Showing posts from March, 2008


If Beethoven had gone deaf all at once, he might not have developed into Beethoven. He might simply have adapted to the loss, as many others have.

But Beethoven's hearing gradually slipped away over 25 years, coming and going unpredictably. It faded tantalizingly in and out of reach as he was trying to realize his artistic visions. This slow torture caused him daily anguish. He could never be certain whether he would be capable of conducting a concert. Worse, he never knew which precious sound would be his last.

Beethoven didn't dare tell the world about his disability but he wrote of his despair in a private testament, agonizing that when other people heard a sound,

I heard nothing... such incidents brought me to the verge of despair.... I would have put an end to my life -- only... it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence.Historians such as Robert Greenberg and Maynard Solomo…
Stream in Angeles Crest Forest. Watercolor. . .


Many people say that the illustrator Willy Pogany (1882-1955) reached the pinnacle of his career with a series of lavish, ornate books including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1910), Tannhauser (1911), Parsifal (1912) and Lohengrin (1913). These books feature spectacular gilt designs on sumptuous leather bindings, elaborate borders on each page, and illuminated initials with hand calligraphed text.

Personally, I find them exhausting.

I don't think Pogany started getting interesting as an artist until he shed all the regal trappings and learned to simplify.

Left alone with just a line and a blank page, Pogany began to produce work of enduring value. Each line becomes more important when you don't have fancy textured paper and intricate borders to rescue (or obscure) the quality of your work.

Here are a few scans of Pogany's original drawings so you can see his line up close:

Even his small, "simple" drawings weren't that simple.

Surrounding a picture with fancy b…


William Oberhardt (1882 -1958) was like a 20th century version of Hans Holbein the Younger. Just like Holbein, Oberhardt had an astonishing gift for rendering the human head. "Heads are my preoccupation," he said. "To me the world is full of heads." Both Holbein and Oberhardt were summoned to draw the most famous people of their day. Holbein drew portraits for the court of Henry VIII while Oberhardt drew portraits for Time magazine.

Cover of the first issue of Time magazine, by Oberhardt

Portrait by Holbein

Both artists could paint, but both found their highest expression in the medium of charcoal drawing, which enabled them to display great freedom and sensitivity.

Oberhardt was a very traditional, almost old fashioned artist. He was appalled at his fellow illustrators who used photographs, emphasizing that an artist's job was not to "copy form" but to "strive for interpretation of personality through form."

He advised young artists:

Avoid haste,…

Color Concepts 1 day Workshop and Sketching from Life 10 week course.


If you're in the LA area and want to refine your color and drawing skills, you're welcome to join me for a couple of upcoming events.

On Saturday April 26th I'll be giving an all day workshop on color theory for subjects of all kinds including landscape, figurative and entertainment design. Here's what we'll cover:
The fundamentals of color theory for painters and digital artists.
The emotional impact of various color combinations to create mood and environment.Principles for organizing the complexities of color into pleasing harmonies.Color exploration exercises.Painting from a costumed model.Also coming soon is my 10 week sketching from life course. It will be held each Monday night from 7 to 10 pm starting on May 12th. For this class we'll study the head, figure, drapery, costume, animals and still life as well as a weekend field trip to study landscape painting. Charcoal, watercolor and ink will be demonstrated though students will be welcome to use …


For fifty years, cartoonist Don Trachte made an excellent living doing uninspired, simple minded drawings.

Nothing about these drawings hinted that behind closed doors, Trachte was so talented he could paint a major Rockwell oil painting well enough to fool all the experts:

Similarly, the cartoonist James Swinnerton had a long, successful career making mediocre drawings that revealed no particular artistic ability:

Yet, in his spare time Swinnerton painted powerful, sensitive landscapes:

Rose O'Neill was another artist who made a small fortune with bland, inferior drawings. The public just loved her cute little imps, called Kewpies:

Nobody guessed that behind the scenes, O'Neil drew intense, erotic drawings and wrote steamy poetry. Her real drawings look like the work of Brad Holland, who came along 50 years later.

When a reporter asked O'Neill about the striking contrast between her professional work and her personal drawings, O'Neill refused to comment, saying "these …


There are millions of drawings out there with a claim on our attention, but that doesn't mean we can't pause for a moment over one lovely example.

When you stand in a meadow full of daffodils, your eye may settle by chance upon just one. Not the Best flower, not the worst, but by looking at it and smelling it up close you learn something about every other flower in the meadow.

Today's flower is from the great Ronald Searle. Here he does what he does best-- dips his pen in his DNA and comes up with a brilliant, caustic, insightful drawing.

Searle's line is a joy to behold.

In the following detail, note how Searle applies his trademarked approach to three completely different surfaces; the hard geometry of architecture, the soft folds of a curtain, and the natural lines of flowers have all been humanized by Searle. This is what great artists do.

Searle's editorializing is as sharp and wise as his line. Look at the marvelous way he conveys these gelatinous corporate "…


An artist designed pretty flourishes into this little piece of metalwork ...

... on an instrument of torture which was inserted into a victim and expanded by means of a screw device to tear through the victim's internal organs, causing an excruciating death.

Not only did artists design this object with an aesthetically pleasing look, they updated its design over the years to keep up with the latest fashions.

An aesthetic object such as this poses interesting questions at each stage of the production process:

The client who commissioned it could have settled for a plain, functional tool. He was sensitive enough to desire a pretty design, yet totally insensitive to the piteous howls of his victim;

The artist who designed it summoned all his taste and talent to put the most beautiful design on a tool for mutilating human beings;

The victim of the torture was faced with a most inhuman death which his tormentors took special care to package in a stylish, civilized form.
But this week, we don…