John Gannam’s Amazing Watercolors

John Gannam was an extremely successful commercial illustrator whose life was something of a Cinderella story. 

Born in Lebanon in 1905 as Fouzi Hanna Boughanam he came to America with his family in 1909. They settled in Chicago. Sadly, his father died when John was 14 and out of necessity he dropped out of school to support his mother and three younger brothers. After a series of menial jobs, he found employment  as a messenger for one of Chicago’s largest engraving houses. And here is where he found his calling to become an artist. He studied the work of the artists at the engraving house while following a strict self-teaching regime. It took a few years but he finally found work as an artist first in Chicago and then Detroit where he did a series of ads for Dodge Brothers in the late 20s.

Simple line art and dry brush technique by John Gannam for 1929 New Dodge Senior Ad
Simple line art and dry brush technique by John Gannam for 1929 New Dodge Senior Ad
Simple line art and dry brush technique by John Gannam for 1929 New Dodge Senior Ad
Simple line art and dry brush technique by John Gannam for 1929 New Dodge Senior Ad

In 1930 Gannam went to New York. Shortly after arriving he received his first assignment for Woman’s Home Companion. Soon his work was always in demand. And he enjoyed a long, successful career far away from the expectations for a 14 year old school dropout. 

 

 

 

 

 

John Gannam illustration Magazine spread American 1944

American Magazine, 1944

John Gannam illustration Magazine spread American Magazine 1953

American Magazine, 1953

John Gannam illustration Magazine spread American Magazine 1934

American Magazine, 1934

John Gannam illustration Magazine spread American Magazine 1945

American Magazine, 1945

Good Housekeeping 1944-Woman sitting on stairs in yellow sweater on the phone-john gannam

Good Housekeeping, 1944

Good housekeeping 1944-woman looking out window-john gannam

Good Housekeeping, 1944

Good Housekeeping 1941-American magazine-Woman laughing in chair--john gannam

American Magazine, 1941

good housekeeping 1959 - woman holding baby illustration - john gannam

Good Housekeeping, 1959

Gannam’s forte was watercolor,  a medium difficult to control. And then there were clients, especially advertising clients, who would want changes. This would sometimes mean Gannam would start again from scratch, watercolor being difficult to change. But he was a master of the medium. Here are some examples of Gannam’s fluid watercolor technique.

1947-John Gannam-child playing peter pan looking out the window

1947

Pacific Mill Sheet ad - 1949 - showing a young girl helping make a bed - john gannam

1949

john gannam pacific mills sheets advertising 1946-bride

1946

Pacific mills ad 1945 - showing family pillow fight - john gannam

1945

John Gannam died in 1965 and was inducted into the Illustrator’s Hall of Fame in 1981.

John Gannam in his studio surveys a comprehensive sketch for an illustration in good housekeeping. Strips of film from his camera hang on the door jam. The lay figure patiently awaits the next pose. Empty coffee cups bear witness to the artist’s insistence upon a clean cup for each fresh drink - of which there may be half a dozen at one sitting.

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