I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with Tony Clarke who designed and custom made this jacket for me based on four words of my choosing.
Eve dressing in style. Well, it’s a little bit reminiscent of the Beatles’ Revolver LP cover, which of course was influenced by Beardsley. So – Long Live Beardsley!
Fine Art or Graphic?
It’s perhaps a matter of temperament whether an artist takes the fine art approach or the graphic approach to art. One fundamental difference is the attitude to STYLE. In our drawing group some people incline one way, some the other. The drawing we do, which is mainly with pencil, covers common ground.
The Pencil is such a wonderful invention. So responsive and flexible to use, so easy to carry around and maintain. Pencil lines can be rubbed out if they’re wrong. But pencil doesn’t reproduce very well. Not many illustrators get very far as pencil artists. They may well use pencil to develop their drawings, but the final picture will be in a different medium – ink, paint, collage, or some digital form or other.
For anyone taking the graphic route – illustration, for instance – developing a distinctive style is very important, and this is usually associated with a particular, personal choice of medium.
Once you have a distinct style, you can refine it over time, but there’s not much opportunity to change it. You get known for it, and it is what art editors expect when they commission you. You can’t really come up with something they don’t expect and just say ‘Oh, my style has developed’.
For a fine artist, this is all wrong. Development is fundamentally important, style is not. Exploration, pursuit of personal truth etc is what Fine Art is all about, and a static style would be dreadfully hampering. So to a fine artist, graphic style seems too slick, too shallow.
Fortunately both approaches share a common base: good pencil drawing. Both types of artist can be found in our Tuesday class and at the Life Drawing at Leaf on Sundays. At life drawing classes you might meet an architect, an animator, a cartoonist, a fashion designer, a painter, a sculptor, all drawing the same model and getting something good from it.
Here are a few samples of illustrators with strong styles. In each case, the medium and method of working is fundamental to the style:
Angela Keoghan, a New Zealand illustrator with a style reminiscent of the 1960s, now rebranded as ‘Mid-century Modern’ http://thepicturegarden.co.nz/
Ryo Takemasa, a Japanese illustrator. http://ryotakemasa.com/ This is take on the London Underground. This also has that ‘Mid-century Modern’ feel
John Shelley: Halloween Forest. John grew up in England but much of his working life has been in Japan. His technique is traditionally based in pen/brush and ink/watercolour. See his blog http://johnshelley.blogspot.co.uk
An Estonian illustrator Eiko Ojala, making elegant use of paper cutting combined with digital techniques. http://www.yatzer.com/Eiko-Ojala-illustrations
On Tuesday our model was Amy, doing Art Deco poses.
Amy seemed the ideal Art Deco model. We were confident she would be able to keep up a pose like this Lalique statuette (above), for example, and no doubt she would have done if it were not for the fact she fell off her bike on her way here and had a swelling bruise on her knee.
The best treatment for a bruise is RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Compression was out – no art deco figure has ever worn a dirty great bandage. What about Ice? We found an ice pack and she did one pose kneeling on it, which seemed to stop the swelling for a bit.
Then a pose combining Rest and Elevation of the wounded limb:
by Kevin. This was the approach I was hoping for, simplifying and stylising the figure.
Next, a standing pose with a deco lamp stand:
by George (I think?) a quick pencil sketch, then a clearer ink line over it.
Now a longer pose, loosely based on this photo, but more firmly anchored:
Amy by George. Trying to stylize without losing those tonal values. I don’t know how far you could go with that approach without losing more than you gain. I wonder if the inky sketches you do at Leaf might be a more effective approach?
Amy by Angela.
This has lovely qualities as a drawing. My concern is that its delicacy might mean rather low impact if reproduced as an illustration. But then I got thinking about Hokusai, who drew in a most delicate way with brush and ink. I’ll post some of his work up at some point, but for now i thought you might look at this link http://sketching.cc/articles/brush_ink.html
Amy by Marta. The graphic approach doesn’t feel right for Marta, so I suggested she thinks of the drawing being of a stone figure rather than a live human. I’d love to see how this drawing turns out if you continue to work on it now without referring to the model. Do bring it along nest Tuesday.
Amy by Eve, nicely simplified, with a bold, primitive style. It seems to be asking for colour… I can imagine an Expressionist like Kirchner doing something like this:
I was looking, finally, for some examples of similar stylized nude figures done by professional graphic artists, and decided to post my own versions of these poses, drawn from the sketches i did, in the pen and ink style I used throughout my illustration career:
My style developed at the end of the 1960s partly influenced by the Beardsley revival (hence my love of flat black areas) and partly because of the arrival of the Rotring rapidograph, a pen with a tubular nib which we all took to enthusiastically.
By the time I was an established freelance illustrator I had become dissatisfied with the unvarying line width the Rotring gave, and changed to using a mapping pen:
This very thin nib draws a fine line which can widen significantly with a slight increase of pressure. This gave me the kinds of lines I love best. Apart from that, my style did not really change for thirty years.
EDWARD BURNE-JONES. The PreRaphaelite style was cutting-edge in Victorian Britain, and figures were portrayed as languid and enormously serious. Then came Aubrey Beardsley…
AUBREY BEARDSLEY was seen as a naughty boy (he died at 25 in 1998) and his art was considered grotesque and even pornographic. But his style influenced graphic artists throughout much of the 20th Century.
Beardsley began by parodying the languid figures of the PreRaphaelites, but his big influence was from Japanese prints that were being seen for the first time by artists in Europe.
Print by Utamaro (died 1806) What appealed to Beardsley were the flat areas and the way these Japanese achieved balance without symmetry.
Beardsley Ali Baba book cover
Beardsley was a pioneer of the Art Nouveau style which spread across Europe over the few years either side of 1900. Klimt and Mucha were key figures.
Gustav Klimt Danae
Alphonse Mucha Lithographic poster design 1998
Art Nouveau was full of rich decoration and curving lines. Most characteristic was a kind of ‘whiplash’ line.
By World War I, the organic curves and flourishes of Art Nouveau were becoming old-fashioned. This was the age of Modernism, the Machine Age where style meant sleek ocean liners and motor cars. And Fashion:
George Barbier Fashion Plate
The new style for the Modern Age was Art Deco. In Paris, which was now the hub of artistic development, George Barbier designed theatre and ballet costumes and produced haute couture fashion illustrations that bridged the change from Nouveau to Deco.
Despite all the colour, you can still see the Beardsley influence.
From 1925, Art Deco (the term was first used by the architect Le Corbusier) soon became the main international style for consumer products such as cars, furniture, cookware, china, textiles, jewelery, clocks, and electronic items such as radios, telephones, and jukeboxes. In America, skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building (1930) sprung up like temples of Art Deco. Today, many cinemas still feel like Art Deco museums.
You could see Deco influence in architecture, interior design, fashion, graphic arts and cinema. It was assertively Modernist, embracing the materials and aesthetics of machinery and mass production.
End of Part One
Led by the wonderful blossoming of fashion design, portrayals of the figure (especially females, of course) became more and more stylized through the 1920s.
George Barbier’s illustrations took on more and more the style of Art Deco, yet his figures were based in carefully observed drawing. Despite his celebrity, his figures were beginning to look old-fashioned by the time he died in 1932
Barbier fashion figure drawings
The style of his younger colleague Erte became much more hardcore Deco, and his figures were that much more stylized than Barbier’s.
The central features of Art Deco are rich colours, austere elegance, lavish ornament, geometric forms and hard-edged motifs like zigzags, chevrons and sunbursts. Symmetry replaced the asymmetrical composition of Art Nouveau. The drawings of Erte (real name Romain de Tirtoff) embody the style at its height.
These stylized figures in impossible poses were turning up as sculptures, figurines and relief motifs all over the place.
All this time, Fine Art had been following a parallel course with the Cubist revolution of Picasso and Braque. Some fine artists such as Wyndham Lewis and Tamara de Lempicka were really almost graphic artists:
Wyndham Lewis Figure drawing
Wyndham Lewis Red Duet
Tamara de Lempicka 1927
Art Deco tended to dehumanise figures. Often they look more like robots…
Fritz Lang’s famous film Metropolis (1927) is a Deco fantasy set in a futuristic Deco city and does indeed feature a robot.
Here’s another Deco figure, looking as if made from the same cold, hard materials as the typeface, factory and machinery around it:
Poster for Utrecht Industries Fair 1930
World War II saw the end of Art Deco. In a new age of austerity, it was seen as inappropriately elegant and luxurious. For my generation growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, both Art Deco and Art Nouveau seemed old-fashioned. Only at the end of the 1960s did we start looking back again. An exhibition at the V&A in 1966 revived interest in Aubrey Beardsley, and certainly influenced my own development as an illustrator. By the 1970s a Deco revival was in full swing, epitomised by the London department store Biba.
Eve turned up to model with a bag of clothes to change into, but we all liked the way she looked on arrival, so we drew her in smart red hat and coat. First some 1-minute gesture poses… then her mobile went off…
For this half-hour pose, Eve changed into a diaphanous peach dress. The brief was to do a drawing as a basis for developing a more complete picture later. With that in mind, she posed in front of an art deco wall-hanging.
Marta (above) concentrated on the figure, with especially nice work on the folds of the dress, and did not have time tor much attention to background.
Angela (above) continued work on the background after the pose was finished. This is still unfinished, but already has a rich quality. The challenge, with such strong detail in the wall-hanging, is not to lose Eve’s head, which is equally detailed. A contrast has to be asserted. I suggested that this was best done tonally, but Angela said she might use colour …..which for some reason I hadn’t thought of. This is going to look very good i think.
Whoever fixed that plug socket to the wall was an idiot: I promise you, the drawing doesn’t exaggerate.
This challenge of portraying a strong figure in a richly decorated background reminded me of Matisse, so I shall look out for some of his paintings to post up later today.
Meanwhile George (below) had already embraced colour, arriving with a golden sketchpad. Scanning doesn’t do it justice. This is George in his Parisian Brothel mode, reminiscent of Lautrec and Degas:
After the pose was finished, George did some further drawing of the setting, concentrating on the light:
This was on white paper. George’s natural style lets a lot of light in, but since nothing can be lighter than the paper, to emphasise a light source like this requires darkening the shadowy areas more than he might normally do. It is working well.
George’s aim is to combine his two pictures into one.
So… Thanks to Eve for a pose that has got some great responses.
I even managed a quick sketch myself: Here’s how Eve looked from where I was.
Eve now switched from model to artist and joined Marta drawing a Moroccan bag. Later they were joined by Frankie, who managed to fit a half hour’s drawing into her busy schedule.This is Marta’s finished drawing. Wonderful! Once again you have given a smallish inanimate object a sort of monumental presence on the paper. Are you sure you are not a sculptor?
Eve drew the details of straps etc with great attention without plotting the overall shape, with the result that it fell off the edges of the paper. Which is no problem at all because the effect is like cropping a photo – it intensifies the subject. The composition leads the eye up to some intricate details top left which are fascinating because they are almost off the paper.
She is using soluble wax crayons to colour in. I look forward to seeing the finished picture which should be quite striking…
Frankie who has not had much time to draw over the last few months, decided the bag and desklamp made a nice combination. They do. Lamps like this have a lithe, snake-like personality, and the bag is lumpen and squat in contrast.But as soon as you have two objects you have to put some thought into relating them. The lamp is very helpful in the way it curves over the bag, but I still think the bag looks plonked rather than arranged visually on the paper. Ok, so you couldn’t actually move the objects without upsetting the lighting etc for Marta and Eve, but you could place them better on your paper.
Thumbnail sketches would have led to a better picture. They take seconds to do but get you focused on composition.
No plonking. If you’re relating two or more objects they should be placed in a satisfying relationship to each other. Generally, for instance, a bit of overlapping creates relationship. Like this:
Then there is relative size: your bag looks small, it’s lost it’s presence compared with the lamp. So…
But there’s something a bit too geometric about the relationship now. How would it look with the bag flipped?
Decide on your picture boundaries.
How would it look with some tonal areas in the background?
This sort of thinking is the function of thumbnails. I do think that because we do so much life drawing we get used to just drawing what’s in front of us and don’t give much thought to picture planning.
Angela’s drawing of Eve in front of a strongly patterned wall-hanging put me in mind of Matisse, who loved pattern and colour.
The challenge, when figure and background are equally rich, is to achieve clarity. Clarity is emphasised by contrasts. Myself, I always look to do this with tonal contrast. Matisse did it brilliantly with his use of colour:
Henri Matisse Anemones and woman – Harmony in Blue 1944
The reliable trick is to contrast warm with cool. In the picture above, for instance, the areas of orange help to clarify the shape of the vase and the woman’s back. And see too how the areas of colour are distributed around the picture to get a satisfying balance.
Henri Matisse Purple Robe 1937
Same approach, but this time the purple shape of the robe flows down the canvas defining the figure.
Here the monochrome picture is very flat – except for the face, which is strong because of the use of black. This was Matisse’s second method of making something stand out in a busy picture: all the faces in these pictues are picked out in black brushstrokes in the style of an illustrator rather than a traditional painter.
Henri Matisse The Pink Blouse 1924
When we see it in colour, the pink blouse becomes distinct without losing delicacy because of its warmth against the cool cream and green.
He was so confident with colour, he could be bold or restrained as he felt best.
Angela, perhaps you could print out a copy of your picture and try out some colours. Watercolour washes perhaps? You might also have a go in photoshop (here next Tuesday if you like). These are ways of finding out what’s possible before the dreaded moment of commitment.
I know you are intending to be extremely restrained, but how about following Matisse’s lead and experimenting with something stronger than you intended?