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April 06, 2009

Otis Shepard, Who Didn't Gum Things Up

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When I was in high school and college I'd sometimes go to the Seattle Public Library and thumb through copies of the Art Directors Club Annuals from the 1930s, a truly interesting era for illustration and graphic design. Most of the artists and layout designers were classically trained (at least compared to today's standards) and trying to cope with pressures such as the effect of the Great Depression on advertising, the advent of Modernism in painting and graphic design, as well as the usual work atmosphere of their trade. I remain fond of what they accomplished and find the award-winning material in the 1930s annuals generally more satisfying than most of today's print advertising winners in current annuals.

One artist whose work I enjoyed was Otis Shepard (1893 or 94 - 1969). Shepard is best known for his posters for Wrigley's chewing gum; he served as a Wrigley art director and artist 1932-1963. Other than the information above, I could find little about him on the Internet aside from here. Apparently Shepard was from California and it isn't clear whether he was able to work from there or spent time at Wrigley's Chicago headquarters.

Below are examples of Shepard's work.




These are examples of billboards and other poster work for Wrigley chewing gum.

The Wrigley family owned Santa Catalina Island (off the California coast south of Los Angeles), so Shepard got to do some promotion work for it when not doing chewing gum advertising.

Oh, and the Wrigleys also owned the Chicago Cubs baseball team, so Shepard produced work for it as well, including this program cover and some other items shown on the link above.

Shepard had a nice, clean style of airbrushing as well as a good feeling for simple, poster-style design. It's happy, not dark or edgy, and I think that's a nice thing.



posted by Donald at April 6, 2009


The key to the "happiness" or mildness of these images is the elimination of half-tones. The change from one plane to another is simply indicated by a marked change from a light to a medium (rarely a dark) tone. But with almost no transitional half-tones. No modeling. It flattens out the image. My guess is that it is the flattening that makes these images easeful to the viewer. That and their (seemingly) effortless execution.

Manet was the granddaddy of the technique.

Of course the ball had to be modeled because it's a round surface. But it's an idealized modeling: no scuff marks, no raised welts at the stitching to break the perfect roundness.

Posted by: ricpic on April 6, 2009 7:37 PM

I'm Otis Shepard's granddaughter and I would be happy to give you a bit more background info if you like.


Posted by: Sheppy on April 7, 2009 12:16 AM

Sheppy -- Why don't you provide the information in another comment so that all of us can read it. As someone who took commercial art in college but never practiced the trade, I'm always interested in the careers of those who persisted and did well.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on April 7, 2009 1:33 AM

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