“It is the idea that is the most important thing, and after that, it is how you present your way of seeing the world with a unique thought. And if you can pull that off and have fun doing it, alleluia!”
A native of Pretty Prairie, Kansas, and son of an Air Force pilot, Graphis Master Jack Unruh (1935-2016) lived in a variety of places while growing up. Jack was like all kids: he drew… he just never stopped. When he was little, he created picture stories about the war while lying in front of the radio, drawing what he heard. After graduating from Washington University in St Louis, he settled and began his illustration career in Dallas, Texas, where his one-of-a-kind drawing style emerged. With his unabashed love of drawing, Jack was quick to say that his passion for image-making ran parallel to his love of the outdoors and, of course, fly fishing and bird hunting. It takes only a few moments of wandering through his portfolio to notice the affection he had for drawing nature and its inhabitants. Through his easy laugh, Jack would say, “Drawing is a magic wand!” He made enchanting, spellbinding images for more than 50 years. Jack appeared in the Communication Arts illustration annual since its inception and was in numerous shows for American Illustration, Graphis, AIGA, and Print magazine. Graphis featured an article, “Jack Unruh: Quick on the Draw.” in its 2002 Sept/Oct issue #341. Jack is listed in the New York Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame along with such legendaries as Norman Rockwell, Al Hirschfeld, Dean Cornwell, Maxfield Parrish, Al Parker, N.C. Wyeth, and Robert Weaver.
Here’s a snippet from an interview with Judy Whalen, Unruh’s wife:
What was Jack’s work philosophy? What advice did Jack give illustration students?
To quote Jack: “Keep a journal/sketchbook, and practice your craft, your drawing, and your thinking. It is the idea that is the most important thing, and after that, it is how you present your way of seeing the world with a unique thought. And if you can pull that off and have fun doing it, alleluia!”
What is it about illustration that Jack was most passionate about?
Telling an engaging story through his illustrations.
What is the most difficult challenge Jack had to overcome to have a successful career?
Jack: “It never occurred to me that a career in illustration would not work… It was a natural development of what I saw and how I interpreted things based on my influences. I eventually created a look/style. I had a good time and enjoyed it… I worked on it. It was a progression of passion and persistence.”
What about his work gave Jack the greatest satisfaction?
He was amazed and grateful that he got to make a living doing what he loved. He loved the challenge of doing something he hadn’t done before.
How did Jack define success?
Jack: “Doing what makes you happy every day. Making a living doing what you love. And balancing work and play.”
What part of Jack’s work did he find the most demanding?
Perhaps unreasonably short deadlines, which might sacrifice the end result. But is not that with any artist or designer?
Read more of Jack Unruh’s interview, and discover other great artists and educators in Graphis Journal #375, which you can purchase online at graphis.com.