Saturday, February 28, 2015

REMOVING THE APPEARANCE OF LABOR


Following up on last week, here are some loose drawings I enjoy:

George Booth: "This meeting was called in order to discuss the meat. It has been pointed out that there is no more meat.  A motion has been made to fight over the bones."

R.O. Blechman

Lichty

Robert Weber

Observe how each drawing appears light and spontaneous... but look closer and you'll see that each artist  carefully fine tuned their drawing to achieve that "spontaneous" look:

Booth re-drew the faces on two of the cave men

Blechman shaved 1/16 of an inch off the nose to make it funnier


Lichty made those slapdash brush strokes funnier by going back and tapering them with white paint


Weber's simplified yet insightful line (look at the great profile on the woman!) came at a price.  He came back with white paint to simplify and clarify his picture. 

I'm not pointing out these refinements to reveal a magician's tricks or to find fault with these excellent artists.  Rather, I'm trying to demonstrate that many of the best "spontaneous" drawings you see are carefully drawn to an artist's exacting standard. Variations as small as 1/16 of an inch were considered important.

I fear that some young artists see the free looking result and develop unrealistic expectations.  They believe casual drawing can be taken casually.  Their eyes no longer see the difference.  

The great political cartoonist David Low once said, "making a cartoon occupied usually about three days: two spent in labour and one in removing the appearance of labour."





21 comments:

Larry MacDougall said...

David - I have often thought that a final piece of art is rarely what the artist actually intended but rather a collection of corrected mistakes, improvisations and happy accidents.

kev ferrara said...

I think the general feeling is the intention, but the specifics require much negotiation; the artist must split himself in two in order to advocate from both sides of the bargaining table.

I really enjoy seeing these posts on the tactical-level crafting of blithe cartoon-feeling. And we shouldn't forget that a sense of effortlessness manifested in a finished work has been a value in art forever. Its what we value in Blechman as well as Sargent.

MORAN said...

If they worked for the New Yorker they wouldn't have to worry about making these corrections.

Tom said...

Great to get down to the nitty gritty. The use of white reminds of how oil painters will often cut back into a form with the background color to achieve a more satisfying silhouette or edge.

I can see why Low's cartoons took three days, they are more like a small paintings then a cartoon.

etc, etc said...

"Spontaneity" in regard to pictures is an analogy and a poor one at that.

genius786 said...

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kev ferrara said...

For anybody who might be interested, Roger Reed has set up a facebook page for Walt Reed if anybody feels like wishing him well directly (as he’s a bit frail at 97 yrs old.)

David Apatoff said...

Larry MacDougall-- I personally tend to favor art that is open to happy accidents and receptive to improvisation, but I have to say that there is lot's of quality art that was tightly controlled from beginning to end. The great Norman Rockwell, for example, was a methodical painter whose multiple drafts seemed to leave no room for uncertainty.

Kev Ferrara-- Agreed. Even Michelangelo destroyed his drafts so that his preliminary labors wouldn't weigh down his final art. Effortlessness was important even back then.

MORAN-- Well, I think there are several NYer artists who achieve spontaneity through these kinds of careful adjustments.

David Apatoff said...

Tom-- And yet, Low's cartoons didn't have the numerous lines and details that dominated political cartoons for decades in the last century. His cartoons were simple by comparison.

etc, etc-- Not sure what your issue is with spontaneity. Can you give more detail?

genius786-- Thank you for your concern about the quality of my recent efforts, as well as for the rapid weight loss services you offer humanity.



David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for spreading the word about Walt. I would urge all of Walt's fans and friends to leave a message.

Stanley Workman said...

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Have you lost the last 24-hours? Is there a canvas staring at you, exactly as you see it from your window? Are to covered in paint, to the disgust of your sibling? Does 'get a real job', no longer resonate with you?

A new & controversial 12-step program, to undo what art school has broken in you,; is now forming nationally.

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David Apatoff said...

Stanley Workman-- Sounds promising. This methadone doesn't work at all.

etc, etc said...

David.

"Spontaneity" implies a viewed performance within a time sequence. How a drawing or painting was performed or made is of no or minor consequence. It is the image and not the performance of it that we (well myself anyway) are concerned with, so therefore it is an analogy. Unless we have been told, we cannot know how long an artist labored over a reasonably proficient work. I submit to you that those worthwhile qualities that are referred to as spontaneous would be more accurately described as expertise.

That "spontaneity" is a poor choice to describe value judgments about drawing and painting is evidenced by all of the horrible work that does indeed meet the semantic criteria of the word; you will forever be mired in unresolvable dialectic as long as the word is used.

Vinícius Rosa Frahm said...

David, I'm new to your blog and I'm finding a bit confusing to read it from the very beginning, since it has a great amount of content. And I think I'm not the only one that really wanna read it all. Have you ever thought of exporting it to pdf and publish it here?
It's not very difficult. Anyway, thought I might suggest it. Also, do you know any books on Illustration history?

Maya Anggela said...

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David Apatoff said...

etc, etc-- I agree that "It is the image and not the performance of it" that is important (with the exception of performance art, of course). And I agree that there can be a wide gap between the appearance of a drawing and the time and effort that went into it. However, I'm not sure that "expertise" is any more useful as a label than "spontaneous." The look that these artists are striving for is a light innocence, even if it requires expertise behind the scenes to get there. I suspect they'd view "expertise" as a mood killer.

Vinicius Rosa Frahm-- You're very kind to suggest anyone would read such a thing. I didn't anticipate this would continue as long as it has. I doubt anyone would have an appetite for anything longer than the current 10 minute snippets-- a longer pdf could be a lethal dose-- but I'll look into it.

Right now, I think the very best reference book on the history of American illustration is Walt Reed's classic "The Illustrator in America." Beautifully written and rock solid scholarship. Another excellent book which focuses on the techniques of the illustrators is Fred Taraba's Masters of American Illustration. And by next year the History of Illustration Project should have the first epic text book on the subject.

Richard said...

Very useful post, thanks David!

Anonymous said...

I remember a story told by Brian "Pushead" Schroeder about a time, I believe Rick Griffin visited him. He said Griff was surprised to see there was no white out on any of his originals. Pushead relplied, I thought all of you all did it this way. I start over if there's a mistake.

Basically he says he grew up seeing their art in tghe printed form and that is how he learned, no corrections.

tozo said...

Any suggestion where to look for more Robert Weber art, aside from picking up individual issues of The New Yorker? Even places like Heritage (though I've checked there without much luck)

I find it amazing there doesn't seem to be a big book filled with just his stuff!

Annefesto said...

The Blechman reminds me a little of Quentin Blake.

harry bliss said...

Well put.