Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Robert Heindel: "Illustration... a valuable creative tool"

Here's something I found a while ago in a used book store. The Strathmore Paper Company commissioned a series of dancer paintings by Robert Heindel to demonstrate how effectively his work prints on a variety of their paper surfaces.

I've included Heindel's remarks on each piece from the inside flap of the brochure. Be sure to read the last two paragraphs of the Heindel bio at the end of this post. David Apatoff spoke with Heindel in 2005, a few months before the artist passed away. Heindel had some harsh but refreshingly honest views about the state of the illustration business today:

"The business of illustration is literally nonexistent today.... When Bernie Fuchs and I did what we did, it was a different world. We had to make a lot of hard decisions as things changed. Where do kids starting out today take their talent if they want to do what we did? I would say they’re fucked. There is nothing for them. They can’t follow the path that Bernie and I followed any longer. And our society is pretty unforgiving for those who make the wrong judgments."

Although Heindel's comments from this Strathmore brochure are from a quarter century earlier than his discussion with David, they already hint at the same concerns. Illustrators, designers and art directors, especially younger pros, should give Heindel's entirely valid comments some very serious consideration. He was talking about all of our futures, but especially yours - only you have the ability to effect a change.

My Robert Heindel Flickr set.

*ALSO* Be sure to check out Charlie Allen's latest CAWS at Charlie Allen's Blog - most especially if you are a fan of aviation art!


  1. Around the same time as this brochure, Strathmore made an excellent promotional film showing the work of many top illustrators. I can't recall the title.

  2. Luckily for us there are now options for illustrators that didn't even exist in Robert Heindel's day - video game design, special effects design and graphic novels to name a few. We may not have his opportunities but we do have our own.

  3. Robert Heindel was always one of my top, top favorite illustrators when I was in art school. I collected many of his illustrations. His ability to pull a figure out of the shadows always completely intrigued me. He rendered his figures with sensitivity and vulnerability, and yet, I believe I remember reading that he was also a great business man. While I agree with him that things have changed drastically and are in the process of evolving in the field of illustration, it's crucial for artists to maintain a positive outlook. The art of illustration is an essential part of our cultural storybook and it will adapt and survive the transitions.

  4. Well I just had to comment on this one. I met Robert at ILM when he came to visit his son Toby who was a camera assistant/gopher back then. He definitely came off like he had a chip on his shoulder...right up there with Bob Peak.

    Hey, nobody paints traditional matte paintings like I had a chance to. Things change and as illustrators, change is built into the system. We adapt or perish.

    He reminds me of Bob Dylan's harangues that there is no longer any good music being made. These are old men who can't handle the train leaving the station. There...I said it.

  5. Bhob;

    That film sounds tantalizing! Hopefully someone with more access will contact us...

    Larry, Laurie and Frank; I applaud you for your positive outlook. I find myself going back and forth between optimism and pessimism on this subject. Recently I stumbled upon a post on art rep Anna Goodson's blog. It addresses one of the real hurdles in today's illustration market: the complicity of illustrators in devaluing their industry. The post is hereI'd be interested in getting your opinion after you've had a chance to read it. As Laurie says, there are evolving processes in the field of illustration - Frank makes the realistic point: adapt or die.

    One of the important aspects of the history of illustration that I try to emphasize on this blog is that "all of this has happened before - and will happen again." But adaptation is just one option, in my opinion... hopefully without coming off like a cranky old codger, I would like to see some element of the traditional illustration market preserved... hell - even nurtured! That is: it should be more than possible for illustrators to make a good living doing what we do. This seems to be tougher and tougher to accomplish as the years go by. Yes there is an abundance of illustration out there today - sites like Flickr and Deviant Art and Concept Art and the nearly infinite number of art blogs are a testament to the passion people have for expressing themselves 'on paper'. But how many of those (often extremely talented) artists are making a great (not just so-so, but great) living from their art?

    Is illustration becoming the domain of the part-timer and hobbyist?

  6. Thanks for another great post, Leif.

    For those commenters who construe Heindel's comments as arrogant or discouraging, I have to tell you that he was the complete opposite when I spoke with him. He was very self-effacing, joking about how whenever he competed with Bernie Fuchs for an assignment, he knew that Bernie was so good he was going to "kick the shit out of you." And he said, very poignantly, "You realize when you get to be my age that you aren’t really as good as you wanted to be. You have to confront the question, 'how good am I? Why can’t I be better?'" I was deeply impressed with him as a human being.

    I think the important lesson from the language you quoted is that you can't come out of art school assuming you will be doing full page illustrations for fiction in the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and McCalls. If you want a meaningful life, you are going to have to fight for it, and maybe reinvent yourself a few times and keep your eyes and mind open. The bottom fell out of the illustration market halfway through Heindel's career, but it drove him to invent his own new market, painting dance posters that were sold as limited edition lithographs. It was a gamble, but if it had not turned out to be wildly successful, he would have just tried something else, and kept on trying until he succeeded.

  7. David's comments on Heindel are 100% right on the money. I would say the one thing David left out, having met Robert decades back myself, was Robert's lusty joy over the human body, and most especially his wife's!

  8. I agree with Leif and wonder many of the same things. One concern I often have is the fast deadlines (along with fees that haven't gone up in years).

    Does an illustrator today need to do a million illustrations a year just to make a living? Of course a million is an exaggeration but you get the point.

    I don't know a lot about Robert Heindel but in some ways I think he's a good example for artists today. He adapted when the business changed.

  9. Leif,

    First off , I read the Reps comments and part of me thinks she doth protesteth too much. Art reps are like a " Union Lite" they want to keep prices high. Sometimes , like Detroit unions , they can become part of the problem and stock art does serve a purpose for those company's that just need a budget image to sell a bolt and screw. But on the other hand, a great rep is also priceless.

    Can you make a great living as an illustrator. If you mean living the life of Trump...then I don't know of anyone like that. But if you mean waking up next to the wife you love, typing smack on your laptop while some other guy is battling the traffic commuting to a job he hates making big bucks ...then yes.

    Most of my Art Center buds are highly succesful. Some more so than others. But I have never heard them wish they would do something else.

    Most of us have adapted. The key, especially for young illustrators, is to Create DEMAND for your work. I remember when Mark Fredrickson hit the scene. His work was so greatly unusual and good that he took the market by storm. I remember talking to him...he could not keep up with the demand!

    Many people cry out...I need a job...where are the jobs? I say...create your job...create your market.

    My friend and hero Jim Gurney, CREATED his market. He is dah man!

  10. Frank;

    Thanks for that honest opinion. On the one hand, I'm inclined to agree with your free market capitalist philosophy. I think you have a brutally realistic view of the business as it fits into the larger picture of the entrepeneurial spirit.

    Still, keeping the union rhetoric and rep-bashing out of it, don't you think its imperetive for older illustrators (and good reps) to work to maintain certain monetary standards for the business to continue to thrive?

    Let me put it in personal terms: if tomorrow you wake up and find the market has shifted in a way where you are being consistently outbid on projects by extremely talented kids (and experienced pros from other countries with lower standards of living) who will do the same quality of work as you for a quarter of what you would normally charge, and 6 months down the road you discover that 1/4 of your usual rate has become the typical budget you are presented with, will you simply accept that?

    I guess the answer would be, "what other choice would you have?"

    The point being that as the erosion of budgets continues, we end up with the scenario Daniel proposed: that you have to do a million illustrations a year to maintain the same level of income you've built your standard of living around! This has actually come to pass for me and many of my friends with 20 or so years of experience under our belts.

    Now, that being said, I've re-invented my style a dozen times, and found many ways to creatively market myself. I've connected with some decent and loyal clients in the process. But that doesn't discount what I see as a general steady erosion in the status and respect we and our clients and the general public have for this profession.

    And I wonder how healthy that is for the entire next generation of illustrators. Because I don't see a thriving illustration business today - I see a lot of talented individuals lowering their expectations.

  11. Leif,

    I guess we come from the same era as I have made a living from art and illustrating after graduating Art Center in 1980.

    I hope I did not come off as a rep basher. I believe I said a good rep is priceless...but she put me in a sour mood with her mention of not blaming Republicans, insinuating all art types are dems.

    Well, the art market is experiencing the same problems as home builders. My neighbor can get his roof done with a team of illegals for $9000 while a another contractor who pays legals and workers comp can't bid lower than $15000. Many are forced to hire unregistered workers just to compete.

    That said, artists that under bid will always be with us. I guess I have been fortunate enough to have clients that need my services. I have accepted as a Darwinian truth that other than create an Art Union, there is no practical way to enforce pricing standards from art buyers.

    I used to get $6000 for movie poster comps back in the late 70's. Those jobs are GONE for illustrators like me unless you go digital or have such a recognizable style ( demand again ) like Drew Struzan. I remember hearing a talk he gave where he was paid $35,000 for "The Name of the Rose" movie poster.

    But I also share your concern that the playing field is not even and that what once seemed so attractive has changed. I have learned not to get bitter but I also have not taken work where I know I will spend alot of man hours for little money. Let the other guys do that.

    I had so much fun matte painting traditionally at ILM. Boy was that great. That too is GONE now.Its all cut and paste photos.

    But illustration and Art have been very good to me. I can't complain. What a privilege to be able to make a living painting pictures. Praise God!

  12. Well put, Frank; And apologies if it sounded like I was suggesting you were rep bashing - I meant that in broader general terms to whomever might be reading, because I suspect this kind of discussion could easily go off-track on a topic like that. :^)

    I also feel very lucky to have the freedom to make my own hours and get paid to draw. Those of us who do are incredibly fortunate. I just hope that something resembling what I do now is still around in 20 or 30 years, because I'm not sure I want to keep learning new software and figuring out ways to work faster to accomodate shrinking budgets. Then I look at the history of the business and think, "but realistically, what aspect of this business is today as it was 20 or 30 years ago?"

    And the answer of course is, "Very little!"

  13. Leif,

    But don't you find that you are naturally faster now anyway? And that your experience gives you an edge.

    The best advice I took was from an air brush artist , Fred Nelson . I was his assistant when I was first starting out and cutting frisket for him ( glad that thing is dead!) and he told me...Frank ...learn how to paint that way you don't end up like me slaveing over every job cutting and spraying . He was paid well , but he showed me a better way.

  14. Hah - yeah, I am faster, that's true - but I don't always want to have to race through my jobs, which is becoming more and more the case.

    Even so, you're positive attitude is admirable, Frank. Thanks! :^)

  15. I have been also known to be dillusional. ;v)...hey gang , if we all stand at the other end of the Titanic the force of our weight might keep it from sinking!

  16. Bob Heindel was one of my favorite artist.

    I just happened to find a limited edition print of his at Goodwill. Signed by the artist 3/1000. Poster of 1986 NCAA Basketball Final Four. He will be missed greatly!

  17. Very interesting post - so happy to have come across it. I also was a huge fan of his work while in school, not to mention while still doing ballet regularly. I was fortunate that my father was close friends with him and his work was always prominently displayed in our home, and I have some pieces personally signed to me. @Hamlin Design - since the death of my father I am in possession of far too many pieces to display - I'd never drop them at Goodwill but if you are interested...