Saturday, March 30, 2013


"To live is to war with trolls." --Ibsen 

While researching the upcoming book on illustrator Bernie Fuchs, I was amused by the imitators who seemed to encircle his ankles wherever he went.

Fuchs' illustration for Cointreau...

... was copied by illustrators as far away as Korea:

I love how this imitator re-purposed Fuchs' line for the woman's hair into a dotted coupon line.
The thefts became so blatant that Advertising Age magazine sponsored a competition challenging readers to send in ads that copied the Cointreau ad.  Fuchs never did anything about it, just moved on to a different approach.

He got a lot of attention with this bold new illustration for McCalls in 1964: 

Among the artists "influenced" by Fuchs' picture was Aldo Luongo, who painted the following version and sold it as a limited edition print,  advertised heavily in fine art magazines:

When Fuchs changed directions, painting with a series of thin acrylic washes...


...illustrations by others in the same style began popping up a few months later:

Andy Virgil

I suspect the imitators who hurt the most were the capable illustrators who did not copy a specific image but just adopted the Fuchs "look."  They were the hardest to distinguish.  More than anyone else, these images diluted the the Fuchs "brand."  But he just kept changing the brand.

When Fuchs began painting bright yellow floors... 
...bright yellow became the flavor of the month for imitators such as this anonymous artist. 

Fuchs' agent used to become angry when friends called to compliment him on a new Fuchs illustration that turned out to be by someone else.

But when I interviewed Fuchs before he died, he never mentioned it.  One way to war with trolls is not to notice them. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013


In 1704, the great Isaac Newton wrote the first scientific treatise on color theory (the physics of color interaction).  Newton's color wheel began the transformation of color from the unsupported intuitions of artists to the science that it has become today.

Goethe's color wheel from 1810

Chevreul's color wheel from 1855

Today we recognize that our sensory impressions of ideal colors were unreliable.  Instead, we measure vibrational frequencies and map spectrum space, defining quality in quantitative terms.   The science of colorimetry and organizations such as the International Commission on Illumination to help us achieve the miracles that digital color accomplish today.

As Galileo said, "The book of nature is written in the language of mathematics."

Many great scientists have made valuable contributions to this growing body of knowledge.  But the most important and useful color theorist remains Elizabeth Barret Browning:
"Yes," I answered you last night;
"No," this morning, sir, I say.
Colors seen by candlelight
Will not look the same by day.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013



James Gallagher takes a few meaningless scraps of paper and combines them in strong visual statements.

Such materials would be disastrous in less capable hands:  blank pages from books and magazines in a dozen muted shades of tapioca.  Random stains or wrinkles, and an occasional stray bit of text.  Fragments of old photos clipped from anonymous publications.  Yet, Gallagher glues them together in a way that creates powerful compositions:  

He even manages to imbue these primitive materials with meaning, significance and mystery:


Gallagher says:
I collect my source materials from such places as recycled vintage books, sex manuals, clothing catalogs and anything else that can be folded into my world. With a combination of calculated moves, and unrehearsed accidents, my scraps find each other and solidify....  This spontaneous process often generates raw, emotional images that I feel excited and personally moved by. Ultimately I hope to capture something that feels natural (or unnatural) and then leave it up to the viewer to decide its significance.
Gallagher never needs to fret about whether a brush is genuine Kolinsky sable, or whether Strathmore bristol board takes ink quite as well as it once did.  The limitation of his materials rewards him with the gift of simplicity. 


I recently complained about the plague of photoshop collages that have infested the field of illustration, but in my view Gallagher does collage right.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


"To live is to war with trolls"  --Henrik Ibsen

In my view, there was no better draftsman in 20th century illustration than the great Robert Fawcett.

Some might look at this drawing for Good Housekeeping and dismiss it as "typical boring 1950's photo referenced illustration."  (Oh, don't deny it-- you know who you are).

But let's take a closer look:

Up close, the drawing reveals an extraordinary array of marks on paper, from drybrush swirls to bold, virile stripes.  Who could squeeze more character into brushwork than Fawcett?

Look over here and you'll see Fawcett's trees, like exploding miniature constellations:

Always, design was paramount for Fawcett.  Compare his trees above with the following "fine art" painting by the famed Adolph Gottlieb, a contemporary of Fawcett's: 


Here are a few more trees in the background of Fawcett's drawing, each one crackling with its own distinctive energy:

And it ain't just trees, buddy.  Fawcett's opinionated brush aggressively sought out the rhythm and design in buildings, cars and other geometric shapes:

Many regard Fawcett's style as too tightly controlled for today's taste.  But at the atomic level his pictures seem wilder and more abstract to me than the work of many contemporary artists who consider themselves free because they draw loosely and don't use photographs.  

For me, Fawcett is a more serious anarchist than the artist who gives himself permission to draw sloppy. 

Which brings me to the "warring with trolls" portion of this post: 

Much of the special character of Fawcett's picture was never seen or appreciated by the public because it was shrunk and mutilated by some clueless art director at Good Housekeeping

Good Housekeeping attempts to go trendy

To his credit, Fawcett persisted despite the fact that his work was not always understood by clients and advertisers flailing around for the latest fashion.  It took Fawcett longer to achieve the kind of result he wanted, and he knew it might not be appreciated in the end, but apparently he did not find it to be a waste of time.

He held fast in the long war with trolls.  For that reason alone, he deserves our respect.

(Thanks to Illustration House gallery for the use of their original Fawcett illustration.)