Saturday, December 02, 2017

TOMER HANUKA'S PRELIMINARY SKETCHES

This week the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened a major new retrospective of the work of David Hockney,  described as "one of the most notable painters of the 20th century."  The BBC tells us that Hockney's "greatest subject [was] private swimming pools," where he captures "something as impossible to fix as light on water."


Personally, I think illustrator Tomer Hanuka did a better job of capturing light on a swimming pool in this preliminary sketch for a movie poster:


Note how Hanuka's loose, quicksilver line suggests the essence of his subject:


Until the Metropolitan Museum of Art announces its major retrospective of Hanuka's work, I'll use this space to share a few things.

At the recent CTN animation expo in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of meeting Hanuka and hearing his excellent talk about his series of posters for classic movies.  For example, he re-invented the poster for Hitchcock's Psycho...


...with this powerful composition:


As stark as this composition is, it contains numerous subtle touches that contribute to its potency.  For example, Hanuka's keen eye picked up on the dripping tile wall, still wet from the interrupted shower.


Other smart touches include the keyhole perspective, the shower curtain tangled around the woman's ankles, and the confined space, all of which give the poster a chilling intimacy.  Compare its eroticism to the original poster, where a plain photo of Janet Leigh in a bra once passed for titillation.  What a difference good design can make!

Here is the final version:


Hanuka reinvented the poster for Dr. Strangelove, from this:


... to this:


Here is an interim version...





and here's the final:



In many of these pictures, I prefer Hanuka's preliminary sketches to the final versions.  They show off the muscle power and the sparkle of the original ideas, before he tightens them up and begins to layer them with complex shapes, details and afterthoughts.  The great illustrator Robert Fawcett wrote, "A design started tentatively rarely gains in vigor later.  In anticipation of the dilution which I knew would later take place, the first draft was put down with an almost savage intensity...."

Hanuka's preliminary sketches are so strong, they help glue together final images that could easily fragment.

Preliminary

Final


Preliminary

Final

It was a treat to see these earlier drafts at the CTN expo and hear Hanuka discuss his approach.





Monday, November 27, 2017

TIME AND CHANCE HAPPENETH TO THEM ALL, part 2


Walter Appleton Clark was one of the most promising young talents in the illustration field in 1900.  He painted this beautiful and subtle watercolor at the age of 23.   

Note how he mastered the values in what might have been a muddy scene.  The light source creates a sharp contrast against that profile, and the structure of the whole picture flows from there.

Clark is judicious with his use of those orange highlights.
Clark reduces the contrast for the husband playing the fiddle in the shadows-- the husband is literally designed to be a second fiddle in this picture.  Yet he is painted with just as much structural integrity as if he were in the spotlight.




And I love Clark's soft, feathery treatment of his subject.


This painting won the Silver Medal at the World's Fair in Paris in 1900.

Clark never shrank from a challenge.  He would do it the hard way if it meant a more effective picture...


At the same time, he would take the simplest subjects (such as an old doorway or two people sitting across the table from each other) and find challenging angles or treatments that would make them complex and interesting:

A beautifully designed drawing of a door





Clark was prolific and hard working.  His career gained momentum just as the illustration market gained momentum:  printing quality was improving, full color was becoming reliable, and the market for quality illustration was exploding.  Conditions were ripe for Clark to make the most of his potential.

Then, as quickly as his career began, it was over.   Shortly after he turned 30, Clark caught typhoid fever and died.  He had spent his short time well, and left behind a small but beautiful legacy of work.




But who knows what he might have accomplished with another forty years to paint?

None of us has a guarantee that we will live long enough to realize our artistic ambitions. We should remember the lesson of Walter Appleton Clark  as we evaluate each day's work. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

LECTURE ON THE ART OF BERNIE FUCHS



For those of you who will be in the Los Angeles area this Sunday, the nice folks at the CTN Animation Expo have kindly invited me to  talk about my latest book, The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs.  I'm looking forward to it. If you're there, please come up and say hello.

The full schedule for the expo can be found here.  Other speakers at the event (many of whom I've featured on this blog before) will include the artists Peter de Seve, Greg Manchess, Carter Goodrich, Nathan Fowkes, Pete Docter, Nick Galifianakis and Dice Tsutsumi.

Monday, November 06, 2017

INSPIRING WORDS FROM CF PAYNE

CF Payne has long been renowned for his beautifully crafted pictures.




A generation of adoring art students studied his technique.  But more important than technique,  a new documentary about Payne's life gives us insight into the attitude responsible for motivating such work.  The film is available on vimeo on demand and is well worth seeing.
 



In the film, Payne is quite candid about his early "tough times," describing how he had to scrounge for quarters because he didn't have enough money in his bank account to buy his son a happy meal at McDonald's. Yet, Payne persevered because of his love of art.  (He claims he originally wanted to become a professional ball player but watching this film, it's clear Payne was a born artist). Payne drew all the time, and continues to draw obsessively today.




He urges in the film, "Every day get better. Get better. You never get good enough." He talks about how he adapted his style so he could continue drawing on long bumpy bus rides, using quick, jotting lines instead of long, smooth strokes.




This is not an "art technique" film in the usual sense of the word, unless you consider footage of Payne mowing the lawn of his studio with a push mower a lesson in art technique  (which, if you think about it, it is).



The documentary helps to reveal what distinguishes Payne from a thousand other technically skillful artists.  He was never content with a mere likeness: "By the time I got to college my drawings were pretty good... but they didn't come from any place of meaning or understanding, they were just drawings by a mind that was pretty blank."


I found Payne's dedication to continued growth uplifting.




I also found it interesting that someone who is known for his paintings rather than his drawings had the proper perspective on drawing:
That's the thing that stands out in who you are as an artist: the way you draw.  The purity of who you are as an artist comes through most in your drawings. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

COUNTING HAIRS



The Renaissance brought fresh excitement about the physical world.  Art awoke from its long medieval fixation on the afterlife, and began to study the details of nature with an almost fanatical obsession. 

Durer (detail)

Centuries later there are still artists who find meaning painting individual hairs with a fine brush.


Julie Bell
The Bible says "the very hairs of your head are numbered" but that doesn't mean artists must count each one. It's interesting to see how differently artists have summarized and abstracted fur, taking a qualitative rather than a quantitative approach.  Here are some artists I admire:

J.C. Leyendecker:

J.C. Leyendecker

Rather than paint individual hairs, Leyendecker uses his trademark diagonal slashing brush strokes.

Mort Drucker:

Rather than draw individual hairs, Drucker uses his trademark bouncing line:



George McManus:


Rather than trace individual hairs,  MacManus stylized different furs with his art deco designs:




Ronald Searle:

Searle uses a field of watercolor as a substitute for painting individual fine hairs, which allows him to  give greater emphasis to a few scraggly hairs with an ink pen.

Leonard Starr:

Mindful of the smaller size and lesser reproduction quality of newspaper comic strips, Leonard Starr creates a darker fur, feathering the hairs with drybrush 
Andre Francois:



There was a time during the Renaissance when following individual hairs from follicle to tip could be an exciting part of understanding the natural world.  No one had done what Durer did.  

However, today I find the artistic interpretations of fur far more interesting and rewarding.  


Monday, October 16, 2017

PIONEERS OF GERMAN GRAPHIC DESIGN

"The early twentieth century was the most significant period of all in the development of modern design....  The design profession was born, and with it came the beginnings of corporate and graphic design as we know it today."        
                                  -- Jens Müller,  Pioneers of German Graphic Design
                                                                         
The first few decades in 20th century Germany were tumultuous years, a veritable Cambrian explosion of innovation which shaped the world of visual communication that we now take for granted.

For example, they introduced the "object poster" which filled public spaces with large colorful images for the first time. They were fun and eye-catching, persuasive and entertaining.  Most of all, they were visually easy for strolling crowds to read.  The poor man's art museum, they transformed public boulevards into art galleries and revolutionized the worlds of advertising and design that followed. 






Then there was the new use of design to embody corporate identity, including the invention of the modern corporate logo. 





Modern typography was invented and the rapidly developing science of photography was applied in new ways, such as photomontages.


I've previously written on this blog about German designer Peter Behrens, the visionary who met the industrial revolution with comprehensive designs for the new man made environments. But I never appreciated the cumulative role that Behrens and his contemporaries in Germany played in transforming modern visual communication until I read the admirable new book by Jens Müller, Pioneers of German Graphic Design. (Callisto Publishers, 2017).

The 1,000+ high quality illustrations in this encyclopedic book speak for themselves, and make a highly persuasive argument.

This 1925 car ad could easily appear in a magazine today, nearly 100 years later.



But beyond the images, Müller's text is a well-written, thoughtful analysis of the ingredients that gave rise to an era of such artistic ferment.  He writes:
"To trace the history of modern visual communications and explore why such major innovations came from Germany requires a detailed understanding of the social and economic circumstances of the Epoque and order to identify the developments generated demand for modern commercial design in the first place."
Müller's exploration centers on fourteen pioneers of design, most of whom were previously unknown to me but all of whom I found deserving of attention.  I was particularly impressed by the work of Julius Klinger and Wilhelm Deffke.

He tracks how the industrial age changed production, transportation and distribution of goods, which contributed to vast social and economic change (and sharp divisions between social groups).  The new accessibility of printing helped to evade the constraints of previous far reaching government censorship of printed materials. These and other elements fused to transform advertising form and content, and amplify the role of graphic design.  Müller's expertise in discussing these issues is truly impressive.


Many of the readers of this blog are already familiar with the brilliant German graphic art publications of the era, Jugend and Simplicissimus, which were so influential on American illustrators.  Pioneers of German Graphic Design shows that those two publications were just the tip of the iceberg, and how German innovations in design later transformed the field.