Sunday, August 25, 2019


Austin Briggs studied hard to become a full fledged painter.  He mastered color theory and pigments and painting technique, and for years his full color paintings were in high demand from the top magazines and advertisers in America.

But at heart, Briggs was a "drawing" guy and as he developed, his line work kept pushing its way through the paint to dominate his pictures.

Briggs' career took an unusual turn.  He started out using basic drawing tools, like every beginning student, and worked his way up to using a full set of Winsor & Newton oil paints.  But at the peak of his success he began to find greater satisfaction in using the simpler, more humble tools-- a litho crayon or a piece of vine charcoal-- this time, with all the wisdom gained from decades of experience.


al mcluckie said...

Really looking forward to the book . This process described in this post reminds me of two artists who , having achieved a high level of expertise , evolved into something else . Klimt , who, after gaining the skill to paint something like Auditorium of the Old Burgtheater to Water Sprights , and his later work . Also , James Wyeth - who didn't try to be a clone of his father , and after reaching a high technical level began to paint on corrugated cardboard in mixed media , using paper clips to paint flames for example .

Al McLuckie

James Gurney said...

So glad to hear there's a book on the way about Austin Briggs, and that you're writing it. From what I've read about Briggs, he was one of the most thoughtful and articulate of all the mid-20th century illustrators. I remember the story he told about how he felt his work was getting stale and derivative, so even in the midst of his success, he took a sabbatical to find inspiration directly from nature and refresh his career.

Paul Sullivan said...

David—I just received my copy of the new Austin Briggs book and want to compliment you on your role in producing this magnificent publication. The story is fascinating. Well done.

chris bennett said...

A very satisfying handling of greens in the fourth picture. Thanks for posting these David, and good luck with the book BTW.

David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie-- I agree. When I started out, I was smitten by the most obvious displays of technical skill-- those glorious crashing symphonies rather than chamber music. It takes growth that only comes from sustained attention to understand what those artists were after with their late in life simplifications.

James Gurney-- Briggs did indeed give up a career doing what he considered "faking it" to start over and learn things right, from the ground up. He didn't have a lot of money but he had plenty of principle and determination. Later in his career he was critical of some of the hot shot illustrators of the 60s who he believed could not draw well, and I suspect it was because he felt they too were faking it and he held them to the same high standard that he held himself.

Paul Sullivan-- I'm glad you liked the book. Auad asked me to write the text and I also got to pick out 30 or 40 of my favorite pieces for inclusion. Manuel edited the arrangement of the art and the forewords, and Kevin Kearney designed the book.

Chris Bennett-- Many thanks. I liked that green picture too-- such an odd choice of color, applied in such a loose way, just as some of those scribbled lines are so free and violent-- yet the tight drawing applies just enough glue to keep the picture from spinning out of control.

Francis Vallejo said...

Purchased the book. Love it!!! Your writing was an excellent supplement to the obviously wonderful art.