NCS Spotlight On: Leonard Starr

September 30, 2010


My friend Tom Sawyer has graciously agreed to share another excerpt from his memoirs. Tom picks up the story where we left off yesterday; in those first few days of drawing backgrounds in the studio of the artist Tex Blaisdell had nicknamed ‘Glamorous-and-Unpredictable.’

Excerpted from Thomas B. Sawyer’s memoirs:

“Leonard Starr appeared several days later, in town from his home in Centerport, on Long Island’s North Shore. His presence didn’t disappoint. Handsome, tall, blonde, self-assured, witty and, true to Tex’s billing, striking in a star-quality way.”


“We hit it off immediately, beginning what would become the single closest friendship I would ever have – the kind where, even after weeks or months without contact, our wide-ranging conversations would resume as if there had been no interruption, endlessly stimulating as always. Books, art, movies, theater – and especially, once he’d educated me about it, music.”


“And among the best of all, for me, was the fact that he liked my work, quickly ‘promoting’ me from merely doing backgrounds to handling ‘breakdowns’ as well. Another new piece of terminology, this consisted of taking the scripts he was given, and laying out the pages, deciding on panel-size and shape, rough-penciling the figures, arranging and loosely lettering dialogue balloons so that the lettering-man had sufficient space. Storytelling, actually, and in a cinematic way.”


“Through Leonard, John [Augustin] and Tex, I began to meet and socialize with other artists, some who’d drop by the studio, several of whom would become close friends, meaningful players in my life for years to come, Stan Drake, Warren King, John Prentice and Howard Post, to name a few.”


Leonard Starr has come up in the course of discussion in other posts on Today’s Inspiration. On one occasion, while discussing illustrator Frank Reilly’s art school, David Apatoff provided these recollections from Starr, who had attended the Reilly school:

“Reilly was the best teacher I ever saw– the only one who was really worthy of the title, “teacher.” My teachers at Pratt were all tired re-treads, who were interested in 2 dimensional design but couldn’t teach you how to draw. They would walk around the room and remind you that the human hand has 5 fingers. I learned far more from the Famous Artists School training materials.”


“Then one day when I was 27 I was talking with Dean Cornwell at the bar at the Society of Illustrators. I was already doing well as a professional artist but I still felt I had real gaps in my learning. Dean told me that he was “impressed with the work that Frank Reilly’s kids are doing.” So I went to Reilly and he took me on as a student.”


“Reilly taught that drawing was a matter of “relationships”– from the neck to the hip bone, from the tip of the shoulder to the groin, he showed us how everything combined to make the figure come alive. Kids always start out making the figure lean to one side or the other, but Reilly showed us how to nail that figure down: “at least one of those legs must be supporting the weight of that body.” He was just remarkable. I never left a class without learning something new. I wish he had been my teacher starting in high school, then I would really have been able to draw. He was better than George Bridgman (who Reilly dismissed as “an anatomist.”) Unlike Bridgman, Reilly taught you in a way that made the anatomy naturally go where it was supposed to go.”


Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing this wonderful excerpt from his memoirs with us. His portion of the text in today’s post is Copyright © 2010 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

* Thanks to David Apatoff for sharing the quotes from Leonard Starr that appear in today’s post.

* I’d also like to thank Alan Light, for allowing me to use this photo of Leonard Starr at the conclusion of today’s post.


* Thanks also to Heritage Auctions for allowing me to use all the artwork scans from their archives to illustrate this post.

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