The first ‘old master’ who ever caught my eye was Rembrandt. Probably somewhere around the age of 12 or 13 I found a book of his paintings at the library, and was impressed by his use of color and lighting, especially with some of the dramatic chiaroscuro techniques (which I would later learn in college was the name for it) involving lots of golds and yellows (like the example above). I also found his frequent self portraits, done at different periods of his life very interesting.
His was also the first artwork I was to see ‘up close’ at the Detroit Institute of Art, probably around the age of 14 or 15 on a school trip, and I used my ‘souvenir money’ to purchase a small book of reproductions in the museum gift shop.
I was slightly disappointed in the originals after seeing several of them reproduced in art books, and I’ve often found myself with this feeling whenever I ‘make a pilgrimage’ to see some famous piece of art. Somehow I prefer the printed versions. Probably the ‘inner illustrator’ in me only feels comfortable seeing work as the end product of the repro process.
Then, when I got to art school, and took my first ‘art history’ classes, I was really looking forward to getting to the ‘Dutch masters’ so I could learn all about my hero Rembrandt, but by that time the infatuation was starting to fade, and I was discovering all sorts of new and interesting artists to emulate and admire. But you never quite forget that first love.
One early influence on my drawing style, were several reprints of Thomas Nast’s early cartoons for the Harper’s Weekly Magazine, which led to the downfall of ‘Boss’ Tweed. I probably discovered these on the library shelves back in Durand, Michigan, and I can see where I got a lot of my early fascination with caricatures, and dense cross-hatching techniques.
I was also struck early on by Sir John Tenniel’s illustrations for the ‘Alice’ books. Similar dense crosshatching, and use of caricature methods, but with a better sense of black/white balance. Interestingly, Tenniel was also primarily an editorial cartoonist, who did a lot of work for ‘Punch’ magazine, and who snuck a lot of political likenesses into the ‘Alice’ illustrations. I remember copying this illustration for an art class assignment in high school, and it was very helpful in dissecting the way the picture was put together.
Another editorial cartoonist who I was fascinated with from an early age (and my admiration continues to the present day) is Pat Oliphant. I first came across his cartoons as syndicated reprints in the Flint Journal back in the early 70s, probably around the time of the Watergate scandals. His work has only gotten better over the years, and I had the good fortune recently of attending a showing of his original work (from the Bush years primarily). Seeing them at the original size was an eye opening experience. A lot of his beautiful line work is diminished on the newspaper page, and I was really impressed with the drawings for their own sake (the acerbic wit goes without saying – and I found myself laughing out loud several times while browsing the displays, even though I had seen many of these before).
I get a big kick out of the little details that don’t necessarily hit you right away. The ‘extra punchline’ that is usually delivered by his little penguin mascot ‘Puck’, or little throwaway running gags like the purse that Bush Sr. would frequently carry, or the ‘bats in the belfry’ that often circle Gov. Palin’s beehive hairdo.
To be continued . . .
After my last posting regarding the influence movie posters have had on my artistic mindset, I kept running across more and more posters that I wished I had included. There have been more than a few nice illustrated posters from the 80s and 90s, but for some reason, the ones from the 70s really got stuck in my head. I didn’t even see most of these movies, and barely remember the ones that I did see, but the poster images burrowed their way into my brain and have made a home there.
Some posters I discovered later were done by illustrators whose work I’d become more familiar with later in life, like the wonderful Frazetta poster for ‘The Gauntlet’ (above), and even a few by my Mad Magazine heroes, Mort Drucker and Jack Davis (pictured below – ‘American Grafitti’ and ‘Bad News Bears’ respectively). Most of the posters were ultimately more interesting than the movie they were advertising, such as the forgettable ‘Neptune Factor’ poster pictured above, or a few of the ‘creature feature’ posters pictured further down the page (‘Tentacles’ and ‘Phase IV’).
There were several posters that I discarded from this particular collection, ones that I thought were visually striking and iconic, but not particularly interesting from an illustration point of view (‘Chinatown’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’ come to mind), and I didn’t bother to include the original ‘Star Wars’ poster, even though it is both a nice illustration and a striking example of movie advertising, mostly because it is just so familiar that I’m sick of looking at it.
I didn’t really start going to the movies until I was about 12-13 years of age. I was fascinated by film, but only had a limited exposure. I would get around the ratings system by either waiting until films made it to TV (usually heavily edited), or by reading the books they were based on (which gave me an interesting reading list for a pre-teen, ranging from ‘Deliverance’ to Thackery’s ‘Barry Lyndon’), or as a last resort, simply reading the ‘Mad Magazine’ parody to get a gist of the plotlines. I also started following the Oscar presentations with great interest, and haven’t missed a telecast since 1972 (and yes, I know how cheesy and innaccurate the academy’s choices usually are, which is part of the fun).
But even more fascinating to me than the movies themselves, in many cases, were the elaborate posters that I would see in the lobby, advertising the ‘coming features’. I didn’t even realize at the time that I was witnessing the ‘power of illustration’, but they certainly did their job on me. Illustration seems to have largely disappeared in the world of movie advertising these days, and it is sorely missed.
I would spend long periods of time in the lobby, just staring at the fantastic scenes that awaited the lucky ticket holder. A lot of the times the poster would end up being better than the movie itself. I had a particular weakness for the ‘disaster genre’, since one of the first movies that I attended (without my parents) was ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, which had a big impact on me for several years afterwards.
I remember frequently being disappointed when a particular scene or image on the poster wouldn’t actually appear in the movie. I particularly remember one movie called ‘Frogs’ which showed an image of a large frog with a human hand sticking out of its mouth, and being very disappointed with the film because this never actually happened. Sort of like the old ‘freak show’ posters, how the fantastic imagery of the ‘come on’ would pale in comparison to the poor pathetic individual on display behind the curtain.
And sometimes the poster art would give you a ‘touch of class’. Frequently these would be drawn by Richard Amsel (as I would discover later doing research for this posting), who did such memorable posters as ‘The Sting’, ‘Lucky Lady’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, ‘Barry Lyndon’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘The Shootist’ and many many more. The ‘Sting’ poster below is obviously a homage to the famous illustrator JC Leyendecker.