The magazines arrived in the mail every month. I was just a kid growing up in Santa Barbara but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the publications. Those old enough might remember The Ladies Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, McCalls Magazine, and the other publications of that era. What was special about these monthly magazines, and what interest would a young kid have in what was usually referred to as, women’s magazines? Well, the articles were seldom of any interest but the magazines pages were filled with amazing illustrations by the cream of the crop of mid-century illustrators such as, Coby Whitmore, Al Parker, Jon Whitcomb and Joe DeMers. The stories focused on love and romance, while the more masculine stories in the Post might have a beautiful illustration by Robert Fawcett gracing the pages.

Most of my fellow students at Art Center College of Design were dreaming of careers as magazine illustrators and we were lucky enough to have a few of the masters on our teaching staff. Sadly, by the time many of my fellow students had graduated, the illustration field was beginning to dry up. It would appear many publications were moving toward photography and the golden years of illustration was quickly becoming a thing of the past. One of my fellow students, a talented artist named, Guy Deel took a position as a development artist at Walt Disney Studios because the illustration field was no longer as robust in the seventies. Guy Deel continued with Disney for a number of years, but I know he probably would have preferred doing magazine illustration.

Of course, this is not unlike what’s happened to traditional hand drawn animation in recent years. The film studios, much like the fifties publishing businesses decided they needed a change. Photography replaced illustration in the fifties and the encroachment of digital production totally marginalize hand drawn animation in the early 2000. Yet, one might ask, why can’t beautiful illustration co-exist with photography? And, why can’t hand drawn traditional animation share the screen with computer graphic imagery? Why does it have to be one or the other? The titans of the publishing world made a decision over sixty years ago and it pretty much ended a fabulous era of awesome magazine illustration. Likewise, the animation studios rallied together a few years ago and pronounced hand drawn animation dead. Naturally, it was a self fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, we all know it doesn’t have to be this way. The advent of photography did not put an end to painting and illustration. Why should CGI film production spell the end for a film making technique the public still eagerly embraces? I remember standing next to a gentleman watching vintage Disney cartoons on a huge video display a few years ago. He wondered out loud, “why don’t cartoons don’t look like this anymore?” I reassured him that hand drawn animation was alive and well, but there was little chance it would ever be embraced by mainstream studios again. I further stated, as long as the major animation production houses maintained this perception, things would not be changing anytime soon. Finally, I’ll direct your eye to the beautiful sketch down below created by the gifted illustrator, Jon Whitcomb while on a fifties visit to the Walt Disney Studios. Whitcomb completed several sketches of Mary Costa, Helene Stanley and Margaret Kerry as a tribute to the fascinating women of Disney. Naturally, all the Disney artists were thrilled to have such a remarkable illustrator visit the Walt Disney Studio. Today, artists are so few in number I doubt anyone would even know the famous illustrator.

Jon Whitcomb's beautiful sketch of actress, Kathy Beaumont. Once upon a time, being an artist meant everything at the Walt Disney Studio.

Jon Whitcomb's beautiful sketch of actress, Kathy Beaumont. Once upon a time, being an artist meant everything at the Walt Disney Studio.

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AuthorFloyd Norman