Friday, June 24, 2011

Harry Beckhoff: Starting Small

When I'm out having a cup of coffee I usually grab four or five extra paper napkins to make use of while I'm sipping. Sometimes I'm making lists of potential blog topics or, if I already have a subject in mind, I might outline or list items I could include.

Other times, I might sketch car designs or poses nearby people assume. And I've found that fine-point ball point pens work just fine on napkins provided there is more than one napkin layer (some cushioning helps prevent the pen from gouging through the paper).

These drawing are small, seldom exceeding two inches (5 cm) in the longest direction. And because they're small, I can't get hung up with details -- a good practice that counteracts tendencies to make images more "complete" than they should be.

Harry Beckhoff (1901-1979) was an illustrator who worked in thumbnail sketch mode. He didn't make large, sweeping-gesture sketches and then boil them down to production size. Instead, he had his thumbnails enlarged and then traced them as the basis for the final job.

Leif Peng mentions this unconventional practice in this post about Beckhoff. Another take on him is here. Otherwise, there seems to little information about him on the Internet.

I find Beckhoff's work charming, and hope you too will like the following examples.


This is the only thumbnail I could discover on the Web, but it gives us a pretty good idea of what Beckhoff was up to.

Nearly everything he did had a touch of humor. This was supported by his technique which was a blend of cartooning and straight illustration.

I don't have titles for most of the examples, so I'll invent my own where I can. This one I call "Snow-Fallen."

Here Beckhoff presents an interest dramatic situation: fill in the blanks.

Perhaps this is half of a spread, but it still works as an illustration.

This is a 1950 illustration for a Collier's story titled "The Third Level." It shows New York's Grand Central Terminal with one fellow 40 years out of synch with the other fashions. Might have been an interesting story.

Here's a early 1940s vintage illustration I'll call "Running Late."


Siolo Thompson said...

I have not heard of Harry Beckhoff before (I know, I know, I'm sure I should have). The first four examples in your post are great. I love his economic line use and limited color. Thanks for giving me a new illustrator to study.

Donald Pittenger said...

Siolo -- Glad that you appreciate Beckhoff. A guy in synch with his times. Well, the 30s and 40s, anyway.