Showing posts from May, 2012


On Tuesday a commenter suggested that Gruger "paints with a pencil." Here is a good example of that effect:

For me, the exciting part of this picture is not the main figures (who are fairly conventional) but the dirt on the ground.  Gruger positions that dirt at center stage and sculpts it with loving care:

He achieves this effect by starting with a broad foundation of wash made from lamp black.  He then works shapes and structure into that foundation with carbon pencil, blending the carbon into the wash with a stump for tonal effect,  sharpening it with a Wolff pencil point to add accents and vitality, and selectively lifting the smeared carbon with an eraser for highlights.  The result leaves Gruger with the full range of values used by a painter.   

Gruger was a big admirer of Rembrandt and Velasquez and despite his carbon medium, it shows.

The sparkling apex of the triangle, where the most intense darks are contrasted with the brightest whites,  is the woman's dress.  I…


In 1928,  F.R. Gruger was so popular that the Saturday Evening Post published a cartoon by another artist about ways "Gruger could guard his famous technique from the hundreds of ambitious young artists who would possess it." 

But Gruger's "famous technique" wasn't all that secret.  Essentially he used pencil on cardboard.  Sometimes he supplemented it with a little wash.  His only protection against imitators was his talent.

Gruger drew on a cheap board that he discovered when he first started out on the staff of a newspaper art department.  Newspaper printers used thin cardboard, called "railroad blank," as a backing for silverprints.  Gruger found stacks of the stuff lying around, and nobody cared how much he used.  He discovered that the soft surface took his pencil well, and he soon began experimenting with an eraser and smearing carbon for special effects. The board later became famous as "Gruger board," in recognition of the miracl…


Nobody talks much today about Frederic Rodrigo Gruger (1871-1953), but years ago, Time magazine proclaimed Gruger "the dean of U.S. magazine illustrators." Norman Rockwell looked up to Gruger as "one of our greatest illustrators."

I suspect one reason Gruger is not more highly regarded today is that his illustrations (almost exclusively black and white drawings) were printed using the limited technology of his era, which turned his rich, dense blacks into chalky grays and lost much of the sharpness and sensitivity of his line.

Despite the constraints of his medium, Gruger continued to create an astonishing 6,000 illustrations from 1898 to 1943 employing consistently high standards.  His work appeared in most of the top publications of his era. Such an artistic effort deserves attention.

Fortunately, today's improved technology creates a perfect opportunity to assess Gruger's work as it really looked.  So each day this week we'll check out scans of some o…

Lighting studies for Puss in Boots and the Tres Diablos.


250 million years ago, before death negotiated its current truce with life, death nearly wiped out all life on earth in a fit of exuberance.

During the Permian Extinction, 96% of all marine species and 70% of all land based vertebrates became extinct. 83% of all genera of insects were wiped out. The planet became a global abattoir, reeking with the stench of spattered life forms whose long and miraculous histories had come abruptly to naught.

Through that million year charnel house crawled one ugly, unpromising little beast: the cynodont.

Dull and witless, the cynodont stubbornly continued to place one foot in front of the other. It had no hopes for the future to motivate it, but still it held on.

The cynodont could not know that its children would one day evolve into the first mammal, and from mammals would arise human beings. By clinging to life through the Permian extinction, the cynodont made human life and all of its glories possible. 

Who was more responsible for the divine moment…
Illustration for Puss in Boots.


 "To live is to war with trolls"  --Henrik Ibsen

Legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser invented the famous "I Love New York" rebus and donated it to the city he loves.

The city's Department of Commerce trademarked it and generated substantial income for the city.

Many years later, following the attack on New York's World Trade Center on September 11th, Glaser changed his famous logo:
I woke up one day, a few days after 9/11.  I thought, you know, “I love New York” isn’t the story anymore. Something happened. And I realized that what had happened was an injury, like when a friend of yours, somebody you love, gets terribly sick.... A confident giant is hard to love, but a vulnerable giant is easy to love. All of us became aware that the city was vulnerable. Everybody’s heart was bursting with this feeling, “God, I belong here. It’s my city.” And it came to me as an image, you know, it’s a mark, it’s a black mark on the heart.... And so I said, “Gee, I love New…
Watercolor on Arches paper, 15"x20".