In one of her early notes to me, Al Dorne's daughter, Barbara, wrote, "Although Dad preferred not to have an audience when he was painting, he always welcomed me to observe. I was always astonished at how he laid down the work in black ink pen and wash and then glazed with colored inks. A very difficult medium, in my estimation (having given it a very amateur try, myself), but he had amazing control and his paintings suddenly came to glowing life with the application of the glazes. I think his technique was quite unique at that time."
In an old Watson-Guptill book called "Forty Illustrators and How They Work" I found a step-by-step of Al Dorne's painting technique.
* Warning: Its unfortunate that the specific subject matter of this step-by-step demo uses some language and visual stereotyping that would be considered racist by most people today. Keep in mind that this was produced more than half a century ago and was not intended to be offensive ( rather the opposite, since it was a national advertising piece ). For those who cannot view this type of material in an objective manner, it might be best to skip the whole thing.
The demo concludes with an addendum that emphasizes Al Dorne's mastery of his painting technique:
"Dorne scorns the use of airbrush; with his sable brush he can put the highest polish even on automobiles and other objects demanding the smoothest textures."
Recently my friend, illustrator/historian Kent Steine, sent a note referencing the unfortunate nature of the materials Al Dorne used for his technique:
"Although we can see tear sheets and good examples of Mr. Dorne's work, it has been my understanding the originals have not weathered time very well. Years ago, Fred Taraba and I were talking about various types of media, and he brought up some of the examples they had of Albert Dorne's work."
"As I recall, he worked with colored inks which, at the time, were likely quite "phantom". I understand some examples have faded. That's a shame. However, it was created to be commercial art. I used to occasionally use Dr. P.H. Martin's Synchromatic Transparent Watercolors. Most of that work has faded to a dull monochromatic local hue."
Kent's words struck me as particularly poignant. Albert Dorne was truly a giant of the mid-20th century illustration field. His tremendously skilled work, his admirable generosity and kindness, his opulent lifestyle preceded by years of astonishing struggle, his accomplishments as the founder of the Famous Artists School and how far-reaching its affects were on countless thousands of lives, the tremendous wealth and fame it generated, all speak of a life lived with unparalleled vibrancy. Like the coloured inks he preferred, all that has now faded away. That just seems so unfortunate and wrong to me.
Hopefully these posts will in some small way return some of the vibrancy to the memory of a colourful man who lived a colourful life.
* My Albert Dorne Flickr set.