Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book 'Em Danno!

Over the last year I purchased three books on drawing and painting, which I thought I’d casually review.

The first is the Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides, based on an actual atelier course she runs in Seattle Washington. It’s a lovely volume, lushly illustrated with stunning, classical style drawings from the past and present. The book seeks to recreate the atelier approach to art instruction, in which an experienced master takes on a small number of apprentices and passes on his knowledge through life drawing and painting. Many of my favorite illustrators, like Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth were trained in this way in the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century.

The book is beautifully designed and covers the fundamentals of drawing in chapters entitled ‘Design’, ‘Line’, ‘Form’, ‘Value’, etc. While the chapters are by necessity compact, the information in each is essential and there is little superfluous text.

The book has inspired my first new year’s resolution, to get myself back into a life drawing class in 2011. There is a companion volume on painting, which I also intend to purchase in the coming year. 

Highly recommended.

The next book on the list is the most disappointing.

The Fantasy Drawing Workshop is by fantasy illustrator John Howe, who famously worked on the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The volume purports to lead the reader through ten step-by-step “projects” but really amounts to nothing more than ten drawing demonstrations by the illustrator. I love Howe's work, but I'm not too keen on this particular book.

It seems to be aimed at a fairly inexperienced student, after the popular “For Dummies” series of instructional books, and includes some very beginner-level basics like choosing and sharpening a pencil. This is fine by me. After all, beginners need help too. Unfortunately, the drawings in question seem rather clunky, uninspired and unfinished. It appears as though the artist, perhaps, thought better of the whole project and was then unable to escape a contractual commitment. The few drawings in the book reproduced from the artists sketchbook are of a much higher quality than those presented in the demonstrations.

Sadly, I can’t recommend the book, even for a beginner. Very disappointing. Money would be better spent on one of the many collections of the artist's more finished pieces.

Not recommended.

My favorite of the lot is Imaginative Realism by Dinotopia  creator James Gurney. The subtitle is “How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist”, and it lives up to this promise completely.

Gurney takes us on a detailed journey through his techniques, beginning with thumbnail layouts and color roughs, then on to charcoal comprehensives, posing models, creating maquettes of characters and environments and the whole creative shebang. The entire process is explicitly designed to afford believable verisimilitude in fantasy and science fiction subject matter, and upon seeing Gurney's convincing, classical style illustrations in their nascent and completed forms, one is generally convinced.

The process is broken down into easily digestible bites, and is endlessly re-readable and informative.

Excellent book, highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Comics Samples

         These are some of my most recent comics sample pages, featuring Nick Fury and The Black Widow. Though I feel they are the best I've ever done, there was still an overwhelming ambivalence on the part of those editors who perused them. I wonder if my age is a factor, since I'm well past my "best before" date as comic book artists go.

         Or, maybe I just suck.

         You be the judge.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Arts and Crafts

Rockwell speaks to me.

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about what elevates something from the pedestrian to the sublime. What is the difference between something that is merely well crafted and entertaining, and something that is ART?

            This is not an area of study that rests easily within the limited space of my diminutive brain-pan.

Picasso does not.
            It doesn’t help that my tastes run more toward the popular and less toward that which is traditionally, or generally, considered art. The truth is, whatever the unique thread of creative logic that lead him there, I will never appreciate the work of Pablo Picasso as much as the work of Norman Rockwell. I will never prefer the writing of Charles Dickens to that of Orson Scott Card.

            I know. What can I say? I’m a rube.

            Don’t get me wrong, I have read, absorbed and even enjoyed much of the work of Dickens, and have come to appreciate, on an intellectual, and visceral level, the paintings of Picasso. But, ultimately they simply don’t engage me in the same way. There are dozens of mitigating factors, of course. Picasso’s style is challenging and Dickens’s writing is a somewhat dated product of its era.

Weak excuses, I suppose.

I certainly value what more esoteric artists have added to the world, but a Frank Frazetta painting or good pulp adventure yarn still engages me more thoroughly.


            Maybe I’m just a farm boy, whose taste is in his mouth.

            Or maybe I’m a simpleton whose taste is in his ass.

            Both assertions might be true.

            However, there is one thing I know for certain. I don’t appreciate anything that doesn’t stem from a deep understanding of the craft. By craft, I mean the nuts and bolts of the medium.

A short history of Picasso's artistic development
displays his early mastery of the craft.
In painting, that’s anatomy, perspective, color, composition, and other fundamentals. In Picasso’s case, he was rigorously trained in these fundamentals, and then made an intellectual and creative choice to eschew those basics. That I can appreciate. Certain other individuals, who have been widely heralded as great artists, lack these skills completely.

That I cannot abide.

This shows no understanding
 of craft whatsoever.

I can see the great skill and craft utilized by comic book artist Dave Stevens as readily as I can see it in the work of Rembrandt, and I can fully appreciate both.

But, Dave transports me away from the mundane, and I guess that’s the key.

Maybe the question is why I need to be transported away. Why do I crave escapism more than intellectual or aesthetic stimulation?

Perhaps it stems from my frustration and disillusionment with the world and my life as it is, or perhaps from an unfulfilled adolescent need for the magical, I don’t know. But whether it’s little “a” art, or big “A” art, you’d better have your craft figured out, or I will dismiss you as unworthy.

And this is where I find myself. Working on my own crafts of writing and drawing, and trying, perhaps in futility, to master and transcend those fundamentals, whatever my subject matter.

Wish me luck.