Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Earl Oliver Hurst's Valuable Lesson

Earl Oliver Hurst knew about tough times. at the onset of his career he gave up a hundred dollar a week art directorial job in Cleveland to seek his fame and fortune as a freelance illustrator. With his wife Edna and their one-year-old daughter Joan, Hurst moved to a rented house in the little town of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. When anticipated success did not come, the Hurst family found themselves in a state of constant financial crisis.


At one point things got so bad that he was forced to make a craft paper turkey for the Thanksgiving table. He couldn't afford to buy a real one. Hurst always had a great sense of humour. Luckily, so did his wife!


Even when things looked terribly bleak, he and Edna somehow managed to laugh and have faith that better times lay ahead.


Hurst refused to wallow in misery and self pity. He simply wouldn't give up his dream. He even turned down a wealthy relative who offered him a lucrative business partnership because he was determined to make it in the art game.


Hurst said the turning point came when an important advertising client expressed his disappointment in the quality and price of a batch of illustrations he had commissioned. Hurst, desperate to make as much money as quickly as possible had taken on too much in too short a period of time - and it showed - AND he was asking too high a price of his client for the sub-standard work. The two men nearly came to blows over the situation!


When both had calmed down, the client challenged Hurst to do five pieces of finished art for each assignment that required only one, then deliver only the piece he felt was his best of the five - a notion Hurst at first thought was insane. But when he finally took up the gauntlet and completed the challenge he suddenly realized his client had been right.

"As I examined those five drawings, standing against my studio wall," said Hurst, "I was really shocked to think that according to former procedure I would have delivered the first one, truly a fumbling performance compared with the subsequent drawings. From then on I followed [that client's] plan religiously."

By the early 1940s Earl Oliver Hurst - who earlier could not convince his client to pay him the princely sum of $85 per drawing - was commanding $1,000 per illustration from his advertising clients.


Hurst recalled, "In a few months I had justified [that client's] faith in me and the great wisdom of his advice - I was soon doing far more important work than had ever come to me preceding my move to New York."


* Thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use the scans of some EOH originals from their archives in today's post.

* My Earl Oliver Hurst Flickr set.


  1. Anonymous10:34 PM

    So inspiring! Thank you.

  2. You're welcome, PAMO - thanks for commenting :^)

  3. What the hell!! another Hurst post!! thanks so much Lief!!! im actually on the verge of ordering a hurst "artbook" of sorts if this keeps up! lol! His determination is VERY inspiring! thank you for the info!!

  4. Once again, you strike with an inspiring post, Leif!

    That's the type of old-school work ethic and faith that many people, myself included, really lack today. I had heard of Hurst before after I read an article spotlighting the 5 favorite illustrators of esteemed comic artist Howard Chaykin. But I had never done an intensive look at Hurst's work. That needs to be rectified.


  5. Lloyd; my pleasure - there's a bit more to come. Hopefully tomorrow.

    Adrian; glad you're finding Hurst's work and the related stories inspiring. That's what I hope people get from these posts, so ... my work here is done. ;^)

  6. Anonymous6:02 AM

    Thank you for these Hurst post! I didn't know Hurst work, i'm looking for books about him now! If you have some advice.. :)
    And thanks again for the blog, good work!

    hugo ( belgium )

  7. What an awesome collection of most inspiring images all in one place. You did an incredible job collecting these here.

    Very inspiring,

    Thank you


  8. Thanks for commenting Leon and Hugo. There is an "Art of Earl Oliver Hurst" book available on Amazon: http://amzn.to/fw9RKM

  9. This is all really great stuff! Just found out about you from listening to old episodes of Escape from Illustration Island. I've been doing this for 16 years and I often get burned out (working on a new style because of it) and looking through the stuff you've posted here reaffirms my love for illustration.
    Thanks! I'll be browsing more of these (when I should be working, of course!)