Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Oscar Cahén, Painter Extraordinaire - Oscar, Celebrated Illustrator

By guest author, Jeffrey Spalding C.M., R.C.A Artistic Director, Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary

The passage of time does much to alter our perceptions. Art history holds a place of great distinction for the work of Oscar Cahén as a painter. His dazzling colour and inventive compositions earned him the admiration of his contemporaries.


His erudite European training prepared him to be a role model and leading figure in the band of abstract artists that would coalesce to form the renowned group Painters Eleven.


There is still much work to be done before we will fully appreciate the extent of the influence and impact his work exerted upon the appearance of abstract art in Canada in the 1950s and subsequent generations. Nonetheless, his place within our art history is now acknowledged and well-known as an artist of exemplary singular talent, represented in our important public museum collections.

Yet at the time of his tragic death in 1956 at age 40, the star of Oscar Cahén, painter extraordinaire, might have been eclipsed in the public eye by Oscar, the renowned celebrated illustrator.


From the time of his release in 1942 from World War II internment camp at Sherbrooke, Quebec, the rise of Oscar, preeminent magazine illustrator, continued ascendant.


His prodigious output adorned the pages of countless publications;


... his witty stylistic flair earned him the chance to create a succession of magazine covers.


Illustrations by Oscar were no mere accoutrement to printed text; Oscar was a genuine celebrity with a devoted public following who eagerly awaited the publication of his next creations.


Oscar’s images encompassed a broad range of moods and human emotions.


Works from the war addressed serious issues, post war lament and tenderness, to the frivolous gaiety of celebrating festive holidays. Canada came of age, chronicled by Oscar’s depictions of the era.


They contribute immensely to the picture we hold of Canada at mid-century, a place in transition from the traditions born of the British Dominion...


... to a dynamic young nation evolving cosmopolitan airs of urban sophistication.


Much of this vision is attributable to Oscar’s illustration art.


The Museum of Contemporary Art Calgary is honoured to have the opportunity to host the Canadian premiere solo exhibition of the illustration work of Oscar Cahén and thereby re-introduce us once again to ourselves: Canada of the 1940s and 1950s.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Murray Tinkelman Describes His Process

A lot of people are understandably impressed when they see one of Murray Tinkelman's illustrations...


.... but even more so when they have a chance to see it up close.


I asked Murray to describe his working process to me and he kindly obliged...


"I do a drawing; a very tight, complete, as accurate as I can get it pencil drawing on tracing paper - and it's laborious and time consuming - and then I spray it with fixative. I put the drawing on a lightbox and tape down a sheet of single ply Strathmore bristol board (which, by the way, they don't make anymore, which really pisses me off. I'm 80 years old now and I've got enough to get me to age 90. After that I'm out of business.)"


"I also use a .50 rapidograph and they don't make that anymore either! So now I use a .40 instead, and I just try to use a lighter touch."


"By the way, the common prejudice against technical pen is that they're a constant line and there's no variety. But if you're careful and you have a light touch, you can get some variety in the line thickness - even in a technical pen."


"So I start with vertical strokes - 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock - on everything that will be the darkest value when the drawing is finished. I do that first set of strokes all over the image area. I never just focus on one small spot on the image - I work over every spot where the darkest values appear in the entire image."


"Once that's done, I begin to rotate my strokes slightly. For the second series of strokes, which will now cover the darkest value areas PLUS the next lightest value areas, I lay down lines from 1 o'clock to 7 o'clock."


"Once that's done all over, I rotate my stokes further - from 2 o'clock to 8 o'clock (you follow me?) extending the strokes now into the NEXT lightest value areas all over the image. When I get to the 50% grey - the middle value, I turn off the light box and continue working toward the lightest values."


"If I'm doing black and white artwork, I continue this process, turning the stroke and extending it into the lighter value areas, until I get to 11 o'clock."


"The lightest value areas (before white) get a stroke that goes from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock."


"If I'm working in colour however, it's a bit different... "


"I stop using black ink strokes when I get to the 50% value, and begin working in colour at that point."


"I have about 35 rapidographs all loaded with different colours so I never need to change the ink in any one pen. I use Dr. Martin's Colourfast Dies and each pen is labelled with what colour is loaded in the chamber. So at the 50% mark, I continue the process, but with coloured strokes instead of black ones."


"I almost hate to describe the process... it sounds so technical; I feel selfconcious describing it to you."


"But believe me, this is my joy - and I love every stroke."

*  Murray Tinkelman has won Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators, The New York Art Directors Club and The Society of Publication Designers. He has over 200 Awards of Merit from The Society of Illustrators.  Murray is the director of Hartford Art School’s limited-residency Master of Fine Arts in Illustration program.

* See many more of Murray's illustrations at

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's Aliiiive!!! Murray Tinkelman's Movie Monsters!

Many an illustrator reaches a point in his career when financial reward and creative reward become mutually exclusive.

Murray Tinkelman reached that point about thirty years ago. In an interview in Illustration magazine #23 he told Dan Zimmer, "My whole feeling about art and illustration changed, really very dramatically, in the '80s. Before then I used to get nervous if the phone didn't ring, because I didn't have an agent; but in the '80s I got nervous if the phone DID ring, because I didn't want to do the jobs. I wasn't interested in the subject matter anymore. I became interested in going back to where I started as a little kid."


"I became interested in rediscovering cowboys and Indians, and airplanes and baseball, and all these prepubescent male fantasies. And got me more entrepreneurial with my work. I could choose subject matter that I loved."

Enter Murray's Movie Monsters. "As a kid growing up in Brooklyn," Murray tells me, "we had a theatre... it wasn't even a second run movie house; it was more like a fifth run movie house."


"And it would show three movies that were maybe ten or fifteen years old, and ten cartoons and five serial chapters and give you a comic book... and all of that for a dime. At least once a month King Kong would be featured. King Kong is one of my favourite love story/monster stories/science fiction stories - it's just one of my favourite movies in the world, and it fed my love for black and white horror and monster films.


"The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, The Bride of Frankenstein, which is one of my favourite, favourite movies of all time and, in my humble (or not so humble) opinion is one of the two sequels in Hollywood history that actually better than the first film."


"And the first was good also. Frankenstein was a brilliant movie... but the Bride of Frankensein was just a tiny bit better."


Murray explains, "I really learned many years ago to be true to the dreams of my youth. The stuff I loved as a kid I love with absolutely the same intensity as an older person. I was gonna say "grown up" but I'm not sure about that."

"It's just great fun to pay homage to the memories of my misspent youth."


I asked Murray what his goal is in producing these works. I know that many of his series have appeared in gallery shows... are they intended to be works of "fine art"? He explains, "I don't have any financial pressure - I make a great salary as an educator - so I just pursue the subject matter that I love. But the terminology is really tricky; "fine art" vs "illustration" ... I think illustration is the most democratic of all artforms. Just to do it, show it and then put it back in your closet is not a satisfactory completion. So for me, the process of creating the work isn't truly completed until it's been published."


"The Movie Monster series have been in several shows, but it hasn't yet been published. I'm making attempts to see that that happens."

* See many more of Murray's Movie Monsters at

*  Murray Tinkelman has won Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators, The New York Art Directors Club and The Society of Publication Designers. He has over 200 Awards of Merit from The Society of Illustrators.  Murray is the director of Hartford Art School’s limited-residency Master of Fine Arts in Illustration program.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Murray Tinkelman's Curiously Creepy Mechanimals

In the 1980 book, "The Illustrations of Murray Tinkelman," the author writes that Murray's "Mechanimals" might have been "built by an obscure inventor who fancied himself a cross between Dr. Frankenstein and Henry Ford."


For his part as that "obscure inventor," Murray said, "I draw them strictly for myself, for sheer enjoyment."


"They give me a chance to grow, to experiment, and to make mistakes. Every artist needs to be able to make mistakes, but there's just no room for error when you're working on commercial assignments."


"They also keep me from stagnating. Since an artist is known for his former work, he can get channelled into repeating the same thing over and over. The Mechanimals help keep me flexible."


The fond memories of what Murray often calls his "misspent youth" have proven to be a wellspring of endless inspiration, fuelling a long and colourful career of cross-hatched creativity.

Murray's Mechanimals first appeared in print in 1979 in (legendary typographic designer) Herb Lubalin's "Upper and Lower Case" magazine. In his intro Murray wrote, "These drawings are my semi-respectful homage to all the model airplanes that I almost completed. Every printed-in-Japan set of instructions that led me astray."


"But most of all to those passionately sterile drawings and engravings that graced the pages of the dictionaries and encyclopedias of my youth."

*  Murray Tinkelman has won Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators, The New York Art Directors Club and The Society of Publication Designers. He has over 200 Awards of Merit from The Society of Illustrators.  Murray is the director of Hartford Art School’s limited-residency Master of Fine Arts in Illustration program.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Murray Tinkelman: How a Rhino Turned into Cthulu

It started with a rhino...


Actually, let me back up. Murray Tinkelman had already been working as a professional illustrator for about a decade and a half by the time he noticed that photo of a rhino in his studio that day in 1970.


No doubt the photo of the rhino was something he had clipped for reference. That day it intrigued him. He took out his 0.50 technical pen (his preferred weapon) and began hatching...


The hatching grew into an illustration of a rhino with a bird on it's back. Murray liked it.


He had never been afraid of experimenting with styles and techniques and this was something new for him. He submitted the rhino to the Society of Illustrators Annual Awards Competition.

The rhino won a gold medal.


"My work had been in the annual show many times by then," said Murray. "But I'd never won a gold medal. Well," he continued, "it turns out that art directors like working with gold medal winners."

Jobs began pouring in for this new style of Murray Tinkelman's. Among them was a book cover series from Ian Summers at Ballentine. "Ian called and told me Ballentine was going to reissue the Edgar Rice Burroughs "Tarzan" books, and he thought my new style was just the thing for the covers. But I was familiar with Tarzan, I knew [Tarzan newspaper strip artist] Burne Hogarth. In fact I'd hired Burne to work for me at Parsons, and I knew my style would not be right for Tarzan."

"But then Ian called again and offered my a series of covers for a new release of H.P. Lovecraft! I had read Lovecraft as a teenager, my father read Lovecraft, I thought the stories were great - I immediately said yes."


The result was a series of eleven striking covers that are fondly remembered to this day by Lovecraft fans.


On one blog I found in my research, the author writes, "The covers of the Lovecraft paperbacks published by Ballantine books during the early 1970s by Murray Tinkelman... took the Lovecraft themed artwork way beyond the typical gothic horror covers that had been used for earlier HPL editions.


[Tinkelman was] able to evoke the mood of otherworldliness that played such a huge part of Lovecraft’s writings."


At Ballentine, Ian Summers must have felt just the same. Murray says it was one of the most enjoyable assignments he'd ever had. "I would source old pulps, natural history textbooks, old prints - a whole variety of things - and amalgamate various elements that struck me as effective."


"Ian let me do whatever I wanted to without ever having to submit a sketch."


"Once a week I'd show up at his office with two coffees - one for him and one for me - drop off the artwork in one corner and sit down for a chat, then go home and begin the next cover.


"He never asked for even one correction on any of the illustrations."

* Murray Tinkelman has won Gold Medals from The Society of Illustrators, The New York Art Directors Club and The Society of Publication Designers. He has over 200 Awards of Merit from The Society of Illustrators. Murray is the director of Hartford Art School’s limited-residency Master of Fine Arts in Illustration program.