Thursday, September 20, 2007

Chas Allen: Same Leopard... Different Spots

I asked Charlie Allen how he dealt with that inevitable time when clients no longer wanted the classic 1950's commercial art painting style he had so thoroughly mastered:

"There were changes, gradually, thoughout those years," he replied. "But the tsunami of the late '60s and the '70s changed everything. We've mentioned the demise of the billboards, magazines, even newspaper illustrations that occurred. Oddly, that followed some technical changes and fads in illustration. Acrylics came into popularity in the '60s and of course illustrators ran away with it....hence the 'swishy' or 'rain' look."

"There were mod looks, hippy looks, and others. Competent illustrators multiplied like rabbits, right at the time the biz folded like a tent."

"Illustrators scattered into teaching, portrait work, limited edition prints, category art, gallery name it, all kinds of venues. I found enough ad work to stay busy, but noticed the price of illustration going down as the huge inflation of the '70s caused everything else to go up."

"The US Steel brochure cover of the schoolhouse (below) was a new way of working for me...and I used it a lot later on. Mostly gouache on gessoed board."

" 'Technique' got way too important in those years, however, and illustrators shot themselves in the rear with it. Good sound composition and draftsmanship were neglected. I tried to stay focused on fundamentals."

"My style changed as it was needed (you know the old admonition, 'adapt or die'). It got more linear, stylized, and even a bit cartoony at times.....but I always enjoyed trying new things. Still literal....a leopard can't change his spots."

* All of today's images can be found in my Charlie Allen Flickr set.


  1. very interesting insight as usual, Leif.
    I find that the bit about the too bright a spotlight on the techniques in those years, detrimenting the draftmanship and composition, has a particular merit; after all it's not so much different from now, alas...

  2. Excellent work...variety, dexterity...the man looked unstoppable.


  3. I’m back from my mini vacations...I was thinking in the new topic of this week... of course very interesting , and we keep learning about all these amaing illustrators...

    BTW Leif I finally bought the complete collection of A. Loomis Books, today I received, Creative Illustration, Eye of the Painter, and 3 dimensional drawing, all 2005 spanish editions I had already Figure drawing and drawing the heads and hands), I’m very Happy


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  5. Charlie Allen is so right about technique becoming too important and the fundamentals suffering because of it. Some illustrators I knew, would go from a thumbnail sketch right to the finish. if the client was not happy with the results, it was done so fast the first time, that the illustrator had plenty of time to redo it. Spontaneous line and brush strokes took priority.

    Gordon Brusstar, a good friend and very successful illustrator in San Francisco, chuckled as he told me in the late 60's, that he was getting paid for a finished illustration that looked like his old preliminary rough idea sketches, prior to the 60's.

    There's no doubt in my mind, that Charlie Allen stayed busy long after most illustrators faded out of the business, or reluctantly retired from illustration, because he did focus on the fundamentals, while experimenting and updating his style.

    We are fortunate to have his own words to enlighten us about his work and his experiences as a top San Francisco illustrator.

    Many thanks to Charlie Allen, Leif Peng and Bruce Hettema.
    Tom Watson

  6. Anonymous12:48 AM

    I really appreciate this interview. Hope to see Mr. Allen's work in a giant coffee table book some day.

  7. I am wondering if any of you have a photo of Gordon Brusstar that you could post. I want to include it among the artist photos for an art class I'm teaching tomorrow. I am teaching a class of 5th graders in Marin County, CA about perspective and Brusstar's work "Eucalyptus" is one of the works I will be presenting. The students like to see pictures of the artists we discuss and they will be especially excited to see someone from our area. Thank you for your help.

  8. Jdyson;

    I'm sorry, I don't have a photo of Gordon Brusstar - but I may be able to provide a lead to locating one. If you see this reply in time for your class, email me at leifpeng(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll forward you to a couple friends of Mr. Brusstar's.