Everyone talks about the importance of "restraint" in making pictures, but restraint is only meaningful if you possess something significant to restrain.  (If you have no talent, you're not actually restraining anything.)

Look at the restraint in this terrific painting by illustrator  Robert Cunningham.  How does he persuade us that his simple blobs of white paint are birds taking off, while the very similar blobs of blue paint right next to them are openings in the trees?

No eyes, beaks,  feathers, feet-- barely even wings-- yet these are lovely birds.

A lot of wisdom and an awful lot of drawing goes into Cunningham's ability to capture the essence of birds in such basic shapes

Cunningham was born in Herington, Kansas, where the flat plains stretch almost forever.  He grew up leading a simple life as the son of a railroad man.  Later, art critic William Zimmer observed, "His native ground has perhaps been an inspiration for the flat, bright planes of color that characterize his work."

Whatever the source of his inspiration, Cunningham never learned to hide behind a lot of frills.


Cunningham got his first big break in illustration when the visionary art director Richard Gangel spotted his talent and put an 8 page portfolio of Cunningham's work in Sports Illustrated.  From that day on, he developed a long list of discerning clients.  He was elected to the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 1998.

Small touches such as the sunlight through those fins show us that Cunningham knows exactly what he is doing.

It's hard to resist showing off our abilities--  our talent for drawing precisely, our eye for detail, our skill at making fine lines-- but restraint implies a power greater than all of these: the strength to harness our other strengths.  It shows that we are truly the master of our skills.

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