Sunday, April 25, 2021

REAL LINES, part 1

"A drawing of a person is not a real person but a drawing of a line is a real line."   

                                                                                -- Sol LeWitt

Compare these two drawings of a Dutch sky:


Franklin Booth

In nature the sky has no black lines (or any lines at all, apart from the outlines of clouds) so both artists are taking liberties when conveying sky with a tool that only makes black lines.  How have they used that liberty?

Booth uses a series of uniform, closely drawn parallel lines of constant width, to create a gray tone:

Rembrandt, on the other hand, uses line in a much more free form way because, well, he's Rembrandt:

The manual labor behind Booth's drawing is impressive, but the ratio of work to creative choices is less impressive.  Some of his work would later become the work of zipatone.  

Rembrandt's lines, on the other hand,  shape and radiate and sculpt; note that when Rembrandt does use straight lines (in the upper left corner) they are neither as parallel nor as uniform as Booth's lines.  Rather than add mere tone Rembrandt's lines add power; whether beams of light or driving rain, they shape the image and give it vertebrae. 

We are witnessing two different types of control.  The constancy of Booth's lines, before the era of micron pens, displays one type of control.  Note how Booth even attempts to join the unavoidable breaks in his lines:

Here's another example of Booth's sutures in the sky: 

These breaks aren't created intentionally to describe some phenomenon in the sky, or for abstract expressive purposes.  They are a necessary limitation of his technique due to the the limits of human wrist movement.   Note that Booth's sutures pervade his drawing; they are in the grass, and on his human figures as well, but they matter less if the purpose of all those lines is just for tonal effect: 


Rembrandt's brand of control was very different.  I don't know if Rembrandt was drawing from his wrist, his elbow or his toes but you see no such sutures in his drawing.  His lines drag and loop around with great freedom.   

With each new line, Booth only had to ask himself:  "Is this line the exact same width and distance as the ten lines that preceded it?"  With each new line, Rembrandt had to ask himself: "Is this line the right shape, length, design and location to depict a sky that has no black lines in it?  Where I'm cross hatching am I creating pockets of density and light, control and freedom in the 'right' places?"  These are harder choices than Booth's.  The answers require more artistic courage.  The payoff is greater.

Lots of other artists use thousands of lines to create tone with varying results.  When using that technique, each individual line carries less weight and becomes less important.  The economists call this "diminishing marginal utility."   Drew Friedman and Virgil Finlay use stippling.  Cober, Tinkelman and many others use cross-hatching.  Wrightson, Norman Lindsay, Frazetta, Foster and others often used repetitive fine lines to show shading or volume.  Sometimes these techniques can be employed to stunning effect.  Sometimes not.

To return to where we started, it is in the nature of drawing that every single drawing must take liberties in order to translate reality into line.  As Sol LeWitt noted, a drawing of a person is not a real person. The question is, how does an artist make best use of those liberties?  My personal taste is to give most credit to artists who are always conscious that "a drawing of a line is a real line," and I'll be posting some examples of that. 

Saturday, April 17, 2021


Even a boring spot illustration of a postal clerk can become an exciting trip through an abstract art exhibition when the illustrator is Robert Fawcett. 

Take a closer look.  Back before micron pens and Photoshop became the illustrators' tools of choice, Fawcett was wrestling pictures out of bold, lusty marks such as these.

There are 2,437,152 artists drawing hair at this very moment, but how many have the guts to open the subject to this kind of experimentation?

Even a row of rubber stamps becomes a small act of anarchy.

All of this took place when illustration was still primarily a visual, rather than a conceptual enterprise.  Today we've traded many of Fawcett's artistic strengths for a different set of virtues, but it would be a big mistake  to forget what such potent vigorous drawing brings to even the most commonplace subjects.

Sunday, April 04, 2021


No one drew bunny rabbits better than the great Walt Kelly.  

This Easter  episode of his comic strip Pogo reminds us of the kind of brilliance that was once found in the comic section of daily newspapers.  

Not just the drawing, but the staging, the words, the timing, the charming message-- this combination of talents show what once made comic pages such a significant cultural force.  

Note for example the range of facial expressions of the bunny as they advance the story. 

Kelly's acting ability with an ink brush deserved an academy award.