I’ve been studying what good pinup art is for awhile now. Although I’ve been studying the Pre-Raphaelite masters like John William Waterhouse lately, I’ve always been a fan of good American pinup.
American pinup artists during the so-called Golden Age of Pinups made their money in ads. The ads only had a few seconds to catch the reader’s eye. They had to really stand out.
Those ads would be called sexist today so we don’t see them anymore.
Which is sad because it hurt both the models and the artists. A lot of them were actually pretty good.
Post Golden Age, my favorites were Frank Frazetta and Olivia. I was a huge Frazetta fan. I even enjoyed that movie Fire and Ice he did with Ralph Balski.
But what makes good pinup art?
Good pinup art is of course subjective. You and I may prefer entirely different artists. And that’s perfectly ok.
But all good pinup art has most or all of these qualities.
The women are either sexy or gorgeous
A dear friend of mine years ago scolded me for calling her cute. “That’s something you say to a child.” We were dressed up to go out, and she was wearing a lovely long, black dress.
She wanted me to call her either beautiful, sexy, or gorgeous. Grown up women words. After all, she was about to turn 20. (This was decades ago).
So yes, there’s a difference between cute, beautiful, lovely, striking, sexy, and gorgeous. John Updike explained why striking is a backhanded compliment at best. You’ll never hear me call a girl I find attractive “striking.”
Now sexy or gorgeous, that’s the essence of good pinup art.
Pinup art often has a bit of humor to it. It’s lighthearted. If you look at Gil Elvgrin for instance, a lot of his models get accidentally partially disrobed. It’s cute.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve worked with two models since I started painting. We’re always having a good time. The modeling sessions are never tense.
When I get a third model, she has to laugh. I don’t want a cold model with no feelings. She’s got to be human.
A celebration of femininity
In these parts, girls are taught that femininity is a weakness. That’s got to be the dumbest belief on the planet. Men have started wars over beautiful women. Femininity is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
From Elvgrin to Olivia, you could tell how much the artists absolutely love women. Frazetta loves women. He was an old school family man who died married to the same woman forever.
If you’re a misogynist, you cannot produce good pinup art. You just can’t. And yes, this includes women who secretly hate women. It will show in your art.
Here’s a hot tip. The majority of folks who buy pinup art are either men or women who pick it up for their husbands. My wife bought me a Gil Elvgrin book back while I was still learning to draw.
The art had to catch your eye. Right away.
Since a lot of these early ones were ads, they only had a few seconds to make a man want to read them.
Frazetta’s art ended up on a lot of book covers. Sometimes men would buy the book for the cover and not even read the thing.
Olivia made a pretty good living selling her art to men’s magazines. Online killed off men’s magazines but Olivia to this day has a rabid cult following.
What do all her models have in common? They’re deeply seductive. Olivia gets it. She gets it so well that she’s famous around the world for her pinups. You’ll know her work in seconds.
That’s what I’m focusing on
You learn what works by simply looking what works. I’ll happily list my influences. Only Olivia is alive today.
Those qualities are the very qualities I emulate. I sketch with live models, then transfer my work into paint.
Both of my models are drop dead gorgeous in real life. They’re head turners. Jaw droppers. Whatever the phrase is now.
They also know how to be sexy. But in our sessions, we’re lighthearted. When the sessions begin though, they know full well how to pose sexy.
And last but no way the least, I absolutely love femininity. I’ve always been a sucker for a beautiful girl. If you could convey that feeling into your art, you can produce good pinup art.