Tuesday, September 25, 2007


You can tell a lot about an artist by whether they see forests or trees.

Some view a forest as a lot of individual trees. Others think that increasing the quantity of trees changes the quality of their appearance as well.

It's kind of like boiling water. You increase the temperature of water one degree at a time, until suddenly it changes from a liquid to a gas. Quantitative change turns into a qualitative change.

When artists draw a crowd, some choose to draw a lot of individuals:

Others don't draw every individual--but they like to imply every individual. Here, Frazetta puts a few representative figures out front, then uses stray arms and legs to suggest the balance of the crowd:

Here, Noel Sickles uses highlighting to carve individuals from the dark masses of crowd on either side of this painting. He is such a brilliant draftsman, he did not compromise on the individual characters the way Frazetta did, nor did he overwork the picture the way that maniac in the Renault ad (above) did.

Then all the way over on the "forest" side of the spectrum we have this lovely painting by Bernie Fuchs. He didn't even try to capture the individual personalities within the crowd.

He viewed the aesthetics of a crowd as totally different from a collection of individuals.

There's a point at which a bouquet of flowers is so large, it becomes a garden. Some artists persist in seeing the individual flower petals. Some create the illusion of painting every petal, using time saving techniques. Others step back and say, "my subject has now changed, from flowers to a garden."


Anonymous said...

I love it when you write about this kind of stuff!! Inside baseball!

Gotta agree that Frazetta was not a crowd kind of a guy in his paintings. Especially that one you showed, which is, to my mind at least, one of his least successful paintings. In Squeeze Play he did quite a bit of individuals in the beach scenes.

Or in this scene from a Burroughs book:

(this url is from "http" to "room"make sure to include the whole thing, just in case it truncates)


On the other hand the Sickles crowd I find a bit retentive or reductive or mechanical or something. And the highlights are too light for the light source, the explosion.

Love the fuchs. I remember being amazed at some of his drawings on tissue paper for his paintings I saw at Illustration House . Then Walt Reed said, "he traces them off photographs you know", which sent me immediately back to the drawer full of Coll and Booth and Gruger.

Which brings me to remark how much Fuchs' crowd scene has a sort of uniform photographic blur to it. But he makes it nice and painterly and colorful, though. Interesting and beautiful technique to be sure.

Y'know who did wonderful suggested crowd scenes? Gruger and Biggs.

kev ferrara

Anonymous said...

Addendum, the url is all there, just a bit is hidden by the right portion of this page, at least on my firefox browser.

here I've broken it up to fit...


Anonymous said...

Well written and illustrated as always, Mr. Apatoff. Hats off to another wonderful entry.

I've been following and reading through each of your page-turning entries, and suffice to say, you've gone from something I merely stumbled upon in the frenzied search for "sources" for a busywork assignment(in an illustration class) to my clear favorite source for illustration and cartooning history.

If anyone ought to be keeping a sharp eye on hiring you, it's the History channel - they don't give our kind(illustration and sequential artists) nearly enough airtime!

As to the entry at hand - seeing different artists portray the same idea is always fascinating - in some ways it is like looking in a mirror, a deeper introspective of ones own artwork; contrastingly, techniques and approaches gleaned from different artists can also be applied to better the illusion in any piece.

Personally, I find myself favoring the first and last images shown, the former for the sheer cringe factor - any cartoonist will instinctively crack his cement-mixer of a wrist upon seeing that monumental undertaking of a drawing; the latter an excellent close-up depiction with an increasingly common trend in both photography and comic books - subjective motion.

As a final note, I love the fact that upon opening this article, I saw the aforementioned first picture and thought "huh, why's he put a static-Television screen on his blog?"

David Apatoff said...

Thanks for your comments, Kevin-- thoughtful as usual.

On the subject of Fuchs using photographs, I made my peace with photographs as an art tool when I realized that Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Mucha, Brangwyn and a host of other brilliant painters used them. But I actually had the chance to talk with Bernie Fuchs once about his use of photographs. He said that in the 1950s, he was working in an art studio in Detroit, painstakingly illustrating car advertisements by hand. (I have seen these pictures; they are fabulous, realistic and technically accomplished without tracing any photographs.) One day, an illustrator from a top NY studio came out to visit and said "you guys are living in the stone age. You should be working from photographs. Everybody is doing it now, and if you don't, you'll never survive." It's an interesting story. I wrote about it once in an article about Fuchs.

As for Sickles, I have learned from experience that if one his drawings ever looks mechanical to me, the fault is mine and I need to go back and take a closer look. Click on that picture and look at the variety of angles of the hat brims, conveying a range of postions of heads; look at how simply he conveys the difficult postion of the man lying down at water's edge, or the people kneeling in the water. There is nothing uniform or repetitive about that crowd. Sickles never brags or shows off with his work, but he has eyes that can penetrate 3 inches of solid lead.

Anonymous said...

Boy David, what a nice little post. Kind of like walking down a street and catching a whiff of the bakery setting out it's wares...are they muffins or are they cakes?

Anonymous said...

David, I think that Kev wanted to comment your remark about Fuchs not trying to capture individual likeness in that (lovely, indeed) painting.
Fuchs could not have captured the likeness even if he wanted to, since the background on the photo was blurry. So he traced the white spots (the pencil is still visible) and colored that irregular array of large dots.
I do not want to accuse Fuchs here for tracing off the photo or condemn using photographs in art or anything like that. Bernie Fuchs (along with Bob Peake, Leyendecker, Dorne, Whitmore, de Mers and some others) is one of my all time favourites. I like everything he painted.
I just wanted to say that in this particular case Fuch's method of painting crowd was dictated by the quality of reference he used, and is not result of his intentions.

David Apatoff said...

Valentino, I think that the crowd painted by Fuchs was a deliberate aesthetic choice, and not just the limitation of a reference photo. The second example by Fuchs was not a crowd in a moving picture, but a still scene of football players standing in the field. And of course, Fuchs was perfectly capable of splicing reference photographs with a sharp image of the crowd, or painting a realistic crowd using no photos at all.

I once heard an admirer of Fuchs say that the best way to distinguish Fuchs from his many imitators was that he always put in the minimal amount of detail necessary to make his statement. Lesser artists might copy his figures or his style, but they would always try to distinguish themselves by adding more detail, and make the picture worse as a result.

Anonymous said...

Valentino, I think that the crowd painted by Fuchs was a deliberate aesthetic choice, and not just the limitation of a reference photo.

Well, it might be so. Using photos or not, he remains one of the greatest illustrators, no doubt about it.

Anonymous said...

Hi david,
very nice blog. i think we love th same pictures...
perhaps you like to have a look on my art-cartoons.
best wishes

Anonymous said...

i dont know you. but hugs from cyberspace. your a poet...

David Apatoff said...

Martin, I enjoyed your website. I have to say, your giraffe motif is not one that would have occurred to me...

Anonymous, thank you for your kind remark. I really appreciate it.

The Sanity Inspector said...

My favorite example of crowd illustration, that I can think of offhand, is from a political cartoon from the early 80s. It showed a tightly-massed European anti-war crowd, marching and carrying banners demanding the removal of American Pershing missiles. If you looked more closely though, the crowd was not made up of people, but of ambulatory Soviet SS-20 missiles.

Anonymous said...

do you know if Fuchs prepares his linen first with a ground.

adebanji said...

I am left spellbound by all this.

Thanks for a lovely wonderful entry!