Friday, July 31, 2009

Ray Prohaska: "the more he fished, the more he painted."

A Ray Prohaska illustration recognized for an Award of Merit by the New York Art Directors Club, 1947...

... and another, from a decade later.

I asked Ray's son, Tony, if his dad felt obliged to experiment with new styles during the 50's, to keep up with changing trends.
Tony replied, "I think the Art Directors kind of dictated that (the style thing)."

"I remember Ray saying, in the late fifties and sixties, that all they wanted was Bob Peak. He also refered to some of that loose later style as the "it's raining all the time", style. "

In spite of that (and from what we've seen, Ray did enjoy experimenting with style now and then) he seems to have still found a certain amount of work from the magazines for his more tradititional approach, even in the late 50's-to-early sixties.
The pieces above and below are from 1959 and 1962, respectively.

As well, Tony writes, "as the business declined in the sixties, two clients that he found were the AMA Journal, and Standard Oil's house organ.., he did a few covers for each one as I remember, and they were good."

Tony writes, "I'd probably be right in saying that Ray felt that he, Ray, and Wally Morgan (another old guy that my father was great friends with), were the best draftsmen around....Ray used the term draftsmen alot, to connote drawing." That's a statement that makes me wonder, in conjunction with Ray's somewhat frustrated sounding comment about all art directors wanting Bob Peak and the "rainy day" look, if he didn't feel somewhat demoralized by the decline of the illustration business as it had been until around 1960.

But in his biography of his father at, Tony describes a far happier situation:

"When not illustrating, he was busy painting portraits, until, that is, he discovered the East End of Long Island. Then the sea began to demand his attention, and he began to divide his time between painting and fishing. At first his paintings were realistic, rock pools and the driftwood and skate eggs that line the shore, but they became more abstract, more rhythmic, and more involved in the action of fishing. And the more he fished, the more he painted."

And this final bit, from one of our correspondences: "... he had a pretty content old age, as far as it went."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ray Prohaska: Art Reps & Art Directors

Ray Prohaska was represented by Lester Rossin Associates - the same studio that represented David Stone Martin. Though Rossin had quite a few high profile artists (including Ray) in his 'stable', almost every Lester Rossin ad I've seen from the early 50's features Martin's art ( as in the example below).

In 1956 Ray Prohaska received an Award of Merit for the piece below from the New York Art Directors Club. (Tony Prohaska writes, "I remember posing for one of the kids on the jetty.")

That year, Ray's illustration was at last featured in the top spot of a Lester Rossin group ad in the back pages of the '56 Art Director's Annual.

Tony had a summer job one year at Rossin's studio. He describes what it was like:

"Lets see...Rossin's was one floor... a receptionist, and maybe six people in the bull pen, including one very good letterer, another guy who did airbrush, and several people who did layouts, spots, and retouching. I think there were either three or four salesmen, maybe more, but I don't remember... and Rossin did sales too. I was in the production department, and did deliveries, mattes, wrapping packages, that kind of stuff. There were two of us gofers and a production manager, named Charlie Stubbs. My fellow gofer was Fred Travelena, who became a well known comedian, and died just a couple of weeks ago."

"I'm not sure if Ray ever had an other full time agent in N.Y., beside Rossin. He thought that all agents were crooks, but that you had to find a crook that wasn't too bad. Rossin occassionally would have one of his in-house studio people do a fake Ray Prohaska. I found that out when I worked that summer job for Rossin. Ray said he knew about it, figured it wasn't out of control."

"He was friends with a guy who'd been an agent and who moved out to Amagansett around the time we did, named Jim Perkins."

Looking over James Perkins' and Lester Rossin's artist lists, we can see some of the biggest names in the New York illustration scene of the day - and see also how close knit the entire community of graphic arts professionals were, socially and professionally.

But did Ray get all his jobs by way of his rep, or did he also take his portfolio around to show to art directors?

Tony writes, "He did get quite a few jobs direct, without Rossin, but I suppose he'd pay him anyway, I'm not sure. Also, his relationship with J. Walter Thompson was an old one, and he kept that up, went up to their offices quite a bit. I think he felt that he was treated o.k. by [Saturday Evening Post AD] Frank Kilker..."

"I'd have to say that one of his favorite jobs was a job he did for Frank Zachery, who was then at Holiday, I'm sure you know of him... it was an illustration of an African scene. He loved Frank. Frank rented the house next door to us one summer, and after that, rented down at the beach every year for several years."

"In general though, art directors were the bane of his existence, and we were under strict orders not to tell them he was fishing, or they'd think he wasn't busy."

"You had to be busy or you were dead, was how he put it."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ray Prohaska and Friends, Part 2

Tony Prohaska writes, "Ray was a member of the Society of Illustrators from the time he moved permanently from Chicago to New York, sometime after the ‘29 Crash. Through the S.I., Ray became friends with all the illustrators in N.Y. at the time, but his particular favorite, almost a father figure, was Arthur William Brown. Ray and Carolyn were constant companions with “Brownie” . He was a frequent visitor in the early day’s of their life in Amagansett."

"Their particular friends in those days included Al Dorne and his wife Edna, Bob and Aggie Fawcett, ……and I’ll think of the others as I go along."

"Al Dorne though, would not go below 14th St. Carolyn said she thought it had something to do with not going out of his father’s precinct. Supposedly, his father was a cop."

"Ray was also friends with many of the artists at the 10th Street Studios, where he kept a studio. (They had an apartment across the street, where I lived as an infant.) Ray became buddies at 10th Street with John Alan Maxwell. Ray liked to drink and chase women... [and] was accused by Johnny’s wife of leading him astray."

When I found this ad it occurred to me that Tony's dad might have pressed some of his illustrator friends into service to pose for the reference photos. Tony replied, "I'm pretty sure the young man on the left was a local kid,"

"... but he may have also used a professional model or two, or even as you say, one of his friends, for one or more of the older guys..."

"The guy with the pencil moustache looks like Johnny Maxwell."

Then I found the scan below of a Ray Prohaska original, from a 1950 story for the Saturday Evening Post on the Heritage Auctions website. I had to ask Tony... did he pose for this piece?

He replied, "Yeah, the posing. I hated it. Seemed like I was doing it all the time. I sort of felt that every one of his jobs had a kid who just happened to be my age. He had big, old fashioned lights, including one that was like a theater light. It was..., "hold still, just one more.." and then, another roll... and of course there was sitting on some stranger's lap, male or female.., balancing on one foot to look like I was running, of course there were telephone books as props..."

"No, there were no other illustrators that used me, ....other than after I was grown, when I did a few posing jobs for Al Moore, (a teriffic guy!) who had the studio across the hall from the one that Ray inherited from Brownie, at 33W. 67th. (I eventually got him kicked out of there for a couple of parties I gave... and some rowdy visitors, to put it mildly)."

"That boy with the dog was both me and my friend Mickey Miller... He just turned 67 and is a commercial fisherman."

Tony adds, "My parents were great friends with Leonard Starr. My father and I modeled for two of his characters, circus performers... my character was Tony Abbott. For years afterwards my friends called me 'The Boy Cartoon'."

* Tony Prohaska has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* Thanks to Heritage Auctions for permission to use the scan of Ray Prohaska's original art above.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ray Prohaska and Friends, Part 1

* I asked Tony Prohaska if his dad socialized much with any other big name illustrators and - wow! - the stories! As well as being immensely entertaining, these anecdotes shed some light on the status enjoyed by illustrators of that time as legitimate celebrities in their own right.

From Ray Prohaska's son, Tony:

"When Ray first came to New York he became friends with James Montgomery Flagg, who took him on as kind of a protégé.

My parents met at a party at Flagg’s house, in 1935. Several other illustrators were at this party, as well as members of the press, both radio and print. Most of the revelers belonged to one, if not all, of the following clubs; The Society of Illustrators, Artists and Writers, and The Dutch Treat Club."

"Carolyn, who knew many of the revelers, told it to me this way: There was a guy named Jimmy Stranahan, who was always in the picture. He had a girlfriend, and they were draped over a sofa."

"Ray was in the kitchen and everyone was jumping with the red wine, and suddenly he, Ray, emerged from his labors. He was doing the cooking. He said to Carolyn, “What are you, the intellectual type?” No, [ she said, ] she wasn’t going to play that game. Instead, she countered with, “Read any good books lately?” and Ray started telling her about The Natives Return, Louis Adamic’s book. Carolyn said, “Well, I’ve read The Return of the Native,” but Ray brushed that aside. “ I am a peasant! I’m going back!” he exclaimed. He was going back to Yugoslavia. They must have hit it off, because the rest of the party they both remembered as boring."

"Carolyn later remembered Carl Muller’s girlfriend, Ruth, complaining because Merrill, Carl’s son, who was all of eighteen then, had run up a $15 dollar a month dry cleaning bill! She always remembered that every time, years later, she watched Merrill on the news. ( By the time of J.F.K.’s presidency, he had become an anchor for NBC News.)”

"After Ray and Carolyn met, they sort of went steady for a few years, before getting married, and they “partied” a lot. Ray had a cast iron stomach, and never became an alcoholic (at least as I understand the term, clinically)."

"Another 'drunk vs. cast iron stomach' was Ray’s friend Bob Fawcett. Fawcett got drunk at our house in Amagansett a few times, and once, when I was about six or seven, took me into the studio and gave me a drunken lecture about what an obnoxious brat I was. I might have been, but he’s the only one who ever told me I was."

* Tony has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ray Prohaska (1901-1981)

Recently I received a note from Tony Prohaska, the son of prominent mid-century illustrator Ray Prohaska - another artist I've been meaning to devote some time to on the blog. Prohaska was born in Mulo, Yugoslavia and came to the U.S. as a child. He studied art in San Francisco and found work on the West Coast and Chicago before moving to New York in 1930. There he established a successful career illustrating for all the major magazines and for advertising clients. He won many exhibition awards and served as president of the Society of Illustrators in 1959-60.

Looking at this small sampling of Prohaska's work, I'm fascinated by the tremendous variation in styles. You may be surprised to hear that the top piece was done in 1950 while the middle piece was done seven years later. You'd almost expect the reverse, wouldn't you?

And then this piece below, which was contributed by Charlie Allen, suggests even more that Prohaska was what I have dubbed a "restless illustrator" - one who enjoys searching... trying new things... is not content to settle into one 'signature' style. I've asked Tony Prohaska about this and several other aspects of his dad's career, and he promised to write back with some answers.

Meanwhile, Tony has put together an extensive website devoted to his dad's life, where you can read a very thorough biography and see many more examples of the artist's work. Go to The Art of Ray Prohaska for more.

* My Ray Prohaska Flickr set.

Friday, July 24, 2009

William A. Smith's Coke Ads

You may recall seeing the Coke ad below in a previous post on William A. Smith, but that ad wasn't a one-shot job for the accomplished painter...

Smith's daughter, Kim, sent a scan of this great piece below, along with an amusing anecdote about what must surely have been one of her earliest professional modeling assignments:

"I was the model," wrote Kim, "along with my favorite stuffed animal (I still have it, and it is probably a poodle) whom I nevertheless called Lambsey-Dysey. After "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambsey dysey".

"The third model was a man on whom I had a huge crush, very handsome, named Bob I-can't-remember-his-last-name-but-will. He played a doctor, and I am about 3 1/2 years old. The version of the ad I have is in Spanish, though it was also probably in English somewhere here. My hair color, and Lambsey-Dysey's was changed for the painting to brunette!"

Recently a third William A. Smith Coke ad surfaced... this time in the form of a piece of original art up for sale at Heritage Auctions.

I sent a note around to the Smith family members alerting them to the sale. Kathlin Smith was the first to reply. She identified her older brother Rick as having posed for the role of the usher standing at far-right of frame in the middle distance. "It’s actually amazing how much he looks like a young version of my father," wrote Kathlin.

When I asked Rick Smith if he recalled anything about posing for this ad he replied, "It's me alright but I was an ADHD kid, hated keeping still for any length of time so I may have repressed that particular adventure."

Rick adds, "Thanks for your interest in dad's work. I still think he was vastly underrated/underappreciated/under-recognized."

* This post was published simultaneously on the William A. Smith blog

* Thanks to Charlie Allen for providing the top scan, Kim Smith for providing the middle scan, and Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the bottom scan.

* My William A. Smith Flickr set

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Calling all art detectives: this mystery needs solving.

TI list member Chris Turner sent me these scan the other day. They are two of six originals he purchased a dozen years ago at a convention called Glamourcon. Chris writes, "Looks to be mid 60’s to early 70’s style-wise, but no publication info on what magazine."

"The guy is pretty good," writes Chris, "I loved the cheesiness of the subject matter. I bought 6 in all, should have bought more, the seller had 50 or 60. He didn’t know any other info (or wouldn’t tell!) If you don’t recognize the artist, would you be willing to post them on TI and see if your public can I.D. this guy?"

I'm only too happy to do so, Chris.

Personally, I have no idea - but yeah, the guy was pretty good! The confidence of his gouache painting and the quality of the tonal values, and the accuracy of the underlying drawing all suggest a seasoned pro with classical training did these great little exploitation scenes.

On a pure art geek level I gotta say, seeing how the anonymous artist was able to create a coherent picture by dashing down a few strokes of paint here and there really gets my juices flowing!

Just look at the woman's hand hanging by her side. Its nothing but a sqiggle of dark paint... yet it works. And the pillow and sheets are little more than white illustration board. Amazing.

Skills like this were taken for granted back then... today they are so rare they are worthy of this kind of attention and praise. Back when he did this assignment (and likely for a relatively lousy fee, this clearly being art for some sleazy men's sweat mag) our anonymous illustrator thought so little of it that he didn't even sign his work.

If there is one clue of style, it might be this particular man's face, which looks slightly "caricatural".

If you think you know whodunnit, please speak up!

* Just a note to everyone who has continued to leave words of encouragement and comments of congratulations on my reaching one thousand posts. Many thanks to you all - I really appreciate hearing from you!

*ALSO* Are you using Corel Painter to do your illustrations? Australian storyboard artist Maria Peña has just written a great post at my other blog, Storyboard Central explaining why she's had it with Painter's quirks. Go take a look at Maria's fabulous artwork -- and join the discussion.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Len's Lovely Lady Lounging in Luxurious Linens

Thanks to everyone for your kind words of encouragement on yesterday's post! Its great to know so many people enjoy the material I present here - and especially gratifying to read the comments of those who spoke up for the first time. Thank you all very much!

Since I mentioned Len Steckler yesterday, let's look at another piece by this talented illustrator.

As mentioned, Steckler was a member of the Charles E. Cooper studio.

Just for fun, I pulled a few images from my Flickr archives by other illustrators of "lovely ladies lounging in luxurious linens".

First up, Joe De Mers, also of the Cooper Studio, from 1951...

... another Cooper heavyweight, Coby Whitmore, did a ton of these ads (several more in my Coby Whitmore Flickr set).

Here's one by Harry Fredman, co-owner of rival studio, Fredman/Chaite, where Bob Peak got his start.

And finally, perhaps the most loungin'est lovely lady of all is depicted by the great John Gannam.

* As we ease into the new, less wordy Today's Inspiration, I encourage those who enjoy a substantial hit of information with their art fix to head straight over to Charlie Allen's Blog for a look at this week's CAWS. Its a doozy!

* And don't forget Storyboard Central, where German illustrator Arne Reismueller shows us some terrific examples of his advertising storyboards.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some Thoughts on the First Thousand Posts

Yesterday, while I was writing this sentence, someone from the Czech Republic found this blog via Google Image Search. That person was the 919,308th visitor to Today's Inspiration. Imagine that!

Here's the image, a piece by Robert Fawcett, that brought this visitor to the blog...

Out of curiosity I tried typing "Robert Fawcett book" into Google Image Search. The piece, from my January 19, 2009 post on Fawcett, is the first result. Clicking on its thumbnail in GIS takes you to that day's post.

The Czech visitor subsequently stayed on the blog for 1 hour, six minutes and 37 seconds. They looked at sixteen pages of content. The last thing they clicked on before leaving was this piece by Bob Peak.

And then, without leaving any comment, they were gone. That sort of thing used to frustrate me; people who would visit who clearly had a genuine interest in the material I present (spending a substantial amount of time, perusing several pages). I'd wonder, why does this person, who must surely be a kindred spirit, not reach out? But then, I do the same thing all the time, visiting blogs, reading interesting content or perusing the images there and leaving without comment, so who am I to talk? The Czech visitor has excellent taste. Beyond that, I have no idea if they were male or female, old or young, an illustration professional or not -- and no way to contact them.

Frankly, when I started this blog in November, 2005 I never dreamed it would get nearly a million visits in less than 4 years. But then it never occurred to me that there would be a thousand posts here in that time span, or just how much information and artwork I could amass in just three and a half years of steady posting.

Since most readers, like our Czech visitor, are "blurkers" I must rely on my Sitemeter stats to give me an idea of who you are, where you come from, and what your interests are.

Here's a snapshot of a hundred visitors who dropped by at one point during the day yesterday (perhaps you will recognize your own visit on this list).

That certainly demonstrates the remarkable power of the Internet, doesn't it? Its wonderful to know that people all over the world are discovering - or rediscovering - the work of these great mid-century illustrators.

Of course a lot of those who arrive via Google Image Search aren't actually hoping to find art or info on 50's illustrators. Try typing "Esquire Girls" into GIS and see what comes up. Go ahead, I'll wait 'til you get back.

Interesting, huh? Yeah, after all these years (as we in advertising have always known) "sex sells".

In fact, checking the stats on my Flickr archives, I discovered that the following ten images were all in the top twenty most viewed in my archives. See if you can spot the commonality:

All of those images had over 4,000 views each. But here's a quandary: the single most viewed image in my Flickr archives? This page from an Al Parker step-by-step demo I posted 10 months ago has been viewed nearly 15,000 times!

What's up with that?!

Compared to the next most popular images in my collection, that image has more than twice as many views!

I even asked at the time when I first posted the image and noticed immediately that its view-count took off like a bat outta hell, but so far no one has commented on where they found the link that brought them to this image.

And here it is again, climbing the daily rankings, beating out other more recent (and, I think, more interesting) images.

Incidentally, did you notice that stat for how many times my entire image archive has been viewed? Wow!

There are nearly 7,000 images in my Flickr archives, organized by artist name or general subject (auto ads, sports, etc.) and all but a hundred or so are mid-century illustrations.

Recently I've been corresponding with a researcher from England who's conducting a study comparing the stats of *official* institutional websites that provide digitized visual content to the sites of "amateur enthusiasts" (people like me) who provide similar content "in our spare time" (ha). I gave her access to my sitemeter statistics and she was blown away. Apparently some of these well funded full-time organizations get a fraction of the traffic in a year that Today's Inspiration gets in a week. Huh.

The researcher asked me if I would be doing this ( researching information, collecting and scanning images, and writing related content ) if no one was watching; and I had to think about that for a minute. Ultimately, I suppose I would... but I doubt it would be with such regularity. Its the many friends and acquaintances I've made by providing this "place for those with an interest in 40's and 50's illustration" that motivates me to invest the time, effort and money to pursue this endeavor so vigorously. And without the generosity with which so many have shared their knowledge, their resources and their moral support, this blog would be a pale shadow of what it is today.

Years before the TI blog there was a Today's Inspiration daily mailing list. Here's one of the scans I sent out to the group back then, when that list had less than a hundred people on it. Its by Len Steckler, a former Cooper Studio artist.:

I couldn't have imagined that one day a few years later I'd be getting an email like this:

Hi Leif
My friend Tom Sawyer sent me the image I did... I can't remember the date, and I even forgot about painting it. I want to thank you for your interest in this work it's extremely gratifying. For your information I am still creating images, as I have almost all my life .


Isn't that cool? And the friend Len referred to is another artist whose career has been showcased here on the blog, Thomas B. Sawyer. This past spring, while attending the NCS Reubens Awards in L.A., I had the immense pleasure of meeting Tom in person when he graciously invited me and my wife, Wendy, to join him and his lovely wife Holly for lunch at their beautiful home.

There, in the presence of one of my illustration idols, I was shown a portfolio of the actual originals of illustrations like the one below, which Tom drew back in the 60's and 70's.

Such are the priceless rewards of maintaining this blog from week to week and year after year.

But in spite of the pleasure I derive from this daily, um, obsession?, the day has come when I need to admit that I devote more time to TI than I ought to. Like most every other illustrator I know, the last few months of this recession have kicked the crap out of my business. Illustrators are struggling more than ever to make a living and I'm determined not to become a casualty.

That means investing more of my time to producing new samples and figuring out new marketing and promotion strategies - time I would otherwise rather devote to this blog.

So for a while, Today's Inspiration will return to more of what it began as: a scan a day, intended to inspire - but presented without commentary. Well, maybe just a little commentary. Occasionally, I'll still do a complete week on a specific artist (there are already plans under way for several such weeks) and I have enlisted several contributors to guest-author the blog now and then. This will give me some breathing room to focus more of my attention on my "real" job; being an illustrator.

There will be another thousand posts on this blog... there are too many artists whom we have not yet celebrated... too much history still left undocumented. I hope you'll join me on the journey.