Monday, August 31, 2009

Female Illustrators of the 50's: Evaline Ness

Every now and then I'm asked about female illustrators of the 50's. Its true that illustration was very much a male dominated profession back in the mid-century period... but there were actually quite a few prominent female illustrators. We've looked a some over the past few years, and this week we'll look at a few more. Unfortunately, as with many of the male illustrators, biographical details are not always readily available. Happily, in the case of Evaline Ness (thanks to a feature article in the January 1956 American Artist magazine) I actually have quite a bit of information.

First, and perhaps most remarkable, Evaline Ness was the wife of famous FBI investigator Elliot Ness.

Before her marriage she was a fashion model... then a fashion illustrator.

Her marriage to Ness lasted only nine years, after which she travelled extensively to Asia and Europe, living for a time in Italy. There she spent 18 months sketching - until her funds were nearly exhausted. When Ness returned to the U.S. she first tried to settle in San Francisco, but found there was not enough work. She returned to New York and received assignments doing fashion, advertising and editorial art.

At a later date, I plan to spend a week on Evaline Ness. For those interested in seeing more of her work right away, a Google Image Search will turn up many examples of her charming children's book artwork.

* My Evaline Ness Flickr set.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bernie Fuchs: "more admired - and more imitated - than... any other current illustrator"

Like most children, when Bernie Fuchs was a boy he enjoyed drawing and doodling in his school notebooks. But he had no ambitions to become an illustrator (at that young age he didn't even know what an illustrator was) and he never painted a single picture in high school. The summer after graduation Fuchs lost three fingers on his right hand in a terrible workplace accident, making it almost impossible to hold a pencil. The following year he found a job on an assembly line in a puppet factory, painting the cartoon heads on puppets. He was fired because he was so bad at it.

Ten years later Bernie Fuchs was one of the top illustrators in America.

How a little boy from the coal mining town of O'Fallon, Illinois who's father abandoned the family when Bernie was only four...

... became the Artists Guild of New York's "Artist of the Year" by age 30 and the youngest person ever elected to the Illustrators Hall of Fame is a remarkable story of triumph over adversity and a celebration of what can be accomplished through hard work and determination -even during one of the most trying times in the history of illustration.

Walt Reed, author of "The Illustrator in America" said that "his pictures are probably more admired - and more imitated - than those of any other current illustrator."

David Apatoff wrote an issue-long (now out of print) article on Bernie Fuchs in Illustration magazine #15. He shared this anecdote with me recently and, with David's permission, I'm sharing it here with you:

"The first time I met Bernie ... was when I wrote that article. He and I were getting acquainted in his huge studio and the walls were plastered with drawings and paintings, some by Bernie but mostly from his peers who he admired (Al Parker, Bowler, Briggs, etc.). Bernie didn’t know what the heck to make of me; he assumed I must be just another dopey newspaper reporter who didn’t know anything about illustration. I saw an Austin Briggs drawing on the wall and I said, “hey-- nice Briggs.” Bernie immediately perked up, because Briggs was Bernie’s mentor and one of his closest friends. He said, “You know Austin’s work?” Somehow we got into this game where he started testing me by going around the room, saying “Who is that?” I was getting them all correct, one after the other. I felt like Annie Oakley sharpshooting targets at a carnival: bang bang bang bang bang. Finally, I screwed up. I said “that’s Coby Whitmore” and Bernie got this hurt look on his face."

"He said, “no, I did that.” I was so aghast that he laughed and decided to take mercy on me. He said, “when I first came to Westport I was a big admirer of Coby’s. I got an assignment for a woman’s magazine and I didn’t know any models in town or anything yet, so Coby-- who became a great friend-- loaned me the two models he always used. And I did the illustration in a Coby Whitmore style and sent it in to the magazine which loved it but mistakenly ran it with a credit line, “Coby Whitmore.” They didn’t really know me yet and assumed it must have come from him. But the punchline is that when the magazine came out with the misattribution, Coby’s son called him to say that he thought Coby’s illustration in that issue was one of the best things Coby had ever done! So I guess I can’t blame you for getting it wrong.”

It was my intention this week to (finally) showcase the work of Bernie Fuchs for the benefit of readers who were unaware, as I once was, of his work and how powerfully influential it has been on countless artists - and on the entire profession - over the last 50 years.

Many thanks to Charlie Allen for all his many scans, David Apatoff (who provided the photo of Bernie, as well as his childhood drawings), and all the enthusiastic commentors who contributed so much to our discussion this week. We will definitely be revisiting the work of Bernie Fuchs again in the months ahead.

* My Bernie Fuchs Flickr set.

Addendum: Bernie's Big Brushes

Several comments about the size of Bernie's brushes in the photo above compelled me to add the photo below, from David Apatoff's article in Illustration magazine #15.

I can't, however, explain why it appears Bernie has a full set of fingers on his right hand in that photo-- perhaps David will enlighten us.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bernie Fuchs: "... his seemingly effortless drawing of figures and objects was impeccable!"

Charlie Allen sends another batch of amazing Bernie Fuchs scans and writes, "These first three are from his Seagrams series....just a great bunch. Often multiple figure epics that no other illustrator could bring off."

"His values and colors can be bright or subdued....but so carefully controlled and so important to each of his illustrations."

"One more comment on Bernie Fuch's amazing work," continues Charlie. "He not only juggled color, values, composition, and a marvelous paint technique better than anyone..."

"... but his seemingly effortless drawing of figures and objects was impeccable!"

"Every figure had 'an attitude'....doing!"

"Austin Briggs, Al Parker, and some of the others started that trend....but Fuchs, again, raised the bar."

Many thanks to Charlie for his astute, succinct commentary - and for generously sharing so many great Bernie Fuchs scans this week. Be sure to drop by Charlie Allen's Blog to see the impeccable work of another master's "seemingly effortless drawings of figures and objects."

* My Bernie Fuchs Flickr set.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bernie Fuchs: "... the home town was very proud."

David Apatoff, who wrote the issue-long article on Bernie Fuchs in Illustration magazine #15, sent a message the other day:

"Leif, I am sending three illustrations by Bernie from 1958 -- a series he did for Coke when he first broke out of the pack."

"Here is what is special about these. In the first picture, the girl is wearing a high school sweater with a big "O" on it."

"That stands for O'Fallon-- the small town where Bernie grew up and married his high school sweetheart."

"This series of illustrations for Coke was when Bernie first began to pick up momentum, at the beginning of a 50 year, worldwide career. At this early stage, he was still looking over his shoulder at the little town in rural Illinois that he had left behind."

"If you look at the third picture, someone has written in ballpoint pen, "March 2, 1958." That was written by Bernie's mother in law back in O'Fallon."

"In those days, his mother in law was clipping out and saving the artwork of the young man who had taken her little girl away to the big city (Detroit). I get the impression that not many people ever left O'Fallon, but when someone escaped and made good-- actually had a picture published in a national magazine..."

"... the home town was very proud."

Many thanks to David for sharing these rare, early Bernie Fuchs illustrations with us - and for the charming anecdote that accompanies them. Be sure to visit David's blog, Illustration Art - always guaranteed to be a fascinating read!

* My Bernie Fuchs Flickr set.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bernie Fuchs: " a bright meteor in a very dark sky..."

Another batch of early Bernie Fuchs advertising illustration scans from Charlie Allen, who writes:

"Fuchs was like a bright meteor in a very dark sky... a new, positive and unavoidable force in our illustration world. His best work was at the beginning... lasting five, maybe ten, years."

He continues, "these seem to fit his earlier more conservative side....and being ads helps. He was much farther out on his editorial stuff."

"Fuchs was pure genius....loose....but every figure, object, background, harmony, color and value....everything was carefully done to make the illustration work."

"All with energy, taste, beauty, and integrity! Talk about an inspiration..."

"... but for us older competitive types, very humbling!"

"Enough..... Chas."

Thanks, Charlie!

Be sure to drop by Charlie Allen's Blog to see some of Charlie's own inspiring (and humbling) artwork.

* My Bernie Fuchs Flickr set.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bernie Fuchs... "revolutionized all the old concepts"

The other day Charlie Allen sent me a note that he had been perusing his reference file of Bernie Fuchs illustrations. "Hadn't looked at Fuchs in maybe years," wrote Charlie. "Large, very full...I have scads of examples... I could wear out a scanner sending them!"

"Occurs to me TI hasn't blogged Fuchs for a long time," he continued, "...can't remember when."

The truth is I've never really done any posts focusing on Bernie Fuchs - a gross oversight on my part.

Charlie put it beautifully in his note: "[Bernie Fuchs] was without exception the biggest force in illustration from the mid to late 50's on for maybe 15 years."

"His best work, in fact most of it, revolutionized all the old concepts of content, composition, technique, and even drama. He had more 'groupies', imitators, wanna be's, than any of the other greats that we've seen this year."

"They all had a style and talents of their own. But Fuchs had a following....he set a whole new style of illustrative work."

Charlie, who's illustrated more than a few ads for Gallo Wines, sent along one done by Fuchs. "One of two he did," Charlie explained.

"Don't know where he found time for it with his schedule."

And then this: "I'll start sending some scans if you'd like. I'd also like to know a bit more about him....and if he's still around. Have a hunch he's about four or five years younger than I."

With the promise of more scans, Charlie set the ball rolling for this week's topic. This won't be the only time we look at the work of Bernie Fuchs. As with some of the other giants of mid-century illustration like Parker, Briggs and Fawcett, his influence is just too important not to revisit again and again.

Many thanks to Charlie Allen, who's blog has just been updated with another great sampling of his own exceptional work. Now that you've reached the end of this post, head right over to Charlie Allen's Blog for more visual treats!

* My Bernie Fuchs Flickr set

Friday, August 21, 2009

Still More Briggs for Readers to Digest

A few final pieces by Austin Briggs, courtesy of TI list member Tonci Zonjic, from an old Readers Digest Condensed Book from 1956:

Many thanks to Tonci Zonjic for this week's great Sickles and Briggs scans -- be sure to visit his blog and check out Tonci's excellent work!

* My Austin Briggs Flickr set.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

More Briggs for Readers to Digest

More mid-50's illustrations by Austin Briggs, courtesy of TI list member Tonci Zonjic, from an old Readers Digest Condensed Book:

TI list member Randy Ranson sent an interesting "visual comment" on yesterday's post. Randy writes:

"Here are a few visual comments on Austin Briggs illustrations as you have shown us today. I couldn't put them in the comments section, so I thought I may as well email them back to you."

"It's not that he did this exactly, but it is instructive food for thought."

Thanks to Randy for that interesting analysis. And many thanks to Tonci Zonjic for this week's great Sickles and Briggs scans -- be sure to visit his blog and check out Tonci's excellent work! The last four scans from this series will appear tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Some Austin Briggs for Readers to Digest

*Before we begin today's post, I wanted to share some exciting news with you from The Norman Rockwell Museum's Joyce Schiller:

"Earlier this year the Norman Rockwell Museum launched their study center, the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies (RCAVS). The RCAVS includes a website about the community of institutions partnered to create the RCAVS. I hope you will check out our website ( and look over the weekly analysis of a work of illustration art."

Thanks to Joyce for alerting us about this great new place on the Net to view and read about classic illustration. I've added the RCAVS website to the "Classic Illustration Links" in the sidebar.

More mid-50's artwork scans, courtesy of TI list member Tonci Zonjic, from an old Readers Digest Condensed Book - but this time the illustrations are by Austin Briggs:

Many thanks to Tonci Zonjic -- be sure to visit his blog and check out Tonci's excellent work!

* My Austin Briggs Flickr set.

*AND over at Storyboard Central, Harry Borgman wows us with some examples of his comp work from the pre-computer days of marker rendering. Check out Harry's blog as well at Harry Borgman Art.