Thursday, February 22, 2018

OVER-THINKING THE SITUATION

I like this cartoon by Charles Barsotti of a committee of dogs deliberating a rubber ball:

From the inventory of Taraba Illustration Art LLC 

Barsotti is famous for his light hearted, spontaneous style.  He draws only the bare essentials, perfect for his special brand of humor.

There's no "over-thinking" in this drawing... is there?

When you look at the original, you see that Barsotti decided that some of those dog noses would be funnier if they were a fraction of an inch shorter:


And that round rubber ball... maybe it needed to be a fraction of an inch larger to balance perfectly against the dogs:



And as for those dogs... gosh, would the joke go over better if they had eyebrows for facial expressions?

Nope, I guess not.  Better white them out.


This airy little drawing about not over-thinking the nature of play contains ontological ironies:  It requires effort to be perfectly effortless.

Monday, February 12, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 5)

This is my final example of an artist who drew in what might be called a slick, polished manner: Leonard Starr.

Like other artists we've observed this week, Starr could draw in a tight style:


And yet,  take a close and look you'll see that, like the previous artists I've featured,  he doesn't pursue realism slavishly. This zig-zag line in the man's hair, for example, adds a nice effect but could never be derived solely from tracing photographs:


Neither could Starr's restraint on the girl's face, or his tapered lines showing the volume of her hair.

Starr's drawing ability enabled him to stage his pictures in the most thoughtful or dramatic way. Unlike so many comic artists who are fashionable today, he was not hindered by a lack of skill.


Detail

Starr's figures were idealized, in accordance with the fashion of the times.


I suspect that many of today's audiences prefer a scruffy, unschooled style because it seems more sincere than idealized pictures by skilled artists.  Sophisticated audiences would rather be shown the dark underlying truths than the glossy surfaces.

But is such closed minded skepticism toward idealistic images warranted?  The ancient Greeks lived a harsher, more imperiled existence than we; feuding city states, corrupt politics and daily strife gave them plenty of reasons to be disillusioned about human nature.    Yet they still devoted major room in their culture for the "illusion" of idealized beauty.  (Clean lines, beautiful proportions, harmonious forms-- as Socrates said,  "In portraying ideal types of beauty we bring together from many models the most beautiful features of each.")   The parthenon, for example,  was intended to be perfect, the embodiment of clean reason and perfection despite everything the Greeks knew from the savagery they had experienced.

Their minds were supple enough to appreciate that art could be both realistic and transcendent,  both true and beautiful.
   




Thursday, February 08, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 4)

Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style: Stan Drake.

Like Alex Raymond, Stan Drake drew pretty pictures in a tight, realistic manner. 



Portraits of the rock group Supertramp from Drake's 1979 strip, "Pop Idols and the Disco Scene" 

Note how Drake's fine tipped marker has discolored with time, while the ink remains black

Drake understood perspective...




...and (unlike the poor, dissed Mr. Mowat) Drake understood how to draw hands.








He had the technical skill to place figures in a room. 


Like other artists featured this week, Drake was nimble with a pen and fearless with ink.

For years Drake shared a studio with his close friend Leonard Starr, who described Drake this way:
His models were the previous golden age pen and ink illustrators like Gibson, Flagg, Lowell, Coll, et. al, mainly because he couldn't afford paints.  Oh the forces that shape our lives.... His brush strokes were used for solid black areas and as accents, very often arbitrarily placed, a heavy stroke ignoring the light source, as often, the top of Evie's hair.  Arbitrary but Oh, how it worked.




In the 1980s, Drake realized that there was no longer sufficient demand for his sharp drawing skills, so he changed his style and became the artist for the more simplistic comic strip, Blondie.


Wednesday, February 07, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 3)


Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style...

One current comic artist who draws sharp as a razor is Sean Murphy, creator of series such as Tokyo Ghost and Punk Rock Jesus.



Note how Murphy's range encompasses the sleek speed lines and mechanical drawing for that boat as well as the imagination and courage necessary for that heavy brush treatment of the explosion:




Murphy clearly loves to draw; he often inserts splash pages with ambitious architectural drawings and grand themes requiring great craftsmanship and rare technical drawing skills.






He's also not afraid of crowd scenes and angle shots.  Here a group of adoring fans hound a character...


...causing her and her bodyguard to take refuge in a public restroom.




There has been some discussion in the last few posts about the importance of "organic unity" in art and not just resting on skilled draftsmanship alone.  Murphy gives his stylish drawings a consistent dynamic look with his slashing brush strokes and aerodynamic forms.  This is high energy drawing by an artist with the resources to operate safely at high speeds.








Monday, February 05, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 2)

Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style...

Allan Kass drew these1960s illustrations for clients such as Esso Oil Company and Vauxhall automobiles.


Some will object that this was drawn from photo-reference, but there's a reason Esso didn't use a photograph for its ad.  It cost Esso more time and money to commission a drawing, but a photograph would've lacked that snazzy brushwork on the fender and headlights...


...and in a photograph, that asphalt would be solid black, rather than the visible brush strokes which add life to a flat shape. 


Here is his ad for a British Vauxhall car:




Note the nice way Kass has handled those hills with line and tone:


Some more examples of his linework:












This is another example of drawing that is often dismissed today as glib (or perhaps I should say, merely eloquent) at a time when content-- particularly personal, confessional content-- is king.  Some of the crummiest drawing is applauded today if its content passes muster.

Is this an accurate statement of the trade-off?  And if so, is it a worthwhile trade-off? 

More examples to follow.



THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 1)

Once upon a time audiences prized clean sharp, draftsmanship.

Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby

Slick, controlled lines, sparkling use of blacks, fast descriptive strokes-- all of these projected an aura of confidence and virtuosity.

Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby
Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby

Smooth, evenly spaced, connected lines completed with pen or brush:

Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon
See the closeup below:

Flash Gordon (detail)

Cartoonist Leonard Starr described how his friend Stan Drake wielded his "flexible rapier-like" Gillott 291 pen nib: "Stan whipped that sucker around like Zorro."  The same might be said about the way Alex Raymond drew his comic strip, Rip Kirby.


Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby

Note for example the rapier-like snap on the side of that glove:


Rip Kirby (detail)

But this type of skill is no longer prized as much.  Many audiences today tend to be suspicious of slick, polished drawing.  They often prefer a rougher, more primitive look, or a simple monotone line.  They seem to view these as more authentic or sincere.  

But are they?  Each day this week I will showcase examples of drawings by a different artist who uses that clean, sharp look and perhaps we can discuss whether these virtues are still valuable and relevant.  


Monday, January 22, 2018

A FEW CRESCENT MOONS

"Perhaps the crescent moon smiles in doubt at being told that it is a fragment awaiting perfection."
                               -- Rabindranath Tagore

Most people realize by now that a quick, rough sketch...

Frazetta

... can be better art than a careful, detailed oil painting.

Frazetta

...and that an "unfinished" painting can nevertheless be quite complete.

Lautrec

Last week the participants in this blog had a robust debate about the kind of detail necessary to create a "well executed" picture.  In attacking the loose drawings of H. J. Mowat, one commenter claimed,
[Mowat] simply couldn't draw well. His struggles with basic anatomy, even basic drawing, are written all over his pictures.... This has to do with distinguishing between informed anatomy and bluffed anatomy....  [R]ough indication, like all suggestions, can be informed or uninformed. One type of uninformed suggestion results simply in vagueness. Another signifies bluffing/pretension. 
 The debate soon came to focus on the quality of Mowat's hands, as a test:
 [M]ost illustrators I know could easily knock out a good hand, in line, from the model, in a minute's time... And there isn't a single well executed hand in the lot. 
 When I offered several examples of drawings by Degas with a similar treatment of hands, the commenters responded that the Degas drawings, like Mowat's, are "shitty."

Are they?  Or are they just a different type of artistic solution, equally valid, with their own standards of quality?

One commenter wrote,
 I feel similar regarding hands which Kev criticized many times.  [In the following image]  her palm on the floor looks childishly crude, a complete mess, while the other one on her lap seems kind of acceptable to me, the area between the wrist and knuckles has an indication of a solid shape... but the fingers sadly end up quite weak. There is no artistic purpose for these anatomical conditions, they were not Mowat's thoughtful decisions, so I think if somebody fixed these things in front of him he would be pleased. 
Mowat (detail)

 I disagree with these assessments, and as I indicated last time, I thought the only way to have a constructive  discussion was with real live examples of quality art in front of us.

Few people would argue that Toulouse Lautrec did not understand the anatomy of a hand:

Lautrec

Yet, look at how he chose to treat the hand in one of his most famous finished pictures:



Kinda makes Mowat look like Vesalius.



Bernie Fuchs is another example of an artist who clearly understands the anatomy of the hand:

Fuchs
 Yet, as he became older and wiser as and artist, he chose to experiment for important assignments, such as this full page illustration for Sports Illustrated:

Fuchs 
Compare this hand to the much-vilified hands drawn by Mowat:

Fuchs
Henry Raleigh, a contemporary of Mowat, sometimes rendered hands in a looser, more amorphous way than Mowat did:





Nobody disputes Rodin's mastery of human anatomy...

Rodin
Rodin cherished his watercolors, such as this one where he deliberately took liberties with a hand to create the design he wanted.  Compare this hand to Mowat's:

Rodin

Finally, here's one more example from our old friend Degas.  In this early work, the hand is rendered with precision...

Degas
But later, in Degas' period of greatness, several hands look like mittens.

Degas

The examples above can't all be "incomplete" drawings or work that was intended for the artist's trash can.  And even if some commenters insist that they are, I can pull out a hundred additional examples of work by excellent artists who decided that the anatomical truth of phalanges was subordinate to the expressive truth of the picture.  These artists are not, in the words of last week's commenters, "fudging" their drawings of hands.  And it is my view that we cannot properly evaluate their work by saying, "the size of the area between the wrist and knuckles is too small, and fingers are too short," even if that is factually correct.

For me, this is like looking at a crescent moon and waiting for it to become a perfect full moon. I think that each of the works above has its own perfections.

     .