It's not unusual for children to enjoy drawing and painting, but only a few continue doing so into adulthood. I'm one of those. I knew I was an artist of some kind and never seriously considered another field. I drew daily as a child. My father would bring home reams of discarded documents from his job at the post office. The backs of the pages were blank, and became my first supply of drawing paper.
I drew from the Sunday comics, magazines and, when we got one, the TV. Local stations had various kid's programs in the 1950's, and one of those featured an artist, Chuck Wagon, who gave drawing lessons on the program. Kids would send in their drawings for prizes and he would show them on television. I was thrilled to win a model kit after many submissions. I also remember drawing Woody Woodpecker with lessons by Walter Lantz on his national TV program.
In my early teens I studied drawing, painting, and design on my own through an Art Instruction Schools correspondence course.There wasn't much in the way of art instruction in public schools in Tucson until my junior year in high school. When finally allowed in, all free school time was spent in the art classrooms.
My first actual job, age15, was at a busy sign shop part-time a few afternoons through the week and all day Saturday. I was too young to drive, so was taxied there and back by family. I had an interest in lettering instilled by Art Instruction Schools lessons and had been practicing with speedball pens and lettering brushes. In high school, I made signs for the school and for classmates running for student council. In the shop, however, I was able to observe some real masters of the art and realized I had a long way to go.
Graduation from Palo Verde High School came in June, 1965, with the Viet Nam War escalating, the threat of the military draft looming and the country in cultural turmoil.
One of my High School art teachers, George Davies, was very supportive and we continued our association after I graduated. He and Jay, his wife, started a small business near the university called Ski Haus. He asked me to help with graphics and work in the store.
SkiHaus logo, 1965. The lettering is freehand calligraphy
The letters for the original store sign were cut from wood, painted then glued and nailed in place.
Ballpoint pen sketch of co-worker Vance Campbell who later bought Ski Haus from George.
The University of Arizona
In the Fall of 1965, I enrolled at the University of Arizona as a studio art major. Along with traditional painting, drawing and printmaking, I included many classes in illustration and graphic design. My job at Ski Haus and my parent's offer to let me continue to live with them plus a small scholarship grant that paid for my last semester provided the support needed to complete the program and I graduated with a BFA degree in June, 1969.
( Note: The cost of higher education was dramatically less then, even taking inflation into account. Check out this letter from the university detailing expenses.)
My first book illustration project, "The Book of John" was written and self-published by Hugh Holub, a law student and campus gadfly. I also did some work for his satirical campus newspaper, "The Frumious Bandersnatch", a wildly popular underground publication that lampooned campus life. He revived the Bandersnatch as an internet-based news parody 30 years later.
This "Story Box" was a team project that included Dave Castelan, Maureen Murray, Gayle Lelo and others. The story was housed in and began with the first box . More of the story was revealed as each nested box was pulled out.
These are two examples of cartoons done for the Daily Wildcat, the student-run campus newspaper.
This ballerina painting was awarded first place in a student art show in 1967. I also received a first place award for drawing in another student show in 1968, but that piece, a charcoal portrait of a model, was lost.
This was my solution for an invitation assignment for a design class. The card in the coffin reads: "You are cordially invited to fill a recent vacancy in the armed forces of the United States of America". It turned out to be prescient.
I began illustrating professionally for local clients while still an undergraduate. Free-lance projects were challenging but taught more about real-world work than class assignments. They also generated income—a great motivator.
Illustrations for a TV spot for KIKX radio, 1969
Booklet design and illustration for Ski Haus, 1969
After graduation, one of my professors, Jerald Bishop, offered a teaching position in the UofA fine arts summer session. The university created the session for high school students who might be interested in enrolling in the art college. It was only 2 weeks, very informal, great fun and instilled an interest in teaching that I pursued later.
Also that summer, another professor, Carl Heldt, called to say that Bell South was seeking student work to include in a calendar featuring young artists in the western region. He said they needed something right away. I stayed up all night to create an illustration titled "Little Boy Lost". It was placed in the January slot of the 1970 Bell South calendar and was my first piece published outside the local market.
Professor Heldt was also responsible for my first full-time job as an artist. He told me that the advertising department of Levy's, then a major department store in Tucson, was seeking new talent. He recommended me to the manager of the department, U. C."Charlie" Drayer, a diminutive, energetic, chain-smoking man who seemed to be in perpetual motion. My interview went well and I was hired. I began work the next week, in July of 1969, at $2/hour.
Charlie took me under his wing and made it no secret that he wanted to groom me for a bigger role in the department. I began work as the store was preparing for a transition to it's spacious new building then nearing completion in another part of El Con Mall. I was thrust into a very busy period of heavy advertising and change for Levy's and it's advertising department. In my brief time there I met and learned to work with artists and copywriters under the pressure of two daily deadlines. They were a tightly-knit, lively, funny, productive crew and they quickly embraced me as a co-worker and friend. I learned so very much from them all, especially the art director, Bill Browne, a master furniture illustrator and layout artist.
Soon after the move to the new store, Anthony Monaco, a recent transplant from New Jersey, was hired as an advertising artist. We became very good friends and, along with Patricia and Sunny, his wife and young daughter, formed a bond that has lasted to this day.
Another new face, Barbara Atwood, appeared in the department at that time. Hired through a connection with her father and Mr. Levy, she was in transition and undecided about a life direction. Her infectious friendliness and self-effacing humor were a good fit for the department. I was surprised to discover that a friend of mine from painting classes at school, Mary Ellen Dickerson (now Mary Ellen Purdy), was her sister.
It's difficult to express how important and rich the Levy's experience was for me. Unfortunately, no examples of my work survived. It included illustrations of furniture, fashions, appliances, toys and other art as needed for the various departments in the store. I enjoyed my role and felt that there was a future for me there.
Career expectations came to an abrupt end when I received a draft notice in November. Later that month my coworkers and friends threw an incredible farewell party for me at an exotic home in the foothills of Tucson that many remember to this day. On December 3, 1969, I was bussed to Phoenix for the first stages of processing into the US Army.