Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Once upon a time, before art teachers employed video or Photoshop to demonstrate the progress of a drawing, the Famous Artists School helped popularize "step by step" instruction:

Original drawings by Harold von Schmidt, "How to Draw a Dog"

Even today, the Famous Artists School training materials remain a marvelous record of the working methods of some of the country's top artists. 

Von Schmidt, an excellent draftsman, is underrated today

Illustrator Seymour Chwast couldn't draw nearly as well as Harold von Schmidt but he was a smart guy who recognized that by reversing von Schmidt's steps he could create a clever joke about deconstruction and reductionism:

Similarly, the following series from Guy Billout was focused more on conceptual stages than the steps necessary to  create a likeness:

In the next example, Chwast offers an utterly delightful perspective on the progress of a drawing:

Many a truth is said in jest.  For Chwast, the lightning bolt of inspiration 
was more important than years of studying the craft of drawing.

In this final example,  Richard Thompson speeds up and slows down time, introduces the childhood game "Chutes and Ladders," and shifts back and forth between alternative realities: 

Video and Photoshop have become superior methods for demonstrating the kind of steps that Harold von Schmidt was teaching, but note how static drawings still permit more freedom and creativity when it comes to demonstrating conceptual steps.

For von Schmidt, the space between drawings only reflects elapsed time.  For artists such as Thompson and Chwast it reflects not only elapsed time but also movement between worlds or perspectives.  It allows the artists to play ontological and surrealistic games which, while not as linear, are every bit as educational and truthful. 


MORAN said...

Love Chwast's My Best Work. I feel that way sometimes.

scruffy said...

My favorite take on this is still Watterson's ironic one...


kev ferrara said...

The Billout is a classic. Thanks.

Kalinides said...

The Von Schmidt's dog still is the animal drawing section of the FAS Course... Actually is the section I'm studying now. At the beginning I thought it was Dorne's drawings...

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Yes, Chwast is not a one joke artist. The notion that he is doodling aimlessly until a lightning bolt strikes, the notion that his creation is a woman who emerges from the page and embraces him, and the notion that the artist disappears into the page himself-- all of these ring true. A lesser artist would have premised the series on any one of those surprises.

scruffy -- Thanks for sharing that, I enjoyed it. I think Watterson is actually as good as his reputation (a rare phenomenon these days).

Kev Ferrara-- Agreed. I don't know his personal story but the Billout seems to me to be the product of someone who has spent a lot of time frustrated in a large bureaucracy.

David Apatoff said...

Kalinides-- I'm glad to hear that people are still studying the FAS materials. I think they're wonderful. This year, the owners of the Famous Artists School generously donated their vast archives to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Hopefully that will get them out of a warehouse and into the public eye where we will all be able to appreciate them more.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Nice! wonder what you think about this?


kev ferrara said...

That "over arching" character of the Goddess Nut is a perfect example of what I said a few months back; that the vocabulary of "cartooning" ... of the graphic synthesis/association of otherwise disparate visual concepts to create new symbolizations and symbolic organizations... stretches back to antiquity and probably beyond.

The first example of such writing with graphics is surely lost to history. But it could easily have been done ~200,000 years ago, arriving simultaneously with the appearance of the human mind. Perceptual analysis, conceptual synthesis, and the noting of conceptions as signs are probably our three defining abilities, after all.

Off topic, but I wrote this ^ in August. And this news just came over the transom.

Laurence John said...


i thought your link was going to be this one:


kev ferrara said...

That too was interesting, but the 100,000 year old mark in the article I linked (which was picked up from the LA Times) really struck me, in terms of the discussion we had been having.

But now that you bring up that article, another interesting notion crops up which is just how widespread symbolic thinking was, simply based on the evidence in prehistory. The 100,000 year od "art studio" was near capetown south africa while the 35,000 year old cave art was in maros, sulawesi (indonesia). That is quite a distance apart.

Presuming that all human tribes had similar symbol-marking instincts, and human tribes were distributed across half the globe since a 100,000 or 200,000 years ago, the sheer amount of human symbolic mark making that has been lost to time is rather mind-boggling to contemplate. (one hundred and thirty nine million books have been written and published in the last 600 years. Had even a small fraction of that been written in the prior 199,400 years?)

Makes me wonder too how many antikythera mechanisms the world has lost... how many times man has had to reinvent the wheel. And how lucky we are to live in a time where we have had a near steady build up of knowledge, technology and culture for thousands of years. (Even with sad tale of Ptolemy's Library.)

Kalinides said...

David, You're very welcome.

I started study with FAS the Master Course of Painting Oil& Watercolor, now a 6 assignments to finishing it. They are fantastic texts, indeed; not mention the advice of the teacher is insightful and the grades sobering realistic. Just I bought the texts of the Illustration course (just as personal reading) and shows has been updated with some today's artists...

Richard said...

kev says "symbol-marking instincts"

I'm not following how you jumped to mark-making being instinctual here?

kev ferrara said...

I'm not following how you jumped to mark-making being instinctual here?

It is a reasonable and common presumption.

Otherwise some other species would have had to teach human beings to make signifying marks.

But nobody teaches a deer to pee to mark its territory. Or a cat to bury its tell-tale poo. This is simply instinct at work.

Which is all why the presumption about human mark making being instinctual is reasonable and common.

Richard said...

If something isn't instinctual it has to be taught by some other species?

Aren't these sweeping claims to make with only a proposition of self-evidence and reasonability.

Don't you have some text arguing said proposition to point to?

kev ferrara said...

Richard, if you are serious about educating yourself on this subject, I am sure, with a modicum of effort, you will be able to find many in-depth articles.

Richard said...

Modicum of effort spent. No such articles are bubbling to the surface.

kev ferrara said...

Forgot who I was dealing with.