Saturday, August 20, 2016


A sketch of a pebble may be a greater artistic achievement than a full color painting of the Grand Canyon.  An allegorical picture with grand ambitions about social justice may be inferior to a picture with no ambition beyond capturing a clump of grass.

You can just never tell.

I'm reminded of this every year at San Diego's Comic-Con, where the smallest, most informal art is nestled in the crevices between elaborately staged multi-million dollar corporate art.  This year in a quiet corner of Comic-Con I came across this small (5" x 8") sketch by Wilbur "Pete" Hawley on a ratty, torn piece of tissue paper:

This is a preliminary rough for an illustration for the American Greetings card company.  I admire  his selective use of dark accents and the variety in the width of his line  (contrast the sensitive line describing this cheek with the brisk, full lines shaping the hair on the back of the head):

Even without the wrinkles and bone structure that most artists rely on to convey facial expressions, Hawley managed to create marvelous expressions in an integrated unit.

Note Hawley's use of smudges and a heavier line to create volume

Remember, these were Hawley's notes to himself-- this was a preliminary sketch to work out how Hawley might paint the final version.

Leif Peng wrote, "If God bestowed The Magic Cute Pencil upon any one illustrator of the twentieth century it must surely have been Pete Hawley.  Cute wasn't a formula Hawley had worked out and applied to his drawing style... it was as natural to him as breathing."

Pictures of cute babies were scarce at Comic-Con.  Far more of the artwork focused on inter-galactic battles between armies of muscle bound super heroes.  Popular artists hawked limited edition archival giclee prints of photo-realistic paintings from fancy 3D displays.

But for me, Hawley's battered little sketch on crummy paper was stronger than much of the juiced up, overwrought art  on display in the exhibition hall.

That's part of the miracle of drawing.


Anonymous said...

Again and again you make this point , which is a wonderful thing to remind people of .

Any updates on the Fuchs book?

Thanks , Al McLuckie

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to tell us something about Alex Ross?


Donald Pittenger said...

When I was young I really liked Hawley's illustrations for Jantzen ads. But didn't know who the artist was, as they were unsigned.

Paul Sullivan said...

Don—I have to say the same thing regarding Hawley's illustrations for Jantzen. Until recently, I didn't know who did them either but they had a great look that carried from ad to ad in the series. Either Hawley, the art director, the ad designer—or all three—were way ahead of their times. The ads were designed with the headlines and copy flowing around Hawley's illustrations—as a total unit.

David—Thanks for posting one of Hawley's preliminary drawings. I think you can get to know an artist well by studying preliminary work. Hawley's Betsy Bell series was just fun to look at.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- You're right that I make this point again and again. I can't help myself; there are so many talented artists who worked hard all their lives and made excellent pictures but who we don't remember any more. Sometimes I feel compelled to pull out some of their original pictures and attempt a sober, objective comparison on a level playing field with some of today's flavor-of-the month artists, just to broaden people's frame of reference. Sometimes they broaden my frame of reference at the same time, so it's a win-win situation.

I'll be announcing some good news about the Fuchs book shortly. Thanks for asking.

Donald Pittenger-- yes, Hawley was an unsung hero. He didn't sign much of his work, and sometimes he signed it with fun, made up names. He did not have a big ego.

Paul Sullivan-- I love that Betsy Bell series. So fun, so animated with great facial expressions, and illuminated from within like those Sundblom Santa Clauses.

David Apatoff said...

JSL-- There is no denying the technical skill of Alex Ross, or his appeal to a huge audience (look at that booth!). However, for my personal taste, an artist should pay more attention to the poetry of art-- the design, composition, etc.-- and should assign value to the elements of a picture using more thoughtful priorities. Artists with strong technical skills sometimes tend to put details in a painting just because they are able. I tend to look for more economy and judgment.

Hagala said...

I really agree with you that it seems like most artists that have spent so many years upon years studying and perfecting their technical skills will have a hard time holding back if they ever are to achieve an highly acclaimed skill level.

A bit on a side note, but somewhat related I think.. I was reminded now of my figure drawing teacher many years ago, he told me something at the time that I didn't understand, but I believe I do now, at least more than then. He said, that for those of us who might one day achieve such a high skill level that the drawing will come out "easy", those will also loose something.. He probably couldn't put into words what this "something" specifically was, but he himself was in my opinion highly skilled with figure drawing, that fact paired with his honest reflection makes me think fondly back on him today. I think that that "something" he was referring to is a certain "nerve" that can sometimes be found only in the greatest of the not so technically obsessed artists, Jeff Jones is at the front in my mind in that regard.

Anonymous said...

do you own this drawing

David Apatoff said...

Hagala-- I agree with your figure drawing teacher. I suspect that the more technical skills we acquire, the more our perceptions harden along particular paths. Muscle memory and short cuts spare us from re-thinking each drawing, but also rob us of the potential benefits of a fresh approach. One reason people admire Picasso was because he was able to un-learn anatomy and re-invent his subjects like a child, But obviously he was a rare example.

Anonymous-- The good people at Graphic Collectibles ( offer some Hawley original drawings for sale.

website said...

this sketch is beautiful lots of meaning, make one again ill waiting thanks

SHON Stylish Healthy Organic Natural said...

A very good article. Thank you!

1A Advanced Garage Doors said...

That was so cool. I love the way you paint it and the theme.

Anonymous said...

Willburr PETE is a an awesome illustrator. He got fine draughtmanship skill. However, he is right on the anatomy of the babies. Babies structures or facial expression don't show bones. Please follow me back and give me a backlink.


The above comment before mine originated from me... i repeat willburr pete is a fine draughtman. Babies anatomy got no bone showing physically, so pete is right. The illustration made me smile. Give me a followback pls!!

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Allied Locksmith said...

Do you have any update on Fuchs book?