The cover feature of the new summer edition of Illustration Magazine is entitled "The Glamorous World of John Whitcomb.
Whitcomb (1906-1988) dominated the world of illustration with his portrayal of stylish women and movie stars. In addition to a very prolific output of editorial and advertising work, he played the electric organ, wrote a gossip column, and developed his own photographs.
He compared the making of an illustration to the production of a film: "I have to be wardrobe mistress, arrange the composition, pose the models, run for the sandwiches, call for the models at the railroad station, and renew their options."
Whitcomb was a recognizable celebrity himself, enough so to plug cigarettes. He left a lasting legacy with the formation of two influential organizations: Cooper Studios and the Famous Artist's School, where he was a devoted instructor. He was a consummate craftsman. Painting an attractive face in gouache and watercolor is a very challenging feat, and he was one of the best at it.
Whitcomb was always concerned with changing fashions. It took six months from the delivery of a magazine illustration until its publication. In that time, styles could change. From the time he was a boy, he said he "developed an aversion for antiques. This particular prejudice extends to anything older than five or six minutes. I admire new hats, new actresses, new architecture, new plays, and new gadgets."
He emphasized the importance of an illustrator having a current style. "No one seriously concerned with modern illustration can ignore styles, whether in clothes, furniture, architecture, landscape gardening, or picture framing. Every year one of these gets a thorough overhaul and illustrators have to start fresh. You have to keep up to date if your work is to have a contemporary look."
Fashion is a fact of life. But the word "trend" has "end" built into it. Ironically, Whitcomb's concerns for chasing styles make his work appear more dated to us now compared to the work of his contemporaries such as Tom Lovell, Haddon Sundblom, or Norman Rockwell. Although those artists were also conscious of changing trends, they more deliberately referenced painters of previous centuries, which makes their work more timeless and harder to pin to a given decade.
The issue of Illustration magazine also has features on Sheilah Beckett and Wesley Snyder. You can view thumbnails of all the pages here.
Second picture courtesy Illustration House
More about the Sheilah Beckett article on the Underpaintings blog
Previously on GurneyJourney: Whitcomb Demo