Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jack Leynnwood's "Pearl Diver"...

Just another Jack specialty!
Through my long time association with the Society of Illustrators/ Los Angeles ( SILA for the abbreviated version ), I occasionally receive inquiries about past members. I have been pretty successful tracking down illustrators no one can find, corroborate stories of members no one believes and follow up on paintings that need an owner. Maybe, it is the Sherlock Holmes in me that takes on such silly tasks. A couple of months ago, an Art Center grad had a piece of art that he felt needed a permanent home and went to SILA to find someone who would be a taker. He wasn't asking for any compensation. He just wanted to do what was right to the artwork.

I received an email from our intrepid administrator at SILA, Alyce Heath, that this artist had an illustration for many years and was looking for a good home for it. She apparently sent emails to all members old enough to remember the creator's name, Jack Leynnwood.

I don't know who else responded, but I did... almost immediately. Twenty-four hours later, I receive an email from an illustrator, Ken Croff, currently living in Idaho and, attached to his informative letter, was a marker comp of one of Jack Leynnwood's "Pearl Divers".

 I was blown away.

In the email, Ken wrote to me, "This piece was given to me by Jack after I had asked him for some sort of scrap to be able to study.  That's Jack for you.  I really hate to part with it but it is time to share.  Since it was a gift from him I can't make myself sell it.  I will keep you informed and again thank you for your response."

In my earlier email, I responded by sending Ken some articles in my blogs about the relationship I had at Art Center with Jack along with some of the photos I had of Jack's work at Northrup. Through a couple more of emails, I suggested he call Jack's wife, JoAnne and see if the family was interested in the comp. I suspect he had already spoken to other Art Center grads in his search to find the best home for the marker comp. He probably got in touch with aviation artist, Mike Machat. Mike was close friends with Jack up to his death in 1999 and has an excellent article about Jack at: Mike probably suggested contacting Jack's daughter, Laura Lee.

A few weeks into the holidays, Ken informed me that he was sending the comp back to the family. "I have received an email from Jack's daughter, Laura Lee, and she has told me she would like the comp.  Thanks for your help and I'm sorry I got your attention on this and then had to disappoint you, but didn't know I could contact the family.  Thanks again."

I replied,"I have no problem with Laura Lee's request. The comp is where it should be... with the family!"

Seeing this in-class marker comp up close, it is incredible to notice that it actually was rendered in marker and probably demoed it in class.  I've made my living rendering, at times quite realistically, with Ad and Design Markers, but my technique was totally different than what Jack was teaching at school. When you work in those markers on opaque paper, you have to have command of all of your values because there is no erasing once a wrong stroke is made. In a closer look, the skin textures tell me Jack was probably using the back side of a Bienfang Admaster pad, but it could just as easily have been demonstrated on loose leaf paper. It would make little difference to him, I suspect.

I mentioned to Ken that the real beauty of this comp, besides the clean use of graphic shapes within the layout, was the nonchalance of the paper and the medium. It defines Jack so well. That is, to him, it was no big deal. ( He's probably snickering his ass off at my attempt to describe the simplistic beauty of this comp! Notice the very distinctive way he renders seagulls. It always was a giveaway to Jack's illustrations... that is if you needed one! )

He always tried to keep it simple. It was like he was saying it's not the tools you use as much as it is the person using them. No art pencil is gonna make you a better artist than a good, old yellow No.2 . Jack certainly knew what to do with that No. 2! His disdain for art pencils in favor of a simple Ticonderoga No. 2 was a classic and reminded me of my father's disdain for ball players blaming the errors made during a game on your glove. Jack and my father both came from the same stock and had much in common.

Maybe, for me, Jack was my California replacement for a father. Maybe it was that way for many of his students!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Yes, l Was A Football Player Too...

The other day I was having breakfast at the local restaurant in Folsom. It was one of those times where everyone is leaving just as you arrive, but it was okay because I really just wanted to sit and be quiet, eating my Greek omelet and perusing the newspaper for the latest political gaffe.

When I'm alone, close to the kitchen door, I always roll up a used napkin and attempt a three point shot from where I sit. I don't do it when all my friends, or my wife, are present. Therese thinks it is in poor taste and she's embarrassed no matter whether I make the shot or not. I don't shoot from three point range when my friends are present because they all give me a hard time about missing such a easy lay up.

But on this late morning Tuesday, there were only a few patrons. Many of the folks arrive at Gus's in shifts for their early morning coffee and eggs, grits, bacon and toast. One group consists of plow boys and cowboys, who would either arrive before or after their chores. Then, around seven o'clock or so, you'd get the commuters waiting to get their coffee mugs filled and hang around a bit for some local gossip.

The retired and church going folks arrive around eight or eight thirty depending on how long the sermon is. They are the most laid back, loyal and noisiest bunch of the morning. I surmise it is so noisy because no one is wearing their hearing aids when the mass sermon is being given and they forget to turn them back on once they arrive at the restaurant. But now, it was mid morning, and it was the calm before the lunch storm.

Basketball was never a game that I could play well even though my grandfather built me and my other brother a basketball goal from wood. It was built to the regulation height with a 3/4 inch plywood backboard bolted to two 1" by 6" pressured treated posts which were cemented deep into the ground. It also came with a metal rim and nylon netting. It was very cool having also a concreted area which my grandfather built in our backyard that measured about twenty by thirty feet.

It made little difference.

I couldn't shoot, dribble in traffic or even dribble alone. Dunking had not been created yet and it was just as well because I couldn't jump very high either. At an early age, I was the team mascot for my dad's company team, including football, baseball and basketball. The game never did appeal to me like baseball and football did, even though to this day, I still try my hand at sinking a twenty footer.

So, I took a napkin that I used as a coaster for my glass of cold water, rolled it up, looked around for the waitress's interference and then took a long, high shot hoping to make a clean "swish." Sometimes, I can get lucky and go two for three in the amount of time it takes at breakfast to require three or four napkins. On this day, I only used one and naturally, I missed the bucket. So, with a sigh, I got up from the table to pick up the wayward basketball, and as I came up from doing so, I tried a "turn around fade" shot, which again, is just off the edge of the basket.

Okay, I thought to myself, 0 for 2. It is just not my day. I'll just slam this puppy into the basket, "Kobe style" and be done with it. With a half-hearted effort, just in case someone is looking, I nonchalantly turn and drop the napkin into the basket.

I missed it again... from practically right over the basket. Dejectedly, I pick up the "ball with it's own agenda" and hand delivered it deep into what is now just a garbage can. Walking back to my table, shrugging off a pitiful performance, I hear a voice say rather sympathetically, " Football player, eh?"

"Yeh, says the now bearded, stocky man sporting a camo LSU baseball cap. " I was a football player at one time and can't play basketball worth a damn either!"

We commiserated and enjoyed a pretty good chuckle at each others' expense... One linebacker to another!

Copyright 2012/ Ben Bensen III