Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fred Ludekens on Illustration: "a business of being right to the right people at the right time"

Fred Ludekens was both a renowned illustrator and co-creative director of one of the world's most prominent ad agencies, FCB. He was also a founding faculty member of the Famous Artists School. In the following interview excerpt from the Summer 1964 issue of Famous Artists Magazine Ludekens shares his expertise - advice and learned opinion that would benefit both illustrators and art directors today every bit as much as it was intended to benefit creatives nearly 50 years ago...

Q: What trends have most influenced illustration in the last thirty years?

A: I believe contemporary painting has had influence in illustration, especially recently. The technique of modern art is contagious and so it gets mixed up with business. I think the illustrator's effort now is to be "different." I question the understanding of the public of this differentness. There is nothing wrong with modern art. But it is personal and quite restricted in audience. It seems to me the illustrator's job in business and publishing is to reach the public clearly.

Q: How would you describe the meshing of the artist's talent and the client's needs when an advertising illustration is being created?

A: The mechanics are such in advertising that the responsibilities are in the hands of copy and art people. Often the best is not gotten and the illustrator's contribution is so controlled it is not all that it should be. In my opinion, the ideal way is for art director, copy writer and illustrator to have a serious discussion as to how the picture problem can best be solved before the advertisement has been decided and sketched by an art director and submitted to a client. Unfortunately for the illustrator, the procedure is usually the reverse of this.

Q: You feel that the person who makes the picture would make more of a contribution if he were included in the early planning sessions?

A: Yes, I do. But this is very difficult because of the structural setup of the advertising business. There is no provision in the structure for "outside" people to get in at the planning and concept stage and make the contribution many of them could make. a few years ago, I was fortunate in being able to do this for a large advertiser with positive success, but it took a real all-out effort.

Q: What, in your opinion, are the three most important qualities a successful illustrator must have?

A: You must know three things...

How to draw - if you cannot draw you restrict what you can say.

What to draw - if you do not know what to draw you won't say anything.

Who the Audience is - if you don't consider who you're talking to and what they understand, you won't reach them.

The whole idea is to "talk to people visually."

Q: What essential training must the illustrator bring to the jobs?

A: Assuming he has talent, likes to draw and paint, the most important thing for him to have is a knowledge of the business he is in. Most illustrators know very little about business or writing. They just like to make pictures. This isn't enough. They should know what the picture is specifically required to do and why. They must be interested in the why and make an all-out effort to make the picture work. This is what they are being paid to do.

Q: If an illustrator develops a distinct style, how does this help (and sometimes hurt) his career?

A: A distinct style is all right if you have a fluid and alert mind. Pictures all ought to solve communication problems in a certain way. If the style becomes more important than the problem solution, the illustrator obviously has failed. Often a distinct style is only a fad of differentness and is junked when a "fresh new style" comes along. To be concerned only with manner is superficial. I do not believe this is a business of being different. It is a business of being right to the right people at the right time.

Continued tomorrow.

* Charlie Allen (who knew Fred Ludekens from his days at P&H Studios) previously shared his thoughts and some excellent Fred Ludekens scans in this post. Charlie celebrates his 1st Anniversary of bringing us the CAWs once each week on his always excellent Charlie Allen's Blog -- be sure to check it out!

* My Fred Ludekens Flickr set

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