Day Two: Hartford in Dallas: Don Punchatz, the Godfather of Texas Illustration

Don Punchaz studied cartooning at School for Visual Arts in NYC. He had a few animation/cartoon oriented jobs right after school to end up for four years in Pittsburgh as an Art Director for clients such as Westinghouse, Stouffers frozen foods, Iron City Beer (he directed the flip top program for the R-on). He did a few small paintings and posted them in his office. An agent saw the work and encouraged Don to put together a portfolio and get the work out. So, he added type and created book jacket covers which started to roll in. Not only did Don do the illustration, but he acted as the art director/type designer as well--and did much of that for his career. He is very inspired by art with primitive roots or primitive in general such as the Egyptians, Fra Angelico, Giotto, Rousseau etc. and their influence is more apparent in his earlier work.And from these book jackets, a career of work for science fiction/fantasy began (along with work in editorial inspired in style and touch from this sci/fi/fantasy work). Don got associated with Harlan Ellison and has done his book jacket covers and inevitably selling the artwork to the writer. he has a similar relationship with Philip Jose Farmer and of H.P. Lovecraft. He did a beautiful album cover for Tomita with images of mermaids and sea related creatures.

I was struck with how clean and interesting his work became when he broke with the comfortable world of aliens and space creatures like the images I am showing below. The Nicotine Monkey was purchased outright by a physician from Waco TX with a medical illustration/arts gallery. The client produced it as an edition of posters which have sold well--and the physician entrepeneur has shared some of the proceeds with Don. I love the tweaky, pointy, scarey quality of the little monkey--a monkey who might work for the wicked witch of the west, poised on the victims shoulder--really giving him little choice than to light up and draw in the nicotine. The calm blue background and palette suggest that there is no hysteria to this little occurence, but something that happens on a regular basis.

The next image was a limited edition poster Don illustrated for the Minneapolis Zoo "You are the Heart of the Family" with the only significant requirement being that he put at least as many animals in his image as Dick Hess did the year before. The horse was done for a Scholastic Books project that my seat mate, Greg Newboldquietly said that he too, was in this pub. I like this real Texas horse with all the accoutrements from the cherry red bridle studded with beautiful metals, the softness of its feathery mane, it's velvety muzzle and the quiet demeanor he sports. This is no carousel horse, but a magic horse out of a tale who might talk to you, or whisk you away to another magical place.

My favorite piece was a freebie that Don did for a printer for a calendar. He was assigned the astrological sign of taurus and produced the image below. According to Don, the printer called up with one request--and that request was that maybe he could do something about so many frankfurters. So, Don changed the image, getting rid of the offending hot dog...and away they went. This is the unadulterated image. A joker in the crowd wanted to know how the cow looked without a tail.

Don Punchatz is a gem. His quiet way about just making pictures, one after the next--capturing a niche, expanding into others and supporting a world of new guys coming up. He makes a bow in the Jose Cruz presentation--and our own fellow student, Michael Wimmer, did detail work on some of the images he showed us. Don is a giver--of his work and imagination forming an artistic link with the world at large by establishing a strong brand and image for his friends the writers while inspiring others to join him.