Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chas Allen on West Coast Auto Art

As a rule, it was typical during the heyday of illustrated automotive advertising that artists worked in two man teams: one doing the technical elements (the car or truck) and the other handling the figures and environment. Certainly the most famous automotive illustrators of those times, Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman, and later Bernie Fuchs and Ben Jaroslaw, worked in this manner. Even in Toronto, when Will Davies was illustrating automobile ads for the Canadian market, he worked with a favourite technical artist named Dudley Whitney.

Not so on the West Coast. I asked Charlie Allen about the nature of the auto illustration business in San Fransisco when he, Fred Ludekens, Stan Galli and Bruce Bomberger were regularly setting their signatures to artwork for Chevy and other car manufacturing clients. His informative narrative, full of interesting and amusing anecdotes, begins below:

"On auto first was a Chevy ad, a B&W. [Fred] Ludekens was too busy, and I got it. Sweated blood, sweat, etc. on it.....and it turned out OK. Don't even have a copy today, and wish I had. A lot of my early work was like being thrown into the lake and told to swim for it....when you had just learned to dog paddle. Probably for the best."

My first Chevy full color job came much as the first B&W...a complete surprise. A double page spread, it was a profile side view of a '55 two-toned (pink and charcoal grey) Chevy with the then new 'wrap around windshield. White sidewalls of course. No scene, but against the white background, top hats, white gloves, confetti, serpentine, etc...a celebration or coming out party. Simple, but turned out well."

"Later on I did some Mercury and Simca ads, but Campbell-Ewald and Chevy were our main car source."

"You mentioned the AF/VK team. Those guys were phenomenal. No way here....altho' I did paint a Buick station wagon for Stan Galli, that he finished a scene around. He griped about it for years! But, hey, most artists just don't think alike. Also had to 'repair' a Ludekens Chevy job once. He couldn't draw girls for sour apples, and I grudgingly 'improved' his figures. We, that is I, took my own shots of Chevrolets, usually at our local dealership. They were cooperative, but didn't have a clue!"

"I found out early to not draw a car the way it photographed. You had to tuck the wheels, stretch width and length.....but very carefully. Too much was as bad as too little. Detroit liked their cars low, wide and long in those days. When I see one on the road these days, they are true dinosuars."

* All of today's images can be found in my Charlie Allen Flickr set.


  1. Chet Morton11:50 AM

    That color 1955 Chevrolet ad Mr. Allen speaks of is just wonderful, it's one of my favorites. Makes me want to scan and post it in case no one else has.

    Two questions -- first, where did that black-and-white 1961 Chevrolet ad appear, do you know? I'd like to find a copy.

    And that "Squeeze Left" Corvair illustration -- it's one of two illustrated Corvair ads I have for the year, the other is a blue convertible parked in twilight at a submarine base. I think they had limited runs and that I pulled them from one of those magazines aimed at the womens' market, Redbook or McCall's or somesuch. Another ad I might scan and post if no one has. Does Mr. Allen remember doing more than just those two?

  2. Hello Chet,
    I'd love to get a copy of the 55 Chevy ad. As to the B/W ad, it ran in the newspapers. Charlie had a great B/W technique and his ilustration reproduced great in the papers and low line screens.
    Check out the Covair ad, Charlie liked to put his initals in the license plate.

  3. Chet;

    I forwarded your questions to Charlie and he sent this reply:

    LEIF....This seems the easiest way to answer. All the B&W Chevy ads, and there were a bunch of those, appeared in every major newspaper in the country. That's why it was a profitable client...all their ads were national....color ads in magazines the same way. Don't think I illustrated the Corvair model more than the one time....the yellow 'Squeeze Left' ad. Did other ads of '55,'56, & '57....and maybe later....Chevys, usually their 4 door sedans. Hope this helps..... C.

  4. chet morton12:35 PM

    Thanks Leif and thanks Mr. Allen.

    I'll scan and post that other Corvair ad and let you know when I do. In style, it looks very much like the "Squeeze Left" ad.

    Thanks Bruce, too. Will definitely scan the 1955 Chevrolet ad, and will look for the initials "CA" on that other illustrated Corvair ad before posting.

  5. I understand Charlie Allen's comment about being thrown in the lake when you've only learned to dog paddle. When I was just learning to dog paddle, I was assigned a job which I was to illustrate a young couple standing next to their car, while looking at a road map, for a AAA Insurance magazine ad. It was not a car ad however, it was an insurance ad. The car couldn't look too long or too short or too dominant or too obscure, etc. They gave me photos of a particular make and model to work from. I struggled and struggled with it. Every time I thought I had it right, they would find one more thing to correct. The figures were the easy part, but I was a nervous wreck trying to get the car just right. Fortunately it was in black, white and one color and not full color. In the end they were happy and satisfied, and I was exhausted! But it gave me confidence later when doing more illustrations of car subjects.

    A car ad is a true test of an illustrator's rendering skills and Charlie Allen's skills were in the class of an Olympic swimmer, in my opinion.

    Tom Watson

  6. I love all of this West coast auto art. Very cool to see all of the historic/vintage sketches from the old Pacific 101. Keep this great content coming our way!

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