Friday, November 17, 2017

LECTURE ON THE ART OF BERNIE FUCHS



For those of you who will be in the Los Angeles area this Sunday, the nice folks at the CTN Animation Expo have kindly invited me to give a talk about the life and art of Bernie Fuchs.  I'm looking forward to it. If you're there, please come up and say hello.

The full schedule for the expo can be found here.  Other speakers at the event (many of whom I've featured on this blog before) will include Peter de Seve, Greg Manchess, Carter Goodrich, Nathan Fowkes, Pete Docter, Nick Galifianakis and Dice Tsutsumi.

Monday, November 06, 2017

INSPIRING WORDS FROM CF PAYNE

CF Payne has long been renowned for his beautifully crafted pictures.




A generation of adoring art students studied his technique.  But more important than technique,  a new documentary about Payne's life gives us insight into the attitude responsible for motivating such work.  The film is available on vimeo on demand and is well worth seeing.
 



In the film, Payne is quite candid about his early "tough times," describing how he had to scrounge for quarters because he didn't have enough money in his bank account to buy his son a happy meal at McDonald's. Yet, Payne persevered because of his love of art.  (He claims he originally wanted to become a professional ball player but watching this film, it's clear Payne was a born artist). Payne drew all the time, and continues to draw obsessively today.




He urges in the film, "Every day get better. Get better. You never get good enough." He talks about how he adapted his style so he could continue drawing on long bumpy bus rides, using quick, jotting lines instead of long, smooth strokes.




This is not an "art technique" film in the usual sense of the word, unless you consider footage of Payne mowing the lawn of his studio with a push mower a lesson in art technique  (which, if you think about it, it is).



The documentary helps to reveal what distinguishes Payne from a thousand other technically skillful artists.  He was never content with a mere likeness: "By the time I got to college my drawings were pretty good... but they didn't come from any place of meaning or understanding, they were just drawings by a mind that was pretty blank."


I found Payne's dedication to continued growth uplifting.




I also found it interesting that someone who is known for his paintings rather than his drawings had the proper perspective on drawing:
That's the thing that stands out in who you are as an artist: the way you draw.  The purity of who you are as an artist comes through most in your drawings. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

COUNTING HAIRS



The Renaissance brought fresh excitement about the physical world.  Art awoke from its long medieval fixation on the afterlife, and began to study the details of nature with an almost fanatical obsession. 

Durer (detail)

Centuries later there are still artists who find meaning painting individual hairs with a fine brush.


Julie Bell
The Bible says "the very hairs of your head are numbered" but that doesn't mean artists must count each one. It's interesting to see how differently artists have summarized and abstracted fur, taking a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach.  Here are some artists I admire:

J.C. Leyendecker:

J.C. Leyendecker

Rather than paint individual hairs, Leyendecker uses his trademark diagonal slashing brush strokes.

Mort Drucker:

Rather than draw individual hairs, Drucker uses his trademark bouncing line:



George McManus:


Rather than trace individual hairs,  MacManus stylized different furs with his art deco designs:




Ronald Searle:

Searle uses a field of watercolor as a substitute for painting individual fine hairs, which allows him to  give greater emphasis to a few scraggly hairs with an ink pen.

Leonard Starr:

Mindful of the smaller size and lesser reproduction quality of newspaper comic strips, Leonard Starr creates a darker fur, feathering the hairs with drybrush 
Andre Francois:



There was a time during the Renaissance when following individual hairs from follicle to tip could be an exciting part of understanding the natural world.  No one had done what Durer did.  

However, today I find the artistic interpretations of fur far more interesting and rewarding.  


Monday, October 16, 2017

PIONEERS OF GERMAN GRAPHIC DESIGN

"The early twentieth century was the most significant period of all in the development of modern design....  The design profession was born, and with it came the beginnings of corporate and graphic design as we know it today."        
                                  -- Jens Müller,  Pioneers of German Graphic Design
                                                                         
The first few decades in 20th century Germany were tumultuous years, a veritable Cambrian explosion of innovation which shaped the world of visual communication that we now take for granted.

For example, they introduced the "object poster" which filled public spaces with large colorful images for the first time. They were fun and eye-catching, persuasive and entertaining.  Most of all, they were visually easy for strolling crowds to read.  The poor man's art museum, they transformed public boulevards into art galleries and revolutionized the worlds of advertising and design that followed. 






Then there was the new use of design to embody corporate identity, including the invention of the modern corporate logo. 





Modern typography was invented and the rapidly developing science of photography was applied in new ways, such as photomontages.


I've previously written on this blog about German designer Peter Behrens, the visionary who met the industrial revolution with comprehensive designs for the new man made environments. But I never appreciated the cumulative role that Behrens and his contemporaries in Germany played in transforming modern visual communication until I read the admirable new book by Jens Müller, Pioneers of German Graphic Design. (Callisto Publishers, 2017).

The 1,000+ high quality illustrations in this encyclopedic book speak for themselves, and make a highly persuasive argument.

This 1925 car ad could easily appear in a magazine today, nearly 100 years later.



But beyond the images, Müller's text is a well-written, thoughtful analysis of the ingredients that gave rise to an era of such artistic ferment.  He writes:
"To trace the history of modern visual communications and explore why such major innovations came from Germany requires a detailed understanding of the social and economic circumstances of the Epoque and order to identify the developments generated demand for modern commercial design in the first place."
Müller's exploration centers on fourteen pioneers of design, most of whom were previously unknown to me but all of whom I found deserving of attention.  I was particularly impressed by the work of Julius Klinger and Wilhelm Deffke.

He tracks how the industrial age changed production, transportation and distribution of goods, which contributed to vast social and economic change (and sharp divisions between social groups).  The new accessibility of printing helped to evade the constraints of previous far reaching government censorship of printed materials. These and other elements fused to transform advertising form and content, and amplify the role of graphic design.  Müller's expertise in discussing these issues is truly impressive.


Many of the readers of this blog are already familiar with the brilliant German graphic art publications of the era, Jugend and Simplicissimus, which were so influential on American illustrators.  Pioneers of German Graphic Design shows that those two publications were just the tip of the iceberg, and how German innovations in design later transformed the field.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

FOUR THINGS THAT RALPH BARTON KNEW

Ralph Barton was one of the most prominent illustrators of the 1920s.  Most of his illustrations were done with a simple line, yet if you paid attention it soon became clear that Barton knew a few things.  Here are four of them: 


1.  Sometimes the best way to exaggerate legs is to contrast them with a normal arm: 


Those high-stepping legs seem even crazier because Barton gave us a baseline for normalcy.  By showing us he understands the bones and muscles of that arm; he emphasizes that he has detached the bones and added more joints to those legs.  That wonderful flowing tunic is like a magician's cape, concealing how he has sawed a lady in half.


2.  Sometimes the best way to draw a big subject is to obscure it in a small corner.


There were plenty of dramatic ways to draw the 1927 death of Isadora Duncan, the famous dancer whose trademark-- an enormous, flamboyant scarf-- became wrapped around the axle of her brand new convertible.  Duncan was pulled from her car and choked to death as she was dragged along a cobblestone road in France.  An artist could hardly ask for a more visual spectacle.  Yet, this is the wonderful, controlled way that Barton depicted it:       


I love Gertrude Stein's stoic reaction when she read the news of Duncan's death:  “Affectations can be dangerous."


3.  A mediocre subject can still be redeemed by a strong image.

The joke on this cover of Puck is not particularly funny or creative:




but man oh man, it is redeemed by Barton's strong graphic treatment.  He didn't get discouraged by his text, he redeemed it.








Today the practice is largely the opposite.  The dominant assumption is that crappy drawing will be redeemed by profound or moving content.

4.  Don't accept standard templates if you have a better idea.

Barton decided that the regular logo for Puck would not go very well with his cover drawing.  Rather than compromise his drawing or accept , Barton took the initiative to letter a whole new title and offer it to his client:


 

It appears from Barton's note that Puck neither requested nor paid for this extra effort.  It was something Barton volunteered because he cared about the least details surrounding his art and was not afraid to work.



Monday, September 25, 2017

HEINRICH KLEY FEEDS POMEGRANATE SEEDS TO THE MUSE

If a man wishes to be worthy of the best that a woman has to offer, he must have the patience to feed her a pomegranate, one seed at a time.
 -- Ancient Persian Proverb


Before the muse gifted Heinrich Kley with this idea about racing snails...




... he explored snails with lovely little studies such as these:









By working at a snail's pace, Kley learned how to make them race at breakneck speed.



Friday, September 15, 2017

STAYING EASY IN YOUR HARNESS

The poet Robert Frost understood that freedom is not the absence of constraints.  "You have freedom," he said, "when you're easy in your harness."

The illustrator Mort Kunstler used to work for men's adventure magazines such as Stag or For Men Only.

Illustration for the Men magazine article, "Get to Comrade Zoltan with Girls." (1959). The article says that when all other interrogation tactics failed, "There was no choice but to summon the 'passion troops.'"
Cheap and lurid, these magazines were printed on a low budget. They couldn't afford full color reproduction on every page.  In the double page illustration above, Kunstler was told he could use full color on the right side, but only two colors (red and black) on the left side.

Didn't notice Kunstler's sleight of hand, did you?  OK, look again to see how he finessed it:


The Russian soldiers were painted in two colors...


...and so was "comrade Zoltan..."



... but Kunstler subtly camouflaged the transition to full color with this red headed temptress:



The real trick was how Kunstler used the artificial light in the room to disguise his color limitation. 


Kunstler was faced with unreasonable constraints, but he knew enough about color and staging so that the restrictions didn't chafe or pinch his painting.  He planned around them. He was easy in his harness.

 And Kunstler wasn't the only one. In earlier days, technical and economic limitations on the printing process created all kinds of obstacles for artists but if they were good enough and imaginative enough, the viewer never knew.

Look at how the illustrator Henry Raleigh dealt with the same problem that Kunstler handled:


Raleigh staged the drawing to take advantage of the blue ink on the right side to convey a dour, obsequious man...


...and used the warm color on the left to create this radiant creature:


Today artists are blessed with unlimited rainbows of color, in cmyk or rgb variations.  The computer monitor permits us to use full color on both the left and the right side at no extra charge.  Nor does the internet constrain the number of copies created.  One might argue that with all these technical advantages artists have finally achieved true freedom.  But that's not genuine freedom, genuine freedom is being easy in your harness.