Monday, October 13, 2008

David Stone Martin: Modernism meets Traditionalism

This one's been a long time in coming. Ever since David Stone Martin's work was first brought to my attention a few years ago, I've been under his spell.

Looking at the broad spectrum of work being done in the field of illustration during the mid-20th century, David Stone Martin, with his signature ink line style and his powerful sense of graphic design, seems somehow to have successfully forged his own path.

For the period in which he was most prolific, when he regularly received the most high-profile assignments, David Stone Martin was a genuine maverick. He brought to the field of illustration a hybridization of fine arts modernism and commercial art acceptability.

Other illustrators trod the safer ground of classical or contemporary literal realism (what I have called the Old School and the New School) but time and again, I've come across pieces by those illustrators that suggest they were seeing Martin's work and incorporating elements of his style in their own.

I would not hesitate to say that even such titans as Noel Sickles and Austin Briggs must have found inspiration in DSM's work and used it as a starting point for their own experimentations.

What's surprising is that there's very little written about DSM, in spite of how influential he was and the many awards he received from virtually the beginning of his illustration career (continuing right up to his induction into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2000).

Recently I came across a 1950 article on DSM in American Artist. I was elated! At last (I thought) I have the material that will provide me with the insight I'd been hoping to present in conjunction with DSM's work. And don't get me wrong, that article certainly provides a good amount of biographical material... but there are no quotes, and no anecdotes - no real sense of who David Stone Martin was.

So while we will learn quite a bit this week, I feel we still will not come away satisfied that we have come to know David Stone Martin.

Hopefully though, through these words and this work, we will at least begin to know him.

My David Stone Martin set.


  1. Anonymous11:45 AM

    Hi Leif,
    If you don't have it, you may be interested in locating a 1975 publication from the Grumbacher Library. They put out many how-to books. This one, The Art Of Drawing With Pencil, Pen And Brush, is by DSM. it shows step by step how he created his work, plus it has an updated photo of the author. Looking forward to a week with this amazing talent!

  2. Thanks anonymous - as a matter of fact, one of our frequent contributors, Harold Henriksen, has provided some scans from the book you mention - so you bet, we'll be looking at that later this week.

  3. Anonymous1:17 PM

    fantastic work, looking forward to any follow ups. Thank YOU!

  4. Anonymous4:42 PM


    David Stone Martin is one of my all-time top-five favorite illustrators. He combines jazz and mid-century illustration - my two favorite arts. I am always on the lookout for stuff by Martin that I have not seen, and you've got a couple of things in here which are new to me, so I am really psyched.

    Here's one of my favorite David Stone Martin record covers:

    Thanks again for the posts. Made my day.

  5. Thanks for that, Harley - I hope I am able to show you some rare treats this week. Tomorrow's focus on DSM's album cover art should really please you. :-)

  6. YES! YES!
    He is one of my favorite pen&ink' the same room as
    Ben Shaun...Ronald Searle, Hokusai...Andre Francois...Jonathan Prince...
    DSM's line style went perfect with the jazz album era/vibe.


    mark jaquette @
    illustrationism &
    bammgraphics !

  7. Anonymous4:36 PM

    I've been wondering - how do we suppose DSM achieved the very thin white lines such those seen on the side of Hoagy Carmichael's piano?

  8. Anonymous4:37 PM

    Sorry, such AS those seen...

  9. Harley; according to the article in American Artist, DSM loved to use the crowquill pen nib - and my guess is he would likely have used that or something similar with white ink for those thin lines.

  10. Anonymous3:12 AM

    Hmm. I haven't had any luck with white ink. Always too watery - they just disappear on me.

    I thought he may have gone in beforehand with some sort of waterproof medium, but the lines are so fine; they really do look like they were made with a pen.


    Maybe "The Art Of Drawing With Pencil, Pen And Brush" holds the answer...

  11. Anonymous5:29 PM

    David Stone Martin Painting. Great !loved his art. owned some of his art sketches signed in 1940's. want to know more?

  12. You bet I do, anonymous. You can contact me directly at lpeng[at]cogeco[dot]ca Thanks!