Thursday, 28 August 2008

My class is studying the rendering of facial features in light and shadow this month. Grouping and simplifying is usually more effective than excessive rendering. Especially in the eyes where too much rendering can leave them looking like symbolic hieroglyphics.

Saturday, 23 August 2008


I love this picture from an old reference book about birds.

The anonymous artist could have presented the same basic information a thousand different ways, but he chose to emphasize the design. When you look at the shape, the colors, the negative space, you know right away: this was an artist who understood the language of forms.

In previous posts about the enduring importance of design, I have shown pictures from the Museum of Modern Art or recent graphic novels that are not as concerned with design or other aesthetic qualities. For example, one famous graphic novelist wrote, "if one tries to look at my strips as 'good' drawings... they're not, but ... I'm able to write with pictures without worrying about how I'm drawing something."

I always thought it was the job of an artist to be "worrying about how I'm drawing something," but my narrow minded attitude has only provoked scorn from readers who believe that "good," well designed pictures are no longer as important, especially for sequential art. Samples of their feedback:

Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware are geniuses and should not be judged by old fashioned standards for drawing.

The drawings in Panter's comics... are not meant to be studied like... paintings..., they are meant to tell a story.

You are completely on crack. I have never seen such a misguided discussion in my life.... the art world is horrifically driven by vacant aetheticisms...

I think you are mistaking the sequential storytelling of comics with illustration.... If the focus of your blog is ILLUSTRATION ART, perhaps you should stick to that and not try to include Chris Ware in a category he does not belong.

A couple of suggestions for you Dave; grow up & wise up.

Sorry, David, but you have no idea what you're talking about. Go back to reading batman; you're totally out of your depth in trying to understand why Ware is a great artist

These artists make images that could be called bad drawings by someone looking for something pretty, but in actuality have great ideas behind them... Maybe because the drawings are essentially "bad drawings", it is hard to distinguish what is actually good from what is bad.

But good design doesn't limit an artist to pretty or ugly, detailed or simple, realistic or abstract, fast or slow. Any of these approaches can be either well designed or poorly designed. Ever since art began, the challenge for the artist has been to marry content with "good" pictures, not to surrender one for the other.

The map maker who drew this 15th century map of the world could have displayed accurate information without worrying about composition, style or color. Yet, he obviously felt that a visual medium demanded attention to aesthetics as well as content:

The same could be said about this Tibetan image explaining the "wheel of law." The artist could easily have ignored considerations of form and resorted solely to a technical diagram. He did not.

Egyptian wall paintings tell complex religious and historical narratives. Yet, after overcoming dozens of obstacles not faced by artists today, the artist made sure that his images were also beautifully designed, right down to the smallest little figure in the corner:

Artists who can speak the language of forms are sensitive to the balance, the rhythm, the harmony and aesthetic designs of nature, and are capable of employing those magical powers in images. The artist who drew that bird understood he was in the presence of sacred things.

Artists are of course free to grant themselves exemptions from any standard or challenge. There is no law preventing an artist from saying, "I don't care about making good pictures because I have other priorities and I can't handle both at once." But 30,000 years of art history proves that good content is not incompatible with good form. Artists who lack this ability, or who lack the drive to do things with this ability, will always be second rate to me.

Thursday, 21 August 2008


Something I did many years ago to figure out how to use india ink.

Thursday, 14 August 2008


This is a scene from the Prince of Egypt. It was designed by layout artist Guillaume Bonamy. I did the preliminary color sketch (top) and the final was painted on acetate cells by three of us (we would occasionally split up big paintings like this to reach a tight deadline). The background was painted by Bari Greenberg, the temple on the right was painted by Donald Yatomi and the foreground was painted by me.

Copyright Dreamworks animation SKG.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


During World War II, the illustrator William A. Smith was sent by the OSS to China, where he spent time behind enemy lines working on the propaganda war. It was an eye-opening experience for a boy from Ohio, and he drew everything he saw.

He drew soldiers on a bumpy flight in the back of a C-47 aircraft. He drew Chinese children playing in the street. He drew vanquished japanese prisoners in camps. You can see his thirst for knowledge in these wonderful drawings.

I find it uplifting that, in the midst of war, an artist retained such curiosity about the world around him and such sensitivity for his subjects. There is a lot of humanity in these drawings.

It is especially interesting to contrast Smith's personal drawings with the propaganda drawings he was doing at the same time (caution: some of these are a little raw).

Smith's personal drawings were clearly an educational process. He learned a lot from keeping his eyes open. On the other hand, his propaganda drawings demonstrate none of the same effort. Great art enriches us by exposing us to the complexity and nuance of life, but in times of war complexity and nuance can be a hindrance.

These twin sets of drawings are a good example of why William Butler Yeats said, "We make rhetoric out of arguments with others but we make poetry out of our arguments with ourselves."

Friday, 8 August 2008

Brandt. Gouache in a craft paper sketchbook.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Composition Workshop on Saturday August 16th

If you're in the LA area and would like to refine your composition and painting skills, you're welcome to join me for an upcoming event.

On Saturday August 16th I'll be giving a workshop on pictorial composition for subjects of all kinds including landscape, figurative and entertainment design. Here's what we'll cover:
  • Lectures on the fundamentals of effective picture making.
  • Discussions on the creation of mood and environment.
  • Principles for organizing complex scenes into pleasing arrangements.
  • Strategies for solving compositional problems quickly and effectively.
  • Composition exploration exercises.
  • Painting from a costumed model.
We'll spend the morning with slide shows and lectures and spend the afternoon doing the compositional exercises and studies from a costumed model.

To enroll contact the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art at 877 LA-Atelier. Their site is

Hope to see you soon.