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

A Fireside Christmas with Aurelius Battaglia

Friday, December 21, 2007

What better way to conclude the Countdown to Christmas than with another look at the work of Aurelius Battaglia from The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs.


This is my final post for 2007. Here at Today's Inspiration World Headquarters, I'll be using the remaining time before Christmas to frantically finish up painting some home-made gifts for those hard-to-buy-for types on my list (and of course, wrapping, wrapping,wrapping... lordy, I hate wrapping!)


Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, here's wishing you and yours a Merry Merry and a Happy New Year!


And speaking of New Years -- I'll be back on January 1st, 2008 with more art and info from the glorious days of Mid-20th Century illustration. Bye for now!

Aurelius Battaglia Flickr set

Morton Roberts' Christmas through the Ages

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I'm getting a day off today thanks to TI list member, Tom Watson. Tom sent along this series of images by Morton Roberts, "from the original reproductions in McCall's magazine, that I clipped and saved when I was an art student."


"Morton Roberts was one of the rising stars in the late 50's and early 60's," writes Tom, "and died at a very young age in 1964. He bridged the gap between fine art and illustration, and won many prestigious awards for his work."


This series from the December 1960 issue of McCall's shows Christmas in America in 1660 (top), 1760(above)...


1860 and of course, 1960.


I had heard the name Morton Roberts and may even have come across one or two pieces by the artist before - but I never truly appreciated what a talent he was until seeing this group of paintings. My thanks to Tom for bringing Morton Roberts' work to my attention - and for giving me the day off so i can get that last minute Christmas shopping done!

Morton Roberts Flickr set.

Jack Welch: A Christmas Revelation

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

For some time now I've been admiring the work of an artist responsible for a long series of mid-1950's Jello ads.


These unsigned ads have a distinct style unlike anything else I'd come across in my collection of magazines. It was a real frustration not knowing who was responsible for them.


Well, thanks once again to the December 1962 issue of McCall's, that mystery may be solved. Alongside all the other artwork we've been looking at for the past week are the two spreads below... illustrated by Jack Welch.


"Jack Welch (born 1905 in Cleburne, Texas, died 1985) was an American illustrator known for his drawings and gouache paintings of droll family activities and his cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. He was a member of the Society of Illustrators," says the artist's listing on Wikipedia. That might be all the info we'll find about Welch for the time being.

Whether he actually is responsible for those Jello ads is subject to opinion. To me, it looks like he is. But judge for yourself: take a closer look at Welch's artwork in my Jack Welch Flickr set.


And as a final note, let's pause to marvel once again at the volume of artwork McCall's AD Otto Storch commissioned for that December 1962 issue! It really is remarkable.

By contrast, consider this: that same issue contained nearly one hundred ads (yes, I counted them!) including many full and double page spreads. None contained any illustration of substance (a few used some small illustrative elements set into photography) In total, no more than 5 ads used any illustration at all.

A Christmas Convergence - Part 4

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Yes, the December 1962 issue of McCall's really did present a convergence of styles: Old School, New School, Decorative - even Cartoon illustration, courtesy of one of the best... Roy Doty.


The mind-boggling thing about any Roy Doty illustration is how he effortlessly tackles a HUGE crowd - and manages to have every person engage in an individual activity or pose. No repetition here... McCall's staff members, as delineated in Doty's immaculate pen line, are as varied as they would have been in real life. He even included likenesses of key staffers and specific references to the contents of that issue.

For instance, that must be art director Otto Storch (below) in the commander's seat of the McCall's art department...


... and just below that, a reminder that McCall's could boast an enviable 8.4 million copies-per-issue circulation.

Look a little further down -- there's Walter Einsel's Christmas cookie cake that we discussed in yesterday's post!


Doty even included a self portrait (I presume "Hershey" is the woman standing next to him and the author of the accompanying poem in the centre of the page).


You know, Roy Doty's style remained largely unchanged throughout his career... and yet it never looked dated. As other illustration styles fell in and out of fashion, his clean, simple linework always looked fresh and current.

A testament to the merit of that old adage: "Keep it simple."

Take a few minutes to examine this entire image in greater detail. Go to my Roy Doty Flickr set and click the "All Sizes" tab above this image.

A Christmas Convergence - Part 3

Monday, December 17, 2007

Now remember, this December 1962 issue of McCall's we've been looking at contained both Old School and New School illustrations, lavishly presented in huge double page spreads. That would have been typical during the 50's. It was not so common anymore in the 60's.

What readers were beginning to see more and more, when illustration was being used, was Decorative art. Chief among the rising stars of this relatively new form of illustration, was John Alcorn (below).


If this fairly early example of the emerging decorative style movement doesn't grab you in a big way, consider that in a few short years it would lead to work like this, and you'll better appreciate how the Decorative style was leading the charge in the shifting taste of popular culture of the time and providing a distict illustrative alternative to photography.

Even more dramatic than AD Otto Storch's inclusion of John Alcorn's work in this issue is the piece below, by one of the greatest decorative artists of the day: Walter Einsel.

"But," you say, "this isn't an illustration... what kinda stunt are you pulling here, Leif?!"

In fact, this piece by Einsel is a revelation - and should be given thoughtful consideration by those of us competing in the shifting sands of today's commercial art market. Walter Einsel accomplished an amazing thing with his design of this "Christmas cake house": he managed to use commonly available store-bought materials to creat a three-dimensional sculpture that accurately reflects his illustration style!


Consider this: if you've read the explanation on the spread's left-hand page, you'll understand the challenge McCall's editors faced in providing a solution to the two girls' request. And in doing so, did they come up with that solution themselves? Did they go to the no doubt very able chefs and consultants in their cooking department? Did they call upon a photographer to provide a solution?

No. The asked an artist.

A Christmas Convergence - Part 2

Friday, December 14, 2007

Scroll down to yesterday's post and compare the style of those pieces to the ones you see here and it quickly becomes apparent that today's images are decidedly Old School. McCall's magazine AD, Otto Storch, chose well in selecting Tom Lovell and William A. Smith (respectively) for the two period pieces below. Their classical-looking painterly styles perfectly suit the historical subject matter they were commissioned to interpret.


The only thing is, I suspect period pieces and historical subject matter are just about the only things a magazine art director would have considered these talent artists for by the early 60's. Not the case ten years earlier. Both Lovell and Smith regularly illustrated contemporary subjects for all the major magazines.

What had changed?


In fact, much had changed, as Tom Watson pointed out in his comment on yesterday's post. And even the New School artists were looking elsewhere for work: paperback book covers, album covers, corporate reports, textbooks, subject-specific "fine art" gallery markets. These were the places that still wanted realistic styles in large volume. Magazine and advertising clients were embracing photography with an unprecedented fervor. And when they did call for illustration, it was more likely to be of the sort we'll look at on Monday.


*For the third piece in this historical series from the December '62 issue of McCall's, Otto Storch made an interesting choice to accompany the work of the two well known illustrators, Lovell and Smith. I was unfamiar with artist Adolf Dehn until now, but a quick internet search turned up this thorough biography and many example of his very appealing (what would you call it? "American Primitive"?) style.

Set alongside Lovell and Smith's pieces, I think it compliments the other two artist's work very nicely - and provides a bridge to the Decorative Styles we'll look at next week.

A Christmas Convergence - Part 1

Thursday, December 13, 2007

As I was scanning the Bernie Fuchs image below for today's post, it occurred to me that the December 1962 issue of McCall's from which the image is taken provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the state of illustration in America at that time.


By 1962, magazines were using much less illustration in general, and the type of illustration being used was changing in style in a dramatic way. So this particular issue of McCall's (which contains an abundance of illustration more typical of 1952 than 1962) represents a sort of crossroads of styles and periods.


Today, I'm showing you that issue's contributions by New School artists Bernie Fuchs, Coby Whitmore, and Joe Bowler (respectively). Even within this group we see represented a master originator of that period (Whitmore), a second generation shining star (Bowler), and an architect of the style's next variation, Fuchs, whose unique approach influenced a generation of illustrators for the next decade.


Tomorrow I'll show you the work of the Old School artists from this same issue and on Monday, a look at two masters of the Decorative Style that would dominate illustration during the late 60's and early 70's.

Merry Harry Anderson Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

To look at this piece by Harry Anderson you can almost imagine a cross between Haddon Sundblom and Norman Rockwell, can't you? As though Rockwell designed the page and did the drawing, and Sundblom painted the final illustration.


I recently acquired a nice stack of old Woman's Home Companion magazines and the good news is it looks like Anderson had a steady account with that publication -- so, to satisfy the many requests I've been getting, you'll soon be seeing more work by the artist.


For now, to all the diehard Harry Anderson fans out there... this post is my Christmas gift to you.

Harry Anderson Flickr set

An Alex Ross Christmas

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lest you think I'm secretly running a theme this week showcasing giant Christmas tree ornaments, let me assure you, its only by coincidence that both yesterday's and today's posts open with such an image .


I just couldn't resist this terrific piece by Alex Ross, a Cooper Studio mainstay and regular contributor to Cosmopolitan magazine (and many others) during the 50's.

For new arrivals to this blog who have a background in comic books, I should repeat once again that this is NOT the Alex Ross who has painted his way into a very successful career at Marvel and DC.

This is, in fact, "your father's Alex Ross".


And also for the benefit of recent arrivals, I must tell once again the astonishing bit of trivia that this Alex Ross had an almost uninterrupted 12-year run doing covers for Good Housekeeping magazine. Isn't that incredible?

Imagine a magazine assigning its covers exclusively to just one artist for more than a decade. Its absolutely unheard of! I wish I knew the story behind that business relationship...

Anyway, here's another example of one of Ross' GH covers, which always featured one or more cute kids, usually involved in some thematically appropriate activity for that time of year.


More examples by the artist can be found in my Alex Ross Flickr set.

Let the Countdown Begin!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yes, its that time once again. And what better way to begin the Countdown to Christmas here at Today's Inspiration than with one of Dom Lupo's giant telephone repairmen.


Of course it would be ideal if I had a second Christmas themed illustration by Lupo. But hey, what do I look like, a miracle worker? At least I have a second piece with a black, white and red colour scheme, right?


And Christmas Countdown or not, any time of year is a great time to be inspired by Dom Lupo's beautiful inked line style!

Dom Lupo Flickr set

Denver Gillen: Realizing a Dream

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Between my sister, brother and me," writes Jenifer Gillen Cohn, "we have approximately 20 of Denver's original paintings."


"I am so amazed, every time I look at these illustrations. I just cannot believe how beautiful they are. By the way, I don't know whether I mentioned this or not but, Pop did not like hunting. So, when he was commissioned to a hunting cover, he would give nobility to the animals and depersonalize the hunters. He said it was not a conscience effort on his part, but nevertheless, hoped that his clients never discovered the truth."

"I've been working on putting on a gallery show of my father's original Outdoor Life magazine cover paintings. The gallery is the Bruce Webber Gallery in town here. The show will be opening on December 6, with a reception, and will run through December 24."


"Bruce has been in touch with Illustration House regarding my father's Outdoor Life cover paintings. He spoke with Walt Reed himself who remembers my father very fondly and is very eager to sell his work. He estimates that the initial value of the covers will be $2000 t0 $3000."

"My sister and I agreed to send, through the Webber Gallery, one fishing and one hunting cover painting to be auctioned, just to test the waters."


"I'm hazy on what [Denver] produced during the 70's... work dropped off with some of his large clients such as Outdoor Life for whom he had been doing almost half the covers a year. My parents were living in Mexico then, and I was living in Boston, so I did not have the daily updates. However, Pop was really concentrating on his own creations by then, traveling to New York to pick up commercial jobs from time to time."


"[A lot of] stuff was left in Mexico after my mother's death. We three kids had to close up the house and try to salvage as much of their personal belongings as well as the artwork and artifacts that had been accumulated over the years. We were in no position to save everything, unfortunately. My sister and brother and I stuffed as much of the artwork as we could into portfolios and suitcases. All of the remaining framed paintings were shipped to galleries that had been representing Denver when he was alive. Tons of press proofs had to be tossed out."


"Pop was very concerned about the growing tendency by magazines, even in his day, to use photography as a way of illustrating stories. My local newspaper editor, who did an article last Christmas regarding Pop's "Rudolph", asked me if Pop would have become computer literate if he were still an illustrator today. I know the answer in my gut -- NO! But, he was 60 when he died. And, he had been winding down from magazine illustration after Mimi and he moved to Mexico permanently."


"He concentrated on his painting and was producing lovely, complex works that warranted gallery shows. He was represented in many fine galleries, primarily in the Southwest, since his main subject matter was the Mexican lifestyle. He was doing commissioned portraits as well, with an original style that incorporated imagery of the persons life into the work. "


"I am very glad that my parents fell in love with Mexico. They were able to have a very lovely and financially secure lifestyle there. Being where the Yankee dollar went a lot further, Pop was able to handle the transition from full-time illustrator to doing gallery shows."


"His goal was to be represented at a showing in Mexico City. And fortunately, he was able to realize that dream."



*If you're in the Lake Worth, Florida area, this is your chance to see Denver Gillen's beautiful originals in person. The show at the Webber Gallery opens tomorrow (December 7th, 2007) and runs until the 24th.

My heartfelt thanks to Jenifer Gillen Cohn for sharing so many personal memories of her Pop, Denver Gillen, with us this past week.


Denver Gillen Flickr set.

Denver Gillen: Earning a Living as an Illustrator

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jenifer Gillen Cohn writes, "When I first met "Mr. Gillen," he was sharing a studio with four other artists/illustrators in downtown New Milford, CT. In his 1956 article in American Artist, Norman Kent says, "I found him (Denver) in a studio building occupied by several illustrators and enjoying a camaraderie with them more typical of the past than is usually possible at the present in a big city."

"Pop shared a floor above retail space with Robert Kuhn,"


"Walter Skor,"


"John Clymer,"


"and C.E. Monroe (who I don't remember)."


"As you can imagine, it seemed quite normal to hang around these artistic types."

"[After he moved his studio home] Pop stayed in touch with Bob Kuhn, Walter Skor and John Clymer. They were great friends and we visited one another's homes often. Fortunately, the wives all got along, too. And, we kids did have fun with the similarly aged children of the Kuhn's."

"I know, from overhearing my parents talk, that Walter Skor had tremendous trouble promoting himself and had an agent. I think things were harder for him than the others in that respect. He eventually branched out and started doing framing for other artists -- beautiful works of art in their own right. Remember, though, that the art world in New York at that time was a smaller place. I'm pretty sure that all of these guys shared information and passed around ideas and contacts."

"I think that there have always been "starving" artists, and it's the rare and pit bull types that weather the ups and downs and/or pursue other types of work to continue in the career they love."


"Pop was very concerned about the growing tendency by magazines, even in his day, to use photography as a way of illustrating stories."


"He was aware that there was a growing trend that was narrowing the opportunities for the illustrator. I can't remember exactly when I first heard the conversations, but it was probably before I went to Boston University."


"I became acutely aware of Pop's wariness of photography vs illustration when I decided to take a photography course at BU. This was after I left the School of Fine Arts. I had decided to take time out from pursuing a "fine arts" path. I knew it wasn't for me, and quite frankly, I wasn't terribly good. I did learn so much, though, about color and design, but I just didn't like paint. Really. I hated oils in particular."

"Pop really did not like the direction that I was going in, but, really, drawing was very hard for me, and I guess he figured this was better than nothing. But, the disappointment was apparent. We had philosophical discussions about photography vs illustration. Fine art vs illustration. Graphic art vs illustration."


"I do remember that Pop had been doing quite a bit of textbook illustration (for Ginn & Company, I think, and others). This was while I still lived in at home in Connecticut, so that would have been in the late 50s, early 60s. And, he did not enjoy this type of work; very boring."

[Note: the examples show here are from the Childcraft series of textbook/encyclopedias, c. 1964 - Leif]


"Pop told me he "was not a genius" and would never be a superstar like Picasso. He had to earn a living, too, he said, because he liked living a good life, so being an illustrator gave him the best of both worlds."

Jenifer's narrative concludes... tomorrow.

Denver Gillen Flickr set.

"I wanted to be like him."

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"I was ten years old in 1955 when Pop married Mimi," writes Jenifer Gillen Cohn.

"My mother never worked out of the home, although she did perform as a community theatre actress when I was younger (no pay, of course). Back in those days, that was the norm: father worked, mother was a stay at home mom. We did not lead a lavish lifestyle but it was good. We were provided for and my parents were able to afford a few toys and at least one vacation a year."


"Pop would have been 41 years old when he married Mimi, so I'm sure he must have spent a number of lean years in his younger day. He never talked about that, though."

"I wish I could tell you I had memories of the outline of Denver's early life. Although he talked about his career as an illustrator, I remember most his ability to tell a good story and I loved to hear him talk about his childhood and his early days as an artist. The "facts" that I relate to you, however, come from a wonderful article about Denver Gillen written by Norman Kent in the November 1956 issue of American Artist."

"I am telling you this so that you will understand the following: Pop couldn't have children of his own. He had been hospitalized at age seventeen with a prolonged illness that made it impossible for him to have children."

"But, his time in the hospital changed the direction of his life."




"It was while in the hospital that he was encouraged to pass the time by drawing, by his doctor who was an amateur artist. Pop had been raised in a seafaring family in Vancouver, BC and would have probably followed his father and brothers into some related form of work. By the time he left the hospital, however, he knew he wanted to become a commercial artist."

"According to that article, "his doctor arranged a meeting with the manager of the art department of the Hudson Bay Company and there Gillen stayed for three years, learning the basic techniques of commercial studio." During that time, he met Edward Varley and studied with him. Then, Denver moved to Toronto in 1935 and worked for a year in the Brigden Studios. When commercial artists went on strike, he moved to Chicago. He worked for Montgomery Ward for four years as a staff artist, where he did the original illustrations for "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", their gift to their customers. He then worked for another six years in Chicago in a "variety of studio affiliations".

"When Pop moved his studio to the new attachment to the house, I started working with him, part-time after school. I loved it! You entered the studio from the living room through the "plant room" that separated the spaces. The plant room was loaded with exotic plants, trees, shrubs and flowers. Our parrot, Lora, dictated policy as one walked through, screeching and whistling and laughing. The studio was quite large and a picture window overlooked the backyard and the lake. There was Pop's drawing board and his side table for his paints. Also an area he called "the morgue" where I worked, pouring through endless magazines like National Geographic and countless others, pulling out a billion photographs and illustrations to be sorted and catalogued according to subject. Also, I clipped tear sheets of his work and filed those, too. There was also a dark room and an overhead projector where Pop viewed reference material for whatever illustrations he was working on."


"Pop was a natural promoter of his own work. He never had an agent, to the best of my knowledge. He had no fear, although he wasn't an arrogant man. I think his early years of struggle, of trying to help support his mother after his father died and supporting himself as a young man, kept him on the prowl for work. He could do a variety of things, as [an] article by Norman Kent in American Artist of November 1956 points out. He made contacts and befriended a wide variety of people in the art world. "Networking", we call it now. One or two times a month, he would drive to New York City and pound the pavement, renewing contacts and foraging for new ones. He always stopped into the Society of Illustrators, too. I remember going with him a few times. I loved, especially, going to the Society of Illustrators and being served a "Shirley Temple" by a white gloved black butler. I was very shy, but this was a lovely and special treat for me."

"The Norman Kent article will give you more information about Pop at that time. Kent was the original person to hire Denver for the Reader's Digest. I remember seeing Pop doing those illustrations. He did the line drawings then did acetate overlays for the color(s). It was a pretty basic process. I did this sort of thing, too, when I worked for the offset printer doing graphics, typesetting, and color separations. I guess the Digest had their illustrators do their own separations, which makes sense."


"There was a daybed [in the studio] where Mimi would sit and read to Pop. Both she and Pop were avid readers, but, it was Mimi, trained in speech in college, who loved to read out loud an assortment of novels while Pop worked. Pop would get up early in the morning and head for the studio. He listened to talk radio, I remember, laughing out loud at William B. Williams and other humorous commentators. Then my mother would go in a do some reading, after finishing her own chores. And, I would hang out there, too, a few afternoons a week and tend to the morgue. After I left home for Boston University, my across the street friend took over my duties. (Funny thing there, too; I also worked occasionally for her father, filing flight plans in his pilot manuals.) The cool thing about my father, he had an open door policy -- no knocking necessary. He had an amazing ability to concentrate."


"However, there were times when he was under extreme deadlines -- you know the drill -- and we just knew when it was better to stay away."

"I tried to follow in Pop's footsteps, but, truly, I never had the burning desire to be an artist, and especially an illustrator. Too much pressure! I think if Pop had been a lawyer, I would have gone to law school, and I would have been successful because I have that kind of mind."


"But, I was a daddy's girl and wanted to be like him."

Continued tomorrow...

Denver Gillen Flickr set.
 

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