Monday, April 13, 2009

Tom Lovell: Friends and Influences

Tom Lovell was born in New York in 1908 and grew up in Nutley, New Jersey. He was always interested in drawing. That interest lead him to the painting and illustration department at Syracuse University, where he studied under Hibbard Kline. During his Junior year he managed to land paying work from some smaller New York publishers of 'pulp magazines' doing drybrush illustrations. Lovell felt a great sense of accomplishment to be doing commercial work while he was still a student. By his Senior year he was working steadily for the 'pulps' and besides his black and white drawings Lovell was doing one cover a month in oils.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree Lovell moved to New York where he shared a studio with Harry Anderson (below). He stayed for two years, but it was the height of the Great Depression and the going was tough. In 1933 he moved home to his parent's place in Nutley and converted a barn on their property into a studio.

In 1934 Tom Lovell got married. He kept busy with whatever artwork assignments he could find. His first big break came in 1937 when he once again went to New York with a new set of samples and, on the first day of visiting publishers, he landed two assignments - one for This Week and the other for Red Book. Lovell's work caught the attention of other publishers and gradually assignments began coming in from American, True, Cosmo, McCall's, Collier's and, as seen below, Woman's Home Companion.

In 1938 the Lovells moved to New Rochelle, New York. Here he met two illustrators who would become good friends and his "unofficial art directors"; Donald Teague (below)...

... and Mead Schaeffer (below). These two accomplished artists, both of whom had already achieved the pinnacle of success for an illustrator of those times (doing work for The Saturday Evening Post) must have been exceptional advisors for Lovell.

Both Teague and Schaeffer had themselves had the guidance of Dean Cornwell, and both were devoted to the master's philosophy of studious research, preliminary studies and trial compositions -- traits they must have passed on to Lovell...

... as will become apparent tomorrow when we look at Lovell's own working methods.

* James Gurney has a new post on Tom Lovell here.

* David Saunders has a photo and biography of Tom Lovell and many examples of his early 'pulp' artwork here.

* My Tom Lovell Flickr set.


  1. Leif, thanks for the spotlight on Lovell. I think he was one of the best of the mid-century illustrators. He had a long career, and it's hard to pinpoint the decade a piece of his was done because he was so timeless and consistent. He seemed to channel Sargent and Zorn, who were among his heroes.

    He was also generous with his help for younger illustrators. I once wrote him for advice on a couple of pieces, and he wrote back reminding me to keep down the chroma in skin tones and downplay highlights, so as to keep the figures from looking like "painted dolls."

  2. Hi James;

    Thanks for all that great additional info! How lucky for you to have corresponded with Lovell and had the benefit of his advice. It had slipped my mind that you recently posted about Lovell - my apologies... I've added a link now at the end of today's post for those interested in taking a look. :^)

  3. My dad subscribed to True Magazine (and bought occasional copies of Argosy) when I was a boy in the early-mid 1950s. I remember the picture of the whale ramming the Essex in the pages of one of the True magazines, as well as a number of the other pictures you've shared.

    I found them frightening and fascinating. I was too young for much of the subject matter, and many of the stark and lurid images stayed with me for years afterward. They indeed had a power and attraction, as you've said elsewhere, that isn't present any longer in magazines.

    Thanks for the images and the sharing, Leif.

  4. My pleasure, BP. And of course what's been pointed out already is how versatile Lovell was, to be able to do both convincing adventure imagery and beautiful romance artwork. I wanted to highlight that agin today by sticking that one piece from Woman's Home Companion in the middle of all that men's adventure bombast. That ability should not be considered too lightly. few illustrators could do both (or were allowed to by their clients). Thanks for your comment! :^)

  5. Deiter of Venice, CA3:03 AM

    Welcome back, Leif! Thanks for doing this great service that you do.

    That whale slamming the boat picture is amazing. Really evocative! Lovell was indeed an illustrative genius.

    (I remember when True and Argosy were available at the drugstore all those ages ago.)