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Updated: 2018-04-21T22:35:45.714-04:00




I love this very cool drawing of a tyrannosaurus rex by Ike, age 6.I spotted it at an art exhibition at Sarah Lawrence College in New York.In response to my most recent post of a drawing by Ronald Searle, various commenters wrote:I think that is the most important in any drawing, draw what we feel instead of what we see, connections and relationship instead of objects [B]rilliant! He draws the way the old man FEELS rather than the way he LOOKS.    Ike may not be an experienced professional artist like Searle, yet he has done a wonderful job of drawing what he feels.  Get a load of those teeth! Unlike the standard "lightning bolt" line most people use as a shortcut for drawing teeth, Ike has lovingly outlined each tooth separately.  Each tooth has its own unique, scary shape.Ike couldn't fit this many teeth in his picture if he was constrained like an adult by the conventional proportions of a T-Rex.  Because his patterns of perception haven't hardened yet, he was able to unhinge the jaw and expand the mouth to make it as big as the entire rest of the dinosaur.  It appears that when he wanted still more teeth,  he added a third row above the dinosaur's head.  Ike is a creative artist with strong priorities.And it doesn't end there. Not content to draw the dinosaur's body with a simple contour line the way many people would, Ike intuitively draws a jagged body like the roar of a thunder lizard shown on an oscilloscope (or the shock to your nervous system when you see a dinosaur coming toward you). Psychologists tell us that children's drawings exaggerate shapes in ways that reveal the child's inner feelings about their subject.  There is a purity to this kind of imagination, which is what causes artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet, Klee and Steinberg to forsake technical skill and struggle to recall the stem cells of art.[...]



An elderly gentleman sitting quietly in his armchair reading a newspaper-- could there be a less exciting subject for a drawing?

Well, that depends on the artist.

Here's how Ronald Searle handles the topic:

Look how Searle has re-invented the human form:  posture in the shape of a question mark; a sagging mouth that exceeds the limits of the face by extending all the way down to the jawbone; and legs like matchsticks.

For another artist, those pants legs would be a straight vertical line.  Look how Searle chips away
with what may have been a bamboo stick, giving them the character of rotting timber.

The hands have no bones, yet the gnarly lines grasp the newspaper perfectly. 

Searle's drawings always contain valuable lessons, but the one I'd like to emphasize here is that the subject matter does not necessarily limit the quality and originality of form. 

In an era where so many artists are convinced they don't have to draw well as long as their concepts are cool, Searle is a welcome reminder of the opposite truth: that quality in visual form can stand alone, proud and tall.



After the recent school shootings in Florida, rival cable news channels and political factions chattered away day and night.  They spewed words of explanation or blame, words of solace or rage, words of hopelessness or words proposing solutions.  (For example, the mentally deranged executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, proposed that school teachers pack heat, the better to shoot future gunslingers.)  It's doubtful those words persuaded anyone.In all that noise, one silent image went viral: Norman Rockwell's classic painting of a school teacher, altered to make a point:                      Clear as a bell, it wordlessly reminded audiences of what we are at heart, and what we risk becoming.Here is Rockwell's original version:In the same month, the Smithsonian Institution published a cover story about the changing state of America.  The benchmark it chose? Norman Rockwell.  The Smithsonian asked four brave illustrators to try their hand at updating the themes in Rockwell's  famous "Four Freedoms." series.  (They did not do so well):At the same time, the Chicago History Museum unveiled a prominent new installation showing  Rockwell's take on the legendary cause of the Great Chicago Fire: Mrs. O' Leary's cow which supposedly kicked over a lantern: The new permanent display, "Rockwell's Chicago."There's nothing surprising about any of these uses for Rockwell's work.  Not a week goes by without some prominent publication or institution invoking Rockwell as a standard.They know their audience will immediately recognize the reference.In fact, forty years after Rockwell's death, there are still websites that collect dozens of new spoofs and commentaries on Rockwell's pictures.Despite his lasting popularity-- or perhaps because of it-- we still hear the thin voices of postmodern art critics fulminating that Rockwell dealt in cliché. But if Rockwell dealt in mere clichés, his art would not continue to play such a significant role in today's vital discourse. His style may be out of fashion but his statements about human nature are undeniably true and enduring.  This is the difference between clichés and archetypes.  Peter Viereck emphasized that archetypes must never be confused with stereotypes. Archetypes, he wrote, are the enduring values and traditions that have “grown out of the soil of history: slowly, painfully, organically.” These may be easily recognizable but they are very different from cliches or “the ephemeral, stereotyped values of the moment" that have “been manufactured out of the mechanical processes of mass production: quickly, painlessly, artificially."  The great Herman Melville shared this "reverence for archetypes." He believed archetypes to be at the core of the classic architecture of the golden age of Greece, claiming they saved Greek art from "innovating willfulness." (Innovating willfulness might well be the slogan for our culture.)Rockwell was hugely prolific, and sometimes resorted to clichés during his long career.  But in his stronger work he was an artist of archetypes.  We find ourselves borrowing the power of his silent archetypes when the clamor of our turbo-charged, 3D digital video presentations with Dolby sound cease to hold our attention.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the definition of an "iconic" artist.  [...]



When Rembrandt declared bankruptcy in 1656, an official from the Amsterdam Insolvency Office showed up at his house at No. 4 Breestraat to inventory Rembrandt's possessions.The possessions would have to be auctioned off to pay Rembrandt's debts.  Moving from room to room, it didn't take long to figure out why Rembrandt had gone bankrupt.  As Anthony Bailey wrote in his book, Rembrandt's House:The house was crammed with pictures, stacked against and hanging from the walls.... [T]he collecting trait appears to have become an ungovernable compulsion.  Bailey reports that these pictures included "bits and pieces," scraps and sketches that Rembrandt fancied by his contemporaries,  drawings from Italy, paintings from different periods in a variety of styles.In part he collected... pieces that he could use in his works, not just for themselves but as pointers and touchstones.  [B]ut his collection of pictures was huge and diverse.  Rembrandt's collection was almost a museum.I thought about poor bankrupt Rembrandt recently when I viewed the current exhibition at the Society of Illustrators of the art collection of the illustrator Peter de Sève. The exhibition includes work from greats such as Rackham, Searle, Kley, Frazetta, Frost, Sullivant, Disney artists, Winsor McCay and many others.Unlike a typical museum exhibition organized by a curator or art historian, de Sève has assembled work that appeals to his artist's eye.He includes working drawings that reveal the thought processes of the artist:Jules FeifferPreliminary sketches that reveal the original spark of inspiration before the concept has been refined and diminished.FrazettaAnother Frazetta.  Note how, even in this preliminary rough, each of the seven "green women" has a distinctive pose and role.  Frazetta doesn't lump them all together in the background.  This prelim contains all the DNA for the finished painting.FrazettaAs one of the leading character designers for animated movies, de Sève seems to have a special interest in the evolution of sequential drawing, starting with the A.B. Frost's series of pen and ink illustrations in the 19th century...A dog racing down the road......leaves disaster in its wake.and moving on to Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur at the dawn of animation......before turning to great Disney art such as Preston Blair's famous hippopotamus ballerina from Fantasia and art from Lilo and Stitch.There's strong pen and ink work by artists such as Heinrich Kley:... and work by Arthur Rackham that reveals the artist's underlying sensitive pencil lines:De Sève writes, "It's thrilling for me to see the half-erased pencil lines that reveal clues to the artist's thinking process and detours he or she traveled to get to the final artwork."The exhibition also contains final work with interesting solutions by fellow illustrators:Nick Galifianakis shows all we need to know about the child prodigy Mozart: the top of a wig and those tiny dangling feet.  Note how the artist draws our attention to those little beribboned shoes by making them red against a stark white background. And of course there are a number of examples by the master, Ronald Searle:As fearless with watercolor as he is with ink. As an example of de Sève's irreverent eye, he displays the work of his young daughters side by side with the work of the world's top professionals, and for perfectly legitimate reasons.   He explains how he gains inspiration from both: "I know it’s a cliché to want to draw like a child, but honestly, look at the sheer inventiveness and variety in every heart on that page!"Valentine from de Sève's daughter Paulina when she was five years old.Paulina's picture exemplifies what makes an artist's exhibition so interesting.  De Sève isn't misled by the pretensions and superficial considerations that preoccupy so many curators and art historians.  Instead, he hones right in on the nutritional co[...]



I like this cartoon by Charles Barsotti of a committee of dogs deliberating a rubber ball:From the inventory of Taraba Illustration Art LLC Barsotti is famous for his light hearted, spontaneous style.  He draws only the bare essentials, perfect for his special brand of humor.There's no "over-thinking" in this drawing... is there?When you look at the original, you see that Barsotti decided that some of those dog noses would be funnier if they were a fraction of an inch shorter:And that round rubber ball... maybe it needed to be a fraction of an inch larger to balance perfectly against the dogs:And as for those dogs... gosh, would the joke go over better if they had eyebrows for facial expressions?Nope, I guess not.  Better white them out.This airy little drawing about not over-thinking the nature of play contains ontological ironies:  It requires effort to be perfectly effortless.[...]





This is my final example of an artist who drew in what might be called a slick, polished manner: Leonard Starr. Like other artists we've observed this week, Starr could draw in a tight style:And yet,  take a close and look you'll see that, like the previous artists I've featured,  he doesn't pursue realism slavishly. This zig-zag line in the man's hair, for example, adds a nice effect but could never be derived solely from tracing photographs:Neither could Starr's restraint on the girl's face, or his tapered lines showing the volume of her hair.Starr's drawing ability enabled him to stage his pictures in the most thoughtful or dramatic way. Unlike so many comic artists who are fashionable today, he was not hindered by a lack of skill.DetailStarr's figures were idealized, in accordance with the fashion of the times.I suspect that many of today's audiences prefer a scruffy, unschooled style because it seems more sincere than idealized pictures by skilled artists.  Sophisticated audiences would rather be shown the dark underlying truths than the glossy surfaces.But is such closed minded skepticism toward idealistic images warranted?  The ancient Greeks lived a harsher, more imperiled existence than we; feuding city states, corrupt politics and daily strife gave them plenty of reasons to be disillusioned about human nature.    Yet they still devoted major room in their culture for the "illusion" of idealized beauty.  (Clean lines, beautiful proportions, harmonious forms-- as Socrates said,  "In portraying ideal types of beauty we bring together from many models the most beautiful features of each.")   The parthenon, for example,  was intended to be perfect, the embodiment of clean reason and perfection despite everything the Greeks knew from the savagery they had experienced.Their minds were supple enough to appreciate that art could be both realistic and transcendent,  both true and beautiful.    [...]



Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style: Stan Drake.Like Alex Raymond, Stan Drake drew pretty pictures in a tight, realistic manner. Portraits of the rock group Supertramp from Drake's 1979 strip, "Pop Idols and the Disco Scene" Note how Drake's fine tipped marker has discolored with time, while the ink remains blackDrake understood perspective......and (unlike the poor, dissed Mr. Mowat) Drake understood how to draw hands.He had the technical skill to place figures in a room. Like other artists featured this week, Drake was nimble with a pen and fearless with ink.For years Drake shared a studio with his close friend Leonard Starr, who described Drake this way:His models were the previous golden age pen and ink illustrators like Gibson, Flagg, Lowell, Coll, et. al, mainly because he couldn't afford paints.  Oh the forces that shape our lives.... His brush strokes were used for solid black areas and as accents, very often arbitrarily placed, a heavy stroke ignoring the light source, as often, the top of Evie's hair.  Arbitrary but Oh, how it worked.In the 1980s, Drake realized that there was no longer sufficient demand for his sharp drawing skills, so he changed his style and became the artist for the more simplistic comic strip, Blondie.[...]



Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style...One current comic artist who draws sharp as a razor is Sean Murphy, creator of series such as Tokyo Ghost and Punk Rock Jesus.Note how Murphy's range encompasses the sleek speed lines and mechanical drawing for that boat as well as the imagination and courage necessary for that heavy brush treatment of the explosion:Murphy clearly loves to draw; he often inserts splash pages with ambitious architectural drawings and grand themes requiring great craftsmanship and rare technical drawing skills.He's also not afraid of crowd scenes and angle shots.  Here a group of adoring fans hound a character......causing her and her bodyguard to take refuge in a public restroom.There has been some discussion in the last few posts about the importance of "organic unity" in art and not just resting on skilled draftsmanship alone.  Murphy gives his stylish drawings a consistent dynamic look with his slashing brush strokes and aerodynamic forms.  This is high energy drawing by an artist with the resources to operate safely at high speeds.[...]



Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style...Allan Kass drew these1960s illustrations for clients such as Esso Oil Company and Vauxhall automobiles.Some will object that this was drawn from photo-reference, but there's a reason Esso didn't use a photograph for its ad.  It cost Esso more time and money to commission a drawing, but a photograph would've lacked that snazzy brushwork on the fender and headlights......and in a photograph, that asphalt would be solid black, rather than the visible brush strokes which add life to a flat shape. Here is his ad for a British Vauxhall car:Note the nice way Kass has handled those hills with line and tone:Some more examples of his linework:This is another example of drawing that is often dismissed today as glib (or perhaps I should say, merely eloquent) at a time when content-- particularly personal, confessional content-- is king.  Some of the crummiest drawing is applauded today if its content passes muster.Is this an accurate statement of the trade-off?  And if so, is it a worthwhile trade-off? More examples to follow.[...]



Once upon a time audiences prized clean sharp, draftsmanship.Alex Raymond's Rip KirbySlick, controlled lines, sparkling use of blacks, fast descriptive strokes-- all of these projected an aura of confidence and virtuosity.Alex Raymond's Rip KirbyAlex Raymond's Rip KirbySmooth, evenly spaced, connected lines completed with pen or brush:Alex Raymond's Flash GordonSee the closeup below:Flash Gordon (detail)Cartoonist Leonard Starr described how his friend Stan Drake wielded his "flexible rapier-like" Gillott 291 pen nib: "Stan whipped that sucker around like Zorro."  The same might be said about the way Alex Raymond drew his comic strip, Rip Kirby.Alex Raymond's Rip KirbyNote for example the rapier-like snap on the side of that glove:Rip Kirby (detail)But this type of skill is no longer prized as much.  Many audiences today tend to be suspicious of slick, polished drawing.  They often prefer a rougher, more primitive look, or a simple monotone line.  They seem to view these as more authentic or sincere.  But are they?  Each day this week I will showcase examples of drawings by a different artist who uses that clean, sharp look and perhaps we can discuss whether these virtues are still valuable and relevant.  [...]



"Perhaps the crescent moon smiles in doubt at being told that it is a fragment awaiting perfection."                               -- Rabindranath TagoreMost people realize by now that a quick, rough sketch...Frazetta... can be better art than a careful, detailed oil painting.Frazetta...and that an "unfinished" painting can nevertheless be quite complete.LautrecLast week the participants in this blog had a robust debate about the kind of detail necessary to create a "well executed" picture.  In attacking the loose drawings of H. J. Mowat, one commenter claimed,[Mowat] simply couldn't draw well. His struggles with basic anatomy, even basic drawing, are written all over his pictures.... This has to do with distinguishing between informed anatomy and bluffed anatomy....  [R]ough indication, like all suggestions, can be informed or uninformed. One type of uninformed suggestion results simply in vagueness. Another signifies bluffing/pretension.  The debate soon came to focus on the quality of Mowat's hands, as a test: [M]ost illustrators I know could easily knock out a good hand, in line, from the model, in a minute's time... And there isn't a single well executed hand in the lot.  When I offered several examples of drawings by Degas with a similar treatment of hands, the commenters responded that the Degas drawings, like Mowat's, are "shitty."Are they?  Or are they just a different type of artistic solution, equally valid, with their own standards of quality?One commenter wrote, I feel similar regarding hands which Kev criticized many times.  [In the following image]  her palm on the floor looks childishly crude, a complete mess, while the other one on her lap seems kind of acceptable to me, the area between the wrist and knuckles has an indication of a solid shape... but the fingers sadly end up quite weak. There is no artistic purpose for these anatomical conditions, they were not Mowat's thoughtful decisions, so I think if somebody fixed these things in front of him he would be pleased. Mowat (detail) I disagree with these assessments, and as I indicated last time, I thought the only way to have a constructive  discussion was with real live examples of quality art in front of us.Few people would argue that Toulouse Lautrec did not understand the anatomy of a hand:LautrecYet, look at how he chose to treat the hand in one of his most famous finished pictures:Kinda makes Mowat look like Vesalius.Bernie Fuchs is another example of an artist who clearly understands the anatomy of the hand:Fuchs Yet, as he became older and wiser as and artist, he chose to experiment for important assignments, such as this full page illustration for Sports Illustrated:Fuchs Compare this hand to the much-vilified hands drawn by Mowat:FuchsHenry Raleigh, a contemporary of Mowat, sometimes rendered hands in a looser, more amorphous way than Mowat did:Nobody disputes Rodin's mastery of human anatomy...RodinRodin cherished his watercolors, such as this one where he deliberately took liberties with a hand to create the design he wanted.  Compare this hand to Mowat's:RodinFinally, here's one more example from our old friend Degas.  In this early work, the hand is rendered with precision...DegasBut later, in Degas' period of greatness, several hands look like mittens.DegasThe examples above can't all be "incomplete" drawings or work that was intended for the artist's trash can.  And even if some commenters insist that they are, I can pull out a hundred additional examples of work by excellent artists who decided that the anatomical truth of phalanges was subordinate to the expressi[...]



At the end of last year I offered one lovely drawing by an illustrator you've never heard of, H. J. Mowat.   Mowat has been lost in the sea of anonymous illustrators of the 1920s and 30s who worked in the loose, scribbly fashion of the day.  But I think he was really good.To give him a fair chance, I promised some commenters I'd show a broader range of his work.  Mowat's pictures may seem a little fuzzy compared to today's sharper, hard edge fashions.  But plenty of mediocre illustrators can make sharp pictures of fuzzy concepts.  It's harder to create successful fuzzy pictures of sharp concepts.  Take for example the drawing, "She used to come into the Petrovski barracks and empty her pistols into the poor devils who wouldn't bend."I think this is a well staged picture, with selective use of lights and contrasts to direct your eye.  The figures are well posed and integrated to show how the professional soldiers are queasy about the bloodthirsty woman.  But most importantly, Mowat has made some highly unusual but smart choices: the "poor devil" has no face yet Mowat chose to emphasize his cowlick (which conveys his rumpled condition).  Also without drawing a face, Mowat shows us that the man's chin is raised by positioning his ears.Just as Mowat drew rumpled hair, the man's clothing is one big wrinkle.  He has a defiant tilt to his head combine with a posture of resignation waiting for the bullet.  Mowat did not focus on the facial expression, which would preoccupy a more obvious illustrator.  For me, this is excellent, subtle drawing.Note how, in 1927, ordinary Saturday Evening Post readers were presumed to be cultured enough to know the lyrics to Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Mikado." Mowat used a bag of tricks to compensate for the cheap paper and primitive black and white printing of his era.  His medium would not permit him to display a blushing cheek or a steely glint in the eye, but he seemed to make maximum use of a tilt of the head.  Many of the illustrators of the 1920s are best forgotten, but I think H. J. Mowat is one worth remembering.[...]



When I was a boy, there was something about Playboy's comic strip, Little Annie Fanny, that mesmerized me.I first discovered the strip in old issues of Playboy that I'd smuggled into my room.  Before I'd heard the names Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jack Davis or Frank Frazetta, I studied the pictures so intently, they're still burned into my consciousness today.     Revisiting the strip, I see that its message remains relevant.  Fifty years ago, the brilliant Harvey Kurtzman wrote an episode with an island where the population became bored by conventional politicians so they elected a vulgar brute to shake things up. Kurtzman offers us his view of "populism" at work:We've elected an ape, indeed.The character Annie was simple minded, yet Kurtzman always managed to put words of wisdom in her mouth:"When people are so mean and selfish, they deserve to be led by an ape."Wishing you all a 2018 that is a little less mean and a little less selfish.[...]



You've never heard of the illustrator H. J. Mowat (1879-1949).   He was lost in the sea of anonymous illustrators of the 1920s and 30s who worked in the style of the famous Henry Raleigh.Thousands of popular magazines of the era featured loose pencil illustrations shaded with charcoal or blocks of wash.  It was an appealing style because it was fast and helped conceal a multitude of artistic weaknesses.But if you flip through those illustrations, it's easy to spot the few artists with genuine talent. It shows in the selected moments of tight focus or restraint, in the staging, in the imaginative solutions.  Mowat wasn't one of the illustrators hiding behind this soft style, he used it from a position of strength.Consider the two ursine figures on the left.  Mowat doesn't neglect their faces out of laziness or uncertainty; those blurred faces are part of a carefully orchestrated effect with bulky bodies, small heads, stooped posture and thick limbs.  These are lumpenproletariat, and sharply defined facial features would only distract from the effect Mowat wants.Next, in the figure leaning over the bed, all Mowat needs is one strong, carefully placed jaw line and a few rounded strokes on that arm to define the figure: Mowat has proven he knows anatomy; that leaves him free to go wild with the rest of the figure.Or consider the focal point of the picture, the figure dying on the bed.  All you see is a tiny head-- a minuscule part of the picture's real estate, but it occupies a choice location right in the center; the shadow of the window on the wall serves as a spotlight directing our gaze; and the shadow on the right side creates one of the highest contrast spots in the picture.Who needs details such as eyelashes or lips when you can achieve your result with such a broad range of other tools?Among the glut of mediocre pencil illustrations in the first decades of the 20th century, some genuinely lovely drawings stand out.[...]



When I started this blog, my plan was to publicize my favorite works by great illustrators of the past.  I had a long list, starting with illustrators such as Leyendecker, Rockwell and Cornwell-- and figured I would soon get to the talented Saul Tepper.Then 12 years went by.I fear that many people share my mistake of treating Tepper as an afterthought: he's an important artist that we'll get to eventually.   One reason may be that people rarely see high rez images of his rich, dramatic paintings.Whatever the reason, he deserves better. Tepper (1899-1987) was one of the last great "painterly" illustrators who worked in oils on canvas to achieve a thick, buttery effect.  The following lovely example is from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration:The variegated textures and rich colors of Tepper's originals rarely showed up in the final published versions:By the latter part of Tepper's career, illustration had moved on to smaller, faster, water based paintings on cardboard that were better suited to the demands and timetable of modern publishers.  By the 1950s he was working for second tier magazines such as Argosy and True.  He found work as a photographer, teacher and musical composer.But before he migrated away from illustration, Tepper spent a solid 30 years painting in the classical style, creating remarkable paintings that are worthy of our attention.[...]



This week the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a major new retrospective of the work of David Hockney,  described as "one of the most notable painters of the 20th century."  The BBC tells us that Hockney's "greatest subject [was] private swimming pools," where he captures "something as impossible to fix as light on water."Personally, I think illustrator Tomer Hanuka did a better job of capturing light on a swimming pool in this preliminary sketch for a movie poster:Note how Hanuka's loose, quicksilver line suggests the essence of his subject:Until the Metropolitan Museum of Art announces its major retrospective of Hanuka's work, I'll use this space to share a few things.At the recent CTN animation expo in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of meeting Hanuka and hearing his excellent talk about his series of posters for classic movies.  For example, he re-invented the poster for Hitchcock's Psycho......with this powerful composition:As stark as this composition is, it contains numerous subtle touches that contribute to its potency.  For example, Hanuka's keen eye picked up on the dripping tile wall, still wet from the interrupted shower.Other smart touches include the keyhole perspective, the shower curtain tangled around the woman's ankles, and the confined space, all of which give the poster a chilling intimacy.  Compare its eroticism to the original poster, where a plain photo of Janet Leigh in a bra once passed for titillation.  What a difference good design can make!Here is the final version:Hanuka reinvented the poster for Dr. Strangelove, from this:... to this:Here is an interim version...and here's the final:In many of these pictures, I prefer Hanuka's preliminary sketches to the final versions.  They show off the muscle power and the sparkle of the original ideas, before he tightens them up and begins to layer them with complex shapes, details and afterthoughts.  The great illustrator Robert Fawcett wrote, "A design started tentatively rarely gains in vigor later.  In anticipation of the dilution which I knew would later take place, the first draft was put down with an almost savage intensity...."Hanuka's preliminary sketches are so strong, they help glue together final images that could easily fragment.PreliminaryFinalPreliminaryFinalIt was a treat to see these earlier drafts at the CTN expo and hear Hanuka discuss his approach.[...]



Walter Appleton Clark was one of the most promising young talents in the illustration field in 1900.  He painted this beautiful and subtle watercolor at the age of 23.   Note how he mastered the values in what might have been a muddy scene.  The light source creates a sharp contrast against that profile, and the structure of the whole picture flows from there.Clark is judicious with his use of those orange highlights.Clark reduces the contrast for the husband playing the fiddle in the shadows-- the husband is literally designed to be a second fiddle in this picture.  Yet he is painted with just as much structural integrity as if he were in the spotlight.And I love Clark's soft, feathery treatment of his subject.This painting won the Silver Medal at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900.Clark never shrank from a challenge.  He would do it the hard way if it meant a more effective picture...At the same time, he would take the simplest subjects (such as an old doorway or two people sitting across the table from each other) and find challenging angles or treatments that would make them complex and interesting:A beautifully designed drawing of a doorClark was prolific and hard working.  His career gained momentum just as the illustration market gained momentum:  printing quality was improving, full color was becoming reliable, and the market for quality illustration was exploding.  Conditions were ripe for Clark to make the most of his potential.Then, as quickly as his career began, it was over.   Shortly after he turned 30, Clark caught typhoid fever and died.  He had spent his short time well, and left behind a small but beautiful legacy of work.But who knows what he might have accomplished with another forty years to paint?None of us has a guarantee that we will live long enough to realize our artistic ambitions. We should remember the lesson of Walter Appleton Clark  as we evaluate each day's work.  [...]



For those of you who will be in the Los Angeles area this Sunday, the nice folks at the CTN Animation Expo have kindly invited me to  talk about my latest book, The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs.  I'm looking forward to it. If you're there, please come up and say hello.

The full schedule for the expo can be found here.  Other speakers at the event (many of whom I've featured on this blog before) will include the artists Peter de Seve, Greg Manchess, Carter Goodrich, Nathan Fowkes, Pete Docter, Nick Galifianakis and Dice Tsutsumi.



CF Payne has long been renowned for his beautifully crafted pictures.A generation of adoring art students studied his technique.  But more important than technique,  a new documentary about Payne's life gives us insight into the attitude responsible for motivating such work.  The film is available on vimeo on demand and is well worth seeing.  In the film, Payne is quite candid about his early "tough times," describing how he had to scrounge for quarters because he didn't have enough money in his bank account to buy his son a happy meal at McDonald's. Yet, Payne persevered because of his love of art.  (He claims he originally wanted to become a professional ball player but watching this film, it's clear Payne was a born artist). Payne drew all the time, and continues to draw obsessively today.He urges in the film, "Every day get better. Get better. You never get good enough." He talks about how he adapted his style so he could continue drawing on long bumpy bus rides, using quick, jotting lines instead of long, smooth strokes. This is not an "art technique" film in the usual sense of the word, unless you consider footage of Payne mowing the lawn of his studio with a push mower a lesson in art technique  (which, if you think about it, it is).The documentary helps to reveal what distinguishes Payne from a thousand other technically skillful artists.  He was never content with a mere likeness: "By the time I got to college my drawings were pretty good... but they didn't come from any place of meaning or understanding, they were just drawings by a mind that was pretty blank." I found Payne's dedication to continued growth uplifting. I also found it interesting that someone who is known for his paintings rather than his drawings had the proper perspective on drawing: That's the thing that stands out in who you are as an artist: the way you draw.  The purity of who you are as an artist comes through most in your drawings. [...]



The Renaissance brought fresh excitement about the physical world.  Art awoke from its long medieval fixation on the afterlife, and began to study the details of nature with an almost fanatical obsession. Durer (detail)Centuries later there are still artists who find meaning painting individual hairs with a fine brush.Julie BellThe Bible says "the very hairs of your head are numbered" but that doesn't mean artists must count each one. It's interesting to see how differently artists have summarized and abstracted fur, taking a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach.  Here are some artists I admire:J.C. Leyendecker: J.C. LeyendeckerRather than paint individual hairs, Leyendecker uses his trademark diagonal slashing brush strokes. Mort Drucker: Rather than draw individual hairs, Drucker uses his trademark bouncing line: George McManus: Rather than trace individual hairs,  MacManus stylized different furs with his art deco designs:Ronald Searle:Searle uses a field of watercolor as a substitute for painting individual fine hairs, which allows him to  give greater emphasis to a few scraggly hairs with an ink pen.Leonard Starr:Mindful of the smaller size and lesser reproduction quality of newspaper comic strips, Leonard Starr creates a darker fur, feathering the hairs with drybrush Andre Francois:There was a time during the Renaissance when following individual hairs from follicle to tip could be an exciting part of understanding the natural world.  No one had done what Durer did.  However, today I find the artistic interpretations of fur far more interesting and rewarding.  [...]



"The early twentieth century was the most significant period of all in the development of modern design....  The design profession was born, and with it came the beginnings of corporate and graphic design as we know it today."                                          -- Jens Müller,  Pioneers of German Graphic Design                                                                          The first few decades in 20th century Germany were tumultuous years, a veritable Cambrian explosion of innovation which shaped the world of visual communication that we now take for granted.For example, they introduced the "object poster" which filled public spaces with large colorful images for the first time. They were fun and eye-catching, persuasive and entertaining.  Most of all, they were visually easy for strolling crowds to read.  The poor man's art museum, they transformed public boulevards into art galleries and revolutionized the worlds of advertising and design that followed. Then there was the new use of design to embody corporate identity, including the invention of the modern corporate logo. Modern typography was invented and the rapidly developing science of photography was applied in new ways, such as photomontages.I've previously written on this blog about German designer Peter Behrens, the visionary who met the industrial revolution with comprehensive designs for the new man made environments. But I never appreciated the cumulative role that Behrens and his contemporaries in Germany played in transforming modern visual communication until I read the admirable new book by Jens Müller, Pioneers of German Graphic Design. (Callisto Publishers, 2017).The 1,000+ high quality illustrations in this encyclopedic book speak for themselves, and make a highly persuasive argument.This 1925 car ad could easily appear in a magazine today, nearly 100 years later.But beyond the images, Müller's text is a well-written, thoughtful analysis of the ingredients that gave rise to an era of such artistic ferment.  He writes: "To trace the history of modern visual communications and explore why such major innovations came from Germany requires a detailed understanding of the social and economic circumstances of the Epoque and order to identify the developments generated demand for modern commercial design in the first place."Müller's exploration centers on fourteen pioneers of design, most of whom were previously unknown to me but all of whom I found deserving of attention.  I was particularly impressed by the work of Julius Klinger and Wilhelm Deffke.He tracks how the industrial age changed production, transportation and distribution of goods, which contributed to vast social and economic change (and sharp divisions between social groups).  The new accessibility of printing helped to evade the constraints of previous far reaching government censorship of printed materials. These and other elements fused to transform advertising form and content, and amplify the role of graphic design.  Müller's expertise in discussing these issues is truly impressive.Many of the readers of this blog are already familiar with the brilliant German g[...]



Ralph Barton was one of the most prominent illustrators of the 1920s.  Most of his illustrations were done with a simple line, yet if you paid attention it soon became clear that Barton knew a few things.  Here are four of them: 1.  Sometimes the best way to exaggerate legs is to contrast them with a normal arm: Those high-stepping legs seem even crazier because Barton gave us a baseline for normalcy.  By showing us he understands the bones and muscles of that arm; he emphasizes that he has detached the bones and added more joints to those legs.  That wonderful flowing tunic is like a magician's cape, concealing how he has sawed a lady in half.2.  Sometimes the best way to draw a big subject is to obscure it in a small corner.There were plenty of dramatic ways to draw the 1927 death of Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer whose trademark-- an enormous, flamboyant scarf-- became wrapped around the axle of her brand new convertible.  Duncan was pulled from her car and choked to death as she was dragged along a cobblestone road in France.  An artist could hardly ask for a more visual spectacle.  Yet, this is the wonderful, controlled way that Barton depicted it:        I love Gertrude Stein's stoic reaction when she read the news of Duncan's death:  “Affectations can be dangerous." 3.  A mediocre subject can still be redeemed by a strong image.The joke on this cover of Puck is not particularly funny or creative:but man oh man, it is redeemed by Barton's strong graphic treatment.  He didn't get discouraged by his text, he redeemed it.Today the practice is largely the opposite.  The dominant assumption is that crappy drawing will be redeemed by profound or moving content.4.  Don't accept standard templates if you have a better idea.Barton decided that the regular logo for Puck would not go very well with his cover drawing.  Rather than compromise his drawing or accept , Barton took the initiative to letter a whole new title and offer it to his client: It appears from Barton's note that Puck neither requested nor paid for this extra effort.  It was something Barton volunteered because he cared about the least details surrounding his art and was not afraid to work.[...]



If a man wishes to be worthy of the best that a woman has to offer, he must have the patience to feed her a pomegranate, one seed at a time. -- Ancient Persian ProverbBefore the muse gifted Heinrich Kley with this idea about racing snails...... he explored snails with lovely little studies such as these:By working at a snail's pace, Kley learned how to make them race at breakneck speed.[...]



The poet Robert Frost understood that freedom is not the absence of constraints.  "You have freedom," he said, "when you're easy in your harness."The illustrator Mort Kunstler used to work for men's adventure magazines such as Stag or For Men Only.Illustration for the Men magazine article, "Get to Comrade Zoltan with Girls." (1959). The article says that when all other interrogation tactics failed, "There was no choice but to summon the 'passion troops.'"Cheap and lurid, these magazines were printed on a low budget. They couldn't afford full color reproduction on every page.  In the double page illustration above, Kunstler was told he could use full color on the right side, but only two colors (red and black) on the left side.Didn't notice Kunstler's sleight of hand, did you?  OK, look again to see how he finessed it: The Russian soldiers were painted in two colors... ...and so was "comrade Zoltan..."... but Kunstler subtly camouflaged the transition to full color with this red headed temptress:The real trick was how Kunstler used the artificial light in the room to disguise his color limitation. Kunstler was faced with unreasonable constraints, but he knew enough about color and staging so that the restrictions didn't chafe or pinch his painting.  He planned around them. He was easy in his harness. And Kunstler wasn't the only one. In earlier days, technical and economic limitations on the printing process created all kinds of obstacles for artists but if they were good enough and imaginative enough, the viewer never knew.Look at how the illustrator Henry Raleigh dealt with the same problem that Kunstler handled: Raleigh staged the drawing to take advantage of the blue ink on the right side to convey a dour, obsequious man......and used the warm color on the left to create this radiant creature:Today artists are blessed with unlimited rainbows of color, in cmyk or rgb variations.  The computer monitor permits us to use full color on both the left and the right side at no extra charge.  Nor does the internet constrain the number of copies created.  One might argue that with all these technical advantages artists have finally achieved true freedom.  But that's not genuine freedom, genuine freedom is being easy in your harness. [...]