Thursday, December 20, 2007


We have chatted in the past about artists who delight in drawing subjects such as hair or folds of cloth  or water, that allow the artist to take liberties with abstract design.

The great George Herriman rarely passed up an opportunity to draw smoke coming from a chimney. He seemed to add smoke to a picture the way a hat designer might place a feather in a lady's chapeau.

For art's sake, every fireplace in Coconino County must have been roaring all summer long.

Look how each example is different-- fluid, intuitive and beautiful.

You can treat each of these little abstract designs as a miniature rorschach test:

I suspect Herriman used the same standard for smoke that fine artist Ellsworth Kelly employed for his abstract drawings at the Museum of Modern Art.   It's just a matter of what "feels right":

For me, the smoke from Krazy Kat's chimney is the superior work.


Li-An said...

Herriman is a true genius. I don't know if you already spoke about the way he manages the backgrounds: sometimes they change without logical sense !

Piya said...

You must be on the MOMA's shoot to kill list. Haha. My question to you is this: how should an illustrator approach the modern 'fine' arts? As a young illustrator myself, I'm not too sure what to think when I go to the MOMA. I'm toiling in obscurity , fighting to make sure I have good design, good composition, good draftsmanship, etc etc etc. Meanwhile these fine artists are getting tons of press with their big blue canvases. How do I distinguish what is real, good modern art and what's nothing more than a gimmick that some curator fell for?

David Apatoff said...

Piya, you are asking noble questions and I hope you continue to wrestle with them throughout your career. They will define you as an artist.

I could offer you the answers that seem to work for for me for right now, but I think each artist's answers will be highly personal, depending on his or her aspirations. Sure, some parts are easy; if you go online and look at the 2,284 drawings in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, you will be stunned by the amount of unmitigated crap in their collection. As I complained earlier, the ratio of money to talent at the MOMA cathedral is downright asphyxiating.

It's funny, but the "commercialism" which constrains illustration also innoculates it against the decadence and narcissism that pervades so much of MOMA's inventory. At the same time, I can assure you there are many starving gallery artists who grit their teeth because untalented illustrators like Kinkade make a mint selling pablum to people with no taste. So you can choose your own poison.

Once you get beyond the fact that there are inequities on both sides, a lot depends on your personal priorities and your views of commercial success, quality and artistic integrity. A lot also depend on whether your kids end up needing orthodonture.

Anonymous said...

Big Herriman fan... great post...

I have a sort of fascination with smoke and cloud puffs and the like.

I wanted to mention a particular aspect of them that is essential in storytelling. That is, timing.

You will notice how many examples of herriman's cloud formations are serial repeats. That is, they are the graphic equivalent of the dot dot dot that forms an ellipse in writing (...) which indicates that time is being passed. It has always seemed to me that three round shapes function the same way in a picture as in literature.

I think the same effect can be had with any three objects, as long as they read as the same shape, or at least as a shape going through some kind of a morph sequence (as a three panel sequence in a comic might act as animation panels, suggesting the passage of time moment by moment.)



Iggi Art said...

Hello, i´m illustartor of South America (sorry my english). I like the artwork of these page, it´s to instense and inteligent. Please, if you have time, visit my own gallery on...


Koldo Barroso said...

today I decided I wanted to visit all of my favorite blogs and say Merry Christmas, and Illustration Art is one of them. I just wanted to say thanks because I read you every morning and you bring a lot of inspiration to my artwork.
Thank you very much. I really wish you a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!

David Apatoff said...

Kev, that's a very interesting thought. I like it.

Thanks, Iggi-- I enjoyed visiting your site and left you a message there.

Koldo, what a wonderful message. It is very good to hear from you, and I thank you for your kind comments. A very Merry Christmas to you as well, and happy holidays to everyone out there, the whole world around!

Shane White said...

Because it implies motion...and bridges the gap in our mind between abstraction and representation.

What a great subject to focus on.


neil said...

Great post. I find I say it alot in my day to day life with little effect...but if you choose to be aware and take the time, 'the little things' really do add up.

illustrationISM.... said...

george did 'think like smoke'! if it's zen, or the seasoned flow of eye to brain to hand, or was a line-master!

mark @ ISM & BAMm

Anonymous said...

Good JoB! :)

Timo said...


I was just searching for a Krazy Kat drawing to attach to an email and came across your great diary entry – very delightful! I was fortunate to come across Krazy Kat in my teens when the national Swedish newspaper run it in their classics section. It left an indelible mark with its combination of flippant nonsensicality mixed with profound sense of philosophy and art! I know, it sounds really banal, but I think you and any Krazy Kat fan will get my point. Those backgrounds always changing, those speaking smoke puffs (Kev's point above was great!), the peculiar dialogues with their own logic – the absurd but somehow totally natural sense of humour – somehow Herriman burst the frames of the comic medium, and that when the medium itself barely was born! I think it's only towards the 90's graphic novels that comics started to experiment as widely as Herriman did. That however is another discussion altogether, and I know there are many other pioneers out there, most of them after Herriman though.

But again – I'm not at all surprised that Krazy Kat's microcosmos even offers an opportunity to discuss smoke shapes from chimneys!

Thanks for the piece, I've bookmarked your blog and will next time be sure to look up the other entries mentioned in the first paragraph.

Sandy said...

Thank you for sharing, well done!