I didn’t discover JC Leyendecker’s work until my late 20’s so it is probably not accurate to describe him as an artist that had a great deal of influence on the forming my style. However, he has become one of my favorite all time artist’s and is someone I look at quite frequently. In fact, I now collect his Saturday Evening Post covers (when I can find them) as I believe them to be the best work of his career. I even prefer his work over Norman Rockwell. Why you ask? Well, let me tell you!
Leyendecker’s work is so stylized that I often refer to him as a comic book artist before there were comic books. He did use models to draw and paint from but he clearly went farther in the drawing stage than just representing the model as he or she was. I know almost all classic illustrators (including Rockwell) redrew their photographic reference to either exaggerate the model’s expression or pose or to alter the look of the face (see Gil Elvgren) but none of them did it to the extreme that Leyendecker did. Take away the paint and Leyendeckers people are down right “cartoony” (I mean that in a positive way) looking and yet completely believable. To quote inker Gary Martin, his work has “appeal”. A likeable charming quality that is hard to put your finger on. You either have it or you don’t and Leyendecker’s work has it.
The two covers I am posting are excellent examples of this. The Grandma making the pie for her grandson is one of my all time favorites. Mainly because the Grandma reminds me of my grandmother but both characters are so charming and yet so unique and stylized in their execution. The bold angular folds in the clothing and the large chunky shapes of hair are really masterful. Look at the face on the Uncle Sam cover. No one could possibly have that much character in their face. It is just a great combination of believable reality coupled with stylized imagination. Check out his Santa Claus covers for more great examples of this (unfortunately I haven’t found any for sale yet). Leyendecker was a true pioneer of illustration and deserves a lot more recognition than he gets.