"All of the (male) artists were pleasant, many were helpful, but none ever asked me to join them for lunch... because I was a woman. It wasn’t until twenty years later that I got a little angry about it… in retrospect."
- Barbara Bradley, speaking about her early days working in a New York City commercial art studio

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Barbara Bradley (1927 - 2008)

Barbara Bradley was always of invaluable assistance when she offered her insight on my other mid-century illustration blog, Today's Inspiration. In February 2008 I asked Barbara to share with us the details of her career, but with a nuanced focus on what it was like for her, as a woman, to compete in a male dominated profession.

I am grateful for her revealing commentary, which will help all of us better appreciate the nature of the commercial art business - and really, of society - as it was half a century ago... and how things may (or may not) have changed since those days.
- LP

Like many illustrators (but not ALL!), I began by drawing early and often. My first drawings that were kept were drawn when I was about three. The subject was Mae West, a pattern that, interesting enough, remains true to this day: the love of drawing people in storytelling clothing, full of expressions in face and body. I'm still grateful to a long forgotten kindergarten teacher who called my parents to school to discuss my drawing ability. She warned them never to allow a teacher to try to change my left-handedness or the direction of my paper. Neither parent was artistic so they didn't understand where it came from. But they were all for it. They were proud and also supportive but they were nervous because “artist” meant “fine artist”. Commercial art was OK to them. Fortunately for me, almost all of the artists whose work I admired were illustrators. Though I didn’t know even know the term “illustrator”, I knew I wanted be one of them.

My favorite comic strip artists as a child were Hal Foster (Prince Valiant) and Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates). Even thought the subjects were men, my most influential artist was probably Lyle Justis, whose illustrated “Treasure island” (below) I repeatedly read (and subconsciously studied). These artists all drew great legs, something I’ve loved to draw for years. Thank you, Hal, Milton, and Lyle. It wasn’t until college years that I saw the work of such illustrator giants as NC Wyeth and Arthur Rackham.

Movies were a constant source of inspiration for me. Using my favorite Mongol colored pencils, I filled drawing tablets with Maid Marions, Marie Antoinettes, and contemporary ultra-fashionable ladies. I never drew from life but somehow from observation or figuring gestures out. (Drawing from one’s imagination usually really means drawing from what has been observed and mentally recorded.)

Colored pencils were a great medium for this kid. Once I discovered the trick of “shading” one side of a shape cooler and one warmer, I could win any coloring contest in sight. I then tried the same with watercolors. It was one of these contests that won me a short-term Saturday class scholarship at a San Francisco Art School, run by a clever female Commercial Artist. I learned a great deal about technique there; about illustration board, transferring pencil drawings, watercolors, rubber cement, and the wonderfulness of a Winsor-Newton series 7 sable brush. We worked from photographs only... no drawing from live models. (That had to wait ‘til Art Center) I stayed on there during my high school years; I was exposed to very few magazines at home so it was there that I learned of Jon Whitcomb. He, with his starry-eyed glittery shiny haired women, immediately became my God. However, in a short while, his place on the pedestal was taken over by Al Parker, who has held it ever since.

I learned so much from that little place but my memories are marred by realizing how unethical were some of her practices. Still in high school, I not only taught Saturday classes for younger kids but also ghost-illustrated work for her. The parents whose kids were taught by another kid were cheated. I did one storewide Santa Claus Christmas campaign for her for a chain shoe store. She gave me an $18.75 War Bond, I got a thrill from seeing my work in print, but, in retrospect, it was still exploitation.

The person from those days to whom I am still most grateful was my high school yearbook advisor, physics teacher Robert Barry. He took his personal time to seek advice for me, the clueless yearbook art editor, on where to get appropriate training for illustration. These pieces above and below were done for a circus-themed high school yearbook. I was about 16. What a commentary on the times, as well as how much I had to learn.

From the engraver who did the yearbook plates, Mr. Barry learned of Patterson and Hall, the best professional art studio in San Francisco. He arranged for me to have a review of my work by Mr. Patterson and even took me to the appointment himself. There, I learned of Art Center in Pasadena, the place from which I eventually did go on for my art education. Thank you, wherever you are, Mr. Barry.

However, three years of study at UC Berkeley preceded Art Center. One class in the Art Department, during which the idea of illustration was so scorned, was enough. From then on I took other courses, so many of which provided valuable background for an illustrator: Art History; History of Architecture, of Interiors, of Costume; History, Lit, Ancient Civilizations. I met my first husband at Cal where we worked on providing posters for Cal Clubs. He did the lettering and layout and I did the cute sexy gals.

We married, moved to LA to Art Center. I planned to attend only one summer, and then finish at UCLA. One semester of Art got me hooked and I stayed. In fact, though a few years ago The Academy awarded me an honorary doctorate, I never did receive a BA. Seven years of college and no BA. Hah! Though Art Center didn’t award degrees in those days, it was just what I needed. It was full of WW II vets, all of whom were serious about making up time. The competition was fierce. It was there that we heard Norman Rockwell speak, also speaking so admiringly of Al Parker.

I seldom felt any prejudice at Art Center about being a woman. Again, in retrospect, one or two of the teachers may not have taken me as seriously as they did the men, but that may have been because they related more to male-oriented subjects than to the subjects I leaned toward. One tended to get more respect by drawing well. Good drawing is often more impressive than good layout, ideas, etc, even to fellow art students, who should have known better. I laugh remembering one of my favorite perches for drawing, sitting atop two drawing benches, on piled over the other. I loved a high eye level. Now I couldn’t even climb to board them.

(The Band piece below was an AC portfolio piece.)

When it came time to leave, there was no doubt in our minds that we had to go to New York. Some grads thought about going to Chicago. I now realize what great work was coming out of Chicago. However, at the time, working in Chicago seemed comparable to becoming a nurse instead of a doctor.

About portfolios… I think too many young graduates expect that their portfolios should consist of the best work they have done at Art College. I believe that it should represent the best that they can do by they time that they graduate. Often, a piece done earlier that has good ideas, research, etc, and is short on execution or whatever, can be redone in a comparatively short amount of time. In addition, one should take a hard look at a portfolio, looking for weaknesses or areas that do not represented what one can do. We spent about two solid months reworking our portfolios. It was worth it. We got the jobs we wanted, where we wanted them. Our portfolios got us to the places where we could keep on learning.

A Young Lady Among the Good Ol' Boys

About my days at Coopers. A background. My first husband, Herbert Briggs, and I met at UC, Berkeley, married and went to Art Center together.

After graduation, we polished our portfolios, took them on a train, and went to the Big Apple. He got a job at Young & Rubicam and I at Cooper’s. We’d postponed starting a family because I thought it would be easier to learn to be an illustrator before learning to be a mother than the reverse. A decision I never regretted.

Because you asked before, I’ll start by discussing being a woman artist.

There were two women artists at Cooper's during my years there. Both were quite established when I arrived and both were married to Cooper artists, Lorraine Fox to Bernie d'Andrea and Sheila Beckett to J. Frederick Smith who HAD been at Coopers.

Sheila seldom came to the studio but I knew Lorraine fairly well. I had a regular account at that time, Calling All Girls (formerly Polly Pigtails, a magazine for teenage girls) which featured the same girl and her dog on each month's cover.

Bernie and Lorraine's dachsund, Heidi, was one of my best models. Though Lorraine's style was very different from mine, I learned a great deal from her about texture and color. I followed the work of other women artists, but did not know any. They were either freelance or at other studios and had been established for quite awhile.

I'd been at Cooper's for a while when I started Polly so it wasn't any more thrilling than many other jobs. Except that it was my account. For several years, I'd been doing crossword puzzle covers. They were silly, but always featured a pretty girl and crossword pattern somewhere. I had a free hand in the ideas and jobs. Though technically editorial, a salesman got that account for me and it was lumped into my job, which, for the first few years, was salary.

Had I been less shy, had I not been married with an outside life of my own, and had I known how to drink, I might have socialized more and known more artists outside of Cooper’s. I knew nothing about [other art studios]. Many of us were in a lovely cocoon at Cooper's, especially those of us who weren't one of the 'good ol' boys', who went out on long lunches. I never went to the Society of Illustrators, where there must have been more communication with outside artists. As it was, both in New York, and even the early days in San Francisco, I did not socialize with any artists outside of Bob Jones.

At first, I got a lot of "perky women" jobs, aprons and hair flying, faces beaming with joy at the wonderfulness of their stoves and laundry soap. Children gradually became a specialty, probably because not too many artists did them very well.

I think my biggest thrill came from my first full page color ad, and that was shortly after I began. It was for Woolworth's. They were a client for quite a while. They were very fussy and had tight layouts that required a lot of finagling to fit the figures in. Woolworth work always went back for changes. I thought that was the norm. When I did a Life Saver's ad and there were no changes, I was not only shocked, I learned a lesson. I was the same artist, doing the same quality of work and they loved the work and wanted no change. Art Directors at small accounts have to prove their worth and let us know who's boss. Art Directors on major accounts didn't need that.

After a few years at Cooper’s, our first daughter Lauchlin was born, right at the New York Hospital. We moved to Westchester County, rented, bought 9 acres of land in Pound ridge, had plans made for a beautiful house, and were in the process of choosing a contractor. When we began talking about 2nd mortgages before we’d even broken ground, we stopped and thought. Did we really want to spend the rest of our lives on the East Coast? NO.

So Herb got a transfer, and back to the Bay Area we came. We found an almost completed house in the Berkeley Hills, overlooking a regional Park, and moved in. A second daughter, Glennis, was born. My marriage broke up but I eventually remarried. I added the name Bradley to mine and we added a son, Andrew, to our family. Just like his sisters, he often modelled for me, especially for the Hawaiian Kids. My children are grown with their own families, and I’m still here!

"Queen of the Perkies and Cutes"

"Some of my early freelance work was for the Merrill Publishing Company (coloring book covers, paper doll books, etc.)" wrote Barbara in a recent email message. A cache of Barbara's original art for the publisher recently came to light, so I asked her if she would elaborate on the specifics of working for this client. Since the Merrill work occurred around the time when Barbara was still at the Cooper studio in New York - and continued for a period after her move to the West Coast - consider today's post a sort of "sidebar" to Barbara's narrative of her career. I think you'll agree that its a fascinating opportunity to better understand the nuts and bolts of one illustrator's life at that time and place.

As I remember, these covers paid $300. I may have received more for the Heavenly Blue Wedding. It was the year's major project and had many more figures. I was either offered more or bargained for more.

I wouldn't have done those for $300.

Remember that $300 went a lot further in the early 50's. My starting salary at Cooper's was $50 a week. Cooper raised that to $100 within a month. Starting salary for an Art Director at Y & R in 1951 was $65 a week. You could get a lunch at Schraft's for 50 cents so $65 seemed like a fortune to someone just out of Art School. Oh yes, I did the clothes for a few of my paper doll They were pure fun. No models to book..just fantasy. They paid $150 a page. (Remind me to send you a page from the only one I have.)

As for time... I'm guessing that I was given several weeks but that that involved about three to four total days of work. However, Marion Merrill wanted to see pencils so the work was always staggered with Cooper work at the same time. When I was salaried, I did freelance projects before and after regular hours and weekends. When I changed to commissioned work, I could fit them in as needed. Each usually took part of a day for preliminary sketches for myself, part of another for a model shoot and another to work them together in a composition, get any needed reference, and do the pencil. The painting usually took no more than a day. I also remember that the first deadline I ever missed was for one of the Merrill jobs. Lauchlin, my first child, arrived ten days before expected. Marion Merrill was quite understanding.

I didn't usually receive a layout but I vaguely recall that Marion indicated how many figures she wanted. She also always wanted to see pencils before proceeding with the finish. (In the Merrill Pub Archives are decades worth of pencil drawings). She probably suggested the content scene such as cake cutting. I might have had some kind of layout for "Pals to paint and Color", with the close-up of the little boy. I'd completely forgotten that one but recognized it when I saw it again. I painted the brush under the palettes so that must have been in a layout. I came up with most of the ideas, and definitely the gestures,compositions, and little businesses. The titles and samples of the book contents were usually enough to set the scene. I remember being pleased with incorporating the title of "Read, Write, and Count" in little slates and having the doll hold one.

Your statement that these fascinate you is amazing to me. Perhaps it's because the world of ideal childhood they represent almost seems like something from the 19th century rather than the 20th. No pants on girls. Bows everywhere. Every dress starched. I was queen of the perkies and the cutes. And note that every child was Caucasian.

Illustrators took that for granted then. Incidentally, the first time I was asked by an Art Director to show ethnic diversity was in the 70's. That was for a poster for Shasta soft drinks.

"No Girls Allowed"

Because I want for us to understand as much as possible about the dynamics of the illustration business back in those days, and how it has changed (and how perhaps it has not), I felt it would be a missed opportunity if I didn't ask Barbara how she got along as a woman in a male dominated profession. I am grateful for her candid response, so matter-of-fact in tone, revealing some uncomfortable realities for those who did not "fit the mold" of the times: - LP

All of the Cooper artists were pleasant, many were helpful, but none ever asked me to join them for lunch. An interesting aside…a few years ago Jim Bama and I were talking about a similar thing. (Though we’d been completely out of touch, I had written him to congratulate him on being elected to the Illustrator’s hall of Fame and we got to talking.) Jim had not been one of the boys because he was Jewish. I, because I was a woman. He accepted this then and so did I. It wasn’t until twenty years later that I got a little angry about it…in retrospect.

In San Francisco, it was the same. As there was not yet a Society of Illustrators here, I joined the local Advertisers Club, to which most illustrators belonged. I was well known in my field but I felt so out of it at my first meeting, that I didn’t attend another. Even when the SF Society of Illustrators was formed and I knew everyone by reputation, I didn’t become a charter member when asked. Years later I did. By that time, some of my students had become members and I’d hired many members to become teachers for me, I still hadn’t joined. It was silly of me. By the time I joined, out of embarrassment, there were many women in the Society and there no longer seemed to be a 'Good Ol’Boys' atmosphere.

As for prejudice about work..I never felt any. When it came to my portfolio, it spoke for itself. I had a great rep who looked out for me. I had read about women in the 1920’s who were not paid as well as men but I’d never had that problem.

The 70's, the 80's... and the Academy

The continuing drop off in illustration in the 60’s, 70, and 80’s certainly affected me, along with most illustrators. On returning to the Bay Area, I had a great rep, Dick Danner, who kept me busy into the early 60’s, when he, seeing the handwriting on the wall, quit the business entirely. I continued to get some work through long-term clients and their recommendations. However, it really slipped in the mid 60’s. That was OK as I was getting more involved at the Academy. In the late 60’s, I began doing a lot of Point-of-purchase work, mostly for Dole, C & H, Del Monte. (The Hawaiian Kids live on, still bringing me welcome royalties.) As so much of this work featured children, it was a natural for me. It continued through the 70’s.

As food companies began cutting back on POP and I on neat jobs, the proportions between illustration and the Academy also changed. Developing the Department took a greater proportion than free-lance. Though I did take on a lot of profitable, enjoyable, but unglamourous work during the 80’s, much of it illustrating food and animals for packaging, I no longer sought work.

After retiring as director of Illustration in 1992, though continuing as advisor and teaching one class, there was time to do what I wanted to do. My problem was that, after having assignments and deadlines for so many years, I had a difficult time working on my own. I did a few paintings that are acceptable and playing with watercolors brought me the Amish plate job. I spent several years doing designs for Willitts Designs Native American Children. These combined my love of drawing with that of research. My greatest pleasure from art was in sketching on location, many sketches of which are in my book.

Teaching post-retirement drawing workshops,(at Disney, Pixar, and one in England), made me realize that even some professional artists wanted to know more about what I had been teaching for years. That decided me to begin my book about drawing illustrative figures. For over three years, that book was my baby, I thought of it as a legacy. I did over 900 drawings and a worked out copy and drawings for every page. Only 600 were used which was OK but copy changes and the book design were less fortunate. I was not happy. Just about then, my son’s daughter was born. The book became a book and I was content for it to merely have value.

About women in art

I’ve been wanting to say more about women with careers. Women are now respected as income earners. A married woman can buy a car without her husband countersigning a loan application. Years ago she couldn’t, even if her income were greater. She can buy disability insurance without a limitation of 10 years for permanent disability, determined on the premise that women are more inclined to malinger.

The worst enemy to a woman’s career is her nature. We women want it all, the career and the family. it is so difficult to rise to the very top and hands-on raise a family. We are so often torn between our female instincts and our professional work. We want to do it all for and with our families, and as well as possible. I liked to cook, sewed curtains and clothes for my daughters, and had to make every birthday cake special (volcano, banjo, merry-go-round, nightgown for a pajama party, Darth Vader, whatever). Time off should be in doing samples but I’d too often find another project.

Still, in my day, illustration, being a stay-at-home career, was a great field for a woman. Most women are great jugglers. I would put a wash on the board, then a wash in the machine. Today, because most illustration jobs are full time in the entertainment industry, not free lance traditional. Illustrating children’s books is an exception, but they are seldom as lucrative as advertising was.

I once read a comment by a celebrated British physician that she likened herself to a three–legged milking stool. She needed all three legs to keep in balance. Added to my family and illustration, teaching became my third leg. In my case, however, the length of the legs changes as outside circumstances changed. When I illustrated more than I taught that was fine. But, when I began teaching as much as I illustrated, I was frustrated. As directing the Illustration Department took more time, the proportions reversed and that was fine, too. In later years, I often felt guilty and sometimes regretful, thinking that I had owed it to my ability to do more productive with my art than I had been. But, when I saw how many Academy illustrator alumni (so many of whom are now my friends and many co-teachers), became successful, making their livings doing what they loved to do, I came to believe that teaching was perhaps what I was really born to do. The humbling comments on the surprise Blog begun last year (see link below), took care of any remaining doubts or regrets.

Barbara Bradley received the 2007 Outstanding Educator in the Arts Award from the Society of Illustrators. She was the retired Director of Illustration at the Academy of Art University at the time of writing this account of her career. The Academy has created a blog, thankyoubarbarabradley.com in her honor. She was also the subject of an in-depth interview and related article by Neil Shapiro in the 21st issue of Illustration magazine. Barbara Bradley died on May 2, 2008

My Barbara Bradley Flickr set.


  1. Wonderful stuff, Leif! Thanks so much for starting this blog.

  2. Hi Leif,
    Terrific Blog and a great idea, you enjoy keeping mighty busy.

  3. Great retrospective on Barbara Bradley (and great blog all around).

    It's interesting to read about her speaking of the low-ball prices offered for a full color cover illustration in the 1950's - "$300.00"

    i.e. "As I remember, these covers paid $300. I may have received more for the Heavenly Blue Wedding. It was the year's major project and had many more figures. I was either offered more or bargained for more.

    I wouldn't have done those for $300."

    and her needing to negotiate higher fees . How far the illustration market has fallen today! If adjusted for inflation , $300 in 1955 dollars is equivalent to $2,388.00 dollars in 2010. And yet to offer just one example among many I could name I have a brilliant (female) illustrator friend who is getting offered work to do full-color covers for $300 to $500 in 2010 dollars (sometimes even lower , like $175 for a full color illustration !) , so the rates being offered today are WAY below what was being offered in the 1950's . Where will our great illustrators come from if there is no motivation to be in the business with those kind of low rates being offered ?

  4. I bought "Drawing People" immediately after reading this post and seeing the fantastic illustrations. It just arrived :) Perhaps mrs. Bradley was not entirely happy with it, but I have found it a very vauable resource. Thank you for this blog and the inspiration!

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  7. Thanks for this. Barbara was a fantastic teacher and provided excellent council to her many students. Nearly a decade after her passing, she is still revered and missed by those who had the good fortune to study under her tutelage.

    1. I had the pleasure of having Barbara Bradley as a teacher at the S.F. Academy of Art. She was tough and let us all know that you have to be serious and work iron focused to be successful with art/illustration.

  8. Excited to see illustration now taken seriously as a true art form, many of these folks are just now coming to light. Esp. interesting to see the female perspective in this male dominated industry.

  9. Wow. I bought Drawing People a few months ago and it has helped me more than any other book or youtube video. She was such an amazing artist! I only now find out that she has passed :( Rest in peace

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  11. Thank you for creating this blog! I had the pleasure of being one of Barbaras many art students, in the mid 80's. She taught us to be demanding of our own skills so that we can be successful.