Haddon Sundblom

Haddon Sundblom
You will find many accounts that insist that Michigan illustrator Haddon Sundblom was responsible for creating the modern image of Santa Claus, providing a friendlier form for the the jolly old elf than had previously been envisioned, at the behest of the Coca-Cola company, who wanted to use him to sell more of their sugary, flavored soda water.

While the latter assertion is true, the former isn’t. The modern image of Santa as a red-cheeked, morbidly obese (according the current surgeon general) and preternaturally friendly old guy in a red suit, with white fluffy beard and cuffs to match, was created by illustrator extraordinaire J.C. Leyendecker. See my previous posts on J.C. Leyendecker (also here, here and here) and Illustrators’ Visions of Santa Claus. [Correction: Actually it’s not as simple as that, as my addendum to my post on Illustrators and Santa points out, though I still feel Leyendecker is responsible for the solidification of the modern vision of Santa, and Sundblom responsible for the ultimate refinement of that image into the character as we know him.]

Sundblom, who was also a terrific and currently underappreciated illustrator active in the early and mid 20th Century, didn’t create that image but did go along way toward continuing, refining and promoting the cultural icon to the benefit of the Coca-Cola company, who wanted a family-friendly, all-occasions image for their “soft-drink”, originally thought of as an alternative for “hard” alcoholic drinks and considered suitable only for similar occasions.

Sundblom created a fresh image of Santa for Coke ads each year from 1931 to 1964, featuring the jolly old guy chugging the “not for Summer only” beverage while in his elf labor camp workshop, leafing through the Big Book of Naughty and Nice (wouldn’t you like to see that one) or out on the road on his trans-global hypersonic toy dispersal run (in the course of which he always found time to stop and lounge on someone’s staircase, or lean against their refrigerator, to enjoy “The pause that refreshes”® in lieu of the more boring Milk and Cookies®).

The Coca-Cola company has a page devoted to Sundblom’s Santa campaign, but they get it wrong too, laying claim to introducing the modern version of Santa to the world with nary a mention of Leyendecker or Rockwell, who had been doing their Santa thing in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post for years before Sundblom’s Santa Appeared. (Gee, an American food-product company making unsubstantiated and inaccurate claims? Shocking! For further reference, I point you to an excerpt from Santa Claus: A Biography by Gerry Bowler.)

None of this detracts from Sundblom, however, who made no such claims and who contributed other well known embodiments of products to the 20th Century’s cultural zeitgeist, like Aunt Jemima (who has recently gotten a political correctness makeover and modernization) and the Quaker Oats Quaker.

Sundblom’s career as an illustrator, though overshadowed by his association with the big guy, was long and influential. He provided illustrations for companies like Ford, Maxwell House and Colgate Palmolive, and publications like the Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal and Woman’s Home Companion. He also did some nicely teasing “cheesecake” pin-up art (thank you, Santa) for Playboy and others.

“Sunny” Sundblom, as he was often called, was influential on a number of notable mid-20th Century illustrators, like Harry Anderson, Art Frahm, Gil Elvgren and Joyce Ballentine.

One of the best sources on Sundblom’s overall career is on the American Art Archives. Leif Peng’s Flickr set is also good.

There are a couple of books available on his Coke Santas (possibly different editions of the same book), Dream of Santa: Haddon Sundblom’s Advertising Paintings for Christmas, 1932-1964 and Dream of Santa: Haddon Sundblom’s Vision.

If you’re good, maybe Santa will bring you one.


Giovanni Fattori

Giovanni Fattori
Giovanni Fattori was one of the leaders of the Macchiaioli, a group of Italian painters centered in Tuscany in the mid-19th Century, whose dedication to the portrayal of subjects drawn from everyday contemporary life, practice of plein-air painting, use of bright, fresh colors, and application of paint in rough dabs of color, eschewing the blended finish considered normal for acceptable paintings of the time, predated the French Impressionists by some ten years. (See my previous post on The Macchiaioli.)

Like the other painters who came to be known as Macchiaioli, Fattori was influenced by the French painters of the Barbizon school, whose work they probably encountered while visiting Paris for the Exposition of 1855. The Impressionists owed much to the influence of the Barbizon painters as well; though, when asked of his view of Impressionist works later in his career, Fattori was not particularly impressed and still very much preferred the work of the Barbizon painters.

Italy was in the middle of a revolution during Fattori’s early years, and the painters of the Macchiaioli were in the thick of it, fighting to create a unified Italy with an idealism that was to be bitterly disappointed, even in victory. Many of the works from the middle of his career are of military scenes, though more of “in-between” times than of actual conflict, images of soldiers mustering, encampments, horses and wagons.

He later devoted himself more to rural and farming scenes in the Tuscany countryside around Florence, and painted sensitive portraits of his family (or families, he was married three times).

These have the fresh, brilliant colors that would be characteristic of Impressionist works, but married with a deep chiaroscuro and academic approach that was absent in their pursuit of the effects of light.

I find the proportion of Fattori’s paintings particularly fascinating, with strongly horizontal or vertical canvasses giving many of his scenes an expansiveness and visual drama not found in the more traditional formats that were common in his day; like his painting of fellow Macchiaioli painter Silvestro Lega painting en plein air at the seaside, and the calm rural scene along the Arno in the images above.

Fattori became an instructor at the Florentine Academy. One of his students was the modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani.

There is a Giovanni Fattori museum in his hometown of Livorno.


Zuda Comics (update)

Zuda Comics: Bayou by Jeremy Love and  Patrick Morgan;  High Moon by David Gallaher, Steve Ellis and  Scott O Brown
When I first wrote about Zuda Comics back in July, DC Comics’ venture into creating an online comics community and developing a commercial line from it was barely more than a web page and a promise.

In the intervening time, however, the promise has begun to fill out, and there is now a substantial presence, with some 20 or so webcomics running, and more competing for viewer votes to gain a slot in the roster.

Basically, anyone can submit a webcomic, registered site visitors can then vote on the comics. There is also a provision for leaving feedback on the postings of individual comics and a more general message board.

Those whose submissions are chosen to run as features are offered contracts for a certain period, over which they agree to produce a certain amount of material. Unlike a lot of webcomics, there is actual payment and the potential for royalties here, though not at the same scale as in traditional print comics lines.

I have to point out that I have not read their terms and agreements in detail, and those interested in submitting webcomics for consideration should, of course, carefully do so. There are three agreements listed in their FAQ, and submission instructions here. I would be particularly cautious in making sure you understand the rights being assigned and how that is applicable to your ownership of the material.

On the reading side, after more than 12 years(!) of crabbing about how monumentally clueless Marvel and DC have been about how comics can work on the web, I have to admit that Zuda, at least, is getting many things right.

First of all they seem to finally be aware that computer monitors are horizontal, not vertical like a comic book page, and have created a standard size horizontal format within which all of the comics are presented.

The way the comics are presented is also well beyond the usual clueless interface disasters the the big companies think are appropriate for presenting online comics (which are usually focused on preventing you from “stealing” the pages, and shoving ads in your face in the process).

The presentation of the Zuda webcomics is within a very nicely implemented Flash interface. (This is not a contradiction in terms as my previous rant may suggest, such things are actually possible!) I’m not sure who designed the interface, but someone who worked on it had a good grasp of interactive information design and it works very well.

You can advance through the pages of an individual comic with slide-show style arrow controls, supplemented with a pop-up bar of thumbnail images. The interface tells you what page you are on and indicates the total number of pages currently available for that comic. The entire navigation can be tucked away at will. The Flash module even remembers where you are in a story if you click away and return.

The comics can look slightly pixelated in the window at first. This is actually because they are being scaled down in Flash. The comics are posted in high-resolution and they can either be scaled with a zoom slider within the default window, or toggled to full screen mode. In full screen mode only the comic is visible against a black background, and even the navigation bar can be hidden, leaving just a full screen of high-resolution comic page. This is a wonderful feature and my hat’s off to the Zuda team for making this call and carrying it through with such aplomb.

Of the 20 or so comics currently available, there is some variety of subject, approach and level of ability. If you roll over the comic’s panel in the selection page you get a brief synopsis and creator credits, with more detail provided to the right on the comic’s dedicated page. I haven’t had a chance to read through all of them in detail but there are a couple of standouts.

Bayou (image above, top), written and illustrated by Jeremy Love and colored by Patrick Morgan, isn’t afraid to take on topics like depression-era race relations in the American South, mix them with actual character development and throw in characters from fiction like Br’er Rabbit. The story is well paced and nicely drawn, particularly in zoomed-in or full screen mode, where you can appreciate the use of coquille-board style crayon textures. As of this writing, Bayou is up to 47 pages and feels like it’s just gaining momentum.

High Moon (image above, bottom), written by David Gallaher, with art by Steve Ellis and lettering by Scott O Brown, is only up to 8 pages so it’s hard to judge the story, though it seems to suggest “High Plains Drifter Meets the Werewolf”, but the art by Ellis is just terrific. Again, use the zoom or full screen feature to see his expressive line work, shape-defining hatching, solid draftsmanship and emotionally effective use of color and texture.

These two alone are enough to keep me coming back to Zuda, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot more from this fledgling online comics publisher, and I hope this turns out to be a successful paradigm for the presentation of new comics stories and fresh talents.


Leoartz Link Collector

Leoartz Link Collector
Link Collector is just that, a well arranged collection of links to sites for illustrators, digital painters, concept artists, matte painters and comics artists.

The illustrators are primarily science fiction and fantasy, and there is an emphasis on concept art and digital painting. The category labeled “Traditional and Sculpture” seems to refer to traditional media, as opposed to digital, within the fantasy, science fiction and concept art genres, rather than to traditional genres of art. There is little in the way of sculpture yet, but I assume that will take the form of dimensional works in the science fiction and fantasy vein, similar to what one might encounter in the Spectrum collections.

There is a section of Art Resources, with links to other major collections of similar art and illustration, and a growing blogroll. Unlike most blogrolls, which are essentially just lists of links, the listings here, like the listings in the other categories, are accompanied by a short, succinct description of the site and a representative slice of image or a logo, making them much more useful than non-annotated links.

The Link Collector was put together by Leonid Kozienko as part of his Leoartz site; which includes links to his portfolio of digital painting on CGPortfolio as well as his blog. The very brief bio on the CGPortfoio site lists Kozienko’s experience as concept design and illustration for videogames and film. Most of the pieces in the portfolio seem to be experiments and playful interpretations of images from films. The blog is in Russian, but the titles, interestingly enough, are in English; and the images, of course, are independent of language.

Link Collector is available in either English or Russian, and can be toggled between the two with a link at the top. The link I’ve given here is to the English version.

Note: I should give my customary warnings that Link Collector contains links to some NSFW material; and can be a major time sink. Have fun.


Douglas Fryer

Douglas FryerBorn in Utah, raised in Illinois and California, Douglas Fryer returned to Utah to study, and went on to teach there and in other parts of the country in addition to establishing a career in illustration. His clients have included Warner Brothers, Harcourt Brace, TDK and Proctor and Gamble among others.

Fryer eventually gravitated toward gallery art, acquired his MFA in Painting and Drawing and transitioned into a career as a successful gallery artist.

His gallery work emphasizes landscape, though you can find engaging figure work as well. His landscapes have the wonderful characteristic of being simultaneously atmospheric and forthrightly declaring themselves to be paint on a surface. Bits of rough scumbling and textural strokes of color are often the essence of a given form; complexity is suggested, but turns to mist on closer inspection. His palette is often muted, but with an underlying feeling of the sensuality of the colors, as if they were whispered descriptions of the scene. Occasionally, it looks as though bright highlights have been laid on with little chunks of Rembrandt impasto.

Fryer now is a principle instructor at Brigham Young University. He doesn’t seem to have a personal site, and I haven’t turned up examples of his illustration, but his gallery work in visible online at the galleries in Arizona, New Mexico and Washington State where he is represented.

My thanks to David Malan, who studied with Fryer, for the suggestion and links. (See my post on Dave Malan.)


Maggie Taylor

Maggie Taylor - Almost Alice
Maggie Taylor uses found materials, a flatbed scanner and Adobe Photoshop to create her wistful, atmospheric photo-collages. Her images have a feeling of 19th Century academic art and a consistency that puts me in mind of Max Ernst’s graphic collage novel Une Semaine du Bonté.

Taylor has applied her image making sensibilities, which frequently feel theatrical, with characters presented in front of backgrounds that have been manipulated to appear like painted cloth back-drops, to an often illustrated literary work in her upcoming book Almost Alice (image above). When traditional illustrators take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I can’t help but compare them to John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham, a light against which few can shine, but Taylor’s soft, dreamy interpretation is different enough to be completely charming.

The flavor of her Alice is in keeping with her other work, which is suffused with Surrealist inspired dream nostalgia and visual non-sequiturs. On her web site you’ll find four galleries of images, the second of which is a preview of the Alice book, which is due out next year. There are also galleries of her earlier work and book illustration in the “extras” section. (I can’t give you convenient direct links because the site is in frames.)

You’ll also find links to her previous book titles, Adobe Photoshop Master Class: Maggie Taylor’s Landscape of Dreams, a “how it’s done” examination of her work by Amy Standen, which is complimented by a Maggie Taylor Landscape of Dreams 2008 Wall Calendar; and Solutions Beginning with A, a limited edition monograph by Lola Haskins and Maggie Taylor, which may only be available from the publisher. There is also mention of an exhibition catalog from the Museum of Photography in Seoul.

There is also an article about Taylor in the June 2007 issue of Adobe Magazine, which can be downloaded in PDF form from the Adobe Magazine web site.

[Link and suggestion courtesy of Daniel van Benthuysen]