Journey

Finding my way to art became an obsession during the late 60s and early 70s. Art was the only thing I had going for me, and I read books on artists, visited museums, and experimented with different mediums including pen &ink, charcoal, pencil, water color, oils and acrylic on canvas. I drew portraits, created fanciful ink and water color landscapes, attempted a portrait of myself, and dove into the mysteries of surrealism and the dadaists.
Worlds End - acrylic on canvas, 1971

As many students do and did, I was attracted by Dali's and Yves Tanguy's a lesser known surrealist who painted dystopian landscapes. I love Picasso, Magritte and Rousseau. Much of what they did was easy to emulate. I was captivated by the regional art of Grant Wood and the wide landscapes and elongated figures of Thomas Hart Benton, the whimsy of Paul Klee and Miro, and the loneliness of Hopper's work.

With no fixed starting point, I headed in many directions with my art. I never really learned to sketch from life; I drew or painted with a goal of a masterwork. I needed to achieve success, quickly and unstoppable. So when I headed to night classes at the College of Art, I was already marking time and flailing headlong to an impossible career objective that was doomed to be both unschooled and unmanageable.

Dairy Queen - acrylic on canvas, 1971
I took two courses: figure drawing and color and design. I dropped out after one semester, quit my job as a technical illustrator and found a job as a traffic coordinator at a slide art firm with the expectation that I would also being doing some commercial art. I was probably more inept as a traffic coordinator then I was as a mechanical designer. I cared little about the scheduling, and used every moment I could to learn the skills of the in-house designers. Rightiously so, this job lasted three months, at which time I was fired along with half of the department.

Upon being "fired," from my job as Traffic Coordinator, I applied for unemployment compensation based on my work at my previous job at Clifton. I have paid for this transgression many times in my business career, but I did not know that I was not eligible at the time. Nor did I care. I now had time to construct a portfolio that would get me a job in art or the industry of design.

 From March thru June of 1972, I used the techniques I had learned on the job to create cartoon cells,
Atlantic Store - acrylic on canvas, 1971
artwork drawn on acetate in india ink and painted on the rear with gouache. I tried my hand at comic art and submitted copy and drawings to the New Yorker and other publications. I wrote stories and poetry, and submitted them with rejection; bought an airbrush and learned how to use it; and I continued to paint and do artwork.

I also applied for art jobs of any kind. For most of these jobs, I had no marketable skills. I had not been to art school, learned the tricks of commercial art, the complexities of design, or the disciplines of production. By July I knew I had to get a job, and having just turned 25, I applied to a marketing firm at Broad &  Locust Streets in Philadelphia for a job as a chart artist. 

Mixed media illustration for a
series of banking brochures (never produced)
The job of a chart artist was to print clearly and legibly in marker on large paper pads, the findings of researchers for presentation to clients. I wasn't a particularly good letterer, but I supposed I was good enough to apply for the job. So I met with the head of marketing and his copy writer and showed my eclectic portfolio, which didn't contain one chart.

Fortunately, the copywriter seemed to like my work and after seeing a cell I had created featuring Superman, began to talk of an idea he had for a company product he was naming Supermail. Disregarding all thoughts of charts, I took off on what I could do to make Supermail a visual success.
By the end of the meeting, I knew I was hired, and I never had to execute a chart throughout my five years at the firm.

I was anything but an ideal employee, but I got my work done and pushed to do more. I very quickly was asked to hire a chart artist to be my assistant. What I didn't know about design, I learned from books, and learned production from the on staff printer with whom I worked to create company brochures, direct mail pieces and ads.

Fortunately for me the company's standards were pretty low, and I was aiming high. I learned to set type on a selectric typewriter and learned to write marketing letters with the help of my boss and the copywriter. I studied the illustrators of the 1970s such as Bart Forbes, Mark English, John Collier and Richard Amstel; I wrote two plays on business hours, created illustrated calendars for each year from 1973 to 1978, and entered and received awards from several contests, and started to develop a pen and ink style that enabled me to enter the 1974 and be accepted into the New York Illustrator's Show, all with the blessing of my boss and the head of the research firm.

Through life, we hope for some luck or good fortune every now and then. Often we need to work for it, and sometimes it's bestowed on us. Many times, no matter how hard you work, wish or pray, luck is not granted. I believe we must be thankful for any luck we get –  earned or not earned. I also believe that we must work our good fortune that comes to us.

At this time in my life I was willing to work, and thankful for getting a chance to develop, but I looked at my good fortunes as my right for growing up poor. I have since learned that even when you grow up poor, nothing in life is fair or due an individual. All fortune must eventually be paid back in full...and then some.

Click to Chapter 6: Growth & Development