Thursday, May 23, 2019


I've previously written of my admiration for the art of Joe Ciardiello.

Ciardiello achieves drama in his drawings by balancing extremes.  He contrasts a light, lacy line with dense, powerful black accents.  He contrasts black and white drawings with spots of vivid color strategically placed.  He contrasts liquid pools of watercolor with a raspy drybrush.

An elegant line contrasted with a thick black brush

A black and white drawing contrasted with jolts of color (detail)

Liquid pools contrasted with scratchy drybrush (detail)

Ciardiello's balance of extremes is delicate surgery in a small space, but when the elements interact well the result is potent images.  Over the years he has produced many excellent pictures in his distinctive style.

Now Ciardiello deserves credit for a different kind of achievement: rather than wait for paying clients to offer him suitable and meaningful assignments in today's parched illustration market, he set out to create his own book of work he could be proud of.  Between other assignments over the past five years he has composed a new book, A Fistful of Drawings.  It is a rare opportunity to see a mature illustrator, unfiltered by art directors and clients, creating images answerable only to himself.

The book is a "graphic journal," a personal memoir about his life and the popular culture he admires.  His pictures include everyone from the Lone Ranger and Annie Oakley to Bettie Page and Al Capone, but he saves his most loving treatments for the movies and movie makers of his youth.  His text is integrated into the pictures as his own handwriting, which is a cross between drawing and lettering.

Here are some of my favorites from the book:

I think this is an extraordinarily beautiful page,  a sophisticated and unorthodox design in which opposite extremes create a healthy tension.  

Some of Ciardiello's pen and ink caricatures are reminiscent of David Levine but unlike Levine Ciardiello uses strong black elements to transform his compositions.

Ciardiello's mix of sensitive descriptive line and abstract design

I think the following double page spread is a real stunner, one of those pieces where the line between illustration and fine art seems to disappear.

The following detail shows how abstract color splatters help loosen and expand the scope of a representational drawing.

Ciardiello's book is for sale from Fantagraphics.


MORAN said...

Awesome work.

Richard said...

Joe's one of those very few artists who was not able to draw worth a damn well into his adult life, and chose to work to rectify that fact, despite already having a functioning career.

For that he deserves significant praise.

Anonymous said...

Richard not sure of your point with these two examples. They look like drawings that Milton Glaser or R. Crumb could have done at their height of fame. How would you prefer Ciardiello to draw differently?


comicstripfan said...

His calligraphy is very engaging.

inmyoblivion said...

Thanks for sharing another great artist. Do you know if these were penciled or blue-lined first and then inked because I don't see construction lines on any of these? The lines look so spontaneous but I can't imagine capturing the likenesses of the people and animals working with ink directly. Really impressive work either way.

kev ferrara said...

Always great to see his work.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Agreed.

Richard-- I'm not aware of the period you describe; when Ciardiello first came onto my radar I thought he was pretty darn good. Certainly better than many of the currently trendy illustrators who, in your words, "are not able to draw worth a damn." In an era of slobs who don't seem to take drawing seriously, he always seemed to me to be someone who recognized the importance of the craft.

Still, I will add that I've repeatedly been struck by the number of illustrators who seemed unpromising and then who one day emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis. Howard Pyle was well into his career and had churned out a lot of mediocre stuff; then in the space of a couple of years became breathtaking. In 1954 Bernie Fuchs was doing clunky, awkward pen and ink drawings. Then three years later he was doing gorgeous full color car paintings in Detroit and and five years after that he was probably the top illustrator in the country. When you ask him how he did it, he truly had no answer. And who would have guessed that the Frazetta who drew those lame Thun'da and White Indian comics would soon find the genius to draw the Canaveral Press work, or paint the cover of Creepy no. 9? It's as if they were hit by a lightning bolt or genetically altered by aliens somewhere along the line.

Anonymous/JSL-- I know what you mean; Glaser did a series of pen and ink drawings of similar subjects, pressing the flat design element of the drawing rather than trying to purely realistic. I enjoyed those drawings and I enjoy these by Ciardiello.

David Apatoff said...

comicstripfan-- I agree. If illustration or comics are going to merge words and pictures, I always think it enhances the finished product for the words to be "drawn" by the artist with the same loving care he or she devotes to the picture. Jack Unruh did this, and so does John Cuneo. It really minimizes the split between form and content.

inmyoblivion--That's a good question. In my fantasies I imagine Ciardiello listening to a cool jazz riff, smoking something and letting those fluid drawings of musicians simply flow out of his pen. However, I assume they are at least lightly penciled and planned.

Kev Ferrara-- I agree, especially when they are work done to his own specifications, on his own deadline, to satisfy himself.

Anonymous said...

IMO Ciardiello is the best of those artists who want to look spontaneous and naive but usually the work is anything but. That look is very had to accomplish and usually it is penciled or blue lined in advance.


comicstripfan said...

Thanks for the Jack Unruh and John Cuneo references. A wonderful slideshow of Jack Unruh's work with music is presented on his website. I don't have the skill to analyze Unruh's interesting artwork, but just sense a connection between his style and that of Ciardiello.

Joe Ciardiello said...

David and inmyoblivion - Thanks for the comments. The drawing of Ennio Morricone may have had some very light pencil underdrawing after a number of failed direct pen drawing attempts. All the others were drawn directly with pen. No pencil and no preliminary sketches. It is my preferred method of drawing for my personal work. Jazz may have been playing, but more likely it was Morricone Spaghetti Western scores. Nothing was smoked, although maybe that would have helped.

MORAN said...

Mr. Ciardiello, I didn't know you visited this blog. I want to tell you I think your drawings are fantastic. I keep a file of them when I come across them and try to learn from them. I'm looking forward to this book.

inmyoblivion said...

Joe Ciardiello--Thanks for sharing some insight on the process. That kind of thing has always interested me and I especially appreciate the opportunity to get it from the source.

Richard said...

David > "I've repeatedly been struck by the number of illustrators who seemed unpromising and then who one day emerged like a butterfly from a chrysalis."

I think you could make a brilliant series Struck by Lightning, as you elegantly described it, of artists emerging from their chrysalides. If you somehow ever run short on inspiration, please consider this a vote.

Joe -- Were you struck by lightning? Would appreciate insight on how you consider your own personal artistic growth in the last 20-30 years.

Joe Ciardiello said...

Moran, I visit occasionally. Thanks for the kind words.

Joe Ciardiello said...

Richard - struck by lightning? I doubt it. It's been a gradual growth process (hopefully) over 45 years and counting. However, around 1990 I did make a conscious effort to pursue more of the kind of work I was particularly interested in (portraits, musicians, etc.).

Dale Stephanos said...

Richard mentions Joe not being able to draw well into adult life. Not sure if he has the right guy. I think Joe's been in every Society of Illustrators and American Illustration since the 70's. And he's old, but not THAT old! Joe's drawings have that magical life in the line that so many of us chase right off a cliff. Thanks for this post, David.

Joe Ciardiello said...

Thanks Dale. Not every annual, but yes, old.

And thank you David for posting about my book.

Richard said...

Dale, I could definitely have the wrong guy! I can only go by what the internet (often incorrectly) presents me.

Joe, were the pictures I linked to in my first post not yours, or not from the 90's? If not, excuse my ignorance.

I'd be disappointed frankly, because it makes for a great perseverance story if your skills dramatically advanced decades into your career.

Joe Ciardiello said...

Richard, yes those drawings were mine from around 1994. They were among 100 or so tiny spot drawings that ran inside cd packaging booklets for the "Capitol Blues Collection" (Capitol Records). I did approx. 34 full color cover illustrations for the cd sets. You may want to check out the entire cover series, the art got some rave reviews despite me not being able to "draw worth a damn".

Richard said...

That it got rave reviews, but you didn't become complacent, is exactly what I am applauding.

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