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.

Ann Thompson

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”.

Ann Thompson

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.

Ann Thompson

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”.

Ann Thompson

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.
Ann Thompson