Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Many people know the work of Edwin Austin Abbey from his famous murals in the Boston library. Still more people know him for his slightly fussy pen and ink illustrations that were so popular in the 19th century.

However, if you want to see what Abbey is really made of, check out his wonderful sketches and studies.

Note in the drawing above how Abbey draws with his eraser as much as his charcoal, in order to create the right values.

I prefer these studies to most of his finished drawings. They are very revealing and they have a powerful, mystical feeling to them.

Very few people ever see these studies. Many are locked up in the Yale University collection. However, I think they are almost as important as the Boston murals themselves when it comes to appreciating Abbey as an artist.


Jared Shear said...

Beautiful Studies!!!...thanks for sharing, this site is always an inspiration.

HurĂ³n said...

Great images!

Anonymous said...

These sketches seem better than the paintings...and those are good paintings.

Unknown said...

Awesome stuff, and thanks for the Leyendecker work a few posts back.

Artist_Grass- said...

I'm excite to start following the post. current oil painter / illustrator. this is a goldmine

Anonymous said...


Thanks for posting these. They are trememdous!

David Apatoff said...

Many thanks, Jared, Huron, anonymous, Kagan, Grassman and Brian. It's great to hear that there are people out there who enjoy these sketches as much as I do.

Kagan M. said...

David, this is definitely for me the most inspirational webpage I go to, as well as the most insightful. I love your appreciation for good drawing and what you choose to highlight about good drawings. I'd love to hear your opinion on something. Your comments about liking Abbey's sketches better than his finals had me thinking (and I agree with you). Could people appreciate strong drawings much more in years past? With my own work and the direction I'm trying to take it, it seems the more expressive and meaningful the lines in my drawings become the less people like it, or accept that it is finished. Generally it seems people and (bad) artists equate heavy rendering and slick draftsmanship with goodness. It's not that I don't think there's good art being produced today, I just wonder if the golden age of illustration had its Alex Ross' and James Bamas.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks for the kind words, Kagan. They mean a lot.

It's no secret to regular readers that, while I can get excited about all kinds of pictures, I have a special place in my heart for drawings. I think they are often more intimate and revealing than paintings. I like their spontaneity and their direct connection to the hand, eye and brain. But viewers require patience, subtlety and discernment to appreciate the thrill of good drawing. I think you are right, in a slower and quieter time people did appreciate drawings more. But in a fast paced culture where everyone clamors loudly for attention, drawing is not likely to be a favored medium.

For example, I like computer animation. The recent movie, Meet the Robinsons, takes drawing, colors it in, enhances it with computers, makes it move, converts it into 3D, and surrounds it with Dolby sound. You could not get any more "slick," to use your term. It is difficult for a nuanced pencil line on paper to compete with such a medium.

From my perspective, one problem with such movies (and many other art forms on steroids) is that there is absolutely no pacing-- no sense or proportion, no moments of respite or reflection, just explosions and roller coaster rides throughout, all executed dazzlingly.

A beautiful drawing can be studied and can continue to provide nutritional content over many viewings, but people become desensitized to quieter art forms and too intellectually lazy for a medium that requires the viewer to interact with what the artist has done.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm moaning the loss of bygone days. I am pleased to be in the club that celebrates the virtues of drawings and studies, and I feel absolutely no need for the reinforcement of large numbers. I am especially pleased to make contact with similar minded people here.

Kagan M. said...

Thanks for the response, I was happy to read your comments. Not needing the reinforcement of large numbers is definitely key. Your comments on well-designed drawings struck home, I've been asked many times to fill my white spaces with clouds or something else because ADs think it's too empty. Other times they'll just crop in on the exciting bits and leave out my attempt at a moment of respite and reflection! Not moaning either, just glad to read someone who knows what they're talking about. (you)