Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Fans of Frank: Owen Claxton (Part One)

Frank Bellamy: Radio Times (3 July 1976 - 9 July 1976)
Doctor Who - The Planet of Evil

I received the following email recently from Owen Claxton -[before you search, much of his work is NSFW - links below]:

Firstly, I would like to thank and congratulate you on your work for the The Art of Frank Bellamy book. I’ve been a Bellamy fan ever since I bought the Timeview book as a young Doctor Who fan in the mid 80’s, I found that book so inspiring that I took up pen and ink drawing as a hobby. I persevered at drawing, went to art college and am now an artist myself. The recent book has given me much more info about the man, his methods, times he worked in as well as introducing me to more of his marvellous drawings, for which I’m very grateful!
He then went on to ask me about Bellamy's technique - I responded with part of the Skinn/Gibbons interview and, with hope in my heart, asked him if he'd like to write a piece for the blog on how Bellamy inspired him! So I present (in two parts) another in the series "Fans of Frank": Owen Claxton.

OWEN CLAXTON: When I started school it was quickly discovered that I was mildly dyslexic and I found learning to read and write a frustrating chore. Consequently I tended to cast aside books for comics where I could follow the story by ‘reading’ the pictures and picking up the odd word or phrase that I understood from the captions. I found it much easier to learn to read from these bite sized captions with a pictorial context than from the dense pages of text in books. Eventually I managed to progress onto the books from my favourite TV show of the time 'Doctor Who'. I also loved to draw, maybe when I grew up I could draw comics and book covers too.

Like all young Doctor Who fans of the late 70’s and early 80’s I avidly scoured bookshops for the Target "Doctor Who" novels, on the lookout for another missing title to add to my ever growing collection. The appeal of these books wasn’t just the fantastic adventures within but the sumptuous artwork on the covers. The often brooding portraits of The Doctors surrounded by monstrous alien creatures always stood out amongst the Enid Blyton’s, CS Lewis, Black Beauty and other seemingly more wholesome fare of the children’s section.

 

Andrew Skilleter cover

Jeff Cummins cover

I quickly began to recognise the styles of the various artists responsible for these alluring images, occasionally the artist would get a credit so I could put a name to a style. Jeff Cummins and Andrew Skilleter, were two that stuck in my memory, but my early favourite was Chris Achilléos. Achilléos employed a dot stipple black ink technique that fascinated me, as a typical child with no patience I couldn’t begin to imagine how long it would take to build up all those individual dots to make such accurate images. In short it seemed like magic. Reading in Doctor Who Monthly I discovered that Chris Achilléos had been asked to draw in a similar style of another artist, Frank Bellamy, I was intrigued- Frank who?

Radio Times 13-19 May 1972

In those pre-internet days there was no easy way to discover information about anything remotely ‘niche’, so I resigned myself to never hearing anymore about this mystery artist or ever seeing any of his work. Then again in DWM I read that the aforementioned Andrew Skilleter had set up a company called Who Dares to promote his striking airbrush work, also he planned to publish two art books of work by his own illustration heroes, Frank Bellamy and Frank Hampson. I was excited by this prospect, not only would I get to see Bellamy’s work but there was another mysterious Frank out there to discover too!

Frank Bellamy's son David wrote Timeview in 1985

I was 12 when Who Dares published Timeview- The Complete Doctor Who Illustrations of Frank Bellamy in 1985, I pestered my mum to order me a copy as soon as it came out. It did not disappoint. I was blown away by the artwork and pored over every one trying to work out what it was that made them so compelling. I discarded my pencils for a dip pen and tried to copy many of them. I scoured the excellent text by Frank’s son David for any clue as to how his father approached his work. There wasn’t much for a young learner to grab onto- ‘never used process white’, ‘never did meticulous tracings’, ‘liked to get the essence of a photograph’ but I took them to heart and decided that’s what I must do to improve my own drawings. I have Frank to thank for getting into good habits early on!

Chris Achilléos cover

The two major works in the book are of course the 'Day of the Daleks' Radio Times cover and the colour illustration for 'Terror of the Zygons'. Frank’s depiction of the Skarasen Loch Ness Monster on the latter is just fabulous. Although it is extremely unfair to compare it with Achilléos’ version for the Target cover of the same story, I find it unavoidable. Achilléos does wonders breathing life into what was a very clumsy and unconvincing TV model but it doesn’t look as if it could give you more than nasty bite on the leg. In contrast Frank’s Skarasen twists and rears ready to lunge down and tear its prey apart with huge razor sharp claws that break out from the background frame. In the original story this fearsome cyborg was supposed to be able to sink oil rigs, here that terrifying potential seems credible. Again it’s wrong to compare two artists, Frank has obviously been given a much freer hand by RT than Achilléos has by Target books, the latter has been told to stay as true to the images from the TV programme as possible and has discussed before his frustrations that such constraints caused him. I don’t remember the creature on TV having claws but their addition by Frank is a masterstroke. Gratitude must go to the RT art director [David Driver ~Norman] for allowing Frank a free hand. 

Radio Times (30 August 1975 - 5 September 75)
Doctor Who - Terror of the Zygons

The beast is upon us, there seems no way of getting out of its way, with bloodlust in its eye and drool swishing from its mouth as it looms out of the darkness, The Doctor looks genuinely alarmed! Frank is a master of composition, here you have the Zygon spaceship blasting off upwards, the monster pushing forwards and to the right while in top right Tom Baker fixes us with his wide eyes, yet the whole drawing hangs together. The two rectangles of the background give stability but the way their edges are broken or sometimes left out stops them having a dulling effect and the jagged lightning border, the abstract shapes to Tom’s right and the zig-zagging wave of sea foam help to move the eye around the drawing and keep the two halves in harmony. 

Radio Times (1-7 January 1972)
Doctor Who - Day of the Daleks

On the 'Day of the Daleks' cover he brilliantly uses negative space on the left to break up the square format, the strong diagonal of the speech bubble along with the foreground sucker arm breaking the right border adds dynamism and the circle, which is not drawn but painted in by colour alone, provides focus. The composition is so perfect you don’t notice that Jon Pertwee doesn’t appear to have any ears. [He had a lot of hair covering them -~Norman] Also, note the Dalek eye at the centre of the circle, a lesser artist such as myself would be tempted to add more detail to that which would be the wrong thing to do as it would pull focus and send The Doctor into the background. One of the hardest things for an artist to learn is economy- when to make a mark or to leave it out- it’s something that can only really come from experience and a lot of drawing. Beauty comes from simplicity. The more simply something can be drawn, the more beautiful it will be. There are never any unnecessary lines or marks in Frank’s work, if something like a Dalek eye can be convincingly suggested by just a black oval and a bit of flat cream colour then why add anything more? Something you see a lot of in his work is a half defined face, the other half being lost in shadow or bleached out by bright light or even cropped off entirely. This is economy, you only need half a face to read the expression and if you’ve got tight deadlines you don’t have time to render everything so you must decide what’s the simplest way to get the story across dramatically and effectively. Less is more, it allows the viewer to fill in the gaps with his or her own imagination.

With Frank as inspiration and the guidance of very supportive art teachers at school I managed to get myself into Edinburgh College of Art in 1991. By the early 90’s, 'Doctor Who' had finished, Target books were running out of stories to publish and no one at art school knew who Frank Bellamy was. Having come to the painful conclusion that no one, particularly girls, was impressed by my extensive knowledge of creaky old TV shows and now long dead illustrators, I decided to put such childish interests behind me and try to become a cultured and sophisticated grown up. At art college I immersed myself in the work of the old masters and various 'Art-isms' and I swapped drawing Daleks for nude models. There are many smug artists that will tell you the hardest thing to draw is the human figure, that’s because they’ve never tried drawing a Dalek! I was lucky enough to win a Scottish Education Trust Visual Arts award as a student (the Trust set up by the late Sir Sean Connery with the money he made from Bond) and since graduating I have worked as a freelance artist and occasional illustrator. I have never forgotten my debt to Frank Bellamy and Chris Achilléos for inspiring a young lad to start taking drawing pictures seriously.

 
Thanks so much Owen - good to know Frank is still inspiring people! 
Owen kindly sent me two images which are pertinent as they depict Doctor Who subjects:
 
Dalek Life Drawing Class - Owen Claxton

 
David Tennant as Doctor Who
by Owen Claxton
 
And I love his clock face Doctor Who but obviously 12 might limit the imagination! An alternative to Lee Sullivan's ever expanding "Usual Suspects"!
 
Twelve Doctors by Owen Claxton

LINKS 

 
[Part Two to follow shortly]

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Home Notes revisited

 

Home Notes 8 February 1953

Home Notes was a magazine for which Frank Bellamy produced 'head shots', i.e. a man and a woman engaged in conversation or giving each other the cold shoulder. In an interview he stated that after getting connected with International Artists - the agency who represented him - he got "two love story illustrations for Home Notes, a woman's magazine," as well as commissions for other magazines such as Boy's Own Paper, Lilliput and Men Only.

I thought I'd found all Bellamy's art in this magazine but as usual, one can never close down a search! Shaqui, a fellow researcher, recently tripped over another Home Notes illustration and took a quick picture for me. I'll upload a better one should I ever own one, but until then....

I've added the details to the Checklist:

HOME NOTES (8 February 1952)
"Night of Terror" by Mary James

  • p.27 B&W page illustration "'Shivering with fright, I knew someone was behind me. I screamed...'". - see Article
    Home Notes 8 February 1953