Early on, Shelly’s illustrations were influenced by the comic books he read. As an older student he was helped by his good friend and mentor, the illustrator Douglas Gorsline. He came to love the work of many artists, especially those who worked in line including Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop, Jack Levine, and Leonard Baskin.
Shelly’s artistic forte from the start was pen and ink. He used real fountain pens and achieved in line, a richness of detail, shading, and expression that was truly remarkable. It lent itself to his commercial work which appeared in books and periodicals. He lived as he taught his students and drew every day of his life; drawing was his mode of expression and in the dual meaning of the verb he drew strength from it.
When he lived and worked in New York City he loved the tableau of the subway. Its riders were a varied and endless source of inspiration from which he created hundreds of drawings in a montage format of the people with whom he shared the daily commute – as they came and went, likewise they entered his sketchpad. How long they stayed determined how much detail he was able to give them. He later continued this when he commuted to New York on the North Jersey Coast Line. He also found vibrancy in life wherever he looked. He drew his children and pets, food in every shape and form, and flowers in his garden in all their seasonal stages as they bloomed and died.
Shelly was a successful commercial artist for more than 55 years. The still life became his professional specialty and he drew thousands of illustrations for articles on cooking, travel, etc. as well as advertisements. He illustrated numerous cookbooks and children’s books. His illustrations appeared in such publications as The Herald Tribune, Time, Sports Illustrated, Sphere, Gourmet, and Good Housekeeping, to name a few. His designs graced commercial pieces from record jackets to shopping bags to business letterheads. His talents also found expression in advertising campaigns, both locally for the “new” Monmouth Mall and nationally for Mars Candy, Uncle Ben’s Rice, and many companies.
Shelly was a master of pen and ink, rarely working in oils. As he retired from his commercial work he began to explore the mediums of wash, watercolor, and mixed media. He extended his skill to interpreting the essence of life’s realities by delving into abstract expression. He continued to draw and paint everyday up until he could no longer hold a pen or brush. His legacy is one of an attention to detail and a dedication to his craft.
Sheldon I. Sacks, known to friends and family as Shelly, was born in Brooklyn in 1933. Artistically gifted from the start, he attended James Madison High School and later the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts), the Brooklyn Museum School and the Art Students League. His life and his art were influenced by his father’s long, terminal illness and his youth during the Great Depression. Both of these events stayed with him his entire life. In the 1950s, he served in the Army at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Shelly held many jobs, all while continuing to draw, such as on a bakery truck, as a movie-theater usher, and an insurance salesman. He repped other artists, worked in art studios and briefly owned his own gallery. Shelly spent most of his career as a free-lance commercial illustrator and teaching illustration at Parsons School of Design.
Shelly married Marcia in 1963. They lived in Manhattan for a time and then moved to Ocean Township, NJ. They had three children. Shelly was an exhibited artist in the Smithsonian Institution’s Traveling Bicentennial Show and a frequent contributor to numerous art shows including those sponsored by the Monmouth County Library System. Shelly passed away in 2004. A posthumous show of his work was held at the Society of Illustrators in New York City in 2010.