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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Frank Soltesz - Man or Superman?

Friday, March 30, 2007


If I told you about someone who could look down on the earth from a great height, who could see through walls with x-ray vision and observe the minute details of human and machine activities therein, someone whom we know nothing about -- a mysterious stranger -- you might think I was talking about Superman.


In fact, I'm talking about Frank Soltesz. Soltesz may have been a mere mortal, but certainly many of us would consider the artwork he did to be a superhuman feat of illustration.


Since there seems to be no biographical information anywhere on the artist the only clues about his career we can look to are what we've seen so far.

So was his area of illustration expertise a comfortable niche or a pigeon hole?

We really don't know. Aside from his impressive series of cutaways for Armstrong's Industrial Insulation, I've found very few examples of work by Soltesz. And what I have found, more often than not, is similar to those cutaways in style and perspective. Soltesz either chose to do mainly huge technical subjects seen from a great distance or clients chose him for his expertise with that sort of material.

Sometimes we choose the job... sometimes the job chooses us.


The only story illustration by the artist I've come across is this cover (above) for one of (Marvel Comics publisher) Martin Goodman's "men's sweat" magazines. Its existence at least reassures us that Frank Soltesz was as accomplished at dramatic close-ups of intense action as he was at far-off views of technical complexity.

The rest, at least for now, remains a mystery.

All of these images can be found at full size in my Frank Soltesz Flickr set.

Fresh Frozen Frank Soltesz

Thursday, March 29, 2007

We don't give such things a second thought these days but I suppose 50 or 60 years ago the concept of fresh frozen foods was still quite novel. My father-in-law was a boy during the 1940's and has told me stories of the ice man delivering blocks, cut during the winter months from nearby Hamilton Harbour, for his mother's icebox. Imagine that.


Yup, once you'd bought that bag of frozen peas you'd want to store it in the freezer compartment of your brand new electric refrigerator. "Before we tour this plant, do you know what a refrigerator really is?" asks the copy writer of the ad below. "Most people think it "manufactures cold." Of course, that's wrong. There's no such thing as "cold." It's just the absence of heat." Huh! "No such thing as cold"... who knew?


The good folks at Telstar Logistics have enjoyed this week's look at Frank Soltesz so much they were inspired to blog about him themselves. They even managed to locate a smidgeon of information about this otherwise unknown illustrator. Go take a look.

* As always, today's images need to be viewed at full size to be truly appreciated. You can do that by clicking on "All Sizes" in my Frank Soltesz Flickr set.

Frank Soltesz - Storyteller

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The tiny people in Frank Soltesz's factories and industrial plants seem, of necessity, like ants in a colony or worker bees in a hive -- their clothing largely indistinguishable from each other and their activities mostly unified in the process of completing some mundane task.

But when Soltesz painted cutaways of buildings like hotels and hospitals, he invested each tiny person with an individual identity. Through the unique characteristics and actities of these miniature people, Frank Soltesz truly became a storyteller.


What does the solitary man looking out the fourth floor corner window contemplate? Does he know about the poker game going on in the room below his feet? And as we peek in on room after room of people socializing, eating and working we have to wonder about the lonely fellow sitting in isolation in the basement corner boiler room.

Just as fascinating are the variety of the people and situations in the hospital. From the fathers admiring their newborn babies to the patients taking some fresh air on the rooftop patio to the dark humour of having the operating rooms located directly above the cafeteria meat locker, Soltesz gives us a god-like glimpse into the lives of a hundred unique individuals whose circumstances we can only begin to imagine.

Unfortunately, due to a torn corner, we may never know what transpired in the hospital's west wing...


If you haven't yet taken a look at my Frank Soltesz Flickr set, today is the day to spend a few minutes enjoying this wonderful artist's efforts in all its glorious detail!

Milk & Cookies with Frank Soltesz

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nothing goes together quite so well as milk and cookies.


So here are two more Frank Soltesz cutaway illustrations -- one of a dairy and one of a bakery!


You can see all the wonderful tiny details better if you look at the full size version in my Frank Soltesz Flickr set.

The Tabletop World of Frank Soltesz

Monday, March 26, 2007

Over the course of several years before and after 1950, illustrator Frank Soltesz painted I-don't-know-how-many of these gigantic cutaway scenes for Armstrong's Industrial Insulations. Soltesz's miniature Americans lived and worked in a world that looks like the model railroader's ultimate tabletop dream. A few years back I sent a half dozen or so of these images out to the then much smaller TI group.


But there are more. Many more. This week, let's take a look at the tiny, busy world of Frank Soltesz.


Soltesz's work MUST be seen at full size to be truly appreciated... take a look at these and the other previously shown pieces I mentioned in my Frank Soltesz Flickr set.

Thornton Utz: Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ok, this might be my favourite Thornton Utz illustration... but let's not quibble.


Ashley Halsey, Jr., author of Illustrating for The Saturday Evening Post, used this April 1948 piece in his article on Thornton Utz. Of Utz's piece, Halsey writes,

"In the text, the young lady was wearing an expression of contentment and nothing more. Utz painted her just as the contentment changed to surprise at the apparition of the young man.
The expression was perfect. So were the details - too perfect, in fact. All she had around her was a towel and she hadn't gotten very far with it.
The art editors suggested that her natural beauties be somewhat more screened."



On the page above are some of the candidates doodled by Utz as potential screening devices for the young ladies "beauties" (vavoom!) -- though he ultimately elected to employ that time-tested favourite screening device of artists everywhere: mother nature herself.


Thornton Utz was born in Memphis, Tennessee and studied there, as well as in Chicago at the American Academy of Art. Though he later taught at the Chicago Art Institute, at the time of this painting, the article tells us, he was living in Westport, Connecticut - home to what must surely have been America's most concentrated cadre of famous illustrators. There he was friends with Harold von Schmidt and no doubt many others who worked and socialized together in that esteemed community. By the time Utz painted the three Post covers we looked at yesterday, he had moved his family to Sarasota, Florida. Walt Reed's excellent book, The Illustrator in America, tells us that "Utz eventually concentrated on paintings and commissioned portraiture, which included President Carter's family."


Thornton Utz's son, David, whom I had hoped to interview for this week's posts (though the timing, unfortunately, did not work out) is an artist, sculpter and graphic designer. He has a website which you can visit at this link.

As well, TI list member, Aron Gagliardo, the historian/archivist for The American Academy of Art in Chicago, sent a note earlier this week:

Nice to see you doing something on Thornton Utz. I've always wanted to see more of his work and learn more about him as our archives on him are somewhat slim. However, we have a small group of Post covers that he did and a beautiful original. You can see a picture of it at this link (3 down 3 over)

Finally, don't forget to take a look at these and all the other pieces in my Thornton Utz Flickr set.

Thornton Utz: Sequential Artist

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Many terrific illustrators did covers for the Saturday Evening Post, but from what I've seen, only two artists did silent comic strip covers: Constantin Alajalov and Thornton Utz. While all of Alajalov's work - single or multiple image - has a consistent charming stylized quality, the always versatile Utz brought a hint of cartooniness to his otherwise realistic painting style when doing these sequential art images.


When I look at his work here, I'm reminded of those fabulous artists who did similar lavishly detailed art for the early issues of Mad magazine, or the top-notch talents who painted gag panels and strips for Playboy. Utz would have easily fit in at either magazine.

I really marvel at these covers. Imagine getting assigned to do a painting for the cover of the most popular magazine in America. Now imagine being asked to do three paintings for one cover.


How about nine!


This nine panel cover might be my favourite Utz piece ever. Each panel is a tiny perfect Saturday Evening Post cover all on its own. Every panel has that quality of typical middle class American life The Post loved to show, from the gently humorous...


...to the quiety charming.


If I didn't know better, I could almost imagine that Utz painted these panels over pencil drawings by Wally Wood. All the characters have a tiny hint of that slightly pixie-ish cartooniness Wood used so effectively in much of his work. Its realistic painting -- but with a dash of Disney.

If you haven't yet gone to look at my Thornton Utz Flickr set, today's the day to treat yourself to a closer look at Utz's wonderfully detailed work.

The Hard Boiled Thornton Utz

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


What James R. Bingham was to The Saturday Evening Post's Perry Mason serials, Thornton Utz was to The American Magazine's Nero Wolfe Mystery feature.


Once again, we see how Utz was able to adapt his style to the subject matter, giving it a distinctly noir-ish, dime novel quality so appropriate to the material.


I'm particularly fond of this last piece, where Utz really gets rough with the paint and begins to display a slight stylization reminiscent of some work Alex Ross did several years later when Collier's magazine picked up the Nero Wolfe series.


These illustrations are well worth examining in greater detail. Take a look at them in my Thornton Utz Flickr set.

The Versatile Thornton Utz

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


From what I can tell, The American Magazine was probably Utz's steadiest client during the late 40's and early 50's. His work appears once and sometimes twice in almost every issue I've seen.


This tells me the editors clearly liked using Utz for story assignments. I would guess that a client hires and rehires a particular artist because they have come to count on a certain predictable style and technique they feel will be appropriate to the assignment. But Utz seems to have enjoyed surpising his clients by trying many different media and rendering styles. I would guess that they gave him so much work because they trusted him and enjoyed the diversity he delivered.


Granted, Utz stayed well within the parameters of the popular "realistic" look of the day, but while his painting technique on yesterday's piece reminded me a little of Ben Stahl, the illustration above has a hint of Tom Lovell while the ones below, done for the same September 1949 issue of American, look like they could have been the work of Perry Peterson. The first piece at the top of today's post, which I especially love, is something else altogether. Utz seems to have painted vigorously and directly onto a box board sort of surface, giving the piece a very graphic freshness that works well with the subject matter. For the second of today's examples, his much tighter, moody technique compliments the melodrama of the stage set-like scene being played out.



But even the broad range of approaches you see here doesn't fully reflect the variety of Utz's styles. Tomorrow we'll look at another side of the versatile Thornton Utz.

For now, take a look at these images at full size in my Thornton Utz Flickr set so you can better enjoy Utz's energetic and diverse artwork.

Thornton Utz (1914-2000)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Looking over many hundreds of illustrations by dozens of illustrators who regularly received assignments from the major magazines of the 50's, one begins to appreciate that certain artists were called upon to prepare visuals for stories with themes or genres the editors felt they were best suited to.


So one could predict that a romance story might be illustrated by, say, Coby Whitmore while a James R. Bingham illustration was more likely to be attached to a crime story.

But then there are those illustrators I like to call "the generalists".

These were the artists that magazine editors assigned to illustrate any number of situations or topics. Of these, the best could stretch their styles and techniques to reflect some aspect of the specific scenario they were illustrating, thus enhancing the viewer's experience on a visceral level.

Among these top-tier generalists, I consider Thornton Utz to be the best of the best.

This week let's take a look at the variety of approaches this talented artist brought to his work.

A Will Davies "How To" - Step 5: Finished Art

Friday, March 16, 2007

Having traced his drawing down onto his illustration board (he preferred Crescent or 5PK board) Will would begin to paint. "I'd look for shapes," he tells me, "that's the way I've always approached it -- finding the shape of an eye, the shape of the shoulder..."


Fifty years later, Will says he doesn't really remember if he had a standard method for doing black and white illustrations like this. He says he likely began by laying in the darkest areas with india ink, then mid-tones with ink wash, and finally his lighter areas. "I used three different white paints, each for a specific purpose,"says Will, "Liquitex white for thin washes (like the reflections on windshields), Opaque (Correction) White for highlights and other very white areas and a third one, I forget now, for mixing semi-opaque midtones. Probably white gouache."

The entire process we've looked at this week usually took Will about two days from start to finish. But of this multi-stage process Will says, "I gave it up later on. I found I liked my drawings better than my finished art. I lost all the zip, the vitality of the drawing, by tracing just the outline onto the board. That's why I began doing my drawings directly onto the board not long after this."

I asked Will how much he got paid for a job like this but he says, "I never knew what they were worth. TDF (the art studio where Will worked) gave me a guarantee - a salary - so I have no idea what they got for the jobs." Will remembers that he typically had several jobs on the go at any given time, including story illustrations for the handful of Canadian magazines being published back then.

"When Chatelaine magazine first came out the salesmen started bringing me jobs from them. But they only paid about $300 for a double page spread so they quickly dropped that stuff. They said, "you can have it." So I did all my magazine assignments directly for the clients. They [TDF] didn't want to know about it."

TDF had been started around 1944 by three partners: Tabler, the artist, Dulmage, the creative director (and, Will says, a real task master who had to give his approval to all finished art before it left the studio) and Feheley, the businessman of the trio. On the phone last night Will told me this amusing anecdote about one particular assignment:

"I was doing an illustration for ladies nylons. A closeup of a pair of woman's legs walking down the street. It was an ink drawing and I was never very good at those. I always had a hard time doing a nice line in ink. I kept having to add white to fix it up. Then I'd have to add more black to fix up the white... I was really struggling with it. It was a mess. Finally I took it to Dulmage for approval, expecting the worst - because he was tough. But he just took one look at it and said, "Now that's about the best use of white paint I've ever seen."

A Will Davies "How To" - Step 4: Finished Pencil Sketch

Thursday, March 15, 2007

By comparing yesterday's pencil drawing with today's we can see that, while the earlier version established likenesses and began defining props and environment, it was more about exploring tonal values that might best work in the eventual finished illustration.


Once that stage was completed to Will's satisfaction, a final sheet of fresh bond paper would be laid on top - this would become the finished pencil sketch shown above. Now all important details of character and environment were clearly defined. Notice though that Will allowed some aspects of the composition to remain deliberately vague and that the drawing has an overall loose and energetic quality.

Will made sure that all the visual information needed was there - but that the drawing did not end up looking static and lifeless - as if it were carved in stone. Will always understood that the mind's eye enjoys filling in missing detail and bringing together loose ends. As well, the looseness allowed Will to continue to explore in the painting stage and prevented the finished art from becoming merely an exercise in rendering.

Finally, the back of the sketch was rubbed with a graphite stick or a 6B (very soft) pencil (you can see the dark shadow of the graphite on the back showing through in this scan). Will would then trace over the sketch with a hard pencil and in this manner transfer it to the illustration board on which he would execute the finished art.

Tomorrow we'll look at the finished illustration.

A Will Davies "How to" - Step 3: Rough Drawing

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Having reassured himself that his composition was sound, that the figures were arranged correctly, Will would lay another clean sheet of bond paper on top. Now the real drawing would begin.


I asked Will if he would use the Lucie* to trace down the models in his reference photos, assuming that this would speed up the process, but Will says, "No, I never used the Lucie very much. I didn't find that it made things faster -- because then I'd have to correct all sorts of things that hadn't worked out in the photos. I found it was faster to just have my reference photos nearby to look at and then I'd just draw, correcting things as I went along. That was actually faster. And I liked drawing."

But even this third stage was not the final one before Will would begin the actual illustration. Tomorrow we'll look at the finished pencil stage.

* For those young 'uns who never used (or even saw) one, the Lucie - or camera lucida, also known as the Artograph, was a huge contraption of sliding arms, adjustable lenses and angled mirrors used in a darkened room to project a photo at the drawing board at whatever size the artist wanted. He could then trace out the projected elements onto his paper or canvas working surface.

A Will Davies "How To" - Step 2: Sound Check

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"I always told my students (at OCAD) to give what they were going to draw a lot of thought. Try to see it in your head before putting it down on paper. But - and this sounds like a contradiction, I know - if it doesn't work then throw it out and start again."


To that end, and in spite of feeling fairly confident with his rough sketch, Will would do a second rough on top of the first to check if his composition was sound. He calls this stage "checking the lines of movement".

In the Famous Artists Course lesson on 'Composition' we learn that there are two kinds of movement in a painting:

1) the depiction of physical objects in motion

2) the arrangement of lines, shapes, values, textures, and colors so that they lead the eye throughout the composition.



Will would slip his rough under a clean sheet of bond paper and re-sketch the elements of his composition a little more clearly, looking for and emphasizing how the shapes and lines caused the viewer's eye to move subconsciously through the picture and find the focal point.

Again from the FAS course:

Whenever there is repetition in the painting - in shapes or lights or textures or colors - the eye senses this repetition and relates one accent with another. A quality of rhythm is thus established, an organization of experience into a regular pattern.

By superimposing these red lines over his drawing, we can see how Will determined in his second rough that he had indeed established movement and rythm in the overall composition:


This is also the point at which Will would more accurately organize his elements. In the case of this illustration, Will moved some figures so that none of the faces of the people at the table are obstructed by the limbs or bodies of others in the foreground, which, if you scroll down to yesterday's post, you can see was happening in the reference photos.

You can examine these images more closely in my Will Davies Flickr set and my FAS Flickr set.

A Will Davies "How to" - Step 1: The Layout

Monday, March 12, 2007

Some long time readers may recall the series last year on my friend, Will Davies. At the end of that week of posts last May I had a request from Ward Jenkins of Ward-O-Matic fame for a Will Davies "step-by-step". Happily, I can now fulfill that request: Some years ago, several Toronto graphic arts professionals who were tops in their field were asked to do a lecture series at The Ontario College of Art and Design. Will prepared the sequence we'll be looking at this week for that lecture series.


Last week I enjoyed a long lunch with Will, my younger son, Simon and good buddy, René Milot at a restaurant in Toronto near Will's home. After lunch we returned to Will's place for a quiet conversation in which Will generously explained the details of how he worked on commercial assignments in the 50's and 60's. "This is pretty early on," Will remarked when I showed him the photocopies I had brought with me, "Later on I didn't bother with all this. I'd just rough it out directly on the board or canvas and send that over to the client for approval."

Still, this earlier system Will employed represents a valuable lesson in how to properly develop a piece of finished art. And for me at least, even the roughest sketch provides an inspiring example of how a talented hand creates a strong, energetic and sound composition - something we should all thoughtfully strive for in our own efforts.


During the late 50's/ early 60's Will did quite a few full page newpaper ads for the major department store chain here in Canada, the Hudson's Bay Company. These ads typically centred around holiday themes - and in this case, it would appear from the notes dashed in on this rough that the theme was "Christmas".


Will says that, although these assignments came to him via The Bay's ad agency, he usually was given the freedom to come up with his own idea for the scenario. "Some people call them thumbnails," says Will, "but I never did thumbnails. I'd think about it for quite a while, doing thumbnails in my head, then, when I finally did do a rough sketch, it looked pretty much the way I wanted it to. Hopefully!"

I asked him if this first rough was done in magic marker but he insisted, "No. Pastel. Magic markers came later - and I hated them." Will told me that he liked the subtlety of pastels. Markers, he says, were too confining. "Once you put a line down, you were stuck with it. I had to use them for a time when they loaned me out to a studio in Detroit. But other than that one time, I never used them."

* In spite of Will's insistence, I still think this particular rough is done in magic marker, perhaps at a later date is preperation for his lecture demonstration.

Once Will was satisfied with the general idea he had sketched out, he then went about preparing to shoot models , props and scenery. "That's Bud Feheley's wife as the mother," Will said, pointing at the lady in the photo.


Feheley was the "F" in TDF, the art services studio were Will was employed as top man in the illustration department at the time. "I asked for her for the mother. She had the perfect look. The others are all hired models... no, wait -- that's Kerry, my youngest daughter! I had forgotten about that ... we shot this scene in my home at the time, in Scarborough."


Will says that he would describe the scenario to his models and then have them act it out. He'd then moved around taking shots - sometimes capturing happy accidents that would find their way into the final illustration. "Usually I'd shoot a couple of rolls and end up with one or two good shots - the rest I'd throw out."


For example, the variation above with a teenage daughter instead of the mother that did not make it into the final cut.

You can examine these images more closely in my Will Davies Flickr set.

"A vast amount of this stuff... waiting to be discovered."

Friday, March 09, 2007

"[This first illo] by Jac Mars is from 21.4.62," wrote David Roach when he sent me the scan below. "Now I may not know anything about most of these people but Mars I do know a little about..."


"he painted covers for several Romance comics over here such as Love Story Picture Library, True Life Library (both published by Fleetway, who also owned Odhams press - publisher of Woman's Realm) and Star Love Stories (published by DC Thomson - Fleetways great rival)."


That's more info than we have at this point about these other talented artists. Hopefully we'll be able to learn more in time.


My thanks again to David for giving us this thorough introduction to what was clearly a robust homegrown market for illustration in England, lasting for decades.


A final tantalizing thought from David: "I was just talking to an industry old timer today and he said that John Bull magazine in the 50's had typically 15 full colour paintings in every issue - by the likes of Wyles , Fancett etc - so as I thought, there's a vast amount of this stuff out there just waiting to be discovered."


All of these images have been added to my British Illustrators Flickr set.

Frank Haseler - A Puzzle

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"This little batch is all painted by Frank Haseler ... these are all from a [1972] story called "Paula" - great eh?" wrote David Roach when he sent these scans.


I had to agree. I told David that Haseler's work reminded me a lot of those fantastic covers you can find on old issues of Creepy and Eerie magazines from around the same period.


"The old 70's Warren covers were almost exclusively by Spaniards," David wrote back, "Sanjulian, Enrich and Penalva and yes I can see this chap painting some mind blowing stuff."


Haseler's style really is a departure from the earlier work we've seen this week, isn't it? Perhaps his influences were more European than American...


I final thought from David: "I think Haseler would have fitted in perfectly at Warren - typically for a 60's/70's illustrator he has that fantastically gritty/scribbly/painterly look that so many of them did. Who was he though? What else did he do - it's a puzzle."

All of these images have been added to my British Illustrators Flickr set.
 

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