Friday, December 21, 2012

Robert Baxter Revisited: "I try to get good by working hard."

I thought my post a few weeks ago on Robert Baxter would be a one-off, but it seems we're not done with him yet. Shortly after I posted some examples by Baxter from Reader's Digest Condensed Books...


... I received the following note from my friend Murray Tinkelman:

"Unless I am sorely mistaken Robert Baxter was, for a time, a Cooper Studio member in the early 60's or late 50's. I later bumped into him at the Famous Artist School. It was returning from a coffee break with Bob that I met the school director in the hallway. He asked me how things were going and I resigned on the spot."

"Anyway, Bob is a terrific painter and as I recall a very nice guy."

By complete coincidence, as I was tidying up my studio that same day, I uncovered a copy of the Autumn 1964 issue of Famous Artists magazine, the quarterly publication of the Famous Artists School. What should I discover inside but an article called "Meet one of our instructors... Robert Baxter"


In that article was confirmation of Murray's recollections: Baxter was in fact at the Cooper studio but "after two years on board with Cooper's, he felt he was at a standstill. The changing illustration field demanded a specialized and, more important, a specific personal contribution in viewpoint and style from the artist."

"It wasn't a pleasant time for me," he says. "I had been too heavily influenced by what other illustrators were doing rather than creating my own style and now there was little room for the imitator. It took me several years of painstaking self-criticism and hard work before I began to find my way."


The article tells us that Baxter began working at the Famous Artists School in 1961, but continued to do freelance work on the side. He maintained a relationship with an art rep in New York and was getting assignments from Good Housekeeping, Harvard Business Review, Ford, IBM, and quite a few other advertising and editorial clients.


Baxter described his approach to illustration: "If I'm working for an advertising client, he usually indicates quite specifically what he wants. On an editorial illustration there is much more leeway. Often I'm given the manuscript of the article, and the precise illustration and treatment are left to my discretion."


"After I read the copy, an idea may crop up. Or I doodle till one comes along. Or I may write down words that relate to the subject - frequently these words evoke images that I can develop."


"Eventually, the illustration begins to grow on my board. Somewhere in this process of developing the picture comes the moment when I know it is complete."


"With experience one learns to recognize this moment."

In the article from nearly 50 years ago, Baxter offers advice to illustrators that is every bit as relevant today (perhaps even more so):

"I'm trying to orient myself to markets... you must find the ones most sympathetic to your own developed point of view. First, you must find out who you are and why you think your opinions are special. The answers are sometimes hard to find."


Baxter continued, "Styles in commercial illustration are changing constantly... the illustrator is a great deal more free, more experimental than ever. It's a different way of working, much looser, less realistic. This kind of illustration is much more fun for me than the photographic type. It's more creative, too."


"However," Baxter qualifies, "it's hard to do well. You have to keep up. I try to keep up with the field simply by being involved with it. I try to get good by working hard, by painting constantly. I go into New York often. I talk to art directors. I have a lot of friends who are illustrators and painters; I talk to them. Artists talk a lot. You learn a great deal just by listening."


"Although each illustrator should be aware of what others are doing, originality has never been at such a premium. In fact, it is required of the artist who expects to operate at the highest level. He must be original in viewpoint, in concept, in technique. This doesn't mean that 'originality' should be conceived as merely surface mannerisms and trickiness. Ideally an original technique should add to the meaning of the picture, should arise out of the artist's personal involvement with his subject matter."

By way of example, Baxter explains the painting below...

"I feel close to this picture," he says. "One reason, of course, is the subject - my own child, Erika. When Erika becomes tired, she seems to withdraw within herself - to enter into a world of her own. Empty space is symbolic of her aloneness and the corner is a kind of axis in all this emptiness."


"The whole painting is based on this one feeling: that my child, who for ten hours a day is an extrovert, retreats into her magic, quiet world when she is tired. Because this world is 'unreal' it is without structure, so it was not important to delineate the objects in the room. If there is any originality in me, this picture expresses it."

In the years after the publication of this article, Robert Baxter went on to win numerous awards: the Paul Cezanne Medal, Aix-en-Provence, France; the Ogden and Mary Pleissner Award, American Watercolor Society; and other awards from Allied Artists of America, the National Academy of Design and the Society of Illustrators. He continued teaching in the following decades; at the Silvermine School of Art. In the early 1970s he was one of six painters who started Studio II, a studio/school in Westport.

(You can see Baxter's work in the top LH corner of the book cover below)

During the 1980's Baxter split much of his time between Connecticut and Provence, France, where he conducted painting workshops under the name, "Tour de Provence."


A final thought from Baxter worth printing out and taping over your drawing table:

"[To develop originality] you have to think. If you are merely going to look at the world and reproduce it, you are only doing what anyone else can do - and what a camera can probably do better. If you have ideas - then you're in good shape."

(Above: Robert Baxter with one of his recent paintings, Norwalk Citizen, April 2012)

* To see a large selection of Baxter's current work, click here.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Albert Dorne, Master Illustrator

I remember seeing these ads on the back of old comic books when I was a kid. Often they featured Norman Rockwell, whom everybody knew. But occasionally they featured some guy with bushy black eyebrows. I had no idea who he was - he wasn't drawing Spiderman, so I really didn't care either.


If you had told me as a kid that one day I would know all about this guy, have researched his life and written about him and even corresponded with his daughter, I never would have believed you.


But yes, over time, Albert Dorne, the man with the bushy black eyebrows has become very important to me.

With the first few paragraphs of his text in the recently released book, Albert Dorne, Master Illustrator, author David Apatoff beautifully and succinctly sums up why Al Dorne has so profoundly affected me.


Apatoff writes, "Who was in a better position than Al Dorne to testify about what drawing could accomplish? Drawing was the engine that powered his astonishing climb from the depths of poverty and illness..."


"... to international renown as an artist, business leader, educator and philanthropist."


"Starting with nothing but a talent for drawing, Dorne became, (in the words of advertising titan Fairfax Cone) "the highest paid, most successful commercial artist of his time."


"From that position, he used his drawing skills as a platform for building a multinational corporation that trained tens of thousands of students around the world in the creative fields of art, writing and photography."


"Now a wealthy man, he went on to to use drawing to help the disabled, became nationally respected for his charitable work and was appointed by the President of the United States to The President's Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped. Dorne consorted with glamorous movie stars and government leaders, amassed a major art collection and was sought after as a lecturer around the country."


"Dorne was a larger-than-life character with many contradictions. He could be crass and vulgar, yet he had the refined tastes of a connoisseur. He was a tough businessman, yet he was exceptionally tender-hearted and generous. He was both a womanizer and a caring family man. He was a wealthy capitalist, yet when a labor dispute broke out with his employees he was the one person they trusted to be the fair arbitrator of their grievances."


"He overpowered people with his dominating personality, yet he had the sensitivity and subtlety of a professional diplomat. He dropped out of school when he was just a small boy, yet he was highly educated."


"Despite these inconsistencies, Dorne was consistent in his love and respect for drawing, which accompanied him every step of the way through his extraordinary career."


So begins a book that presents a thorough - and thoroughly fascinating - recounting of Albert Dorne's life, followed by a selection of the artist's work that is as broad as it is deep.

What more do I need to say? Whether you are an artist or not, whether you're familiar with Dorne's story and artwork or not, this book is quite simply an essential addition to everyone's collection.

An epic story about a hugely inspiring human being. Buy this book.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Reports of TI's Death...

... have been greatly exaggerated - so take a deep breath and relax, folks.

Sometimes life gets in the way and one must turn one's attention elsewhere. TI will return next week, once my teaching obligations have concluded for the semester.

For anyone needing a daily hit of mid-century art and discussion (and in the absence of new posts here on the blog) I encourage you to join the TI Facebook Group, where nearly a thousand members have already added well over a thousand scans of illustration, design, comic and cartoon art from the '80s all the way back to the late 1800s.


The lively, far-ranging discussion continues daily and around the clock. It's quite a marvelous thing. Hope to see you there!