Tag Archive for 'Art'

Life Drawing in Charcoal

Life Drawing in Charcoal (6/22/13) Nonfiction (1971, 1994 ****) Written and illustrated by Douglas R. Graves. Master illustrator Douglas Graves walks aspiring students through his charcoal illustration technique, one step at a time. I very much appreciated this book and found it to be one of the strongest art instruction books I’ve read. It helped that Graves was working in a realist style, and his mastery of the medium was apparent to even the most casual observer. My favorite aspect of the book was Graves’ “director’s commentary” approach, in which his thought process was articulated in incremental drawings. He wrote clearly — but without skimping on details — about all the incremental additions and changes made along the way and his reasoning for each one. His text was also a source of occasional unintended amusement: Keeping in mind the original version of his book was written in 1971, it was entertaining to read occasional editorial comments related to the increasing length of men’s hairstyles and the apparent androgyny of today’s young men and women.

Drawing (Creative Techniques)

Drawing (Creative Techniques) (6/15/13) Nonfiction (2009 **) Written and illustrated by Josep Asuncion and Gemma Guasch. Fourteen different approaches to drawing and rendering are presented by two artists. The purpose of this book was to expand the horizons of artists and students by offering them alternative approaches to drawing. However, I found the range of styles presented in this book was disappointingly narrow, even with two different contributing artists. It didn’t help that the majority of the styles didn’t particularly appeal to me or represent directions I was ever interested in pursuing. A much wider gamut would have been appreciated, and an alternative approach to the book might have been to use a different artist for each style presented. Still, even with its limitations, there were some useful ideas in the book and some artists might find it inspiring, even if it wasn’t much help for me.

Discovery of Art: Maxfield Parrish

Discovery of Art: Maxfield Parrish (7/7/12) Netflix (2007 *) Produced by Kultur Films, Inc. The life and career of beloved artist/illustrator Maxfield Parrish is presented in slide-show form… badly. First things first: Under no circumstances should anyone reading this review ever consider wasting their time and/or money by renting or (shudders!) buying this video. Have I made myself perfectly clear? Good. I was kinda jazzed to see this 45-minute video offered on Netflix and I added it to my queue. You see, my wife is a big fan of Maxfield Parrish and I’ve always enjoyed his illustrations as well, though truth be told I’m more of an N.C. Wyeth kinda guy. This video’s production quality was terrible and amateurish in a variety of ways, but its most novel (and annoying) one was that the copy read by the narrator over the virtual slide show actually contained repetitions. It was as though — on multiple occasions — the same paragraph was copied and pasted into the same document, then read anyhow! It boggles my mind that no one involved in the production noticed! As a graduate student I once wrote, shot and edited (on 3/4″ tape, no less) a forty-minute presentation about video artist Nam June Paik, and my student production was infinitely more professional (and watchable) than this terrible video. Say, maybe I should contact Kultur Films, Inc. and see if they want to buy it!

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way (7/2/12) Netflix (1988 ***) Directed by Jim Gates, written by Stan Oliver. Based on the 1978 instructional book of the same name, legendary comic book creator Stan Lee and artist extraordinaire John Buscema demonstrate the tools, language and skills required to “Draw Comics the Marvel Way.” I saw this DVD offered for rent on Netflix and seeing as I’ve been doing a lot of drawing lately I thought it would be fun to watch it. I’d read the book years ago and remembered it as offering solid instruction, aimed squarely between the eyes of young teenage boys hoping to grow up and become comic book artists. Even though I am (ahem) slightly older than the target demographic, I really got a real kick out of this instructional video. It was obviously produced during a golden age when the VHS tape was the height of technology, a time when I was still in college. Though comic book art (and artists) have come a long way since this video was shot, much of the basic information is still valid. I also loved the way it was presented: With Stan Lee hamming it up center stage while the late, great John Buscema (who passed away in 2002) read his cue cards in a totally deadpan manner, the two made a perfect pair.

The Art & Feel of Making It Real: Gesture Drawing for the Animation and Entertainment Industry

The Art & Feel of Making It Real: Gesture Drawing for the Animation and Entertainment Industry (6/30/12) Illustrated Nonfiction (2008 **) Written and illustrated by Mark McDonnell. Artist and teacher Mark McDonnell provides insight into the gesture drawing process, using hundreds of his own drawings as examples. I borrowed this book from my studio’s library because I’ve been considering taking McDonnell’s gesture drawing class at the Animation Guild. After reading his book, I’m honestly on the fence. First of all, his book contained more errors than I have EVER encountered in a professionally published book. There was on average one or two typos on each page containing text. The book listed someone named Remi Sklar as its editor, and I sincerely hope Sklar wasn’t paid, especially considering how expensive hardcover art books of this type are to produce. But beyond that complaint (and I really did find the typos distracting), I also don’t think I learned very much from the book. Though it was nicely illustrated, there were a number of lost opportunities, where the drawings could have been integrated with the text to much greater effect. Also, while McDonnel showed several examples of drawing in various media, in the interest of showing a true range of stylistic approaches, the book could really have benefited from gesture drawings by other professional artists. It made me wonder a little if the book was executed largely as a vanity project to show off its creator’s drawings. Ultimately, I felt the author used a lot of words and pictures without saying very much at all. The final pages of the book promise a sequel, but if McDonnell had only put more thought and effort into this book, a sequel would not have been unnecessary.

Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups

Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups (6/7/12) Illustrated Nonfiction (2008 ****) Text written by Dr. Charles G Martignette and Louis K Meisel. Gil Elvgren was arguably the best pin-up artist of all time. He had a secret formula for his “Elvgren girls”: He started with his “ideal model,” who had the face of a 15-year-old on the body of a 20-year-old. Then he photographed and drew the model faithfully, making a few minor structural enhancements: Slightly longer legs, a slightly fuller bust and lips, larger eyes. The final touch was a “nose job” in which the tip was made more bulbous and a little upturned. It was a formula that worked without fail. Working mostly on 24″x30″ canvas, Elvgren graduated from art school and started pretty much at the top of his field… and stayed there for the rest of his career. This book reproduces 90+ percent of the pin-ups he did during his career, as well as some of the advertising work he did along the way. It’s no wonder he’s considered the best. He took great care in designing and composing his scenes and his skill as a painter was unmatched. I think the thing that made him great was that while the women he painted were always sexy (only occasionally nude), they were never slutty. They represented the epitome of the American idealized female. If you’re a fan of high-quality illustration (not to mention beautiful girls), I highly recommend this book. If nothing else, it’s a tremendous value: The 271-page hardcover book (published by Taschen) was only $10.19 on Amazon.com when I bought it.

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!

Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads! (12/28/11) Illustrated Nonfiction (2011 ***1/2) Written by Kirk Demarais. As a kid, did you ever wonder what you’d get if you ordered “X-Ray Spex?” Now you can find out what you would have received in the mail. My wife bought me this book for Christmas (it was on my Amazon wish list) and it turned out to be awesome! The structure of Mail-Order Mysteries is quite simple: The original comic book ad for each item (and in some cases collections of related items) is shown, followed by photos of the actual item(s) and an analysis of what was promised versus what was delivered. In many cases, additional background information is given about the origins of the product. The message of Demarais’ well-written and lovingly-curated volume is that most “mysteries” were real disappointments. And yet others were surprisingly good values, much like his book. By my count, in my youth I ordered or owned ten (possibly eleven) of the wondrous items contained within, including: The Haunting Record, Vampire Blood, The Life-Sized Vampire Bat, The Magic Brain Calculator, The Vacutex Blackhead Remover, 50 Bike Decals, The Secret Book Safe, The Secret Agent Spy Camera (though it may have been my uncle’s), The Chinese Prayer Vase and, the most famous of all, Sea-Monkeys. But somehow the item I remember as being most eye-opening (e.g. disappointing) was the U-Control 7-Foot Life-Sized Ghost, which turned out to be a balloon, a white plastic sheet and a spool of fishing line.

Dynamic Figure Drawing

Dynamic Figure Drawing (11/28/11) Illustrated Nonfiction (1970 ***) Written and illustrated by Burne Hogarth. The illustrator of the comic strip Tarzan and co-founder of NYC’s School of Visual Arts puts on his professorial hat to teach students how to draw figures in deep space. The paperback version I read was published in 1996, though there’s no indication the content was modified from Hogarth’s original 1970 hardback book. My purpose in buying and reading this book? I’ve been attending figure drawing sessions at my studio for years and recently I’ve decided to take my skills “to the next level.” It’s vitally important to note that the focus of Hogarth’s book is on inventing figure drawings, rather than drawing from life. Hogarth’s writing, which accompanies hundreds of drawings, reads like something from another time: It was dry and professorial to the point of being incomprehensible at times. He often used ten words when three would have sufficed. I attribute this to the era in which it was written. I generally found the book to be useful as an instructional resource, but I also found it interesting that in a book that repeatedly referred to drawing figures in space and foreshortening that Hogarth deliberately chose a “flattened out” orthographic space throughout the book, with little reference whatsoever to drawing figures in true perspective. Perhaps he felt it was too advanced a topic for his audience. If you’ll permit me a whimsical side-note: The nude, bald male figure Hogarth used for 90% of his examples kept reminding me of Doctor Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel; I wonder if Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons used Hogarth’s book for inspiration?

Figure Drawing: Design and Invention

Figure Drawing: Design and Invention (6/13/11) Illustrated Nonfiction (2010 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Michael Hampton. In this richly-illustrated book targeted toward artists looking to improve their life drawings, Hampton breaks the human body into its component forms, emphasizing a somewhat simplified anatomy. I borrowed this book from a friend, and while I’m tempted to order a copy for myself, I think I may hold off in case I find something better. It’s certainly a good book, though it was deficient in two areas: (1) I found the copy often wasn’t written in the clearest manner, and even with the fine accompanying illustrations I was still frequently confused; (2) There is almost no attention given to rendering techniques that might be used to increase the impact of one’s drawings. The best part of the book, really, was its color-coded diagrammatic illustrations of various muscles and muscle groups.

A Caricaturist’s Handbook

A Caricaturist’s Handbook (5/31/11) Illustrated Nonfiction (2010 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Jim van der Keyl. This book provides a step-by-step walk-through of the theories and practice of caricature, with a handful of exercises and plenty of good examples. Caricature is a skill I highly respect and one for which I have little talent. Jim van der Keyl’s book makes it look fairly straightforward and fun. This book was loaned to me by a friend and was actually self-published by a co-worker at Dreamworks. As a person who self-publishes books for a hobby, I appreciated the book as an example of what could be produced under those constraints. While there were a number of typos in the edition I read, I enjoyed the clean layout and use of lots of color photos and images. Though it doesn’t go into great depth, I don’t think the goal was to be encyclopedic. This book would probably be very useful as an introductory book on a subject that probably requires equal parts craft and talent.