Monday, September 05, 2011


I love this drawing by Harrison Cady of a small house standing in the way of urban progress:

from the Kelly Collection of American Illustration  (24" x  20")

Cady was famous for simple cartoons of funny animals, but this large, complex drawing is a virtuoso feat of draftsmanship.  Note how Cady maintains total control of the value scale, from those faint buildings in the distance to the dark edges of the building in the foreground.

Cady used tens of thousands of tiny hatched lines to create subtle gradations in value from the top to the bottom of that looming skyscraper:

From one point of view, the hatching on the skyscraper is mindless repetitive work.  But it is also a marvelous tightrope walk.

Pen-and-ink is an unforgiving medium; Cady would be screwed if he progressed too quickly from light to dark, or drew the lines in one area too close together-- or too far apart apart; or if he failed to maintain consistent values from left to right.   He had to keep up a steady rhythm, which is especially difficult with a drawing so large that Cady could not see the entire building as he drew.

The drudgery aspect of this kind of work was eliminated long ago by machines.  24 years after Cady's drawing,  Prometheus brought Zipatone to earth.  From that day on, a gradient tone could easily be peeled from a handy plastic backing:

Al Williamson
The stains and cuts from aging zipatone are now viewed as part of the charm of original artwork from that era:

Frank Godwin
Today the world has moved even further away from old fashioned hatch marks.  Zipatone has been replaced by Photoshop.  Cady could've created the shading on that building simply by opening a grayscale screen and customizing it with the gradiant tool.  This is a huge boon for efficiency.  It saves artists from hours of mindless work; it makes them more productive, enables them to meet shorter deadlines (and enables clients to make more changes on shorter notice). These are commercially sensible, perhaps inevitable developments.

But let's not overlook what we lose with all this efficiency.  Artists who spend hours making marks like this often let their minds wander free while their eyes and hand take over.  The rhythm of the linework can put you in a trance-like state while you go to deep places.  Those places may not help meet deadlines but they can be very valuable for an artist.

Fine artist Jasper Johns, who never had to worry about an art director's deadline, made a series of large paintings  delving into the metaphysics of the common hatch mark:  

  Cady                                           Johns

Zipatone and Photoshop are wonderful inventions that help to set artists free.  But as I look back at Harrison Cady's lovely drawing, I am reminded of the words of G.K. Chesterton:  "You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes."


Anonymous said...

Can one even buy zipatone anymore ?
I used to love the skillful use of it in , say , Tom Palmer's early inking on Adams, Colan (RIP) and Williamson and early Frazetta comics .

Al McLuckie

Delidel said...

Zipatone is still a staple for manga and manga-inspired artists. I enjoy Ashley Wood's appropriation of zipatone.

MORAN said...

That Williamson drawing is shit compared to the Cady drawing. Zipatone isn't the same as doing it yourself.

kev ferrara said...

Care-taking is a demonstration of love. Zipatone has the slick feeling of mass production and professional commercial illustration. But a photoshop blend... that is the true apotheosis of clueless, lazy, nihilistic, anti-craft.

Notice how the zipatone overwhelms the Krenkeltecture in that Williamson panel. I think craft tint paper was much more organic and innately artful.

David Teter said...

Great post, and I love the drawing too for more reasons than the labor of creating it.

If I'm not mistaken I read Franklin Booth's pen and ink drawings were born out of him mistaking engravings and/or etchings for pen and ink drawings. He then taught himself the skill to draw that way in ink,
with the same kind of dedication.

Matthew Harwood said...

David Apatoff -- The rhythm of the line work can put you in a trance-like state while you go to deep places.

As someone who still incorporates this type of line work in my art, I agree with you. I think of cross-hatching as a Zen mediation that relaxes me and frees my mind to work out other issues with the composition or in my own life.

Hatching is only “mindless repetitive work” and "drudgery” if you keep count.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard anyone talk about the "trance-like state" before, but it's really true. When my wrist moves in repetitive motions like that, my whole body and mind gets drawn into it. Anybody else?


Shane Pierce said...

love your posts! keep'em coming!

Tom said...

The Harrison Cady drawing has the strongest feeling for light. It almost hums with radiation. That comes from his own experience with light and his own understanding of how light works, which is what technique, is. The other two works by comparison are light less especially the ziptone example, which to me reads as dots pasted on the harsh value contrast between the shadows and the light, which makes the work very unappealing.
It might just be the strength of the Cady drawing that makes Williamson drawing look so brutal.


I have been lucky enough to view that image in person more than once. It is a masterful display of intent and control. The Cady piece shows the forethought of the artist who uses his ability to shape his idea. The unity of purpose the Cady exudes cannot be replaced by mechanical process or computer Algorithms.
Robert Henri said "Brush strokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time he makes it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of his spirit and all the littleness are in it."
What does it say about an artist who lets something make those strokes for them?

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- the company that made Zipatone went out of business long ago, but there are a number of surprisingly resilient fans who have hunted down alternative sources of supply from around the world. It's really quite impressive.

Delidel-- I agree that Wood and others have done interesting things with mechanical dots, using them less for a generic gray screen than for a design pattern, or for a conceptual statement (as Roy Lichtenstein did).

MORAN-- I agree that the Cady drawing is better. I suspect Cady developed his superior draftsmanship partially from all that practice he got while Williamson was cutting zipatone.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- I agree that "Care-taking is a demonstration of love." But as clients increasingly demand the speed, economy and flexibility that Photoshop (or zipatone or other "nihilistic anti-craft") deliver, the cost of that love seems to go up. How can an illustrator survive when his or her competitors are using these streamlined tools and their audience doesn't seem to notice the difference? That Cady drawing would be a very expensive drawing to produce today. That requires a whole lotta love.

David Teter--I've heard the same thing about Franklin Booth. He sure took the long way around.

Matthew Harwood-- "Hatching is only 'mindless repetitive work' and 'drudgery' if you keep count." Good point. The trick is earning a living in a job that doesn't require you to "keep count." Jasper Johns didn't have to do it, but most other artists do.

David Apatoff said...

JSL-- I suspect most practicing artists know about that "special place" to go. Some seem to like it so much that they build their style in a way that enables them to visit that place as often as possible. You can tell, for example, that Bernie Wrightson just loves the mark a brush makes on paper; he seems to have used hundreds of contouring strokes rather than a few outlines.

Shane Pierce-- Thanks very much, glad to have you here.

Tom-- I like the way you put that. I suspect you are correct about the effect of the contrast between the Williamson and the Cady.

Joss said...

What is most interesting to me is the Johns comparison. I think it speaks quite clearly to the fine art vs. illustration debate. You've got this huge gap in skill level because the illustrator has put in their ten thousand hours to gain the mastery of their stroke. And if the illustrator also happens to have some broadness of spirit........

That, I believe is why so much illustration gives me the goosebumps. And yet there is often a gap for me in the quality of the content in illustration because the fine artist generally spends more of their ten thousand hours delving into the depths of their subjects and less on the surface, but oh when both are present the effect is awesome and in the case of illustration it always looks really cool. I could never choose one over the other. My brains are exploding

I think Johns' piece would be a thousand times better if he simply blew up Cady's as you did(although the resolution was much poorer probably because you already blew it up so much.

Henry said...

I wouldnt want to mount and frame a goddam computer printout but I bet that Cady picture would look darn good on my wall.

Matthew Harwood said...

David Apatoff -- The trick is earning a living in a job that doesn't require you to "keep count."

I agree. When I was contemplating how to make a living as an artist at the start of my career, I found inspiration from this quote by Henry David Thoreau:

"Not long since, a strolling Indian went to sell baskets at the house of a well-known lawyer in my neighborhood. “Do you wish to buy any baskets?” he asked. “No, we do not want any,” was the reply. “What!” exclaimed the Indian as he went out the gate, “do you mean to starve us?” Having seen his industrious white neighbors so well off—that the lawyer had only to weave arguments, and, by some magic, wealth and standing followed—he had said to himself: I will go into business; I will weave baskets; it is a thing which I can do. Thinking that when he had made the baskets he would have done his part, and then it would be the white man’s to buy them. He had not discovered that it was necessary for him to make it worth the other’s while to buy them, or at least make him think that it was so, or to make something else which it would be worth his while to buy.

I too had woven a kind of basket of a delicate texture, but I had not made it worth any one’s while to buy them. Yet not the less, in my case, did I think it worth my while to weave them, and instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them. The life which men praise and regard as successful is but one kind. Why should we exaggerate any one kind at the expense of the others?" (Walden)

kev ferrara said...

The problem with photoshop shortcuts is that they constitute what is known in the business as "production" work.

A worker who knows all the photoshop tricks, but has nothing to contribute beyond that is "in production." And production people, I'm sure you are aware, are a dime a dozen. There is lesson in economics somewhere in there.

Put another way, an artist who avoids craft soon finds himself not an artist at all.

etc, etc said...

I definitely prefer intaglio.

Matthew Adams said...

Oh dreary me!

There is lots to admire in the Cady drawing, and not lots to admire in the zipatone work of Al Williamson, but it's not the zipatone itself that is the problem, but the way it is used. This I suspect is also true of a photoshop blend.

I think the real problem is when artists use it as a cheap replacement for hatching instead of a method in it's own right.

Tom said...

I think the economic angle is interesting. Maybe economics is not the friend of beauty. An artists are only freeing themselves from what they love. This is from Charles Hugh Smith blog Oft Two-Minds,

“what we are really dealing with on a global scale is the failure of the reductionist "free market model" of resource, labor and financial exploitation.....The problem with this faith is that a great number of things are irreplaceable, and the free-market theology has no mechanism for recognizing this or for "price discovery" of values that cannot be tallied in an intrinsically short-term "open market.

The magic of "price discovery" is inherently and fatally flawed, for it is incapable of pricing in delayed consequences, the value lost in extinction, the social costs of unfettered private gain and the future costs of short-term exploitation.”

David Apatoff said...

Armand Cabrera-- I spoke with the proprietors of the Kelly collection, who told me more about your connection. This drawing seems to have entranced you the way it entranced me. It is not the biggest or most valuable or most prestigious piece in the collection but its siren song really calls out to you. I especially like the way you put it: "the unity of purpose the Cady exudes." It's an amazing feat to maintain such unity across a drawing so complex.

Joss-- that's an interesting take on the classic "fine art vs. illustration debate." And I sure agree with your point about the awesome effect when both are present.

Henry-- Take a number and get in line.

David Apatoff said...

Matthew Harwood-- Great quote from Thoreau; he was really something, wasn't he?

Kev Ferrara-- "an artist who avoids craft soon finds himself not an artist at all."

I agree with your point, and yet, almost every major step the fine art world has taken over the past 40 years has seemed to say, "David, you're wrong." From Andy Warhol's factory on, craft has been devalued in favor of concept (with the surprising exception of the detestable Koons, where the "craft" is outsourced, but at least it is still valued.)

kev ferrara said...

"From Andy Warhol's factory on, craft has been devalued in favor of concept"

This gets me theorizing that the "fine arts" became an adjunct of the commercial arts around that time, taking on most of the characteristics of low commercial art: highly graphic, editorial rather than pictorial in its ideas, produced through industry rather than crafted by an artisan, highly attention seeking: more interested in what will catch eyeballs rather than what is "good", highly attuned to and influenced by popular culture and willing to pinch from it, disassociated from classical or romantic notions about art (ethics, morals, responsibility, aspirations, quality, love, art as its own reward, the art spirit, sensitivity and humanity, apolitical aesthetics, transcendental beauty, etc.)

Its a theory.

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Perhaps I am slow today, but you prefer intaglio to what? To pen and ink?

Matthew Adams-- "the real problem is when artists use it as a cheap replacement for hatching"

I agree it is a problem, yet a substantial percentage of the art market seems to be looking for just that-- a cheap (or faster or more efficient) replacement for hatching.

Tom-- Thanks for the link. That Charles Hugh Smith blog, Of Two Minds, requires a little decrypting. Usually when those econometric types start espousing "self reliance" it means they are priests for the very "free-market theology" that Smith criticizes in your quote.

etc, etc said...

I understood your comment, Today the world has moved even further away from old fashioned hatch marks to be nostalgic. My comment was winding the clock back even further to the intaglio techniques from which much of the pen and ink hatching techniques were inspired and attempted to mimic. Not that I am expressing contempt for pen and ink, but that from a purely technical standpoint I prefer the hatching effects of intaglio.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Yes it is a theory, although I suspect you'd be able to come up with other, complementary theories for the same phenomenon. The relationship between the fine arts and the commercial arts has been multi-layered since way before Warhol (think of all the commercial scheming and flattery and conniving for sponsors by the great "fine art" painters of the Renaissance) and I figure the commerciality of fine art remains multi-layered post-Warhol. Remember, the illustrator Robert Fawcett started as a successful gallery painter and was so appalled by witnessing the crass commercial process of selling fine art that he became a commercial artist because he thought it was a more honest way to earn a living.

Etc etc-- I am not immune to nostalgia, but I was hoping my look back at hatching was a little more clear-eyed than that. I was trying to distinguish between the tiger's bars and the tiger's stripes-- a distinction based on quality rather than nostalgia for days gone by. I agree intaglio has a lot to offer, although the example you provided seemed a little thin blooded to me.

etc, etc said...

Perhaps "nostalgia" was a poor choice of wording, although the word does not have a particularly negative connotation for me.

I am not sure what you mean by "thin blooded". I think my example is typical of the contrast between intaglio and pen-and-ink in that (with the disclaimer that I have never experimented with intaglio) it illustrates that hatching with respect to values is in general apparently more controllable in intaglio, resulting in more subtlety and refinement in modeling, as well as more uniform and easily scaled values which greatly increases the facility to compose values into cohesive abstract shapes and proportionally distribute darks, midtones, and lights. Of course, those things might not be particularly important to you in light of the seemingly more individualistic, expressive qualities of pen-and-ink (which aren't particularly important to me).

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- perhaps "thin blooded" was a poor choice of wording.

For me, the uniformity of those fine lines in your intaglio image, and the regularity with which they are applied, achieves a fairly bland result. I certainly enjoy the "subtlety and refinement in modeling, as well as more uniform and easily scaled values" made possible by the fine lines of intaglio (and perhaps more by silverpoint) but even where there is not a lot of variety in the thickness or length of a line, it is still possible to put more character in the result than I see in your example.

In the Cady image, there is greater variety between lights and darks, more "expressiveness" as you put it. For me, that makes the drawing more intersting.

etc, etc said...

For me, the uniformity of those fine lines in your intaglio image, and the regularity with which they are applied, achieves a fairly bland result.

I think (as I said I've never experimented with intaglio) much of that is the result of various serrated intaglio tools such as multi liners and mezzotint rockers. It looks mechanical because it is mechanical. Intaglio can be more expressive, of course.

kev ferrara said...

. Not that I am expressing contempt for pen and ink, but that from a purely technical standpoint I prefer the hatching effects of intaglio.

Ok. But the purely technical standpoint doesn't consist of preferences. Only an understanding of utility. And ink has greater utility as a medium than printmaking techniques; it can do everything and more. Printmaking is a smart compromise that allows for reproductions to be made so they can be sold. Which is to say, Intaglio is an assistant to commercial industry.

David, my previous comment was not in analogy to commerciality (whether crass or responsible) but the particular milieu of commercial art that led to Warhol's ethos/ethic... a very specific aesthetic bingo card.

etc, etc said...

But the purely technical standpoint doesn't consist of preferences. Only an understanding of utility.

Define it any way you want. But that's not the context I was using it in.

And ink has greater can do everything and more.

You're referring to pen-and-ink hatching versus intaglio hatching? How absurd, and that's all I have to say about it.

kev ferrara said...

Even if you were unaware of the scope of results obtained in the course of history in pen and ink, a simple deduction based on an understanding of the tools and materials involved should be sufficient to retire the question.

That Zorn is beautiful. Aside from a few artifacts of the printing process, which anyway can be duplicated in any number of ways, it may as well have been an ink rendering.

The reason few ink drawings look like that dull anatomy drawing you hyperlinked have nothing to do with choice of media.

Glad to see you've found a new idee fixe/chew toy, btw!

अर्जुन said...

D.A. said, "Remember, the illustrator Robert Fawcett started as a successful gallery painter"

Only because you repeat it ad infinitum. Where's the goods? 'Robert Fawcett, The Illustrator's Illustrator' only delivers this romantic guff, "Fawcett returned to the United States in 1924 and launched a career as a "fine" artist. He was so successful that after just one year, he was rewarded with his first solo show at a Manhattan gallery." What, no pictures!?

Keeping in mind that his Rockwell Kent* inspired 'Eight Bells' and 'Young Hickory' are copyright 1927, let's attempt to start putting things in context~ see next comment

*though Fawcett clearly rip-offs Kent's style, he (Kent) isn't even mentioned in the Fawcett tome …unbelievable! Perhaps Kent even inspired his socialism.(?)

अर्जुन said...

Dudensing Galleries, East 57th Street, NYC

Dudensing Contest - In the summer of 1926 the Dudensing Galleries of New York put into effect 2 new scheme to call into the light the talents of heretofore unknown artists. It announced a competition, in which the painter; …

1927(?) - In the second competition four winners were chose: Arnold Blanch*, Dorothy Simmons, Agnes Tail, and Jo Canline

1928 - From the nine hundred canvases the competition brought forth, we chose the entries of Robert Fawcett and Michael Baxte** … The special exhibiton for the winners, Michael Baxte and Robert Fawcett, will be held during May. With the winners agreed upon by Mr. Richard Dudensing and myself, a campaign is begun to develop prestige and recognition for the artists …

1929 May - Joint exhibition of paintings by Robert Fawcett and Michael Baxte (two selected artists from the National Summer Competition)

Adolph Gottlieb (1903 - 1974) Self Portrait, 1928

1929 Awarded first prize along with Konrad Cramer in the Dudensing National Competition.

1930 Shared in two-person exhibition at Dudensing Galleries, New York.

*Arnold Blanch, Nude with Pedestal, 1928, Dudensing Gallery stamp on verso

**Michael Baxte, one of the winners of the Dudensing National Competion for American painters (The New York Times Studio Jan. 6, 1929)

Not having examples of Robert Fawcett's "fine" art, one is left to begin picturing the style and quality based on the linked examples of his contemporaries…

This was sold at auction, though I question it, but I'm not a Fawcett expert
Robert Fawcett ,1934

David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- For my taste, that's a much better example of what intaglio can do. i'm a big fan of Zorn.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "my previous comment was not in analogy to commerciality (whether crass or responsible) but the particular milieu of commercial art that led to Warhol's ethos/ethic... a very specific aesthetic bingo card."

On closer examination I see your point. I do agree with your point about "highly graphic, editorial rather than pictorial in its ideas," etc., although I think the jury is out about what was adjunct to what. Popular taste and contemporary events could be said to have shaped the two simultaneously, or the commercial could have followed in the wake of the fine art developments. Abstract expressionism was certainly eye-catching and "disassociated from classical or romantic notions about art."

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- Sorry if you've heard the Fawcett anecdote before; it's a great one. Most of the traffic goes the other way: Warhol, de Kooning and Jasper Johns all started out doing commercial work and moved uptown to "fine" art. Very few artists started out like Fawcett as successful gallery painters and moved to the illustration side of the tracks. (Van Gogh wanted to move to illustration, but he does not count as a successful gallery painter. Fawcett sold twelve out of fifteen paintings in his first one man show at Dudensing, which was apparently twelve paintings more than Van Gogh sold in his life.) Fawcett became unhappy with what you recount as "a campaign... to develop prestige and recognition for [Dudensing's] artists," but his story takes on additional significance because he was outspoken enough, and politically conscious enough, to draw larger conclusions from his choice. For me, that makes his story almost irresistible as a parable.

You write that "Fawcett clearly rip-offs Kent's style" in Fawcett's two 1927 books, but of course those books were published before Kent's famous style emerged in Candide, Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Leaves of Grass and other books all of which were published after 1928. I suppose it is conceivable that Fawcett was aware of and influenced by Kent's less well known travel book published in 1924, or by other illustrators who, like Kent, were influenced by the prevalent art deco style and worked in the same mode. I hope that makes it a little more understandable why Kent was not covered in the Fawcett biography.

I am certainly impressed with your research skills on Fawcett's brief fine art career. (I don't know how in the world you turned up that stuff on the Dudensing Gallery. I didn't find it when I was researching Fawcett's life. Good for you!) But here are a few facts that you may find helpful: I have not reproduced Fawcett's "fine" art because, frankly, I don't care for it very much. But it is easy enough to find in his best selling book, The Art of Drawing. You can also find photographs of his "fine" art in the files of Illustration House, which handled his estate. So there is no need to attempt to imagine what his work looked like based on examples of work by some of his contemporaries.

As for the other contemporaries you mention, I think that painter Graham Sutherland was probably closer to Fawcett's style during that era than Gottlieb, Blanch or Baxte. I was very surprised and impressed, however, that the young Gottlieb was part of the same gallery. Gottlieb is responsible for some of my very favorite abstract expressionist paintings.

You are correct that the 1934 painting attributed to Fawcett is utterly bogus. He had nothing to do with that.

अर्जुन said...

I personally would like to see a post by you upon said fine art.


1924 ~ Paul Bunyan by Esther Shephard, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., [1924]. Large octavo. Cloth. Frontis, decorated title-page, plates and vignettes by Rockwell Kent. First edition

David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- I'm not sure I have much to contribute of value on Fawcett's "fine" art. I don't really get it, and I don't really like it. He seems to be trying to escape the shackles of his grueling training at the Slade school, and he just doesn't know what to do with all that freedom. But perhaps if I take a run at it, others out there with better eyes to see will find answers that elude me.

As for the 1924 Paul Bunyan, thanks for the link to D.B. Dowd's excellent Graphic Tales. I'd never seen a book that early from Kent (other than his first travel journals, with narratives which were quite exciting).

It seems from the examples that Kent had not quite developed his faux-woodcut / art deco / monumental figure style in 1924, but you can see the seeds of his later style. It is conceivable that Fawcett saw this book when he got off the boat from England, and also conceivable that he kept it in mind when he illustrated two books in 1926. But I think it is just as likely that he was influenced by the many other illustrators who were drawing in that style during those early days of art deco. Illustrators such as Sydney Fletcher, Marion Wildman and Edward Wilson were working in a similar vein in the 1920s. That woodcut look with the heavy black lines was used by Brangwyn (whose work Fawcett surely would have encountered in England). And Harold von Schmidt was using those same heavy black horizontal bars in the 1920s (you saw the echo of them in Death Comes For The Archbishop, about 15 years later). I'm not sure how to trace the genealogy of that "look" in the 1920s, but I am not as prepared as you to say that "Fawcett clearly rip-offs Kent's style."

Laurence John said...

Al: "Can one even buy zipatone anymore ?"

a UK based company Letraset still makes it, called 'Screentone' formerly 'Letratone'.
Letraset were once famous for their dry-transfer lettering (almost inconceivable post-Photoshop) which was a staple of any British paste-up studio circa 60s -80s.

Matthew Harwood said...

Laurence John,
Glad to hear Letraset is still in business. I think I still have some of their lettering sheets in a drawer someplace. I didn't have the heart to throw them out. Someone told me recently that there is a UK Company that makes buggy whips too-- the best in the world. There is a moral here someplace. Perhaps there is a place in the market afterall for well done things no matter how antiquated.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

One lovely entry, as usual!
so original... so...undisputatious, or, undisputable?!
Disputatious--Inclined to dispute;[but I like this part] apt to cavil or controvert. More on the pedigree to come gB
PS to answer the question. well, no. looks? yes! :-)