Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ken Dallison:"I was saying to myself, 'When will anybody ever be able to turn the page in a magazine and go, "That's a Ken Dallison."'

In this fifth abridged excerpt from my interview, Ken Dallison describes the challenge of discovering one's own style. There are just over twelve hours left in our Kickstarter campaign. Please visit the campaign page to pledge any amount.

LP: Have a look at this… this is from Maclean’s from around 1959.


KD: Ooohhh yeah!

LP: And what I noticed here is that you’re painting!

KD: Yeah, you know what’s funny is at that time I was being influenced by Jack Potter. You know his Coca-Cola ads?

LP: Sure.

KD: Every so often I worked in that medium, then I found the Magic Marker and started using those - with the cans of colour, you know? So I’d squeeze the felt into a can and use the dye with a brush. I found that medium pretty good. I was always trying to experiment and find myself. At this stage I was saying to myself, 'When will anybody ever be able to turn the page in a magazine and go, "That's a Ken Dallison."'

(Above: a Ken Dallison illustration executed with Magic Markers, publication unknown, c. 1960)

KD: How do you find that identity? I was really worried about it and everybody would say, 'Oh don't do that to yourself!' But I couldn't help it. I would imagine all artists go through that, especially when we're in magazines, seeing our work in print. Somebody would go, 'Oh, that's a James Hill... that's a Will Davies...' but I felt like I was floundering in these areas, and what I didn't realize was the drawings - the scrappy drawings I'd done on the streets of London - was it.

LP: Were you seeing Robert Weaver's work at all?

KD: Oh yeah, I loved Robert Weaver. I mean... I don't know what that guy does but he was brilliant. When he did that series on crime, and the St. Valentine's Day massacre, it was unbelievable.

LP: So can you tell me chronologically... I have you in Canada right up until 1960.

KD: Well I did work in Canada after that. I moved to London and did Ford ads, making twelve thousand pounds a year - which is loads of dough... my father would be making a thousand pounds a year at that time.

LP: So you went from Canada to London?

KD: Yeah. I made a contract with a studio in London [Artist Partners].

(Above: one of Ken's Ford illustrations, done through Artist Partners in London, c. 1959)

KD: So anyway, next we moved to New York, and to break into the New York market - to survive - Gene Aliman [Maclean's art director] gave me another story, “High Places.” I found this technique of really using my pen and ink.

(Above and below: Ken Dallison, Maclean's magazine, January 6, 1962, detail and full spread)


KD: I’d found this technique where I was going, you know, scratchy everywhere. I mean, scratch this, scratch that, like this kind of thing here, only with a pen. And I did the Senate or something in Canada, full page, with all the people…


KD: ... and it’s all these scribbles and scratches and criss-cross... and at the time I thought maybe I’ve finally found an identifying technique. [Ken chuckles] But really, I look back on all these things I tried and I knew, ’No, you’ve got to simplify this.’ But it was all these drawings that nudged me towards the ID on my car drawings.


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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Maclean's AD to Ken Dallison: “Beware of the bears. They’re out there.”

In this fourth abridged excerpt from my interview with Ken Dallison we learn about Ken's first major editorial assignment, a multi-part series for Maclean's magazine he completed in 1957. Will Davies (the subject of our previous book) met Ken when both men worked at TDF in Toronto in 1955. Recently Will said to me, "Ken asked me if I would show him how to draw people. It didn't take him very long to learn!" Consider that as you view today's images. They are the work of an artist who progressed this far in the space of just two years! There are less than two days left in our Kickstarter campaign. Please visit the page to pledge any amount.


LP: OK, Ken, let me understand: so in 1957 Gene Alliman called you in and then flew you to Vancouver Island on Macleans’ dime. And you were out there for a couple of days I imagine.

KD: Oh more than that, yeah. I was there probably five days or so. I had to go from Vancouver to meet the writer and then go over to Vancouver Island, and then make my way from Ucluelet out to the island and when I got there I said, “How do I get there?” and they said, “I don’t know… we have a boat going out about once a week…” I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ They said “The only other way is a float plane.” So I said, “Ok… how much?” So I flew out there and of course the turbulence at that altitude - less than a thousand feet - was… [Ken gestures with his arms] “brum, brum, bum, bah! Brum, brum, bum, bah!” And we get down and we come landing in there… and there was a big Indian community there, so it was interesting. I wasn’t up to my sketching abilities in those days to have sat down… I don’t think I had a lot of time to even do that. But I got in with the fishing community in the little village, getting photos of the town from earlier on…


KD: At Maclean’s they’d said to me, “When you go there Ken, there’s a village that was built in 1890 with sidewalks that are made of wood.” And that was because the man in Vancouver that convinced people to buy land there was a shyster and sold them swampland. So they got there from England and thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ So they built a stilt village with wooden pathways connecting everything up. And the ghost of this town was still there. They told me that when I got there I’d have to walk about two miles down to the beach. They said, “Beware of the bears. They’re out there.” So I brought my Swiss Army knife. [we chuckle]


KD: So I went to see the village, and the only way I could get there was by getting on a school bus. There was no transportation between those towns. I said “How am I going to get there?” and the people said, “Well… nothing goes there… you might ask the school bus driver to drop you off.” So I asked the school bus driver, “Can you drop me off there?” “Yeah.” So when I got there with my little pen knife and my sketching pad there was this old logging, hunting cabin. I looked in the door and there was a great hole in the floor with a tunnel going down into the ground. And all I could think was, 'Oh my God, that’s gotta be a bear’s home in there!' So I shot out of there! [we all laugh]

KD: So I went down to the beach… have you been to the beach on Vancouver Island?

LP: No.


KD: They had these giant undersea vines that were as thick as telephone cables. They were spread all across the beach! I was obviously the only person there for about twenty miles around. The beach there is black, and amongst the black you can see a little glimmer of gold. There’s a river that washed down onto the beach and deposits these tiny flecks of gold. Nobody’s ever been able to find the source. You could make a daily wage, they say, but you’d have to dig, you know, four tons of sand to get it. So the old equipment’s there, half buried in the sand. And there was a cabin there! I opened the door and somebody uses it. It was hospitable in some way, and I drew the cabin. That was the only thing I drew on that trip.


KD: But that was the story. It was in Maclean’s in something like six parts. Some of the other drawings didn’t turn out so well, in fact I burned some of them when we moved from New York. I threw them on the fire.

LP: Oh no…


KD: It was stupid but at the time I was so embarrassed at the quality of them. The only one which I might have kept, because it was my favourite one, was the first one in the story, which was this one.

(Above: the first spread of the Florencia Bay series and the only one which Ken kept)

LP: So can you recall how much Maclean’s paid you?

KD: Well it would have been astronomical for me at that time! I bet it was close to four thousand, five thousand dollars. Plus expenses.

LP: Wow. In 1957. By my calculation, that would be the equivalent of approximately forty thousand dollars in today's dollars!


KD: Yeah. I’d only been in Canada for three years then… and it was just lovely of Gene Alliman to give me that assignment. He gave me a cover to do one time, but I bombed out on that.

(Below: an article that appeared in the same issue of Maclean's in which Ken's Florencia Bay series premiered.)


Continued tomorrow.

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Monday, August 08, 2016

The Man Who Fired Ken Dallison in 1955: “We feel your shaky line has no application to automotive work."

In this third abridged excerpt from my interview with Ken Dallison we learn about the first few years of Ken's struggles to establish himself as a professional illustrator after moving with his new bride Gwen from England to Toronto, Canada in 1955. Ken found work almost immediately at Taber, Dulmage & Feheley, the art studio where Will Davies (the subject of our previous book) worked. Help us make a Ken Dallison book a reality - visit our Kickstarter campaign to pledge any amount.

LP: Did I understand you correctly that you were at TDF for only three weeks?

KD: Three weeks, then I got fired. One day Bud Feheley called me into his office - I had no idea it was coming. So I go and sit down and he says, “Ken, I do have a problem. We’re going to have to let you go.” He says, “We feel your nervous, shaky line has no application to the automotive work we do for our clients, so we don’t see you having any future here.”

(Above: Ken Dallison spot illustrations, possibly for Car & Driver magazine(?), August 1962)

KD: And not only did I only work there for three weeks, it was three weeks before Christmas! And being British, there seemed to be an unwritten rule where you’d say, ‘Well, we’ll leave it until January the 10th and get rid him then.’ But three weeks before Christmas. And the TDF annual Christmas party and darts was like two days later! I actually had the nerve to go. I went even though I was no longer an official TDF employee. [Ken chuckles]

LP: So you had to go home and tell Gwen you’d just lost your job. Three weeks before Christmas.

KD: Oh yeah… and those were not good times. And I don’t know how I ended up going to David McKay at CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) but I remember it was cold and the wind was blowing through my thin English trousers so it felt like I was wearing shorts. So I went around and saw him and I dug out my portfolio and he said, “Well, what are those down there?” And I said, “Oh, those are some line drawings I did on the streets of London.” He says, “Let me see them… yeah… that’s the kind of thing I’m looking for.”

(Above: Ken Dallison, date & publication unknown)

KD: I was like, ‘Wow, what a break this was!’ And he said, “I’ve been looking for station identification breaks for CBLT Channel Six. And I see what you’ve been doing here… would you like to go round the studios and just wander around. I’ll get you permission. Go wherever you want to go… watch the rehearsals, the bands, the cameras, and do some drawings. Do whatever you want to do and then show them to me and I’ll pick out the ones we maybe could use.” And I said, "OK, yeah… how much will you pay for that?” He said, “Oh… fifty bucks a drawing.” My mind was giddy!

KD: TDF had been paying me forty-five dollars a week - but they threw in another five per week because I was married. And now I was saying to myself, ‘My god… I could do two a day! That would be a hundred bucks a day!’ My head was spinning! [we all chuckle] So I would go down and wander around and it was heaven for me because I’d go down and the Jack Kane Band was rehearsing and Norman Jewison was directing, and I’d be allowed in the control room with all the people with their headsets on…”

(Above: Ken Dallison, publication unknown, 1972)

LP: So you just drew all of that.

KD: I didn’t really because I wasn’t really comfortable drawing people at that time so I concentrated more on crane cameras or a grand piano with the lid up or all the music stands, which had been moved out of the way and were making an interesting pattern - and all the cables lying on the floor. So it would be nice to watch TV - black and white TV back then - and at a station break the image would come up: “CBLT Channel 6 Toronto” and one of my drawings would be there. And that was the start of my career, really. Dave McKay kicked off my career.

(Above: Ken Dallison, station identification art, 1955/6)

KD: And there was another art director at Caulfield Browne - O. K. Schenk - he’d been a Corvette captain out of Portsmouth in England during WWII, with a cultured Canadian accent that had a timbre made for FM radio. And he’d say, “Ken, I have two friends over at Y&R… take over what you’ve got in here and show them. And there’s another one for you right here.”

(Above: Ken Dallison, publication unknown, October 1962)

KD: And then he’d call three weeks later and ask, “How’d you do?” And I’d say, “Nothing. I didn’t get anything.” “Oh! I’m surprised at that. Well go over to Imperial Oil… Gerry Something-or-Other is the art director up there. Damn sure he’ll like your drawings up there.” And I did get a job from Imperial Oil. He was always nice to me. I found everybody in the ad business in Toronto couldn’t have been more helpful. Ron Scarlett at Mayfair, June Alliman at Maclean’s, Joan Chalmer at Chatelaine and the guy who was at Liberty - I can’t think of his name - he was the first person who sent me on assignment to draw. He wanted me to draw people looking at the paperback spinner rack in the drug store.


KD: You know how in those days you’d go in the drug store and they had paperbacks in a spinning thing and you’d turn it to look at them all? So I went down to an IGA or something and stood there and drew people spinning the book rack and looking at things, and it was published in Liberty magazine. That was the first image printed on paper of mine that was published in Toronto.

(Above: Ken Dallison, Liberty magazine, March 1956)

LP: How did that feel?

KD: Great. It was a step. It was a step.

Continued tomorrow.

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Thursday, August 04, 2016

Ken Dallison: "My god… I’m two years his senior and he’s kicked my ass."

Part 2 of an abridged excerpt from my interview from last summer with Ken Dallison. Today Ken talks about his early days working in an advertising art studio in London, England during the early 1950s. We are crowdfunding a coffee table art book of Ken's work, like our successful Art of Will Davies book from last summer. Help us make a Ken Dallison book a reality - visit our Kickstarter campaign to pledge any amount.

KD: After I’d been at the advertising art studio about two years, all of a sudden a kid from my old college came in. And I saw him with his brown bag and paper and I said, "Where are you going?” He said "I’m going sketching at lunchtime." I said, "Why are you doing this?" He said, "I just like drawing buses and trains and things like that. You should come one day." So I went out with him one day. He had a dip pen and ink. And I took my HB pencils and my erasers and pad and we went out to Euston Station or someplace like that and sat down. Back then in England they had a Greyhound bus where the passengers came in and sat down of they could go up a few steps to another level and all under there was luggage compartments. It was a very cool looking bus. So we sat down to draw it.

(Above: Ken included the fondly-recalled Greyhound bus in the background of this illustration done for Car & Driver magazine, c. 1966.)

KD: So already when we started I’m drawing a line… then before you know it you’ve drawn four or five lines trying to erase out the ones you don’t want. By the time a half hour or forty-five minutes was up and I got back to the studio my friend who had these dip pens and ink - cause ink is unforgiving! - so you think about it more. So in the end the looseness - the search - has a magic about it. And my pencil drawings… when we got back the studio manager said, "Let’s have a look at what you got!" and I’m like, ‘My god… I’m two years his senior and he’s kicked my ass.’

(Above: Ken's first tentative attempt at sketching on location - which would launch his future style and subsequent career, c. 1952 - 3.)

KD: So one day my friend said, "Ken, here’s a pen. I got you a bottle of ink. Let’s go out drawing with pen and ink." And you can imagine that first day… you still want to use a pencil to get a little bit blocked in. But after a while it became what we did, and we loved Grosvener Square where the American PX and their embassy was and American soldiers could take delivery of a new car so there were American cars there. They could take delivery, drive it around, bring it home and pay no tax. So it was a very big incentive. So the circle in the square was filled with turquoise and white Crown Victoria convertibles. To English eyes you go, ‘Oh my god. That’s some car!' And it had the rainbow chrome down the side… and the panels were turquoise and they might have been the first to use whitewalls, which would get dirty pretty quick in England in that smog.

(Above: Ken Dallison illustration from the Americana '77 vintage automobile calendar, Scott Paper Co.)

KD: So we just freehand drew them in ink. To this day I have a friend who uses all those french curves and ellipse templates and he says to me, "What do you use?" and I say, "Freehand." He says, "No way! Those ellipses are freehand?" It’s all due to the street drawings in London we did back then. We sat on the curb, we didn’t even have a stool. When you get down that low and look up the side of a Ford Fairlane at that time and the headlamp would be here… and you’ve got those flares and the whitewall… I mean, we must have drawn two hundred ellipses. It’s just practice is all.

LP: Sorry; what was the name of that friend?

KD: Peter Hutton. Our work is indistinguishable. The only difference would be I came to New York and got into the big time as a little fish and got fatter and fatter looking at all the talent that was around me. It’s like if you’re into tap dancing and you’re in Des Moine, Iowa… where are you going to go? But if you’re on Broadway and you’re the same tap dancer and you’re working on a chorus line… I think that was the difference for me. I started humanizing my paintings, putting people in them. Yes I did cars but I put people around the cars.

Ken Dallison, publication & date unknown
(Above: Ken Dallison, date & publication unknown)

KD: I mean I can remember my father looking at one of my first illustrations from high school where they gave me a job to do, a Victorian house with the steps coming down and people in crinolines coming down the stairs. And my father, being the sarcastic little bugger he was, he looks at the main figure of a woman and he says, ‘Who’s this, Mussolini?’ [Ken chuckles] So forever more I had this fixation: I gotta draw women better!

(Above: Ken Dallison, date & publication unknown)

KD: I mean, let’s say this: I can draw men like I’m always at the top of my game. Women I always get a little uptight. Mussolini always comes back in my mind! [we all laugh]

Continued tomorrow.

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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Ken Dallison: "One day I sort of woke up and went, ‘Ken… what the friggin’ hell are you doing?' "

Last year, while doing research for our book, The Art of Will Davies, Simon and I had the great fortune of meeting legendary automotive illustrator Ken Dallison. What began as a quick visit to Ken's house to shoot a couple of Will's originals that he and his lovely wife Gwen own, and to hear a few anecdotes about Ken and Will's long friendship, became a day of storytelling during which Ken regaled us with the most entertaining and informative recollections of his own career. I think we decided that very day that if the Will Davies book was a success, we would absolutely have to do one on Ken next. If you'd like to help make that book a reality, please visit our Kickstarter page and pledge any amount. Here's Part 1 of a series of excerpts from my interview with Ken...

Ken Dallison: I went to art college in 1948. All the schools were in upheaval because the soldiers were coming home from the war.

(Above: Ken Dallison, Cycle magazine, 1967, reprinted in Illustrators 10, 1968)

Leif Peng: How old were you then?

KD: Fourteen.

LP: Fourteen? That would have meant you’d have been just starting high school if you’d been living in Canada.

KD: I was in high school… uhh… junior high school, which went up to age fourteen. In fact, if I had not had the good fortune to sit for that examination for art college, I’d have been out of school and graduated at fourteen.

LP: So at that point would they say, 'ok, time for you to learn a skilled trade' or something?

KD: No. Just go. Go out and find a job.

LP: At fourteen?

KD: Yeah. Anyway… when I went to the college I discovered there were other people out there that were not only good, but better than me. So I was like, ‘Oh shit. This isn’t going to be the joy ride I’d imagined.’ But as it progressed… we never worked in oils in the two years in the school. We worked in metal a bit, we did wood working, and the life drawing class, I enjoyed. It was a great time.

(Above: one of Ken's life drawings, done on an unfolded paper bag, glued to a board - year unknown)

KD: After two years I left art college and my main strength was lettering. I could paint the alphabet in Norman Serif with balanced kerning on every letter to such an extent I was the top student for doing san serif or whatever was required. I did go into the other classes but by that point I felt somewhat of an inferiority complex… so when I graduated I went and got a job right away doing lettering. Lucky for me, lettering was in demand.

LP: Wow! So at sixteen you were working? Where did you find a lettering job?

KD: I worked for a government office doing cartography, repairing old negatives. So they had these glass plates in the old days for the originals, and if a river changed it’s name, or a new road was put in, I would go in and do reverse lettering. I would write for example ‘River Ueze’ backwards in serif cut into the glass plate, because they used this sort of a gel film on glass… it was sort of like a soft plastic. So if you used a needle… those diamond-headed pens we have, you know, for wood engraving? That’s what we used as well. So you’d scrape the old name out - but now you’ve got to do it in italics, and all the lettering is backwards.

(Above: One of the maps Ken hand lettered on a glass plate while working at a cartography office)

Anyway, there was two year compulsory military service in England so at age eighteen I signed up. And since my workplace was sort of a military operation anyway, my boss said, ‘Do your military training and you can come back and work here if you want.’ Which meant I could live at home, I didn’t have to wear a military uniform most of the time (except for parade or something like that) so… basic training, about twelve weeks or so and I was back at my old job!

(Above: Detail of one of the maps Ken hand lettered on a glass plate while working at a cartography office)

Then one day I sort of woke up and went, ‘Ken… what the friggin’ hell are you doing? You went to two years of art school. You want to paint, you want to draw and what are you doing? You’re doing bugger-all. You’re doing this stupid backwards lettering. You’re better than that!’ So I went to look for a job in the advertising world in London. Of course my portfolio in lettering got me my first job right away. I was doing point of sale material, so if you had a little Mexican guy with a bottle of tequila and some type next to him saying ‘Mexican tequila’ there would be a label on the bottle wrapping around it, and guess who did the lettering? They had an artist do the figure and the bottle and I’d do the fade-away lettering on the bottle.

(Above: A sample aviation illustration Ken painted at age 16 or 17, while he worked professionally as a hand lettering artist)

Continued tomorrow.

We need your help to make this book a reality. Please visit our Kickstarter page today!


Monday, April 11, 2016

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 4: Paperback Cover Art

My conversation with Shannon Stirnweis continues... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: I'm guessing around this time in the mid-1960s you started to do paperback covers, is that correct?

Shannon Stirnweis: That came along almost from the beginning. Paperbacks were really the ... 'hiding place' of illustrators who couldn't get magazine [assignments] anymore. And the less-great publishers were the ones I went to to show my stuff to. That was like Ace and... and Ballantine bought me fairly quickly too.

(Above, two paperback covers illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, L: Ace Books, 1960, R: Ballantine Books, 1969)

LP: Oh, really?

SS: Yeah, Bob Blanchard was the name of the art director there and he was a nice guy.

(Original art from a wrap-around paperback cover, "The Hell-Fire Club," Illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis, Ballantine Books, 1969)

LP: Now did you go there on your own to get paperback work?

SS: Yeah. I just cold called them. In those days it was quite possible to just call up an art director and go see him the same day with your portfolio. Which is no longer true.

LP: No. So when you started doing paperback work, what sort of stuff were you able to get at the beginning? What sort of genres?

SS: Oh, detective stuff and so on. There were a lot of strata in paperbacks. The stuff I was doing early on was like, $250 a cover and was usually a gal - sometimes a big-boobed gal (we chuckle) - and a guy, a detective or a shoot-out or something.

(A Shannon Stirnweis paperback cover for Ballentine Books, 1967)

LP: Hah. Yeah... I came across one you did called "The Berlin Wall Affair" by Troy Conway, and that one's from Paperback Library, from 1967. And it's very much the sort of scenario you'd see on a Robert McGinnis spy or detective type of cover. Does that ring a bell at all?


SS: It doesn't absolutely ring a bell, no. Well, that's after I moved up a ways. Those American Library guys, they'd pay, oh, a thousand bucks or so.

LP: Wow, yeah, that's moving up for sure! Would that have been sort of the top end for paperback art back then?

SS: Uhh... yeah. It gradually got higher and higher.


LP: Let me ask you this, Shannon... did these guys tend to hang onto the artwork or did you usually get your original art back?

SS: I don't remember exactly when, but they started around some time there was going to be some litigation or some taxes around the art. Up to that time, you never saw it again.


LP: I see. And how did you feel about that at the time, that you weren't getting your artwork back. Did it matter to you?

SS: Well, it mattered, but it was just the way business was done. (he chuckles)

(original art by Shannon Stirnweis from a Paperback Library cover, 1966)

LP: So you just accepted that. And when you started to get your artwork back, did you just hang onto it or give it away to friends and family?

SS: About half and half. Some of it I gave away... some of it I dumped! (he chuckles) Yeah, I gave it away to people and I've got a huge closet full of it here.

(original art by Shannon Stirnweis from a Paperback Library cover, 1966)

LP: The reason I ask is - you know a guy named Stan Galli?

SS: Yeah - I never met Stan Galli but he was also a west coast artist.

LP: Well, I read an article with him where he said every time the Saturday Evening Post or whoever sent back one of his originals, he'd take it out back to the barbeque and burn it. (Shannon lets out a huge laugh)

SS: Well, there was a time when your estate got taxed for everything they possessed and then they took the value of the art when the company bought it and they'd assess your heirs for that! (We both laugh)

LP: That's pretty clever of them! (chuckles) Now, you were saying when you first began doing paperback covers for Ace and so on and then you worked your way up through various genres... I found a blog where this fellow said you also painted a lot of romance covers for Harlequin. Is that right?

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Harlequin Romance, 1990)

SS: That was not until the '90s. I did romance covers for Harlequin for about four years. One wrap-around cover a month for four years. And they paid decently even for the time, like thirty-five hundred for a wrap-around cover. So it gave you a base income. I was doing those and stuff for Unicover, the stamp people. You know about them?

LP: I do because I shared a studio in Toronto with a fellow named Tom McNeely and he did a lot of work for Unicover.

SS: Yeah, so I had Unicover and Harlequin and I was doing westerns for Bantam Books (about one a month). And I was feeling pretty good - three decent, steady clients - and all of a sudden all three of them gave out.

LP: You're kidding.

SS: Nope. (he chuckles)

LP: That's the way it goes when you're a freelancer, unfortunately.

SS: Yes, right.

Continued tomorrow...

Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 2 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 3 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Monday, April 04, 2016

Shannon Stirnweis, Part 3: Children's Book Illustrator

Shannon Stirnweis and I continue our conversation about his illustration career... ~ Leif Peng

Leif Peng: Around the same time you were doing work for the men's adventure magazines you were beginning your relationship with Helen Wholberg as a representative, and she was representing you to the book publishers, is that right?

Shannon Stirnweis: Yes.

(Two books illustrated by Shannon Stirnweis in the 1960s)

LP: Ok, when you say the book publishers, are you talking about paperback book publishers?

SS: No.

LP: Ok, you're talking about children's book publishers. I read you'd done thirty or thirty five children's books. Was one of the publishers Helen wholberg connected you with Whitman Publishing?

SS: Yeah, that's right.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover and, below, interior illustration for Whitman Publishing, 1964)

LP: I've found several examples of that work. Can you give me a general idea of how big a time commitment that was, to do a painted cover and a series of interior illustrations for a typical Whitman's children's book?


SS: Oh, it depended a lot on the book. Some of them were pretty loose, but others - I did a book on dogs called "Dogs of the World" - I had to figure out how to spec type on that one so I could lay the thing out.


LP: So they really handed you the whole project - not just the illustrations.

SS: Yeah, the whole project. I managed to design it fairly well... I think. It started out I was only going to do certain kinds of illustration for that one and then it worked into being the whole book. But in terms of time, I think I had to do a spread and a half every day. It was real tight by the time we got the thing done.


LP: Wow! I've seen some pages from your book of dogs and they were full paintings.

SS: Yeah. Well, they were illustrations in acrylic as opposed to painting in depth.

LP: Did you have to find live dog models for that or did you mostly use photo reference.

SS: I went to a lot of dog shows!

LP: So you did the book on dogs and I know you also did a book on cats, and then for Grumbacher you did a book on "How To Paint Dogs" and one on "How To Paint Cats."


SS: Yeah, and another one on "How to Paint the Wild West."


LP: Right. Did those "How To" books come about because you'd done the early books on dogs and cats?

SS: I don't think so. I might have mentioned to somebody that I could paint dogs and cats but it was Lester Rossin, who was a rep and he knew me and I knew him a little bit. He just said, 'Can you do a book on dogs for me' and I said 'yeah.' He was another one of these characters from those extravagant days... I went to his house in Stamford Connecticut and it was just a bonanza of artwork by illustrators who'd worked for him. Who never got their work back.

LP: Wow.

(Interior spread from "The Art of Painting Dogs," Shannon Stirnweis, 1975)

SS: In his day he was high on the echelon of art representatives. He would bring in Christmas baskets of champagne and cookies and Christmas hams to every art director of a lot of these big agencies.

LP: That's how you do it, I guess... you gotta get their attention... win their affection.

SS: Yup.

(Lester Rossin Associates trade ad from the back pages of the 1957 NYAD Annual)

LP: So during this time as you were gradually becoming a full-time freelancer, did you socialize with a lot of other illustrators?
Were you sharing studio space with anyone?

SS: Yeah, I moved in with [Charles] McVicar and [Gerry] McConnell into a studio in the city because most of the studios that gave you the quickie stuff that really paid the bills wanted to know that you were local. So you didn't want to work out of your house out of town, you wanted to appear to be very local.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Grossett & Dunlap Inc., 1965)

SS: Later we were in the 50s someplace... I can't remember. Then we moved down to 34th Street between Lex and Third. It was near Grand Central, where I also shared space with Barney Plotkin. You probably never heard of him.

LP: I don't think so, no.

(Original paperback cover art by Barney Plotkin, 1986, found at

SS: There I took the space that Gerry McConnell had had. He'd been an apprentice to Dean Cornwell way back, so I got one of Dean Cornwell's old drawing tables.

LP: Wow, that's amazing! That is absolutely incredible!

SS: (Shannon chuckles) It was exactly like anybody else's drawing table.

(Shannon Stirnweis cover for Whitman Publishing, 1963)

LP: (laughing) Well, yeah... I suppose...

SS: And none of the talent brushed off. (He chuckles some more)

Continued tomorrow...

Read Part 1 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here

Read Part 2 of the Shannon Stirnweis interview here