Friday, April 14, 2017

THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS


This marvelous study of a (human?) rump is by the eagle-eyed Tom Fluharty:


Fluharty takes nothing for granted about the human butt.  There are no shortcuts here-- nothing uniform or symmetrical.   From start to finish,  this drawing is based on what he actually sees and not what we all assume we know.  Note the variety of his line, his sharp use of shadows for accents, and the active, dynamic result he has achieved.  He even indicates the stitching at the seams, not because he's one of those detail fetishists, but to add a little pepper to his drawing.


Next we have another unorthodox treatment of the folds and creases caused by the human butt:


This one, by Robert Fawcett, is powered by those strong diagonal slashes.

If you drew the seat of someone's pants without looking, you'd never imagine these folds.  Fawcett was a master of finding and strengthening the geometric shapes in nature.

Here's a third example of a master draftsman (Albert Dorne) with a sharp, incisive treatment of the relationship between the human fundament and the cloth that covers it. 


These three wonderful drawings all demonstrate the power of keen observation, hard work and great visual curiosity.   

On the other hand, there are reference books that purport to explain how folds and creases work. Famed artist Burne Hogarth wrote a book entitled Dynamic Wrinkles and Drapery: Solutions For Drawing The Clothed Figure.  It contains all kinds of drawings with little dotted lines and arrows demonstrating Hogarth's theories about kinetic forces and wrinkles.  Here he shows us how he thinks cloth folds around our butts:


I've always been baffled by Hogarth's many fans.  His drawing strikes me as decidedly third rate.  (Anyone out there want to help me see what I'm missing?)



I think this drawing is based more on Hogarth's theories than on what he actually sees.  There is more education in Fluharty's single drawing above than in an entire 142 page book on drawing wrinkles.  

Friday, April 07, 2017

GOOD DRAWING IN COMICS

Last week I read a college magazine describing a class on drawing graphic novels.  The instructor advised his students, "Good drawing gets in the way of good comics." This is a position widely held by people who don't know what good drawing is.

The current disregard for good drawing in comics seems to stem from at least three unfortunate trends:

First, many people have devalued pictures because they believe the words or concept are most important.

Doonesbury was so smart, its bad drawing seemed charming.  Since that time, many cartoonists who aren't nearly as smart as Garry Trudeau have tried to claim his same license.  
It is shocking to see how literary figures with no understanding of the visual arts feel emboldened to make sweeping pronouncements about them. Sir John Betjeman, the normally erudite Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom demonstrated his ignorance when he proclaimed, "No one comes close to matching [Alan Aldridge's] influence on illustration in the 20th Century..."  (In case you're wondering who Alan Aldridge was, he was a semi-talented air brush artist / graphic designer who was temporarily trendy when his path crossed with the Beatles in the 1960s.) Literary sensation Dave Eggers gave Sir Betjeman a race for his money when Eggers clownishly announced that Chris Ware is "the most versatile and innovative artist the medium has ever known." Neither Betjeman nor Eggers appears to know anything about the medium, yet they don't hesitate to make broad, absolute claims.  And these examples are just the tip of the iceberg; I've previously written about the high literary magazines whose visual taste seems to have diminished in recent decades. 

One has to assume that these fellows would be laughed out of the literary guild if they ever made such baseless claims about writers. But when artists abandon any pretense of objective standards, they open the floodgates for any moron to make bold claims with impunity.  No wonder words seem more important than pictures to today's audiences.

Second,  some people argue that "good" drawing might interrupt the rhythm and smooth flow of  sequential art.

By using three nearly identical drawings, Jim Davis, the canny CEO of the popular Garfield corporate empire, says he avoids changes in perspective, variety in line, or anything else that might slow the reader processing a gag.  This stripped down version of the comic strip is perfectly tailored to a low energy, short-attention-span audience. . 
But "good drawings" aren't necessarily lavish or detailed, and they certainly aren't oblivious to their purpose.  A drawing that distracts and undermines its own intent is by definition not "good."

Third, many people believe that newspapers no longer provide the space for anything but simplified, dumbed down drawing in comic strips.  And it's true, comic strips no longer have room for the visual spectacle of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and Terry and the Pirates.

Still, these arguments don't justify the lackluster drawing in so much of today's web comics, graphic novels and other sequential art.  

As Exhibit A, look at what the talented cartoonist Wiley Miller, who knows how to draw and cares about quality, is able to squeeze into today's compact and simplified comic strip space:



Each panel above is infused with its own creative choices; each drawing of the Titanic is stretched in fun and different ways.  Each panel is explored from a different angle. 

 
 

 

Miller proves that an artist can still find room for observation, inspiration and creativity in today's slimmed down comic strips. 

Note that even the icebergs benefit from the variety in Miller's line (as opposed to the monotonous line that haunts so many of today's strips):

 

Nothing in Non Sequitur is drawn on autopilot. Miller isn't scared to give his readers more of a visual challenge-- and more nutritional content-- than Garfield.

As another example of what is sacrificed by the new attitudes, take a look at this delicious sequence by Joe Kubert:
 
 

There are virtually no words here, but look at how wise and informative those pictures are! Note how sensitively Kubert's seemingly rough brushstrokes tell us about the shape and nature of those tentacles reaching out to encircle that ankle:


Pay attention to the creative choices in the next blockbuster panel:  Kubert tells us about the height of the creature by imaginatively having the tentacles come down from the top of the panel rather than slither along the ground.  (And note, Kubert doesn't stoop to using a simple profile view!)  He also tells us about the depth and bulk of the creature without spelling it out in words or even showing it explicitly, just by placing those strong shadows at the top of the panel where a lesser artist wouldn't have dared to put anything. He tells us about the nature of those suckers by the way he exposes them with the deft curvature of the tentacle at the bottom of the page, showing us a sample framed against the white background. And throughout the whole drawing, Kubert's powerful brush work remains in full control of the values (lightness or darkness) of the elements of the picture.  None of this has to be mapped out in words, nor could it be conveyed as effectively in words.  Kubert depicts it in instinctively and we understand it intuitively.



These are the kinds of pleasures of sequential art that played a large role in making comics a credible art form to begin with.  Where is the web comic or graphic novel today with art that compares?  And where will the credibility of the medium be a generation from now?

Why does this matter to me?  Comics were derided for many years, but eventually earned the grudging respect of the world as a legitimate art form because "good drawing" was at the heart of the accomplishment by Herriman and McCay, by Raymond and Caniff and Foster, by Kelly and King and Drucker and Schulz and Watterson and Thompson and a hundred other artists who worked their asses off.  Sequential art would not have earned space in museums today if these previous generations of artists believed that "Good drawing gets in the way of good comics."

However, now that sequential art is in museums, adorned with Pulitzer prizes and glittering trophies, many people seem eager for a piece of that status at a discounted price. Trophies from writers who don't know or care much about pictures can't preserve the status of the art form forever.  Equity built up over time also erodes over time.

A century of "good" sequential drawing behind us proves that good drawing amplifies and empowers concepts, rather than "getting in the way of them."



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

NEW BOOK: THE LIFE AND ART OF BERNIE FUCHS

For those of you who have been complaining bitterly to me for years about the lack of a collection of the great art of Bernie Fuchs, your day has come.

The definitive book, The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs is now for sale by Illustration Press.



There were many obstacles and surprises on the road to this book, but I'm very pleased with the great job publisher Dan Zimmer of The Illustrated Press has done with it.  I hope you'll give it a look.

The book is in full color and features over 300 illustrations. It is 240 pages long and is filled to the brim with Bernie's beautiful illustrations reproduced from the original paintings and drawings, as well as rarely seen tear sheets from vintage magazines, photographs, color studies, and more.

As with all of Dan Zimmer's books, you can preview a low resolution version of the book on line.





Saturday, March 04, 2017

JOHN CUNEO: NOT WAVING BUT DRAWING


Any new collection of drawings from John Cuneo is a cause for celebration.

Cuneo's newest book from Fantagraphics,  Not Waving But Drawing, contains the kind of brilliant, aching, trenchant work that makes Cuneo one of the best draftsmen around today.

Several current illustrators draw with a similar loose, ungainly line but when you drill down on their work, none of them are capable of drawing faces such as this...


...or coming up with the strange, troubled, scenarios that populate Cuneo's world...






Like Cuneo's previous work, the art in this new book is hilarious...


...and profane...


... and often totally indecipherable.  Cuneo is definitely NSFW. 




When I see Cuneo's work in top magazines such as The Atlantic or The New Yorker, I usually feel that he is much better than their editorial constraints permit him to be. 




His best work is consistently his personal work, the type of drawings that are reproduced in books like this, for mature audiences. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

WASTED TIME ON THE PATH TO BECOMING AN ARTIST

Before Jean Dubuffet became an artist, he served in the French army.  He was stationed high atop the Eiffel tower.  Instead of developing his art, he spent long months staring down at the winding streets and tiny buildings below.



What a waste!  Think of what he might have accomplished if he'd spent that time at art school.

Years later when Dubuffet became a world famous artist, no one could figure out where his radical new vision came from:



Before Alberto Burri ever dreamed of becoming an artist, he was drafted into the Italian Army in World War II.  He was quickly captured in Tunisia and shipped off to a POW camp in Texas.  There he spent two long years doing drudge work surrounded by burlap and canvas tents, gunny sacks, sandbags and camouflage netting. What a waste!

After the war he became world famous for his innovative art working with the textures and colors of burlap.




I can't imagine where Burri came up with such a radical idea.  Art schools certainly weren't teaching anything like that.

Illustrator Harold Von Schmidt never had the advantages of art school.  Orphaned at five, he kicked around the Old West working as a cow hand, and then on dam construction.  In this brawny world he broke his neck twice, and suffered other broken bones, dislocated shoulders and numerous bruises but he learned to understand cattle and horses as a working cowboy on trail drives.  Then one day he met the western artist Maynard Dixon who was looking for models and a studio assistant, and it changed Von Schmidt's life.

He eventually became famous for his muscular, authoritative paintings of horses and the wild west.  He painted with the forcefulness of someone who had hit the ground hard-- a forcefulness that eluded his peers who had refined their skills in art school.





Von Schmidt was esteemed by his fellow illustrators and went on to become the President of the Society of Illustrators.  Here is his portrait by James Montgomery Flagg from the Society of Illustrators' Wall of Presidents:


Returning to where we started, with Jean Dubuffet, the author Frank O'Hara wrote a  poem on the subject of Dubuffet's transition from a soldier on the Eiffel Tower to a world famous artist:

Ah Jean Dubuffet
when you think of him
doing his military service in the Eiffel Tower
as a meterologist
in 1922
you know how wonderful the 20th century
can be

Again and again, events that seem to be a delay or distraction from art training turn out to be central to an artist's achievement.  It all seems to be a matter of keeping your eyes open.


Friday, February 17, 2017

THE WALL OF PRESIDENTS AT THE SOCIETY OF ILLUSTRATORS

Let's face it-- when you visit New York you won't always find one of John Singer Sargent's charcoal portraits on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Sometimes they're in storage.


So what's an art lover to do?

Well, you could walk a few blocks to the Society of Illustrators to see another first rate collection of charcoal portraits.  Over the 115 year history of the Society, each president has been drawn by a prominent illustrator of the day.   These remarkable drawings now line the walls for any visitor to see. Here are some that particularly struck my fancy:

Albert Sterner by William Oberhardt

Charlie Williams by James Montgomery Flagg

Charles Dana Gibson by William Oberhardt

Arthur Keller by George Brehm

Wallace Morgan by William Oberhardt

Howard Munce by Austin Briggs
Albert Beck Wenzell by Adolf Treidler 

Barye Phillips by Paul Calle

Unlike Sargent's society portraits of business moguls and dowagers who just wanted to be flattered, the portraits on the walls at the Society were pictures of working artists, done by working artists, to be displayed in front of a highly judgmental audience of working artists.  That had to change the dynamics of the art dramatically.  I'm sure each of these portrait artists wanted to show off in front of their peers.

Many of these names went on to become legends in the field of illustration.

A 1943 photo of past presidents along with the members who drew them. Note Martha Sawyers in the front row, the only woman in the room.  No African American or Asians whatsoever.

It's also interesting to note how the styles of the portraits changed over the years.  The great illustrator William Oberhardt would recoil at the thought of using a photograph for reference, but it's clear from the hard edged illustration of Paul Calle that times changed.

I'll be showing more of these drawings in future posts.




Monday, February 13, 2017

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!




All the best to you and yours!  

DA