Friday, March 16, 2007

A Will Davies "How To" - Step 5: Finished Art

Having traced his drawing down onto his illustration board (he preferred Crescent or 5PK board) Will would begin to paint. "I'd look for shapes," he tells me, "that's the way I've always approached it -- finding the shape of an eye, the shape of the shoulder..."

Fifty years later, Will says he doesn't really remember if he had a standard method for doing black and white illustrations like this. He says he likely began by laying in the darkest areas with india ink, then mid-tones with ink wash, and finally his lighter areas. "I used three different white paints, each for a specific purpose,"says Will, "Liquitex white for thin washes (like the reflections on windshields), Opaque (Correction) White for highlights and other very white areas and a third one, I forget now, for mixing semi-opaque midtones. Probably white gouache."

The entire process we've looked at this week usually took Will about two days from start to finish. But of this multi-stage process Will says, "I gave it up later on. I found I liked my drawings better than my finished art. I lost all the zip, the vitality of the drawing, by tracing just the outline onto the board. That's why I began doing my drawings directly onto the board not long after this."

I asked Will how much he got paid for a job like this but he says, "I never knew what they were worth. TDF (the art studio where Will worked) gave me a guarantee - a salary - so I have no idea what they got for the jobs." Will remembers that he typically had several jobs on the go at any given time, including story illustrations for the handful of Canadian magazines being published back then.

"When Chatelaine magazine first came out the salesmen started bringing me jobs from them. But they only paid about $300 for a double page spread so they quickly dropped that stuff. They said, "you can have it." So I did all my magazine assignments directly for the clients. They [TDF] didn't want to know about it."

TDF had been started around 1944 by three partners: Tabler, the artist, Dulmage, the creative director (and, Will says, a real task master who had to give his approval to all finished art before it left the studio) and Feheley, the businessman of the trio. On the phone last night Will told me this amusing anecdote about one particular assignment:

"I was doing an illustration for ladies nylons. A closeup of a pair of woman's legs walking down the street. It was an ink drawing and I was never very good at those. I always had a hard time doing a nice line in ink. I kept having to add white to fix it up. Then I'd have to add more black to fix up the white... I was really struggling with it. It was a mess. Finally I took it to Dulmage for approval, expecting the worst - because he was tough. But he just took one look at it and said, "Now that's about the best use of white paint I've ever seen."


  1. What a wonderful story. You give a human face and personality to those who paved the way to what the business is today. I never met Will but certainly used TDF for many years. Thanks for resurecting the memories. Mike

  2. Fred; Thanks so much for your comment - its my fondest wish to learn about the real people and their experiences working in illustration during those times.

    I'd love to hear more about your experiences working with TDF. Please consider emailing me directly. You'll find my email address under my profile.

  3. i've been a long time reader. this blog is one of the best on the net. this series you're doing here is just a prime example. thank you for taking the time.

  4. Thank you da janx - you made my day! :-)

  5. Anonymous7:20 PM

    Inspiration is the word for this series. It is no less than humbling to see the exhibit of craft, skill and professionalism in the Will Davies series. It's the sort of example that should inspire each of us to push a little harder at whatever we aspire to. And to think you know him.

  6. wesley lowe3:01 PM

    Love reading this bit about Will Davies and how he worked. It takes me back to those wonderful times. I met Will while taking some evening illustration courses with him at OCA, this would be back in the early 70s. He also invited some of us back to his studio in Yorkville, what a wonderful studio it was, full of props and his collection of military helmets. I got to see him work in Casien, Pelican inks and Guache and he certainly did some of his projects in oils, but not used in the traditional method. It was this glorious experience that moved me from being a Package designer to the field of illustration. He moved his studio to another location in Yorkville and shared space with Tom bjarneson, Tom McNeely and several others. Thanks for honouring Will and his art, what a truly great influence he was.