famous artists


Last week one of the sites I follow linked to a collection of Al Parker illustrations on flickr. His name and style, even his signature, brought back memories.

Page from the Famous Artists course. I've shared the old story before, but to recap, when I was six or seven I sent a drawing to the Famous Artists School (We're looking for people who like to draw?). When the inevitable salesman called he was surprised to learn that I wasn't home because I was in school at the time, finishing second grade. My dad, who liked to draw too, decided to take the course and for the next few years, I poured over the giant ring binders when ever I was allowed, and looked forward to my dad's returned lessons, with their comments from famous illustrators.

Page from the Famous Artists course. My guess would be that Norman Rockwell, Ben Stahl, Albert Dorne nor Al Parker ever saw my dad's work. I didn't realize that then, though. I thought we were all a close nit group and the lessons that I was looking at had been prepared by the artists especially for my dad.

Page from the Famous Artists course. Parker's style is unmistakeable on the 11" X 14" pages. Here he gives some personalized lessons (see the signature?) on creating an "ideal" from photographs. Photos of models were a big part of the lessons. The instructions were frequently built on working from specific shots. Here in the "Don't" version Parker says that the "slick meaningless lines used here dont make hair." I wanted to remember everything these masters said.

Page from the Famous Artists course. The course contained a large section on studio technique, too. The tools, the working methods, the "technology" that had to be mastered before anyone could do professional quality work. I played with a pantograph for enlarging, and at 12 received a collection of drafting tools, ruling pens, french curves. A highly specialized and very important tool is shown here: Rubber Cement. How to maintain your bottle, how to set the brush. Instructions for thinning and using a "pick-up." Any bit of cement left on a layout would collect dirt and cast a shadow that caused extra work for the camera man.

Page from the Famous Artists course.My dad passed in '85. I remember a visit before he died. There was a lot of hoopla about these new personal computers. "Can they do anything that I can't do without one?" he asked. "Not really," I told him. I wish he could have seen Photoshop or Freehand.

If you have time and enjoy classic illustration, the flickr site is a treat. Within the illustrations is a set of pages from a 1958 Cosmopolitan that contain a Cosmo styled article on Parker- their top illustrator. I think it's worth a read, and I've linked to them in order here. This is what would have gone on in the art room on Madmen. Thanks to Leif Peng, a commercial artist in Canada, for his wonderful collection, and post, of the classic illustrations.

• Parker's October, 1953 Cosmo illustration, discussed in the article:
First spread, Second spread

• Cosmo article on Parker's work.
Spread pp.56-57, pp. 58, pp. 59, pp. 60, pp. 61


I can't believe all the the tricks he knew on how to get the right look for male/female illustrations. So subtle, yet important to the overall look. I doubt any of this is even taught anymore, especially now that Photoshop has taken over. Ah, rubber cement, rubber cement pickups, t-squares, they all take me back to my first job in 1981 as a technical illustrator. This was pre-computer and we relied on a pool of typists to set all the text that we ran thru the waxing machine (or the hand-held model), then burnished into place using a special paper and "bone" burnisher. Technical drawings were done with a cabled straight-edge in lieu of a t-square, and we used triangles for the vertical strokes of our Rapid-o-graph technical pens. We had to constantly shake the pens back and forth and always seemed to be cleaning them. I found that disassembling them and using the men's room soap and water did a better job than the sonic solution that everyone seemed to soak them in as a last ditch effort to bring them back to life. We had a wide variety of templates to help us create our flow diagrams which we turned out thousands of over the years. Then one day in December of 1983, we got our first Apple Lisa. That day things changed. I wonder if I still have a set of those pens?

My dining room table is a large drafting apparatus with a spring and cable t-square. My technical pens are still pretty new; it took me a while to switch from the ruling pens I learned with. I remember pricing waxers, but they were a tad out of my price range.

With other changes in technology-like the development of lithography for instance- there were drastic changes in commercial and illustrative styles. I'm still trying to put my finger on what the visual changes are that were brought about by the Apple Lisa.

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