Cover for Communication Arts Illustration 30- by Don Weller
A few weeks ago, I saw a posting on Today's Inspiration that included the work of friend and fellow Utah based artist Don Weller. The initial posting identified the work as "unknown", but I immediately deciphered the signature as well as the style.
Don with dog Buster in the barn tack room
This prompted me to approach Don about an interview, though my request was as much an excuse to travel to rural Oakley, Utah for lunch and a visit. Don and wife Cha Cha live on a ten acre ranch property that they share with two dogs, a cat some horses and several cows. Don always liked to draw as a kid, inspired by the work of Charlie Russell and Will James. A cowboy at heart, Weller arguably stumbled into illustration as a career. Growing up in rural Washington, Don studied art Washington State and left there with a portfolio filled with Abstract Expressionist paintings and a handful of figure drawings. This apparently was the extent of what was taught there and Don insists it was "a terrible background for someone who wants to illustrate".
Cover art for Angel Records
From Washington, Weller ended up in Los Angeles in a position doing fashion paste up for the May Co. By 1961, Don had managed to find a position at UCLA doing brochure design for the campus colleges. He says he got the job mainly because the hiring agent was being fired and wanted to saddle the college with the worst possible employee ever (remember that Expressionist portfolio?).
Westways magazine cover
Well, fellow employees Mits Kataoka and Bill Brown eventually took him under their wing and Don spent all his energy and extra hours learning the craft of graphic design while honing his own illustration skills. The brochures he was designing needed illustration and he had the luxury of complete autonomy in how to fill the visual space. At the time, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast and the rest of the Pushpin Group in New York were doing groundbreaking design that incorporated their own illustration as imagery.
Illustration for Simpson Paper Company
The logical solution for Don was to follow suit and illustrate these projects himself, which he did. The UCLA job led to more and bigger opportunities in both graphic design and illustration including work for Rexall Drug, Schick Razors, T.V. Guide, Boys' Life, Warner Brothers, Continental Airlines, Sports Illustrated, and even Time Magazine covers.
For Weller, illustration has always been about the idea and how to communicate that idea. He remembers a couple of Time Magazine projects he worked on in the early 1970's One was a cover featuring Elton John in which he was competing against fellow illustrator Wilson McLean.
Time's typical practice was to commission two illustrated and one photographic solution for each cover subject, all of which were paid for. One cover would be chosen to run unless some current event pushed the cover story aside. Wilson's version neglected to include the piano, which the editors felt was key to conveying the idea. Don's version of course had a piano, so he won the cover battle.
By the time Don and wife Cha Cha left the congestion of Los Angeles for the mountain vistas of Park City, Utah in 1984, Don was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators. Don felt that this was a bit strange if not premature since he was still going strong in both illustration and graphic design.
Logos designed by Don and Cha Cha Weller
Upon arriving in Park City, Don rediscovered his passion for horses, particularly cutting horses. I'll post an overview of the beautiful western themed work Don is currently creating tomorrow.
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