Working Toward a Career
If you know of students in high school, who are wondering which path to take, tell them that there are many choices that can lead to their final destination.
An Art Student’s Portfolio (Early 60’s) In today’s art scene, my portfolio would be laughed at. The art tools changed through the years and now I know the beauty of the digital advantages. There is today, no need for that huge black portfolio – just a small thumb-drive would do the job. But the generosity of time that was given to students in the past seems to have disappeared. Resumes are required and pre-interview selections are made before personal meetings. It is not now, as friendly as it was.
FAMOUS ARTISTS SCHOOL My first art samples for my portfolio came from what I had learned from the “Famous Artists Schools” correspondence art course that I started while in my senior year of high school.
My family’s move from Santa Rosa to Westlake, Daly City, before my last year in high schooI, left me with no connections with my previous five years of classes or friends. I created “my art studio” in our family’s garage and I put all my spare time and efforts in drawing and completing the FA lessons, which were mailed to Westport, Connecticut. The lessons emphasized illustration. These corrections to my endeavors, shown below, were an obvious “eye-opener” for my growth toward commercial art. The “Simple Simon” lesson gave me a lot of notes to follow when I later re-drew to subject in line only. In the “circus” assignment, I was taught that a painting is not an illustration.
PACIFIC TELEPHONE When I graduated from high school, at age 17, I was still mailing my FA lessons but I was far from able to find employment as an artist. My mother suggested that I pay rent – “Rent?” “But I live here!”
Soon, with a personal connection from my aunt from her WWII long-distance operator job – I found a job at 3rd & Channel (San Francisco’s longest building) where Pacific Telephone Co.’s directory was produced. In those days, banana boats came through the (lifted) Lefty O’Doul Draw Bridge. Work friends and I would sit along the building’s south side eating our lunches, watching the bananas being loaded ashore.
The directory job taught me proofreading marks. I knew at the time, that the “yellow pages” were produced on the next floor above and small spots of artwork went into some listings. But I never took the elevator up to see what might be possible for my level of art training. Thinking, now, of the whole different direction that my life would have taken, I am glad that my insecurity, held me back.
CITY COLLEGE of SAN FRANCISCO After eleven months at Pac Bell, my mother found a 3 line announcement in one of San Francisco’s newspapers offering a “night, advertising class” at Lincoln High. There, I met William Davis who was about to join the faculty at City College of San Francisco’s advertising curriculum. He convinced me to quit my job and sign-up at CCSF. The wages that I had saved covered the amount that I owed to my parents for the FA lessons, my on-going rent, and the art supplies and books that were needed.
CCSF offered lessons in figure drawing, lettering and type design, graphic design, packaging, art history, slide and film presentation and finally, an introduction to art production and guidance in creating a portfolio to show my work. One of my final art assignments was a packaging concept. Mine was one of three designs that were reported in the college’s newspaper.
(Note : Only as I was scanning this college paper did I, for the first time, read this other story in the paper. Never following sports in those days, I found this, an insight into the early life of Mohammad Ali. Apparently he took in laundry.)
I had a class assignment where the students were to mimic a famous painter to advertise a product. I chose Henri Rousseau. I lost my painted rendering of the product that was placed at the bottom-left of a 2” white panel with just a few copy lines and the Weil logo.
The college had events and art students could donate their art and get a printed sample.
Another lesson learned was that printing on a colored stock, required that the paper had to be lighter than the inks – unless there was the budget to print, in this case, many passes of white and yellow. The impact of my original sketch was lost, but I did get a printed sample for my portfolio. The lettering class taught all aspects of type and how to “comp it” in a layout.
The figure drawing class was my favorite. Besides drawing with charcoal, conté crayon and pencil this was my first time using a Flo-master pen. The trick was to keep the nib fairly dry.
ACADEMY OF ART In 1961, CCSF awarded me a (June-July) summer scholarship at the Academy of Art on Sutter Street (then, its only location) with classes in fashion, oil painting, figure drawing and on-location sketching. One location was Telegraph Hill and the instructor was Richard “Pappy” Stevens, the school’s “founding father”. The three sketches below are from one morning’s class. Then, near noon, our class would retire to a coffee shop (where Scoma’s now stands) and “Pappy” would “hold court”. I have no other samples from the summer classes. The value then, of the summer scholarship, was $150.
IMAGINATION, INC. Several of Mr. Davis’s students and I had a chance to work part-time as an cell-painters for Imagination, Inc.’s animated commercial for Chevron. The location was on Kearney Street and it was exciting to have an art job and arrive early to work. Also there was a temporary job with an animator, Milt Kerr, who had rented space in Gabriel Moulin Studio on Second Street.
FIRST INTERVIEWS I had graduated from CCSF. This was when I began looking for work in advertising art. It was June of 1963 and I was twenty-one. Was I an illustrator, a graphic designer ? Did I have a creative talent in advertising for an ad agency – to create slogans, create layouts ? Should I interview with ad agencies or art studios ? I tried both.
The large black portfolio that I carried as I searched for work consisted of samples of my efforts rendered in oil paint, watercolor and gouache, ink, graphite pencil and pastels (chalks). It was difficult rendering sharp edges with pastels. At that time, felt-tip color markers did not exist in a large range of colors. The first Magic Markers were uncomfortable – a small bottle with a felt-tip and metal cap.
(In the column at the left, is a “favorite site”: Lou Brooks Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.)
The collection below shows the usual black portfolio, a storyboard and three ad concept samples. There were also 17 additional subjects from which I would choose a small selection that would be of certain interest to an ad agency – concepts, copy, and layout styles for an ad agency – or items that were more illustrative directed toward an art studio job.
I made very many appointments. The top art directors and artists, in those days, would give a personal interview and offer a critique of a student’s portfolio. A few that viewed my portfolio were : Herb Briggs, Sam Hollis, Tom Gleason (ad agencies)– and Richard Evans and Lowell Herrero (art studios). Given allowance for being young and a student, everyone was very kind, but I didn’t find employment.
WELLS FARGO BANK Then in September of 1963, with a reference from my sister and her friends, I became first a clerk and then a stop-payment clerk for Wells Fargo Bank on Grant and Market Streets. In my off hours, I kept clipping reference and styles for the “morgue” (a scrap file) that was suggested in the FA instructions – and I kept practicing art styles. I wasn’t very disappointed being at the bank, because I was improving my skills at home and I still made contacts with professionals.
LAST INTERVIEW After four months at the bank, again Bill Davis nudged me into a step that put me on the best path for my future. Butte, Herrero & Hyde at 722 Montgomery Street (where I had interviewed previously) had employed two artists, Chuck Wertman and Mike Bull, who had decided to free-lance. I showed my portfolio, but BH&H needed studio skills from me – which was all that I needed to learn to run a successful studio. (I never presented my portfolio again.) A year later when I was 22, BH&H dissolved their partnership and I started my self-employment at 728 Montgomery Street, renting space from Bill Hyde. I was able to be an illustrator and an art director, both !
GOOD TIMING AND BAD In my search for employment there was one big lesson : timing.
When I had to step off-track from my ambitious goal, taking other employment–
I kept growing by improving my skills and most importantly, I stayed open to the suggestions from others ; my aunt (Pac Tel), my mother (the Lincoln High night class), Bill Davis (CCSF), my sister and friends (WFB), Bill Davis, again (BH&H) and Butte, Herrero & Hyde supporting me into self-employment.
Each choice I made took me in a new direction. Whether it is a “fork in the road” or the “up- button in an elevator”, a person’s life will change. If you know a young student in need of a suggestion, if you see or know something, say something.
Like my mother, I still clip opportunities from the newspaper and now, also, from the web.
EARTHQUAKE, Feel The Pulse !
At 5:04pm, October 17, 1989, I was in my room on the second floor at One Lombard Street when the words in my hand : “Feel the pulse of the City by the Bay”, described the shaking under my feet ! It was a 6.9 magnitude EARTHQUAKE !
Growing up in California, the rule that I was taught was to stand in a doorway. My room with windows to the street had an exit only through sliding glass doors.
I had been working on a Vicom Associates assignment that was an invitation for the AAD “Reception for Residents” hosted by Syntex. (Syntex Corporation was responsible introducing oral contraceptives and anti-inflammatory drugs.)
I had used markers for my layout, but then I thought to see how it could be accomplished on the Apple that we had at home. At that time, large pixelated art would be the result. I was surprised when the agency went for the idea – as it would show only what was possible at that time !
Being left-handed and uncomfortable gripping a square mouse with the long tail, I attempted to develop some “computer chops”. The mouse was attached to the right of the keyboard so I even tried using my right hand. Either way I was pretty clumsy. My first attempt shows the general elements. Then I developed each section of the illustration. The computer gave me the opportunity to piece these sections into the one full image. Back at the agency, a negative was made. I was returning to my room with the photostat, when the earthquake hit. You can see that the photostat is wrinkled, where I clutched it as I stood within the frame of the open sliding glass doors.
The electricity in the agency was off. Only some outside phones (landlines) were working. The rooms that had these phones were without windows so you had to light a match to see the keypad of the phone. There was the smell of gas outside in the streets, but only faint in the agency. My calls were to my home and family and then to my aunt who lived out in the “Avenues”, the Sunset district. The next calls were to my friends that our after-work “Birthday Get-together” was off. Almost everyone had left the building. (There was a young single guy in the agency, (telling this later) who found himself stuck as a refrigerator momentarily pinned him against a side wall. There was another employee in the kitchen at that time and he said that he thought : “Here I am and the last face I see, will be hers”!)
There is much to read of the destruction in various parts of San Francisco. My route, if I had gone home, would have been past the fire and smoke in the Marina district.
Heading out to stay with my aunt, I got my car from the rooftop parking, then down three levels and south to the Broadway tunnel. “Strange” I thought, “no traffic in the tunnel (?!)”. This was not a smart choice, but aftershocks were yet to happen. I stayed overnight with my 74-year-old aunt. The next morning, after listening to the news of the extensive damage with on-going rescues, we decided to (of all things) leave her place and visit the earthquake exhibit at what was then the Steinhart Planetarium in Golden Gate Park. As we stepped up on the platform that replicated the shaking of a strong tremor– the next in line was a young father telling his little boy : ”Don’t be afraid, see those two old ladies can do it!”
When I was back in the agency, thinking that the word, “pulse” (“earthquake”) might scare off the invited, I asked if the title of the invitation should be changed. Again, I was surprised by their decision– “Go with it, as is”.
St. Patrick’s Day Layout Lesson
When I was just out of high school and enrolled in the Famous Artists Course, the Spring 1960 issue of their magazine was sent to me. Two pages described various approaches in arranging a set of five elements for a layout of a newspaper ad. The lesson offered nine different arrangements of size and alteration of the elements. There was an explanation of each of the versions – and the reason for choosing #8.
I never referred to that lesson. Years later, as I produced many layouts, a client often emphasized the importance of each element or the format, size and length of headline or columns of type – all influenced the choices that were possible. Some ads converted to other sizes, one page, double page, two columns, etc. and each had to carry the basic “look” of them all.
The biggest variety of choices, I found, was when there was full freedom in illustrating in-and-around the needed parts. I was never sure of the best choice. I felt that if I explored as many possibilities that I could in the time allotted, I could leave it to the client to make the choice.
These very rough full-sized “thumbnails”, below, were presented to the San Francisco pharmaceutical agency of Rainoldi, Radcliffe & Bolles on November 10, 1980 for an invitation needed for a gathering in Boston, on St. Patrick’s Day, March 22, 1981. Client : Cutter Laboratories.
Here are the 25 possibilities and the last one shown is the printed invitation.
And – you will see, I had been showing four-leaf-clovers ! Shamrocks have only three leaves.
(Just now, I looked up “shamrock”. I found out that the shamrock was the image used by Saint Patrick to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity and it comes from the Irish word : seamróg.)
Every St. Patrick’s Day, I had seen the decorative three-leaf shamrocks. I might have noticed my mistake before presenting my sketches or did the agency catch my error ?
If the four-leaf-clovers had been spotted only when I submitted my finished art, I would have been required to correct that area with a patch. IF the error, unnoticed, went to print – it would have been a very expensive re-do. Lucky for me, this lesson in layouts taught me to question if I had the correct image of every element required.
“The X-Files” Parody, Pushing A Drug
“The X-Files” was a TV series that ran from 1995 to 2002. The recent broadcast is showing now – and it reminds me of an assignment on January 7,1997, when I received a call from an art director at FCB /Healthcare, to work on a storyboard for Biaxin, Abbott Laboratories. At the agency, the copywriter was creating the script. The art director suggested that, before coming in to the agency, I should videotape a showing of “The X-Files” to study the characters, Mulder and Scully and also study the mood of the mystery.
The lines from the first page of the script that was faxed to me, titled :
Treatment for Product Rep Video
“The BiaXin-Files”: The Cure Is Out There
“Main Characters” were described as Agent Mildew and Agent Scuzzy.
I had always thought that a peptic ulcer was caused by stress but the copy of this assignment taught me that it is often caused from H-pylori bacteria (Helicobacter-pylori). In 1985, Abbott Labs had partnered with a Japanese drug company to fight bacterial infections. Abbott Labs got the FDA approval for Biaxin in 1991.
By the time that I arrived at the agency, with these sketches, the art director had developed this rough storyboard for me to follow. My image of the H-pylori bacteria is the sharp-toothed eel-like image that I found and clipped from my extensive scrap file. I colored this creature in the brightest, glowing colors that would make the creature stand out in the dark video.
Following the art director’s 24 frames, my intermediate frames of the storyboard got approval from the agency.
There was one more version drawn with more detail and presented on boards for approval of the client, Abbott Labs.
Since I was working at home and at the agency, my time-sheet (I am surprised that I kept it) shows the hours and locations as I was developing the beginning, intermediate and final drawings. First, the hours I worked were weekdays and then there was also a lot of weekend, overtime hours, as it neared the deadline. I don’t have the final perfected storyboard, it was kept by the agency, but the timesheet for the last version – shows that I spent the average of 27 minutes on each frame.
As my part of this promotional campaign ended, I moved on to other jobs for other clients, so I never found out if the video was actually produced. Could they find actor /look-alikes, find locations and afford the special effects for such a spoof ? The video would have been very expensive and probably was to be shown at conferences or parties, tied in with a trade show. I don’t know how this video could educate the reps with information to use as they represented Biaxin to doctors and medical centers.
(There was, at the end of the video, a “doctor” with a closing message. Copy for this was not included with the script. This might have contained important information for the product representatives.)
As I was preparing this report, I was able to find a clue suggesting that the parody had been produced. I studied the collection of “images” that came with the search of : Biaxin. Here were many “Tchotchkes – free promotional items dispensed at trade shows, conventions, and similar commercial events”. (This is a term that I learned when first working for pharmaceutical agencies).
In this collection, I spotted the same kind of “bacteria monster” (that I had introduced in my storyboard) shown on a wall clock ! There is no date for the clock, but if it was made in 1997, it might have been handed out at the time of the showing of “The Biaxin-Files”!
Then and now, the question : how could the Abbott sales force get any information from the video to aid them as they represented Biaxin to the medical world ? Medical journal ads, trade shows, patient aids, product information, conferences, and direct reports to the reps are all of value– but giving reps : clothing, pens, plush toys, etc.? There must be a reason for rewarding product reps, with small gifts, beyond paying them. Some items could have been passed on during the rep’s appointments. The entertaining motivational video and giveaways were probably paid for by patients, as “research and development”.
Twins With Different Art Styles
The McKee twins seemed to move naturally, each into their own style of art. I asked those who knew them what they remembered about them at the time that they both worked in San Francisco at Landphere Associates. The memories from several Landphere artists reported the McKee brothers were very close and a family member said that they even built a house together, which is a very different situation where conflicts can be common.
Both Don and Ron McKee sensed as early as the 3rd grade at the John T. Hartman grade school in Kansas City, Missouri, that they wanted to make “Art” their career. Later, after graduating from Southwest High in 1949, Don and Ron attended one year at The University of Kansas City and one year at the Kansas City Art Institute and then attended the American Academy of Art in Chicago. Both twins were drafted into the U.S. Army for two years. As the Korean War ended, after completing basic training, Don and Ron spent the rest of their two-year career in the Army designing and silk screening recruiting posters for the Sixth Army at The Presidio, located near the Golden Gate Bridge.
Ron McKee After the military service, Ron was a top graduate of Art Center College in southern California. Working as an illustrator in Detroit, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, Ron has provided art for Ford, GM, Chrysler, Arco, 3M, Readers Digest, Universal Studios and Mattel Toys, among others. He produced paintings for the Irvine Company for the “Newport Coast Exhibit” picturing their luxury housing development.
During the few years that Ron worked at Landphere’s, Ron had this fresh and easy style when illustrating sleek automobiles.
In contrast, this brochure for the new $21 million Crocker Plaza required Ron to accurately illustrate and dramatically emphasize the 38-story structure to be completed in 1968. (I am including all of the pages of the brochure to show that this was a very large building for a skyline so different from today’s. The brochure was meant to be turned, to view the pages horizontally and vertically. (I do not have the information to credit the agency and others involved in its production.) Following in the gallery are illustrations that were presented in various annual exhibitions :
In 1970 Ron McKee moved to work in the Los Angeles area. Now his paintings are marketed directly through numerous shows and select galleries.
Don McKee After the military service, Don was hired by Max Landphere Associates (then at 215 Kearny Street) as a graphic designer. He produced ads and brochures for advertising agencies and direct clients.
Here are just some examples from 1958, all eight were presented in San Francisco’s10th Annual Art Directors Exhibition :
By 1960 while at Landphere Associates, Don had developed a new concept in greeting cards, called “Cube Cards” as you see below.
Don, for a time, had his own graphic studio at 901 Broadway and when Max Landphere retired, Don moved back to the Landphere location (then on Gold Street) and he named it : “Artworks”. By 1973 he employed as many as 40 artists. In his many years as a successful graphic artist Don developed an “art path” uniquely his own and he empowered others to multiply their own artistic talents. Don also created a selection of regular greeting cards and with a move of his office and studio to San Rafael, California : he renamed his company “Joy Crafters”.
(Note, for accuracy, I have “lifted” parts of paragaphs from the biographies of Ron and Don and these two photos of the twins were the only ones that I found.)
I’ve noticed that most siblings, who are close in age, compete. As children, the rivalry can be in many areas of accomplishments as they mature. When the challenge was drawing, my sister and I made a pact. I would not draw fashion and she would not draw cartoons. There was, then, no competition.