Friday, May 29, 2009

Remembering Jack Kamen

By guest author Tom Palmer:

Friday, May 29th, 2009, would have been Jack Kamen's 89th birthday. Sadly, he is gone, passing last August 5th, 2008, this is my recollection of Jack and the enormous impact he had on me and my career.

I met Jack Kamen by answering an ad in the Sunday New York Times placed by a small advertising art studio on 40th and Madison Avenue in NYC looking for a freelance board artist.

It was a serendipitous moment, arriving at the studio for an interview and being introduced to Jack, I got lost in conversation with him about comic books and almost blew the position interview. Jack was at the studio as a freelance artist doing illustrations for his clients and the studio he had space in.

Jack left EC Comics and the field a decade earlier and had built a very solid career in advertising art.

I can only describe myself as young, idealistic, enthusiastic, and clueless about this new world I had entered into. I was going to art school at night and my only experience in the field was a short stint in a big advertising studio next to Grand Central Station where I was the classic apprentice and "gopher". I would "go for" lunch and "go for" job pick ups, but never had enough time in to be given a board to work at. I did pick up enough to understand how to do a "mechanical", a mainstay in ad production at the time, and I left the studio shortly after with enough knowledge to go out and secure a studio job. It was at this moment when I walked into the studio on 40th Street and met Jack Kamen.

Jack and I hit it off immediately, I was a wide-eyed fan who could not believe that I met a celebrity, a real life comic book artist, and for Jack, I was a gushing fan in a field where advertising illustrators were a commodity and his recognition was more from an art director's appreciation for good work on time, usually without credit in print, but Jack was a very successful illustrator by any other description.

Jack Kamen and I were kindred spirits in many ways, we were both enthused fans of illustration and illustrators past and present, only he had a much bigger cache of knowledge on artists I had never heard of, and in a personal way, our early lives were similar in that we both lost our fathers when we were young. That was ultimately our true bond, he saw himself in me and I found a surrogate father.

My time in that advertising studio on Madison Avenue was spent with my drawing board just six feet from Jack's, we spent our days talking, mostly me listening, and when I had a chance to break, I got up and looked over his shoulder as he worked. He did his share of small line drawings for his advertising clients, but he also worked on very large color pieces that I considered paintings but really were Jack's multi-media works of art that rivaled the best in the field. All the time I was being exposed to skills and knowledge that would surpass those skills I was acquiring in art school, not to diminish the latter, but I've found that artistic ability can go undefined without survival skills.

Jack started me on my illustration career while in that studio, passing along some of his small clients that he had outgrown. He was my mentor and guiding light at a time when I needed it the most, a good friend and always my surrogate dad until his passing in August, 2008.

In the last year of Jack Kamen's life I had the good fortune to interview him by phone at his home in Florida about that time we spent in the studio. Prompted by Leif, who thought it a worthy subject for his illustration blog, little did I know that our unfinished discussion would be our last with many more questions to be asked and now that opportunity forever gone.

That initial interview with Jack Kamen is presented here where he discusses his unique approach to painting those magnificent large scale illustrations for Mack Truck and other well known clients.

Jack Kamen mentioned years later that his painting method was an unorthodox hodgepodge of mixed media and the use of an electric eraser to create his paintings.

Jack: "Did you know I used Prismacolor pencils along with an acrylic paint wash to create my paintings? I would use a smooth illustration board and apply my basic color in a very watery wash of acrylic, and after it dried I would start rendering with Prismacolor pencil. Then I would take an electric eraser, with a particular eraser, that when you erased anything, before you got down to removing color, you could mix the color pencil very, very smooth, almost like an oil painting."

"For instance, I would mix a puddle of acrylic paint flesh color and put that down as a watercolor wash. As soon as it dried, I would add all the details in colored pencil. In areas that needed correction I would paint opaque white acrylic and then go back and do color pencil again. The electric eraser blended all the pencil into a smooth look."

"If you look at a painting of Santa Claus, the beard is opaque white acrylic, put down as a watercolor wash, then the shading and gray tones were added in color pencil, the electric eraser gave the fuzzy look to all that."

When prompted, Jack said he heard of another artist doing something similar but had forgotten his name. He tried it with modifications and it suited his approach to painting. He said he hated painting in oil in art school, found acrylic more enjoyable, the addition of Prismacolor pencil with it's wax base, and his application of that electric eraser after, his personal painting method. Looking at the illustration samples, who would have known!

Many thanks to Tom Palmer for sharing his recollections of Jack Kamen with us. I have always had the greatest admiration for Mr. Kamen's work, and its a privilege to have hosted Tom's personal story of his friend and mentor here on Today's Inspiration.

* My Jack Kamen Flickr set.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stan Galli Remembered

Back in March I began corresponding with Tom Galli, son of West Coast illustrator, Stan Galli. I asked Tom to share some recollections from his childhood growing up in Stan Galli's home. Here's what he wrote:

There are some things from childhood that are not as fresh in my memory bank as should be, so I will just ramble on a bit...

I cannot speak for my brother Tim but I remember somehow taking Dad's illustrating for granted... Family friends were Fred Ludekens, Bruce Bomberger, Jack Dumas, Al Dorne, Stevan Dohanos, and many publications were all standard parts of our daily life. Dinner time often found us at the table looking at and discussing some illustration or other in terms of feelings evoked, color, shapes, forced, etc...

As Brooke posted on your blog, the entire neighborhood participated in most illustrations by way of posing for dad. I can now look at an illustration of dad's from way back and say oh, that is Peter or me or Tim or Jack Dumas.

Many times our school teachers would walk us up to our house to see dad and watch him work.

(Grammar school was only three blocks away in a very rural setting.) Most dads were off at work but my dad was always available at home so when a fire drill occured I thought it was time to go home. Of course I did not just go home quickly but sort of miandered up the creek from school to our house where it continued on to many of my friend's homes, so it was well past the time to reasonably go back to school.

I would go into the studio and dad would ask me why I was home so early- "they let us out early".

I was probably in the third grade or so before I noticed that not only were we a somewhat unique family but that we were growing up in a rather special neighborhood. Every one was a professional of high calliber and many of them were or became very famous. Haines Hall of Patterson & Hall lived up the street near Lawrence Halprin the famous Landscape Architect who lived close to Bruce Bomberger.

To this day we are very close friends to another neighbor and illustrator Dan Romano who lived near Joe Esherick the famous architect. The mother of one of my class mates was the Secretary Treasurer of the U.S.

One of the most unique experiences that dad's profession offered us was the ability for us to go on vacation anywhere and dad could still work.

It was not unusual for us to go to a ranch in New Mexico, rent a house on an ocean bay, to participate in a working ranch in the mountains for the entire summer. All this was considerable fun and very important in the lessons of life.

If there was anything to describe dad's success I would have to say his incredible ability to obseve and learn from it. Not just looking at everything but most importantly seeing what he looked at. The other thing about dad was his desire to expose himself and us to everything possible, not just art. My brother and I, at age 16 & 17, were sent to Texas to photograph freeways then on to New Orleans to visit dad's friends on our way to Clearwater, Florida to find and photograph a washed up palm tree on the beach... now that was an unforgetable experience!

Dad would always be 'scrapping' (tearing out pages of publications) from every source and on every conceivable subjuct. He was always studying everything from wildlife to clothing to plants to cars to ships to history to people, so that he could draw with accuracy and without future reference.

He can draw anything without reference material and at any scale and from any view point. The ceiling of my bathroom, to this day, is a scene of a giraffe and a monkey in amongst trees and grass. The entire wall of my son Tony's room was a Calvin and Hobbs scene by dad.

Dad is not a pretentious person so there was never any issue about what noteriety he may have achieved. He does not live in a big house and never drove fancy or expensive cars. He was constantly immersed in drawing. His loves in life are few: wife, drawing, family, not in any particular order. I sense that he now would like to have promoted himself for more recognition.

Sadly, Stan Galli passed away about a month ago.

Tom and I had begun these correspondences in the hopes of presenting a week-long look at his dad's career. I hope that we will still be able to do so some time soon.

* My Stan Galli Flickr set.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Frank Soltesz Remembered

"Some people are born with a natural talent that, when nurtured and developed through hard work and determination, not only provides them with a comfortable means of living but elevates them to a position of prominence and respect in their community and among their peers. Frank Soltesz was such a person; a small-town boy who loved to draw pictures and grew up to become one of the finest commercial illustrators of his time."

So begins the first paragraph of Frank Soltesz' biography as written by his son, Ken, on the website he built in 2008 to honour the memory of his father. Yes, there is now a Frank Soltesz website!

When I first wrote about Soltesz' remarkable cutaway illustrations for Armstrong's Industrial Insulations it set off a firestorm of interest around the Internet. But Soltesz himself remained a complete mystery. Out of the blue, this comprehensive Soltesz website appeared last year. I was so pleased to be able to contact Ken Soltesz and let him know how his father has a new generation of admirers. Ken wrote back:

"Thank you for your email and the very kind sentiments. I wish you had known my dad. He loved to "talk shop" with fellow illustrators."

"I may someday decide to redo the website - with a better presentation and more illustrations [especially more of his commercial work]. This was my first attempt at making a website, and it's a bit amateurish. When I do, I might like to see what you have. My dad saved examples of all his work, but one day he got tired of all the piles of magazines and he went through them, cut out all of his artwork, and pasted them into scrapbooks - using rubber cement. The glue seeped through the paper, badly discoloring the artwork. So now I have boxes of almost useless material."

"I've enjoyed your website; especially the pictures of other artists workspaces."

Best regards, ...Ken Soltesz

Armstrong Insulations was certainly one of Frank Soltesz' major advertising accounts during the late-40's... another seems to have been TWA Airlines. Usually Soltesz illustrated large single scenes as in the example above...

... but here's an interesting variation where the client utilized Soltesz' skill at rendering complex architecture...

... and his expertise with cutaway illustrations.

I encourage you to visit Frank and read this lovingly presented story of an illustrator who produced some outstanding and singularly unique work.

* My Frank Soltesz Flickr set.

John Fulton Remembered

Not long after I spent a week on the artists of Blue Book magazine, the following email arrived:

Hi Leif,

I ran across your Blog on the Pulp Blue Book Illustrators and saw the article about "Gramps" (my grandpa) John Russell Fulton. It truly made me happy and I have to show it to my dad. Gramps did a lot of oil paintings, too, but I personally enjoy the thick scratchy lines of his illustrations.


Imagine my delight! Carol and I began corresponding about her Gramps. Here's her next note:

Hi Leif,

I'll see what kind of information I can gather from my dad or from the Fulton archives for you. (Gramps died when I was about 14, and although I could relate to you some facts about his career, they are a little vague.)

Next time Carol wrote, she confirmed some of the things I had surmised in my initial post about Fulton and the other 'old school' Blue Book artists:

...surrounding the "ousting" of this group of pulp illustrators from Bluebook... it jibes with what my dad can recollect/what I can find in the files we have. Because, -- in the brief phone convo. with my dad the other day (btw-- when I told him about you, he was happy that someone took note of his "Pop") he rambled in his grumpy old man voice about the "big jerk" at Bluebook (LOL) who was apparently behind the oustings/replacements, and mentioned another "real good guy" at the top who was friends with Pop, but unfortunately got ousted along with the illustrators.

This was really interesting to hear. The next time Carol visited with her dad, she sent even more detailed information about the situation her Gramps had had to deal with at Blue Book, which had been one of his important accounts at that time:

I just got back from a (not long enough) trip to my parents' house. My dad's memory is in a pretty bad state, and I needed to go through many papers and letters, etc.. myself and read and sift to get Fulton information. Luckily, my dad began a memoir-type thing about Gramps, and I was able to, with old bios, collect interesting facts. I have also been writing down things myself. When I put it together, along with my impressions of Gramps, I will send it to you.

A few things stuck out in my mind to tell you when I was searching:

-How important it is for an artist to document all their own work so their kids/grandkids have a record of what they did, and when they did it-- no matter how seemingly mundane the artist thinks the work is. (A lot of Gramps' illustrations have no date or record of for what magazine they were for-- yikes!--- and we grandkids (4 of us) have no idea in what magazine they appeared. There are names of products he designed for with no pictures and pictures of products; with no dates or where they appeared. I don't think Gramps thought of these as art, merely work.

-How right you are when you mentioned the importance of adapting your illustrations to the changing times and moving forward. Not sticking in one style, but progressing. And not merely *knowing* you have to, but doing it, no matter if it seems uncomfortable in the beginning. Although my dad said Gramps did his best work after the magazine illustration years (when he really found out what his capacity was as an artist), he always yearned for those good old illustration days in N.Y. and always wanted to move back.

-One of the Blue Book covers (the "Men of America" series, I think), had Mark Twain on the cover. (Mark Twain's cousin Cyril Clemens, wrote Blue Book a postcard to the editor (Kennicot?) to congratulate Gramps on his accurate rendition of the scene.) My dad said that the original cover oil-illustration was lost. I just found it being auctioned on Huh.

-I also found this interesting letter written by my Grandma to someone about Gramps' friendship to Kennicot, and Kennicot's "sudden retirement" and the "killing of Kennicot's Blue Book", and she'd have to go into the "long story" later-- but the rest of the letter was missing!

Needless to say, although I gleaned much info., I also realized that, unfortunately, my dad only organized things part way, and there are lots of loose ends that need to be sorted, documented and dated.

Anyway, I will get back to you when I straighten out what I have.

Take care, Carol

Since that time, Carol has done an amazing job of researching her Gramps' career... and just today, by coincidence, she sent a wonderful assortment of scans that she and her brother prepared from the family's files. With all this material on John Russell Fulton ready to go, you can expect to see a week on the artist, guest-authored by his granddaughter, Carol, some time very soon!

* My John Russell Fulton Flickr set.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Pete Hawley Remembered

One of the nicest things about putting together Today's Inspiration is being contacted by people who have a personal connection to an artist I've featured. Often they will share with me some fond memories of that loved one whom we know only through the work we admire. This is always especially exciting for me! Its wonderful to learn a little about the person behind the art from someone who knew them as a teacher, friend, or family member. This week I'd like to share some of those correspondences with you.

A little while ago I receive an email from Shelley Nugent. In July of 2007 I wrote about her grandpa, Pete Hawley. Shelley offered to fill in some background details about his career. We began corresponding and I asked Shelley to tell me what she remembered about her grandpa. Here's what she wrote...

"My grandparents lived in Sedona and we lived in Phoenix (120 miles apart) so we saw my grandparents a lot. Actually, I was born in Cottonwood (15 minutes from Sedona, there wasn't a hospital there yet). My parents lived up there when my dad came back from Vietnam. I was born , the first grandchild on July 13th on my grandpa's birthday 5 weeks early. He used to like to say he got a pear tree and a granddaughter that year for his birthday. I'll be 41 this July."

"We saw them a lot. My dad was very close to his parents. He never missed a Mother's or Father's Day with them. He has an older sister Susan who still lives in my grandparent's house and a younger sister Jane. She died in 1993. She was my favorite Aunt. My grandpa had a studio off the kitchen with it's own bathroom. It had windows all the way around it. When you'd open the door, you'd have to step down 2 steps. It always smelled like old man Old Spice and paint."

"He would take pictures of neighbor kids or us kids to use for his drawings. He used his kids a lot when they were little, they were beautiful kids. He had this black & white Polaroid camera that spit the pictures out and they smelled really bad until they dried. I don't know exactly when he retired, my dad might know. I remember him working until I was in my teens I think."

"When I was little I would bring him his cookies and Instant breakfast at lunchtime and stir his water bowl (where he'd rinse his brush) and make all his cigarette ashes come back to the top. (He smoked for a little while) Unless he needed my help with something, we didn't bother him. If I was quiet I could color on the floor. He worked for American Greetings then."

"He would on his own make Xmas cards for his friends depicting the menagerie of dogs & cats he and my grandma had. He had really nice handwriting. I know that he wrote left handed, but I actually think he could paint with both."

Above, a photo from 1979. Shelley writes, "12/21/1979 My Aunt Jane (now deceased), my younger sister, my grandpa and me."

* Shelley is helping me develop a week-long series about her grandpa, Pete Hawley, which I hope to bring to you some time soon.

* My Pete Hawley Flickr set.

Friday, May 22, 2009

NCS Luminaries: Frank Springer

I'm sitting in my hotel room at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel on the afternoon before the 2009 Reubens Awards and preparing this final post on the Luminaries of the NCS series! Ain't technology grand? Since this is the final post, I felt it would only be fitting to honour Frank Springer, long-time member and past-president of the NCS.

Many thanks to Dave Karlen for his generous assistance with this week's look at some of the luminaries of the National Cartoonists Society. Today we 'reprint' Dave's post on NCS member, Frank Springer:

"Here is the short N.C.S. bio [written during Springer's '95-'97 NCS presidency] on one of the longest lasting artists in comics, Frank Springer, whose wild point of view was always welcome as seen in this example from Dell's mystery anthology book."

"Born, December 6, 1924 in New York city. Malverne L.I.H.S. in 1948. Bachelor of Arts from Syracuse University in 1952. U.S. Army 1952-1954. Assistant to George Wunder on "Terry" 1955-1960. Freelance ever since. Comic books for Dell, D.C., Marvel, - Sports, Political cartoons for New York Daily News, Newsday and others."

"Illustrated strips for Playboy, National Lampoon, Inside Sports, Games. Drew "The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist "(Grove Press) with the late - alas - Michael O'Donoghue."

"My own strip "The Virtue of Vera Valiant" with Stan Lee - fun while it lasted. Animated some Saturday A.M. mayhem - "Space Ghost" - with a group which expanded - later- into "The Berndt Toast Gang" - now the Long Island chapter of the N.C.S. Currently illustrating "The Adventures of Hedley Kase" for "Sports Illustrated for Kids". Member of National Cartoonist Society since 1965 - category awards, comic books for 1973, 1977, 1982, served on board for off & on, eight years - currently president."

"Married Barbara Bunting in 1956 and we have five wonderful children. Acted in amateur theater for twenty years, biked across Iowa a few times, ran a marathon, followed the Mets. Toughest- the later. Enjoy opera, vintage pop & jazz. Live on the water in Damariscotta, Maine after sixty five years on Long Island. As you see by this sub-par lettering, I'm a lefty."

* Thanks to Dave Karlen for providing the text and original art scans above! I wanted to just add that it was an honour to meet Frank Springer at last year's Reubens Awards in New Orleans. Below is a photo of Frank (center) from that 2008 event, courtesy of my pal, Mike Lynch. At the time, I had no idea it would be the first and last time I'd meet Frank, whose work I'd always greatly admired... sadly, he passed away on April 2nd of this year.

Hy Eisman stands on Frank's right in this photo and on his left is Stan Goldberg. In a much longer, extremely comprehensive bio on Frank Springer on wikipedia, Stan is quoted as saying, "Very few people could surpass him as an artist, as a gentleman, and as a true gentleman in my field. . . . When you see a Frank Springer job, you know it's going to be the best job in the world."

To leave you with one final quote, I asked Thomas B. Sawyer (who was the subject of a week of posts here last year) about Frank. He called him "a lovely guy, handsome, witty, theatrical and colorful."

I know we at the National Cartoonists Society will all miss him.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

NCS Luminaries: Jack Kent

Continuing, with the generous assistance of Dave Karlen, this week's look at some of the luminaries of the National Cartoonists Society. Today we 'reprint' Dave's post on NCS member, Jack Kent:

"Another favorite in my series of cartoonist from the National Cartoonist Society archives is the whimsical beloved strip King Aroo by Jack Kent."

"The artist's open loose-lined art style coupled with its many sophisticated puns and wonderful wordplay had many fans compare his work to classic strips like Pogo, Barnaby, Little Nemo, and Krazy Kat."

"Here is Kent's short bio from the NCS archives in his own words:"

"Getting from 1920 to the present with a minimal loss of parts and faculties has been my most noteworthy accomplishment. Along the way I have drawn a few cartoons and magazine gags before and after my stint with the army in WWII (1st Lt, FA)."

"The very comic strip King Aroo, which ran (or jogged) for fifteen years, beginning in 1950, made me world famous for blocks around."

"Since 1967 have been writing and illustrating children's book's."

"There have been over forty up to this time, (2:45 PM but my watch may be slow) and more are in the womb."

"I'm having more fun, my wife is an angel, my son is a genius, and I am thrice blessed."

* Thanks to Dave Karlen for the King Aroo original art scan near the top of this post, as well as for today's text.

*The King Aroo Sunday strip is courtesy of Sherm Cohen, who has much more about King Aroo on his blog, Cartoon Snap! Thanks Sherm!

The Jack Kent children's book covers were found at