly, Wade could find what he was looking for. But he offered Wade this warning: that the man Wade idolized had been many things before he became a doting grandfather - and that Wade might not like what he would find.

Tomorrow: How Babe Lovell lost both his legs.

Life During Wartime: Part 3

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My wife's grandma is still with us. She's in her 90's now, a little frail, a little forgetful, but some memories are vividly etched into her mind. Just last Sunday night, at our regular family dinner, she told me once again about looking up at the sky and being able to clearly read the identification numbers on the German fighters and bombers as they flew over her tiny coal mining town of Bannockburn, Scotland. Those planes were on their way to bomb Edinburgh - but the small fighter escorts would take the time to dip down and strafe the town with machinegun fire.My mother-in-law and her sister never left the house without taking their child-sized gas masks, and blackout curtains on every window were strictly enforced. The punishment for carrying even an unshielded lantern at night was severe.

Though my wife's Grandpa died shortly after we met, some twenty years ago, I have often heard the stories of his life - told proudly around the dinner table. He was a tough guy. Ran away from home at twelve because he didn't approve of the woman his widowed father was marrying. Went straight to the mines (where else could a poor boy go in those days?) and trained to work with dynamite, since blasting the underground coal face earned danger pay - the best in the mines.

When the war came, a young man now with a wife and two tiny daughters, he ran to enlist, to defend his family, his town and his country. Imagine the sting of rebuke, of having your own government bring in soldiers and, looking down the barrel of a gun, being told to get back in the hole and stay there. The engines of war needed fuel and their appetite for coal was insatiable. Though his work was vital, it was a point of shame for a tough guy to not be able to take the fight to Hitler's doorstep.
Times were tough and food was scarce. Rationing was in effect so Grandpa risked jail to go hunting and fishing on "The King's Land". It was the only way to put extra food on the table. He used his skills with dynamite to ensure a healthy catch in the local pond - a short stick tossed in the drink brought a bounty of stunned and killed fish floating to the surface. They were shared among family and friends. Oranges were especially dear - just one per family every two weeks. My mother-in-law remembers Grandma slicing them paper thin and laying the slices on toast. To this day, its still the only way she can eat an orange.

All of today's images can be seen at full size in my WWII Flickr set.
 

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