Tuesday, August 02, 2011

In Memory of Charlie Allen (1922 - 2011)

I'm returning from my summer vacation 'off the grid' with some sad news: Charlie Allen passed away on July 11.


If you've followed Today's Inspiration for some time you'll remember Charlie. He and his career as a West Coast illustrator were first the subject of a week-long profile in September 2007. In that first post, Tom Watson wrote, "Charlie Allen was one of the top illustrators in S.F., when I started my career in '63. His reputation was huge for his incredible craftsmanship and draftsmanship. His pen and ink drawings were unsurpassed by anyone in the business."


After that week concluded, Charlie continued to correspond with me and quickly became a valuable resource of information and a generous contributor of artwork scans from his clipping files. He and I also shared many personal anecdotes and he frequently gave me the benefit of his advice on matters both personal and professional - something I am most grateful for.


After several months of regular correspondence, I proposed to Charlie that we start a blog where he could go into greater detail about the wealth of old artwork scans from the various periods of his career that he had been sending me privately. At first Charlie was skeptical, saying he could hardly manage the technology of scanning and emailing, let alone how to blog. But when I suggested he simply send everything to me to assemble and post, Charlie agreed to give it a shot. Charlie Allen's Blog debuted on July 1, 2008 and ran weekly instalments through December 2009.


During that time, Charlie continued to correspond with me privately on many topics and very generously shared countless scans of artwork by mid-century greats like Robert Fawcett, Al Parker, Bernie Fuchs and many, many others that would eventually end up being presented on Today's Inspiration. Charlie's descriptions of his own work were often maddeningly abbreviated - he simply was not one to brag.  But he was never short on praise for the greats of the mid-century whom he admired.   Even after Charlie Allen's Blog concluded its run, Charlie regularly provided insightful comments to the posts I wrote for TI.


I had the utmost respect for Charlie. Although our relationship was through correspondence only he was a great friend, a steadfast supporter and a mentor to me in many ways. His honesty, common sense, and great advice - always based on his personal and professional experience - affected me profoundly. I will miss him very much.

(Charlie in 1946 and in 2008)

Today I'd like to re-present the first of that week-long series of posts on Charlie's career to begin. As this week progresses, I'll share one final batch of artwork Charlie sent to me which was never previously posted... "The Final CAWS" as he liked to call it. Charlie was, as they say, "a man of few words," and would not want a long a sentimental memorial from me. So, instead, I'll let his artwork do the talking. I think Charlie would like that. As he often wrote in his posts and his emails; "Eee-nough!"

"From the git-go I enjoyed drawing."
(Originally presented on July 2, 2011)

"I was born in 1922 (85 this year) in Fresno, CA", writes Charles Allen. "From the git-go I enjoyed drawing. A couple of efforts, at age 9 when I was fascinated by comic strip artists, are enclosed."

"Like Chet Patterson of P&H (whom you've covered recently) I enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1942 while in college. Served for three and a half years as a pilot during WWII...but unlike Chet, shot down no enemy aircraft. Hard to do in an unarmed PBY Catalina in an air-sea rescue group, Pacific theatre. Main accomplishment, surviving."

"Returned home in 1946, finished college, got married, worked as an ad illustrator for the Fresno Bee, a McClatchy newspaper. Attended Art Center College in L.A. for a year, got a job in 1948 at Patterson & Hall in San Francisco as an illustrator, at the princely salary of $275 per month. In those days, a new car ran about $1,200 and a new home, $10,000 to $12,000, so all was in proportion."

"I learned all along the line...high school, college, Art Center, an ad agency job during college, the newspaper job, and a crash course at P&H in San Francisco, where competition with 'the best in the west' was very, very real. The 'crash course' was actually learning on the job...and in between jobs, practicing on samples. Busy times."

"One of the many reasons I decided to remain in the west with advertising illustration, instead of heading east and editorial illustration [was that] there were so many good illustrators back there, all wanting to do editorial. Advertising actually paid better, and if you could stand the deadlines and pace, almost as much fun. Well, sometimes as much!"

Patterson & Hall was a great learning place and launching pad. I worked for the first ten years at P&H offices in San Francisco, then moved out to my small home studio, mainly to avoid the two or more hours of commute each day."

"Over a roughly 45 year career, about two thirds of my work came through Patterson & Hall, the rest freelance, but P&H was always a loyal sales, support and promotional group over those years."

"I did no editorial or story commissions.....all corporate ads from ad agencies or direct with the company. I was impressed by all the good illustrators and tried to 'think' like Al Parker, Rockwell, Jon Whitcomb, Austin Briggs, etc. Found it way too tiring, and with short deadlines, just did what came naturally. That way you develop a style all your own."

* All of today's images can be found in my Charlie Allen Flickr set.


  1. Oh man - so sad. Charlie was one of my favorites. Thanks for the nice post, Leif.

  2. This is really so depressing news.
    I really enjoyed Mr. Allen's blog. I am great fan of his work. And I will always come back to browse through his countless masterpieces with pleasure.

  3. Very sad news indeed. Much thanks to you for taking the time to introduce us all to Charlie since your first post. I grew up seeing all of this work, but never realized it came from one man. It seems that the truly remarkable people in this world are the humble ones. R.I.P Charlie Allen.

  4. Charlie's blog was the first one that I ever subscribed to with google's RSS feed so every time I check blog feed for updates, his loads up! It could be glitch in the system but it is a nice reminder of what a talented and gracious guy he was. Man he could draw and paint!

  5. Don't be sad for Charlie, he lead a full and rewarding life. His blog (through Leif) was a wonderful way for him to share his art, and his story to a younger generation. He felt that somehow his illustrations, and those of the golden age of illustration weren't be appreciated, or remembered. Your interest, respect and comments meant a lot to him. I feel honored to have know and worked with one of the greatest illustrators.
    Bruce Hettema, P&H Creative Group
    PS, my profile illustration was done by Charlie, and I'll treasure it forever.

  6. Thanks to you Leif, I enjoyed many years of recent email correspondence with Charlie. Charlie's reputation preceded him during our careers in the S.F. illustration market. Although, we both worked in the S.F. bay area, I never met Charlie back in those days, but I sure knew his work, and was in awe every time I saw his illustrations. After developing a friendship through email, we found we had mutual friends and a lot in common. His standard of quality for his and other illustrators work was never in doubt in Charlie's mind. He said what he meant and meant what he said. In my mind, he was symbolic of the "mid century man." I will miss our email chats with Charlie.

    Tom Watson

  7. Oh no... this is sad news indeed. Obviously, like many of us, I did not know Charlie personally. But his commentary and first-hand recollections made every great post he graced even better.

    And Leif, kudos to you for such a wonderful tribute.

  8. Thanks,Leif,for introducing us to his work.He had a very appealing style.I could appreciate the solid drawing and painting skills,expression,composition,and color in his work.It's beautiful stuff.My condolences to his friends and family.

  9. I've been looking forward for another TI post, but never in a million years did I expect this news.

    Charlie's was the authentic voice of experience, never overbearing, always knowledgable and quick to express enthusiasm for a good illustrator he'd never chanced upon in his long career.
    In other words he was still, at heart, a fan.
    Having worked for so long behind the scenes I hope the recognition and universal regard everyone posting at TI gave him, let Charlie know how admired he was by all of us.
    When the next history of American illustration book comes out I'd like to see Charlie Allen in there getting the credit he deserves.

    A real loss of a great man, and a great artist.

  10. Really enjoyed his art.
    Very sad to hear. RIP Charlie.

  11. Very sad news. Not only was Charlie a talented artist but it was always great to hear his comments on this blog.

  12. He lived a good long life but sad to hear of his passing.
    Welcome back from vacation

  13. Anonymous3:33 AM

    This is really sad to hear it!
    I really enjoyed Charly Allen's Work. I follow allways his blog, and i do appreciate all his answers he was given me! ... Good bye, Charlie Allen!

    Joe, from Germany

  14. What a loss. Followed Charlie's blog from almost the beginning and loved not just his work but his anecdotes and the obvious warmth that came through in his posts. He certainly had a full life. I remember pangs of jealousy at some of his experiences. He'll be much missed.
    Thanks Leif for bringing to us the work and lifestory of one of Illustration's giants.

  15. Hi Leif,
    Sad to hear about Charlie, he was quite an artist. Another old friend of mine passed away recently, Charlie Schridde, he was one of the top illustrators in Detroit and later became a photographer when the illustration business went into a decline.

  16. Anonymous11:20 AM

    I am Charles Allen's granddaughter, and I am thrilled to know many people appreciate his work. Leif, this is a beautiful tribute to him and the comments are very touching to read. I am a university student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD University). My grandpa has inspired me to create art since I could pick up a paintbrush. I have such great memories with him. He taught me how to gesso my first canvas. He took the time to always look at my artwork and give me thorough critiques.
    There was no one like my grandpa. He taught my brother and I to shoot a gun, to throw a basketball, helped us ride bikes when we were small, and took us to the ocean to boogie board.
    My grandpa was full of so much love and was devoted to his family. He spent his life creating such stunning works of art, as well as being a wonderful father and husband and an amazing grandfather. He was one of a kind, and I love and miss him very much. Thanks to everyone who has supported my grandfather and his work.

  17. So sad.... He was a master and I got a lot of inspiration from his work...may god bless his soul rest in peace... But Charlie We miss you.