Thursday, February 08, 2018

THAT CLEAN, SHARP LOOK (day 4)

Continuing our daily series of artists who draw in a slick, polished style: Stan Drake.

Like Alex Raymond, Stan Drake drew pretty pictures in a tight, realistic manner. 



Portraits of the rock group Supertramp from Drake's 1979 strip, "Pop Idols and the Disco Scene" 

Note how Drake's fine tipped marker has discolored with time, while the ink remains black

Drake understood perspective...




...and (unlike the poor, dissed Mr. Mowat) Drake understood how to draw hands.








He had the technical skill to place figures in a room. 


Like other artists featured this week, Drake was nimble with a pen and fearless with ink.

For years Drake shared a studio with his close friend Leonard Starr, who described Drake this way:
His models were the previous golden age pen and ink illustrators like Gibson, Flagg, Lowell, Coll, et. al, mainly because he couldn't afford paints.  Oh the forces that shape our lives.... His brush strokes were used for solid black areas and as accents, very often arbitrarily placed, a heavy stroke ignoring the light source, as often, the top of Evie's hair.  Arbitrary but Oh, how it worked.




In the 1980s, Drake realized that there was no longer sufficient demand for his sharp drawing skills, so he changed his style and became the artist for the more simplistic comic strip, Blondie.


18 comments:

Gennaro said...

Seeing art where zip-a-tone was used always leaves me with a doubt, how did they transfer art into magazines, comic books and newspapers in the old days? I mean, what process and machines did they use? How did they avoid leaving a shadow in the printed art when the original had patches of paper or tones pasted on top? And, of course, how did they shrink it to fit the publishing size in those analog times?

If you know any of this I would greatly appreciate a post about that, I really like your blog.

Greetings from Mexico.

Donald Pittenger said...

Gennaro -- What you are seeing in what seems to be David's wonderful collection of original art is 60 years of aging plastics, yellowing over time. When new, it was all sharply black and white for the photography that began the reproduction processes of those days.

Donald Pittenger said...

David, thanks for including the Dagwood. Somehow I find it hard to imagine how one artist could mimic another's style so well. BTW, this is noted in Cullen Murphy's recent book, Cartoon County.

Actually, doing Dagwood might well have been easier for Drake than to have to do covers for, say, Alex Raymond -- Dagwood being more of a diagram than a likeness.

Jared said...

@Gennaro Here is a link to a great blog that explains historical comic book printing. And other kinds of printing too if you want to dig into it. https://legionofandy.com/2016/08/26/ben-day-dots-part-8-1930s-to-1950s-the-golden-age-of-comics/

Gennaro said...

@Jared, thank you very much! I will be sure to check it out.

David Apatoff said...

Gennaro and Donald Pittenger-- That's an excellent question, Gennaro, and I applaud your curiosity about how these pictures were made and printed in the "old days." Few people notice or care today, but it really helps us to understand the art, and to appreciate better the options available to artists. Don has done a good job of explaining it-- the clear plastic with the black dots on it turned yellow, either due to age or to the adhesive used to affix it. I don't know why some zip-a-tone has stayed clear all these years.

Donald Pittenger-- How did you like Cullen Murphy's book? I'm not done with it, but it seems pretty accurate so far, and is a nice appreciation of a great era in a great place.

Drake's move to Blondie came shortly after Leonard Starr's move from On Stage to the simpler strip, Annie. In both cases, the comic strip market gradually convinced talented artists in the "clean, sharp" category that there was no longer a need for their services so they had to reinvent themselves with a simpler look.

Jared-- What a fabulous resource about comic printing! So knowledgeable and so well written. Thanks for the link.

Alan Hartley said...

I refuse to believe that the first two pictures were freehand drawn. They're either traced, or, more acceptably, they were done using the "grid method".

David Apatoff said...

Alan Hartley-- You're probably right (although given the age of these strips I suspect it was likely that Drake used a projector or a balopticon). My question is, Where does that take you? I think we can safely say that here an artist who has proven over many years that he can get proportions right when drawing freehand has saved himself time and made himself some extra money by not having to lay out the basic proportions from scratch. So let's say he gets zero credit for the proportions of those faces. I think what Drake did contribute is the eyes that told him when to convert a photograph's tone into line, and when to just let it go; what kind of line to use, and with what tool, and what kind of personality to give that line. Drake also contributed the deft touch of a brain surgeon when it came time to draw those lines, such as the hair of the two figures in the second picture, or their facial shadows. Drake contributed the judgment to make the hair on the first face in the first drawing light and curly, despite the fact that Drake was painting in a dense black outline. I think these kinds of talents (unlike laying out the basic proportions of the face) cannot be simulated by what you call "tracing."

So now how are we to assess the qualities of the artist who did this? If we are to believe David Hockney, Vermeer used the same kind of mechanical support. Does that change your assessment of Vermeer's paintings? As another example, some cartoonists who drew detailed "soap opera" comic strips (a process Leonard Starr likened to "running in front of a train") found time to draw more of their main characters from scratch by hiring a full time assistant to draw in the backgrounds anonymously. Are those forms of labor-saving techniques more or less "acceptable" than what Drake did here? I suspect different viewers will have different answers.

kev ferrara said...

Looking at Raymond and Drake together this week modifies my view of the use of inking conventions. They both use the same inking conventions of their medium and era, but through different talents and mental processing, and so with different results.

Raymond, it is clear, actually believes and lives through what he draws and so he isn’t using the inking conventions as a substitute for imaginative projection. He isn’t thinking about strokes. Instead, he’s clearly dreaming into what he is doing all the way through. So the lines actually express something; character, flesh, gesture, light, emotion, texture, weight, and so on.

While Stan Drake, handy as he is, does not seem to live inside his work, and so his use of conventions mostly reads like symbols sitting on the paper surface, merely referencing situations where the technical conventions he is using once succeeded. I think his use of conventions is actually a pastiche of Raymond’s. That is surely the reason Drake was a good fit for Blondie, which is the kind of cartoon that is built wholly of conventions without the requirement of intense, immersive belief that more realistic and vivid work requires.

Donald Pittenger said...

David, I reviewed Murphy's book on my blog here: http://artcontrarian.blogspot.com/2017/12/new-book-about-illustratorcartoonist.html

For better or worse, I'm old enough that I followed many of the cartoons mentioned. I have several books about cartoon history up to the late '60s, so I already knew enough about the cartoonists and illustrators mentioned that I enjoyed the further peek into their lives and careers.

BTW, did you hear that Mort Walker died recently?

kev ferrara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom said...

David

How far ahead of publication date where the artist, when they drawing and producing their comic strips?

kev ferrara said...

If we are to believe David Hockney, Vermeer used the same kind of mechanical support. Does that change your assessment of Vermeer's paintings?

There literally isn't a single fact to Hockney's assertions, nor a single shred of proof. So why should what he says have any effect at all on assessments of Vermeer's paintings? I don't get the logic here.

David Apatoff said...

Donald Pittenger-- Thanks for the review, I enjoyed it and left a comment.

Kev Ferrara-- I don't doubt you have finely tuned antennae for the "mental processing" by artists that goes on behind their images, and a good eye for detecting nuances such as the ones you describe, but I'd be more likely to agree with that kind of analysis applied to specific drawings than to blanket conclusions about an entire career. Remember that Drake drew comics for decades longer than Raymond (who started later, took time out for WW II, and ended his career prematurely when he wrapped Stan Drake's car around a tree) and that can wear down an artist, especially when Drake drew for many years during the decline of newspaper comic strips. I could show you several strips where Raymond seemed to be phoning it in, and I think Drake was fully immersed when he drew characters such as Eve, who Drake adored (which may be why every hetero male in America adored her -- she was heartfelt.)

As for Vermeer, I am also unpersuaded by Hockney's speculations but I already got in enough trouble by dissing Hockney on this blog last December, so I'm not going to go down that path again now. My point about Hockney was that either Vermeer used a tool or he didn't, but our assessment of Vermeer's work can't be contingent on our sleuthing about his methods or about what he ate for breakfast. Either we like his final pictures standing alone or we don't; the art should be self-legitimizing. There are plenty of artists who traced from a balopticon or used polaroid pictures for reference and still did crappy work. Anyone who says, "I used to think Vermeer's paintings were beautiful but then I discovered that he used an optical device so I don't think they're beautiful anymore" is applying a standard that I don't recognize.

Tom-- It depended on the strip. 6 weeks was once pretty standard but powerful cartoonists with reliable track records certainly negotiated less. Topical strips such as Doonesbury necessarily worked much closer to the line.

kev ferrara said...

I'd be more likely to agree with that kind of analysis applied to specific drawings than to blanket conclusions about an entire career.

I've looked at ton of Drake and Raymond, especially in the last few days. Yes, Raymond sometimes did weak work. It also took him a long time to reach his 50s mastery. But that doesn't change Drake's work. Drake evidently doesn't believe in the reality of the light in his images or live in his sculptural form. The two abilities are rarely uncoupled. Same with fleshiness and weight, the earthiness of things. And so on. Drake imagines like a designer.

I considered whether - because his drawing is strong - it was only Drake's inking that was uncoupled from projective imagination. Then again, I can't imagine that an artist could have a painter's understanding in pencil, which suddenly disappears at the inking stage. Especially after years and years of work. There's no loss in commercial speed in the shift between dogma and knowledge, except during the learning phase. Unless, an uncredited hired hand was Drake's inker for most of his career.

kev ferrara said...

My point about Hockney was that either Vermeer used a tool or he didn't, but our assessment of Vermeer's work can't be contingent on our sleuthing about his methods or about what he ate for breakfast.

I accept that point. The knowledge of how a picture was done is absolutely extrinsic to its inherent value or quality. Just as the knowledge of how the picture originated, or who commissioned it, or the artist's politics, morals, personality, or where he purchased his materials, is extrinsic.

But the consequences to the work of such outside factors can be real. i.e. There's a reason Andrew Loomis' ad art shows creamily-rendered, attractive, smooth young people lit with warm fill-lighting. Loomis’ commercial mission results in aesthetic choices with real visual results. For an artist or aficionado interested in learning about Art, appreciating the artist’s mission and the results goes a long way to helping isolate the aesthetic choices mediating between them, so those choices can be studied with intensity.

The use of tracing too is a process choice that can have real consequences in the work, usually more negative than positive. And I think many people understand or intuit that there is something aesthetically alien and dead about the camera's products when brought too baldly into Art, without understanding quite why that is so. For such people, the knowledge that an artist traces is socially or psychologically important to them; because it shields them from embarrassment. Nobody wants to think they are being duped by qualitatively inferior work, even though they themselves can't detect or explain the nature of the inferiority.

And this is why the Hockney-Jenison theory functions as defamation. Because the vast majority of people are uneducated and insensitive to the real affects of tracing on the aesthetic forces involved in artwork. So they cover themselves by simply by denigrating all tracing as a cheap trick.

This is why the Hockney-Jenison theory should be trashed publicly with much greater frequency. Because it functionally defames Vermeer and his uniquely brilliant artwork.

Ibrahim R. Ineke said...

"The fact of commercial application of drawing skills too is a process choice that can have real consequences in the work, usually more negative than positive. And I think many people understand or intuit that there is something aesthetically alien and dead about the result of such use of talent when brought too baldly into Art, without understanding quite why that is so. "

kev ferrara said...

"The fact of commercial application of drawing skills too is a process choice that can have real consequences in the work, usually more negative than positive. And I think many people understand or intuit that there is something aesthetically alien and dead about the result of such use of talent when brought too baldly into Art, without understanding quite why that is so. "

"that can have" - yes. But then it falls on the critical observer to actually be able to distinguish where it has and where it has not, and why it has or has not, and just how it has if it has. It is not so simple as to say, "there is an ESSO sign, therefore this is bad work." That is not a thoughtful stance.