Showing posts from May, 2006


Water has always presented a special challenge for artists. It has no consistent shape or color. It does not reflect light or cast shadows the way solid objects do. In the picture above of a shipwreck and the following picture of a placid river, illustrator N.C. Wyeth captures two very different examples of water's temperament.

Water refuses to hold still like a bowl of fruit on a table in your art studio, so painters have gone to extraordinary lengths to observe it. J.M.W. Turner famously lashed himself to the mast of a ship in a storm at sea so he could experience the power of water. Renowned illustrator and maritime painter Stanley Meltzoff is a long time diver. Meltzoff's immersion in his subject pays off in vivid, exciting paintings. Note the marvelous abstract design in the interplay of light and water at the top of the picture:

Illustrators over the years have employed a fascinating variety of approaches to water. For some artists, water seems to serve as rorschach test. …


This drawing by Hank Ketcham dates back to the era before comic strips were drawn with the monotonous line of a felt tip marker and reproduced at the size of a postage stamp. Looking at this original drawing, you can feel the bite of Ketcham's pen nib on paper. You can see how Ketcham expertly guided the flow of the ink around the page like a master hydrologist. The energy and variety of Ketcham's line create a joyful little design at the same time that it conveys a wealth of information about his subject.

By the time this drawing appeared, Ketcham had been drawing Dennis the Menace for over 35 years. His creation had become a big business, and the weary Ketcham often resorted to ghost artists to draw his panels. Yet, when Ketcham picked up the pen here, he still took obvious pleasure in drawing the folds in the pants or the squiggle of the child's elbow. This drawing may have taken Ketcham only minutes to execute, but it took decades to be able to draw it.


The illustrator Robert Fawcett used to complain about the grueling training in figure drawing that he received at the Slade school in London. He recalled bitterly how one professor made him devote a full week to drawing a single figure on plain paper using a hard graphite pencil. While it seemed like torture at the time, Fawcett admitted that by forcing him to focus on every nuance of the drawing, his professor weaned him from "the long, long search for shortcuts."

This training shows up in many of Fawcett's illustrations, where he rarely resorted to the popular shortcuts in rendering the human figure. He did not assume that figures stood at a right angle to the ground, or that they were symmetrical.

You rarely see straight lines for pants legs or ovals for heads. If you look at the shoulders, posture and body frames in these examples, you will see the work of an artist who kept his eyes open.

The great philosopher Immanuel Kant once observed, "Out of the crooked timbe…


The Spiderman movies made $1.6 billion even before you start to count the international toy distribution licenses and TV rights.

But if you strip away the investment bankers, lawyers, production companies and publicity agents, the whole mighty empire began with one lone artist sitting at his drawing board late at night inventing Spiderman while moths flickered around his fluorescent light.

That artist was Steve Ditko. When you look at his drawings, such as the one above, you can appreciate how rich and evocative they were.  Even when muted by crude printing on cheap paper, even without computer graphics, Dolby sound and flashing lights on IMAX screens, Ditko's creations were able to capture the imagination (and loyalty) of young boys.  His battered drawing board is where it all started, the chain of events that went on to make hundreds of people fabulously wealthy (but not, of course, Steve Ditko).

This reminds me of the ancient Egyptian temple of Karnak.

The Egyptians continued bui…