Modern Gotama

Arte, Ciencia y Budismo

Speed Drawing Portrait Emma Watson.

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Joe Bowler Interview, Part 6: From Illustration to Portrait Painting.

Last week, in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this interview, Joe described the early years of his life, the beginning of his professional career, and his days at the Charles E. Cooper studio. In Part 4 and Part 5 we discussed some of Joe’s major influences and his art process. In this concluding instalment of my interview with Joe Bowler, the artist talks about shifting gears from commercial art to portrait painting… ~ Leif Peng

LP: You mentioned that, because you’d worked for Collier’s, you really weren’t allowed to work for the Saturday Evening Post – that there was a sort of unwritten rule. So after Collier’s folded, (SEP Art Director) Frank Kilker finally began giving you work…

(Below, Joe Bowler’s first illustration for the SEP, August 1957)
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JB: (Joe chuckles) Yeah… Kilker was a great character. He’d come over every Friday with his little briefcase with a whole bunch of scripts in it. And we’d all go out to lunch and get bombed – they were all martini drinkers – and then he’d pass out these scripts for Coby and Joe and when I could finally get with them, I’d get mine (he chuckles again). These scripts always had a little yellow typewritten paper that gave you the sentence – the actual sentence – that was to be illustrated. And that was it!

(Below, from the back page of that same issue, a photo of Joe and his family and a mention that this is the first appearance of Joe Bowler, “an able young New Yorker.”)
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JB: There wasn’t any of this reading the script and finding out for yourself, which was how it was most of the time. At the Post they really wanted this particular thing in the magazine. So you did it.

LP: So that wasn’t typical of other magazines?

JB: No. Most of the time they’d give you the script and you’d read it and – in the end, I don’t think they even talked to me about it. They’d just give me a script and I knew what they wanted.

(Below, Joe Bowler DPS from Redbook, October 1961)
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JB: If it was anything that was a little off my regular thing I would do some studies and show them, but for the most part it was my choice. The Post was the only one that really got very specific.

(Below, Joe Bowler DPS from Redbook, October 1961)
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LP: Did you ever do any paperback covers?

JB: I did one or two. I think one of the art directors called and I said, “Yeah, I’ll try one.” But I think I only did one or two. And that was right at the end [of Joe’s illustration career] so I don’t remember much about it.

LP: What about movie posters? Did you ever do any of those?

JB: Yeah. Before I came down here, Joe Mendola, who was an art rep, got ahold of me and talked me into him representing me. He said, “Oh, you’ll make a million bucks on these Hollywood studio movie posters.” So I said, “Ok, I’d like a million bucks.” And I started to do one and I’ll tell you, you really had to do two or three major comprehensives – which means “finished paintings”, practically – and even then they would say “No, I don’t like this, I don’t like that.” So very rarely did I make any money on those.

I remember they wanted me to do “Scrooge” and they said “But we want to do it differently; we want to do a portrait of Scrooge coming right at you.”

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So I got all excited about doing this painting of Scrooge. So I painted a study, and they had a big long conversation about it, and I told Mendola, “They’re not gonna buy this thing. They’re gonna come up with the same old crap that they always do.” And they did!

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I ended up doing this painting of Scrooge with the whole damn town dancing around him – oh, it was just terrible! (We both laugh)

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JB: That’s one of the reasons I came south, because really, nothing, nothing Joe Mendola promised would happen came true. And of course he was the type of guy who would say, “Oh, you can just knock this out, Joe. Just knock this out.” Until finally Marilyn said to him (emphatically) “Joe does not knock anything out!”

(We both laugh)

LP: Now, you talk about moving south, and certainly a lot of illustrators were doing that – moving to the south west and getting into doing cowboy paintings, western art. Guys like Frank McCarthy, Ken Riley, Howard Terpning… did you ever consider doing that?

JB: No. No. I had taken on a big account; twenty-one paintings for La-Z-Boy Chairs and I’d done fourteen, and I couldn’t even stomach the idea of doing seven more. (we both laugh) And the art director couldn’t believe it, he says, “Joe, this is the biggest account any artist has had for years! What are you talking about?” So I said, “Look, if I can get somebody to do the other seven of these that you’ll ok, would you feel better?” So not knowing him personally, but knowing who he was, I called Howard Terpning! I said, “Howard, it’s Joe Bowler. I’ve done fourteen of these ads and there are seven more and I’ve taken most of the photographs, so how would you like that?” Well, (Joe chuckles) I don’t think I’d hung up the phone and he was pulling into my driveway. So I gave him those seven paintings, which he did a great job on. And it wasn’t more than a year that I was down south and not much longer that he was out west.

(Below, Howard Terpning illustration for a La-Z-Boy ad, 1971)
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LP: So was that basically the end of your commercial art career? Around the early ’70s?

JB: Well, what happened was, Good Housekeeping was always after me. And I started to get these portraits, and the portraits were paying a lot more than illustrations.

(Below, Joe painting a portrait in his Hilton Head Island studio, 1973)
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And I told the art director that I couldn’t do them (illustrations), but I could send pictures of these portraits. So all through the ’70s, I would do a portrait of a child and send an Ektachrome to Good Housekeeping and they would use it.

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So I was in Good Housekeeping all through the ’70s and people thought I was still doing illustration, but I wasn’t. I was selling the portrait originals, getting the ok from the clients, of course, and then selling the Ektachromes to Good Housekeeping.

LP: Oohh, I see.

JB: In fact, one time I did this painting of just a beautiful girl’s head looking right at the viewer. I actually just made her up out of several models. And at the time, Good Housekeeping had this monthly poll asking readers what they liked the best in the magazine, what made them stop and read something and how much did they read and so on. And they got the best response ever to the painting I did of that girl’s head!

(Below, portrait study of Betty Crocker by Joe Bowler, year unknown)
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JB: So from that point on, if I just had a moment I would just paint a beautiful girl’s head and sell it to Good Housekeeping. And Coby [Whitmore] did the same thing and Joe [DeMers] did the same thing! And they would just buy them because they got such a good response from the readership.

(Below, a recent example of Joe Bowler’s portrait paintings, 2007)
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LP: So once you moved down south, did the portrait painting commissions come very regularly right away?

JB: Well, yeah. I had two manuscripts left over when I moved down here and once I finished those up, I was devoted entirely to going after the portrait business. Never did much advertising at all. It just seemed to happen. And then the big thing happened in the winter of 1982: there’s a magazine called “Southern Accents” that was still fairly new at the time. And they had been doing a monthly article about souther artists. And a friend of mine who was Andrew Wyeth’s agent got ahold of the editor and said, “You gotta put Joe’s work in there.” So she did. She gave me about ten pages of portraits.

(Below, four pages from the 1982 article in Southern Accents)
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JB: Well, we got over 1,800 requests for portraits! We told the magazine after we got about 800 and they couldn’t believe it.

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JB: That magazine became the place that every portrait painter put ads in.

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JB: And that put me in business for the rest of my life!

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LP: Wow. Isn’t that incredible. And as a matter of fact, I understand you have a client coming by this afternoon…

JB: Yeah, this is part of a family I’ve done for years and years. The mother of this child that I’m going to paint is a gal that I painted when she was two years old!

LP: Oh my gosh.

(Below, a recent example of Joe Bowler’s portrait paintings, year unknown)
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JB: And then I painted her again when she was married and had two children, so I did three of them… now this is another son and she’s having that done. This is a family that has bought probably in the neighbourhood of, oh, thirty five portraits of kids. It’s unbelievable.

(Below, a recent example of Joe Bowler’s portrait paintings, 2007)
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LP: It really is! I mean I knew your career had taken you into portrait painting but I really had no idea you had that kind of relationship with your clients.

JB: Oh yeah. In fact, when they get that way, I don’t even call them clients – I call them patrons!

(We both laugh)

* My thanks to Joe Bowler for spending so much time talking with me – nearly four hours over two separate occasions! – to ensure all of my questions were answered. Thanks as well to Joe’s daughter, Jolyn, for assisting in coordinating our schedules so her dad would be available at my convenience. If you enjoyed this interview, blame Murray Tinkelman. Murray has been gently prodding me to phone Joe Bowler for at least two years, something I kept meaning to do and putting off, and I am eternally grateful to Murray for his persistance. Thanks Murray!

* Thanks also to Lawrence Levine for providing scans of the article in Southern Accents magazine.

* To see recent works by the artist, visit Joe Bowler’s website

Joe Bowler Interview, Part 5: More About Influences and Process

Last week, in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this interview, Joe described the early years of his life, the beginning of his professional career, and his days at the Charles E. Cooper studio. Yesterday, in Part 4 we began discussing some of Joe’s major influences and his art process. Today we delve further into that discussion… ~ Leif Peng

LP: When I read the article from American Artist magazine, 1967, you described your process as not really involving much in the way of pencil sketches. But rather, that you would do small, 8″ x 10″ painted sketches on gessoed masonite.

(Below, two painted sketches by Joe Bowler – studies for different magazine illustrations – 1960s)
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JB: Yeah.

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LP: Was that typical in the ’50s as well? Or would you do a longer pencil sketch stage or a thumbnail stage before going to the paint?

JB: I changed it a little… but I would usually start with a fairly involved pencil to start with on most of the illustrations I did.

LP: I assume you’d shoot photo reference for starters…

JB: Yeah. Oh yeah. Always. But once I started doing painted sketches, I ended up drawing less and sort of ‘drawing’ with my paint brush. In fact, when Murray Tinkelman got me to start teaching at Parsons, that’s how I would begin my demonstrations. I would just get the model up there and begin to paint… maybe do a little raw sienna outlining to sort of establish where she was going to sit on the canvas, and then go in immediately with colour and paint – big areas – like you’re supposed to do.

(Below, McCall’s illustration ‘sketch’ and final, 1960s)
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LP: So you’re essentially blocking in shapes and values right from the get-go.

JB: Yeah. (emphatically) I never draw anything anymore. All done with paint. And boy, is it fun. It’s like making mistakes and correcting them, that’s what [Thomas] Eakins used to say. And that’s what I do; I just keep throwing the stuff on, scraping it off, refining it and refining it, and that’s how it grows.

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Over a period of time you start to see something really working.

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LP: Let’s talk about back in the ’50s… I’ve got this scan from one of your crime fiction pieces from Collier’s. This would be from around 1954…

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On the Heritage Auctions website, I found a great scan of the original art of that piece…

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… I mean you can literally see every brush stroke.

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LP: I guess – am I correct to assume – that at this point you were working in gouache?

JB: Gouache, yeah. Designer’s Colours.

LP: Ok. And it’s fairly evident looking at this piece that you weren’t really mixing and blending the paint so much as laying down one colour over another, using the opacity of the gouache. Was that something that came very easily to you or was that a technique you learned at Cooper’s?

JB: I think it was something I learned at Cooper’s, watching Coby, mainly.

LP: When you consider how you work today in oils and the way you worked back then in gouache; is there a relationship between the two ways, do you think?

JB: In a way there is, except I used to do a lot of drawing in those days. And that whole business of being afraid to lose your drawing because you’ll never get it back? Once I got over that – that’s when I really started to have fun.

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JB: You can always get the drawing back. And mainly reading about how Sargent painted and Soroya and Zorn – all of these guys had a lot written about how they approach painting and that’s where I get a lot of the stuff… and then I have to do it… and then I say, “Oohhh, that’s how they did it.”

LP: From reading about the Cooper studio and especially from talking with Murray Tinkelman, there came a point in the mid-to-late ’50s where he introduced you guys to a painter named Reuben Tam.

(Below, “The Weathering of Kauai” By Reuben Tam, year unknown)
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I know that, subsequently, a bunch of guys from Cooper’s started going to Tam’s painting classes… were you among that group? Was Tam an influence on you as well?

JB: Well I had gotten polio in the fall of 1958, and when I was able to come back on crutches and everything I couldn’t really sign up for it. It killed me because Bill Whittingham and Coby and all these guys were signing up for this class because of Murray. Of course [Bernie] D’Andrea had been there for a while, studying with Tam. But I did go to the critiques. Once a month he’d have a big critique. And I’d go over and listen in on a couple of hours of the most incredible critiques of about sixty paintings. The guy was a master.

(“Ominous Reef” by Reuben Tam, year unknown)
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LP: So you didn’t actually get to paint in Reuben Tam’s class but you at least got some influence from listening in on the critiques.

JB: I sure did. Yeah.

LP: That’s interesting because when I look at your work from around 1960/’61 I can see a change… a stylistic change, a technique change… maybe that was the influence of Reuben Tam?

(Below, Joe Bowler illustration for Redbook, September 1961)
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JB: Well, Tam, yes, plus Murray dragging me to every show of abstract expressionists that he could get me to.

LP: Really?

JB: Yeah. Murray was bound and determined to teach me about that group. And of course that was a time when all of them – Pollock and Kline and DeKoenig and all the major guys, plus the second rung, would have these shows that we would go to. And Murray would explain these things to me… so in the end I was influenced a lot by that. Not that you’d ever see me going that way (chuckles) but there was really a tremendous amount of stuff going on at that time that influenced me.

(Below, Joe Bowler illustration for Redbook, April 1961)
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LP: Before Murray started explaining it to you, I’m sure you must have seen articles in magazines or the arts section of the paper about it. Initially did you think, “This stuff looks like a bunch of baloney.”?

JB: Well, yeah, totally, because I didn’t understand a thing about it. And Murray was doing stuff at the time. He was with Tam (and he wasn’t making any money at Cooper’s) so he’d bring these paintings in when he’d get ‘em done – these great big 5’x5’ abstract expressionist paintings – and auction them off.

(Below, ‘Me’ by William Saroyan, illustrated by Murray Tinkelman, 1970)
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LP: No kidding?

JB: Yeah. And sometimes he’d get fifteen bucks (we both chuckle) for one of these beautiful big things. In fact I got one and I had it for years! Until the paint started to flake off. (Joe chuckles) A lot of these guys, they didn’t really care about the quality of the paint they were using. They were using house paint and dime store enamels… but that didn’t matter – it was the moment, you know – you had to do it ‘in the moment’.

That’s why it’s amazing; you know, Bernie D’Andrea, he’s got a huge amount of big abstract paintings that he did. Semi-abstract, figurative abstract expressionist…”

LP: I’ve actually got a few issues of Boy’s Life that have Bernie D’Andrea illustrations in them that are pretty much abstract expressionist paintings.

(Below, Bernie D’Andrea illustration for Boy’s Life, May 1965)
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JB: Bernie just had a show last year at the museum in Savannah of about twenty of these huge abstract paintings and they’re in beautiful condition. He used nothing but the best materials.

Continued tomorrow

* To see recent works by the artist, visit Joe Bowler’s website

* Thanks to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use a scan from their image archives in today’s post.

Joe Bowler Interview, Part 4: Influences and Art Process

Last week, in Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this interview, Joe described the early years of his life, the beginning of his professional career, and his days at the Charles E. Cooper studio. Today Joe shares his thoughts on some of those who impacted his work, in one way or another, during the 1950s and into the ’60s… ~ Leif Peng

LP: The guy who seems to have been a huge influence on everybody at the time was Al Parker.

JB: Oh yeah.

(Below, Al Parker promo illustration for Howard Paper Mills, year unknown)
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LP: Was he someone whose work you were looking at?

JB: Absolutely. Al Parker was the favourite of all the artists at Cooper’s. In fact we went to the old book stores and bought the old magazines and kept an incredible file on Parker. He was the major changer of the way illustration looked, from the oil painting period to the whole ‘designed double page spread’ type of thing.

(Below, Al Parker DPS from Ladies Home Journal, June 1958)
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I remember one time I delivered a job to, I think it was John English – he was the art director at Good Housekeeping before Suran Ermoyan – and another package came in while he was looking at mine and he says, “Oh, that’s from Parker.” And my mouth was watering as he opened it. (we both chuckle)

(Below, Al Parker illustration from Good Housekeeping, 1950s)
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And he opened it and I said, “Oh man, look at that.” and he shook his head. I said, “What’s the matter?” and he said, “You know; I love it, you love it, all the artists love it… but I get very little reaction from the public to Parker’s work.”

And he never really had that ‘mass-appeal’. Even though he did those beautiful mother-daughter covers for Ladies Home Journal for all those years…

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… he never really had the sort of name where you could go out on the street and ask anybody. They’d tell you Coby and Jon Whitcomb and Norman Rockwell, but if you said, “What about Al Parker?” they’d say, “Who?”

(Below, Al Parker illustration, year and publication unknown)
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LP: Do you think that was because Parker’s women weren’t so idealized as Jon Whitcomb’s or Coby’s?

JB: Yes. Very much so. He wasn’t a glamour illustrator and that’s what they [the public] were looking for.

(Below, Jon Whitcomb illustration, Saturday Evening Post, 1956)
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JB: Rockwell was all homespun and small town and Jon Whitcomb was the premier glamour illustrator, as was Coby and a bunch of them. Because of my relationship with Coby, I just gravitated towards that.

(Below, Joe Bowler DPS from Ladies Home Journal, March 1953)
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JB: Parker was one of the most creative minds in the business. Every time he did an illustration you just went, “Wow!”

LP: Did you ever have a chance to meet Al Parker?

JB: Oh yeah, sure. At the Society of Illustrators. I didn’t know him well but every now and then he’d be up for lunch. In fact one time I was having a drink at the club after lunch and it got to be the cocktail hour and all these famous guys happened to be up there… Al Dorne and Parker and a bunch of others. And they all decided to go out to eat and I decided to trail along. And I remember we were all standing at a light at 61st and Lexington Avenue when Al Dorne stopped and said, “You know, we oughta start a correspondence school.” And they all said, yeah, and started to talk about it. And I realized later that that was the first time they seriously talked about it. I always sort of thought, “Wow, I was standing there at the beginning of the Famous Artists School!”

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LP: Wow. And to think; at that moment you were standing there, nobody would have imagined that it would go on to generate millions upon millions of dollars.

JB: Yeah.

LP: Now, there’s a passage in Neil Shapiro’s article on the Cooper studio – and I’ve heard this directly from Murray Tinkelman as well – that late in the 1950s there was one of these ‘bounced jobs’ that came in for corrections. And that everybody gathered around this painting and that you looked at it and said, “I dunno who did this but the business is never gonna be the same.”

JB: Oh I remember that… it was for Ford. We’d done the Ford cars in the studio, plus the figures – I would do the figures and Al Baxter was the car man. Then all of a sudden this thing showed up. And that was Bernie Fuchs.

(Below, auto ad by Bernie Fuchs, 1959/’60)
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LP: And what was it about that painting that made you – ?

JB: It was the way he portrayed the attitudes of the people. They were… ‘real’. They were not posing. We always had expressions and hands flying and doing all this kinda stuff. But he would just go out and photograph a bunch of people ‘hangin’ around!’ (Joe laughs) And then he’d paint ‘em that way and it looked so great. That was really the big difference.

(Below, Bernie Fuchs advertising illo, 1960)
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LP: So did Fuchs’ work influence you at that point? Did you start looking for it?

JB: Well, I looked for it because I loved it – but that was when I started to see a bunch of people imitating Bernie Fuchs. I think I said it in an interview once, after that, every month it was like, “Can you top this?” and somebody’d come up with a new technique. And all of a sudden everybody was trying to be Bernie Fuchs.

LP: Right.

JB: And I couldn’t be. I went the other way. I went more and more traditional. The influence was to do consistently wonderful work, but he didn’t influence me on my style.

(Below, Joe Bowler DPS from the Saturday Evening Post, June 1962)
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LP: I know exactly where you made that statement: it was in a 1967 interview in American Artist magazine.

JB: Oh yes!

LP: In there you said, “I keep up with all the new media, the new techniques. Like everybody else, I use acrylics. I experiment with collage and all sorts of accidental effects. I use cameras and projection equipment. But I’m always myself. I don’t let any of this take over and become technique for it’s own sake.”

(Below, Joe Bowler DPS from McCall’s, January 1967)
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LP: I think what you were saying is you were willing to try new things but never willing to sacrifice the basics for the sake of gimmicks.

JB: Exactly right.

LP: So having said that; another guy came along around the same time as Bernie Fuchs and made a big splash: Bob Peak.

JB: Oh wow…

(Below, Bob Peak Pepsi ad, October 1959)
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LP: So what I’m wondering is, did you notice Bob Peak’s work and what did you think about it?

JB: Well, I liked the work very much. It was all his own. I just said to myself, this has got to be the best commercial illustrator I’ve ever seen. This guy could do anything and do it well. But as far as anybody I looked to for inspiration; no. Other than just realizing how good he was at what he did.

(Below, Bob Peak advertising art, late 1950s)
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I did try a bit of everything at that time. I did a lot of just charcoal drawings with coloured ink washes and things like that, which were different, I guess, for me.

(Below, Joe Bowler illustration, year and publication unknown)
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LP: The ’60s were a difficult time for a lot of illustrators, but as the author of the American Artist article says, you’re one of the handful who seems to have found a way to stay on top. Can you tell me a little about those times and how you managed to keep getting a steady stream of assignments?

JB: Well it was part of my philosophy of saying, “I’m going to do something that they’ll always want.” Whatever I was doing or thinking, it was working for me.

Joe Bowler

Continued tomorrow

* To see recent works by the artist, visit Joe Bowler’s website

* Thanks to Isabel for allowing me to use a scan from her Joe Bowler set on Flickr in today’s post. Thanks also to oldcarguy41 for allowing me to use a Bowler illustration from his Flickr image archives.

Joe Bowler Interview, Part 3: The Cooper Studio Years – and Beyond

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview, Joe Bowler described the early years of his life and his first professional work in the illustration business of the mid-to-late 1940s. Today Joe tells us about his career during the heyday or the 1950s and into the 1960s … ~ Leif Peng

JB: Chuck Cooper came back from the hospital and I had just met Marilyn, my wife, who was going to the Parsons School in the same building.

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We had just had a week together and she went back to Canada. We were really crazy about each other and I was phoning her all the time.

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Anyway, Chuck came back and said to me, “Joe, you’re really doing a fantastic job! Let’s bump your salary to $75 a week.” So I called Marilyn (she knew I’d been getting $35 a week up til that point) and said, “Hey honey, I’m getting $75 a week!”

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The next week Chuck calls me in and says, “Joe, this is really incredible. You’re doing great work – let’s put you at $150 a week.” So I called Marilyn to tell her. [Joe laughs] Her mother must have thought, “Boy this guy is something else. Not only is he living in Greenwich Village, but he’s bullshitting my daughter!” [We both laugh]

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By the next month Chuck comes in and says, “This is getting ridiculous.” because I was doing, like, thirty jobs a month! He says, “This is ridiculous – you’re going on commission.” It all happened so fast… this was just the beginning of ’48, because Joe DeMers didn’t show up until October of ’48 and this was before that.

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LP: Were you still up on the 11th floor at that point?

JB: No, I was down on the 10th floor in a corner studio… I think. Actually, I can’t remember where I was. I used to borrow studios all the time. I used to meet guys from other studios and they knew I was at Cooper’s and they’d come up and see me. I’d take them around for a tour and they’d say, “My God, what are all these doors doing open?” I’d say, “What do you mean?” They’d say, “You can just walk right into these studios!” and I’d say, “Sure!” They’d say, “Boy you can’t get in anywhere at our place; everybody’s got a secret.”

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That’s when I realized Chuck Cooper’s main talent was picking guys for that studio who were ‘sharers’. They all shared. I mean you could go in any place and get help. I mean real help. I used to go in and paint on other guys’ work all the time! To show them, you know, how to do hair or whatever.

LP: One of the first times I recall seeing your signature was on a Pepsi ad from the 1950s. You, Joe DeMers, Coby and a lot of the other guys at Cooper’s worked on a ton of those Pepsi ads. Can you tell me a bit about working on that account?

JB: Well, I can’t remember dates… I remember getting the account. I think it was myself and Coby and Joe. The art directors wanted “the Cooper Studio look” on all of these and they picked us three.

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(Above, Pepsi ad by Joe Bowler, 1958 and below, by Joe DeMers, 1957)
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And then, of course, everybody in the studio that did figurative work – not everybody, but quite a few of them – got in on it too because there were so many of them.

(Below, Pepsi ads by Cooper Studio artists Lynn Buckham and Len Steckler, respectively. Both from 1955)
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In fact, there were so many, I keep running across Pepsi ads I can’t remember doing. It was a great client for a while.

LP: Yeah, the very first one I can remember coming across by you was a ski lodge scene and it’s just beautiful.

JB: Yeah, I remember that one.

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JB: Yeah, and then we started the two figures vignetted against white.

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JB: And then… Joan Crawford married the head of Pepsi and she just blew us out of the water. She had some guy she must of been sleeping with or something, I dunno; an artist that she gave the stuff to – he was terrible! Oh, he was awful!

LP: I’m looking at a series of Pepsi ads from 1959 by Roy Besser…

JB: That’s the guy!

(Below, Pepsi ad by Roy Besser, 1959)
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But she really just fired us all. Joan Crawford. [Joe chuckles] She took over that account and that was it.

LP: That’s a shame because I’m sure it wasn’t just a fun account to work on but a lucrative one as well.

JB: Yeah.

LP: Compared to doing an editorial piece for McCall’s or Good Housekeeping for instance, what was the rate for advertising art for essentially the same type of work?

JB: Relatively the same. The magazines paid very well. I got $2,500 a spread. In fact, I got a call from McCall’s… they said they were willing to give me two double spreads a month if I didn’t paint for the Journal! So I said, “Ok!” Well I wasn’t painting for the Journal! [Laughter] So I said, “Well, that was easy.”

But can you imagine getting two spreads a month – five grand – from one magazine… and allowing me to do, really, anything I wanted. They knew me so well… I think Otto Storch was the art director at the time.

LP: About five or six years ago I sent an email to your wife and included a scan from McCall’s of one of your illustrations. It was of some young girls wearing different fashions. And she sent me a reply saying that was basically the assignment that changed your career because that assignment sort of triggered the beginning of your portrait painting.

(Below, two Joe Bowler illustration for McCall’s, 1960)
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JB: It did. That was great. I forget who was photographing every year… Burt Stern or one of the other really great photographers… and I said to Otto [Storch, McCall’s AD] one day, “Wouldn’t it be great to just have portrait paintings of these little girls?” and he said, “Well, I dunno…” so I went home and I did, I think, three or four studies. I got out my Degas book and tried for that look… well he bought it!

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So Marilyn was right – I got a tremendous amount of calls from all over this country and Canada from people wanting portraits.

LP: Isn’t that incredible.

JB: Yeah, yeah.

LP: Now the reason I’m asking you about all this is I’m trying to organize the chronology of this… when you said McCall’s offered you this deal to do two spreads a month if you didn’t paint for the Journal; was that before or after 1960? Because I have this beautiful cover you did for the Journal from 1960…

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JB: Yeah, I did several covers for Ladies Home Journal… I can’t remember if Bill Fink was the art director… but anyway, he mentioned it or I suggested it, that they should do some illustrated covers. In fact I was looking the other day and I found one or two that I’d forgotten that I did.

I had polio in 1958, so I tend to think of “before and after the polio.” As for when I got that arrangement with McCall’s for the two spreads a month, I can’t remember exactly.

LP: Ok, well that’s ok — let me ask you about something else while we’re on the subject of working for magazines: a few years ago I came across a bunch of illustrations you did for Collier’s in the mid-’50s. And rather than being romance scenes they’re crime fiction stories.

(Below, Joe Bowler spread from Collier’s, February 1955)
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LP: Can you tell me a bit about how you got those assignments?

JB: Well, that was early in my career… I had gone over to Women’s Home Companion and done a few things there. I don’t know if I called the art director or went over to see him, but I started to get Collier’s serials to do. Of course, once you work for Collier’s you can’t work for the Saturday Evening Post. That was a no no. So I had to wait til Collier’s went out of business before I could go over to the Post.

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LP: You know, that’s really interesting; you’re not the first artist who ever told me that. These crime story illustrations are kind of different from what I’m used to seeing from you. How did you feel about doing these sorts of scenarios?

JB: Well, you get the story and they sort of tell you what they want illustrated. Like, the Post would even give you a sentence out of the script that they wanted you to illustrate. Collier’s was similar to that so, as an illustrator, you get a story about crime and they say, “Do these particular scenes”… and you do it! No problem.

(Below, Joe Bowler crime illustration, year and publication unknown)Jo BOWLER

LP: Now, I know the policy at Cooper’s was that you kept all your commission money from editorial work and split advertising commissions 50/50…

JB: That was incredible. And Chuck encouraged us to do more editorial work because that brought in more advertising work!

(Below, Joe Bowler-illustrated ad, October 1958)
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JB: Editorial artists were looked on as prestigious – good to get for advertising.

Joe Bowler Interview, Part 2: The Cooper Studio Years Begin

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this interview, Joe Bowler described the early years of his life and how he became a professional illustrator in the late 1940s. Today Joe tells us about his time at the the highly regarded Charles E. Cooper Studio, beginning at age 18 in 1947… ~ Leif Peng

JB: I went up [to the Cooper Studio] to get an appointment to see Chuck Cooper, but he was in the hospital with, I think it was a kidney problem or something. Chuck’s brother Art was running the place, so I saw him instead.

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He said, “Yeah, we need an apprentice here.” So I said, “Oh, that’s good! What’ll I do here?” And he said, “Well, you wash brushes and clean palettes and run errands…” and I said, “No, no, no… I’m an artist. I work at making art.” [Joe chuckles] And he said, “Oh really?” [Mock incredulity] “Well that’s the job. That’s it.”

This was a Friday so he says, “You go home and think about it.”

I said, “Alright, I’ll do that.” and I walked out. And all the way home I was thinking, “I just… committed suicide. I had a chance to get in with the Cooper Studio and I blew it.” I literally didn’t sleep that weekend. Monday morning I went into the city – caught the five o’clock train or something – and I was sitting on the 57th and Lex doorstep of the building when it opened for the day. I went up and said to Art Cooper, “I’ll take it.”

(Below, a spread from a mid-50s Cooper Studio promotional brochure)
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All the artists had studios around the exterior of this floor, the 9th floor, and in the centre was the bullpen, which is where I was. And then an equal amount of space in the middle was the salesmen’s room. Right outside the entrance to the bullpen was Coby Whitmore’s studio. So I was able to meet him and then watch him work.

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Every time I had any kind of a lull, that I wasn’t doing anything, I was in that studio watching him paint. And he didn’t paint there a lot because he had a studio at home, but let’s just say I got to know him very well. [Joe chuckles]

(Below, a Coby Whitmore DPS from Cosmopolitan, February 1952)
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Now this is a little later, but I remember going out to lunch with them, and everybody having two or three martinis (Coby was a great martini drinker) and he’d sit down in the middle of his studio with all the salesmen and everybody standing around talking, and he would paint in about three quarters of an hour a pretty girl with a cigarette – I think it was a 24-sheet billboard – and he would do that beginning to end in about forty-five minutes, talking the whole time… [Joe chuckles] … and I’d be watching every stroke, every mixture of paint.

(Below, Coby Whitmore, Good Housekeeping, September 1949)
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Then he’d give it to me and say, “Ok, wrap it up.” I’d go out and matte it and wrap it and the salesman would go out and take it to the agency. That was a typical day. But just watching him work… every colour he put down on his palette, the way he applied the paint… that was my education really.

(Below, Coby Whitmore, Saturday Evening Post, March 1958)
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In fact, when I was going to night school at the Art Students League – the Frank Reilly class in drawing – I thought, well I guess I’ll go sign up for his painting class too. In the middle of the first day of class, he started to tell everybody about the way to mix colours. He had this incredibly graduated value scale he was running down… and I finally put up my hand and said, “That not the way they do it.” [Joe laughs]

(Frank Reilly conducting a class, year unknown)
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He said, “Oh, really?” and I said, “Yeah, I’m working at the Cooper Studio.” and he said, “Oh really? Well I guess you’d better just go and work there some more.” [We both laugh] He literally kicked me outta the place.

(Below, magazine ad illustrated by Frank Reilly, 1954)
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Which is amazing because, years later – I mean fifteen, twenty years later – the phone rings and it’s Frank Reilly! He says. “Oh Joe, how are you? I’m just finishing up my book and putting the names of some of my more famous students in there…” [Joe chuckles] “…and I see your name is there, but I don’t really remember too much about you.”

(Below, a page from the Frank Reilly School brochure showcasing some famous former students)
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LP: Hahaha… you didn’t remind him that he kicked you out of class?

JB: Nooo, I didn’t, I didn’t. He asked me if he could use my name in his book and I said sure. [Joe chuckles]

LP: Now Joe, going back to when Art Cooper hired you and that early period when you were doing the work in the bullpen… at what point did you get to actually do some illustration work?

JB: I think it wasn’t more than a month or two. Most of the fellows probably spent about a year in there. But at the end of a month or so, the head guy in the bullpen, Ernie Olsen, went to Art and said I wasn’t working out. That I’m never there and don’t do my work… and he told me this and I couldn’t believe it! I said, “I do my work!” And he said, “Well, you’re always off somewhere looking at the artists working.”

(Below, Joe Bowler spread from Collier’s, January 1954)
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So he said he was gonna fire me… but luckily, up on the 11th floor, there was this fellow who was sort of like an art director for Cooper’s. His name was Craig Bollman, a good old friend of Coby’s, and Ernie said, “He needs a paste-up guy up there. So get your ass up there.” So I was saved!

(Below, Joe Bowler, Collier’s, April 1955)
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Craig took me in his office and said, “Do you know anything about paste-up?” I said, “No.” He said, “You just wanna paint, don’tcha?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, take that drawing board over there and let’s see what you can do.” So he allowed me to paint samples.

(Below, Joe Bowler, Good Housekeeping, January 1954)
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And the more I did, the more the salesmen looked at them. So my initial work was doing “bounced jobs” from other illustrators – either from Cooper’s or other places – that the salesmen brought back because of some problem. And I would redo them and then they would go through. So I got more and more in with the salesmen – they loved me.

(Below, a Joe Bowler illustrated ad from 1952)
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LP: So while you were doing these bounced job illustrations, were you also doing samples of the sort of ‘boy/girl’ romance illustrations Coby or Joe DeMers would do?

JB: Yeah… well, this was a little later… I was working all night on this painting of a head of a pretty girl. Coby came in with an illustration he’d done for Cosmo and wanted it matted and he saw this painting and he said, “Hey, put a matte on that; I’ll take it with me.”

(Below, Joe Bowler illustration, date and publication unknown)
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So he took it with him to Cosmo, to Frank Eltonhead, the art director. When he came back he said, “They bought it – just bill ‘em for a thousand.” Well, a thousand dollars to me at that time was the same as a million! You know? A thousand dollars!

(Below, Joe Bowler, Good Housekeeping, July 1957)
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I don’t think it was more than three months or so, I was in about three or four magazines.

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(Above, photo of Joe as featured in Ladies Home Journal, March 1953, in conjunction with his first assignment for the magazine, shown below)
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LP: That’s astounding.

JB: Yeah, it really happend so quickly.