My name is James Robin Odbert, AKA Nybor
and I am the artist.
I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be an artist. Never had the slightest doubt. for years my mother kept a picture I did in kindergarten of a turtle swimming under water. When I was in high school, someone on seeing it remarked that the bubbles from the turtles mouth got bigger as they rose to the surface and how that was correct because the water pressure was less near the surface. That it was very clever of me to know that at five.
Yah sure you betcha.
I didn’t know that I just thought it looked better that way. When I was about six years old, our church gave me some money for a drawing I had done of their building to use on their bulletin cover.
Hey, I could get paid for drawing.
I forgot that lesson. Now, as then, I draw and paint because I love to.
I was an indifferent student. I spent most of my time drawing. My grandfather complained how many pencils and tablets of typing paper I would go through in a week. Very few, if any of those drawings still exist because the next drawing was the important one. I ceased to think about what I had done and concentrated on what I was doing. While not antisocial, I was a self-absorbed kid.
After high school I was accepted as a student at the Minneapolis School of Art, affiliated with Minneapolis Institute of Art and the University of Minnesota. At that time this was considered one of the top three art schools in the country.
My grandfather wanted me to be an architect. I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know what kind, but I did not want to be an architect. We settled on my entering as an industrial design major.
In the art classes I did very well, but as always I was an indifferent student and did poorly in my other classes.
The first thing I was told was to carry a sketchbook with me at all times and DRAW. I was to turn in a full sketchbook every Monday.
Here are some of the few surviving sketches.
The school had a policy of bringing in guest instructors. The first one was Frank Lloyd Wright. All he did was harangue us about how sloppy we looked, dressing in old clothes and living a bohemian life. Because I was a lowly freshman and to shy to speak and I did not want to be an architect I got nothing from him. Among the other guest instructors were Victor Vasarely, a Hungarian French artist often acclaimed as the father of Op-art, Jacob Lipshitz, a Lithuania sculptor who cast his Prometheus and the vulture while at the school, and Oscar Kokoschka, an Austrian artist best known for his intense expressionistic portraits and landscapes. They gave advice and I listened.
Then in my junior year an instructor came for a month and although he never knew it he became a major influence in my life and thought, Buckminster Fuller. From him I learned how to break things down and look for new solutions. I used what he taught us about tensegrities to build a stronger kite, that though made of very light wood flew in very high wind. Later I used that knowledge to design a space station for a SF story.
At the beginning of my senior year an event occurred that influenced my life and thought even more. I was coming up the steps to the school about a week after it had started when I was struck by the sexy swivel gait of the young woman preceding me. I followed her down to the woodworking shop where I asked her if she could use any help with what she was doing. Her name was Valorie and three years later I married her. My schoolwork went south and I spent the year courting her. It is unlikely that I would have graduated in any case.
I was failing my academic courses. I left school in the middle of the last semester and ran away to join the French Foreign Legion, in the form of the U.S.Navy.
The Navy discovered something that I have not yet mentioned to you. I am colorblind. Not totally but, with an unusual variation of the common red/green form. This cost me my first five choices for specialty rates, which were all in electronics, because I couldn’t match the color-coded wires. Also because of the color blindness I could not become an officer although I had taken and passed the naval academy entrance exams.
Hooray, I took the exams to get out of having to march.
The very idea of my being an officer was ridiculous.
So they sent me to drafting school at Port Hueneme CA. There they trained me in electrical, mechanic, architectural, and topographical drafting. Then assigned me to Fallon Naval Air Station in the middle of great Nevada Plateau for a year and a half. At the end of that time I was a draftsman second class and was sent to Hawaii to serve on the staff of the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, plans division.
Before I left I married Val and we spent a two-year honeymoon in Hawaii, courtesy of the United States Navy.
I never stopped drawing.
When the Navy and I parted company Val and I returned to Minneapolis and I began hunting for a job as an artist. I finally found one with a studio called Mako and Associates. Here in its entire splendor is the first piece I did as a working artist in September 1965. It took me two days. You should realize that it was BC (before computers).
In case you’re wondering it is a bra tag for Mary King Lingerie, a subsidiary of Munsingwear Inc.
While working for Mako and Associates I developed my love for logos and graphics. To make a symbol that is both pleasing and immediately recognizable, yet can be read no matter how large or small it is, is an incredible challenge. Here are some of my successes over the years.
One - a promotion logo for Twin City Federals entry into the computer age. Done at Studio West.
Two - a new logo for the Cub Foods chain. I also worked on the redesign of all their packaging. Done at Studio West.
Three - the Old Crow. Not the whiskey, but a coffee cup design for first class petty officer's. The eagle that a petty officer wears on his shoulder is commonly referred to as a crow. The last I heard this was in use all over the fleet. Done while in the Navy.
Four - a logo for Montana Minerals. Freelanced while in NYC.
Five - a logo for Forest City Bank, a small hometown bank. Done at Mako & Associates.
From Mako and Associates. I moved to Studio West, the premier art studio in the upper Midwest. There I did all the logo and lettering work as well as anything else that needed doing. I did airbrush, illustration, layout, etc. - The whole range of commercial artwork.
About this time I started going to Science Fiction Conventions and did some science fiction and fantasy illustration on the side. That led me into the occult and the Tarot. I decided to design a Tarot deck of my own. For the next thirty-five years, no matter where I was I lugged my Tarot with me. It was finally finished and produced in 2001. You can see it read more about it at the tarot link.
After several years at Studio West and a divorce I wound up in the New York City. There I freelanced, doing Logos, book, and magazine illustration. This was largely for magazines like Analog Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazines. All pulps.
These two illustrations were done for ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE. The reason they are off balance to the left is because the copy for the lead-in for the story goes on the right page.
Here are three from ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. They wanted one-page illustrations, usually with space at the top for a title.
I was not happy in New York. It was an anthill. The subway and I were not friends. On two occasions it, not the people, tried to kill me. The only truly happy moments were on the Coney Island and Brighton beaches early in the morning when I would walk in the fog.
My logo when I was freelancing in the New York
Then I became the Art Director at Castor and Pollox, a Madison Avenue advertising agency. A year and an ulcer later I’d had it. I quit and moved to West Virginia with Betty Carpenter who I had met at Lunacon, a science fiction convention, where she was selling soft sculpture shoulder dragons.
There I decided to do what I wanted to do and not to please the client. I took my middle name, turned it around, changed the I to a Y and as Nybor started to develop a form of mixed media I’d been playing with that would enable me to work in color. I called it pencil painting.
This is STAR DANCER, The first pencil painting I ever sold.
Betty was a fabric sculptor and a very good one. She sold her work at Renaissance Fairs and Science Fiction Conventions. She also became my eyes for color. Since 1984 we have collaborated. We married in 1985 and in 1999 she changed her name to Elspeth, so we are now Elspeth and Nybor.
All this time I had been working on my Tarot deck. In 2001 I published it.
The pencil paintings themselves are mixed media. I use colored and metallic pencils pen and ink. The paints I work with include watercolors, gauche, acrylics, oils, and aniline dyes. My techniques are airbrush, paintbrushes, toothbrushes, sponges and crushed and torn paper. I employ collage, frisket, and stencil. I use whatever works. Recently I have added a new media to my ménage, computer.
The pencil paintings high point to date was when KISS OF AGES was awarded judges choice award at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia.
I now live and work in West Virginia with Elspeth, two furry entities commonly called a cat and my Mac.
I still work in all of the various forms of art I have used though out my life and I will accept commissions if they appeal to me.
aka James Robin Odbert
If you are interested you may contact me via email at email@example.com