Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Orison MacPherson - Jones & Laughlin Steel Ad

This looks like something you'd find on an old wooden jigsaw puzzle from the 40s, but, boy - is it gorgeous. The lighting, the composition, the costumes, another stagecoach with horses in harness, and a great bit of illustration craftsmanship.

I love how my eyes wander all over the picture and keep coming back to the woman being escorted into the inn. Brilliant composition and color. What a beauty!

This is a two-page spread, but the right side of the art is as far as the illustration extended. Beyond what you see here is text for the ad promoting Jones and Laughlin Steel. Painted for Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation by Orison MacPherson (1898 - 1966). Even Ask/Art doesn't have any biographical information beyond that. I know he did some work for The Saturday Evening Post, but that's it. How can anyone this good be so obscure?

Noel Sickles - Railway Express Agency Ad

Let's look at some great Noel Sickles art (like there's some that isn't?) This is an ad he did for Railway Express Agency in 1951. I'm amazed at everything depicted in this ad. It's just a wealth of research, detail, action, fine art and elegance.

The fine print under the art says "A de luxe duo-tone color print 18 1/2" x 16 1/2" on fine paper will be sent to you on request." You never see offers like that much anymore. They're probably all gone by now. I'd sure like to find one.

Can you imagine the reference files Sickles must have had to be able to draw things accurately? The clothing looks pretty authentic to me.

I can't imagine how long it would take me to draw a stagecoach that even LOOKED like a stagecoach, much less one that was laden with baggage. How do you get elliptical wheels to look right? How many spokes on a wheel? What do stagecoach horse collars and reins look like? What do stagecoach drivers wear?

I sure don't know my historical weapons well enough to identify this rifle, but I bet it's legitimate.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Oh, let's look at some real art. These are a few small etchings I picked up either on Ebay or at some paper collector's show somewhere in my travels. Elegant, aren't they? Click on the image to make it bigger.

Can't tell you much about these except what's written in the margins, in pencil, in what appears to be French.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Café Sketches

A quiet afternoon at Border's Books in Pasadena and Barnes and Noble in Glendale. Sippin' coffee, nibblin' cookies, readin' books, magazines and newspapers. Very civilized. Gentle conversations and quiet compositions for a very pleasant day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clifford McBride Insect Life

Clifford McBride was best known for his comic strip Napoleon. His lesser-known daily titled Insect Life had great art, too. This original measures 8.5" x 6" and I've had it for so long I forget where I got it. I always loved his pen and ink technique. Definitely old school, but it's another one of those lost arts.

This is inscribed to Don McCoy in the margin and signed by McBride. Click on the image to make it bigger.

I have no idea what kind of pen McBride used, but you can feel the scratches on the surface of the illustration paper. It's definitely not brushwork. It must have been a ridiculously flexible pen nib.

I love the sloppy spontaneity of his inking. Very loose, very nice.

Monday, September 07, 2009

L. B. Cole

L. B. Cole was one of those classic Golden Age comic book artists who did mostly cover art (over 1,500 of them) for a wide and weird variety of comic books, primarily in the 1940s. Most of them were much better than this, but I love this one because it's so screwed up.

The bad guy/human fly (the guy with the horned owl hair-do and suction cups on his hands and feet) seems to be a floor below Gunmaster Gregory Gayle (the good guy with the .357 Magnum with a 3.5" barrel). But he's also on the same floor. Gayle's elbow is half-way down to the second floor below yet his armpit is on the same window sill that the human fly is looking up from. Unless human fly guy is a midget. But given that the average distance between floors in a building is 10', fly guy is about a 9' midget. Maybe Gayle is huge. The jacket on his forearm is the same size as fly guy's head.

I like how the windows open outwardly on the fourteenth floor of a high-rise office building, just in case you need to lean out and shoot someone. Also notice that it looks as if the 12th floor has four windows and the 14th floor has three windows. It's an illusion. The fourth window on the fourteenth floor is there, it's just obscured by the shadow of Gayle's huge jacket. Looks like the awning below is trying to look up to see what's going on.

Between the windows, the mullions, the venetian blinds and the vertical holders, this is a perspective artist's nightmare.

Check out some samples of L. B. Cole's good covers at this link:

I met L. B. Cole when he was a guest of the San Diego Comic Con in 1981. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun it was to talk with him. As I recall, most of the cartoonists I'd bumped into all day were lamenting the fact that there was no place to go after the convention closed down for the evening, no place where everyone could relax, have a bite to eat, have a drink and hang out with fellow cartoonists and friends. I found a place nearby called Ten Downing Street, a small pub-like restaurant/bar that closed early on weekends because business was slow. I made arrangements with the owner, who normally closed up at 6 PM, to stay open until 10 PM in exchange for a guaranteed full house of drinkers and eaters. He agreed and I had a lot of help handing out flyers to a select horde of cartoonists and friends who took over the bar at 6 PM. A really good time was had by all. It was one of those great events where cartoonists, assorted pros and their friends could hang out, mill about, drink, eat and chat.

I forget if it was a particular Scotch or Bourbon that Cole liked, but whichever it was, I bought a bottle and took it to the bar, set it down in front of Cole and, with some help, we pretty much polished it off by 10 PM. Before we were both completely blitzed, he did this sketch for me. Wow! Isn't it great?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Old Mulholland Highway

About eight years ago I tried selling small paintings through an on line auction site. This is one of the first paintings I sold and it went to Patt Morrison, well known columnists for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for NPR Morning Edition and host, at the time, of The BookShow on KCET in Los Angeles. I'm honored that she has it.

I was out painting on Mulholland Highway somewhere in the Santa Monica Mountains and I decided to paint the road as if it might have looked back in the 20s or 30s, before it was paved. I eliminated whatever architecture was visible and came up with this 6" x 8" painting.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

La Cañada-Flintridge Fires Aftermath

Last Thursday, August 27, I stood at this very spot with people from the neighborhood behind me, watching the fires burn on the distant hills. At that time the fires were so far away there seemed to be little concern for the safety of homes in the area. Today the view looks like this.

This is a patchwork of ten photos I took, pieced together in photoshop with no retouching. The house on the left had burned hedges in his backyard, visible if you click on the picture to blow it up. The house to the right had scorched grass very close to the structure itself. Big signs were hanging outside each home, thanking the firefighters and rescue workers who saved these homes.

The silence was overwhelming. Somewhere in the distance I heard a bird chirping, and I found it hard to believe that anything had returned to this area so soon.

As the crow flies, the most distant mountain ridge at the top of the picture was about seven miles away and everything between here and there was entirely burned. A week ago this was mostly green, filled with trees and shrubs.

I stood there for about ten minutes, just looking, feeling the loss, the devastation, the good fortune of those who had one of the world's greatest firefighting organizations at their disposal. The smell of burned wood, brush, even a sort of tar smell, probably from the oils in the foliage, was powerful. Long after I returned home I could smell it in my hair, on my shoes and on my clothes. The bottoms of my shoes were covered with spiny burs, undoubtedly little seedlings finding a way to cling to something to be taken away and accidentally planted somewhere else to start all over again.

Last Thursday, at the very beginning of this, I witnessed some of the most amazing helicopter piloting imaginable, helicopters swooshing over power lines and down into golf course fairways, over rooftops and over to a water hazard long enough to dip a big bucket into the water hole and roar away to drop a load on the distant blaze.

So far the blaze has consumed over 140,000 acres, or about 218 square miles of landscape.

This image shows an extremely small percentage of the total.