Sunday, 21 May 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Part One: 1920s - 1950s by David Jackson

FRANK BELLAMY - design and technique
Part One: 1920s-1950s

By David Jackson

[Part One]
[Part Two]
[Part Three]

Imagine some counter-factual alternative reality in which Frank Bellamy had not been born a hundred years ago... Not only would nobody have ever drawn the way he did, no one would have ever known it was even possible to draw like that.

It became his self-appointed self-taught task to find out what the Frank Bellamy 'look' looked like. Which was fortunate for us all because he was the only one capable of doing so...


In the BBC Edition programme 30th November 1973, presenter Barry Askew asked Frank:
BA: "What kind of comics did you grow up on, as a boy?"
FB: "Well the first was Chips, or Rainbow and then gradually getting some of the supplements from the United States, which contained Tarzan and that type of thing. The American comic as you saw in the film, was non-existent in this country. The comics were for little types, eight year olds, five and six year olds."
BA: "Things like Beano and Dandy? I read that one."
FB: "Yes. I'm afraid they didn't affect me at all, I didn't used to read those sort of things."

The Rainbow from a month before Bellamy's birth
14 April 1917 No.166 (Courtesy of Alan Notton's ComicsUK site)
See a larger version of the one 2 weeks later on Lew Stringer's site

Illustrated Chips from when Bellamy was almost 5 years old

No doubt his very first attempts at mark-making with a pencil registered a special place in his heart and mind and those schoolboy artistic efforts would have been interesting to see.

In the early development of a young artist's life it is not at the time possible to know the right course to take, in terms of subject matter or technique, let alone the right contacts to make which will, by absolute chance, be the ones which lead to success.
Frank's early years in illustration and advertising included various try-outs of materials, techniques and subject-matter.
Some of the early 'false starts', which would not lead towards the work for which he would become famous, were portfolio sample pieces to take around the publishers and commercial art studios.

They demonstrated a specialist ability to precisely render hard-edged subjects such as mechanical objects, graphics and lettering, requiring not only an exact sense of design but also a degree of unwavering pen control which is beyond many.

1935, circa. 'South for Sunshine - 'SOUTHERN RAILWAY' poster for an RAAS competition, original artwork in poster paint on hardboard, signed FRANK A. BELLAMY , and with Kettering home address on the reverse (42'' x 27'') as a competition entry, it is believed that this design was not used by the SR. It recently went for an auction hammer price of £200. 

"South for Sunshine" Southern railway poster

Were it not signed, as a whole the work isn't easily identifiable in either materials or technique as the artist's, but all that being said, the confident certainty of the lettering and design graphics is exactly in line with so many other early FB pieces. His hard-edge graphics technique development was ahead of the early figure-work elements until they caught up.

Olivia de Havilland at the El Mirador, Palm Springs

Also, interestingly, if possibly coincidentally, an early photo-shoot print of Olivia de Havilland, was found by chance on the web. The 'SOUTHERN RAILWAY' is not a direct 'copy' of this as such but FB could well have had opportunity to have seen the photograph before producing this early poster. A certain coincidence would be, decades later, FB drawing Olivia de Havilland for Radio Times.

Radio Times 29 May 1971 - 4 June1971, p.12

Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood  (1938)

It would very much fit with the description in Fantasy Advertiser Vol.3 No.50 of producing cinema front-of-house graphics for Blamire's, his local studio in Kettering. This was a job he'd been peremptorily turned down for until the manager, who also ran an evening art class, saw him drawing and then offered him the job!

FB: "So I started the next day, sweeping up and making tea. I thought I could draw but found I couldn't, seeing all the studio artists work. I spent six years working there - from 16 until I was 22 and called up for the army. During the latter part of my stay at this studio we did an enormous amount of work for local cinemas - point-of-sale advertising poster, coming-next-week lettering with bags of punch and a bit of illustration. Then I used to produce two display boards for the Regal cinema. One display was 17ft long, 6ft high and 5ft deep. I had to paint the background, the figures, the action of whatever the film was about, and so on, on Essex board which was cut out so you had standing cut-out figures of things like Angels with Dirty Faces starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, and films of that time."
1930s Regal Cinema, Kettering

FA: "I should imagine your experience in making movie billboards stood you in good stead for the 'splash' frames in your 'Churchill' strip."

FB: "Yes. I did my own display lettering. I like to do my own lettering wherever possible."

The Wizard 18 July 1925
Artist unknown - but lots of thrilling adventures for an 8 year old!

A subsequent family story was that one day FB had gone back to Blamire's, unexpectedly, having forgotten something or some such, only to find his boss was copying his work...

FA: "What did you enjoy reading as a boy?"
FB: "My reading material had been Wizard, Rover and the pulps. In fact, after being turned down for that first job I went straight across the road to Woolworths and bought a western pulp. All the pulps I read had to be either western or G-Men. So, with that sort of diet, I suppose I was never cut-out to draw girlish sort of strips."
[If we assume Bellamy is right about when he bought a western pulp (and he would have been 16) it might be a UK reprint of an American pulp such as All-Star Western and Frontier Magazine. Well, I had to illustrate it! ~Norman]

All Star Western and Frontier magazine April 1933
Artist Unknown
Scan from the excellent Phil Stephenson-Payne's site

Frank Bellamy was very much finding his way in his early days in terms of technique, subject, materials and everything, some of which, while not finding a usual place as part of 'the day job', would be used for one-offs, character studies, drawing from life and the like.

FB: "But I always have enjoyed drawing - pure and simple drawing, whatever the medium. I don't mind if it's pastels, pencil or ink. It doesn't matter to me as long as it's actually drawing."

Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph,
Wednesday Feb 15 1939, p4
by Frank Bellamy -See article here

1939. The 'ARP Report' by Lance-Corporal Bellamy published in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph 15 February consisted of some extremely basic scribbled doodles (instructive for the less-than-no-effort-whatsoever put into them..!) illuminating an allegedly 'factual' printed text 'Report' worthy of 'Dad's Army'..!




"Last Train"? by Frank Bellamy

1946. An early pastel depicts a soldier waiting in a railway station. Unpublished as far as is known. It might have been called "Last Train" which appears in the Kettering & District Art Society Exhibition Catalogue of 25 May -15 June 1946.
1946. Pencil sketches of his son David as a baby, 21 February.

David Bellamy as a baby (dated 21 February 1946)
 1946-1949. FB's black and white possibly brush-line drawing ink technique used in sporting cartoons for Northampton Evening Telegraph's Football Telegraph (aka 'The Pink Un') of the humorous variety in a style used by 'political' newspaper cartoonists of that era - signed FRANK A. BELLAMY.

Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph (Sat 10 April 1948) in Football Telegraph)
"Smacked in the eye by poppies & posh on Monday, Wisbech & brush fought a duel today" [cropped image]

Frank's son David has said that FB used to bring home little 'How-To-Draw' books.
A potential candidate for such a little book (7"x4½") possibly read by FB, based solely on my own reading of it, (with no actual confirmation whatsoever that Frank himself ever in fact set eyes on it), is:  
Teach Yourself to Draw 1942

Teach Yourself to Draw by Ronald Smith, English Universities Press Ltd was first published in 1942 (republished in 1954). [The publishers of Teach Yourself Books also include 'Perspective' and 'Commercial Art' in the series].

The following quotes certain pages (page numbers given) which I could imagine FB possibly noting with interest:

  • p24. "You should also begin collecting together, quite soon, any other natural or fashioned objects, which, because of their form or texture interest you - shells, fir cones - bones, jars, even stones of unusual shape [...] You will see that I have made no mention here of flat "copies" [...] It is essential to see for oneself at first hand; and in future You should draw from real solid things, and these alone".
Bellamy uses props - see also Alan Davis' site

  • p71. Dot stipple tones [possibly by use of a special purpose manufactured raised surface board - made for printing such tones] with an effect similar to that which FB created by hand.
  • p82. "Only draw and keep on drawing"[Also FB's own advice in a letter to another fan... And Frank's own experience];
  • p128. "the most significant and useful folds should be selected for inclusion in your drawing, and the rest ignored". [See Alan Davis' excellent feature on photo references Bellamy used where Davis shows photos in the artwork for Sunday Times - and Nancy bellamy with here back to the artists]
[For more on this Sunday Times article see the full article - Norman]

  • p129. ['dot stipple' effect used for a head.]
  • p130. "You might, indeed, be wise to concentrate for a time on self portraiture - drawing yourself in a mirror. [...] ...Rembrandt...dressing up and disguising himself for the purpose".

FA: "Do you find that you start living the part? When the character snarls, as you draw it, you snarl too?"

FB: "Oh, yes. In fact, some artists keep mirrors at hand and when they want to convey an expression of mood, they put on the expression, look in the mirror and copy their own face."

FA: "Which explains why so many artists often draw themselves into their work."

FB: "That's right. It's not intentional. They just draw the expression on their own face."

  • p140. "Drawing from memory. [...] You must understand the function of anything you draw. If any of its parts are movable you should see how they move and to what purpose. You must be able to make a drawing that looks as though it will work. [...] your drawing should be so self-explanatory that a craftsman might, with no other guide, construct the object represented."

This brings to mind, an FB apology to Dez for drawing a cowboy's belt buckle - on a birthday card - that Frank had, too late, realised 'wouldn't function' [Read more here - Norman]

  • p146. "The most useful photographs are those you take yourself." [Again take a look at Alan Davis' feature]

FB: "And you can only go so far with memory drawing. After that limit, you are just causing yourself a lot of hard work that's absolutely unnecessary."

  • p147. "I advised you, at the end of Chapter 1, not to use flat copies. This chapter [use of a reference file] may seem to contradict that, so it must be emphasised that references are not to be copied, or even, necessarily, adapted, but used rather as a source of information and as a stimulus to memory."

In other words, 'informational' reference would be the specific details of the appearance of some object, which it is necessary to depict accurately, but from another, or in fact any other, angle or viewpoint. As distinct from 'compositional' reference which is directly copied from source into a picture.

References which are recognisably copied freehand, traced, or even adapted, are the 'route one' short-cut in terms of time-saving methods of supplementing whatever natural ability and learning an artist may have. However, there are as many pitfalls of the 'little knowledge can be a dangerous thing' variety; hence the cautions issued about such.

  • p169. "..in a pen and ink drawing light and shade are built up with black lines dots. ticks and scribbles [...] Use of as smooth and white and hard a drawing surface as possible also makes for definition and contrast [...] Altering a drawing by sticking paper patches over mistakes is another dangerous habit..." [The solution to which being CS10 line board].

  • p174. "An illustration is a picture having a bearing upon the text of a book, but it must also be - and this is really more important - a pattern which decorates the page and harmonises with adjacent type. Too great a sense of depth and solidity in an illustration may well destroy rather than decorate the surface of a page. It is better to produce something which is frankly flat and decorative; a pattern of shapes..".

1948-1953. FB describes in Fantasy Advertiser his visit to the capital and interest in seeing a full-blown A1 studio, Norfolk Studios, St Brides Lane, London, resulting in being offered a job and relocating.

FA: "So you came down to London with all these big ideas about Fleet Street art studios. Did they come up to your expectations?"

FB: "Oh, yes. But they went beyond that. They frightened me to death, really. But I'm sure I learned more in six months in a London studio working with specialists than I could have in six years in an art school. I'm convinced of it."

FA: "Do you think your work might have suffered if you'd had any art training?"
FB: "Yes. I think it could have done. I'd have had a lot of my own style and technique taught out of me. I feel the training I gave myself was more use than an academic teaching, that gives you bits of everything - irrespective of what your own specialty may be."
Then he was contacted by International Artists a leading art agency and agreed to being represented for freelance work.

Things were starting to look a lot more interesting... But not just yet..!

TO BE CONTINUED...

~-~-~-~-~-~-~-

All quotations above (except where indicated) are from the most exhaustive Bellamy interview in Fantasy Advertiser Vol.3 No.50 in which Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons asked the questions

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