She never takes milk in her tea

April 25, 2010

Anyone can guess, based on my profession, that some of my favorite films and television shows are Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. They probably wouldn’t guess that my favorite film is actually an adaptation of the stage play by the same name, Shirley Valentine starring Pauline Collins (who was actually in several Doctor Who episodes- classic and modern). It’s a wonderful story about a middle aged housewife who goes to Greece with a friend and then decides not to go home.

I love the film for several reasons– it’s well acted, has multiple classic lines, gives sage advice on talking to women (which has served me well over the years), and never fails to entertain- even on multiple viewings. The reason it qualifies for a post though is the addition of art work in the opening credits. I saw the film during my years in art school, a time when every image I saw was scrutinized. What I found impressive was how the images flashed up on the screen weren’t just background fodder, rather they set the mood for the rest of the cinematic experience.

Opening title

The images, in their monochromatic scheme, had a loose and expressive feel. The lines weren’t overly controlled, they had a freedom to them, yet captured the reality they intended to convey. There was something akin to architectural renderings in them, but they never ignored the organic nature of the subject matter. They had a slice of life appeal of a Norman Rockwell, or more so with the classic advertising illustrations from the post war 50s. Only these depicted the dull toil of everyday life, and not the push button ease advertising art often sold.

The new Swiffer shines as it sweeps!

I thought that the sketchy quality of the line, and overall gestural nature of the style, couldn’t possibly lend itself to capturing the likeness of the lead actress, but it proved me wrong.

There's a woman three doors down- talks to her microwave

It was only years later when it appeared on tape (yes, tape) that I was able to find out who the illustrator was that drew the images, and is now the subject of this post.
Eric Stemp

In an effort to find out more about the artist I tracked down a book called “Sketching with Eric Stemp”. It was one in a series of books that shared the insights of process from selected artists. The book includes a short autobiography by Eric Stemp, where he talks about his service in World War II, how he was discovered as an artist, and was then prompted to pursue a career in fashion illustration. It’s easily available on ebay for a small price, and for those who appreciate these sort of  “behind the scenes” folios, I recommend it.

Form follows fashion

The images collected in the book are amazing, with line work that flows about the page never stopping, breaking, or losing it’s momentum. Stemp’s lack of fear astounds me, and despite the casual nature of his marks, he never relinquishes his command over the pencil. This is apparent most in the drawings of his daughters.

Stemp’s work has the ability to convey the reality around us without getting weighed down by rendering, or feeling labored upon. He captures his subjects the way Sargent did in his watercolors, with broad, quick strokes. When Stemp adds color, it’s treated in the same manner as his line work, with sweeping, large blots of pigment. Nothing prevents us from accepting this natural addition to the images, on the contrary they feel like the simple progression to the next level.

I found Eric Stemp’s work to be inspiring, and one can only hope to have the same level of spontaneity in their own work; something Stemp was a master of. Although little seems to be available about him personally, the small glimpse the book gives into his process is inspiring.

3 Responses to “She never takes milk in her tea”

  1. Mel G said

    “…gives sage advice on talking to women (which has served me well over the years)…”

    Aren’t men full of sh*t?

  2. slgallant said

    This from my wife- does that qualify as ironic? It must have worked. I didn’t ask her to go on my brother’s boat. Boat is boat.

  3. Eric Stemp taught me in the late 1980’s at St Martin’s, he was a lovely man. Thanks for writing such a lovely homage to him.

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