Friday, July 03, 2015

Frank Furlong on Ardy Kazarozian, "the least commercial artist I've met."

It started with a comment on an old post I'd written about a series of 1960 Dodge truck ads that stood apart from the vast majority of car illustrations of the time. My friend Harry Borgman determined these beautiful stylizations were the work of Charles Wysocki. But then someone named Frank Furlong added a comment to that post that intrigued me... so I went looking for him on the internet, found his website and contacted him. Frank soon replied, and so began a most remarkable correspondence. I'll share much more with you next week, but for today, here's a little teaser from Frank Furlong. ~ Leif Peng


"I'm a great fan of Wysocki's Detroit days. Given I, of course am an admirer of his New England stuff, having most of his books, feel his work prior to that deserves more attention."


"When Wysocki left his Detroit studio I was hired to fill his spot. For very good reason I don't say 'replace him'. Seeing as [Bernie] Fuchs was the dominant illustrator in town I was trying to come close to what he was doing. But when I saw what Wysocki was doing I made a complete u-turn and gave up what was an uncomfortable quest, needless to say an impossible one.


"I guess the studio wasn't too disturbed by my switch as they kept me on as my work got more and more decorative and eventually whimsical."


"I'll start recollections as they meander thru my mind but first off I want to enter my theory that involves Detroit's Unknown Artist. I was working at a studio that hired(?) Ardy Kazarozian. I say hired(?) because they offered him no money, just a place to work and supplies. Ardy was the least commercial artist I've met but WOW! what an artist he was."


"The only real success he seems to have had were some jobs for Playboy but he was hired away from this studio by Art Group, Fuch's home. Maybe it's a coincidence but I'm convinced that the fact that Fuch's work steered away from his Austin Brigg's-type stuff to the more experimental pieces that brought him such deserved fame came shortly after Ardy joined his small studio."


"Ardy himself moved on to N.Y. and seems to have disappeared but it was a great pleasure to share space with him and call him a friend."

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Leonard Starr, and the Ultimate Cool

By Thomas B. Sawyer

In the wake of the recent death of my closest friend and longtime studio-mate during my illustrator-career, artist/writer Leonard Starr, an unforgettable, eminently character-defining anecdote comes to mind.

Back around 1971, Leonard Starr, moved from Manhattan to suburban Westport, Connecticut. There, he and his wife had purchased a home which like so many others in that artist-colony town sat amid several acres of woods. Woods so dense that, often, houses on adjoining properties were not visible.

Such was the case with Leonard’s handsome two-story place, and that of his immediate neighbors, whom he’d not met: movie megastar Paul Newman and his lovely actress-wife, Joanne Woodward.

And less than a week after moving in, there was a knock on Leonard’s front door. Leonard opened it and found himself facing Paul Newman, there to welcome his new fellow-Westporter.

In a phone conversation with Leonard a few days later, he described the encounter, which had struck him as an amusing incident. For me, however, his description of what followed was, and will, I have zero-doubt, remain the totally coolest conversational response I have ever heard or read about. A level of Cool to which we all aspire, but of which almost none of us are capable. A degree of Cool that nails so eloquently the very core of who Leonard Starr was.


As Leonard swung the door open, Paul Newman grinned: “Hi. I’m Paul Newman.”

Leonard smiled back, and without hesitation said: “No shit?”

Understandably, Newman cracked up.

I mean – wouldn’t you?

~ Thomas B. Sawyer

* Read an excerpt from Thomas B. Sawyer's memoirs on his first meeting with Leonard Starr in the 1950s, as well as some personal anecdotes from Starr, shared by David Apatoff. Click here

* David Apatoff's post on the death of his friend, Leonard Starr. Click here

* Mike Lynch's post on Leonard Starr's career. Click here

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Will Davies, Teacher

As a young man, Will Davies studied at the Ontario College of Art. Looking at the eager, smiling student in this mid-1940s photo, I doubt he could have imagined that one day he would become one of the college's most revered and respected instructors.


Will's daughter Pam Davies wrote the following about her father's teaching career:

"In 1969 Will Davies was hired as a part-time instructor at the Ontario College of Art (O.C.A.)

For 19 years he generously shared the knowledge of years of experience as a working artist. Many of today’s illustrators, who were previously students, owed their careers to his mentoring. It was invaluable to be taught by the most sought-after Canadian illustrator."


"During the turbulent years of the late ’60s, early - ’70s at O.C.A., life drawing classes (traditionally a basic fundamental for any illustrator) were withdrawn from the curriculum, along with many other basic courses. Davies stuck to his ideals, knowing the value of life drawing as an illustrator, and offered free life drawing classes after school."


"Without this critical basic skill, many students would have lacked the backbone of good illustration. Life drawing classes have since been reinstated."

That Will Davies' teaching profoundly influenced and inspired countless students is beyond a doubt. Many of today's top professionals have told me so personally. Internationally renowned concept artist Dan Milligan said he retook Will's class in each of his four years at O.C.A. simply because the administration would allowed him to do so. Why bother taking classes from some other lesser instructor... this was Will Davies. As Dan says, "He was THE guy to get."


Award winning Toronto-based illustrator Amanda Duffy recalls her experience in Will's class at OCA in the '80s:

"At the beginning of the year, Will's students were shown three examples in one class. He always had photo reference and stressed its importance. All the instructors said the same thing: "Don't make a move without reference." Will showed us his preferred methods of creating mood suggestive of romance: a gentleman is painted in darker tones, is chiseled of feature, has shadows painted of shapes rather than details, and is drawn taller and larger than his female partner. She is crafted to appear delicate and pretty, usually large-eyed, wistful of expression and full-mouthed."

OCA Class Demo 02

Amanda continues, "We fourth-year students patiently and politely watched his demonstration, waiting for the right moment to ask to claim each artwork as a prize. (I was the most brash, and a split second after my request, the other two pieces were nabbed. We knew our beloved instructor was gold!)"

OCA Class Demo 01

Former student Tom McGhee also owns one of Will's demo pieces (above). Tom took a night class with Will many years ago and remembers asking if he could have the artwork at the end of one class: "I actually said to him, "So do we draw straws or what?" He laughed and said, "Do you want it?" I couldn't believe it and said, "Yeah, bloody right I do!" But I never asked him to sign it and I wished I had!"

Long-time professional comic book artist, writer and publisher Ken Steacy shared this wonderful appreciation of his former instructor that aptly describes what so many others have told me:

"I was among the fortunate few blessed with having Will Davies as an instructor while a student at the Ontario College of Art. This was long before they became a University, back in the days when the Communication & Design Department ruled the school with career-focused, skills-based training."


"His technical skills were formidable, and watching his rendering demos was a breathtaking experience. But even that paled by comparison to his draughtsmanship, and his eagerly-anticipated life-drawing classes were absolutely magical."


"Our admiration for that skill was exceeded only by our respect for his mentorship. No matter how awful an assignment crossed his gaze, he would invariably find something to like about it, even if it was just that shade of blue in the upper left-hand corner. He would then critique the technique, composition, and drawing in the most constructive and affirming way."

Will Davies OCA

"Will is also one of the most urbane gentleman I’ve ever met. I recall seeing him one summer afternoon strolling through Yorkville sporting a white linen suit in the company of two tall blonde models, one on each arm. Little wonder we all wanted to be Will Davies when we grew up!"

~ Ken Steacy, AOCA 1978

There are only a few hours left to order your copy of The Art of Will Davies. Please visit our Kickstarter page.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The End... and a New Beginning

"Hey buddy; a studio space just opened up here. But it'll be gone by this afternoon... if you want it, you're going to have to grab it right now."

It was a call from my good friend and fellow storyboard artist, Jeff Norwell. Jeff and I had met on the first day of art college. Ten years later, our careers running very much along a similar path, we remained in close contact - even working occasionally on the same projects. Jeff had moved from an in-house job at McCann to "freelance-in-residence" at FCB, and more recently to 63A Yorkville Ave., the studio space shared by Will Davies...


... Tom McNeely...


... and Roger Hill...


... three of the biggest names in Canadian illustration at that time, as well as Vince McIndoe another very successful illustrator closer to our age.

I'd had my own freelance arrangement at Ogilvy for just over a decade at that point. Anybody who's ever worked in a high-pressure, fast-paced team environment like a commercial art studio can tell you; you spend so much time with the people there - sometimes more than than you do with your actual family - the studio becomes a second home. My friends and co-workers at Ogilvy were like a second family. The thought of leaving them and that place - making such a momentous decision on the turn of a dime - was heart-wrenching.


On the other hand, how often in an artist's lifetime does an opportunity to be in close proximity to the greatest living illustrators of a generation come along? For most of us, perhaps never. So when it does, how can you say no?

And just like that, I jumped off the cliff: "I'll take it." I said.


When I arrived at 63A, aside from Jeff and myself, everyone's doors were shut. That quiet I spoke of in my last post really pervaded the atmosphere. Coming from a noisy, bustling environment like the studio at Ogilvy where no doors ever seemed to be shut, it was a big change. Dropping in and hanging out for a chat and a coffee while working on an assignment was part of the culture. At 63A those closed doors and the general quiet atmosphere of the place seemed to stress that people wanted their privacy. It reinforced something I'd sensed time and again among the older generation of illustrators: that each artist had secrets - a certain technique, a connection with certain clients - and that those things should be cautiously guarded. I don't mean to suggest the other artists at 63A were unfriendly (although Roger was kind of intimidating at first) but socializing happened when people went out for lunch - not in the studio.


But over time Jeff and I managed to bring the other guys out of their shells. Dropping in and sharing stories, observing each other at work and learning from each other became common practice, much to everyone's benefit and enjoyment, I think.

(An ad for Photo Engravers, by an unknown illustrator from the 1949 Toronto AD Annual. PE is where Will found his first job after art college c. 1946)

And it was as a result of that greater camaraderie that I really came to know and appreciate Will Davies as a person as well as an iconic figure. At lunch or on a visit in my or Jeff's studio, Will would share wonderful stories of the good ol' days. When I would pull out folders of old magazine clippings by the likes of Al Parker or Coby Whitmore, Will would recall for us his trips to New York in the early '50s, his visit to Al Parker's house and to the Charles E. Cooper studio, where he had hoped to land a job. Over time Will became a friend.


When I'd come back from a used book store with a stack of old Maclean's or Chatelaine magazines, we'd all flip through them together... Will and Tom stopping at pages displaying work by Oscar Cahen ("He was a genius") or Jack Bush ("Oh, I remember Jack!") and launch into a story about working for the magazines and ad agencies of the day, and what the business had been like in the era of the big art studios like ADS, TDF, or Sherman, Laws.


Most wonderful of all were the occasions when Will would drop in while I was working on a job, inking a pencil sketch of some cartoon character or another. He's watch quietly as my brush swept along a curve and remark, "Boy, I just don't know how you do it. I could never do that." Can you imagine? The Will Davies graciously paying me a compliment, humbly suggesting he couldn't do what I did! Of course he could do what I did... Will Davies could do anything! But it was a kindness he regularly offered me when he didn't have to, and it always made my day to hear him say it.


At a certain point, when I had some down time, I decided to try my hand at painting gouache pin-up girls in the style of the great '50s Esquire artist, Mike Ludlow. Will was very helpful, checking in on me and offering tips on how to handle the paint. He was always encouraging - never critical. I learned a lot from Will Davies... and I was not alone.

Next time I'll share a bit about Will Davies' teaching career.

* If you're interested in acquiring a copy of The Art of Will Davies, please visit our Kickstarter page.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Today's Inspiration Returns! - With The Art of Will Davies

It's been a year since I put the Today's Inspiration blog on hiatus, but today I'm very please to turn the lights back on so I can share some exciting news with you: I'm in the midst of producing my first book, "The Art of Will Davies."

The Art of Will Davies

For those who don't know, my friend Will Davies was Canada's premier advertising illustrator for much of the mid-20th century.


He was also my studio mate for several years in the late 1990s and, I'm happy to report, at age 91 Will is still going strong.

How to impress upon you the stature of this ever modest but tremendously talented, prolific artist. Let's put it this way: one day back in the late '80s, in the early years of my professional illustration career, I was having lunch in Toronto's tony Yorkville neighbourhood with my pal Dan Milligan. Dan and I both worked in-house at Ogilvy & Mather, cranking out storyboards and comps for the agency and our own freelance clients. After lunch Dan proposed we drop in on his old Ontario College of Art instructor, Will Davies.


Drop in on Will Davies? I gulped (and probably sweated a little). I didn't think such a thing could be possible. It was like Dan had tossed his thumb over his shoulder and casually proposed, "Hey, God lives right here - whattaya say we drop in on him?" Will Davies was just that big. He was the biggest! The thought of just walking into his studio unannounced was incomprehensible to me.

So of course I said, "Sure."

The thing that hit you right away as you opened the door to 63A Yorkville Ave was the smell; a delicious aroma of pipe tobacco mingled with oil paints that seemed very out-of-time with the modern world swirling by beyond that door. It was cool in the front hallway, and not brightly lit, though there were tall windows facing an alleyway to the right. A wide, formidable staircase covered in worn gray carpet had to be climbed to get to the second floor landing. There, beyond an old ever-unattended reception desk, a narrow corridor branched off in several directions, doors at the sides and ends of each passageway.


It was a quiet space. All doors were shut, and what was happening behind them was a mystery. There was no art in the hallway, no signs directing you to this studio or that one. You had to know where you wanted to go, and in Will's case, you had to go down that narrow hallway all the way to the back.

That's where silence turned to chaos, as a knock on Will's studio door returned a tremendous, fierce barking from Will's German Shepherd, Maggie. If that didn't unnerve you (and believe me, in the following years, after I joined the group at 63A, I saw more than a few couriers come flying back up that hallway once Maggie made her presence known!) then after a bit you'd hear Will's calming voice: "It's ok, Maggie, alright, it's ok..." and then the door would open a crack, Maggie would let out one last yelp, and you'd see Will holding her by the collar.

"C'mon in," he'd say, always graciously making time for visitors, no matter how busy he might be.


Once the introductions were made, the dog settled, Will would return to his seat and you could at last step into this most awe-striking studio.

Will's studio seemed both immense and tiny. The room was large and the ceilings were high, but just getting in the door in any way other than single file was a challenge. There was a lot of stuff! Paintings were everywhere; leaning ten deep against walls, tables, easels, and stacked flat one on top of each other - so many layered together they formed pillars!


There were boxes of clipped reference and unclipped magazines waiting to be clipped. There were props and costumes from past jobs, a bookcase filled with illustration and art director annuals and a cot bed in one corner - though stacked so high with paintings, drawings, portfolio cases and various unidentifiable items that it must have been quite some time since anyone could have used it for napping.


Central to the room was Will's drawing table, his low, round materials table, and his chair - a funny, oddly out-of-place orange vinyl office chair of 1960s vintage that you could lean way back in. On the broad surface of the table beside his desk there were paint tubes, jars and bottles of all shapes and sizes, brushes, pencils, pastels and a large ashtray heaped high with the spent tappings of Will's pipe. That delicious aroma of sweet pipe tobacco (Will's personal blend) originated in this room, there was no doubt about that.


Facing his desk, covering the entire wide expanse of the longer wall of his studio, was an impressive collection on three shelves of vintage military helmets. It was clear he'd positioned himself in the room so that any time he liked, he could glance up over his drawing table and enjoy the view of that wide expanse of rare headgear.


That day I stood by quietly, letting Dan and Will catch up while I soaked in my surroundings. I don't remember what was on Will's board that day, but of course, whatever it was, it was brilliant. And I'll be honest with you, I can say today, older and wiser than I was twenty-five years ago, that even though I knew who Will Davies was back then and had an appreciation for his status as a professional illustrator (art directors at Ogilvy revered his work on the Hathaway Shirts account) I really didn't appreciate how exceptional the quality of the work was. I was still too young and inexperienced - and too impressed with myself - to really understand how much I had to learn so that hopefully one day I might be half the artist Will Davies already was.


And although I came away from that first encounter thinking Will Davies sure was a nice guy, and a humble, surprisingly modest person for someone of such obvious ability and proven stature, I really didn't grasp how important he was; to me, to the business, to his countless students - and to Canada.


That realization would come later - and that will be the topic of my next post.

* If you're interested in acquiring a copy of The Art of Will Davies, please visit our Kickstarter page.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Marilyn Conover: "... the most dynamic person I have ever encountered."

One of the great delights of producing this blog is hearing from friends, neighbours, family members and coworkers of the artists I've showcased. These folks often bring a fresh perspective to the subject and provide a more comprehensive view of the person, for which I am always grateful. One of the more intriguing personalities I've presented on Today's Inspiration was Marilyn Conover (her interview: Part1, 2, 3, 4). Today, you'll get to know Marilyn a little better through the recollections of Peggy Plumb Knapp. I'm betting you'll enjoy Peggy's narrative as much as I did when she sent it to me just over a year ago. ~ Leif

"I just came across your article about Marilyn Conover. In case you are interested, I apprenticed with her in 1961-1962. She is/was the most dynamic person I have ever encountered."


"Having just graduated from college, which is where she found me after my professors chose me for her apprenticeship, I lived with her, Hendrick (husband at the time), Ricky, her son (about 8 or 9?)..."


"... and Suzy, daughter (about 7?)."


"I had my own small studio with a drawing board and everything needed for doing illustration. This was in Westport, Conn. They had just moved there from Marblehead, Mass. I was only at the Marblehead house once for my first interview with her. Her homes were jammed with tchotchkes, mainly American antiquities. She was proud of the fact that she included these things in her backgrounds because most illustrators of those times did not."


"We lived at 377 Main Street in Westport, surrounded by all the famous and mighty illustrators. I toiled there for 8 hours every day M-F. Marilyn drove Hendrick to the station every morning (he was a rep at Cooper Studios in New York) and then painted away all day. Hendrick had also been an illustrator in Chicago, but I never saw any of his work. He was a rather mild mannered man, quite nice and with a sense of humor. So many illustrators lived in Westport when I was there. I visited Bernie Fuchs and others whose names I cannot remember, and did photographic modelling for many of them. Hendrick introduced me to Jon Whitcomb, who did what I thought were just the best drawings of women. It was certainly another age. One could actually make a living drawing pictures!"


"Most of Marilyn's work was with a newspaper in Boston, doing fairly routine B&W art. I'm sure you realize that all the illustration was done via what they called a Bell Optican, a projector that enabled tracings of photos etc. I was never allowed to use it and, of course, it was NEVER mentioned. Some used it better than others. I can still tell today when one has been used, even though there are many other ways in this digital age. There was a lovely portrait of her daughter Suzy - resembling Alice in Wonderland, long blonde hair and all - hanging in the house. I know she did color work but I just can't remember in what capacity it was."


"She would give me projects that I would work on and then she would critique them. This went very well. I learned so much. One would be a B&W ink drawing, another a fashion illustration, another would be full color etc. Each piece demonstrating my great commercial artistic ability... went into my professional portfolio. I still have most of the portfolio she helped me with and I got every job I ever went for; those who hired me were quite impressed since she showed me how to put together a REAL portfolio… not the kind that one came out of art school with."


"Other duties included helping her with her children; I wasn't much help. I had never babysat or been around children. It was a year in hell for a young girl just out of college. The demands were great and I was so intimidated by her that I found it very difficult to cope."

"Her studio was on the second floor and mine was on the first floor in a nice sunporch area. Show tunes played all day long and only once did I have the courage to ask her to play my Ray Charles albums. I never knew them to go out to dinner, movies, or to friends' houses or to have others to their home. They watched television and listened to show tunes constantly. My take on her situation was that she was REALLY good at what she did, but the guys got all the credit. There was a whole group of them that had studied in Chicago and came East to make their fortune."


"Years later Marilyn was with Portraits Inc. in NYC, probably in the '70s/'80s. I have no idea how successful she was or if she liked it. I would think she would have mentioned that to you. I do know that her style never evolved much; what I saw was kind of stuck in that '50s/'60s style. She was frustrated that she could not loosen up. She asked me how I could do it and I can totally remember telling her it was fun. I don't think she ever had that chance of having fun with her drawing. She had to make a living and was always worried about the next gig."


"She visited me once, after I had married and had a family and was living in Onondaga Hill NY. She was lecturing at Syracuse University and laughed at their so called commercial art program. She admitted to me that I was a disappointment, where the children were concerned. (I had fallen asleep at the beach while they were playing in the ocean!!!!!) I did manage to connect with Marilyn in a phone call when I lived in CA. It was a strange conversation... I remember that she was very surprised to hear that I had good feelings about my time with her. I don't think she wanted more contact with me. She had moved back to Marblehead at that time. I think that was a good place for her and she felt comfortable there."


"It's difficult to make judgment calls at this late date and considering I was so young and quite shy (who wouldn't be around her?) and felt quite put upon much of the time. However, my experience there changed my life for the good, in many ways. I am curious if you ever followed up on your conversation with Marilyn. I hope she is still with us. I know her mother lived to a very ripe old age, so perhaps… "

~ Peggy Plumb Knapp

Peggy Plumb Knapp lives in Albuquerque, NM and, at the time of her correspondences with me, had recently closed her gallery so she could devote more time to her commission work. "I now work in my own formula of decorative concrete," wrote Peggy, "and a lifetime is not long enough to explore it all. Life is good and I look forward to the next decade when I'll still be making stuff if my body holds up. Marilyn is still a presence in my life. I will never forget that year!"

Addendum: It was just brought to my attention that Marilyn Conover passed away on June 15.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bob Heindel: "... we might as well try to be extraordinary."

Recently a friend surprised me with a terrific gift: the Society of Illustrators Annuals from 1975 and '77. I've been pouring through them, discovering many treasures in both word and picture. The piece I've transcribed below called "Point of View," written by Bob Heindel for Illustrators 18 (the 1977 edition), was particularly thought provoking, so I'd like to share it with you today. Upon reflection, it begs the question: in the last (nearly) 40 years since Heindel wrote these words, has anything about the illustration business really changed at all? ~ Leif


It would seem this business of making pictures has remained fairly constant over the years. Styles manage only to repeat themselves. Because, no matter how hard we try to avoid it, and regardless of the word we attach to ism - whether it be surreal or impression - for the illustrator it always comes down to real.


Whatever changes have occurred are merely reflections of society in general. A little more sex and violence; a lot less mom and apple pie. As documented in this Annual, we are in the business of showing the world what it's about. We all like to believe we are marching to a different drum, when, in point of fact, we just stumble differently.


The real bright spot in our business appears to be in viewpoint. Whether we like it or not, we are more and more called upon to have one. This would seem to represent a kind of freedom that was much less visible before the photographic onslaught of a decade ago.


As exciting as this freedom might be, it is hotly pursued by a creature called responsibility - in part to one's client, but mostly to one's self.


This condition has had a rather interesting side effect. We appear much less to be the stepchild of "fine art," while, at the same time, the "fine artist" has become the consummate "commercial artist." The merits and shortcomings of this I'll leave to more learned souls than myself to debate.


If one had listened to, and believed, all the dialogue about this business 10 or 15 years ago, we would not exist today. I'm sure that the concerns were real then, and they continue to be. We certainly have an ample supply of problems, and not so many easy solutions.


However, I would guess that so long as the world needs a mirror, we'll have a market.


No matter, the business of making pictures is generally a pleasure - always frustrating to a degree, and sometimes wonderfully rewarding. When viewed against the background of problems that face mankind, what we do is so relatively meaningless that we might as well try to be extraordinary.


~ Bob Heindel