Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ladislav Sutnar




One of my absolute favorite designers is Ladislav Sutnar. Born in Czechoslovakia, he was the pioneer of information design. Overshadowed by his contemporaries, the Constructivist and Bauhaus typemasters El Lissitsky and Moholy-Nagy respectively, Sutnar is a relatively unsung leader of Modern objective typography. He worked in America in the years after the war and made Constructivism both functional and playful in it's application to catalog design. In the early 1960s he was hired by Bell systems to develop a variety of design programs. One of the things he was responsible for creating was the area code parentheses.

The thing that has always impressed me the most, was how he was able to take what appeared to be very uninteresting, mundane items and create interesting organized catalogs. Sutnar was the art director for the F. W. Dodge's Sweet's Catalog Service from 1941 to 1960. This was America's leading producer and distributor of trade and manufacturing catalogs. I can't imagine what a daunting task that would have been, to take all of that uninspired product and form some user friendly, graphically pleasing informational pamphlets. The images above are some samples I have of Sutnar's skill at doing what he did best. I think his use of typography, his creative way of getting the best use out of a limited palette, and his way of organizing his information are all very inspirational. As far as I'm concerned, nobody does it better.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Poster Designs


These are a couple of poster designs I did a few years ago. I had always wanted to do posters for myself, creating the subject matter, doing the illustrations, and writing the copy. Both posters are done with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The idea of the first one was, what if they had created a monorail system that crossed through the entire United States. Instead of flying or taking a train or bus, the family would climb on the Flying Tortise monorail, and relax and enjoy a luxurious sightseeing adventure across this great country of ours. It looks like it would be perfectly safe and very comfortable. I know for a couple of years between 1953 and 1955, they ran this monorail very successfully from St. Paul to Milwaukee. The only problem was, it took longer, and was more expensive than if you just drove your car. Of course, it's totally ridiculous, but it's still fun to imagine what the advertisement might look like.

The second poster, was meant to promote a non existent school. The school was to help young men develop careers in aviation design. It was a non traditional school, in the sense that, the boys were encouraged to "think outside the box". Unfortunately most of the designs that came out of the school were totally impractical and never had any commercial application. The only student to ever actually achieve employment, within the aviation industry, was Chubby McNeal. He went on to be successfully employed with TWA, he stayed with the company for three years as a baggage handler. It was never made clear what Mrs. Sinclair's exact role in the school was. 

I ran an ad in Juxtapoz magazine in an effort to sell my large inventory of posters. Much to my delight, the response was great, and I actually sold five posters. I never came close to making my money back on the posters, or even the cost of running the ad, for that matter. If anyone is interested, I think I have a very limited supply of around 200 for each of those posters. The size is 18" x 24" and they are printed on high quality (expensive) paper. In case you haven't figured it out, I'm not a very good businessman.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Xenozoic Tales Playset


I've been lucky enough, over the last several years, to work on several projects with an artist, whose work I really admire. Mark Schultz brings such a quality and craftsmanship to everything he does. By working with Mark, it challenges me to  raise the level of my game. Using sports as an analogy, the best way to get better at your position, is by playing against people who are better than you. I like to think that Mark makes me better at what I do. 

Each year for the San Diego Comic-con, with Mark's blessing, I've tried to create special limited edition products related to Xenozoic Tales. Each item is created in extremely small quantities, and is signed and numbered by Mark. Two years ago we presented this Xenozoic Tales Playset.
Marx toy company created fabulous playsets from the 1950's through the 1960's. They usually contained hundreds of figures, along with buildings, vehicles, terrain, and creatures. They were quite likely to be the highlight of any Christmas during that period of time. Even though, Xenozoic Tales didn't exist then, it seemed like if it did, it would have been a good prospect to become a playset. So instead of a Marx Playset, we created a Mark's Playset. This was a tribute to that era, and an attempt to recapture the excitement of Christmas morning. This was fun to try to approximate the feel and style of the packaging of those Marx Playsets. This was designed in an edition of ten, it came with 4 people, 4 dinosaurs, a palm tree, and a rocky wall. I know, that I can speak for myself when I say, that this has given me hours and hours of quality play time.

Frances Tipton Hunter



Dover Publications, Alden Family Paper Dolls in Full Color, 1989
The Frances Tipton Hunter Picture Book, Whitman Publishing Company, 1935
Boo, Who used to be afraid of the dark, Random House, 1948

I was digging through children's books at a local antique store, when I came across Boo, who used to be afraid of the dark, from 1948. The book immediately captivated me. The illustrations were so alive and the colors were so bright and fresh. What caught my attention was, even though these looked like there was photo reference involved, there wasn't a sense of stiffness to them. Instead of appearing posed, they seemed more like they were captured in "the moment." There was such a sense of naturalism to them. The lighting effects were expertly executed, creating contrasts of light and dark, that helped model the characters. Everything had a natural glow, which warmed up the picture and gave it personality.

I discovered the illustrators name was Frances Tipton Hunter. I was intrigued enough to seek out more information. She was an illustrator who worked from the early 1920's to the late 1950's. She was particularly known for her charming portrayals of children. She worked on popular magazines at the time, including, Collier's, Liberty, Saturday Evening Post, and Ladies' Home Journal. It's frustrating to me that there doesn't seem to be more information on her. I don't believe there are any book collections of her work. I actually found two more books that she did, one is called The Frances Tipton Hunter Picture Book, dated 1935 and the other is a Dover reprint book of her paper dolls, called, Alden Family Paper Dolls in Full Color. I've included scans from both books above. It's amazing to me how, much character is shown in the paintings she did of just the clothing. Can you imagine if Norman Rockwell had done a book on paper dolls? I know that Rockwell is considered America's most beloved artist, but where is Frances Tipton Hunter on that list? I hope some day, that a book publisher feels the work that she did, is important enough, to publish a collection of her artwork.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cowboy Pull Toy

Here's something a little different. This is a wooden pull toy that I made. For a real long time I've been interested in the Fisher Price pull toys from the 1940's through the 1960's. In fact, I kind of collected them. The paintings of the characters always reminded me of the artwork from children's books of that same era. It seemed like there was a lot of pride taken in the art that was executed. Unfortunately, most of those artists were never given the recognition that they deserved. Those toys were a great combination of motion, sound and illustration. Because of their construction they would hold up to most anything that the youngsters could dish out. The idea that they can still be found pretty easily, suggests that, people had a fondness for them beyond their childhood uses. This is my attempt to capture the feeling and motion of those toys. As you pull this across the floor, the two cowboys arms go up and down, as if they are shooting at each other. Of course, to make it seem like it had just been pulled out of the toy box, it has to look like it has had years and years of playtime. Adding the aging, with staining and sanding felt like the right finishing touch. I think it would be fun to take some contemporary cartoonists and turn their characters into pull toys, it could become the newest designer toy collectible. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Zero Man


These are a couple of pages out of a recently acquired book on Zero Man. The art was done by Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the Japanese equivalent, of Walt Disney. He is probably better known for his work on Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Phoenix. I'm not a real big fan of manga, but I find this stuff very charming and stylistically appealing. Even though this was created from 1959-1960, it has the feel of classic Disney animation from the 1930's. What I really like, aside from the style of the characters, is the coloring. In the first page, the color is so warm and sophisticated feeling. It's amazing to me, with all of the modern technology that we have today, that the comic book coloring I usually see, is overly rendered Photoshop effects. Here's something that was done 45 years ago, and it is so attractive and appealing. The matte paper stock also works well to allow the colors to blend in with the paper, as opposed to the color sitting on top. The second page was colored with only two colors, red and black, and again the technique makes it look almost like full color. It's interesting how with a limited palette, that the colors make that page feel so organic. There isn't a sense that the colors overpower the line art, they seem to work together in harmony to create some really beautiful artwork. Maybe, in this case, less is more.

Flash Gordon Poster Rough


Here's an incomplete poster illustration from the Flash Gordon book. I enjoy seeing both the pencils and inking that go into a finished illustration. Al has such a gift for figure work and composition. There is so much detail in this piece. I find it curious, Al's approach to inking, each of the figures is only partially inked. He seemed to just jump from one part to another rather randomly. I wonder why this was never finished, and what it's original intent was. Did Al just abandon this at some point and start completely over on something else?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon

Here's a book I'm currently working on. This project has been in the works for several years. After Alex Raymond, the artist most associated with Flash Gordon would be Al Williamson. This book collects all of the artwork Al did related to that character. When possible all of the art was shot from the originals. This book is an overview of how the character impacted Al's life from the time of being a very young child up until he drew his last newspaper strip of him a few years ago. This book includes all of the stories, from the early King Comics through the mini-series done for Marvel. It's an insightful and personal journey of a man and his passion. It's been a thrill for me to be able to visit with the Williamson family and to be able to hear the stories first hand. There is nothing like seeing the original art, and realizing that this is a man of unique and rare skill. It's not far fetched to suggest, that the quality of the work, certainly deserves a place in our modern art museums.

William Stout Prehistoric Life Murals

Here's another book I designed for my good friends at Flesk Publications. This book details the creation of the murals by William Stout, that appear at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Bill gives a first hand account from creating the sketches, to the color studies, and finally to the finished paintings. I always wished that I could have seen preliminary sketches and heard the thoughts that Charles R. Knight had gone through, when he created his dinosaur paintings. Bill certainly is carrying on the tradition of Mr. Knights, and it is very exciting to be able to read what he went through to execute his timeless masterpieces. This book is currently at the printer and should be available from the publisher within the next 30 days. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cover for Various Drawings #4

Here's the recently completed cover for Various Drawings Volume 4. This is an ongoing series of sketchbooks by Mark Schultz. This cover design, is a real collaborative effort between Mark and myself. We've made a real effort to give a design consistency to all the covers of the sketchbook series. Being influenced by the design style of Russian Constructivism, we want the covers to portray both fluid illustration, along with dynamic presentation.  Mark's illustration work is breathtaking, and it's important to keep that, the focal point of the cover. His style and technique are nothing short of spectacular. Any student, or lover of the golden age of illustration, would do themselves a great service by picking up all 4 volumes of this series. Various Drawings Volume 4 is expected to be available in time for the 2009 Comic-Con International in San Diego. Check out this book and other great art books from Flesk Publications.

Here's the Deal

I've been in the design industry for over 20 years, it's my passion. The goal with this Blog, is to show my design and illustration work along with things that inspire me. I hope I can educate, and entertain at the same time. I look forward to going on this journey with you. Let's get started...