Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Praise of the Little Things, Part 4

We've seen a wide variety of small spots this week that demonstrate just how conscientious mid-century illustrators were about doing their best work - despite knowing that work would be printed at a size far too small to be properly appreciated with the naked eye.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the remarkable full colour paintings done for many mid-'50s magazine ads. These miniature scenes were reproduced at about the size of a postage stamp...


... but just look at the effort that went into rendering them.


Here's another ad - several small full colour spots done in a somewhat different technique...


... but still remarkably detailed for such a small canvas.


Who were the artists who created such proficient work? They were probably among the ranks of talented but largely anonymous illustrators like Charlie Allen, who did many fully painted ads of this type for Kaiser Aluminum.


Charlie described these assignments (which he painted in gouache at just two or three times up) as being "considered by agencies and by illustrators as a real 'plum' account on which to work."


"[The client] seemed to me remarkably relaxed about product details," wrote Charlie. "The scenes and product details were very much left to the artist to create."


For Charlie, not only were these fun and lucrative assignments, they provided a young west coast artist more used to working on regional assignments the rare opportunity of sharing the stage with his 'celebrity' peers because Kaiser's ads ran in wide circulation national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Newsweek, Time, etc.


I'll just bet Charlie got a kick from seeing his signature on those ads in those publications. Although, of course, being ever the humble practitioner of his art, you'd hardly know the work was signed if you didn't have our ability to blow up those tiny panels to a decent size. (See it in the bottom RH corner of the image above?)


  1. Great blog post. In my opinion this is the pinnacle of great illustrative work. These are the sort of images I grew up with, the rendering is very similar to the work done in all the children's books I read growing up and images like this instantly conjure up memories of my child hood. I had a look through a modern book on dinosaurs at a friends house and the quality of artwork in it was appalling! I know that times change and things move on but I wish work of this style and quality was still produced today.
    Some of my all time favourite artwork is the title slides that appear at the end of the original Captain Scarlett series. All painted by Ron Embleton.

    Thanks for posting

  2. Truly beautiful stuff.


  3. Small is definitely Beautiful.

  4. I really like your blog
    brilliant collection of neat visuals
    feel free to check out mine
    (Mondorama 2000 is dedicated to vintage colour illustrations taken from
    french childrens encyclopedias (1950's to 1970's)
    hope you like it

  5. Thanks for these posts. I of course took "commercial art" for granted as a kid in the 50's. Great to be able to appreciate the beauty and pride in craft that went into these illustrations, even though they were integral to selling the illusory and ultimately destructive consumer paradise called The American Dream.
    The more cartoonish spot illustrations bring to mind all of the younger artists today producing charmingly simple vector illustrations, many with a nostalgic look and feel. There is still a place for that kind of illustration in contemporary advertising; a shame that it's not so for the detailed "realistic" look. That is certainly a frustration to all of the talented artists out there.
    Yikes, a simple thanks turned into an essay!

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