Tuesday, May 11, 2010


When the great illustrator Howard Pyle died in 1911, his heartbroken disciples gathered in his studio. Pyle had been a phenomenal creative force, the illustrator of over 125 books (24 of which he had written himself) and hundreds of stories in the most popular magazines of his day. Vivid images of pirates, knights, soldiers and lovers flowed from his boundless imagination.

Pyle's students struggled for some way to prolong their master's presence. One student, Ethel Leach, painted Pyle's studio exactly as he left it, with his last painting unfinished on his easel.

Another student, Frank Schoonover, took that final painting and attempted to put some finishing touches on it.

Other students went on to imitate Pyle's techniques or use the same paints. But his magic was gone, and nothing they did could prolong it. Pyle had tried his best to pass along his artistic secrets to his students, but no one really knew where his gift came from. No one could say whether it resided in his eyes or his fingers or his brushes while he was alive. Now, no one could extend it after his death.

Comic artist Jack Kirby worked at this ratty, stained drawing board next to this crummy, battered credenza.

He stared at that brick wall and summoned up thousands of images of Norse gods in ornate armor, intergalactic empires swarming with alien creatures, super heroes and cosmic villains. The images he composed on this worn piece of lumber entranced millions. Then Kirby too was gone. Without his spark, Kirby's studio seems so sodden and inert we can scarcely believe it was ever the platform for such creativity. Whatever the source of Kirby's greatness, it won't be found amongst the tools and furniture he left behind.

Like Pyle or Kirby, Bernie Fuchs was another radiant sun orbited by epigones and myrmidons over his long career. Fuchs too kept coming up with fresh and beautiful ideas that none of his imitators could match, despite their long hours trying to duplicate his approach. If they went to his cluttered studio on the day he died and searched for clues in what Fuchs left behind, they'd be no closer to understanding the magic ingredient.

His empty studio, without his creative presence, has a particularly hollow echo.

Yesterday, the great Frank Frazetta passed away. Over a long career he used his formidable talent to create persuasive worlds of sorcerers and barbarians-- worlds where the four points on the compass were heroism, strength, adventure and great asses on women. What could be better than that?

Frazetta's hundreds of imitators wished they could inhabit that world but their colors were somehow never as perfect, their reptilian gods were never as convincing, their compositions were never as dramatic, their poses were never as striking.

If you look for the magic ingredient that distinguished Frazetta from his peers, you won't find any clues left behind in his studio.

Art like Frazetta's should have been created in a cave with flaming torches and skulls. Instead, it was created in a messy little room by a grandfather wearing short sleeve polyester shirts over his paunch, an artist who spilled coffee on his work as he raced to make deadlines. Frazetta's studio, like the studios of other great creators before him, was a place where a temporary and unexplainable breach in the laws of physics permitted true alchemy to occur. When the creative presence was extinguished, the familiar laws of physics closed in once again, and now weigh more heavily on us in that spot than they did before.

Co-posted with my friends at Tor.com.


norm said...

Thanks...I've been trying to put this into words too....the part about the world that Frazetta saw and communicated with such convincing clarity. It seemed to be an actual place. Once everyone else saw how right it was, ("Wow...that's exactly what Conan looks like")they all tried to go there too, but it was uniquely his.
And, subject matter aside, I think that's a valid measure of true artistic achievement. With great skill, he brought something new and satisfying into the world.

Anonymous said...

"Don't be a second-rate Frazetta, be a first-rate you!"

norm said...

Anonymous.....sure, absolutely. But, Like Jasper Johns copied Cezanne (I think I got that right) before he went his own way, I think you can learn a heck of a lot from and artist you admire.....then you apply what you learn to your own vision.

Anonymous said...

I agree but maybe you could have picked a better example. Jasper Johns----- blegh

kev ferrara said...

Heaven is, and always was, the imagination.

If only we could admit this to each other.

I guess now is not a time to quibble about such things. One of Heaven's biggest windows has just been boarded up.

norm said...

I like that. That was really well said.

Sorry, you caught me awkwardly trying to pander to the fine art crowd.

Anonymous said...

A well delivered and touching eulogy, Mr. Apatoff.

But don't you think that silver case in Frazetta's studio could be hiding a camera lucida or projector? :)

Unknown said...

My friend, that was absolutely beautiful.

G-d bless.

Saskia said...

I never knew the mermaid painting was Pyle's last.

Rob Howard said...

I suspect, as the computer artists begin to die off that their studios will lack some of the romance, and have none of the good smells.

I have only two pictures of artists on my studio wall, Howard Pyle and Anders Zorn. As an illustrator who also paints portraits, I think of them as 'our fathers who art in heaven'. Pyle had the joy of influencing the entire of Western illustration. Zorn had the joy of scaring the shit out of John Singer Sargent, wherever he went. Sadly, Frazetta's marvelous skills with pictorial composition as an element of storytelling is completely lost on the manque monkeys who comprise his audience of airbrushed motorcycle tanks, tattoo artists and an army of superannuated adolescents wrapped in the subject matter and completely miss the point of him as an artist.

Pyle and Fuchs influenced a number of excellent illustrators. Frazetta, the artist, deserved a much better audience than he got. There was nothing cave-like about his work. It was compositionally sophisticated and the brush was not handled like a halberd. You got sucked in by the subject matter, just as movie-goers get sucked in by the Conan movies and never bother to dig deep enough to actually read Robert E. Howard's somewhat florid, but well-crafted prose.

Those guys were skilled artists, not cave dwelling warriors. To think that simply means that through paint and words they were sophisticated enough to control your mind. Therein lies the magic that so few brush owners and even fewer computer owners will ever master.

David Apatoff said...

Norm, Anonymous and Kev-- agreed, he was one hell of an artist in his prime, one who could appeal to audiences at multiple levels. I think some artists concluded-- accurately-- that they would ascend to greater heights as a second rate Frazetta than as a first class themself.

David Apatoff said...

Saskia-- yes, Pyle left that painting unfinished on his easel when he departed on his trip to Europe. He fell ill on the ship and never fully recovered. Personally I thought it was pretty nervy for Schoonover to "finish" the painting by adding some details such as the jumping fish and the crab near the fisherman's feet.

Etc. etc. and J.E. Cole-- thank you, gentlemen.

Rob Howard-- good word, "halberd." I was not aware that Zorn was hot on the trail of Sargent, but I find the notion of someone with his dazzling facility becoming worried about a competitor quite interesting. I agree with you about Frazetta. On a couple of occasions I have looked at his awkward, painfully overdone pen and ink work from his comics years and thought, "he's not so hot after all--you can really see how he does his conjurer's tricks." But then I would take a trip to that museum of his, and those damn paintings of his were so brilliant they would take your breath away.

Canuck said...

I've visited a studio of a financially-fortunate Artist (trust fund, inheritance or juicy alimony, I think) and it was a dream: polished wood floor, huge open space, fancy European easel and equipment, the best paints and materials, custom lighting system and skylights, et cetera.

Too bad her paintings were crap.

william wray said...

I tried to be one of those second rate Frazetta's for half of my career. When someone is so viscerally what you respond to it's a trap that is easy to fall into. While his drawing doesn't show in my current work, I don't think his color ever left me. What a master. Once he had done his best Barbarian work I wish he had gone more into pure paint design as he hinted at in one or two paintings he won awards for, but hey he did leave an unreachable legacy in Fantasy art.
I never had the courage to try and visit him early on when I could have. I did meet him at a con and told him briefly what he meant to me. He gave me a surprisingly humble thank you. Like Rockwell's slow entrance into museums I think Frank will get there. He was to great to deny.

David Apatoff said...

Canuck-- I hear you. The worst way to start out is with a fancy set of paints and brushes. I remember hearing Frazetta talk once about how he painted that famous picture of the neanderthals coming out of the mist. It was late at night, he had a deadline the next day and he didn't have a blank canvas to paint on, so in desperation he stole a masonite square from some work that was being done on the house, and painted on that. Wonderful.

Anonymous said...

kev ferrara said...
"Heaven is, and always was, the imagination.
If only we could admit this to each other."

Aside from ontological arguments concerning Heaven's reality or non-reality, the word "admit" (if you are using it in the sense of "to concede as true or valid") seems to indicate you are asserting that people who claim to believe in Heaven do not actually believe in Heaven; do I understand you correctly?

kev ferrara said...

Etc, etc...

There are some things we know which we cannot access because they have been blocked off by dogma.

My caviat, "If we can only," applies equally to the accessing of such hidden truths, as the pronunciation of them.

You are right though... I probably should not assume that all minds have made the correlation I have stated, especially given that most minds aren't given the chance to.

Regardless, whether my ontological argument is a more sensible bit of a priori reasoning than the arguments of those who think our imagined perfections must necessarily be realities, doesn't change the grayness of the day.

Anonymous said...

O.K. thanks. On a final note, I was not specifically referring to Anselm's ontological argument (which I find suspect).

Joss said...

Is there more to the Sargent-Zorn story?
I never heard that one either.

raphael said...

*raises hand to rob* here, here, i read all of robert e. howards conan stories and all of his kull stories! (truth be told, i like kull even more than conan)

and i agree with both of you, rob and david, that frazettas art is working on so many levels at once, its a shame hes being hailed for only a few singular facets of those levels by fandom, while being derided for his subject matter by more serious folk.

for me, frazetta was really monolithic. i first silently appreciated him when i saw kane on the golden sea on a paperback my father lent me (the paperback was exactly what i was asking for, the novel not so much), just somehow noticing that something in there really rocked, and i went for his pictures in the most different moods and for a host of reasons. the one thing i always went away smacked right over and full of admiration for his guts. when you look at it, damn, its right in front of you, but to pull it off!
goes for all things painting craft and asses, of course ;)

अर्जुन said...

Frazetta~Master, legend, visionary creator, a bona fide unique original.

Bill Wray, loved the Korgoth backgrounds.

Laurence John said...

"its a shame hes being hailed for only a few singular facets of those levels by fandom, while being derided for his subject matter by more serious folk."

"Sadly, Frazetta's marvelous skills with pictorial composition as an element of storytelling is completely lost on the manque monkeys who comprise his audience of airbrushed motorcycle tanks..."

'a shame' ?
'completely lost' ?
i don't think so. if by lost you mean the 'manque monkeys' can't articulate the reasons his compositions and colour sense work on them emotionally, or aren't equipped with the necessary art schooling to discuss his technique, other than 'Awesome !' then yes those skills are invisible. but isn't that the point ? Frazetta painted barbarians, beasts and buxom wenches for comics and fantasy magazine/book covers... who exactly do you think his audience was if not 'superannuated adolescents' ? his technique worked quietly at the service of his muse... visceral fantasy subject matter. if he had any interest in being taken seriously as a fine artist he would have dropped that sword and sorcery stuff quickly and moved onto landscapes or abstraction or the alienation of modern man.
there's no shame in creating his kind of subject matter and loving it. sounds like you're both making excuses for his schlocky subject matter because you don't want to be associated with that sort of low-brow audience.

raphael said...

no, i didnt mean it like that. its clear that frazettas art does its job, and it does it well, no matter which facets are lauded and which ones are largely overseen.

what im saying is that its highly suboptimal that while his skills do range through a rather wide list, a lot of fandom probably wont get these "invisible" facets beyond experiencing their effect, and highbrow people (i cant see how you count rob and me to them - i lauded robert e. howards writing just a few lines before, and rob posted a gouache study of a dragon head that would have made frazetta smile with glee just the last blog post or the one before that - not the thing people do who dont want to be associated with 'that kind of stuff') dismiss him for his subject matter.

yes, you are probably right, its a pitfall of his chosen subject matter. this doesnt make it any better that it will prevent the fact to be openly declared that no matter whether you go to frazettas paintings for composition, storytelling, paint handling, color, or for muscles, swords and asses, you wont be disappointed because he freaking mastered it.

its just a shame it wont be acknowledged large-scale. thats all.

BugDreams said...

Funny, I think Frazetta was great, irreplaceable, and a painter's painter.

But I think Jasper Johns is an excellent artist.

Anonymous said...

HOw open-minded of you.

Ray said...

Mr. Apatoff,

I ran across your blog quite by accident about a month ago...and love it. I feel we're often kindred spirits regarding how we view art. Many of your posts lamenting the lauding of concept to the exclusion of technique and facility is something with which I completely concur. I often feel as if much of the fine art world is a game of smoke and mirrors or an admiration society of the emperor's new clothes.

I'm very happy that you seem to view some of the great comic book/strip artists as being equals with some of the great illustrators. I could spend hours looking at work by Alex Raymond, Alex Toth, Stan Drake, Al Williamsom, Neal Adams (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year in San Diego), et. al.

I do comic books on the side and have had some stuff published. (Feel free to check out some of my work at my blog, if you're so inclined—raywerks@blogspot.com), and I am a huge fan of Frazetta. I realize that the subject matter is often adolescent, but who cares? His painting was magnificent, full of life, depth, movement and sensuality (without being pornographic). The dude could paint, and his ink illustration was also a joy to behold. Maybe he was a little short on conceptual depth, but he didn't pretend to be anything but an illustrator of fantastic tales. And that he did second to none.

Thanks again for the blog. Keep it up.

kenmeyerjr said...

Man, what a great post! To see all those studios of all those amazing artists...man oh man.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

To the schreibmaster. Another stunning theme, inspiring even more rich writing; 'One of Heaven's biggest windows has just been boarded up.' But your words
'Frazetta's studio, like the studios of other great creators before him, was a place where a temporary and unexplainable breach in the laws of physics permitted true alchemy to occur.' is a golden tribute, and I'm sure the artist is smiling down at such praise, from your humble blog.

Anonymous said...

can i just say...as silly as this sounds...that in reading this post i am reminded of a thought i had when my own father passed away.

"where does the life and love go?"

in this case, the better question is:
"where does the creative magic go", but to both questions the answer is the same:

"it doesnt go anywhere. it remains in us".

Rob Howard said...

>>>Is there more to the Sargent-Zorn story?
I never heard that one either.<<<

John Sargent was a dazzling enfant terrible but as he grew less enfant, he became much less dazzling. Zorn was a freakin' natural force that never let up.

It wasn't that there was a rivalry between the two men but whenever Zorn came to town, Sargent always conveniently took a powder. It seemed that the good commissions dried up and went to the Swede. What he could do with those four or five colors should have been impossible...but he showed that they weren't impossible for him. Unlike Sargent, who was always spotty, Zorn was absolutely consistent in his quality. Also, unlike Sargent who vacillated from style to style, Zorn had one way of looking at the world...and if that world had pert breasts and a nice bottom, so much the better. Sargent seemed much to shy and retiring to get involved in painting those nicely rounded nudes. Zorn was not reticent in the slightest.

Rob Howard said...

>>>then yes those skills are invisible. but isn't that the point?<<<

To an extent, that is true. The audience should never understand how the magician does his tricks, and that large mass of the hoi polloi is not expected to notice the intricacies of pictorial composition. However, the supposed professionals we see stacked cheek by jowl at certain "illustration" fora...mindless myrmidons of Frazetta, numbly failing at every turn becuase they have exactly the same level of artistic development as the adolescents in the mass audience.

Frazetta's powerful compositions are like Pyle's...not invisible to the properly trained eye. To the improprerly trained eye, it's another story and, that's what I was speaking to, not the mass audience. Like most illustrators, I love those guys in the sudience. They have no pretenses of being anything other than what they are. My objection is to the arteests loaded with pretense and dropping names as they go. Those gasbags don't know the underlying foundations of their professed field.

Art schools are repositories for lost souls, clad in black, whose parents should be sending them elsewhere for therapy.

Stop, Just Stop... Really. said...

Dear Sir

Trolling for fauna for your fora again, eh?

Good luck on this tack... as it is obvious you don't know a damn thing about either Pyle's or Frazetta's compositions.

I'd rather listen to Jesse Hamm's analysis of Frazetta rather than yours...http://sirspamdalot.livejournal.com/68226.html

In short, you're the gasbag.

Tom said...

"Sargent seemed much to shy and retiring to get involved in painting those nicely rounded nudes"

Unless they where nude 'Tommy's swimming", or black man swimming, I think Sargent's love dare not speak it name. Just a guess of course, I don't know.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Just a guess of course, I don't know.<<<

In this age of the untrained online psychologist, the first thing we untrained psychologists do is examine the subject's underwear and sex lives, as though that will give us insights which, can can later synthesize into a magic elixir to make us just like the subject (minus the naughty bits, of course).

I've read quite a bit about Sargent, born in Italy, trained in France and later (after being cleared of the stigma of being "too French") taking up a practice in London. All of the observations pointed to a man who was rather one-dimensional...an artist to his fingertips but an otherwise self-contained person who was not the most scintillating company. Chances are that he would never have joined the fabled experts at Facebook or Twitter.

Like Andrew Wyeth, he never attended any school or kindergarten. However, that does not mean that he was poorly educated. He was found with a copy of Catullus, in the original, on his bed when he died. That's something few of today's mass manufactured scholars will ever lay claim to.

He first came to the US before his 21st birthday in order to qualify for his birthright as an American citizen. He had a nice studio in Copley Square, Boston and would occasionally use his assistant as a model. Over the years I have routinely used my studio assistants as models and managed to maintain a professional relationship. Just because men work together does not mean that there is a physical involvement. If every artist who painted a male nude were homosexual, the planet would resemble San Francisco's kultur.

He is reported to have been a fair hand at the piano and is reported to have had a capacious appetite. The latter is as near to excessive behavior as he seemed to allow himself. There is absolutely no hint of any romantic involvement with women, men or beasts. Some folks are not all that sexual in their nature and it is quite possible that he may have died a virgin.

Whatever the mysteries of his private life, he certainly left a lasting mark on the world of painting.

Rob Howard said...

>>>In short, you're the gasbag.<<<

Hell hath no fury like an ardent fan who discovers his hero actually used the toilet. I presume from the lowing in the background that I have tipped over a scared cow.

Now, sir, get off the stage and back to your seat in the sudience. You have committed the worst of all sins...you are dull.

Rob Howard said...

>>>I'd rather listen to Jesse Hamm's analysis of Frazetta rather than yours...http://sirspamdalot.livejournal.com/68226.html <<<

I don't know how to say this nicely, but clearly, the writer has almost no knowledge of what comprises pictorial composition. Those diagrams are...well, I'll be chatiable and just say that they have no bearing on what the artist was doing. They are an odd form of surface mbroidery whereas pictorial composition is the foundation. If you took the time to read (rather than listen to the printed word...no wonder you're so disoriented) a few books on pictorial composition...ranging from Will Eisner to Bernard Dunstan to Hereward Lester Cooke, to a couple of excellent books on the very direct (unembroidered) approach Pyle used (it's called 'notan' and it's usually done with a big brush, ink and three or four strokes).

As I have said and has been proved on numerous occasions (thank you for guiding me to a demonstration that more than bears out my contention that a clear understanding of even the very basics of pictorial composition is almost unknown to the throng who consider themselves to be artists. It is the most glaringly absent element in the vast majority of paintings today.

Again, thanks for posting this example to prove my point.

Put Up or Shut Up said...

Rob, post some of your illustrations that demonstrate you know Pyle's and Frazetta's methods.

Post them, provide links.

Show us you understand Pyle and Frazetta's works by showing us your works.

Talk is cheap. Bullshit walks.



StimmeDesHerzens said...

what does STFU mean?
Is someone trying to silence the most entertaining albeit elitest responder to this blog? Please no!
epigones and myrmidons
epigones-1.Epigonus usually in pl, Gr myth. One of the sons of the seven heroes who were beaten before Thebes. Thirty years after their fathers' defeat, with Alcmaeon as leader, they conquered and destroyed the city.2. A memeber of a later generation; a descendant or successor, esp. an inferior one, as in art or literature.
myrmidons-1. Gr. myth. One of a fierce Thessalian tribe or troop who accompanied Achilles, their king, to the Trojan war. 2. A soldier or a subordinate civil officer who executes all orders of a superior without protest or pity.--sometimes applied to baliffs, constables etc.("With unabated ardor the vindictive man of law and his myrmidons pressed foward." from Thackeray)

Laurence John said...

"Like most illustrators, I love those guys in the audience. They have no pretenses of being anything other than what they are. My objection is to the arteests loaded with pretense and dropping names as they go."

point taken Rob, and i agree. i thought you were referring to the audience in your first post, rather than the second and third rate Frazettas.

Laurence John said...

"it wasn't that there was a rivalry between the two men but whenever Zorn came to town, Sargent always conveniently took a powder"

given how similar their styles were it's amazing they never came to blows over who owned it.
for me Sargent had a more focussed eye for the sartorial detail or elegant pose that makes his portraits more memorable and striking than Zorn's. but there's very little in it.

Stockholm Syndrome said...

Oh, Robbie, your panache is so refreshing!

Rob Howard said...

>>>what does STFU mean?<<<

This is a peasant's attempt at wit and cleverness. It's a traditional response passed down from peasant father to peasant son and harks back to the days when lumpen prole grandfather and his equally lumpen villagers stormed the castle with torches and pitchforks, screaming for the head of an imaginary monster.

I was speaking to an intelligent friend today about the difficulties I have been encountering in trying to develop empathy. Just as I begin to make a bit of headway, one of these unfortnuate creatures raises his brutish head and spits epithets known to his fellows ... (the psychometrist's term for this band of population is dull normals).

Dealing with entities like this make it increasingly difficult for me to develop empathy for my fellow talking monkeys. I have been told that I should feel their pain. Unfortunately, I cannot submerge myself in their minds.

The democratizing effect of the Internet has allowed these poorly turned-out folk to trade in their ancestral torches and pitchforks for a keyboard. Like the unhappy generations before him, he rails and attacks and never learns that in the castle keep there is a large vat of boiling oil always waiting to repel him and his fellow bit players. They never learn.

Pay them no mind as they have not two original thoughts to rub together. They post as they live...as anonymous Dull Normals. For them STFU is the very height of witty rejoinder.

Tom said...

Sorry Rob, My point was not very clear. The sensuality and beauty that Zorn brings to female beauty, seems matched to the beauty Sargent brings to the male body.

Rob Howard said...

>>>i thought you were referring to the audience in your first post, rather than the second and third rate Frazettas.<<<

To an extent they are one and the same, Laurence. The second-raters demonstrates with their failed epitomes that they have much more in common with the fans than with the practitioners. For the fans, it's all about swords, muscles tits and ass.

Imagine, for a moment, that Frazetta used the same dynamic approach to composition as well as his always-spot-on color to another subject...say a children's storybook like Peter Rabbit. At that point you'd be better able to see that special artistry that went far beyond the subject matter that had everyone in the audience humming to the same tune.

On the other hand, a skilled and trained illustrator could co-opt many of Frazetta's compositional devices and color combinations and apply them to very different subject matter. The ham-and-eggers will just paint gals in iron bikinis waving swords.

Sailing by the Wind said...

More wind.

Wind... wind... wind...

All anybody wants to see is you proving what you claim.

Very simple.

Because you are a clueless arrogant asshole.

Who can't help himself.


It might help if you realized.

Ha ha. Fat chance.


Are you going to demonstrate your "understanding" of Pyle and Frazetta?

By putting your money where your mouth is... by putting your ART where your bluster is...

Or should we just assume more wind is on the way?

Wind... wind... wind...

bluster...bluster... bluster

bullshit bullshit bullshit...


かわやま said...

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Jesse Hamm said...

Wow, it looks like my Frazetta analysis has stirred up some lively discussion.

Rob, though I disagree that I have "almost no knowledge of what comprises pictorial composition," I am always eager to learn more, and would appreciate your opinion of where my diagrams went wrong. I drew them in a hurry and can see a few problems in retrospect (I think vectors would point toward that gap in Frazetta's clouds, rather than encircling it), but I welcome any informed crits you can make.

I'd be especially interested to hear whether you disagree with me that the composition of the Frazetta picture is full of curves, or that the compositions of those other pictures resemble vertical/horizontal grids. This was my point in that section, and it seems to me to be indisputable.

"a few books on pictorial composition...ranging from Will Eisner to Bernard Dunstan to Hereward Lester Cooke, to a couple of excellent books on the very direct (unembroidered) approach Pyle used (it's called 'notan'"

I don't recall Eisner writing about composition in his books, at least as it pertains to abstract elements like shapes, lines, and values. He seemed more concerned with narrative elements like characters' expressions and dialogue, etc.

I've read the seminal work on notan by Arthur Wesley Dow, but it was more about balancing black and white shapes with each other than about the directional dynamics I addressed in my article.

I'll keep an eye out for composition books by Dunstan or Cooke.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an illustration/art blog , but --- there are three types of martial artists . One strives to improve himself by training with tenacity and intelligence in concert with a humble teachable spirit . Another type wears his uniform and yellow belt on the bus home to ensure that some of the general public knows he is training . Another likes to argue in safe anonymity online in spite of his limited or nonexistent skill or knowledge .

My guess is that Rob is more interested in improving himself than in proving himself to anonymous posters - although his retorts are for me the amusing equivalent of watching an expert gently toy with a novice .

Al McLuckie

The Lambs Keep Eating said...

Why would you guess that, Al?

Seems obvious that Rob is "the type who wears his uniform and yellow belt on the bus home to ensure that some of the general public knows he is training."

And then if nobody notices his little yellow belt, he stands up and announces he's a black belt.

Then when it is pointed out that his belt is yellow not black, he says, "ho ho ho... I suppose my detractors are here again... ho ho ho..."

The man is an absolute nuisance who is ruining this blog for a lot of people.

For others, so famished for a bit of art and illustration discussion they'll tolerate anything, there is no threshold of obnoxiousness that will cause them to leave.

Some people are just born lambs.

Anonymous said...

As well as born anonymous warriors.

Al McLuckie

अर्जुन said...

And there are those that know a belt is only good for holding up their trousers.

Robz is both one of Americas premiere illustrators, and an unquestioned expert on Howard Pyle, deal with it!

Matthew Adams said...

Anonymouse, not all of us enjoy Rob's witty comments as much as he does, but he puts his name to the comments and he also puts his years of experience into them.

All we get from you is whinging. You are the one who is spoiling it for the others. The rest of us, if we disagree with Rob, get up there and try to battle it out with him. But your comments betray you as a coward.

It does not seem to me that you come here to enjoy David's blog, but because you like to bait Rob. If you did enjoy David's blog we would hear more about that from you and less about Rob.

Rob Howard said...

>>> I am always eager to learn more, and would appreciate your opinion of where my diagrams went wrong.<<<

Jesse, the problem with blogs about visual subjects is there is no way to illustrate what is being discussed.
First, let me be abundantly clear on this...although I began as an amateur, making pictures out of the love of art, I joined the ranks of professionals before finishing my second year of art school and had to decide, did I want to be a professional artist or art student.
Once that decision was made, it was followed closely by seldom touching a brush or pencil unless I was being paid. There is an almost total lack of respect for the worth of art among people who expect you to whip out a quick Sistine Ceiling to amuse them. Yet they would never think to ask a surgeon to do a quick appendectomy in order to satisfy their curiosity...perhaps a lawyer filing a brief, just to demonstrate he can do it.

Yet the pitchfork and torch crowd has such a low opinion of the worth of art they expect free demonstrations for their amusement... art is just like a clown act to them...and one they can argue about.
On the Cennini Forum I have a series of very clear examples of constructing foundational compositions with an eye toward their use in communicating a specific emotion. They are in-depth and involve a number of members taking up the cudgel to apply this knowledge to solving very specific problems in visual communication.

One such assignment was to illustrate the Peripatetic School of teaching in ancient Greece. For the pitchfork wielders, that would be impossibly dull but for a decent sized group of artists intent on growing, it was an excellent challenge. Just like illustrators, they had to read up about the era and what was being illustrated...when did it take place...what were the costumes, the main characters?
The rules were Pyle's rules: at least 50 notan sketches on 5x7 index cards...black and white...big shapes, no details. Each artist submitted three of the best of the 50 sketches and they were discussed as to what emotion they were attempting to convey and create in the viewer. From that point, one was selected and a working drawing was produced, with attention to the placement of the darks and lights. Then came the color sketch...all the time, talking about the emotional impact.

At that time, I had been holding occasional classes in my studio and, for one of them, had Graydon Parrish discuss his approach to color. We decided to expand on that lecture and devote a workshop to Graydon and his teaching. A number of people signed up and made arrangements to attend (my workshops draw people from all over the country, the UK, Eu, even Singapore and Tasmania). Then Graydon decided he wanted a more elevated crowd and a different venue, so he left the subscribers swinging in the wind with reservations already made. So we picked up the slack and held what became known as the Free-For-All. Everyone who had signed up, been accepted and then rejected by Graydon could come to the studio and work on a large painting of the sketch that was deemed the best of the lot.

My assistant and I stretched up a big canvas, provided paints and brushes, coffee, cakes, etc. and everyone had a wonderful time working on the same project...learning lots in the process. They were charged exactly zero...hence, Free-For-All.
In the process, everyone learned a great deal about composition from start to finish. Those pictures are at the Cennini Forum, which is a subscription forum with a bit more than 4,200 members, 10,000 threads and 180,000 posts and entries. The subscription costs $7 a month and that small amount keeps the pitchfork and torch people out, so it's a nice place chock-a-block with useful information. There's also an open section where we post a few items of use. www.forums.studioproducts.com

Laurence John said...

Jesse, i think your description of vectors and high/low contrast in Frazetta's art is accurate (although i don't think he's quite so unique in using high contrast focal points as you make out). the only point i disagree with is the one about simple tonal values (point 1). you picked a very high contrast painting to illustrate your point, but if you look at the painting you use in point 4 you'll see that it's full of softly graded tone changes, as well as having bright highlights.

Rob Howard said...

>>>If you did enjoy David's blog we would hear more about that from you and less about Rob.<<<

Good observations about the cowardly anonymice, Matthew. As you've noticed, i give as good as I take, but what seems to have escaped notice is, before that...in every one of David's subjects, is my very first posting. Go back and read every one of them and you will see that they are kept on-target in discussing the work that David provides. I would be more than pleased to keep the tone of conversation as civil and as lively as we keep it on Cennini Forum. It's not that we filter out the cowardly anonymice. It's simply that they are cheapskates who not only do not have the courage of their convictions in remaining anonymous, but have no interest in elevating themselves and possibly learning...even at bargain rates.

Cheap and cowardly...that's the losing combination for lifelong losers.

Trust me, if you kept the mosquitoes out, you'd find my more than pleasant company who is willing to share whatever I have that could help you enjoy the art of illustration. I do not pose as some nec plus ultra of illustration, but I have learned things that are not nown to people who have not pursued the field.

But, in the perverted anything-goes misinterpretation of the First Amemndment, the non-productive anonymice are allowed in, so in that spirit of First Amendment rights, let me say...FIRE! FIRE! Run For The Exits! FIRE!

Name doesn't matter said...

Advertising ... Bluster... Name dropping... Ho ho ho my detractors are at it again... Ho ho ho (avoids challenge to put his art where his bladder is, and the lambs say)

Baaaaaaa baaaaaaaaa baaaaaaaa

Anonymous said...

A few years ago, when the Cennini Forum was free, I remember Rob diagramming a Frazetta composition. Anyone with current access could probably find it by searching Rob's comments with the terms "Frazetta" and "composition".

Anonymous said...

True understanding is NOT demonstrated by diagramming.

True understanding is demonstrated by Art.

Nice backhanded advert, though, anon.

Matthew Adams said...

Rob, I have noticed that you have kept your comments on subject, I was trying to suggest that it is the annoying mouse that doesn't. Maybe my sentence construction was a bit poor.

and to get back on subject...

Almost everyone who visits this blog loves Frazetta and Norman Rockwell. As an Aussie I try to think of Australian illustrators who have had the same impact, and can not come up with anyone. I have to confess to feeling fairly cold about Rockwell. I can see what you guys admire about him, yet it seems to me that most of his work is just a little to sentimental (and maybe too American centric? Though I do know Aussies who love him, and maybe I am judging him solely by his post illustrations). Frazetta's work I love, solid gold to me (plus I love the adolesent subject matter, and yes Rob, I have read most of the books. I found most of them fairly tedious but I think I came to them too late in life to really get into them, though the first Conan story I really like, and for the most part I enjoyed Howard's prose). I certainly think there is something more universal about Frazetta, and yet there is something very American about him too. You Americans are very lucky to have had such illustrators, and I wish I could look back on Australian illustrators that equal, but I can't.

Anonymous said...

"True understanding is NOT demonstrated by diagramming.
True understanding is demonstrated by Art.
Nice backhanded advert, though, anon."

Don't posture DEFCON 1 just yet, laddie. It was not intended as an advert backhanded or forehanded, or do you consider yourself the authority on other people's intentions as well as the usefulness of compositional diagrams? Maybe you should post your work?

Tell us more, Daddy said...

I'm not the one claiming to have knowledge of Pyle's and Frazetta's methods.

How an ass like Rob has developed a cult following is beyond comprehension. Except, that the weak-willed and clueless will follow any daddy who comes along. Including a pathetic insane loser, like, say, L. Ron Hubbard, who merely wants their money.

Anonymous said...

But Hubbard has produced such lucid, coherent thinkers...


Jesse Hamm said...

Rob, doubtless your opinions come at a premium, so I understand why you need to hide the reasons for your attack on my expertise. Next time I have another $7 handy, I'll surely check out your forum to learn why I was wrong.

Matthew, I wouldn't feel bad about Australia lacking illustration giants. The population is less than a 10th of America's, so by numbers alone we have a greater pool to pick from. At least you have AC/DC!

Plus, though New Zealand isn't Australia, Harry Rountree is one artist from down under who could give Frazetta a run for his money. (And judging by the similarity of their signatures, I have to wonder whether Rountree was an influence.)

Laurence, thanks for the thoughtful reply. Sorry if I implied that Frazetta was unique in using high-contrast focal points; I meant that he was much better at it than most.

"you picked a very high contrast painting to illustrate your point, but if you look at the painting you use in point 4 you'll see that it's full of softly graded tone changes, as well as having bright highlights."

That second painting (Conan the Destroyer) does have more values & tone changes than the other, but I think they're fewer than they seem, and he models them much less than most realists would.

Check out this comparison. On the left, Frazetta and Vermeer appear to be working primarily with black and pale grey, with some dark grey where the shadows turn, and a few white spots. There's modeling/gradation, but pretty much only at the edges where shadows meet light, and on the very roundest forms.

But in Vallejo's pic (bottom right), the gradations continue evenly from the shadows all the way to the lightest spots -- even on flat areas, like the pecs. (And the character is caucasian!) I think Frazetta & Vermeer would have relied more on distinct areas of tone to define the form, with a minimum of gradation at the tones' edges, as in my modified example (top right).

Rob Howard said...

>>>You Americans are very lucky to have had such illustrators, and I wish I could look back on Australian illustrators that equal, but I can't.<<<

Austrailia has the same vitality we had in the US half a century ago. I suspect that we'll be seeing more stars in the art world arising from down-under. When I worked in New York, one of my neighbors was the Australian sculptor, Clement Meadmore. Clem embodied that energy I associate with Oz. Evidently others thought the same because New York was very good to him. His craftsmanship was outstanding, and his little maquettes fairly burst with energy. Great stuff.

What does seem to be arising from Australia and New Zealand is a burgeoning film industry and that, to me, is the art of these times. If I were a young artist and starting anew, I would aim at production design. That's where all of those compositional ideas can be put to good advantage. Frankly, I think that illustration has declined from the mainstream to occupy a backwater. We're going the way of the elevator operators.

Laurence John said...

Jesse, i take your point, although you could argue that rather than limited tonal values Frazetta is using darker shadows, brighter highlights and quicker transitions between the two... or is that the same thing ? one thing that picture shows is that Frazetta knows how to use strong CHIAROSCURO in colour work... if you can turn a colour painting to gray scale and it looks nice and contrasty rather than all light to mid tones then you know you've got it going on.

Anonymous said...

When I was in my teens I would take Frazetta's images and shrink them down on a zerox to thumbnail size abstract pattern , then blow that up - it still looked solid and great.
Al McLuckie

kev ferrara said...

Jesse, full agreement on Harry Rountree. (Wish I owned a book on him). There is also Sydney "Spirit of the Plains" Long, but most of his great work is landscape.

Matthew, look at Rockwell's work prior to 1940 (Unfortunately a lot of it burned with his studio). After 1940 or so, his best works were personal, like Breaking Home Ties and Saying Grace. He became less a romantic and more a realist, mirroring the post WWII era. If you can find a copy of the oversize Rockwell book "Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator" by Thomas S. Buechner there's a giant fold out of his Land of Enchantment mural from about 1930, which will knock your socks off with its thickly painted, beautifully drawn design. It has the same ability to transport the heart as Wyeth's The Giant mural.

Rob, can you verify that this is your Pyle analysis: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_dvV9D391NZA/S--RXuRDAsI/AAAAAAAAAV4/HoJN4xRGO0I/s1600/robz+on+pyle.jpg

kev ferrara said...

I mean that Rockwell's good work became more realistic after 1940. His other work became weaker artistically, and cornier, paying off his critics in a way.

By the way, it would have been interesting to see a shot of Stanley Meltzoff's studio too. I'm not sure what his standing is, but the more I see of his work, the more I think he was one of the giants.


Unknown said...

"Rob, can you verify that this is your Pyle analysis:..."

No, that is not Rob's diagram. Rob chose Pyle's "In the Second April - The Duel ..." for one of our compositions lessons on the Cennini Forum and what you just linked to ( http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_dvV9D391NZA/S--RXuRDAsI/AAAAAAAAAV4/HoJN4xRGO0I/s1600/robz+on+pyle.jpg ) is actually a compilation of what 3 different members posted as their analysis (that would be a little schizophrenic to come from one person).

kev ferrara said...


Actually, that wouldn't be strange... pictures work on multiple levels and can be analyzed from many different viewpoints.

Oh, and....

I looked at your blog... nearly every post has a reference to Studio Products. And your only links are to Studio Products, Cennini Forum, and Max Howard's Real Gesso.

I assume you are part of the family business.


Unknown said...

"I assume you are part of the family business.


Yes... but first came my appreciation of the artist materials, as my blog enthusiastically indicates, and the wealth of knowledge that Rob was sharing at the forum...that was over 10 years ago.

Rob Howard said...

>>>Rob, can you verify that this is your Pyle analysis<<<

I haven't seen those before. Are they attributed to me? By whom?

Probably the same guy that has me wearing a Nazi uniform. I wish that I had more intelligent enemies.

Rob Howard said...

>>>I wish that I had more intelligent enemies.<<<

...and people less transparent and childlike in laying traps

kev ferrara said...

The source for this erroneous attribution to you comes from अर्जुन ... his latest blog post, which he linked to above as: http://tinyurl.com/2d975u6

You should be flattered that I asked if those analyses were your handiwork, rather than simply assuming they were.

All to say, if there was a trap here, it would have been filled with your own cheese.


Laurence John said...

sorry to go off topic, but i'm trying to find a book containing the work of Charles E Chambers, Andrew Loomis, Walter Baumhofer and Pruett Carter and indeed any other less often quoted illustrators of the 40s. i'm particularly interested in their everyday romantic and thriller work... modern urban themes of the 40s with a noir-ish edge, rather than western/pirate/historical etc. if anyone can recommend a book containing that kind of work i'd be very grateful.


Jesse Hamm said...


"you could argue that rather than limited tonal values Frazetta is using darker shadows, brighter highlights and quicker transitions between the two... or is that the same thing ?"

I'd call that the same thing in Frazetta's case, though one could use limited tonal values in low-contrast work, as long as the tones are distinct and even, and the transitions are quick.

"i'm trying to find a book containing the work of Charles E Chambers, Andrew Loomis, Walter Baumhofer and Pruett Carter"

You mean Reed's "Illustrator in America," or do you mean various books featuring those artists individually?

Laurence John said...

hi Jesse, no i didn't mean that specific book, but any compilation that has the kind of work mentioned... or would you recommend that one ?

i should have mentioned Haddon Sundblom in that list too and the 'mayonaisse school'... that's the sort of style i'm looking for.

Jesse Hamm said...

Yeah, that's a good book which features all of those artists and many more. The only problem is that there are only two or three illustrations per artist.

Anonymouse said...

'I wish that I had more intelligent enemies.'

YOu don't deserve better enemies.You dorky doofus doodoohead. NYah-nyah! Phhhbbbt!!

Rob "The Human Advertisement" Howard said...

Ho ho ho... my detractors are at it again... ho ho ho

chris bennett said...

Lovely post David, beautifully structured.
Little to add except it has somehow reminded me of something my teacher Phil Sutton said to me many moons ago when a struggling student looking for a painting language with which to speak without stuttering:
“We have too many colours, too many brushes, much too large and beautiful studios….all you need is an empty space, a little space. The back of an envelope and a pencil, because if you cannot find yourself there, what hope have you in the wilderness-soon-to-become-a-jungle of sails of ten foot canvases in the up town studio?”

Looking at those studios reminds me again of how little we need…

Rick McCollum said...

David....I enjoyed reading "A Few Thoughts On an Empty Studio." I had the privilege of studying with Bernie Fuchs, and we became good friends. When Bernie and Babe would have to go away on business or a short vacation, he would ask if I would like to come work in his studio and watch his children ( who actually were in high school at the time ). I was just starting in the illustration business and absolutely loved sort of being a part of the family. If one really knew Bernie, you could see him in that studio, from his beautiful paintings on the wall, pictures all around of his family, pictures and slides of the places he loved to visit and his trumpet on the couch (which he would play occasionally). I use to sit in the floor until the wee hours of the morning looking at and studying his early illustrations that Babe kept in a cabinet in the studio. I can remember him saying " you know my techniques, if I could hand you the secret to making art, I would, BUT, what you really need to find is yourself, then have the courage to put it out for all to see. Those were magical times for me. He and that studio taught me so much.

David Apatoff said...

Rick McCollum, thanks so much for the heartfelt comments. I think all of us envy your apprenticeship with Bernie Fuchs. I'm glad to see that you value it so highly.