Friday, September 20, 2013

Ed Vebell, Condensed

Ed Vebell preferred illustrating in pencil rather than pen and ink. Some clients, however, required artwork that reproduced well under less than ideal printing circumstances. Such was the case with Readers Digest Condensed Books. In 1954 Vebell illustrated the story, "Tomorrow!" by Philip Wylie.


You can see from the title page spread above that even after a fair amount of Photoshop adjustment on my part, when the art is done with 'soft' media the poor quality pulp paper and rudimentary colour printing leaves something to be desired.

Because Reader's Digest was such a good, steady client, over the years Vebell developed a process to accommodate both his and the Digest's needs.


Vebell would make line drawings in pencil on cameo paper at two to three times printed size.


These would be reproduced in halftone rather than as solid line cuts, with two to four flat colour separations.


Where solid line cuts were needed out of necessity,


... the artist would trace over his initial artwork on a new sheet with carbon pencil.


Sometimes Vebell would work with a fluorographic pencil or use a fluorographic solution with brush and water. Arcane processes in this digital age, but at that time, it was a way of achieving clean whites in a halftone cut (some screening would normally appear in the white areas of halftones).


As described yesterday, Ed Vebell always shot his own reference photos for assignments (and in an age when photography wasn't the instantaneous process it is today).


In spite of such hurdles, Vebell typically started and finished an illustration assignment in one day, including set-up and photography.


Because deadlines are always in the morning, Vebell's workday started at noon. He would work steadily 'til one in the morning, sleep, then get up in time to hand the wrapped artwork off to an early morning courier bound for New York City.



In spite of his extensive use of the camera, Vebell never relied on it as a crutch. An exceptional and dependable draughtsman, art directors rarely asked to see sketches from him.


Once an assignment had been turned over, clients generally let Vebell do his thing, knowing his interpretation of the subject would satisfy their needs.


"My work must be quickly done and good," said Vebell. "Pressure makes me alert."






As I was scanning these images, I couldn't help but notice that, like Alfred Hitchcock's famous cameos, Ed Vebell makes a brief guest appearance in the background of this illustration.





Hope you enjoyed this look at some of Vebell's work that I suspect hasn't seen the light of day in over half a century. Happily, Ed Vebell is still going strong at age 93. Here he is on youtube in a February 2013 interview, talking about his work at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945...

* Thanks to Larry Roibal for bringing Ed Vebell's youtube interview to my attention.


  1. Love that limited palette!

  2. These are fantastic! The illustrations speak for themselves but the fact that they are Readers Digest too makes them even more precious. The experience of thumbing through an unwanted and negelcted RD copy and finding these gems is a unique pleasure. And the mustiness and the poor paper quality is part of their charm. I just stumbled upon a RD the other day with some Francis Marshall art and I just had to have it.


  3. So those are all pencil drawings? They look so ink-like!