Friday, August 13, 2010

"Thank you, Jack for everything you gave us."

By guest author Daniel Zalkus

It’s been 8 years now since Jack Potter passed away and I still think about him all the time.


I was fortunate to have been able to take his class and get to know him on a personal level. He taught me a new way of seeing and to this day I can still hear his voice telling me, “Get the proportions!”


I attended Jack’s class long after I was required to by school curriculum. Jack’s influence, approach and mentoring has often served as a guiding light in my work and in my career.


Even my leisure time, personal drawing is heavily influenced by Jack and his classes.


He was a unique individual and one of a kind. Myself, and many others, miss him.


Thank you, Jack for everything you gave us.

* And many thanks to Daniel for sharing his recollections of Jack potter with us, as well as all the fantastic art and photos! ~ L

* Daniel Zalkus is a freelance illustrator, graduate of the School of Visual Arts and loves to wear plaid. To see samples of his artwork please go to

* My Jack Potter Flickr set


  1. Thank you for a week of information
    about Jack Potter an artist who's
    work I remember from the 1960s.
    I am happy to learn more about him.

  2. Anonymous9:25 PM

    What a wonderful tribute! Thank you.

  3. I remember looking at and liking these illustrations as I grew up. In a way, some of them are almost camp and conjure images of Norma Desmond. This is the first time I've seen the Streisand portrait, which I like so much.

    Mr. Zalkus' work is a treat; thanks for the posts, Mr. Z.'

  4. I'm happy to share. It's been a great week.

  5. These are lovely. Thank you so much for posting these. I could look at them for hours!

  6. Daniel, I regret not having the chance to study under Jack Potter. I went to Parsons in the early 1980s and studied under Steven Meisel and Steven Stipelman. I think my artistic sensibilities would have been so in line with Potter. He sounds like such a wonderful human being besides. Do you know where his body of work ended up?

    Thank you for sharing all you did on him!

  7. Julie-

    When he quit the business he sold many of his originals. I have no idea where they are now.

    I know at one point the Illustration House in NYC had one of his Coca-Cola ads. It was great to see it up close.

  8. The Ayres ads seem to be more resolved, more depth and reality to them, which I prefer.. not so flat and primarily design oriented. 'Different strokes for different folks'.

    Daniel, did Jack Potter have any insight or prediction for the future of illustration, knowing that his students would be faced with looking for illustration work in a much different industry than when he started out? Many of my students in the 90s' just assumed that if the school was teaching illustration, there must be a slot in the illustration market, just waiting for them to settle into after graduation. A few of the better illustrators found illustration work so sparse that they applied for teaching jobs at the school they had just graduated from. They were a bit shocked and disappointed that they weren't making a livable income with illustration alone.

    Thanks Daniel and Leif.. a very interesting week.

    Tom Watson

  9. Tom-

    Jack knew that the business was tough and that many artists wouldn't be able to make a living off of it.

    That's why he told the class to "Create art because you love it".

    As for the future of illustration I'm not 100% sure what he thought about it. My guess is that he didn't think it was very good. He knew many of his former students didn't go on to have careers in the field.

    I know he was also a bit disappointed that the computer had started to take over. The rooms across the hall from his class had all changed into computer centers and the interest in drawing seemed to be dwindling.

    I don't think he was afraid of new technology but felt that way because he knew drawing was important for an artist to learn.

    What do you think about the business today?

  10. Fantastic photo of Jack...

  11. Charlie Allen6:00 PM

    I think Sinatra said, 'Life wounds all heels'. The great TV and computer revolution wounded all of us, and future, illustrators....fatally. I've mentioned my surprise when offered an illustration lecture class with 100 the 80's. Obviously young people with totally impractical notions. I grew up with illustrations in magazines, newspapers, books, outdoor posters, and much, more. I knew the market....I knew if you were good enough, there was a viable field out there. Somehow, a lot of 'modern' kids reached maturity with 'pie in the sky' ideas about illustration. As the song went in the 'Music Man', 'You've got to know the territory!'.
    The Potter week was a good one. As Tom said, the Ayres illustrations were sensitive and typical of Potter. Strange, stretched, proportions but no doubt very effective fashion advertising. Thanks again.

  12. Daniel, I've essentially retired from the general illustration market in 2000, so I really don't know what the illustration market is like today. I occasionally do an assignment for an old client, but that's about it.

    In the 1990s', after about three decades of illustration and AD work, I was doing more conceptual drawing and or marker comps for special effects TV commercials and the movie industry.. Star Wars and other special effects movies. There was still a little advertising illustration, but very spotty. The best prospects for me was the computer software companies like Broderbund and Mindscape on the west coast. They needed traditional illustrators that had strong drawing skills and a solid advertising background. Most of the younger ADs at that time, didn't have the prior training or a background that gave them traditional AD or layout skills.. so they had to rely on the computer. Computer generated ideas were too definite and final, so they started using comp illustrations for presenting ideas. They also used me for any finished illustrations as well. That was good for me and other experienced illustrators.

    I think it is particularly tough for young illustrators with little or no practical experience, regardless of how promising their portfolio is. The more seasoned you become, the more insight you gain on where and how to contact potential clients. For me, the best way telephone appointments and second was direct mail and telephone follow up. It was slow and tedious, but it eventually payed off. As an illustrator, I never assumed that I could just wait for it to come to me.

    Jack Potter was dead center right, when he said 'Create art because you love it'. When times were tough, hat love for art kept me thinking positive, instead of giving up and driving a taxi for a living.

    Tom Watson

  13. I've seen RKO Pictures listed as a client of Jacks but never had a chance to ask him about it.

    Anyone out there know what that was?

  14. Great week!

    Jack seems to have been what one would call "a born teacher".

    His teaching happened to cover the field of illustration - but his principles would happily apply to any school.

    "Illustrators are born, not made" - does that apply?

  15. Rich, your comment / question that 'illustrators are born not made', brought to mind a discussion I had with my wife many years ago. At one time, I thought anyone could learn to draw and paint, that really had the interest. She maintained it was a genetic disposition that few have, but most do not.. even though they may love art and love to draw and paint.

    I was teaching part-time at the time, and eventually I came around to agreeing with her. So, I believe your comment is exactly right Rich, and the overwhelming evidence for me, was found in my students. Only a small percentage, while I was a student and then as a teacher, had the natural abilities to absorb the information and apply it. Those that could, sooner or later blossomed into an outstanding artist. The majority progressed to a certain level and remained there, never able to reach the next plateau. Yet, they could be just as enthused and sometimes work even harder than the few with natural talent, but they were limited to their natural abilities, and to be able to apply it to their work. That scenario also made it tough when grading a student's work.

    I know fine art painters that drew or painted very little or not at all most of their lives, and in their forties or fifties, they took a few plein-air workshop painting classes, and within a few years of practice, they were doing better paintings than some that have painted most of their lives. They just have it in their genetic makeup.

    Therefor, I believe a teacher needs to teach at different levels to reach and benefit all his students.

    Tom Watson

  16. Great weeks of inspiration!
    Thanks for posting these on Jack Potter!
    Brings back memories of good times, fun "hard workouts" at the drawing gym, and Jack being Jack.
    Really dug into it and posted a little drawing with some additional Potter Principles that I could remember from my own experiences in his classes.
    I wish like Will R. and Mr. Zalkus I was able to spend additional hours in Potter's gym. Jack was an Original.
    Thanks again for the great posts!

  17. Anonymous1:16 AM

    I took his class 2001(?)to 2003. I was just thinking about his classes now so I had to leave a comment. I remember that he'd scare me when he patted me
    (rather strongly)on my shoulder when I was in the middle of drawing. He never remembered my name but he loved me when I come in to his classes with his smile and his loud voice... I loved that he remembered how I draw. I still draw and still think of Jack.