Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Here are some hopefully edifying close-ups of a Sickles drawing:

Sickles was assigned to illustrate technicians at work on a nuclear reactor... not exactly an artist's dream assignment.   But the resulting drawing shows how Sickles rotated and cropped the image to turn a complex subject into an interesting design.

Sickles' philosophy was, "For reportorial drawing one needs a draftsman, an artist who goes beyond a literal rendering and who interprets and selects.  He can often make the slightest sketch significant and can bring life, meaning and vitality to a drawing as well as the imprint of a personal style."

Sickles was famous for his location drawings, which pioneered the trend in American illustration away from "finished" drawings, and toward the acceptance of more spontaneous sketches.  This trend was later developed further by artists such as Robert Weaver, Franklin McMahon, Alan Cober, Paul Hogarth and Tom Allen, before it became the dominant style in illustration. 

In his excellent book On-The-Spot Drawing, Nick Meglin quotes Sickles on this transformation in taste:
My drawings were mostly observations, details, compositions, ideas and just plain visual notes to myself...a wagon wheel looks like this...an oak tree looks like that.  You'd go to an editor with your drawings and he'd say-- "Yes, fine.  This is what we wanted.  Now go home and do me a finished one." Today he says-- "Yes, fine.  This is what we wanted." Then he reaches over and rips it out of your sketchbook and prints it, charcoal smudges and all."
The craftsmanship and technique may not be the same, but as public awareness increases, the demand for the true picture, the natural picture, has become the important thing.
I don't know whether this drawing of the nuclear reactor was done with the aid of photo reference; I do know that if you follow Sickle's pencil line close up, you can see that he did not slavishly follow the line of any photograph when it came to the human figures here.

Even when he draws the machinery, we can see from the detail below that Sickles made a few sparse guidelines with some mechanical tool to make sure the basic structure was squared off, then drew the reactor freehand with a natural spirit using uneven, overlapping and transparent forms.


Sickles  knew exactly how tight he wanted to make this drawing, and no tighter.


kev ferrara said...

This kind of loose-lined literalism is very period. You seem to like it a lot.

David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- Well I like lots of different types of drawing. I'm not sure of the parameters of what you call "loose lined literalism." There is a strain of drawing that I'd trace back to Egon Schiele, and perhaps earlier, that I can see running through the work of Bob Peak, Austin Briggs, Bernie Fuchs, Weaver and Sickles. I do like that style very much, but do you think it is more "period" than others? At the same time that Schiele was developing his simple, intense line, Mucha, Klimt and others were working on a more botanical, detailed nouveau line. Joseph Clement Coll was working on his intense symphony of marks. The ambidextrous Howard Pyle was drawing in two different styles simultaneously. I suppose you might call the overworked style of Norman Lindsay, Frazetta and Wrightson a "tight lined literalism." But I'm not sure why one of these styles is more "period" than the others.

If this drawing counts as "loose lined literalism," I'd say that its line is more of a monotone than what I normally prefer. Perhaps it had to be that way as a concession to the complexity of the subject matter. Normally I prefer a line with more sensitivity and variety than this. Sickles could do that with the best of them, but I posted those examples here years ago. (For instance, https://illustrationart.blogspot.com/2006/08/ahhhhhhh-noel-sickles.html )

kev ferrara said...

Art fans are continually rediscovering Schiele, Fuchs, Mucha, Peak, Coll, Pyle, Lindsay, Frazetta, and Wrightson. I think if this style were the only one Sickles had, people wouldn't keep rediscovering him. Luckily for his name, and all of us, Sickles also produced thoughtful, refined work.

MORAN said...

I think Coll is much better.

John Jacobsen said...

Really enjoyed this post, and the connection backwards in time to Schiele. In the other direction you can run it forward in time to comic/fine artists like Kent Williams, at least in terms of line quality.

As a former physicist, I chuckled at "a nuclear reactor... not exactly an artist's dream assignment."