INK & PAINT: An Unlikely Alliance of Two Untrained Artists


PART ONE of ••• several installments

Discovering a New Connection

When Gail and I met, I had no idea of her artistic talents. She had been dabbling in it for several years and it was months into our relationship before I had a clue. She gave me an oil painting she did of a clown. Probably some not-so-subtle meaning there.

Gail Brown celebrated a milestone birthday in 2014, along with a history of miles and miles of printed copies of her artwork with my Calligraphy.

Gail is a self-taught artist, dating back to her elementary school days when she would create backdrops and scenes for school plays; she continued that all through high school in Soper, OK. Never heard of Soper? It's in southeast Oklahoma between Hugo and Boswell, Blink and you'll miss it as you drive through on highway 70. It's a colorful little community of a few hundred where she still has many friends.

Gail used oils, charcoal, and pen & ink for 15 years or so, then began experimenting with watercolor...there she found her strengths.

In 1961, I got hooked on Calligraphy in an Architectural Design class at Oklahoma State University. It became an addiction. I wanted to do nothing but make pretty letters that spring semester. As a result, my studies and grade point went south. So did I. After a summer in small-town radio, KIHN in Hugo, Oklahoma....sweeping up, pulling the news from the Associated Press, reading the news, and playing music on my own dj gig every evening...I stayed occupied during that summer, then off to Dallas I went.

Gail and I were married in February, 1962. I continued honing my lettering skills and doing serious moonlighting; few people knew the word 'calligraphy' and virtually nobody was doing it! Seven years after our marriage, I lettered a piece for our 1969 Christmas card. There was no artwork with it. In all those years Gail had stopped her art; jobs, motherhood, and other activities left no time for it.

I took the Christmas card to a hole-in-the-wall, mom & pop craft store in Irving, Texas, where we lived, and showed the owner the work. He suggested I ad an illustration in the background. I paid a friend twenty bucks to draw a robed monk. I had a small commercial printer in Dallas print a few proofs of my Calligraphy with the monk screened behind the lettering. I took a few prints to the craft store. The shop owner asked a per-piece price, I gave him one....only a few cents more than my cost per print...and he ordered 1000 copies....one thousand copies! Holy mackerel!

See more designs

This was one of the early designs with Gail's charcoal drawing and my Calligraphy. The trimmed print was 5" x 7"

I was selling them so cheaply that he resold them to a wholesaler who, in turn, resold them to other craft shops across Texas. Instant 'reverse distribution' and a wacky arrangement at best.. Of course Gail rebelled at paying someone else to do the art on the Christmas card parchment, so she got busy. We produced and the Irving shop owner purchased 7 more of our designs in April, 1970. Each time, he bought 1000 copies. I was so naive that I didn't ask what he was doing with all the prints. I was afraid to! Later I found out he was selling them to wholesalers in the Dallas area and beyond. No matter! We had an outlet for our little home-grown efforts at art and Calligraphy.

By the time those 8,000 prints were scattered about north Texas, several retailers tracked us down and we began selling directly to the stores. Our markup that way was much better! Not long into 1970, wholesalers began looking directly to us for sales. It became a thriving business in a spare bedroom, the hall, and the kitchen table at our Irving apartment. Our business was launched!

Quickly, we found out that in order for the craft shops to display them, we needed to have each print in a poly bag with a paper header stapled in place. We found a source for bags about the same time we found out about another commercial printer near downtown Dallas. I met one of the owners, showed him the prints, and had an instant friend. The print shop was small but growing and they were glad to have our modest little print runs that soon became larger.

I designed a paper header with a hole at the top; the header would be folded over the top of each bagged print, stapled in place and ready to hang on pegboard.

Decoupage was king then...and our prints were favorites with legions of crafters all over north Texas by the summer of 1970. If you don't know decoupage, you might Google that one!

We are counting and stocking reproductions of our art and Calligraphy, ready to fill orders for crafts stores all over the U.S., around 1975 in Hugo, OK. Five years earlier, in Irving, TX, we had high school girls all over our apartment, bagging prints every afternoon after they got out of school. In Hugo, we had a staff of 5 women handling the chore.

...to be continued.

PART TWO of •••

INK & PAINT: An Unlikely Alliance of Two Untrained Artists

Various Jobs, Toward the Goal

During the years between 1961, just after meeting Gail, and 1969, I worked at the Frito Company, Texas Instruments, a manufacturer's rep firm, and WFAA TV, all in Dallas. At Frito and TI, I did mechanical drawings for the engineering departments. During my final semester at Oklahoma State where I discovered Calligraphy, I had a mechanical drawing class that gave me just enough credentials to get the two jobs in Dallas. At the rep firm, I was bored and totally out of my element, selling heating and air-conditioning equipment for commercial buildings. Imagine that! I barely can all these years later.

In every spare moment at home and wherever I was working, I had a pen in my hand, doodling pretty letters and getting the muscle memory needed to produce consistent work. I literally had not put the pens away since the spring 1961 semester at OSU.

Selling my Calligraphy and Gail's art was all totally unplanned and a pleasant surprise that began during my first year at WFAA TV, Channel 8 in Dallas, TX. More on that later. The experience at KIHN radio in Hugo, OK, gave me the broadcasting bug and I wanted to continue it some way. I figured with no experience in tv, I'd get there by earning my stripes working for an ad agency.

In early 1968, while working for the rep firm, many days I slithered away from commercial equipment in the basements and roofs of tall buildings, long enough to put my business flier...Calligraphy of course... in as many places as I could in businesses around Dallas. I also interviewed in lots of places, using up my lunch hours on the selling job, while hustling another job better suited to my short experience in radio and hand-lettering. Moonlighting was providing a good stream of additional income.

There was not a lot of Calligraphy awareness in those days, so I sought to change that. I designed this small flier to give and post on bulletin boards wherever I could. One at an art store in Dallas resulted in a large commission for an architectural firm.

In my quest to find a job in broadcasting, someone suggested I contact a woman, Jane Graham, a fashion writer at a UHF television station in Dallas. She asked me what I did. "I'm a writer," I said, without hesitation. Told her I wanted to work for an ad agency, as a stepping stone to get into television. She was a gracious and beautiful 40-something, and a copywriter herself. Probably to shoo me away from her busy day, she pulled out the bottom drawer of her desk and gave me the TraceyLocke 'copy test.' It was THE ticket to a copywriting job at that primo advertising firm in Dallas at the time... if you were creative enough to impress them. "Take the test and come back to me when you're done, she said."

I took the test home and over the next week I completed it by following every direction to write advertising copy for tires, a watch, an atache' case, a diet drink, and a couple of other products. Many hours went into the ads....all fake and imaginary. The test was to show the personnel guy just how good the imagination was of the one looking for a writing job at the agency.

From a pile of magazines at home, I snipped out photos of tires, watches, diet drinks, and a few other items asked for in the copy test. I pasted my photos down and hand-printed the wording in the 'ads.' I glued them down on larger sheets and bound them up in a big folder.

Two of the ads done for the TraceyLocke coprywriter's test, done in 1968.

A few days after it was finished, I called Jane and asked to come show her my 'test,' as she had requested. Probably thought she was finished with me after I left with her test a week before! She gave me an appointment 2 days later and I came into her office with the book. She opened the folder and began to read my ads. In just a minute or so, I could see and feel her enthusiasm before she uttered a word. She burst out with praise of the work I had done at her suggestion; to me, it was the equivalent of getting an Oscar and I hadn't even 'performed' yet! In so many words, Jane the writer told me I had a keen skill some agency could definitiely use and encouraged me to go 'show your stuff!.'

Within a week or so I had the appointment with a TraceyLocke advertising executive. I showed the guy my sample book, of his firm's 'test.' Inside of about 90 seconds, the interviewer, whose name I thought I'd never forget, but have, said this to me, a 28 year old well-dressed guy looking for work: "Mr. Brown, this is the biggest bunch of crap I've ever seen. You should burn it so it could never be shown again!" I silently wondered what Jane saw in that folder that this schmoe didn't! My pride and ego were somewhat bruised but I smiled, thanked him, and was on my way. The whole visit was about the length of Fats singing Blueberry Hill. What a jerk.

Days before, I had followed the suggestion of someone along my interviews who told me I should contact Jim Pratt, the promotions director, at WFAA TV. I got an interview time about two hours after leaving Mr. Congeniality at TraceyLocke. I gathered my courage, brushed off any crumbs of bad luck from the ad guy looking at it, and made my appearance at the tv station. Mr. Pratt was prompt and within minutes I was in his office with my book spread out in front of him.

He telegraphed no particular feelings one way or the other. That was both disappointing and a relief. Three visits with the book. Three different reactions. We talked a few minutes and one statement that made a big impression was, "Ken, I'm 45 years old and I'd hate like hell to be out looking for a job at the age of 28!" Hmmm. How nice. Funny now to think he was younger than my book is now! That jarred me a bit and I wasn't sure just how to interpret the comment. Shortly, it was evident the visit was over and I reached for my book to leave. He stopped me and asked to keep it overnight. Encouraging moment #1! I left, happy as though I had the job.

The next day was one unlike any in my young life. I had no appointments that day and, for some reason, I was at home when the phone rang around noon. Jim Pratt had combed through my crafty little batch of hatched up ads and saw a sample of that Calligraphy on a flyer I had printed to stick on bulletin boards on my travels....and to give to prospective customers.

"Ken, I'd like to offer you at job at WFAA TV." My heart stopped. Then began to race as though it were in a marathoner. He offered me $150. per week writing 3 second station identifications to be read on the hour and half-hour station breaks. I said 'YES....THANK YOU, JIM!"

Not sure if my book showed I had talent beyond a 3 second message, but that didn't matter.

Could not wait to call Jane Graham! As Gail and I were cheering the great news....knowing my dream of broadcasting was about to become a reality....and that I could forever be free of basements and roofs of tall buildings, the phone rang. Figured it was Pratt with some detail he forgot to tell me as we talked about when to start my job at Channel 8. It was the TraceyLocke ad guy. Strangely, he must have had some sort of overnight epiphany about Ken Brown!

Without mentioning why the change of heart, he offered me a job as a writer at the agency and for a moment my heart sank, then with measured words of great confidence, I thanked him for the offer and told him I had just taken a job at WFAA TV. There was a short silence before he said, "Oh...well, good luck."

...to be continued.

PART THREE of •••

INK & PAINT: An Unlikely Alliance of Two Untrained Artists

My 40 Months in TV

By the middle of May, 1969, I was officially in the broadcasting business...TV at that! My original plan to begin in an ad agency was short-circuited and I was thrilled. Little did I know that I would eventually have miles more creative freedom at WFAA TV than beginning at an ad agency.

My position was in the promotion department. Jim Pratt, the Promotion Director, showed me to my area with an IBM electric typewriter at a tiny cubical-type desk and a wee bit of shelf space. My daily task: Write compelling 3 second station identifications to be read on the hour and half hour for station breaks. "You're watching the Dallas leader in news....WFAA TV, Channel 8 in Dallas." Or, "This is WFAA TV, Channel 8 in Dallas. See details of the storm on the 6:00 news." In as many ways as I could imagine to vary that information, I did, on a typewriter, to be recorded or read live by a booth announcer.

Part of my responsibilities in promotion was to dream up ways to bring attention to the new ABC programs coming the fall. In those days much of that was left to affiliate stations to put their own spin on the fall lineup to sell local advertising. I had written a brief script to include the station's general manager, Mike Shapiro, center. At left is the head of film at WFAA TV, Gary Jones. I'm at right.

Those 3 second announcements always needed a visual. Often it would be the station logo, a red 8 inside a black circle. If we were approaching Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Christmas, etc., there would be a greeting with those words and a small Channel 8 logo in the corner of the screen. I saw that as a golden opportunity to expose my Calligraphy to a few hundred thousand viewers with no cost for the 'advertising' I'd get for creating visuals with my hand-lettering.

Several days before I wanted to schedule my 3 second blurbs to on-air, I would hand-letter the message...MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY NEW YEAR, or whatever... and take it to the art department at the station. The artists would build the art, with my Calligraphy, for the color slide that would be shown with the station break when announced every half hour. Of course those greetings would be rotated with regular station breaks around the clock.

Having my Calligraphy on television, subtle though it was, gave me huge 'bragging rights' to tell my friends and prospective customers they could see my work on Channel 8. I used that fact at every opportunity; there was no internet back in those dark ages but I had a way of showing my work to a huge viewing audience and telling people where to find it.

After about 2 years in the promotion department, the production department asked management to have me transferred there. They granted it. My suggestions and ideas beyond 3 second station breaks got some traction and notice in the carpeted office. I loved the production part and was learning some of what could be done with all the talent and equipment at my disposal.

The time I spent at WFAA TV was pure magic. It afforded me the privilege to be in the midst of several people oozing with talent in that era of television. The station was progressive and seemed always to have the budget for the latest innovations of equipment and technique for creating the finest television production possible. The amazing part was that I had access to any and all of it for my growing responsibilities to promote the work and programming at the station.

WFAA was near the center of downtown Dallas...minutes away from scores of potential customers who could sustain my moonlighting work. Lunch hours were frequently void of lunch while I'd have 45 minutes or so for a brisk walk to drop off my little flier hyping my work. Banks, department stores, the Easter Seal Society, the chamber of commerce, and art stores were some of my target destinations.

One day I popped into Asel Art Supply. There was a large bulletin board in the back of the store where artists of every ilk had thumbtacked their business card. I found a space for the flier showing my logo, lettering, and contact information. I was in the store only a few minutes, then back to my place in the promotion department.

A few days later I got call from an interior designer at the architectural firm, HARREL & HAMILTON in Dallas, a short walk from the art store. She saw the flier and asked me to come discuss a major project that needed some Calligraphy. We set a time, I went, and the job became a defining moment with a monumental challenge attached.

...to be continued.


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