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Showing posts from April, 2008

A GIFT FOR DELUSION

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Once upon a time, an artist was born in a shabby apartment in a bleak part of NY City. He grew up playing in vacant lots littered with junk. He watched neighbors beating their wives in the street. Once a drunk died in front of him on the sidewalk. The boy learned at a young age to call Jews "kikes" and Italians "wops." Sometimes he watched from the roof of his apartment as street gangs battled below. For amusement, he would spit on pedestrians walking by. Quitting school (he was always a poor student) he leased a spare room in a whore house.

That artist was Norman Rockwell.



Was Rockwell's sweet vision of small town America nothing but a cynical charade?

I don't think so.

We each perceive the world through our own personal filter. Sometimes artists employ a more active filter than others; perhaps it's a natural defense to their chronic poverty and lack of success with the opposite sex. Below, some artists have fun with the disparity between reality and thei…
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Clark Allen, a demo from my sketching class last year.
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PAUL COKER, JR.

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You've seen Paul Coker Jr.'s drawings all over the place-- on countless greeting cards, ads, magazines and comic books-- but when was the last time you actually paused to look at them? His drawings may appear simple, but they reflect considerable sophistication and talent.

For example, Coker understands anatomy and body language. Notice the shoulders and lowered head of this boy looking over his father's work:



or the twist of the body and the bouncing step of the happy runner in the background:



This is how a good artist uses anatomy: not as a distraction, but with confidence and understatement, in the service of the total image. Coker's drawings never brag about his knowledge, but they would not "ring true" without it.

Or look how at how Coker takes fundamentally symmetrical subjects-- a ball, or a standing boy-- and transforms them into highly asymmetrical, interesting shapes by means of the personality in his drawing:





And Coker's mastery of facial expressi…
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Yellow headed bird. Watercolor on hot press paper. . .

EARTH, AIR, FIRE and WATER (and of course, ART)

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In the flickering light from ancient torches, the shadows on cave walls suggested mastodons and bulls to our prehistoric ancestors. They became the world's first artists, reaching out with charcoal to complete visions that were inspired by the earth's shapes:


This cave wall suggested the head of a deer to some prehistoric artist


This large rock reminded an artist of a horse

In this way, the earth and the artist came together to create art.

30,000 years later, artists discovered stained glass. Rather than drawing with sticks in the dirt or making marks on parchment, artists were now able to combine their art with the radiance of light. Look what glorious things happened when artists added sunshine to their palette of colors:


Nativity scene from Priory Church, circa 1501


Prayer of a righteous man, St. Mary's Church, late 14th century


The Last Judgment, 15th century

Just like with the earth, the artists combined with the sun to create art.

At some unknown point in the distant past, ar…
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Profile in gouache
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ROBERT FAWCETT'S OPINIONATED DRAWING

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When it comes to strong, opinionated drawings, I know of no 20th century illustrator better than Robert Fawcett.

He did not simply record the world around him, he aggressively sought out nature's designs and amplified them with astonishing power and clarity. For example, this vigorous drawing...



...is just the seat of some old guy's pants in one of Fawcett's illustrations.



How many other artists could find such energy and beauty in such a banal subject? Next, look at the designs Fawcett finds in the folds of Sherlock Holmes' cape...



...or in the anatomy of a hand. Now that's what I call drawing!



More bold designs in the pants legs and clothing of this couple stranded in the desert:




Even the most delicate lines reflected Fawcett's distinctive personality. Note the hair of this lovely young lady from a P.G. Wodehouse story.




Some very astute observers of illustration art, such as Mike Vosburg and Leif Peng, recently paid fresh attention to Fawcett's work on their web…

LEAVING THE BEST UNTOLD

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I swear I see what is better than to tell the best,
It is always to leave the best untold.
.......................................... .--Walt Whitman
Illustrator Robert Hilbert decided that the best way to convey a man who had hung himself was not to paint the noose around the man's neck, but to imply the event in a way that draws the viewer into the picture:



By exercising restraint, an artist compels the viewer to engage in the picture. When the viewer has to meet the artist halfway, it personalizes art and makes the experience more meaningful.

Sometimes artists receive unwanted help in deciding what parts of a picture to leave to the imagination. Congress famously required publisher Bill Gaines to explain how the following picture was "tasteful" merely because it refrained from showing where the woman's head had been severed:




Of course, today Gaines would have no trouble showing the severed neck and a whole lot more. Not only is there little risk in being daring, there&…
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Fun with gouache.
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