Friday, April 20, 2007


All the magic of the internet-- the movies, music, youtube animation, color pictures-- comes to you through a series of simple binary choices. Your computer has only two digits (0 or 1) to choose between in processing all that information. The electronic signal is either off (represented by a zero), or on (represented by a one).

Similarly, a line drawing is just a series of binary choices: it is either black or white.

Unlike a painting, which presents a rich variety of layered choices and half-choices, a drawing is a commitment: either line or not line. Look at the bold, black-or-white choices in this stunning set of illustrations by the great Harold Von Schmidt in 1929 for Death Comes For The Archbishop:

The following full page illustration demonstrates the same kind of restraint and care that abstract expressionist Barnett Newman used in selecting the perfect location for a zen stripe on a huge blank canvas.

I admit that I prefer drawings to paintings, sculpture, movies or other art forms. Through a series of binary decisions, an artist can evoke the most extraordinary effects.

These are strong, wonderful drawings worth revisiting by any fan of illustration.


Dominic Bugatto said...

Those are stunning.

Very majestic .

Diego Fernetti said...

I was always impressed by the anonimous artists who illustrated those pulp magazines from the 20s and 30s in spectacular black and white. One of my favorites was one who illustrated three or four panels in "The Shadow" novels, always full of movement and suspense, and sometimes one had to flinch to discover "The Shadow" in the illustration, just like the characters in the novel had a hard time distinguishing him (unless he shooted at you)

Anonymous said...

These are outstanding! B&W illustrations are fantastic in that each line is unique, varied in thickness and style. These remind me of the likes of Howard Pyle and Joseph Clement Coll. My favorite, tho, is Franklin Booth.

Nick Jainschigg said...

Delicious illustrations! Don't forget, too, that Rockwell Kent practically invented the graphic novel with "God's Man".
I've been discussing line a lot lately, both through teaching and studying on my own, and one of things I find most fascinating about it is the compression of ideas. Where a painting can be a more-or-less faithful transcription of optical perception, with relatively little thought involved, a line is always a recognition of something: the break between object and background, the flow of a muscle; the edge of a shadow. The simplest ink drawing is as full of decisions as any other piece of art, and the simpler, the bigger the decisions. It's a wonderful paradox. Thank you for posting these!

Sudeep said...

Itotally agree that drawing is 100% commitment.

spacejack said...

Wow, absolutely amazing. Great choice this week, David.

I've been doing a lot of pen & ink lately, and find it incredibly difficult to add bold shadows, combined with lines, without ending up with something that looks like a contrived posterized effect. I wish I knew the secret formula.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Nicholas, that's exactly the point I was hoping to make. That simplification process is a real challenge.

Sudeepdas, I agree 100%

Dominic, Memo, Spacejack, Diego, if you like these (and I'm glad you do) you should check out the book. It is chock full of wonderful black and white illustrations like these. I think Von Schmidt is very underrated today.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I really like these illustrations, thank you so much for posting there. I very much like your perspective on line drawing, because I have been practicing vector art of late.

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of him before, but I just ordered a used copy of that book after seeing these absolutely stunning illustrations.

Thanks for posting them and introducing me to another fantastic artist.

Anonymous said...

Just a little note here.

You say you prefer drawing to film, sculpture etc.

Do you not think you are closing your eyes to a world of meaning and channels of interpretation?

Like a mirror our minds can be, reflecting all views. Please don't turn your back on the other degrees of the arts sphere.