Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 2: The (Men's) Adventure Begins

Continuing my conversation with Shannon Stirnweis, we begin discussing his professional career... ~ Leif Peng


Leif Peng: So after the army and after art college, did you try looking for work in a commercial art studio on the West Coast?

Shannon Stirnweis: No. There was virtually nothing out west. The two hotspots at the time were Detroit and New York. So I picked New York because I didn't want to have to do cars all the time. It was the middle of the Eisenhower recession and I'd take my portfolio around to some of these greats like Bob McCall... but they weren't working full time either, so there was very little chance they'd take me on as an apprentice or do anything with me. So after two or three months of walking the streets I got a job as an apprentice at Norcross, the greeting card company.

Stirnweis36
(Norcross Greeting Cards ad, artist unknown, 1958)


LP: No kidding! That's very interesting. If I'm not mistaken that's where Murray Tinkelman started out as well!

SS: Huh. Well, my position at Norcross was not a professional job. I spent about two months in their apprentice program and then I went to Compton Advertising on Madison Avenue as a sketch man in their studio. I had a good friend from Art Center named Bill Kiazawa who was at that point an art director at Compton's and he recommended me for the job.

Stirnweis38
(Compton Advertising trade ad, artist unknown, 1940)

LP: Now were you married at the time or... ?

SS: No, but that position gave me the confidence to even think about it. It was double my previous salary and sort of the direction I had wanted to go into.

LP: So what kind of work did a sketch man do at Compton's?

SS: Largely storyboards and comps. The art director gives you a scribble and you sketch the picture up so it's good enough for an illustrator or photographer to do the final version for the ad.

LP: Did they already use markers for that type of work when you started as a sketch man?

SS: Chalks!

Stirnweis39b
(Though not by Stirnweis, these examples from a 1959 ad campaign are typical of the kind of work done by an agency "sketch man.")

LP: Right! I thought that might be the case. Was that a new experience for you, working with chalks?

SS: Actually at Art Center I started out as an advertising designer for the first year. I didn't know the difference, I just wanted to be a commercial artist. The jobs were already beginning to disappear for illustrators so they pushed me that way and I liked it... but after the first year it was kind of a tumultuous decision... was this really what I wanted to do or did I want to do illustrations. So I made a list for both sides and advertising design came out way ahead... and I decided to be an illustrator anyway. (we both chuckle) Because there were a bunch of guys who had gone to Art Center who went on to do illustration and I figured, if they can do it, why not me.

LP: So of that group, did most of them go to the East as well?

SS: Most of them did but I don't think any of them made it. Even though Art Center has a big reputation for getting jobs for everybody, it was not so in their cases. A lot of them went into associated fields like technical illustration and so on.

LP: Ok, let's get back to you working at Compton's as a sketch artist. Your bio says you began to freelance for adventure pulps. I'm very curious to hear how you made that transition from working on staff at the agency to getting your first freelance gigs for adventure pulps.

SS: Well, that was kinda 'extracurricular.' I did the paintings on weekends because I was still fully employed at the agency. So it wouldn't be fair to use their time to do that kind of work. How that started was I had lunch with Chuck McVicar, another Art Center guy, and a friend of his named Gerry McConnell. I was saying I wish there was some way I could get into doing illustration work and McConnell said well, if you want to do black and white or two-colour men's magazine art, just go see Larry Graber at Magazine Management. And he said, "Don't try to do better than what they're doing - just do exactly what they're doing." (We both laugh)

McConnell0507
(Above left: photo of Gerry McConnell, year unknown, R: original art by McConnell and printed cover, Peril magazine,March 1958)

SS: So I did a couple of samples and went up there and walked out with a bunch of spots, did them, brought them back and got a painting to do.

LP: So when you got those initial spots, do you remember what they paid for those.

SS: I don't remember... seems there were four or five of them and I got around... $500 or $750 for the bunch of them.

Stirnweis32montage
(Four of Shannon's men's adventure illustrations, year and publication(s) unknown)

LP: Now did that seem like a pretty good paycheque to you at the time?

SS: Oh yeah! Because my paycheque at Compton's was a hundred dollars a week, which was decent pay at the time... and double what I was getting at Norcross.

LP: So going from Norcross to Compton's to making five hundred bucks for a handful of black and white spots.. that must have been pretty nice!

SS: Oh yeah.

LP: How did your first painting for them come about, do you remember?

Stirnweis30
(A men's adventure interior illustration by Shannon Stirnweis, date and publication unknown)

SS: Oh, since I proved myself by doing those spots they immediately moved me up to spreads. It was all spelled out for you: they'd give you a paper with the scene they wanted done and anything that was pertinent. That was it! I went home and did some sketches and they okayed one.

LP: Once they okayed a sketch, was it up to you to go and find models?

SS: Oh sure.

LP: And what was that like for you initially... was that a big expense or did you use friends as models?

Stirnweis30detail02

SS: Yeah, pretty much friends, although models were not expensive at the time... fifteen or twenty-five dollars for a session.

LP: So it was well within the budget on an illustration job.

SS: Yeah, because if I recall for their middle grade book they paid... oh, $175 for a spread. So, like I said, getting a hundred dollars a week at Compton's... well, within about two years I could quit the agency and my main source of revenue was the pulp magazines - and I'd doubled my income.

LP: When they required you to do a period piece, were they very fussy about costuming and weaponry and that sort of stuff? Did you have to do a lot of historical research?

SS: Not an awful lot because it was usually the Nazis or headhunters or something you could be pretty liberal in interpreting. Minimal research. Not a whole lot.

Stirnweis41
(A men's adventure interior illustration by Shannon Stirnweis, possibly for Sportsman magazine, date unknown, found at comicartfans.com)

LP: So you didn't have to go out and rent a lot of costumes or whatever.

SS: No, you could usually figure out something that looked pretty close. I used my wife for a model now and then... posed for a few of them myself. Whatever it took to get the job done.

LP: Ok, let me ask you about a specific cover I found on the internet... for "Real" magazine. It's from October 1962 and there's a blonde-haired gal and she's wearing a pith helmet and she's wearing shorts and a sort of halter top and -

REAL, October 1962. Art by Shannon Stirnweis
(Cover by Shannon Stirnweis for Real magazine, October 1962 - image courtesy of MensPulpMags.com)

SS: And she's pointing a gun right at you. Yeah... uh, "Real" was not part of Magazine Management. That would have been somebody else that contacted me. I did a fair number of covers for them and some of them were just... you know, millions of people, like the battle of Iwo Jima (Shannon chuckles) just hundreds of these little bitty figures! But, you know, they all paid money.

LP: What did they pay for a cover? Do you remember?

SS: Uhh... it seems like it was $450 or $500...

Stirnweis19
(Cover by Shannon Stirnweis for Adventure magazine, April 1966)

LP: The reason I ask is because you arrived on the magazine illustration scene around the time when a lot of that seemed to be ending. You know, Collier's was already gone, the Saturday Evening Post was cutting back on the amount of illustration it was using, Cosmopolitan had a miniscule art budget compared to the previous years. So for you to get a fair amount of work from the men's adventure magazines is great, but did you also try showing your portfolio to some of those 'mainstream' magazines like the Post and Good Housekeeping and so on?

SS: I did sort of arrive as those magazines were on their last gasp. Yeah, those two years in the army really cost me some precious time in that regard. It really made the timing bad for me. On the other hand, I got a lot of memories and met a lot of people I never would have met so... I dunno who came out ahead.

Stirnweis43
(Interior spread by Shannon Stirnweis for Argosy magazine, December 1966 - image courtesy of Dave Groff)

LP: Yeah, well, I mean for me as someone who looks back at those timelines and has heard or read about a lot of different people's careers, you're arriving on the scene at a very interesting time because, you have, for instance, the guys who were at the Cooper studio during the '50s - Coby Whitmore, Joe DeMers, Joe Bowler and so on - they were all starting to think about moving away because the Cooper studio was a shadow of its former self by then.

SS: Yup.

LP: And meanwhile, here you are, young and eager and ready to get going...

SS: Right! (chuckling) R.G. Harris, I think it was... you ever hear of him?

LP: Absolutely.

SS: Yeah, well, I don't know if this is absolutely true but... Joe DeMers had just moved into town. This must have been a while before (I think the story was related by DeMers) but he went to see Harris to buy his house... and Harris had a five-car garage! All with these relatively spectacular cars in it!

LP: Wow...

SS: (chuckling) Yeah. And DeMers was fresh from the west coast and he thought, wow, you can really make a living here!

Harris53
(Interior illustration by R.G. Harris for McCall's magazine, 1952)

LP: Yeah, well from talking to some of the guys who were there in the '50s, they were getting say, fifteen hundred to two thousand for a spread in the Post, for example. So you know, that was a very lucrative time for all those guys to be making a living in illustration.

SS: As far as lucrative goes, there's a history of that in illustration. For instance, John LaGatta, in one of his talks to us at Art Center - that was the main value of Lagatta, some of the things he said - told us about one time he was having a barbeque in the back yard and he had to excuse himself because he had a job to finish - or rather to start and finish - for the next day... and it was only a two thousand dollar job.

LP: Hah! "Only!"

SS: And that was in the middle of the depression - like, '32 or so! (he laughs)

LP: Absolutely incredible.

SS: Yeah. So... yes, there was a big difference when I came along.


Continued tomorrow...


Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Monday, March 28, 2016

Shannon Stirnweis: "I wanted to be an artist when I grew up."

Each time I think I've seen it all, learned all the important names, discovered everything there is to discover about mid-20th century illustration, up pops another remarkable talent that was completely unknown to me. In this case I found a striking visual on the front of an old record jacket at a flea market; my first example of Shannon Stirnweis' art. That chance discovery cost me all of one dollar. So began the digging. Pretty soon I found other examples and even better, the artist's website with contact information. A correspondence ensued and not long after, a phone interview was arranged. Shannon generously shared the details of a long and prosperous career and helped fill in yet more pieces in the puzzle that is the history of the illustration business during the mid-20th century. Join me now for Part One of our conversation... ~ Leif Peng


Leif Peng: So I see on your website that you were born in Portland, Oregon in 1931 and you already had your ambitions fixed on becoming an artist while you were in grade school.

Stirnweis01b

Shannon Stirnweis: Well, actually... it was kind of a military time, you know, being the beginning of WWII and I kind of couldn't decide between trying to go to Westpoint and trying to be an artist (or as they would say back then a 'commercial artist'). Then about the seventh or eighth grade I found out that I didn't have 20/20 vision which knocked me out of being an army officer. So I went the other way.

Stirnweis24b
(Shannon Stirnweis, Whitman Publishing, 1962)

LP: Where were you seeing visual material that spurred your interest in drawing when you were a kid? Stuff like comic books, for example?

SS: Comic books hardly existed in my day. I can remember this kid down the street showing me these tremendous drawings he'd discovered... it was the first issue of Superman comics. Of course Hal Foster was doing drawings in the newspaper [comics], which we looked at. But no, I think I drew not trying to emulate anybody in particular, but I was encouraged by my family because they'd give me a couple of cents - or even a nickel or a dime - and I'd turn out the drawings. (Shannon chuckles)

Stirnweis24bAlt

SS: It was encouraged in the schools too... I remember in the seventh or eighth grade they had a competition to attend summer classes with the head of the education department at that time. I submitted my portfolio and got in and got to spend time with a lot of the other talented kids from the other schools, so my interest in drawing just sort of developed. Portland was relatively speaking sort of a backwater in the art world in those days, but I'd got an adult library card early and read all the books in the art section of the central library so by the time I was looking for an art college to attend, I'd developed a background of sorts.

LP: So you'd be looking at the lessons in these art books from the library and doing drawings based on that?

SS: Yeah, George Bridgman and so on. A lot of it was sort of obsolete, but still... probably the most pivotal book for me was Andrew Loomis' "Creative Illustration." And "Forty Illustrators and How They Work."

Stirnweis34

LP: You said your family encouraged you to draw, but do you think they had a sense that you might be able to make a living drawing when you grew up?

SS: Well, I remember this conversation I had with my grandmother when I was about fourteen. I told her that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and she said, "There's a lot of good jobs in printing you know." (we both laugh)

LP: Grandmothers are very practical that way.

SS: Yes.

LP: So they were encouraging but they didn't necessarily think this was going to be something Shannon's going to make a good living at.

SS: Well, I was always a good student. I was sixth in my class of five hundred in high school. So my mother and my aunt insisted that I go to the University of Oregon for a year. So I did that... for a year. But I then immediately switched to Art Center College.

Stirnweis35

LP: So when you arrived at Art Center and suddenly you're completely immersed in an environment with other talented students... how did you feel?

SS: I felt like I was in the right place. But I didn't know how long I would last. At the time Art Center was filled almost entirely with WWII vets... and they were all so good, they scared the heck out of me! (we chuckle) One other kid had high school art and I had one year of college, but that didn't really mean much there. But I'll tell you, it was a very formative experience.

LP: I assume you had some excellent instructors at Art Center.

SS: Oh yeah. There was Stanley Reckless who was a drawing instructor and I think he owned part of the school.

Reckless01
(Stanley Reckless in his home studio, year unknown)

SS: I had Reynold Brown, who was a very capable guy. I got to know him quite well. We used to eat lunch together. He was a very good painter. And I took some classes at the Chouinard Art Institute which was nearby, and I had Pruett Carter there.

LP: Wow!

Carter02.jpg
(Pruett Carter, Ladies Home Journal, July 1948)


SS: So I graduated in 1954 but I was immediately drafted. So I spent two years in the army in Germany, then when I came back they gave me the G.I. Bill so I figured I might as well get a little brush up. So I went back for two semesters and I had John LaGatta. He was a big name, but he was a terrible instructor. You'd put one line down and he'd come by and tell you it was wrong. (we both laugh) He never said why it was wrong or how to fix it... oh, he was not much fun that one semester.

LaGatta02
(John LaGatta, Ladies Home Journal, December 1937)

SS: And I had Joseph Henninger, and I think that was about it for the name instructors.

LP: Oh yeah, Joe Henninger shared a studio with Ren Wicks, didn't he?

SS: Ren Wicks, yeah. I showed my portfolio to both of them when I left school.

Wicks19
(An ad co-illustrated by Ren Wicks and Joe Henninger, Life magazine, July 1952)

LP: And what did they say?

SS: Oh, haha... Henninger said, "You never changed that head the way I told you to." (we laugh) It was a pretty girl and I thought it was one of the best heads I ever painted! Ren Wicks was very flattering and very nice.

LP: Well, that's great! Wow, how amazing that you came in contact with some of the huge names in the illustration business.

SS: Oh, and Neil Boyle was in one of my starting classes, but then he went away and went to Chouinard and he really shone there. He was not particularly a star at Art Center before he left. He was a Canadian too, did you know that?

LP: You know I may have known that - I've done some writing on Boyle but I can't recall at the moment if I knew that.

Boyle07
(Neil Boyle, Saturday Evening Post, January 1963)

SS: Yeah, he went back home for, I think, just the summer semester and then he came back and they gave him a lot of flack, which they did sometimes at Art Center. So he decided the heck with this and he went to Chouinard and came out great!

LP: Now, backing up a bit to when you were drafted and went to Germany, did the army take advantage of your artistic abilities or did they have you peeling potatoes and standing guard and stuff like that?

Stirnweis33

SS: Well I had my portfolio with me when I went over, just a little four by five booklet, and I'd show it and they'd just lost a guy who painted the signs and so on. So I naturally wanted the job and they gave it to me. I was an ammunitions supply specialist, but they had me paint signs and so on and in my spare time I'd paint portraits of the officers and enlisted men for about fifty dollars a head. I think I painted thirty-five or forty portraits.

Stirnweis25

LP: Your bio says that you had the opportunity to visit a lot of art museums while you were there. What was that like?

SS: I'd never really been exposed to that much art before. I'd been stationed in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in my training and got up to New York and to the Museum of Modern Art, so I'd seen a little bit of that stuff. But on my last leave in Germany I had twenty one days and I went by myself by train from Zweibrücken to Heidelberg to Switzerland, down to Rome and back up to Venice, up to Copenhagen and down to Paris and then back to Zweibrücken. So in twenty-one days I think I saw almost that many museums.

LP: I can imagine that must have been overwhelming.

SS: Yeah, it was staggering. It was too much. On the other hand, I had no alternative. I wasn't going to be there forever and that was my chance.

Continued tomorrow...

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ed Graham's Advice To Aspiring Cartoonists of the 1930's: "Get out of the business."

Ed Graham began his career as a professional cartoonist in the 1920s when he moved from his home state of Indiana to New York City. There he enjoyed some admirable successes: Graham's work soon began appearing on covers and interiors of many major magazines including Life, Ballyhoo, College Humor, Collier's and Judge.

Graham05

Graham was the subject of an article in the March 16, 1935 issue of the Columbia Daily Spectator. By then he'd had ten years experience in the cartooning business but struck a cynical tone when addressing his audience at a presentation at Columbia University: "Mr. Graham thoroughly denounced any rumor that would indicate that a cartoonist's life was easy and without hard luck and discouragements," wrote the article's author, Howard Hammer.

Graham06

Graham allowed that the most determined newcomer might enjoy a modicum of success if he possessed the many virtues of "resourcefulness, hard work, careful attention to detail, and intellectual honesty."

Graham03
(An Ed Graham gag from the "Annual Nudist Number" of Ballyhoo magazine, October, 1936)

As for that core skill of the cartoonist - the ability to come up with funny ideas - Graham suggested one consider the scenario of "the wolf at the door" to help motivate one's creative funny bone. "Then," quipped Graham, "the gags will be numerous." In other words, "Be funny or die."

Graham02

"Those seeking to achieve fame and success in cartoon work without doing the necessary "ground-work" are doomed to disappointment and would do better to change immediately to some other vocation," Graham warned his audience, emphasizing that "nothing but discouragements will be encountered in the [cartooning] profession." The tenor of Graham's 1935 speech at Columbia certainly suggests he felt wounded by his years in cartooning. While he didn't entirely give up freelancing, that year it became a sideline.

Graham01

Graham took a staff position with an advertising agency, a business he stuck with for the next three decades, eventually becoming vice-president and creative director at Outdoor Advertising Inc. in 1963. Graham also served as president of the New York Art Director's Club in 1962-3.

Graham04alt

Cartooning may not have been Ed Graham's true calling, but at least one fellow cartoonist, E. Simms Campbell, who enjoyed a long and successful career in the gag panel racket, gave Graham credit for launching his career.

Campbell02

"My break came when I ran into Ed Graham," wrote Campbell. "There aren't many fellows like Ed. He and I had worked on the Phoenix at the same time back at the University of Chicago. Well, Ed Graham had come on to New York ahead of me, and he had already broken into the humorous magazines and made a name for himself. He had his knocks, but he was over the hump. He knew the editors, and they knew him. I showed him some of my drawings and gags and right off the bat he said, 'I'll take you around. This is stuff is good.' "*


*Quote by E. Simms Campbell from Ariel S. Winter's blog post on the artist.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Alan E. Cober: "Students, read this message!"

"When asked what I do for a living, I say I am a drawer. What do I draw? Pictures!"

Cober15detail
(Detail from the cover of "How" magazine, Nov/Dec 1985)

"What kind of pictures? Anything interesting or challenging or not so interesting and a few that are boring."

Cober17e

"Oh," they say "for whom?" For myself, for magazines and myself, galleries and myself, books and myself, museums, advertising, posters, etc. I am a drawer!" They say, "Oh, you mean you are a commercial artist." My answer is no, because I'm only that when I collect my checks from the mailbox, [just like] Picasso. At all other times I am just an artist."

Cober18

"Since when is being paid for interpreting and executing a picture uniquely and personally with expression, feeling and craft, called commercial?"

Cober20

"The dictionary defines --

Commercial - adj. prepared merely for sale. I do not think I prepare anything just for sale nor do most of my cohorts.


Fine Arts - those arts which seek expression through beautiful or significant modes."


"I think that fits today's best illustrator-artist. More and more fit this category and more and more schools are bringing the student back to the fundamentals, where he is taught the most important elements are thinking, drawing, design and colour."

Cober21

"Each of these is individually important at some stage of every picture. Where he will find the very most important elements are opening your eyes to see and opening your ears to listen."

Cober22

"Many of you commercial artists should return to school. Photography did not put you out of business - you did, when you closed your eyes and opened your lens and shutter speeds."

Alan E. Cober, from "The Award Winners Speak," Eleventh Annual of American Illustration, 1969 - 70



Thursday, March 17, 2016

Joe Cleary: "... inventive use of design, outstanding draftsmanship, and cool elegance."

Here's a photo of young Joe Cleary, from the December 1953 issue of Art Director & Studio News. Cleary was 27 at the time and being showcased in AD&SN as the "Upcoming Artist" of that issue. But Cleary had been demonstrating great artistic prowess for many years before that.

Cleary16detail

When he was just six years old, everyone in Joe Cleary's grammar school class had to design a Christmas tree. Cleary's design was chosen as the best and the class built a full-size version under his supervision. Recalling that incident years later, Cleary would joke that it was his first experience as an art director.

Cleary131415

At the conclusion of high school Cleary earned a scholarship to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Unfortunately his father was the sort of manly man who didn't think art was an appropriately masculine pursuit, so Clearly had to take his classes on the sly.

Cleary17detail
(Detail from a spread in Boys' Life magazine, April 1967)

Ultimately his studies were interrupted by a three-year stint in the Merchant Marines during WWII.

Cleary23
(Saturday Evening Post, 1965)

Thanks to a chance discovery of some canvas scraps while serving onboard a Maritimes vessel, Cleary decided to take advantage of his artistic abilities to make a little pocket money. Using a box of Crayola crayons and these canvas scraps, Cleary would sketch nudie girls in whatever poses were requested by the other sailors. Who knew there were so many patrons of the arts in the Merchant Marines?

Cleary03
(Harold's Club Reno pinup calendar page,December 1965)

This foray into commissioned work earned Cleary a tidy sum, and upon being discharged he returned to CCAC with renewed fervour. One this second go he won first prizes in both a student painting competition and at the California State Fair. He was also awarded another scholarship for further study, but before he could finish school he was picked up by the Logan & Cox agency in San Francisco. By the time he was featured in AD&SN as an "Upcoming Artist," Cleary had completed professional work for an impressive list of clients: Standard Oil, Knob Hill Coffee, Rainier Beer and many others.

Cleary16detail02

Cleary's career chugged along nicely for the rest of the '50s. He had established himself as a top-rate West Coast commercial artist - but then came a call even this now-seasoned professional wasn't expecting. The Saturday Evening Post had taken notice of his work and was offering a story assignment. Thinking the call was surely a prank being played by one of his colleagues, Cleary turned down the job. "Well, maybe we'll try you again later," said the caller. Only after hanging up the phone did Cleary realize the call had been real. Happily, the Post did call back, and soon others were calling as well. Like a handful of West Coast artists before him - Fred Ludekens, Stan Galli, Bruce Bomberger and a few others - Cleary had made the leap to the national stage.

Cleary12
(Ladies Home Journal, 1964)

Cleary04
(Saturday Evening Post, 1965)

Cleary02
(Good Housekeeping, 1968)

During these years Cleary continued to keep busy with advertising work as well. He was now associated with the Patterson & Hall studio in San Francisco. Fellow P&H artist Charlie Allen recalled, "I 'directed' this shot for a booze ad in the P&H photo studio of my friend, Joe Cleary, (one heck of an artist and sculptor). Joe posed for the guy with guitar."

Cleary24
(Charlie Allen artwork featuring Joe Cleary as the model w/ the guitar)

Cleary's work always presented an intriguing mix of realism and expressionism, evidence of the artist's life-long passion for creative exploration and artistic expression. The mood and the materials of the 1960s encouraged experimentation, and Cleary, like many others, did not shirk from the opportunity to place one foot in the camp of fine art while keeping the other in the commercial.

Cleary25
(Painting by Joe Cleary, year unknown)

Years later, when Cleary had returned to his alma mater, the California College of Arts and Crafts - now as an instructor - he would share his fascinating experimental techniques with his students. Famed comic book painter/illustrator Dan Brereton studied with Cleary and recalls,"He had this wonderful technique... he would do a painting in Doc Martin watercolor dyes, then cover it with a layer of white glue. It created this wonderful soft and vibrant texture. [Joe] was very thoughtful and positive, low key. His work was so damn gorgeous. He was a big influence on me then."

Cleary01
(Argosy magazine, 1965)

Renowned illustrator Greg Manchess was also one of Cleary's students and wrote about him on his blog muddycolors.com: "Joe laid down a loose wash of colorful and rich dyes, then poured on a layer of Elmer’s glue. The glue made a strange and soft blur of the first washes, running them together. He would wait for it to dry into a glassy layer, then painted the shapes and lines in acrylic strokes on top of it. More dye washes, Elmer’s, and acrylics repeated until sometimes the illustration board was a quarter inch thick of glue and paint. It was luminous and seemed otherworldly on it’s own."

Cleary10
(Saturday Evening Post, 1963)

Over time, like so many other mid-century illustrators chasing fewer and fewer assignments, Cleary began to pursue other creative avenues. I suspect that he felt encouraged to do so by assignments like this one for the 1969 General Electric calendar.

Cleary18

Cleary's credit box on the back cover of the calendar even hints at the path that lay ahead for the artist...

Cleary18detail

Chuck Pyle, director of the Illustration Program at the Academy of Art University, told me, "[Joe Cleary is a] fellow Bohemian Club member and I have always admired his inventive use of design, outstanding draftsmanship, and cool elegance."

Chuck Pyle continues, "Joe has turned his love of the female form from brilliant illustration work in such diverse mediums as glue and acrylics (glue before the acrylics) to bronze sculpture, where he creates beautiful evocations of the women around him."

Cleary19
(Sculpture by Joe Cleary, "Young Dancer," year unknown)

One of the most impressive pieces I was able to locate is the "Mother River Memorial," which Cleary created in 2001. It stands on the Mississippi river front in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana and miraculously survived the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Cleary22
(Mother River Memorial, New Orleans, 2001 by Joe Cleary)

We'll leave the last word on Joe Cleary to Chuck Pyle: "Behind his sculpture work, which like Bruce Wolfe, is Joe's great strength, is his almost impish sense of humor. Joe always has a twinkle in his eye,in tandem with his gentlemanly manner, and his sculpted walking stick of his own design. Joe is worthy of more acclaim - I'm a fan!"


* It can be challenging finding many examples of Joe Cleary's illustration work online, but thanks to the generosity of several Today's Inspiration Facebook Group members; David Clemons, Lawrence Levine & Dave Groff I was able to present a substantial selection today.