Thursday, May 25, 2017


As years went by, more houses were built on Tanglewood Lane.  The residents decided they merited a street sign at the entrance.   Because it was a private street, the residents would normally have to pay for their own sign. But Bernie Fuchs volunteered to paint one.

He took a board, painted it white and hand lettered the words, "Tanglewood Lane."

Fuchs' artwork may look free and spontaneous, but he started his training in the rigorous world of car illustration where he had to master technical drawing and lettering.

Fuchs' pictures had to satisfy committees of automotive engineers who inspected every hubcap and headlight to make sure they conformed to specifications.  Long after he graduated from illustrating car brochures, the skills remained and Fuchs could summon them up whenever his neighbors needed a street sign.

The only time I ever saw Fuchs look smug was when I asked who did the very impressive lettering on one of his illustrations.  He gave me a look that was downright cocky.   Fuchs was a humble man and never mentioned his many honors and awards but he was clearly proud that he had paid his dues and knew how to do his own lettering.

Today, illustrators using Photoshop Text have no need for such skills.  But it mattered that Fuchs was able to experiment from a position of strength.  He knew enough about mechanical drawing, perspective, realistic painting, lettering and other skills so that he could choose what to abandon and what to retain, rather than developing a style around his inadequacies.

For decades, visitors to Tanglewood Lane didn't realize they were driving past an original Bernie Fuchs painting.  Recently the new residents decided to replace their sign with a new, mechanically produced version.


Frank Furlong said...

Good grief! Lettering too? Was there something Fuchs couldn't do? And do better than most anybody else?

Paul Sullivan said...

Good Stuff!

kev ferrara said...


Great series.

I'm curious about Fuchs' upbringing and its influence on him. Were his parents artists? Was he encouraged early? Was he obsessive about art at an early age?

David Apatoff said...

Frank Furlong--Well, he was quite a guy.

Paul Sullivan-- Thanks, these are all outtakes from the book I wrote about Fuchs. There are dozens of other stories like these but there just wasn't room in the book. Given a choice between me blabbing on for another page or reproducing one of Fuchs' illustrations, it was a pretty obvious decision.

Kev Ferrara-- Actually, it was just the opposite. He had no encouragement at all; he grew up fatherless and poor in a coal mining town and there were no artists in his family. He never took an art class through high school, never painted a single picture until he had to apply for art school. The only reason he applied to art school was that his dream of playing jazz trumpet was shattered when he lost three fingers from his right hand (his drawing hand) in an industrial accident in high school. He liked to draw as a boy, but he said he turned to art because he had no other choice. He was desperate and worked his ass off, practicing in his grandfather's basement. His story is pretty incredible.

chris bennett said...

David, what you say about Bernie's upbringing puts me in mind of what the French jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani said about his own formative years; that his disability meant his leisure time was spent practicing music because he could not play football with his school mates.

Tom said...

Fuchs does a really nice job with the foreground space of his pictures. One of the trickery parts of a picture. He always gives the foreground a nice wide plane that the eye gladly travels across to the points of interest in the middle distances.

Here are some more images

Thanks for a week of interesting and sad posts David. The new sign, not only did they make it corporate and ugly they then made it nasty by placing the word private on it.

Donald Pittenger said...

Ah, lettering. The first nail in the coffin of my glorious commercial art career that never happened. (By the time I graduated from art school, I knew I had to find a different line of work.)

David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- Good point. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs. And while you're on the subject, it's amazing to me how many of the great illustrators seriously considered a career in music. I think there is a big overlap in the two aesthetic experiences.

Tom-- Thanks, that's a nice selection of images. I picked many of them for the Fuchs book (shot from the originals whenever we could) and yet I am excited by them all over again when I see them on that web site. The photo of Bernie with the pink wall behind him-- I was sitting right next to him at that table. I knew he was getting older so I took a few days off from my law firm to go up and interview him about his life. We had a great lunch at that restaurant... a wonderful, wonderful man through and through.

Donald Pittenger-- I know what you mean. But if you can master that lettering stuff, you can apply those same skills to so many bigger things.