Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Murray Tinkelman: Problem Child

If Mrs Goodheart were alive today, she would probably be surprised to hear that Murray Tinkelman grew up to become an award-winning illustrator, educator and illustration historian. In the early 1940's, when Mrs. Goodheart was assistant principal at Murray's junior high, she advised his parents to send the boy to the High School of Industrial Arts -- otherwise he might end up in jail.

"I was just a hideous student," says Murray as he recalls his childhood, "I was terrible in all my academic subjects and the only thing I had any ability in was drawing."

"I lived in a huge apartment house in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. There were a hundred and eleven families on six floors. During World War Two there were these paper drives and people would deposit their newspapers and magazines in the incinerator rooms. A maintenance man would come around and collect them for the war effort. My father was a radical progressive, so we were never allowed to see the Journal American in our home - but they had all the great comics - so I used to guiltily take out Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon from the papers left in the incinerator room and take them into my room and hide them."

"The same thing with the Saturday Evening Post, which my father thought was antisemitic. But I loved the Post, so I'd tear off the covers and some of the interiors and hide those, too."

Murray would study the drawings of Alex Raymond and Hal Foster and try to copy them in his own drawings. "Even the way Prince Valiant was lettered," he adds.

He knew about Superman and Batman, but "comic books were a dime and there was no money in my family (or very little) so comic books were a real rarity for me." Which is ironic, because Murray's first job was working in a comic book art studio.

"I had just graduated from high school," Murray explains, "and my best friend in high school was Dick Giordano. He got a job at Iger Studios. We both interviewed the same day, but Dick was so much better than I was he got the job that same day. About three months later, I got a call to show up. I started at the same lowly job that Dick had started at, making thirty dollars a week, doing 'clean-up'. I would erase the pencil lines on the finished inked pages and I would rule the lines around the panels. And then I kind of graduated after about three weeks to doing backgrounds. And then after a while I graduated to doing figures. But no heads! One guy who was the shop 'boss' (Al something-or-other) did all the heads... male, female... and they all looked alike!"

"But I was really awful... I was not very good... and I was fired. We worked from 8:30 to 4:30 and I got called down at 4:15 and I knew I was going to be fired. I had come in about 30 seconds late that morning and (Jerry) Iger was at the door, and he looked at his wristwatch. I said, "Are you checking your pulse?" But it wasn't because of that, it was because I really wasn't very good. So around 4:15 he called me down... I had already said goodbye to everybody. I cleaned my brushes and said, "I'll meet you at the bar around the corner." So he called me down and he said, "Well, we're a little slow..." and I said, "We're not slow, everybody's busy here." I just wouldn't go down quietly. My mother always said I had a big mouth."

"Iger said, "If you don't watch your mouth, we won't call you back" and I said, "Well, I'm not coming back anyway." and I left in a huff. I went down to the bar and ordered a beer and the entire staff came down to say goodbye to me. I didn't know what the future would hold, but I did know that I was going to join the Army, and get that out of the way."

"It was the Korean War and many of my friends had already been drafted. I didn't really like the idea of getting shot at, and I had heard that the Army would accept a two-year enlistee, so I figured maybe it was better to get in and get out early."

Murray spent his first year in the Army doing art work for training aids and posters. The second year he decorated cakes and painted "Welcome to Germany" signs for newly-arrived wives of officers. He even decorated cigar bands for officers whose wives had had babies.

When he returned to civilian life he attended Cooper Union in the evenings while working days at a series "dull paste-up jobs".

Murray says, "I went from the Army to Norcross Greeting Cards. I remember it was my first job out of the Army because my mouth was filthy with 'barracks talk'. I was the only male in the department and I was so embarrased because I would just say "Fuck you" - it was just automatic... even at home I would say "pass the fucking salt"... it was awful... I lasted about three months there. I got the lowest level job, called 'scaling'. Each day or so we would get a stack of finished comp art, same size as it would eventually be reproduced. And our job was to put it in a Lucie and blow it up to half-up, and then do a precise tracing of that finished art. We'd give that to the boss of the scaling group, who would give it back to the original artist, who would then do an actual piece of finished art which would be reduced by 1/3 for printing so everything would 'tighten up'. "

Murray left Norcross for American Artists Group, another greeting card company. He had managed to sell Norcross a few actual illustrations on a freelance basis and hoped to do the same at AAG. "I was making maybe $35 a week at this point," says Murray, "So I left American Artists for yet another greeting card company, Wallace Brown..."

"... and at Wallace Brown I was making $50 a week -- but I was doing very, very well selling them groups of greeting cards for boxed sets, which would involve 12 to 24 individual paintings. I would look at what was being done and think, "well, if its good enough for Hallmark, its good enough for me." So I would do boxed sets of Christmas cards or boxed sets of Valentine cards.

And I was clinically depressed by the junk I was doing!"

* My Murray Tinkelman Flickr set.

* AND be sure to check out Charlie Allen's Blog for an amazing array of Charlie's 1950's billboard art for Chevron.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Murray Tinkelman: "The only one who had any faith in me was Chuck Cooper himself"

After spending a week on Lynn Buckham, you might think it odd when I say that Murray Tinkelman is the perfect choice as our next subject. But actually, the two have an important connection - and their careers intersect at a crucial turning point in the history of illustration.

The connection is this: both artists were represented by the Charles E. Cooper studio. And the intersection of their careers is this: In 1958, when Lynn Buckham was enjoying immense popularity with top clients like The Saturday Evening Post, he probably had no idea his days as a magazine illustrator were numbered. Meanwhile, Murray Tinkelman's were just beginning. Buckham's style of literal narrative illustration may still have been the popular look of the mainstream in the late 50's, but photography would soon grab the lion's share of a shrinking market for magazine and advertising art.

Looking back on those days, Murray Tinkelman told an interviewer in 1970, "... the role of the illustrator is changing from a descriptive one to an interpretive one. The illustration used to be redundant, really, because it was all taken directly from the text. Nowadays the artist helps tell the story, rather than just echoing the author's words."

Murray joined the Cooper Studio in 1958. "The salesmen," says Murray, "the first two years, never had any confidence that my stuff was salable. It was infuriating."

In spite of the hurdles ( Murray made only $1,800 that first year at Cooper's ) he was gaining something more valuable than money: "I was very young, and my relationship with (Coby) Whitmore, (Joe) Bowler, (Joe) DeMers, and Lorraine Fox and Bernie D'Andrea... being mentored by those wonderful narrative illustrators... meant the world to me."

"My proclivity was in a much more decorative style."

Cooper's salesmen may not have known what to make of Murray Tinkelman, but Chuck Cooper himself must have had a sense that times were changing. Perhaps that's why he decided to take a chance on the kid with the oddball style who had wandered in for an interview from his dead-end job at a third-rate greeting card company. At the time not even Murray could have anticipated what he would accomplish.

But this colour-blind kid from a poor part of town was going to surprise everyone. This week we'll find out how.

* My Murray Tinkelman Flickr set.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lynn Buckham: Advertising Art

Remember this Good Housekeeping story illustration by Lynn Buckham from Monday's post?

Well here's a curiosity... an advertising illustration (below) that also appeared in Good Housekeeping - eight months later. Is it by Buckham? It seems likely... but another Cooper artist may have used some of Buckham's reference from the same photo shoot. I can almost imagine that the genesis for the ad concept was the client (Palmolive) taking Buckham's story illustration to its agency and saying, "This is exactly what we want our next ad to look like!"

During the 1950's advertisers often tried to mimic the look of romance story art in their ads for women's magazines. The ad agency would have gone directly to Cooper's and asked for Lynn Buckham. But looking at the two images displayed together we can see how inferior the ad piece is in almost every way.

Many hands are involved in the production of ad art - many meddling hands. I'm not even sure if Buckham did the artwork. No matter who it was, I know too much about the process of consensus by committee (and clients who want more, more, more) to blame the illustrator for the results.

Here's another ad - this time definitely by Buckham - that again under-utilizes the artist's input. I'm all in favour of making good use of white space -- giving the visual room to breathe -- but this is ridiculous. Again, what a shame to invest in employing the skills of a Cooper studio artist and have this as the results. What a waste of potential.

One client that made the most of its illustrators was Pepsi. Back in February of 2007 we spent a week looking at Pepsi's 'Sociables' campaign. Many Cooper artists worked on that decade-long series, including Lynn Buckham. This July '54 ad below is from relatively early in Buckham's career at Cooper's. I said at the beginning of the week that Buckham was sort of a 'hit-and-miss' kind of illustrator, and compared to some of his other work from the same time period, I'd call this piece a miss.

Since we don't know what circumstances Buckham had to deal with in getting this piece done, I'm not going to blame him too much. He may have had to crank this out over night, or the client may have asked for endless changes. It happens.

I want to end the week on a high note, and I couldn't do that better than to show you this new scan of the very first Buckham illustration I ever saw. It still knocks me out, and I think its one of the nicest pieces by Buckham I've ever seen. Amazingly, he produced this just a year after the one above and its most definitely a hit.

So what became of Lynn Buckham after this period in his career? TI list member David Roach managed to dig up a few clues:

"As magazine work dried up in the States," writes David, "Buckham moved to the U.K where he became one of the best and most prolific women's magazine artists and also found time to illustrate several books. In the mid 70’s he returned to the U.S where he found success as a portrait painter."

I'm hopeful that one day we will learn more about the talented Mr. Buckham. For now, that's all we know.

* My Lynn Buckham Flickr set.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Quirky Lynn Buckham

When you think "Lynn Buckham" you expect to see a drawing of a pretty girl. No surprise there... Buckham was one of the best at the romance style of 1950's illustration.

And it turns out he was pretty good at situational comedy scenarios involving different character types.

But there was another side to Lynn Buckham's work that is a bit unexpected...

Buckham had a knack for drawing comical animals!

You might not think this is a big deal (and I suppose it really isn't) but it fascinates me because you don't see this oddball characteristic in the work of other artists who did the sort of "straight" realism so popular at that time.

In fact very few illustrators who did realistic illustration during the 50's ever showed a cartoony side in their work.

The exception would be the multi-talented Bob Jones, also from Cooper's.

Since we know so little about Lynn Buckham, its impossible to say where this quirky quality in his work originated. I just thought it was worth taking note of this unusual recurring device in Buckham's illustrations.

*My Lynn Buckham Flickr set.

Lynn Buckham, 1957: A Very Good Year

When, in 1957, Lynn Buckham was finally featured in a Cooper Studio ad (shown last post, below) it coincided with what must have been a very good year for the artist.

His already steady appearances in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post increased in frequency that year. As well, his picture design became extremely confident and impactful. Here was Buckham at the top of his game.

The influence of his up-close exposure to Cooper's best (Whitmore, DeMers, Bowler) is apparent in the stylistic nuances of this more mature work.

And of course, always there was a tip of the hat to the great innovator: Al Parker. (Click that link to see what I mean)

The 1950's Cooper Studio boy/girl style of romance illustration is sometimes (somewhat derisively) called the 'Big Head' style - in its ultimate form it is stripped down to this: no background or props, just a man and woman's heads (and sometimes hands) interacting in an interesting manner. In this July 1957 example Buckham shows us how he had mastered the art of the 'Big Head' style.

* Many thanks to TI list member Sean Phillips who supplied all of the scans for this post.

* My Lynn Buckham Flickr set.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lynn Buckham: Detective Work on a Career Trajectory

A note yesterday from TI list member Aron Gagliardo of the American Academy of Art in Chicago:

"Leif, Glad to see you doing a blog on Buckham. There are 2 framed tear sheets of his in my office. I ran into the same trouble trying to find info on on him while working on a history of the American Academy of Art. Here's the slim bit I have from his student records."

"Buckham was from Minneapolis and studied at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for three years after serving time in the army. He then moved to Chicago to study at the American Academy of Art. Enrolling in Lettering & Advertising Art, Buckham studied here for a total 40 week period from early September 1940 to late June of 1941. One month into the Advertising Art class he transferred to Illustration."

Aron's information on Lynn Buckham's early days got me wondering about what came next. Chicago was a huge art market... perhaps Buckham spent his early professional years toiling in one of its many commercial art studios. Perhaps he even joined the famous "Sundblom Circle" (though this is pure speculation on my part). What we know for sure is that a decade later Buckham was in New York at the prestigious Charles E. Cooper studio.

The 1951 Art Directors Annual featured a Cooper Studio ad showcasing the work of another bright young talent, Joe Bowler. Cooper's ads always listed their staff of artists alphabetically and, as you can see, in 1951 there was no sign of Buckham.

But take a look at the Cooper Studio ad from the '52 Art Directors Annual.

Uh, no fellas, I meant take a look over here - at the alphabetical artist listing. As of 1952, Lynn Buckham had arrived.

Almost immediately, Buckham's work began appearing with regularity in Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post. I have never come across a credit line in any magazine for Lynn Buckham previous to his 1952 association with Cooper. Considering the professional quality of the 1953 piece below, this virtual unknown seems to have come out of nowhere, landed fully-formed in the best studio in America, and hit the ground running. He must have been the envy of peers and competitors. Talent and connections were no guarantee of assignments from the prestigious "Seven Sisters".

To better illustrate my point: In 1957 Lynn Buckham finally got to be the showcase artist in Charles Cooper's Art Directors Annual ad.

That same year Joe Bowler finally had his first piece published in The Saturday Evening Post.

* My Lynn Buckham Flickr set.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lynn Buckham (1918 - 1982)

Lynn Buckham's work was among the very first that caught my eye way back when I first started the Today's Inspiration mailing list (several years before I began the blog). The piece below was one of the earliest scans I ever made of a mid-century illustration. I was really taken with Buckham's combining of flat design elements and 50's idealized realism. Little did I know back then that Buckham was just one of a legion of illustrators staking a claim in territory pioneered by Al Parker.

Heck, I didn't even know who Al Parker was at the time, let alone that he had pioneered anything!

Over the years since then I've returned again and again to admire Lynn Buckham's work, always planning to spend a week showcasing the artist but never getting around to it. Part of the problem is that there's almost no information available on Buckham. (In fact, with a name like Lynn, for the longest time I wasn't even sure if the artist was a man or a woman. It turns out he was a man.)

Also holding me back was that I think of Buckham as a bit of a hit-and-miss Parker acolyte. Some of Buckham's work can be pretty pedestrian (like the typical clinch shot above) - but then he would give us a fresh, exciting eye-popper like the gorgeous piece below. Wow!

So what can I say? I'm a sucker for a good, designy 1950's Cooper Studio style, and Buckham certainly deserves to be recognized as having stood shoulder to shoulder with perennial favourites like Coby Whitmore, Joe DeMers and Joe Bowler.

So this week, even lacking any real knowledge of the artist or his career, let's take a look at the always professional, often inspired work of Lynn Buckham.

* My Lynn Buckham Flickr set.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tom Lovell "down by the bay"

"Like all illustrators who do a variety of illustration," wrote Norman Kent in the December 1956 issues of American Artist, "Tom Lovell must necessarily gather the documents and research materials from libraries and other dependable sources."

"Over the years he has learned where to obtain these references and to detect authenticity when he sees it."

"To augment this study he constantly draws on a retentive memory, his own independent sketches and paintings made between commissions, and on vacation periods when, like this past summer, he traveled by car to the West Coast and back."

"Whenever possible, for an interior background or a landscape, he goes to an original source and makes a sketch on the spot."

"Lovell's color has light and paint quality while the drawing that supports it is firm and assured. He is a natural draughtsman."

"Tom Lovell has 'the capacity to take infinite pains' and this is his lodestone. This is what makes him tick but none of it, least of all his commercial success, has lessened his primary interest in the art of illustration."

* My Tom Lovell Flickr set.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tom Lovell: Dealing with "the model problem"

"To help him with the model problem Tom keeps a full-length mirror beside his easel and often poses himself..."

"... to study facial expressions, and to work out bodily actions and details of hands."

"In addition, an attractive wife..."

"... a young daughter,"

"... and a teen-aged, well-built son are often members of his private model agency."

"Also, Westport harbors a number of models whom the large concentration of illustrators use and with these and friends Tom is seldom handicapped for characters."

"Though he uses photography as an assist - sometimes employing the services of a commercial photographer, though more often using the camera himself - his final rendering is a composite of many shots and separate studies."

-Excerpt from Norman Kent's article on Tom Lovell in the December 1956 issue of American Artist magazine.

* My Tom Lovell Flickr set.