Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Elvgren's Pin-up Reference

Gil Elvgren (1914-1980) painted calendar girls and commercial illustrations from the 1930s to the 1970s. 
Here are some of his oil paintings paired up with the photo reference. He makes a thousand little drawing refinements, such as a thinner waist and more tilt to the back. The tones of the picture are  simplified, and he uses the Windmill Principle. He's not afraid to let the shorts be white on white, and the legs be red on red.

The face and features are bigger and the shapes of the folds in the sleeves are more dynamic. To make the gun visible against the drape on the chair, he makes the gun light and the drape black.

The tones and shape of the dress are simpler, the hair is fuller, and the legs are in a different position. The same model must have posed in the western costume just before, since the boots and the holster are in the background. Models were getting expensive in the 1950s, charging photo rates, so many illustrators got the most reference they could out of each session.
From Retronaut courtesy of Chris Wild
Lots more Pin-up/ Photo pairings at a Concept Art forum (Thanks, Brian Bridges)
Gil Elvgren on Wikipedia
Post about Elvgren's process on the Underpaintings blog (Thanks, Tomas)
Gil Elvgren website
Book: Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups
Previously: Using Photo Reference (with 32 comments)


Unknown said...

You call it "a thousand little drawing refinements"; I call it "using the reference more freely" ;-).

Matthew Meyer said...

Very awesome. Thank you for sharing these. It's really wonderful to see the reference and where some of these amazing paintings come from.

Anonymous said...

That man had an eye! Fabulous refinement of reality! - mp

pierangelo boog said...

Elvgrens paint technique itself is for
me the most erotic thing.It is the
melting of these colors that Rubens also was able to use so skillfully in the flesh of his Walkyre woman.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting for these. Really like seeing how he used the reference as just that, reference. Feel more people should see this who don't understand the difference between photo reference and photo tracing.

jeffkunze said...

Good stuff! It's always interesting seeing the variation of how illustrators use photo reference. Some do somewhat realistic work but don't rely on photos at all and some do very stylized work but they use photos. Weird!

I tend to prefer a combination of using photo reference but not sticking to rigidly to it. Similar to Elvgren although I'm not a huge fan of Pin-up illustraion.

Unknown said...

I am always impressed by how seriously Elvgren took the art when painting images for promotional calendars and match books. The work was important to him and he didn't let it slide just because it appeared in less prestigious forms.

What is compelling here is how real the image convinces you it is compared to how much manipulation Elvgren did to the forms of the body.

Brudvik said...

It looks like he is pretty much spot on with the values, but they seems more saturated then they would be in reality. It makes the girls look very "fresh and vital".

By working from a black and white reference which is well balanced in tones, do you think it is easier to avoid the "mid-tone mumble"?

Anonymous said...

I notice he did with paint what commercial photographers now do with Photoshop: gave them impossibly tiny waists, slimmed down their legs, etc.
So it's not such a new thing. Huh.

अर्जुन said...

The model for most of the shots here and linked was Janet Rae. I believe her father Stuart H. Rae had attended The Art Institute of Chicago alongside Elvgren. Yet the photos were taken some years after in Florida …neighbors. (small world)

Roberto said...

Jimmy G.-
This is off-topic, but if you are out here (in the L.A. area) before the end of the show… you might want to check this out -RQ

Bodies and Shadows: Caravaggio and His Legacy
(November 11, 2012–February 10, 2013)
The exhibition …( a major exploration of the “Caravaggisti”—a generation of diverse painters throughout Europe in the seventeenth century that was influenced by Caravaggio’s style) ... is made up of 56 works in all, including a record eight works by Caravaggio himself {and] covers the evolution of his style. Caravaggio's legacy is expressed in work by about twenty artists from Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands who carried into the late 17th century the strangeness, beauty and raw emotion of his work.

Go to the Wensite for tickets: http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/bodies-and-shadows-caravaggio-and-his-legacy

The multimedia tour of the exhibition includes an interview with Keith Christiansen, Chairman of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art...

Anonymous said...

Elvgren is my favorite pinup artist, and I have done several studies of his work. Dozens of his original paintings were auctioned off over the last few years, a few bringing over $200,000. I hope I am able to see one of them in person some day.

Aaron said...

Elvgren was the second best Pin-up artist in my opinion just slightly behind George Petty (Vargas was basically a Petty clone).

Tomas de Zarate said...

another link, more about elven's models

The Sports Cartoonist said...

I hate to see any of my favorite, inspirational artist using reference so close. I mean I do see differences, but it's so close to the photo and I guess it's ok, but to me it's just copying a photo and calling it reference. It's all debatable, but when I see stuff like this I feel almost cheated. Also as an Artist myself I feel defeated and wonder why I don't just go line for line, detail for detail and stop the struggle of creating from my mind.

In the end I gotta remain true to my feeling and that is, I gotta try to push reference further than what it is and change it enough that it no longer looks like the original reference. I see alot of current successful artist copy photos detail for detail and call it a painting. My opinion says that's not a painting, it's just a copy of a photo.

There's especially one current sports "artist" that gets on my nerves, as he copies copyrighted photos of old sports images then calls them his, even tho he gives zero credit to the original photographer.

Using reference to closely is why I lean more to cartoonist styles anyway and those masters that pushed reality way off the boards. Artist like Al Hirschfeld, Miguel Covarrubias, Ernie Barnes and others that push the boundaries that it no longer looks like anything we ever seen.

Still gotta respect the older artist like Girl Evgren no matter his process. It just frusterated me at times.

James Gurney said...

Sports Cartoonist-- I hear you, but the thing to keep in mind is that Elvgren, Rockwell, Coby, and all the greats started with an idea in their head that they sketched purely from imagination, then they arranged to have the reference shot to push their own idea down the road. Because they all started with their own idea and created their own refs, they have 100% of my respect. Working from charcoal studies from models posing, as Pyle, Wyeth, Lovell, Leyendecker, and Cornwell did, is also totally valid and produces great results. It's a rare illustrator or cartoonist who can produce great results without reference at all, but there are examples (Moebius, Jack Davis, Kim Jung Gi, Gruger, Frazetta, Matania, etc...) but even those guys were keen observers. The final painting justifies the process.