My “Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies” Interview

February 3, 2012

“My Most Unforgettable Art Supply Moment” is a series of blog interviews by illustrator Lou Brooks with artists who have survived careers in the graphic arts. (That’s me in the above photo, circa 1964, labeled by Lou.) Each participant was asked the same five questions.

1. Can you recall your worst most unforgettable art supply experience?

Actually, it was a series of “worst” art supply experiences. It was way back in the days before anyone had ever thought of such a thing as a PowerPoint presentation. I was a Visual Information Specialist for the Social Security Administration. The job included a lot of late night overtime — even the occasional all-nighter — preparing large statistical charts that the SSA Commissioner used in his presentations to Congress. I was a very fast layout man, so it was usually my job to plot the points on the “fever” charts, rough in the percentage slices of pie charts, etc., and hand off my pencil layouts to the Speedball pen and brush letterers. Then it was back to me to add Chartpak tape to the plot lines, Pantone color paper cutouts of the pie chart slices and to erase the penciled lettering and stat guides. I LOVED the fast and dynamic layout stage, but I HATED that Chartpak tape and color paper … not to mention all that erasing!

2. Other than your first answer, is there an art supply that you’ve hated having to use more than any other?

The electric eraser – you can see it there on the windowsill behind me in the photo. I kept it out of sight there, so I’d “forget” I had it. Using the damn thing required a light touch, and I was more the slap-dash-speedy sort. I’d usually press too hard and destroy some part of a cartoon I’d just inked, or a type galley, or an expensive 30″ x 40″ sheet of illustration board.

3. On the other hand, can you think of an especially favorite art supply that you miss the most that has unfortunately left us for that big art supply heaven in the sky?

My trusty-dusty Roto Tray (note its place of honor in the picture) probably doesn’t completely qualify as being “forgotten,” at least not by me, but Roto Trays have been around as long as I can remember. I use it just about every day. It’s a dandy desktop storage setup for all kinds of pens, pencils, X-acto knives, erasers, and rulers. Besides its clever lazy susan design, it’s a beautiful object. Plus… it’s fun to spin!

4. Are there any other art supplies that you’ve just plain thrown away that you wish you still had?

Just the other day, I put a capped Sharpie Fine Point in the breast pocket of my favorite shirt, only to discover later that it had somehow managed to leak. Of course, now the shirt can only be worn under a sweater. So I’ve been reminded once again how much I love and miss my nerdy clear plastic pocket protector. Look closely at the picture and you can make it out, complete with a pen or two inserted. Also likely in that same pocket — at least until 1973, when I quit cold turkey — was a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes.

5. At one time or another, a lot of us have purchased something that we thought was soooo cool when we saw it at the art supply store, then we ended up never ever using it. Has this ever happened to you?

That would be my Koh-I-Noor Pen Cleaning Kit. It cost me $19.38 — I still have it and the price sticker is on the box.

To read how several other ink-and-paint-stained wage-slaves responded to these five questions, tap one of the many Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies links in the side bar.


Famous Artists Schools

May 7, 2010

On July 29, 2009 I did a post titled “Cartooning Lessons,” in which I described my experiences as a Famous Artists Schools correspondent student back in the early 1960s. The post featured my first FAS cartooning instructor, Randall Enos, who is now a famous illustrator and cartoonist himself. Somehow, Mr. Enos came across my little blog memoir, liked it, and in a comment suggested that I—but wait, let’s let him explain what happened next in his own words, which I copied from his blog post. If you’d like to check out the original Enos post, here’s the link: http://www.drawger.com/bigfoot/?article_id=9751

“Between 1956 and 1964 I worked at The Famous Artists Schools in the correspondence art school. I worked on the Cartoon Course. We would get a student’s assignment and put overlays on it and point out various “trouble” spots and sometimes re-draw the whole situation and then send a letter to accompany the crit. The letters were standard form letters (after all everybody would make the same “mistakes”) but we would “personalize” the letter by inserting certain words that applied specifically to the student’s particular picture. We had lessons on inking, heads, action etc.. There were 4 or 5 of us doing the lessons and we would bounce the student around between us so he or she would have the advantage of more than one point of view. I was the youngest, being hired at the ripeness of twenty years. The others were pretty much retired guys in their 60’s having had careers in the field. One of them had and continued to draw Popeye, another had worked on the Lone Ranger, another on Katzenjammer Kids, another on Captain Marvel Jr. and Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and Playboy girlie cartoons etc..

“So . . . the other day I’m surfing the web and I come across a blog called “Doodlemeister”. The fellow that runs it named Jim Sizemore had a post where he, in great detail, described critiques of mine he had received when he was an FAS student. It was a trip down memory lane alright. He complained that I had always given him high grades and flattery when he really wanted tough criticism. He pointed out that my overlay comments were a little more to the point than my letters (form letters). I made a comment on his blog post and invited him, if he wished, to send me an assignment NOW and I would give him a free crit. He was 25 then and is in his 70’s now as I am. I promised him, in addition, that this time I definitely would not give him a good grade. Here then is my crit of his “assignment” because he took me up on it.” (Click images for larger views.)

The one disagreement I have with Mr. Enos’ critique is not visual but verbal—his suggested caption, making it about the mythical memory powers of elephants instead of cross-species relationships. In the writing process I considered the memory angle but quickly rejected it as too much the cliché. I  think the relationship idea is the more original—and funnier—choice.

Mr. Enos ended his blog post with these kind—and much too generous—words: “Y’know, the more I look at it . . . the more I like his cartoon better than mine.”

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Cartooning Lessons

July 29, 2009

On March 20, 1962, I finished my first assignment for the Famous Artists Schools (FAS) Editorial and Commercial Cartooning Course, and mailed it off to Westport, Connecticut. The 24-lesson course is contained in three huge custom-designed binders crammed full of pages with profusely illustrated text on good quality paper. I still have them. Cover 1-10Each of the three binders measures 11 7/8″ X 14 4/8,” and the pages measure 10 6/8″ X 13 6/8″. The FAS course name is stamped on the covers in gold, and my name is tagged, also in gold but much smaller, in the lower right corner. (Click any image for a larger view.) Ten days after I mailed the first completed lesson I had a critique in hand. The return package consisted of my original assignment drawings with tracing paper overlays correcting my crude attempts to render several cartoon heads with properly placed features, the tracing paper overlays beautifully sketched in colored pencil by the FAS instructor. As far as I know, none of my assignments from the 24-lesson course survive. I have a vague memory — like something from a fever dream — in which, in a fit of embarrassment because of the poor quality of my work, I destroy them all. If that is in fact what I did, my only regret is that I must have also destroyed the overlays done by my FAS instructors, some of whom went on to fame and fortune in the commercial art business.

(Click images to enlarge.)

Also included in the Lesson 1 critique package was a neatly typed six-paragraph letter in which the FAS instructor listed the things I needed to work on if I entertained the hope of ever making anything of myself as a professional cartoonist. (See letter scan.) Letter:2Finally, there was a biography page with a photo of the instructor himself. Though not much older than me (perhaps even younger), he was shot from a low angle that made him appear, at least in my awe-stuck eyes, god-like. While being photographed, I imagined that he was hard at work on one of his own pieces of cartoon art, perhaps a full-color illustration for a slick weekly magazine such as Collier’s or Look. (See bio scan.) My instructor was Randall Enos, a very successful illustrator to this day. His work has embellished magazines, newspapers, books, record and CD covers, posters, and animated film. EnosSome of his clients include NBC, National Lampoon, Playboy, Boy’s Life, Atlantic, Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, and Forbes. As recently as two months ago I saw a poster by Randall Enos, done in his distinctive “wood-cut-like” cartoon-illustration style, advertising a Broadway play in the Sunday New York Times.

When I mailed that first FAS lesson back in 1962, I was an immature twenty-five-year-old, married with one son and another on the way, afire with the vague hope of beginning a career in the cartooning field. Mr. Enos’ comments, most of which I now realize to be well-written and instructive boilerplate, were meant to encourage new students such as myself. Scan 1-4Part of the FAS instructors’ job, I’m sure, was to accentuate the positive so we wouldn’t get too discouraged too soon and drop out. Which may explain what I call the “damning with faint praise” tone of the first sentence in the first paragraph of the critique. “You have a nice touch with that pencil of yours,” Mr. Enos says, “which speaks well for your future in the business.” Even at that early stage I could see they were blowing a bit of smoke in my direction. If memory serves, the balloon heads that I drew for the assignment looked a lot like the bad example in Lesson 1 at the top of page 4. (See scan 1-4.) It’s the one with the caption, “Don’t draw it like this with a single hard line.” My so-called “line,” especially in those early days, couldn’t have been harder, or uglier, or cruder.

Then, as if he’s already tired of pussyfooting around,Scan 1-9 Enos nails me with this comment: “Your heads have an uncertainty of outline that weakens your drawing.” In paragraph three, he seems to get downright testy and writes, “Use the two guidelines to plot the turn or tilt of the head BEFORE you locate the features.” In paragraph four he uses all caps thrice again, but with what I choose to take as kindliness. (Or is it pity?) He’s gently suggesting that my cartoon heads appear too “NORMAL,” drawn with awkward hard lines, and that they would have more “sparkle” and be less “STATIC” if I used more “EXAGGERATION.” (See scan 1-9.) He expands the point, saying in paragraph five that I should study my own face in the mirror . . . “ham it up and see how you naturally turn or tilt you head in gestures that go along with and emphasize the expressions of your face. Scan 2-6Don’t be afraid to exaggerate these head gestures and expressions — but base your exaggeration on what you’ve observed.” Finally, in paragraph six of the critique, Enos tried to buck up my now deflated ego by saying, “You are off to a good start with these assignments, and we look forward to seeing your work for Lesson 2. Keep it simple! Your grade for Lesson 1 is B+.”

B+? Really? Doing the first assignment I already felt awkward and ill prepared for what I had taken on with the FAS course, so the grade surprised me. At that point I was totally intimidated by the 23 lessons that lay ahead, convinced that I had come too late to the craft of cartooning. Considering the general negative tone of the letter — and my view of the work I had done on the assignments — Scan 3-4I would have given myself a solid D-. But I quickly got over the bad feelings. I refused to let my disappointment with my own work stop me, or even slow me down. For the rest of 1962 I sent off a completed assignment every few weeks, on average. All of which pointed to either undimmed confidence on my part — or arrogance.

My grades for lessons 1 through 10 never dropped below a B, with most of them being B+ to A-. I don’t say that proudly. Despite those grades, I’m very aware of how crude the work that I did was. I came to suspect that FAS instructors were instructed not to drop below the “B” line for any student. The policy — if that’s what it was — I came to think of as a sort of affirmative action program for poor kids getting late starts in the commercial art game. Scan 4-10In other words, the FAS correspondence course in cartooning was designed just for the likes of me.

My assignment for Lesson 2, “The Comic Figure,” pulled a B+. Here’s one of Randall Enos’ pointed tips in his letter critique of that effort: “Remember that the human figure is really quite flexible — avoid rigor mortis in your cartoons.” (See scan 2-6.)

On Lesson 3, “Inking the Head and Figure,” he gave me an A-, my best grade so far. To quote Mr. Enos: “Above all, don’t expect to master the technique of inking in a few days. Only long practice and self criticism of your own lines will give you the sure hand of a professional.” This bit of wisdom is illustrated on page 4 of the text with photos of the pen hands Scan 5-8of three famous cartoonists, Milton Caniff, Al Capp and Rube Goldberg, and a section demonstrating various pen lines. (See scan 3-4.)

For Lesson 4, “The Head in Detail,” I suddenly had a new instructor. His name was Peter Wells, but no biography or picture was provided, so I can’t tell you much about him. But I noticed his writing style was exactly the same as that of Randall Enos. In the critique of Lesson 4, which is a full page and a quarter of single-spaced tips, Peter Wells had this to say about my inking skills, or lack thereof: “In your outlines you have a tendency to leave gaps between your pen or brush strokes. This gives your drawing a disconnected or almost ‘exploded’ look which you can overcome by joining up your lines solidly.” (See scan 4-10.) Scan 6-4Mr. Wells gave me the lowest grade so far, a B.

FAS instructor Randall Enos returned for Lesson 5, “The Figure in Detail.” The first paragraph of his critique ends with a line the various FAS instructors seem to favor: “On my tissues (overlays) I have given you some practical tips that will make this good job even better.” One of those tips, the visual logic of which appealed to me, is something I find useful to this day: “I find that it helps, when drawing hands, to pencil in the mitten shape first in the action I want. Then I draw in the individual fingers, keeping them WITHIN the outline of the mitten.” On Lesson 5 Mr. Enos gave me an A-. (See scan 5-8)

With Lesson 6, “Anatomy,” I had the Scan 7-4professional help of Bernard Thompson, another new (to me) FAS instructor. Once again, no biography or picture of Mr. Thompson was provided. He begins and ends his letter with something at which all the FAS instructors were well versed: that old “damning with faint praise” thing that I mentioned earlier. “You have done a fairly good job with your anatomy here,” Mr. Thompson says. He then continues: “However, in cartooning we have to go a bit beyond a neat representation of the figure with all the lumps and bumps in the proper places.” He ends a page and a half later, all of it written in the usual clear FAS boilerplate style: “This was a tough assignment and, all in all, you did well with it. Your grade for Lesson 6 is B.” (See scan 6-4)

Lesson 7, “Pretty Girls,” must have stumped Scan 8-6me for awhile because I finally completed the assignment a full three months after Lesson 6, the longest gap between mailings up to that point. My favorite picture in the first FAS textbook came in Lesson 7, a photograph of a naked lady on page 4. (See scan 7-4.) The nude model was combined with a series of drawings to make a serious point about reality versus comic illustration. As you might have guessed, I returned to that picture time and time again for close study — but I confess that not all of had to do with cartooning. I still admire the image, but at my age it no longer has the power over me it once did. (A good thing?) And I still like the caption: “The female figure, as the cartoonist draws it, is a stylized figure based on the popular American ideal. Scan 9-13Everything is done to accent sex. Try for a provocative line . . . without being vulgar!” That was good advice and all the professional justification I needed to revisit the image often, without a hint of early 1960s pre-sexual revolution guilt. Mr. Thompson gave me a B+ for the “Pretty Girls” lesson, something I know I didn’t deserve then and don’t today. I still can’t draw pretty woman, at least not up to FAS standards. Ugly women and men, with their various lumps and bumps, are just so much easier — and more fun, too.

Randall Enos returned as my instructor for Lesson 8, “Action and the Figure.” Near the end of his letter, Enos gave me a tip about what I’ve come to know as “spot shadows” a device that has served me well over the years, including when I’ve taught cartooning myself to kids in schools and libraries. In his letter he called them “ground shadows,” and they were placed below and behind a running figure as an aid in giving a feeling of forward motion. He also says that to “give the figure additional action, get it into the air by leaving a clear space between the feet and the cast shadow.” (For example, as a spot shadow under the body. See dancing bobby soxer in scan 8-6.) On Lesson 8, Mr. Enos gave me a very generous B+.

Then came Lesson 9, “Clothes and Folds.” Of the first ten FAS lessons, this turned out to be my least favorite. As with pretty girls, I still can’t draw decent folds in clothes. So I guess it should come as no surprise that on page two of his critique, Mr. Enos inserted a mini lecture in the form of 4 rules, all of which I believe I had consistently violated throughout the previous lessons. (Some I still do, but at least now it’s fully conscious.) Enos set’s up his lecture by suggesting that having completed nine lessons in less than five months, I may have overdone it. “You are now a little over one third of your way through the Cartoon Course,” he writes, “and this is a good time to review your practice and working methods. There are several important responsibilities that you as a student should keep in mind.”

1. “Remember the importance of practice. You learn to draw by drawing and this means continual practice.” (I rarely practiced. I still don’t. Even now, I’m not sure what that means. I somehow got the idea that I could practice by doing, so I tend to just plow ahead, muddle through and manage to always come up with a solution of some sort.)

2. “Study and practice each lesson before you tackle the assignment.” (See above, which may explain why I’m seldom happy with anything I do.)

3. “Don’t try to go too fast. This is a three-year Course so you can spend as much as six weeks on each lesson.” Scan 10-6(With later assignments I manage to go too far in the other direction, occasionally taking months to complete and send in lessons.)

4. “Never start the assignment for a lesson until you receive back the criticized previous lesson. Study your instructor’s suggestions and corrections. Make use of their teaching in the following assignment.” (That’s one bit of advice I found easy to follow.)

It’s too bad I wasn’t smart enough to figure those things out myself much earlier in the course. Still, on Lesson 9, Mr. Enos was kind enough to award an A-. (See scan 9-13.)

On September 24, 1962, six months after beginning the FAS Cartooning Course, I mailed in the assignment for Lesson 10, “Special Types.” The first line of instructor Peter Wells’ critique letter says: Scan 10-10“These drawings of yours for Lesson 10 are full of good cartoon ideas and I enjoyed doing the overlays on them. On my tissues I have made suggestions which I felt would help make your good job better.” (There’s that boilerplate phrase again.) Of course the bolierplate critiques worked because the mistakes beginning cartoonists make were, in many cases, the same or at least similar. Over the course of ten lessons I noticed that once in a while the FAS instructors tried to individualize their comments. A case in point comes in the first line of paragraph four of Mr. Wells’ letter, where he says: “You have drawn your banker gesturing toward the table with that left hand. Why not have him banging it with his fist?” Then, reverting to boilerplate, he continues: “Stop and think about what happens when YOU smack a loaded table. Things jump and rattle — action, good messy action results. Draw that smack and the resulting clatter and add excitement to your picture — something that INTERESTS your reader. It’s this constantly thinking of and drawing things that interest readers that keeps professional cartoonists eating.” Excellent cartooning advice, boilerplate or not, the sort of practical content I found in every paragraph of every critique letter I received from FAS instructors. Again, deserved or not, Peter Wells gave me a B+ on Lesson 10. (See scan 10-10.)

I was pretty proud of myself when I mailed the final assignment in the first textbook of the Famous Artists Cartoon Course. One textbook down, two to go. Ten lessons completed, just shy of half of the entire 24-lesson course. Amazing. And I’d done them in less than five months! At that rate, I told myself, I should have my Certificate in Editorial and Commercial Cartooning in 15 months, less than half the 36 months allowed to finish the program. Was I feeling cocky? Sure. Was my optimism correct? No, not so much. Oh, I did get my certificate all right (see below), just a hair shy of the three-year deadline. With the various things going on in my real life at that time — a young and expanding family, work, etc. — turning out the cartoon assignments became harder as I went along. But that’s another story. And, perhaps, it will make another blog post . . .

Certificate4

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


Did You Know . . .

May 28, 2009

NewYorker2

The illustrator/photographer/graphic designer Jorge Colombo created the cover of this week’s New Yorker (June 1, 2009 issue) by drawing with his finger on his iPhone. Brilliant first. Neat trick. Wish I’d thought of it first. But on the other hand, I don’t even own an iPhone. (Click image for a larger view.)

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


My Friend Oscar

February 18, 2009

By Jacquie Roland

It may be too late for me to ever be seated up front in the Academy Awards audience and hear those magical words, ” And the Oscar goes to (insert my name here!).” But you never know. I gave my first Oscar speech when oscar08I was about seven, maybe eight. I figured that one day I’d be called on to thank a long list of people and wanted to be ready. So I rehearsed in front of my mirror again and again. It was important for me to get it right—you see, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up… not a fireman or a policeman or a mommy. When asked, I always said the same thing… “I want to be a ‘walt disney’.” I wanted to be a walt disney and win Oscars, which I thought were made of real gold, nifty little presents they gave you for being a really good walt disney and drawing entertaining movies. People must have found me amusing. I drew my movies on whatever scrap of paper that was available—shirt cardboard was a favorite—then passed the pictures around for the neighbors to see. I even drew my own Oscar once, coloring it with a stubby yellow crayon from the small flat box, (which didn’t include gold), and taped it to my mirror for encouragement as I rehearsed. What I was dreaming of, in those color-deprived days, was becoming an illustrator—although back then I didn’t know what one was.

Later, in real life, the illustrator part of my imaginary movie came true. I didn’t make it to Hollywood, but did work in the graphics field in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and now—as a painter/sculptor—in upstate New York. As I grew older, the Oscar ceremony just became something I watched with everyone else once a year. (Were there really times when, in my childish excitement, I bumped my nose trying to get closer to those gleaming metal statuettes and left tiny grease spots on the TV screen?) Some things are best forgotten… but other things, like the Hollywood dream itself, stayed with me—locked away—and there it rested quietly until not very long ago.

Dramatic Flashback: Two years ago I sold a painting (not that unusual)… soon after that I had an accident (very unusual). After the accident I was confined to a rehab facility for several months. When you are in one of those places, you become very aware of your own mortality—and your limitations. But I’m a determined little creature. I couldn’t paint, so I started to write. This past summer I wrote my first play, which I entered in a competition in Baltimore. The play “(She Loved Me?) She Loved Me Not,” was produced in November 2008 and, after all this time, an actress walked across a real stage saying words I had written. Meanwhile (as I waited for the play to be produced), I came close to winning an Oscar. Really—well, kind of. One of my paintings (remember the one I sold before the accident?) appeared in the Uma Thurman movie “The Life Before Her Eyes.” The film was released in April 2008 by 2929 Productions. I finally got to see it on DVD, and my small painting appears twice in the film—at 30:05 & 38:41. The director, Vadim Perelman (be still my heart), even mentioned it in his commentary. The painting is of a little girl’s face, its title “Victorian Dreams.” The movie was beautiful, lush even… and artistic… the subject matter was stirring, and with so many Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning names attached to the project, I thought that it was a shoo-in for at LEAST a nomination. I figured that if I couldn’t get a nomination myself, the next best thing would be to be involved—no matter how minutely—in a film that did. I could barely contain myself. Oh, the bragging rights! But, sadly, it wasn’t to be. *Sigh*

The 81st annual Oscars will be broadcast February 22—again, of course, without me. This year Hugh Jackman will do the MC bit. We will not air kiss. I will not be interviewed on Oprah, or by Barbara Walters. Earlier, on the famous red carpet, Joan Rivers will not have asked me inane questions. After someone else is handed “my” Oscar and—watched by millions, maybe billions—I will not have to smile wanly into the camera and say (a tear in my eye), “it was an honor just to have been nominated.”

Sure, I’ll be watching… and I just may get out the glitter and make my own Oscar, as I did many years ago. That little yellow fellow got me through a lot as a child, and he is still a shiny beacon for my darkest days. (Let’s face it, we may ALL need a little bit of economic glitter to get through the next few years.) But for a few hours this Sunday evening, we can forget our troubles and watch the fancy folks, dressed in their tuxes and fabulous gowns and borrowed jewelry, gliding across the wine colored carpet on television. I have to smile… because like the little girl I was many years ago, some of those folks must have dreamed of winning the Oscar when they were eight years old, too. There really isn’t that much difference between us, you know… they just got closer to the stage than I did. Oh, and just for the record—in his lifetime Walt Disney won 26 Oscars. Me: 0. (At least so far.)

Copyright © 2009 Jacquie Roland.