Tuesday, April 16, 2019


I love C.F. Payne's drawing of the great illustrator, Charles Dana Gibson.

One reason Payne draws so damn well is that he draws insatiably.  Within the confines of traditional drawing, he never stops looking and exploring.  He fills sketchbooks with drawings like this of artists, writers, actors and others who interest him.  Through trial and error he invents different techniques to achieve the results he wants.  Here he employed an unusual approach:

1. Start with a solid drawing. It can't be lightly drawn because it must have enough weight to handle the next phase. 
2. Roll acrylics thinned with water and ultra matte medium using a brayer. The ultra matte medium is what gives the added texture that allows the final phase to work so well. 
3. Draw with colored pencils, adding acrylic paints as desired for whatever look you want to create.

 Payne occasionally adds color with a palette knife incorporating acrylic gel medium to thicken it up for application.

Of course, the key (as with all things in life) is to "start with a solid drawing."  But looking at the edges of the drawing you can see what the brayer, matte medium and colored pencils contribute.  

His color combinations may seem unusual but the warmth of the colored pencil adds an organic feel to the cold gray/green midtones.

Subdermal warmth from an unorthodox colored pencil choice.
But most of all, I love the opinions in Payne's drawing.  These highly magnified details show Payne's editorial choices at work.

Saturday, April 06, 2019


In the 1950s abstract expressionism was in full flower.

American magazine illustrations, on the other hand, remained fairly tight and realistic.  Yet, these representational illustrations often contained abstract flurries of brush strokes and color, frequently in the tousled hair of stylish women. 

Andy Virgil

Compare Coby Whitmore's treatment of hair...

Coby Whitmore
...with Willem de Kooning's abstraction:

de Kooning

In fact, flipping through the typical illustrations in women's magazines in the 1950s and 60s is like visiting a museum of abstract art: 

Joe de Mers



Joe Bowler
The prevailing style, across a variety of illustrators,  was that skin and facial features remained sharply realistic but illustrators enjoyed an almost unlimited license for the treatment of hair.  

These artists were perfectly comfortable with the same abstract values that were the pride and joy of the abstract expressionists.  Illustrator Robert Fawcett wrote that he was amused by the "misconception that abstract qualities are new to contemporary painting, whereas they have been the comparison of excellence since painting began."


Walter Skor

de Mers

de Mers

Stan Klimley

Al Parker

de Mers


Saturday, March 09, 2019


Before he became an illustrator, Harold Von Schmidt was a cowboy.  

He loved the old west: "I had a chance to be with the Indians, to take part in trail drives and get to know cattle and horses."  He also had long, long days to study the immense clouds hovering over the western landscape.  

Here are two very different ways he looked at those clouds: 

The first view used traditional tools of accurate painting, such as light, color and perspective to capture a likeness.

Illustration for the Saturday Evening Post

The second view forced every element of the landscape into either black or white.  No compromises.

Illustration of a goat herder watching a distant storm in Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop
You can bet when Von Schmidt was riding the range, he never saw clouds with thick black outlines. Here he has created a strange binary world by pushing the contrasts in the landscape to the far end of the spectrum.  Like the hot desert sun, he bleached out the nuances of color and shading.  He annihilated any fine lines that might be used to create the crutch of a half tone.  You'll find no wrinkles or folds shading that goat herder's cloak:

The drawing was done big and bold, with thick lines on a large illustration board nearly 28" wide.  Who draws like that anymore?

Both views of clouds capture their immense scale and majesty. The painting achieves it primarily through a likeness but the drawing achieves it more through abstraction. Welcome to the wonderful world of drawing. 

Abstract art is nothing new; the first abstract art was created when our first human ancestor drew the first line in the dirt with a stick.

Sunday, February 24, 2019


I love this drawing by the great Austin Briggs:

I love its marvelous, fresh take on the running figure, partially obscured by the design of the flapping coat.

Notice how Briggs was not enslaved by the coiled telephone wire; notice the way he added vigor to what could have been the boring color of the policeman's uniform.  Briggs seized these elements and boldly made them into what he needed for the picture:

Does it look like Briggs had trouble with the anatomy of hands?  Guess again.  Briggs spent decades painting highly realistic figures for advertisements for companies such as American Airlines, Bell Telephone and Chevrolet before he became brave enough to draw pictures like this.  

You might get further insight into the special qualities of this drawing by looking at a few other drawings from the same article about the gangster, John Dillinger.

Briggs could not draw in this simple way if he didn't already fully understand the role of the extensor muscles or the radius bone at the wrist or the structure of the human face.

Great stuff from an era when Look magazine would commission four illustrations by a talent such as  Briggs for an internal article.

Sunday, February 10, 2019


The art of illustration has conquered many forms of stigma on the bumpy road to legitimacy.

It was once faulted as "too commercial" but with the passage of time, the malodor of capitalism has largely dissipated.  Most of the products and corporations that sponsored the great illustrations no longer exist, while "fine" art has revealed itself as so ruthlessly commercial, honest illustration could scarcely keep up.

Illustration was also neglected as "economically insignificant."  But as the Wall Street Journal noted last year, Norman Rockwell "now leads the charge in American art... Rockwell's top price at auction now exceeds top prices paid for works by Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe and Andrew Wyeth." 

Critics once dismissed illustration as "too accessible."  But as the schism between fine art and the popular arts widened, fine art-- untethered from the role of communication with a demotic audience-- often became inaccessible to the point of incoherence.  Its shrinking relevance, and the questionable reasons for that relevance, have caused some to reconsider whether accessibility is the crime it was once believed to be.

In this shifting landscape, I've sometimes felt that the only barrier remaining between illustration and cultural legitimacy was the absence of a serious scholarly treatment that would pass muster in any university around the world.

In The Wizard of Oz, the scarecrow fretted that he had no brain but the Wizard explained that all he lacked was scholarly credentials:
Back where I come from we have universities - seats of great learning - where men [and women] go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts, and with no more brains than you have.  But they have one thing you haven't got -- a diploma!  Therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Universita Committeeatum E Pluribus Unum, I hereby confer upon you the honorary degree of Th.D.... that's Dr. of Thinkology
That's why I'm pleased that three smart and accomplished (not to mention indefatigable) editors, Susan Doyle, Jaleen Grove and Whitney Sherman have applied themselves to creating the definitive text book on the history of illustration: a serious, peer-reviewed baseline for education of audiences worldwide.

The field of illustration has more than its share of pretty picture books with sparse or negligible text.  This book includes plenty of excellent pictures, from the familiar to the arcane...

...but at least 73 pounds of its ponderous weight are attributable to scholarly essays on a cross section of important issues from the history of illustration.  The editors have enlisted a veritable who's who from the illustration field-- authors such as  Alice Carter, D.B. Dowd, Kev Ferrara (a name familiar to the readers of this blog), Mary Holahan, Stephanie Plunkett, Roger Reed and many, many others.  The editors themselves have contributed several of the essays.

The book contains an ambitious 14 page glossary and an equally ambitious timeline of the history of illustration-- both of which are extremely handy, and both of which bring to mind Hercules restoring order to the Augean stables.

One of my favorite kinds of books are those that alert me to my own ignorance.  The international sections (on illustrative traditions from around the world) and some of the historical treatments in particular alerted me to gaps in my knowledge that I didn't know existed.  Of course I found things to disagree with in this book, but there were many revelatory passages.  History of Illustration is proving to be an excellent resource and I am grateful to the editors for the service they have performed for the field.

Sunday, January 27, 2019


I recently made some unkind remarks about portraits in the New York Times Magazine.  I asked, "Is there a shortage of under employed, hard working, innovative illustrators out there?"

It might be a better use of this blog to show some young talent that I think is superior to the selections in the New York Times

I really like the work of Lindsey Lively, a 31 year old illustrator and fine artist working in North Carolina.

Lively originally trained to be a sculptor.  This seems to have paid off for her because her paintings have a structural strength absent from so many other artists today.

After graduating from college, she learned about faces by drawing live caricatures on the Vegas strip.  Customers lined up on the sidewalk behind her to watch her work, eager to take the place of her most recent subject as soon as a caricature was finished.  She also paid her dues drawing caricatures at Star Trek conventions and comic conventions.

For the most part, Lively has taught herself to paint-- very impressive when you consider her appreciation  for color and for the importance of brush strokes.  She's an observant and hard working artist who currently makes most of her income selling her work through Instagram .  I think the New York Times  would've been much better served if it had turned to an artist such as Lively.