Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Fred Ludekens on Illustration: "a business of being right to the right people at the right time"

Fred Ludekens was both a renowned illustrator and co-creative director of one of the world's most prominent ad agencies, FCB. He was also a founding faculty member of the Famous Artists School. In the following interview excerpt from the Summer 1964 issue of Famous Artists Magazine Ludekens shares his expertise - advice and learned opinion that would benefit both illustrators and art directors today every bit as much as it was intended to benefit creatives nearly 50 years ago...

Q: What trends have most influenced illustration in the last thirty years?

A: I believe contemporary painting has had influence in illustration, especially recently. The technique of modern art is contagious and so it gets mixed up with business. I think the illustrator's effort now is to be "different." I question the understanding of the public of this differentness. There is nothing wrong with modern art. But it is personal and quite restricted in audience. It seems to me the illustrator's job in business and publishing is to reach the public clearly.

Q: How would you describe the meshing of the artist's talent and the client's needs when an advertising illustration is being created?

A: The mechanics are such in advertising that the responsibilities are in the hands of copy and art people. Often the best is not gotten and the illustrator's contribution is so controlled it is not all that it should be. In my opinion, the ideal way is for art director, copy writer and illustrator to have a serious discussion as to how the picture problem can best be solved before the advertisement has been decided and sketched by an art director and submitted to a client. Unfortunately for the illustrator, the procedure is usually the reverse of this.

Q: You feel that the person who makes the picture would make more of a contribution if he were included in the early planning sessions?

A: Yes, I do. But this is very difficult because of the structural setup of the advertising business. There is no provision in the structure for "outside" people to get in at the planning and concept stage and make the contribution many of them could make. a few years ago, I was fortunate in being able to do this for a large advertiser with positive success, but it took a real all-out effort.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the three most important qualities a successful illustrator must have?

A: You must know three things...

How to draw - if you cannot draw you restrict what you can say.

What to draw - if you do not know what to draw you won't say anything.

Who the Audience is - if you don't consider who you're talking to and what they understand, you won't reach them.

The whole idea is to "talk to people visually."

Q: What essential training must the illustrator bring to the jobs?

A: Assuming he has talent, likes to draw and paint, the most important thing for him to have is a knowledge of the business he is in. Most illustrators know very little about business or writing. They just like to make pictures. This isn't enough. They should know what the picture is specifically required to do and why. They must be interested in the why and make an all-out effort to make the picture work. This is what they are being paid to do.

Q: If an illustrator develops a distinct style, how does this help (and sometimes hurt) his career?

A: A distinct style is all right if you have a fluid and alert mind. Pictures all ought to solve communication problems in a certain way. If the style becomes more important than the problem solution, the illustrator obviously has failed. Often a distinct style is only a fad of differentness and is junked when a "fresh new style" comes along. To be concerned only with manner is superficial. I do not believe this is a business of being different. It is a business of being right to the right people at the right time.

Continued tomorrow.

* Charlie Allen (who knew Fred Ludekens from his days at P&H Studios) previously shared his thoughts and some excellent Fred Ludekens scans in this post. Charlie celebrates his 1st Anniversary of bringing us the CAWs once each week on his always excellent Charlie Allen's Blog -- be sure to check it out!

* My Fred Ludekens Flickr set


  1. It's reasonable that advertising art should be preoccupied with whatever imagery is considered "in" or the latest style, since products need to be sold as current. Not all gallery artists are that concerned about it, however. I would think that in the 60s artists were more involved with trying to merge old and new, and now it's all over the place. Rudderless, if you will. As a matter of fact, all contemporary art seems that way also. So in that sense they still echo each other.

    I also agree that an artist should think of themselves as a business-person. In some cases, they're a business-person primarily.

  2. dbclemons - you're providing us with all those interesting observations of yours

    free of charge.

    Where's the business prospect?

  3. db; I have known a lot of artists and know only one who was a business person primarily. He taught me a lot with his remarkable chutzpah.

    Artists, as a group and individually, would be enjoying a much higher standard of living if we were all business people primarily - unfortunately we are all too willing to let others profit more than us from our creativity. We seem to be a breed that will endure just about any kind of poverty if people will just let us draw, praise us a little and shove some stale bread and a little water under the door once in a while. ;^)

    The ever-diminishing fees being paid for illustration these days threaten to create a new normal: the starving commercial artist!

  4. "If the style becomes more important than the problem solution, the illustrator obviously has failed."

    there's a LOT of people who failed =)

    great interview! thanks for posting this, leif

  5. It's true, tonci - interesting thing, however - there are also plenty of examples of those who have succeeded tremendously on the strength of their unique style. I suspect Ludekens' quote applies more to those who imitate a style than to those who originate one. For the imitator, the style becomes more important that the problem solution... they already have "one hand tied behind their back" going into the job. ;^)

  6. Observations cost nothing so there's nothing to lose, except time. Just look at all the blogs. :)

    I know many business people who fail, whether they sell trinkets at the mall or paintings in a gallery. I also know many artists who don't consider what they do as a business, and their work collects dust in their closet or waiting for the landfill. Many of the musicians and actors I know make very good waiters.

    I'm not good enough to get paid for it, but I still like to play tennis. If I were trying to be a professional, I'd approach it differently. The play would still be the same, but there's more risk if I lose.

  7. db; My apologies... I'm having trouble understanding what you mean exactly. If you feel so inclined, please elaborate :^)

  8. leif: it has always seemed to me that the originators of styles rarely think about it as much as the imitators do- they'll do it for a reason and know its function. and the function is usually more than 'just being different'

    it's an interesting subject, anyhow.

  9. Very well put, tonci - thanks! :^)

  10. Sorry, Leif. My point of view here stems from Ludeken's comment that most artists seem to have little desire to see their work as a business product. This is still true, among artists of all sorts.

    It's as though it's distasteful to think about selling something they've created. They've created something from their soul and don't want it tarnished by thoughts of having to sell it. Bunk! Money is a good thing. Ask my landlord.

    Simply put, if they sell their work, they've made a business transaction. The sooner they start preparing for it the better, unless they only plan to give their work away. I'm not saying selling should be the motivation for what they make, but it shouldn't be dismissed either. If they like what they do and do it well, the value will be the result.

    Not all businesses are successful, that's nothing new. Even smart business people fail, often more than once. Nobody said it would be easy.

    It's also not just a money thing, it's a matter of treating the work professionally. As Ludeken says, "...make the picture work. This is what they are being paid to do."

    Hopefully I've stated this more clearly.

  11. db; *whew!* Loud and clear, sir - a man after my own heart! :^)