Monday, June 20, 2016


Paul Klee famously said, "a line is a dot that went for a walk."

But some lines pause along the way.  Let's consider why.

Paul Coker Jr.'s line stops, digs down, then springs forward again. 

This gives his line additional energy,  as if it is propelled on its path by booster rockets.

Like Coker's line, Robert Fawcett's line here lingers at strategic spots on its walk:


Fawcett doesn't pause out of uncertainty.  Rather, he punctuates his line as a way of emphasizing his commitment.

Here we see Ronald Searle's line stopping, backing up, and digging in again like successive blows by a sculptor chiseling into stone: 

Searle's technique adds character and musculature to his line. 

Another good example is Mort Drucker's trademark bouncing line. 

Drucker's line loops back, bestowing a springiness that could never be achieved in lines that walk the shortest path between two points.

These lines all walk with a hesitation step.  They're very different from the flowing, sinuous line of artists such as Hirschfeld.


The marks left at these stopping points reflect the added pressure of a wrist and the increased flow of ink.  But mostly they show viewers that an active brain has chosen to renew its commitment to a line at this precise spot.  They display a series of choices rather than a single choice.   They are the graphic equivalent of leaving behind a trail of exclamation marks.  

In the right hands, these choices can greatly increase the character and strength of a line. 

Friday, June 10, 2016


In the 1950s the Maxwell Paper company commissioned a series of paintings by famous illustrators showing the process for creating advertising art.  The series is a great archaeological record of a long dead world. 

The series was called "Partners in Productive Advertising."  It gave each illustrator the opportunity to show his (yes, they were all male) interpretation of a key man (yes, they were all male except for the pretty model) in the creation of an ad.  In a few short years, this world would evolve into the glamorous, lucrative world of Mad Men.  Art directors would take off their ties and start wearing Nehru jackets.  But in the 1950s the advertising world was more down to earth and functional.

Illustrator Steven Dohanos shows us the busy Account Executive dealing with the client. 

Austin Briggs shows us the Advertising Manager  ("[B]ehind that frown lies a battleground where conflicting loyalties temper every decision.")


 Al Dorne shows us the copy writer trying to come up with an original idea for the ad:

 Al Parker depicts the artist painting the ad (although the artist is largely obscured behind a drawing board and a pretty girl):

Robert Fawcett shows us the Art Director enthusiastically reviewing the work of the artist:


With the illustration completed and approved,  John Atherton shows us the Production Manager jumping into action to implement the ad:

Finally, Peter Helck (who was always more comfortable painting machines than people) shows us the printer:

There we have it-- seven different treatments by seven famous illustrators of the day.  Today the advertising industry has changed; the technology and clothing in these pictures seem laughable to us, and the process seems cumbersome. 

But no matter how obsolete these pictures seem, there are some timeless elements that remain relevant.  For example, no matter what the era we can still tell when an artist has faked his way through a picture:


Dorne took that face off some convenient shelf and faked the foreshortening of that figure. Dorne's pencil-to-the-brow pose is a dopey way of showing creative thinking.  That muddy swamp of colors on the desk reflects poor planning in any era.

Telephones were still fairly primitive in Dorne's day, but that didn't stop Dorne from phoning it in.

Contrast Dorne's contribution with Fawcett's:

The tired, jaded expression on the Art Director's face is clever and revealing (as is his bad tie).  Fawcett could've taken Dorne's lazy way out, but Fawcett saw an opportunity to do something interesting with expressions and took full advantage of it.  

Most of all, notice the structural integrity of Fawcett's picture-- the overlapping orthogonal shapes and angles that seem like a random mess on a busy desk, but elegantly convey the architecture of the scene:

No matter how old fashioned the advertising jobs and technologies and haircuts depicted in these pictures may seem, we can still look at these pictures and distinguish quality from fakes, as bright as day.

Today's lesson comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:  "The excellent is new forever."

(Many thanks to my friend Nick Meglin for the tearsheets for the Maxwell Paper Company series.)