Barbasol - Feature the women, part 1.

Back when paper magazines were relevant enough to make you ponder things, I used to ponder the irony that men's magazines heavily featured pictures of women, and women's magazines heavily featured pictures of women. If you're trying to sell to someone, you're probably better off with a woman in your ad. This is interesting, but not baffling.

This 1949 ad for Barbasol is (duh) aimed at men, despite the fact that most men got their shaving supplies by having their wives pick them up. You know:  "Honey, when you go shopping, can you get me some barbasol?"

This picture technically shows a couple fishing, but the visual language of the painting tells us that the man is not nearly as important as the woman. He's mostly a sketch, and he doesn't even exist below the shoulders. The lady is complete, and is fully rendered head to toe. Not surprisingly, the red spot color was used for her outfit - red being the universal color of excitement, danger, sex, blood, and most of the positive human associations.

This painting was, in all likelihood, heavily referenced, meaning the artist didn't just paint it all right out of his/her head. Models were hired for either a live posing or a photo shoot, and that became the reference for the painting.

Even though this Barbasaol ad is not a Gil Elvgren piece, he's the example I always think of when talking about reference for a painting. Elvgren made himself famous painting pinups in the forties and fifties. There are lots of photos of his studio setups that allow you to see how he used reference (usually live models) for his paintings. It can be really interesting to see how much of a painting was "faked in" by Gil - especially the head, which was often drastically different in the final piece. In the picture below, you can see that the painting shows the girl sitting in bright sunlight, even though the model was posing indoors. Elvgren was really good. He could improvise things that weren't there, to such a degree that even a crabby old pro like myself doesn't question the painting. He must have been pretty fast, too. A girl can't hold her arms up like that forever.

Click for big.



Steve Miller said...

Assuming crabby old pros know how to pull a leg (probably a shapely leg, complete w/hose & garter belt) you're doubtless aware that Elvgren usually worked from photos rather than posing a live model by the easel. Less fun that way, but then she couldn't see the little nips and tucks he made to "improve" on real life. Also: photos don't charge by the hour.

BTW, I still use Barbasol, because it's the cheapest thing on the shelf and works just as well.

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