Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Master Class

Constant readers of this blog (and at one time numbered as many as two, but has dropped a bit since my mom stopped reading) know that I am a huge fan of the master Illustrators of the early to mid Twentieth Century.  You know, guys like Howard Pyle, NC Wyeth, Harvey Dunn, Dean Cornwell and of course the King himself: Norman Rockwell.  Why?

Because I want to learn from them.


Well, Jeez-- Look at them!

The above is a Harvey Dunn.  Harvey was obviously illustrating a story that involved a dogsled team.  How many of us today would depict an image like this like the way we'd take a photo of it-- as a horizontal shot?

Dunn had that option, I'm sure, but he went with this dynamic, in-your-face perspective.  He wraps the action around that birch on the right, which gives the whole picture a bounding sense of movement.  Oh, and he painted a brilliant snowscape to boot.

Here is (in my opinion [which is how IMO looks spelled out]) the best moonlight nocturne I have ever seen painted.  It's by Dean Cornwell:

Raise your hand-- how many of us have painted moonlight scenes as pretty much a daylight landscape, but grayed down to simulate moonlight?  You know, the way those old Hollywood westerns used to portray night time scenes.  Did your picture come out looking like this?

Damn right it didn't!

The Dean has this one down perfectly.  This, my friends is real moonlight.  But take a look at the abstract shapes of the figures and shadows.  The dark, swirling shapes add to the menacing effect. There is color here, but moonlit color, not subdued sunlight.  Check out how Dean tied all the elements together;  the tent pole goes through the Bedouin on the left, whose shadow and ancient rifle intersects the bad guy on the right, whose shadow curls back to the tent.

I keep yearning to paint a nocturne, but then I look at this and ask myself, "Could I ever make it that good?"

The man who started the Golden Age of Illustration was Howard Pyle.  He was a master craftsman, being versatile in pen and ink, watercolor, and of course oils.  This is a touch of Pyle:

Pyle knew that the best way to show action is to run it off the page.  Like the way he did in this depiction of the battle of Nashville, fought near the end of the Civil War.  He didn't contain all the action within the frame.  These soldiers are a river flowing and sweeping past us.  Dynamic.  Oh, and like his pupil Harvey Dunn, (who taught Dean Cornwell) this is also a very true realization of a landscape.

The thing about these paintings isn't just the technical expertise and creativity of these great Artists.  The designs they used could translate just as easily into landscape and seascapes.

No, really!

To tell you the truth, whenever I'm playing with a new idea for a painting, I ask myself , "how would one of these gentlemen approach the subject?"  I have a long way to go, and a short time to get there, (to quote Jerry Reed in Smokey And The Bandit) but at least I have templates to follow.

And they didn't do anything overtly new, here.  All of their compositional elements are tried and true painting maxims.  But what they did was to make their paintings live, breathe and jump off the printed page.  They needed to make their paintings as dynamic as possible to please their viewers.

You know, guys like me: