Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Photo Reference: R.A. Maguire

Robert A. Maguire (1921-2005) was an American illustrator best known for his crime noir pulp book covers painted in the 1950s and '60s. His art defined the detective genre, and the over 600 covers Maguire created during his career made him one of the most important illustrators of the latter half of the twentieth century.

Like most illustrators, Maguire relied upon photographs of his models for his illustration work, and luckily, much of his reference has been preserved. To see how this artist used his reference, check out R.A. Maguire Cover Art, the only website authorized by the late Robert Maguire. At the site, you can see images of his printed covers, his original paintings, and the photographs from which Maguire worked.

There is also a great interview with Maguire in the American Art Archives which reveals some of the behind-the-scene action of the illustration world. It is a fun read, and I've included some of Maguire's remembrances of working with models below:

My first wife was a model, but for the most part, I didn’t go near models. They were too fast living. I used one model quite a bit and she invited my wife and I down to see her dancing around ’53, ’54, and she was dancing in a mafia club. The Copacabana, in fact.

The models were very ‘active.’ They weren’t real. A lot of them were on drugs. I had one girl posing against a backdrop. She put her arms over her head and slowly slumped to the floor. I had to go over and shake her awake in order to finish the shoot. We had deadlines.

I had this one model, very, very beautiful girl and very professional. She’d say, ‘How do you want me, zonked out of my mind or just mildly intoxicated?’ She had it all down pat. She’d go into one of these sexual trances and look like she was crazy about the guy model.¹



¹ American Art Archives. December 30, 2009. {}

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Defining Beauty: Gil Elvgren

America's pre-eminent pin-up artist, Gil Elvgren, had a simple (though, admittedly, a bit lecherous sounding) criteria for creating his beautiful calendar girls: each had to have a "fifteen-year-old face on a twenty-year-old body."¹ During a career that spanned nearly forty years, Elvgren never lost sight of what appealed to the American male, and though his work can look a bit dated because of clothing and hairstyles, the women are nonetheless always attractive. Here was an artist who truly understood the proportions of beauty.

Elvgren felt that his models were the key to the strength of his paintings, and he had an exquisite eye in choosing the correct women for his projects. Many of his models, like Myrna Hansen, Myrna Loy, Donna Reed, Arlene Dahl, Barbara Hale, and Kim Novak, went on to have successful film careers after posing for the artist. These actresses, just beginning their careers, would travel to the offices of the nation's most successful calendar company, Brown & Bigelow, to be immortalized by the pin-up artists in their employ, and among those, Elvgren knew best how to tap into the young women's "freshness and spontaneity."²

He chose models with a 'high forehead, long neck, eyes that were set wide apart, small ears, pert nose, great hair, full but not overblown breasts, nice legs and hands, a pinched-in waist and natural grace and poise."³ To these inherent features, Elvgren would add embellishments by building up the bust, lengthening the legs, reducing the waist more, adding more tip and tilt to the nose, making the mouth fuller and more sensuous, enlarging the eyes, and making the curves of the body warmer and more attractive.⁴ Most of all, however, his models had to be enthusiastic and interested, and have highly mobile facial features, capable of a wide range of expression.⁵

An avid photographer, Gil Elvgren shot his own model set-ups, and to artists, the picture archive from Elvgren's career may be more helpful in understanding how he portrayed comeliness than are his words. There are several sources online where you can see Elvgren's photos, and it is worth the effort to compare his finished works with the original reference. It is a great way to examine what Elvgren added, and what he simplified, in order to make his famous beauties.


Taschen Publishing has a reasonably priced book out on Elvgren called Gil Elvgren: The Complete Pin-Ups, written by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel. It contains 98% of the artist's more than 500 pin-up and glamour paintings created between the mid-1930s and 1972. Some images are, unfortunately, copies of copies, but more than 200 of the pictures were shot directly from Elvgren's original paintings.


Heritage Auction Galleries has handled the sale of several of Elvgren's paintings, including those which were in the possession of Charles Martignette. If you do a search in their archives and look through their upcoming sales, you will be able to find high resolution scans of the Elvgren pin-ups Heritage has handled.


Two great online sources for information on Gil Elvgren are Elvgren Pinup, and Gil Elvgren. The latter site, operated by Louis K. Meisel, contains what appears to be the complete Elvgren biography from the Taschen book.


You can purchase copies of Gil Elvgren's BW reference photos on ebay from The Kat House and from MOP Pin-Up. This is a great opportunity to work from the same source as Elvgren and compare your interpretation to his.


After moving to Florida, one of Elvgren's favorite models was the very animated Janet Rae. Her son, Stuart, has compiled photographs of Janet taken by Elvgren along with images of the finished works as a tribute to his mother. Rae's son is contemplating a book about his mother, and has posted the images to a flickr set to gauge the public's response.


Elvgren's friend, Norman Rockwell, also relied heavily upon photo reference for his illustrations. Currently on view at the Norman Rockwell Museum is Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, which examines the artist's photo reference in comparison to his finished art.



¹ Elvgren Pinup. December 28, 2009.
² Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, Gil Elvgren: The Complete Pin-Ups, (Taschen Publishing, Los Angeles, 1999), p. 37.
³ Elvgren Pinup.
⁴ Martignette and Meisel, p. 37.
⁵ Martignette and Meisel, pp. 36-37.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Artistic Anatomy

Recently, I had to pull out my dusty anatomy books. I wish I could say that it was for some grand painting project, but sadly, it was because I needed to make an appointment with the orthopedist. It was nice to be able to call the doctor's office and clearly communicate that, "I think I tore the patellar tendon where it meets the anterior tuberosity of the tibia." (It would have been nicer still if I were not forced to know such a thing, but the situation being what it is, at least I could go in for my visit having the doctor knowing exactly where to begin).

Two of my favorite books on anatomy are Anatomy for the Artist by Sarah Simblet (photographed by John Davis), and the classic, Artistic Anatomy, by Dr. Paul Richer, edited by Robert Beverly Hale. Simblet's book has good illustrations, but the information is a bit general. Its real charm lies in the acetate overlays which describe the underlying musculature or skeletal system so clearly in combination with Davis' images. Richer, on the other hand, who was Professor of Anatomy at the École des Beaux-Arts and at the Academy of Medicine, Paris, created a much more in depth guide, and it is the book I always turn to first when I am in need of information. The drawings are thorough, though the layout, with the text at the beginning of the book, and the plates at the back, is a bit cumbersome. A third good book is Human Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger, which offers good information, though I wish the images were larger. Together, the three books complement each other well.

It seems that there are two schools of thought, even among realists, when it comes to the knowledge and use of anatomy for constructing a painting. There are those who wish to know their subject top to bottom, back and front, inside and out before they ever touch brush to canvas. Understanding the hidden structure of their subject is paramount to the creation of their work. The other group, however, feels that an understanding of that structure might interfere with the making of their art. For these artists, if they reproduce the effects of light and color in the correct relationship, then the hidden forms will be made manifest.

For better or worse, I tend to fall in with the latter camp, though it has been more a result of expediency and a lack of an Academic education, than any bias. I have relied heavily upon photo reference for most of my work, and have only delved deeply into anatomy when it came to drawing or sculpting fantasy creatures (whose structures had their origins in reality). Nonetheless, if I had the time, I would want to attain a better comprehension of human anatomy, as I think all knowledge benefits one's art.

Ultimately, I'd like to see a new illustrated anatomy book, one as detailed as Richer's, but with the artistic perspective of Simblet. It would need to stand as a work of art, as well as a source of information, and lastly, it would need to be contemporary. This last request may seem odd, considering our knowledge of the musculoskeletal system has seen little change for many years, but I think it is important that each age be able to relate to the pictorial representation of the human body from its own physical ideal. I was clearly reminded of this while sitting in the orthopedist's office looking at a newly printed version of a 1957 anatomical drawing. The illustration not only looked dated, but so did the figure: it seemed more like a neanderthal than a homo sapien.

The best recent anatomy text I have seen is by an artist of whom I have spoken of before, David Jon Kassan. His style is exacting and highly realistic, yet not staid, and his cross-hatch work, reminiscent of silver point, brings a beautiful texture to his work. (All of the images which accompany this article are by Kassan). In 2006, Kassan created Portrait Anatomicae, an extensive guide to the human head designed specifically for portrait artists in which not only the muscles and bone structure that describe facial features are reviewed in detail, but also proportions of features from an artist's viewpoint. Since creating this guide, Kassan has gone on to focus on other parts of the body in a series of articles written for American Artist Magazine, and all are a valuable resource. When Kassan eventually produces a book on the entire human anatomy for the artist, I'll be the first in line to buy it.


• To purchase Portrait Anatomicae online ($10.00 USD), click here.


Three Good Books on Anatomy Currently Available:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Massive Black Releases Donato DVD

Massive Black Media has teamed up with multi award-winning illustrator Donato Giancola to create a five-hour long instructional DVD available now for purchase. The video follows Donato over three days in the studio as he creates the painting, The Mechanic, a piece specifically designed for this new tutorial. Donato's processes, from gathering photo reference through the final touches on the painting are covered, as well as are his thoughts on having a career in illustration.

Chapters on the DVD include:

1. Photo Reference
2. Preliminary Drawing
3. Mounting the Drawing
4. The Starfield
5. Background Architecture
6. The Portrait
7. Spacesuit Part 1
8. Spacesuit Part 2
9. Career Insights
10. The Hands
11. The Tool Belt
12. Background Architecture 2
13. The Torpedo Tube
14. Final Touches

I have not seen the DVD myself yet, but the trailer looks great, and having known Donato now for more than 15 years*, I know the care and attention he puts into all of his works, including his teaching. I am sure it is great.

The tutorial is available as a download from the Massive Black website for $60.00, though there is a discount offer on the site's news page for 30% off all downloads (it looks like it should have expired before December 1st, but as it is still listed, it might be worth the try). You can also buy it from Donato's website as a hard copy for $60.00, and Donato will include an 8½" X 11" autographed print with each purchase.

* I am proud to say that Donato once modeled as a severed head for me, and that the two of us modeled together for another artist, with me as a Civil War soldier, and Donato as the hack, field surgeon sawing off my leg.

Art Out Loud DVD Now Available

Several years ago, art director Irene Gallo and illustrator Dan Dos Santos decided to create a day of open painting where students and fellow-artists could come and watch a small group of professional illustrators create their work. The event, Art Out Loud, was held at the Society of Illustrators in New York, and this year marked the sixth installment of the popular workshop series. The illustrators who participated in this recent event include James Gurney, Donato Giancola, Charles Vess, Sam Weber, and Greg Manchess, and, luckily for those of us who were unable to attend, the demonstrations were videotaped and have been compiled in a single DVD available from the Society of Illustrators.

Trailer for Art Out Loud, Vol 3 from Kate Feirtag on Vimeo.

To order the DVD, contact Kevin at, or call the Society at 212.838.2560. The price of the DVD is $35.00.

Joan of Arc demo by Donato


Irene Gallo's Post on Art Out Loud 6
Flickr Set of images from Art Out Loud 6

Friday, December 18, 2009

Words of Wisdom: Rose Frantzen

When people ask me how I became a successful artist, I tell them you have to not need much. If you live raw and bare, you can make it work. If you have no money to start with, you better decide you're not going to need much.¹
~ Rose Frantzen, Portrait of Maquoketa

¹Rose Frantzen, Portrait of Maquoketa, (Old City Hall Press, Maquoketa, Iowa, 2009), p. 62.


Rose Frantzen's Website
Portrait of Maquoketa at Old City Hall Press
Portrait of Maquoketa at the National Portrait Gallery

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Studio Tools: Homasote®

Homasote® is one of those unusual products for which the manufactured article and the company's name have become synonymous (like Xerox, Kleenex, and Scotch tape), yet very few people today know exactly what is this commodity. Made by the oldest U.S. producer of environmentally friendly building products, Homasote® is a compressed cellulose fiberboard made from 98% post-consumer paper. First introduced in 1916, the lightweight and weather-resistant "Versatile Homasote Board" has been used as everything from automobile roofs to exterior panelling on military field hospitals. It has even been used to make moveable shelters for Antarctic Expeditions. Though today it is regularly marketed as a sound-dampening building panel, it has yet another use which is of great benefit to artists: it is probably the best bulletin board material ever made.

I first learned of Homasote® while taking a workshop with Anthony Ryder several years ago in New Mexico. Ryder, who has the tendency to paint smaller canvases, finds the average easel set-up to pose problems when his painting surface is crowed by the apparatus' upper and lower shelves. To create more elbow room (literally), Ryder uses moderately sized pieces of Homasote® to which he then tacks his paintings with half-inch or longer pushpins. With his canvas secured to the board, he is then freed to paint to the edges of his support without difficulty.

A poster study by Tony Ryder tacked to a piece of Homasote®

More recently, I have seen Homasote® on the walls of the Grand Central Academy in New York, where it is used to hold sketches and demonstration drawings around the walls of the studio, up and above the students' working areas.

I keep several small Homasote® boards around my studio to which I tack my canvas and reference material, and sometimes, a paper palette. If I need to switch to another painting, I just remove the entire board and insert a new one, with its own painting and set-up intact. This way, I can quickly switch from work to work with ease.

My own poster study from the Ryder workshop, pinned to Homasote®

Finding Homasote® can be somewhat tricky, especially if you ask for it by name. Smaller lumberyards are more likely to recognize the product, but if you describe it as a sound-abatement panel, you might be able to locate Homasote® in the insulation department of bigger box stores (Home Depot, for example, carries it in the northeast, but don't expect to find it on their website). The Homasote® Company offers a search engine on their website to help you find the nearest retailer carrying their product, and it's a great place to start your hunt.

The board itself comes in 4' X 8' panels which are ½" thick. It is easy to cut with a saw, and at places like Home Depot, they will cut it for you (the first two cuts are free). Because the board is composed of a lot of recycled newsprint and cardboard, it is a pleasing warm gray in color (approximately value 6 on the Munsell scale). Currently, it sells for about $10 a sheet.

Lately, Homasote® has been gaining popularity as a bulletin board, and more and more designers have been using it in home decorating to create "dream boards," which they cover in fabric and to which they pin meaningful images. To service their buyers better, the Homasote Company has created a newer product called PINnacle™, designed specifically as a tack board. Like Homasote®, it also comes in standard 4' X 8' sheets, but it is ³⁄₈" thick, and is made from 100% post-consumer paper. Hopefully it will be easier to find.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Random Inspiration: Harvey Dinnerstein's Parade (1972)

I first came across Harvey Dinnerstein's painting, Parade, in an issue of Smithsonian magazine back in the '80s. There was no article to accompany the image, just Dinnerstein's name, and the title of the piece. I assumed then that the painting was in the Smithsonian's collection, but as the painting was in the private collection of Dr. and Mrs. Mohammad Khavari as recently as the winter of 2008, I can only assume now that the magazine had included Dinnerstein's art solely as an example of important American work: it is doubtful to me that the Smithsonian would have deascensioned the piece had it ever been theirs.

Initially, I thought it was a contemporary painting which referenced 1960s America, but was soon surprised to learn that this artwork, despite being representational in style, was painted in the early 1970s.

Dinnerstein, born in 1928, began studying art at age 16 with social realist Moses Soyer, and after graduating from Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, he went on to study briefly at the Art Students League of New York with Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Julien Levy, before completing his studies in Philadelphia, at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. It was his goal to be a classical painter, but in the face of the trends of his time, like abstract expressionism, Dinnerstein found himself the object of public criticism. As an example, in a 1961 exhibit at the National Arts Club entitled A Realist View, Dinnerstein and like-minded contemporaries, Sheldon Fink, St. Julian Fishburn, Stuart Kaufman, David Levine, Seymour Remenick, Daniel Bennett Schwartz, Aaron Shikler, Burton Silverman, Herbert Steinberg, and Robert White were all "savagely attacked... by the New York Herald Tribune for putting 'man above style'"¹ Despite being "dismissed as old-fashioned,"² Dinnerstein persevered in his realist efforts, though it would take years before he received the national acclaim he deserved.

What had originally brought attention to Dinnerstein, and what had enabled him to continue and obtain exhibitions like 1961's A Realist View, was his interest in using art as social commentary. In 1956, moved by the brave act of a young woman named Rosa Parks who refused to move to the black section of a segregated bus, and by the non-violent protests of a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr., Dinnerstein, his wife, and his high-school friend, Burton Silverman, travelled to Montgomery, Alabama to record, in images and interviews, this significant and historical movement. Ten years later, he would be working as an illustrator for Esquire Magazine, covering the turbulent times following the assassination of Dr. King and the protests at America's increased involvement in the Vietnam conflict. Dinnerstein bore witness, through his art, candlelight vigils outside New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, a protest march onto the military base at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, violence in the streets of Chicago, Vietnam veteran protests outside the capitol, and the massive demonstration outside the Lincoln Memorial after the killings of students at Jackson and Kent State. He was there, and although he felt that he did not comprehend everything he witnessed at that time,³ he did understand the humanity of the situations, and how best to portray them.

Of creating Parade, Dinnerstein said, "I had in mind a processional image, somewhat like the reliefs of Roman sarcophagi, related to Reubens' development of similar themes. I have a memory of an experience viewing Delacroix's Death of Sardinopolis at the Louvre. When you place yourself at a distance from the painting, so that the range of your vision encompasses the width of the image exactly, there is a dazzling effect of movement, and I hoped to arrive at some of that kind of energy in my painting."⁴

With his work, Parade, Dinnerstein sought to emulate the grand allegorical paintings of the Renaissance, but from the Naturalist viewpoint which made up his training. He found in the political demonstrations of the sixties, a use of symbolism and myth by the protesters from which he could create his own epic image. From his own notes and sketches made during his personal observation of that tumultuous time, Dinnerstein engineered this spectacular piece.

There are two books available on Harvey Dinnerstein. The first of these, published in 1978, is Harvey Dinnerstein: Artist at Work. It is no longer in print, but good used copies are still out there for reasonable prices. A more recent book, Underground Together: The Art and Life of Harvey Dinnerstein, was just published in 2008, and some sellers are offering it now, new, for under twenty dollars.

In returning to this picture by Harvey Dinnerstein, I was reminded how much I am taken with paintings that feature a processional motif. It is a good reminder to myself that I should attempt such a subject in my future. Here are a few other such paintings from which I have often been inspired.

The Vintage Festival (1871)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Spring (1894)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

The Progress of Spring (1905)
Charles Daniel Ward

The Pardon in Brittany, 1886
Pascal-Adolphe-Jean Dagnan-Bouveret

Florentine Fete (single panel from series)
Maxfield Parrish

Garden of Hope
James Gurney

Dinosaur Parade
James Gurney

The Daphnephoria (1874-1876)
Frederic Lord Leighton

Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence
Frederic Lord Leighton

Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna (detail)
Frederic Lord Leighton

La Jeunesse de Bacchus (1884)
William Adolphe Bouguereau

La Jeunesse de Bacchus (detail)
William Adolphe Bouguereau

La Jeunesse de Bacchus (detail)
William Adolphe Bouguereau

¹ Gabriel P. Weisberg, Harvey Dinnerstein: A Traditionalist for All Ages, (Fine Art Connoisseur, December 2008), p. 45.
² Emily Genauer, New Rebels Put Man above Style (New York Herald Tribune, May 7, 1961), as qtd. in Weisberg, Gabriel P., Harvey Dinnerstein: A Traditionalist for All Ages, (Fine Art Connoisseur, December 2008), p. 45.
³ Harvey Dinnerstein, Harvey Dinnerstein: Artist at Work, (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1978), p. 51.
⁴ Dinnerstein, pp. 51-53.