Monday, 5 September 2011

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 37

I love this drawing by Harrison Cady of a small house standing in the way of urban progress:

from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration  (24" x  20")

Cady was famous for simple cartoons of funny animals, but this large, complex drawing is a virtuoso feat of draftsmanship.  Note how Cady maintains total control of the value scale, from those faint buildings in the distance to the dark edges of the building in the foreground.


Cady used tens of thousands of tiny hatched lines to create subtle gradations in value from the top to the bottom of that looming skyscraper:


From one point of view, the hatching on the skyscraper is mindless repetitive work.  But it is also a marvelous tightrope walk.

Pen-and-ink is an unforgiving medium; Cady would be screwed if he progressed too quickly from light to dark, or drew the lines in one area too close together-- or too far apart apart; or if he failed to maintain consistent values from left to right.   He had to keep up a steady rhythm, which is especially difficult with a drawing so large that Cady could not see the entire building as he drew.

The drudgery aspect of this kind of work was eliminated long ago by machines.  24 years after Cady's drawing,  Prometheus brought Zipatone to earth.  From that day on, a gradient tone could easily be peeled from a handy plastic backing:

Al Williamson
The stains and cuts from aging zipatone are now viewed as part of the charm of original artwork from that era:

Frank Godwin
Today the world has moved even further away from old fashioned hatch marks.  Zipatone has been replaced by Photoshop.  Cady could've created the shading on that building simply by opening a grayscale screen and customizing it with the gradiant tool.  This is a huge boon for efficiency.  It saves artists from hours of mindless work; it makes them more productive, enables them to meet shorter deadlines (and enables clients to make more changes on shorter notice). These are commercially sensible, perhaps inevitable developments.

But let's not overlook what we lose with all this efficiency.  Artists who spend hours making marks like this often let their minds wander free while their eyes and hand take over.  The rhythm of the linework can put you in a trance-like state while you go to deep places.  Those places may not help meet deadlines but they can be very valuable for an artist.

Fine artist Jasper Johns, who never had to worry about an art director's deadline, made a series of large paintings  delving into the metaphysics of the common hatch mark:  

  Cady                                           Johns

Zipatone and Photoshop are wonderful inventions that help to set artists free.  But as I look back at Harrison Cady's lovely drawing, I am reminded of the words of G.K. Chesterton:  "You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes."