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14 Female Pin-up Artists You Should Know — But Probably Don’t [NSFW]

Vargas, Elvgren, and Moran — these are just some of the many well-known men who served “cheesecake” illustrations of hourglass-shaped bombshells that teased and pleased to American men way before more explicit photos and videos took their place. In magazines, on lockers, and even on the sides of planes, these images of titillating women smiling while showing off just the right amount of skin often accompanied lonely soldiers, especially during World War II. Pin-up art may have been a medium to worship breathtaking, perfectly shaped sirens, but unlike the aforementioned men, few women have been given the recognition they deserve for illustrating in such a male-dominated industry. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’re heating things up by paying tribute to the many female pin-up artists, past and present, whose work has raised more than just morale.

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Olivia De Berardinis

Recognized as the most famous living female pin-up artist, Olivia De Berardinis has been celebrated as the greatest since Alberto Vargas. De Berardinis — or “Olivia,” as fans call her — modestly describes herself as a “painter of women” in her biography. But she’s been creating art for decades, from her early-’70s life as a New York City loft-dwelling waitress/artist to her current post as Playboy’s artist in residence. Olivia has captured some of pop culture’s notable (and at times controversial) muses, including burlesque performer Dita Von Teese, comedian Margaret Cho, and rocker Courtney Love. However, her most iconic covergirl is ‘50s pin-up icon Bettie Page, who Olivia transformed into a sensual teacher, French maid, and mermaid, among others. Olivia continues to publish books and calendars, all paying tribute to the legions of women inspiring her.

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Luma Rouge

A staple of New York’s thriving burlesque community, Parisian artist Luma Rouge is often spotted sitting among a curious audience, furiously sketching one the city’s many stripteasers. As glamour girls like GiGi La Femme, Dirty Martini, and Jo Boobs get viewers in a wild frenzy by dancing their way out of rhinestone-encrusted gowns, revealing pasties and plenty of curves, Rouge expertly captures their most breathtaking moves in minutes on a blank page. Her work has been seen at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan, and she designed the poster for the 2011 New York Burlesque Festival.

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Fiona Stephenson

While some may head to Comic-Con elaborately costumed as their geek idols, English painter Fiona Stephenson found more artistic inspiration at the convention. Since her fateful trip to San Diego in the ‘90s, Stephenson has been in love with Gil Elvgren’s work. Currently, she calls herself an artist “specializing in hand-painted oil on canvas reproductions of pin-up artist Gil Elvgren,” and her canvases are eerily close to the real thing. Of course, she also creates original pieces, which often feature rockabilly’s leading lady, pin-up model Bernie Dexter.

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Zoë Mozert

Zoë Mozert had the advantage of being both beautiful and talented enough to serve as a muse and artist. She modeled for both Earl Moran and Alberto Vargas, using her earnings to pay for her tuition while studying under Thornton Oakley. According to the American Art Archives, beginning in 1932, Mozert used pastel to create hundreds of covers for ads, movie magazines, posters, and pulps in New York City. According to The Lingerie Addict, “when she used herself as a model, she would carefully light her studio, then use a photograph or a mirror to create the reference.” And while she preferred the more wholesome girl-next-door look over the typical bombshell, her usage of bold pastel hues made her a favorite among Hollywood. Most notably, it’s Mozert who was behind the poster for notorious 1943 flick The Outlaw, starring screen siren Jane Russell.

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Joyce Ballantyne Brand

Joyce Ballantyne Brand may be best remembered for creating the famed suntan lotion ad for Coppertone, featuring a mischievous black puppy pulling down a little blonde girl’s swim trunk bottoms, but like Mozert, she was also one of the few women of her time to launch a successful career in pin-up illustration. During the Depression, Brand made and sold paper dolls for a dollar in her native Nebraska. When she won a scholarship to Disney’s School for Animation in California, it was withdrawn when the faculty discovered she was a woman. She finally got her break during World War II, when male artists were also getting drafted, and Brand painted risqué pin-ups in action, a job that was given to her by an old college professor and friend — Gil Elvgren. Brand, who at times used herself as a model, painted curvaceous ladies proudly tackling sticky situations for lonely soldiers overseas. Today, her original paintings are collector’s items.

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Pearl Frush

Calendar artist Pearl Frush was widely celebrated during the 1950s for her true-to-life paintings that some contemporary critics have described as resembling “airbrushed photographs.” Unfortunately, her primary choice of medium, gouache and watercolors, limited her ability to create artworks on a large enough scale. Frush, an Iowa native initially enrolled in art classes in New Orleans, eventually mastered her craft in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago. She relied on her love for the outdoors to draw shapely gals getting physical, all while baring just the right amount of skin to leave viewers begging for more. Her hanger calendars were hot items in their time and are still sought after as collectables.

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Nathalie Rattner

Canadian “hyperrealistic” illustrator Nathalie Rattner’s pieces aren’t easy to find in galleries — but that’s because they’re usually snatched up by private collectors. Inspired by pin-up artists from the ‘30s through the ‘50s, Rattner experiments with numerous mediums, including oil paint, dry pastel, gold leafing, and graphite, to develop artworks that are almost indistinguishable from sensual photographs. Known in some circles for her collaboration with Playboy Playmate of the Year Claire Sinclair, Rattner has also transformed modern pop-culture favorites, like Tina Fey and Lady Gaga, into tantalizing cheesecake for today‘s audiences.

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Carla Wyzgala

“And please don’t ask me to draw big brawny men,” says Chicago illustrator Carla Wyzgala, who creates watercolor paintings and drawings of fantasy pin-up girls for the world of comics, an industry that remains notoriously male-dominated to this day. Wyzgala also relies on pencil and ink to develop stories for several comic book forms. From tattooed temptresses in heat to a buxom zombie, Wyzgala’s work is unapologetically erotic in nature — but she makes the explicit material unmistakably her own, capturing sexuality without catering strictly to men.

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Jennifer Janesko

Kansas City resident Jennifer Janesko has a BFA in Fashion Design, but many are more familiar with her pin-up art, which emphasizes women’s many curves. “In a way I am able to live out my desires and dreams vicariously through my subjects,” says Janesko, articulating why many female artists choose to focus on women as their primary subjects. Her work has appeared in Maxim and Playboy, and she’s also done a series of custom-painted Gibson guitars. If you fancy Janesko’s work, she’s got several books, calendars, prints, and even Zippo lighters for sale at her website.

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Susan Heidi

Like some of the other women mentioned on this list, New Yorker Susan Heidi is inspired by legendary pin-up artists like Vargas and Elvgren. Yet the neo-burlesque scene of today, retro tattooed models, and the sounds of rockabilly also fuel her taste for throwback beauties. Heidi, a self-taught artist, uses acrylic and watercolor to showcase statuesque sirens with glowing, translucent skin, who sport waist-cinching corsets, fishnet stockings, and heart-stomping heels. Many of her pieces are based on photos of popular pin-ups, including tattooed vixens Sabina Kelly and Dolly Esquire.

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Mabel Rollins Harris

The Art Deco style of the 1920s and ‘30s celebrated luxury, and that aesthetic permeates the work of Mabel Rollins Harris. According to Charles D. Martignette and Louis Meisel, in The Great American Pin-up, Harris’ enchanting pastels were highly sought after in the calendar-art business. Even Rolf Armstrong, known as “the father of the American pin-up,” told the art director of the Thomas D. Murphy Company that he envied the brilliant glow and softness of her pieces. In her work, one can see blissful nude nymphs frolicking on beaches and flowered fields. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Harris also demonstrated her expertise in pieces depicting children at play.

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Irene and Laurette Patten

Little is known about these sisters from Chicago, who were calendar illustrators during the ‘30s and even shared a studio space in their home. While their works range from cherubic children to glamour girls, it’s their pin-ups featuring curve-hugging couture that are most celebrated. Their original pastels are difficult to find, making them must-haves for art collectors.

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Ruth Deckard

Like the Patten sisters, little is known about pin-up artist Ruth Deckard because she merely went by “Deckard” during her painting career in the ‘30s through the ‘50s. Allegedly, it wasn’t until The Great American Pin-Up was published in 1996 that her female identity was revealed. Considering that in the era when she was working, women were discouraged from pursuing pin-up art, the legend may very well be true. From what’s been discovered, Deckard resided in Chicago, and many of her paintings were published by the Louis F. Dow Company in Minnesota, which produced calendar art. Her most recognizable piece is titled Pin Cushion, displaying a wholesome young girl beaming while sunbathing and showing plenty of leg for her admirer.

Image courtesy Bunny Yeager

Image courtesy Petra Mason

Bunny Yeager

She’s not a painter, but model-turned-photographer Bunny Yeager is still praised today for developing some of the most iconic images of ‘50s pinups, especially those of Bettie Page as a jungle queen and nude Santa, among others. It was the latter holiday-themed photo that would turn Page into a Playboy Playmate in 1955. Now in her eighties, Yeager still works in her Miami studio. She and author/vintage enthusiast Petra Mason recently released the book Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom: Pin-up Photography’s Golden Era, which chronicles some of her lesser- known — but equally enticing — images of retro bombshells.

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