David Klein

Design Friday, Ilustrator David Klein.

There is a certain quality that can only be achieved by using traditional media in illustration. A softness, or naturalness that is hard to duplicate with digital tools no matter how good you are. I work on a computer everyday, in programs like Photoshop, and Illustrator, After Effects and Flash. No matter how long I have been using these digital tools, there are certain looks I simply can’t get unless I go back to the traditional mediums I was trained in. I think that is why I am so drawn to David Klein’s illustrations. This prolific illustrator was everywhere when I was growing up. His images appearing in so many locations they are time stamped on my mind. The thing is though, as I revisited them for todays Design Friday post, there was something about the natural quality of gauche, ink, pencil, and silk screen that struck a chord with me.

Illustrator David Klein was born in El Paso, Texas in February of 1918. in He moved to California in 1938 where he attended the Art Center School [later renamed the Art Center College of Design] in Los Angeles.

Early on during the 1930s, Klein was an active member of the California Watercolor Society. This group often chose to paint watercolors depicting scenes of everyday life in the cities and suburbs of California. One of the key factors was that they painted directly with little or no preliminary pencil drawings, and used paper as a ‘color’ in a new and creative way.

In 1941 Klein, like so many other Americans joined the army. During his service,  he illustrated numerous army manuals and technical documents. In 1947, the United States Air Force received more than 800 works of art from the United States Army and in 1953, in conjunction with the Society of Illustrators, in which Klein was a long-time member, the Air Force Art Program was formed. This collection features numerous works by Klein, some of which went on to be exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute.

In 1946 Klein relocated to New York City and settled in Brooklyn Heights, where he would live for the next 60 years. By 1947, Klein was working as an art director at Clifford Strohl Associates, a theatrical advertising agency. Through this connection Klein quickly became the illustrator of choice for many of Broadway’s best-known shows of the period. Klein’s posters and window cards from this period include: Death of a Salesman, Brigadoon, Most Happy Fella, The Music Man, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This body of work remains one of the enduring hallmarks of this golden age of Broadway.

What Klein might be best known for though is his influential work in the field of travel advertising. During the 1950s and 1960s, Klein designed and illustrated dozens of posters for Trans World Airlines (TWA). Through his use of bright flat color, abstract style, and international style layouts, Klein defined the state of poster art of the period. In 1957 a TWA poster of New York City became part of the permanent collection of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York. These works are much imitated and to this day define the excitement and enthusiasm of the early years of post-war air travel. They defined the Jet Set style and have become iconic.

In 1967, Klein’s cutting edge illustration for First National City Bank of New York (Citibank) won a Printing Industries of American National Graphics Award as well as an award from the Society of Illustrators. It was Klein use of overlays, and transparent colored acetates to create a series of animal prints made from geometric shapes that created the award-winning work. First National City Bank used these images in numerous displays, signs and campaigns over the next 5 years. The images were so successful that they were the produced as sets which were sold, ready for framing, right at its many New York branches.

Klein continued to work commercially up until the end of his life. In his 70s, Klein returned to his artistic roots, focusing his creativity on watercolors. The work from this later period in his life is the result of his travels in the U.S. and in Europe and features rural, natural scenes as well as architectural studies of buildings in Europe, particularly Venice. This work. Examples of Klein’s early and later watercolors are in the permanent collection of the Department of Interior’s Museum in Washington D.C.

Below is a series of images from some of Klein’s most defining work.

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