Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Howard Willard: Origin and Influences of a Style

The question was asked the other day, was there a secret to the distinctive look of Howard Willard's style? Some specific tool or technique he employed to achieve his 'calligraphic line'?

While the article in the June 1950 issue of American Artist doesn't specifically mention what Willard's preferred materials were, he is shown at his drawing table in this Strathmore ad elsewhere in that same issue.

Taking a closer look, it seems Howard Willard used all sorts of brushes and pens...

... but from what I've heard, one indispensible pen tip every self-respecting ink-slinger had in his arsenal was the now long-discontinued Gillott 290. (Do a quick search for that pen nib and you'll be amazed at how many people still talk about its miraculous qualities).

When Howard Willard was a young boy, long before he had ink, pens and brushes, paper and a drawing table, he would carve crude figures into the soft clay of unfired bricks in his grandfather's Indiana brickyard.

Later the family moved to California and Willard was exposed to the many cultures of new friends who had emigrated from exotic places like China, Japan and Mexico.

As a young man he began his serious study of art in Los Angeles, then moved to the Art Student's League in New York before enrolling for a year at the Academie Julian in France.

Clearly the young Howard Willard had a wanderlust. He soon left school and, sketchbook in hand, roved across England, Italy, Spain, Morocco and Mexico.

Throughout his journeys he drank deeply of the many cultures he encountered. He studied their art and languages, he sketched people and places, he obsessively collected momentos of paper, fabric, wood and stone from all the places he visited.

When we gather all of Howard Willard's early influences together, we can see how they shaped both the style and substance of his work. His life might have continued its pleasant and haphazard 'nomadic chronology'...

... but war was coming, and the restless traveller would be given a purposeful direction.

Tomorrow: Willard, W.W.II and China.

* My Howard Willard Flickr set.


  1. Cette jungle est très belle et évocatrice.
    Superbe trait.

    Merci beaucoup pour votre travail d'explorateur !

    vasco (France)

  2. You can still buy the Gillott 290 pen nib.