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Evolution of an Illustration Master, Harry Borgman: Part I

Harry Borgman Biography: Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Sculptor and Artist
by Harry Borgman

I am an artist that’s had a very long, fun career that began in Detroit in 1943 while I was still in high school. Since I was 15 years old I have worked full time in the advertising business through to 2004, when I was 76 years old. I actually haven’t really quit yet, I just stopped rendering storyboards because of the brutal overnight deadlines. I still do an occasional illustration and design assignment.

Over the years , as the business changed, and it is constantly changing, I reinvented myself several times, starting out as a graphic designer, then later working as an illustrator doing realistic work and even a lot of cartoons. At one point I even left the studio business to become an art director at Campbell Ewald in Detroit, working on the Chevrolet account for a few years. After that I spent the rest of my career working as an illustrator/graphic designer, primarily as a freelance artist working in Detroit, New York and even worked a few years in Paris, France. I also taught and worked in Madrid, Vienna, Jakarta and Singapore. 

The years 1941-1946

As a kid, like many other artists, I drew many comic strips and even drew a daily strip for my classmates in grade school. My teachers were all very encouraging which was a great help. Some of them even sent me to special art classes after the normal school day had ended and also on Saturdays.

A panel from one of my adventure comic strips.


Here is a page of a comic strip that I used to draw every day for my classmates in grade school. I don’t think that this went on for very long, but my classmates enjoyed it.


One of my old sketchbooks with a drawing of a super hero, Crimecrusher.


I also dabbled a little with watercolor. Here is a color sketch of the Battle of Lake Erie.


I experimented with various drawing surfaces as well as different mediums. Here is a scratchboard illustration of the nose of a Flying Tiger P-40 aircraft.


At Denby High School in Detroit, I did a comic strip for the school newspaper called, Hubert.


In 1943 I submitted this aircraft ink drawing to Wings Comics and it was published.


I had a great art teacher in high school, Margaret Stein. In the past she had worked at a New York commercial art studio. At Denby High School she was responsible for producing the annual yearbook. She ran it just like a job in an art studio and appointed me the art director. She had a photography and writing staff as well, and we all had tough deadlines to meet, it was a great experience. Shown above is the opening page for the yearbook.


The Denby High School yearbook was full of art. The above illustration is one of the pieces which was drawn with a brush and India ink. The company that produced the engraving plates for the yearbook was Brophy Engraving of Detroit. The artists in their art department were all drafted into the army as World War II was underway. The company hired me and I went to work every day after school, a wonderful experience for a young artist.


In 1946 I won first prize for this cartoon in the National Scholastics Awards.


I submitted cartoons to Detroit Magazine and had some published shortly after graduating from high school.


The years 1947-1952

I won a scholarship to the Art School of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Detroit. The teacher that was teaching advertising art had never even worked in the business. I had already been working for 3 years, so I decided to quit the school and start working.


Shown here are a couple of pages from my school sketchbook. I used to draw the models in pen or brush and India ink which I felt would teach me discipline as there was no way to erase my lines, they had to be drawn in correctly the first time.

It was in 1949 that Herb Schiebold, my best friend, another great graphic designer, and I decided to start a commercial art studio called Advance Art Studios. We were 19 years old and obviously had a lot of guts. We had an office in a downtown Detroit and hired a rep to dig up work for us. He was successful in bringing in many assignments from Chrysler. Things were going really well when suddenly the workers at the Chrysler plant went on strike. The strike was quite long and the assignments from Chrysler were becoming less frequent until finally we found our selves out of business. We had to close the operation.

A few weeks later I ran into the former art director that I worked with at Brophy Engraving, Jim Donahue. He had just opened a new commercial art studio called Allied Artists. He hired me and I worked there as a graphic designer for a few years.

One day, when I had some spare time, I did a painting of a western scene with a little red Ford driving near some buttes. Jim loved the painting and decide to take it to the art director of Ford Times Magazine. The art director loved it and said they would buy all the paintings I did that had a little red Ford included. This was my first big break in the business.


Here is the painting that opened up Ford Times for me. The magazine was seen by many art directors at ad agencies and resulted in getting me many ad illustration assignments.


This is my profile that the magazine published.






These were more Ford Times paintings and covers.

In 1951 I decided to venture out and left Allied Artists. I began working at Grey, Garfield, Lange, an older established commercial art studio. I produced a lot of illustration and design work there, including the painting for the cover of the 1952 General Motors Annual Report.

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Join us again tomorrow as Harry takes us further into his career as an illustrator and graphic designer. Tomorrow Harry talks about his stint at Jose Cavillo Studios with automotive artist Dave Lindsay. He also discusses work at MDM Studios and Campbell Ewald.

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