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.