Hidden History: Female Pin-up Artists

By Marianne

In the golden age of pinups, it wasn’t unheard of for illustrators to use their wife or their daughter – or both! — as models for their iconic works. Of course, it was a male-dominated field, so they generally didn’t have the option of using themselves. But of the few women creating pinups (with photography or illustration), there were several notable models-turned-artists. Today, one very prolific contemporary model also shoots many of her own photos. Today’s history lesson will cover a bit about the background, style, and working habits of these women.












Of the few working female pinup illustrators, Zoë Mozert was the most well known, as well as being very well-connected with other “big name” illustrators of the day. Born Alice Adelaide Moser, she didn’t think the name would lend itself well to fame, and changed it as soon as possible. “I looked through a name dictionary for a new first name and when there were finally no pages left I settled on Zoe.”

Mozert began modeling to pay for her tuition at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art. When she moved to New York, she was very productive in painting covers for pulp and movie magazines. She joined pinup legend George Petty in judging 1938′s Miss America Beauty Pageant. It seems that she switched from painting movie stars to pinups in 1941, when she signed a fifteen-year contract with calendar printer Brown & Bigelow. Mozert continued to paint for Hollywood, and several of her movie posters were quite well known in their day.









Much of Mozert’s work is characterized by her soft pastel style, and her figures ranged from fully clothed to fully nude. Most were on minimalist backgrounds, often just uneven splotches of color, further drawing attention to the subject rather than emphasizing the setting or situation. When she used herself as a model, she would carefully light her studio, then use a photograph or a mirror to create the reference. She also modeled for Earl Moran and Alberto Vargas (shown above).

Joyce Ballantyne was another of the top three “girls club” pinup artists, and like Zoë Mozert she enjoyed the friendship of several other top artists of the day. She studied at the Academy of Art in Chicago for two years. There she first met Gil Elvgren, who was teaching there at the time. Elvgren and Ballantyne later came to regard each other as peers as well as friends, and would share assignments.
In 1945, he recommended her to Brown & Bigelow, who took her on and introduced her as “the brightest young star on the horizon of illustrative art.” She was honored with creating a calendar for their ongoing Artist’s Sketch Pad series. Ballantyne did illustrations for other calendar companies as well as magazines such as Penthouse and Esquire.

As was often the case with pinup artists, Ballantyne did work for national advertising campaigns, including Coca-Cola. Chances are, most of you have seen one of Ballantyne’s illustrations without realizing it: the iconic Coppertone girl was a creation of hers, partially inspired by Art Frahm’s infamous panties falling down series.

Ballantyne pinups have a very classic look. She painted her girls in oil on canvas and was very technically skilled. Her images are more situational, with a more fleshed out location and action. Unfortunately, I was unable to find many photographs of her, let alone one of her posing. This may imply that she worked from a mirror, rather than a photograph.

Photographer Bunny Yeager (née Linnea Eleanor Yeager) was one of the most popular models in Florida in the 40s, though she is now best known for her photographs of Bettie Page. She always knew she wanted to be a model, and studied pinup art and Hollywood starlets before officially enrolling in a modeling course. (Alas, there was no America’s Next Top Model at this time.) She chose the psuedonym “Bunny” from a Lana Turner film. In 1949, Joe DiMaggio crowned her “Miami Sports Queen.” She was also an early adopter of two-piece bathing suits, which she made herself.

In 1954 she began taking photographs, and her experience on the other side of the lens put her way ahead of the learning curve. “I never intended to become a professional photographer but after I took a course it seemed like it might be a good idea – something to pursue after I got too old to model. In class, one of my photos of my model friend Maria Stinger caught the eye of my teacher and he suggested I send it in to a magazine. I did, and sold it immediately.” Understandably, models were more at ease working with a female photographer, particularly one who also modeled. That same year, she met Bettie Page and took most of the photographs from their famous collaboration.

If you want to learn her techniques, those of you with deep pockets can purchase a vintage copy of Bunny Yeager’s 1964 book, “How I Photograph Myself.” (Am I lusting? Yes.) She also wrote some twenty-odd other books on the subject of pinup photography. Easier to find are more recently published collections of her photographs, such as “Bunny Yeager’s Bikini Girls of the 1950s.”

Spanish-born Morgana is something of a renaissance woman. Currently 29, she’s still one of the most prolific corset models, particularly in England, where she currently resides. The opposite of Bunny Yeager, Morgana’s original training was in photography and graphic art. Iberian Black Arts is the name of her photography studio. These days, she is also working as a professional makeup artist.

It’s hard to talk about any single aspect of Morgana’s career, since so much of her work features her donning more than one proverbial hat. Many of the shots that you see of her from FairyGothMother, Maya Hansen, Morgana Femme Couture, Ladie Lucie, etc, etc, so on and so forth, feature her photography as well as her face. She’s been published numerous times, modeling on the cover of magazines and shooting the covers of new CDs.

While most models are sufficiently skilled in makeup enough to do their own face, few are equally qualified at both tasks. Morgana does makeup under the name Fatale Beauty, doing colorful and vintage-inspired looks. Notably, she’s painted the face of Ulorin Vex, another top alt model. Naturally, she then proceeded to photograph Miss Vex as well (shown above).

It’s easy to see why Morgana gets so much work. Knowing that they can hire one person to do the work of a full team, and do it competently, makes a very easy hiring decision for designers if they like her look. To my eyes, her modeling work with other photographers looks more relaxed and diverse than her self-portraits, but that may be because the self-shot looks tend to be for catalogs and lookbooks. Her naturally tiny waist and hourglass figure make her a natural at corset modeling, while having a natural hair color and lack of tattoos gives her a broader commercial appeal.

I hope you enjoyed my article on pin-up self-portraitists. What do you think of these artists? I’d love for you to tell me in the comments.


  1. 11/03/12 at 10:18

    this is the first time I see this! so flattered!! <3

    • 05/04/12 at 0:31

      So glad you liked it! You were perfect for the feature.

  2. Brod Ross
    14/03/12 at 6:58

    Vintage Advertising and Illustration ..You may like this.

  3. mike
    03/08/12 at 10:52

    i have great admiration for all the pin-up artists and the beautiful women that they portray

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