Tuesday, May 03, 2011

ART AT WORK: Commercial Art from the Collection of Ken Nutt

By guest author Ken Nutt

I thought your readers might like to see some samples from an exhibition currently at the Gallery Stratford in Stratford, Ontario. The title of the show is 'ART AT WORK: Commercial Art from the Collection of Ken Nutt.' It features original artwork for illustrations, mainly from the nineteen-fifties, that I have collected over the years.

The above piece is by an illustrator named J. (Jack) Smith.

One of the reasons I started collecting originals was to learn how effects that I admired in print were achieved -- so I could recreate them in my own work. In the above painting for a two-colour illustration, the stripes on the gent's shirt are brushed in opaque gouache while the woman's red dress has been stenciled in with transparent ink.

Here's a pencil drawing done for the British America Bank Note Company, a Canadian company which specialized in the production of steel engravings for use in the printing of money, stamps and, in the case of the drawing below, stock certificates.


The BABNC, as it was known, was founded in the year before Confederation, but judging by the resemblance of the goddess above to Grace Kelly, I think this design is of a much later date.

Below, another anonymous illustration, this one for a men's magazine. This is part of the section of the show dedicated to magazine illustration. As I laid out samples of the 'glossies' -- The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, McCall's -- it came as a shock to think that the young illustrators in the neighbouring gallery might never have seen these big-format magazines, which were the pinnacle of the trade for mid-century commercial artists.


Below, three of four post-war gouaches for the covers to British paperbacks.

Eagle Butte

The amazing thing here is that all the white lettering is painted directly on top of the illustration, gouache on gouache.


I would have hated to have been the lettering artist.


Below, This seven-foot-long mural is one of three painted for an American bank by illustrator Harold Ashodian.


Many illustrators, most famously Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish and Dean Cornwell, painted murals. My guess is that illustrators were better equipped than easel painters to tell a story in paint, which is what a mural commission usually involves.

There are thirty-three pieces of vintage illustration in the show, great contemporary posters and editorial illustrations by Jack Dylan and Pete Ryan in the adjoining gallery, as well as a third space devoted to the conceptual photography of artist Suzy Lake. So, if you would like to spend a pleasant afternoon looking at some cool illustration -- and perhaps even take in a play -- come visit. ~ Ken Nutt

The Gallery Stratford, 54 Romeo St., Stratford Ontario, is open Tuesday to Sunday, 11AM-3PM
Starting May 17: Tuesday to Sunday: 10AM-5PM
The exhibitions run till June 5, 2011


  1. I've seen the 'Scramble' illustration Ken has shown here, and yes, the ruling & lettering are enough to give any pre-digital illustrator heart palpitations!
    Look forward to seeing it again, Ken.

  2. Rod Lawrence6:43 PM

    Ran into an old post of yours regarding Robert Myers. I stayed on his ranch a few months before he was ambushed and killed. I have some of his reference files and one of his paintings. He was a talented artists and it's good to see his work recognized. A book on his work was released in the last couple of years.