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

Joe Krush, Graphic Designer

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The first time I came across an illustration signed "Krush" it was in an early '50s edition of Reader's Digest magazine.

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I had no idea who this "Krush" was, but was astonished at the effort (he?) had put into artwork that would be printed at both a small size and on poor quality paper. This tugboat, for instance, is just one inch wide as it appears in the header of an article.

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Thumbing through several other copies of Reader's Digest from 1953 and '54, I would occasionally find other strong, appealing works by this "Krush" person. I made a mental note to keep and eye out for more.

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Years later it occurred to me that there could only be so many illustrators working during the mid-20th century with a name like Krush. But the Reader's Digest artwork was so dramatically different from the work Beth and Joe Krush had done for The Borrowers that I couldn't imagine them being responsible for anything like the images you here.

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It was only when I happened upon an article about Beth and Joe Krush in the March 1952 issue of American Artist magazine - and more recently, a web page about the Krushs at The University of Southern Mississippi's de Grummond Children's Literature Collection - that the pieces started to fall into place.

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In the American Artist article, Henry C. Pitz, the Krush's old instructor from their days at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art explains that aside from his many collaborations with wife Beth, Joe Krush was responsible for a great variety of other work, done largely on his own.

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Much of the sensibility of this work could be traced back to Joe's time as a graphic designer in the U.S. Army during WWII. Shortly after the inseparable young couple graduated, married and began freelancing, Joe was called up and assigned to the Office of Strategic Services. For the next four years his work included designing "posters, graphs, displays and printed materials."

He developed expertise in many reproduction processes which he later called upon for freelance assignments. For instance, below is one of Joe Krush's book covers executed as a series of line art separations.

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This is pretty much identical to the process Krush would have used for the Reader's Digest illustrations at top.

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RCA Victor Records was another important post-war client for Krush. It's difficult to say just how many record jackets Krush designed and illustrated, but at the time of Pitz's 1952 article, he had already been working on them for ten years. The small sampling of Joe Krush album covers below are all dated after 1952 - even into the mid-1960s - so we can only imagine just how many he may have executed.

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The variety of styles and design solutions Krush employed on these album covers are impressive, to say the least. They look like the work of an artist having a good time.

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Henry Pitz put it this way: "It's a tribute to his versatility that he has been designing them for more than a decade, for few fields of illustration have changed so rapidly in so short a time."

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"The designer who relies on pat solutions has little place in this field."

The Art of Beth and Joe Krush

Monday, September 23, 2013


If you live in North America and have ever read The Borrowers (or any of the four books in the series that followed)...

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... then you are already familiar with the art of Beth and Joe Krush.

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Mary Norton's The Borrowers told the story of a family of tiny people who live secretly in the walls and floors of an English house and "borrow" from the big people in order to survive.

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Diana Stanley was the original illustrator when the book was first published in England in 1952, but when Harcourt Brace released a North American edition the following year, Beth and Joe Krush were chosen to provide the cover and interior art.

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Between 1953 and 1982, the Krushs illustrated all five Borrowers books. Yet after nearly 30 years of being so closely associated with Mary Norton's creations, they never met the author - and spoke with her only once - on the phone.

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In a 1988 interview with Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Sara Solovitch, Beth Krush said, "We got a letter from her once in which she said that she liked our drawings but she thought they were really a little too fancy for what Homily would have had the facility or material to make."

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"I wish she had told us that before," continued Beth. "We would have been glad to change it."

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Whatever reservations Norton may have had, it's fair to say that the Krush's charming, detailed drawings can be at least partly credited with the success of the books in North America.

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While The Borrowers is likely the most famous of Beth and Joe Krush's artistic accomplishments, it represents only the tiniest example of this talented couple's life's work.

This week; a look at the careers and the art of Beth and Joe Krush.

Ed Vebell, Condensed

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ed Vebell preferred illustrating in pencil rather than pen and ink. Some clients, however, required artwork that reproduced well under less than ideal printing circumstances. Such was the case with Readers Digest Condensed Books. In 1954 Vebell illustrated the story, "Tomorrow!" by Philip Wylie.

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You can see from the title page spread above that even after a fair amount of Photoshop adjustment on my part, when the art is done with 'soft' media the poor quality pulp paper and rudimentary colour printing leaves something to be desired.

Because Reader's Digest was such a good, steady client, over the years Vebell developed a process to accommodate both his and the Digest's needs.

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Vebell would make line drawings in pencil on cameo paper at two to three times printed size.

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These would be reproduced in halftone rather than as solid line cuts, with two to four flat colour separations.

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Where solid line cuts were needed out of necessity,

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... the artist would trace over his initial artwork on a new sheet with carbon pencil.

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Sometimes Vebell would work with a fluorographic pencil or use a fluorographic solution with brush and water. Arcane processes in this digital age, but at that time, it was a way of achieving clean whites in a halftone cut (some screening would normally appear in the white areas of halftones).

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As described yesterday, Ed Vebell always shot his own reference photos for assignments (and in an age when photography wasn't the instantaneous process it is today).

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In spite of such hurdles, Vebell typically started and finished an illustration assignment in one day, including set-up and photography.

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Because deadlines are always in the morning, Vebell's workday started at noon. He would work steadily 'til one in the morning, sleep, then get up in time to hand the wrapped artwork off to an early morning courier bound for New York City.

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In spite of his extensive use of the camera, Vebell never relied on it as a crutch. An exceptional and dependable draughtsman, art directors rarely asked to see sketches from him.

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Once an assignment had been turned over, clients generally let Vebell do his thing, knowing his interpretation of the subject would satisfy their needs.

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"My work must be quickly done and good," said Vebell. "Pressure makes me alert."

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As I was scanning these images, I couldn't help but notice that, like Alfred Hitchcock's famous cameos, Ed Vebell makes a brief guest appearance in the background of this illustration.

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Hope you enjoyed this look at some of Vebell's work that I suspect hasn't seen the light of day in over half a century. Happily, Ed Vebell is still going strong at age 93. Here he is on youtube in a February 2013 interview, talking about his work at the Nuremberg Trials in 1945...



* Thanks to Larry Roibal for bringing Ed Vebell's youtube interview to my attention.

Ed Vebell, Historical Illustrator

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Robert Fawcett once described a visit to a Hollywood movie studio: "I was talking to a woman who was in charge of all research," said Fawcett. "I told her of the great value we illustrators place in movie stills as sources of historical reference. We assumed, I said, that the research facilities of the movie industry were much greater than our own and we therefore relied heavily on this research for accuracy. She replied that, on the contrary, if a picture had appeared in a magazine such as The Saturday Evening Post, that constituted authority enough for them!"

If that woman was talking about Ed Vebell's illustrations, she would have been correct.

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Vebell's clients often called on him for illustrations of historical subjects. They knew they could count on getting not only solid professional work, but work done with great authenticity.

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While others might be satisfied to work from movie stills alone, Ed Vebell said he had little regard for what he called "studio style" art. He began his illustrations with a thumbnail sketch...

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... and would then invest a tremendous amount of time and effort photographing the people, scenes and props - the "factual material" Vebell felt was essential to creating an authentic-feeling illustration.

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Shortly after WWII, Vebell began collecting military uniforms, weapons and other historic articles and memorabilia. Over time, he amassed the largest private collection of these items in the U.S. When Westport News' Dan Woog visited Vebell in 2010, the artist pointed out, "I've got Buffalo Bill Cody's hat... over there, in a bathtub."

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Once Vebell had assembled his photo reference, the drawing began. He felt that a line drawing should not be worked over - preferring to do a new drawing on a clean sheet over the old one on a light box.

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During his time in Paris, Vebell had studied lithography on stone at the Beaux Arts. It had given him an appreciation for working with lithographic sticks and tusche. Only rarely would he finish a piece with pen and ink.

(A scan of the final image, found online)
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* Images in today's post are from (in order) Pulp Illustration Art.com , Heritage Auctions and American Artist magazine, November 1962.
 

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