Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jack Leynnwood--Illustrator

My Favorite Jack Leynnwood Stories

Those of you who know who Jack Leynnwood was...or more fortunate yet, those who had Jack as a teacher--know that he was not only a major force in 20th-century illustration, but also a great teacher and a genuine "character." For the uninitiated, let me just say Jack was responsible for hundreds of illustrations, mostly "hardware" based, for everything from plastic model kits to movie posters. If you ever drooled over those fantastic Revell plane and ship boxtop paintings--that was Jack.
Though Jack left a permanent imprint on my life, I didn't know him well. I only had one unforgettable class with him. I leave it to another, his student and long time friend, Michael Boss, to give Jack and his career the full treatment they deserve. Don't miss it.
I was fortunate to take Jack Leynwood's marker-comp class at Art Center College of Design. Jack had been teaching at Art Center for a long time. The school began as a commercial art college in downtown Los Angeles. By the time I blew into town--the late 1970s--it had moved into spacious new quarters in the Pasadena hills. The new school had plenty of seats to fill. From a small, fiercely competitive illustration school, Art Center expanded to include photography, industrial design, and fine art. During the years I roomed with full-time Art Center students I heard many tales of practical old-timers butting heads with the new "artsy" teachers.
Jack was one of the old-timers. He wore the badge with pride. Short, feisty, and bursting with energy, Jack reacted to critics of his "old-time" methods by giving them more of the same and then some. He knew he was too good and too tough to be "eased out" like other oldsters had been. So he made a point of tweaking artistic noses at every opportunity.

Jack protested loudly that he was only in the field for the money. Some facts bear this out. He never saved originals ("Aaaah, I didn't need 'em."). He filled his spare time with his "true" loves (horses, flying, music, collecting Jaguar cars). But Jack's zeal to do the best possible work and his dedication to teaching his students to do the same... these suggest that his tough-guy routine was at least partly an act. And Jack had acting in him. One of the delights of having a class with Jack is that he always gave great theater.
Jack was short and wiry. He looked like an ex-bantamweight boxer, which someone told me he had been. Whether lecturing or conversing, he spoke with a rat-a-tat cadence that reminded one of classic James Cagney. He liked to tell stories. Friends who know me have heard these stories a thousand times, but I offer them to the rest of you give you a tiny hint of Jack's style.

Hardly a class went by without Jack reminding us he wasn't teaching Art. "This is illustration," he'd say, "this isn't Art." One memorable evening a student's comment set him off. He rattled off his reply in a single breath, talking so fast it sounded like a single word.

"We're not talking Art here! I do Illustration, I don't do Art! You wanna do Art, you wanna go to Otis [a rival art school] and sit in the lotus position and throw bananas at the canvas and call it Art, go on! Go right ahead! I'll be laughin' all the way ta the bank! Laughin' all the way ta the bank!"

Jack had been in World War II. After the war he had used the GI Bill to pay for art school. That was the beginning of his illustration career. Once he reminisced about one of his first jobs. "It was for a nudist magazine, you know? I was an airbrush artist. A photo retoucher. Now back in those days there were things you couldn't show in a magazine, you know. If you sent 'em through the mail you could get thrown in jail. That's what they hired me for. They'd give me a stack of photos of naked people and I'd airbrush 'em out. That's how I spent every day, day in and day out--airbrushin' 'em out, airbrushin' em out.

"Then one day the boss comes in and he says, 'Hey, Jack! The postal regulations have changed! We can show that stuff now!'

"'Oh, God,' I says, 'That means I'm out of a job.'

"'No, you're not!" the boss says. 'Make 'em bigger, Jack! Make 'em bigger!'"
Jack's attitudes of decorum were old-fashioned as well. If a class were all men, he was one of the boys, boisterous and raunchy (though always in an old-school way. Jack was neither a heavy-duty cusser nor a dirty talker). Let a woman join the class and Jack became a perfect gentleman, soft-spoken and deferential. He wouldn't dream of speaking to a girl as openly as he would to a guy.

One of my classmates was a quiet, attractive Korean girl. Stereotypically demure, she didn't talk much and giggled self-consciously when she did. One night Jack had brought in a nude male model so we could practice idealizing the figure. Jack wandered around the room critiquing us. He stopped by the Korean girl and nodded.

"That's pretty good, that's pretty good," he said, "but you've got the legs too short. The illustration figure is usually divided in half at the--" he made a vague gesture in the direction of the model--"at the, uh, the package."

The girl looked blankly up at Jack.


"Yeah, uh, you know, the upper body and the lower body are about the same length in an llustration figure, and the dividing line is, uh, the package." None of us had ever seen Jack sweat. We were loving this.

"But what do you mean, the package?" the girl asked, still confused.

This time Jack made some very vague motions about his own midsection. "The, the package, you know...the middle of the--"

"Oh!" The girl's eyes lit up and she exclaimed at the top of her lungs,. "I get it! You mean his COCK!"

Jack turned ten shades of red and for once was speechless. "Uh, yeah, yeah," he mumbled, "yeah, that's it."
Jack was famous not only for the quality of his paintings, but the speed with which he painted them. Once I did a storyboard for a movie-poster agency. A gorgeous little gouache on the wall caught my eye. It depicted an aircraft carrier at sea. I immediately recognized it as Jack's work. The art director told me Jack had done the painting for a presentation (I think it was for The Philadelphia Experiment, but I no longer remember). The art director liked it so much he asked Jack if he could keep it and Jack of course said yes. The a.d. told me a great story.

Jack had painted the finished poster art for Airport '77. In the movie a jetliner crashes and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The poster showed the airplane balanced at the lip of an underwater crevasse. The client loved the painting, but suggested that Jack add more rocks and rubble around the nose to emphasize the force with which the plane had hit the ground. Jack agreed and took the painting home to retouch.

First thing next morning Jack was back with the corrected painting. The client went off delighted. But the art director was puzzled, for he'd noticed several other small details had changed too. He took Jack aside. "Jack," he said, "that isn't the same painting you brought in yesterday, is it?"

"Naah," Jack shrugged. "Puttin' that stuff in was too much trouble. I just painted the thing over."

That's Jack Leynnwood in a nutshell.


Peter Bangs said...

Just followed Ger's link to you and really glad I did. Lots of fabulous posts I'm trawling back through. One question though. Are you the same Ron Harris who was responsible for the excellent Crash Ryan Epic put out more years ago than I care to remember? Crash was one of my favourite books from Epic, along with the first few issues of Coyote they're the only books I've kept from that period and I had a heck of a lot.

Smurfswacker said...

That was me, all right. I'm pleased that you liked Crash. It was my favorite project.

Over the years it's always been a pleasant surprise to discover someone remembers the series. I always wondered who the other two dozen people were (besides my parents) who bought it!

Peter Bangs said...

It's a shame it's not back out there in some form, even POD, because it's a really great book. Few people were doing that movie serial style adventure during those grim and gritty days as the misrepresented spirit of alan Moore took over the world. Crash stands alongside Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, from a couple of years later, and Rocketeer as my stand out books from that period of my life. I remember them in way's I don't recall Watchmen and it's ilk. I don't know if you're inclined towards talking about yourself, but what are you doing these days? I see your profile says comic artist and sign writer.

Paul Chadwick said...

Great reminiscence of Jack. Captured him perfectly. I wish I had some stories to add, but I fear I had him so young and was so self-absorbed I didn't retain much, except for his excellent painting instruction.

I remember learning ten times as much about color from Jack than from the academic, theory-heavy "Color" class taught by Judy Crook.

Love that Airport '77 poster, which tells the story of the movie so felicitously.

Paul Chadwick said...

By the way, I think the poster was for The Final Countdown.

One can forgive you for mixing up time-travel aircraft-carrier movies made about the same time!

Anonymous said...

Some of your information needs correction! The original Art Center was located in Hollywood,Calif @ 3rd and Highland. Mike Boss never went or attended Art Center ,My Father was his Mentor. Jack Leynnwood's only child,Laura Lee Leynnwood.

Smurfswacker said...

Thank you, Anon, for the corrections.

jl Sellers said...

I remember Jack. What a character. A James Cagney with a brush. One time, I was doing a pathetic job at an illustration in the marker class Figure Illustration/storyboards, and he said,"Honey, you could always take up gardening..." Another time, he did a demo for gouache illustration of a green sports car - then he put a huge scratch in it with the back of the paintbrush. He then showed us how easy it is to correct over gouache and make it good as new. All this (including shiny chrome all over) in about a half hour or less.

Smurfswacker said...

To jl sellers...

Wish I could have taken Jack's gouache class, but not being a full time student I wasn't eligible. However in our marker class he showed us one of his famous gouache demos. He painted a bright red square, then mixed up a blob of what appeared to be a bright green. When he brushed the green onto the red square, instead of clashing it fit in beautifully. Incredible mastery of hue and value.

Unknown said...

I came here to read your post on Thomas Kinkade, and then happened upon this one about Jack Leynwood. The two dovetail nicely for me. I was in Jack's Illustrative Perspective class at the same time Tom was, back when I was rooming with him and Paul Chadwick at the Golden Palm, 1979. For one of the assignments, Tom took a reference snapshot of me holding a book. I didn't see the resulting painting until it was propped up on the critique rail in class. There I was, skinny, geeky me, holding a Bible and being menaced by a tough guy on a motorcycle. Jack studied the picture for a few moments, made some complimentary comments, and then added about the skinny guy, "He looks like a faggot." Luckily, Tom wasn't great at likenesses, and nobody recognized me as the model. But I was pretty pissed at Tom.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, for these vivid recollections. I had Jack for just one seminar, where he painted a demo of a red sports car in gouache. I remember spellbound as he mixed a bright light violet for the top planes of the hood. He explained that the sky color mixed with the red to make violet. He also mixed a little yellow with the white for the brightest highlights to make them brighter. He made all such things look so easy and eminently practical.

Bryan Dechter said...

Nice to find this blog here. Jack was my "backyard" neighbor growing up. I was lucky enough to visit him over our rear yard fence a number of times and spend time in his studio...seeing any number of his paintings in progress. He was very generous with advice (I am an artist too, and was just emerging back then as an adolescent), and he often gave me full boxes of the Revell models for which he painted the covers...what a childhood treat!

Smurfswacker said...

Bryan, what a treat it must have been to have Jack as a neighbor, especially as a developing artist. Jack Leynnwood was one of those rare artists who was passionate about sharing his knowledge with others.

Marc Ericksen said...

Jack was my favorite instructor at the old Art center College on 3rd st. He had a wonderful ability to communicate, and one of only a few who had the cojones to pull off a painting right in front of the students from scratch. He would bring in an image drawn down on a piece of cold press (look it up you techies) and demonstrate a given rendering technique: Skies, waves, clouds, metal, vegetation, chrome, figures, ships, aircraft, vehicles, spacecraft, you name it, all in gouache, right in class. He had a particular affinity for veterans, and in the early 70s there were quite a few of us.

I used what he taught me in a free lance career that has spanned 40 years, and fueled thousands of drawings and pieces of illustration, and nearly a hundred video game covers, and like Jack was, I'm still at it.

I wish I could thank him again now, but those of us who knew and respected him made clear to his face what he had given us. Ben Bensen, John Mattos, and I still crack ourselves up with our stories about Jack.

He was one of a kind. I miss him.

Anonymous said...

How he touched my life...


Dan Çooper said...

One additional comment... Going back to ACCD a few years later to visit (after graduating) and do a few night classes, I had the pleasure of spending a term or so... I had a chance to hear Jack uncensored: absolute nirvana.
Jack could throw the F-bombs with the best of them. Always careful though, only opened it up in a select audience. Great times!!