The illustration world lost another superstar this week. Jack Unruh, one of the most talented men with a pen to ever grace the publishing world, left us and we are all the worse for his departure. He was an icon and a hero to all of us who wield a brush, pen or pencil. Sometimes in life you get to meet your heroes and I had the pleasure to interact with Jack on numerous occasions.
I first met Jack at a design conference in Park City, Utah in February of 1994. I almost didn't attend because of the cost but friend and organizer Don Weller allowed me the student rate even though I had graduated two years prior. The other reason to attend was that I would get to hear from and meet some of my heroes including C.F Payne, Braldt Bralds and of course, Jack Unruh. I was mesmerized by Jacks presentation and was equally charmed when he took a moment to look at my student portfolio and give some encouragement.
At the time, I was working full time at an educational software company creating clunky 16 bit illustrations and wishing I could figure out how to leave and begin my real illustration career. Little did I know that less than five months would pass before I would be laid off from that job and be thrown in with the sharks to sink or swim. In the back of my head I kept Jack's encouragement tucked in a safe spot for when I needed a boost. A few years passed and I had the chance to attend the very first ICON illustration conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This was a watershed event for not only me, but for the entire industry. It was the first time in recent memory (or maybe ever to that point) that such a large group of illustrators were together in one place to discuss and celebrate the industry we all love. The very first evening, during the social hour, which by then had stretched past midnight, I found myself at the quieter edge of the lounge where I happened upon Chris Payne. I nervously reintroduced myself. He remembered me from the Park City conference and graciously agreed to look at my portfolio. My work had thankfully improved quite a bit from the previous years and we began to have a look. As we flipped the pages, I looked up and there was Gary Kelley who also joined in the perusal.
Jack Unruh was one in a million. He was prolific, diverse, unique, and a sense of humor that could biting at times. He was a fantastic craftsman with a great sense of design a knack for brilliant use of negative space. We will not see anyone quite like Jack again, but I am grateful to have been a witness to his genius and to have rubbed shoulders at least a few times with this master of the pen. You will be missed Jack but take it easy on those trout in heaven. You've got eternity to wet that line.