Wednesday, May 23, 2018


Time magazine-- which was for decades the dominant news magazine in the world-- seems to be limping  toward its end.  It was purchased last year for a fraction of its former value and the new owners are  dismantling and selling off the assets.

The cover of Time was the showcase for thousands of remarkable portraits painted by talented artists such as Boris Chaliapin and Ernest Hamlin Baker.    

Time wanted its covers to convey an accurate, lucid magazine; it wasn't advertising creativity or imagination.  So it commissioned careful illustrations that inspired confidence and integrity. 

Week after week, decade after decade, these artists painted cover portraits with great integrity, sometimes on a 48 hour deadline.  (Baker reported "permitting himself only two hours sleep out of the forty eight allowed for the job." Sometimes they worked to the last minute, cutting it so close they had to race in their car to meet a delivery date.) 

The originals were about twice the size of the printed version.  Here you can see how Baker achieved those subtle skin tones: over a light wash base, he applied highly diluted tempera paint, built up gradually with a thousand delicate brush strokes.

Baker went back with white paint to separate eyelashes he thought were too close together

How in the world did Baker learn the face of his subject well enough to employ this approach?  He'd take the reference photos supplied by the magazine-- perhaps a dozen random pictures from different angles-- and study them with a magnifying glass to compile a composite map of the topography of the face.

Baker would then use his topographic map as his guide when painting the lines and crevasses and warts of the face.  That's a lot of work. 

I would not say these covers are works of inspired genius.  I've seen more beautiful designs.  But in my opinion they are consistently works of excellence, and opportunities to be excellent are rare enough in this world that they should not be taken for granted.

If there was a shortcut that could've achieved the same result, I'm sure these artists would've  been happy to take it, and to get back all those hours of their lives.  For example, decades later computers could've saved these guys time.  But regardless, I think artists should take comfort from the fact that time spent in pursuit of excellence is never wasted.


Anonymous said...

"which was for decades the dominant news magazine in the world"
Really? That sounds a bit far fetched.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- One of the fun things about this blog is that I can never anticipate what issue is going to set people off. The stature of Time magazine? I never would've guessed it.

Well, according to wikipedia, "Time has the world's largest circulation for a weekly news magazine. The print edition has a readership of 26 million." There were editions of Time published around the world-- Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-- and it tended to be read by the more influential audiences there. If you have another candidate for "dominant news magazine," I'd love to hear it. Personally, I like The Economist but its circulation never amounted to more than a small fraction of Time's. In fact, its advertising slogan in the 1990s was: "The Economist – not read by millions of people." It's much older than Time magazine but when Time magazine began, The Economist still only had a circulation of just 6,000. Newsweek maybe? A respectable contender but it never equaled Time. So who else do you have in mind?

Tom said...

Nice to see de Gaulle is full color instead of black and white!

Kings Ndubuisi Blog said...

The remuneration must have been huge such that the artists will agree to complete and deliver the work within 48 hours!

Anonymous said...

Hi David.

Sorry about my short unrelated comment.
I'm a big fan of your blog and I am buying your books! ☺️

I'm just always a bit puzzled by this claim, "... in the world!".
I understand that Wikipedia says it is, and it probably is actually, but I'm not sure that people feel that Time is a *dominant* publication outside of the US (or the Commonwealth maybe).
Im French and I don't know anybody who reads it in France (maybe I don't hang out with the right people), even if it is sold there.

Not sure that there needs to be only one globally dominant magazine either. They are all good contenders!

Anyway, it isn't especially the right place for this conversation.

Awesome post, as usual!


Anonymous said...

James Gurney's post about artist Antonin Dvorak, from a few days ago:

Meera Rao said...

Thanks for sharing. I am always in awe of professionals who turn out excellent work on short notice !!!!

James Vaughan said...

... yes- 'Time' was certainly the dominant news magazine of the world. To be on the cover of 'Time' was to reach a unique fame. This was from a period that people of today can hardly understand. When the media had only a small fraction of the outlets of today. When 'print' carried great respect and responsibility. The line between journalism and entertainment was clear. A commission for an illustrative portrait for a 'Time' magazine cover meant you were at the top of your craft - one of the best in the world!

vivici said...

thank you for sharing
viagra asli usa
pil biru viagra
jual viagra original
viagra obat kuat

George C. Clark said...

Back in the 1970s I attended an exhibition of original Time Magazine cover art. In the texts accompanying the show, I believe the art director said he commissioned three artists every week to paint the cover subject on short notice. Each artist who delivered his work on time was paid $1500 whether his work was used or not. Time bought the original art as well as the magazine cover reproduction rights. This was a time when Playboy was paying $600 for a page of full color art, and you could buy an original Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover painting for $5000 at a gallery on Madison Avenue. Time management considered the extra art cost valuable insurance against the disaster that would ensue should there not be proper cover art available when the magazine had to go to press each weekend for its multimillion issue run. Occasionally late-breaking news like a natural disaster or an assassination superseded a planned cover story. Sometimes those planned covers could be used in a later issue, but sometimes not.

Paul Sullivan said...

George—You are right. When Walter Bernard was art director of TIME in the mid seventies, he was interested in a preliminary drawing I showed him of Ted Kennedy. As I recall, I was paid $1,200 for the completed painting. The agreement at the time was an additional $1,200 would be paid if it was published as a cover. In about 1978, Bernard asked me to add a little more gray hair and said that it was being considered for publication along with two other paintings. As it turned out, my painting was not used. In the late seventies, it was getting difficult to make a good living as an illustrator, especially in Arizona. When a position with Motorola Visual Media was offered I took it and I’m glad I did.

Robert Cosgrove said...

Ernest Hamlin Baker was just a bit before my time--I discovered him only retrospectively, when I started to delve into the history of illustration. "Unique" is an over-used word, but I believe it fairly applies to his work. I do remember some great time portraits--notably, a Robert Kennedy cover by Louis Glanzman. There were covers by Burt Silverman, the great Mort Drucker, and Jack Davis. It seems worth mentioning that the Smithsonian published a book, "Faces of Time," reproducing about 75 Time covers. Probably accompanied the exhibition George C. Clark mentions a few posts above.

Tanzir Rahman said...

Great illustration....appreciate your work...
Vector line art

Oscar Fernandez said...

These are really awesome. I appreciate your work