Friday, August 03, 2007

Tom Watson on Coby Whitmore

Once again, Tom Watson has done my work for me. He sent me these Coby Whitmore scans and the following commentary, which is so wonderfully thorough I wanted to share it with all of you. With Tom's permission, I present his look at the later period work of Coby Whitmore:

Since Coby Whitmore is the focus for "Today's Inspiration", I went through some of my old clippings and picked out two rather different techniques and moods by Coby Whitmore... painted roughly around the same time period. It shows just some of the versatility and depth, this great illustrator had throughout his long career. I clipped and saved these and others, when I was a young illustration student around 1959/1960.

The Saturday Evening Post story illustration depicts a beautiful young woman sitting on a porch, deep in thought. Her body language (gesture) indicates distress, tension and even fatigue. The porch and figure are mostly in shade, except for the soft, warm, low late afternoon sunlight just catching the edge of her body. Showing the well shaped female leg was typical of many of his illustrations... and this is no exception. The overall low key (dark) light greatly adds to the mood he wants us to feel. To avoid too much dark grayed down shadow tones, he chooses a bright multicolored striped garment on the woman... which also quickly catches our attention.

This is a classic example of cool colors complimenting warm colors. Whitmore's choice of pose and lighting tells us much about the flavor of the story, but without revealing the motive. We are now seduced into reading the story to satisfy our curiosity. This is not only a high quality illustration but a high quality painting that would look quite appropriate in the finest galleries or museums.

The second Whitmore illustration, I believe is another Saturday Evening Post story illustration. In contrast, the mood is high key (light) bright and colorful, depicting two very sophisticated and refined women lounging in a stylish living room. Typically the women are very beautiful and one is wearing a lavish fur collar and jewelry, indicating class and wealth . We peer past the lamp and end table, and see interesting and well designed pieces of each figure... as though we were eaves dropping. In this illustration Whitmore changes to a flatter more decorative technique, depicting patterns of warm reds, oranges and golds... rather than the more painterly forms of the first illustration. The flat solid shapes of the off white lamp, end table and the end of the couch, contrasts beautifully with the floral pattern on the upholstery. This example shows great design and color taste coupled with excellent draftsmanship... which he developed to the maximum during the 1960's.

He was always coming up with new ideas and approaches... which kept us illustration students running to the newsstand every month looking for the next Coby Whitmore SURPRISE. At that time, only Al Parker was as consistently inventive with creating "Guy/Girl" story illustrations.

The latest Coby Whitmore illustration that I am sure of is for a 1962 McCall's magazine, which I attached. I thought I had something later, but I'm not sure he was doing much illustrating after that. I also found some interesting information about a little insight on what kind of a guy Coby Whitmore was personally. The following was from an interview Joe Bowler gave within the last 10 years: While working as an apprentice at Charles E. Cooper Studios in New York, Joseph Bowler apprenticed under some of the top illustrators of the 1950’s. Coby Whitmore brought in an illustration for Cosmopolitan magazine, which Bowler matted. He saw the sample Bowler had done the night before and asked if he could take it with him to
Cosmopolitan to show the Art Director. Upon his return, he told Bowler they had bought his sample and to bill them for $1,000. Earning $35 a week at that time, it seemed like a fortune to Bowler. Within six months Bowler’s illustrations were appearing, in three major magazines. He was quoted as saying, “Coby was my mentor in the early days of my career and we becamelife-long friends”.

My thanks to Tom Watson for his time and effort in providing us with this fabulous post!

You can see these images at a larger size in my Coby Whitmore Flickr set.


  1. Beatiful illustrations, women and interesting history, everyday we learn in your nice blog Leif.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Pablo - I'm sure Tom appreciates hearing that as well! :-)

  3. Leif these are magnificent, and I was particularly enamored of his coloring. For too many illustrators it seems a causal after thought, but that is clearly not the case here. He chooses his palette with both sensitivity and sophistication. His work is truly beautiful.

  4. Thanks so much for keeping my uncle's work and spirit so alive and well. Coby lived well, loved well, drove well, and showed untold others how to do it too... all done unselfishly and with great humility.... just an old-fashioned nice guy... Bill Whitmore Coby's nephew in Chapel Hill NC

  5. Dear Bill,

    I stumbled upon this blogging while searching for info on your uncle's work. In 1974 I bought a numbered print signed by Coby Whitmore and Hank Aaron to commemorate Aaron hitting #714. We are attempting to determine the worth of this piece. Can you help us to place it ? Ken