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Drawing on a Water Putty Panel

January 14, 2019

Too much relaxing lately, so it’s time to get back to making some art. I’m starting a new drawing here, and will again be using conte crayons.

I was visiting with a carpenter friend over the holiday, and he showed me this stuff called Durham’s “water putty” that’s a sort of mix between plaster and wood putty. I mixed it up per instructions, and coated a small wood panel (11 x 14″) with it. I also wanted it a little rough for some extra texture, so I didn’t brush it on too smooth or sand it down.

After drying for a couple days, it turned a slight shade of pale yellow, so I decided to coat it with a casein wash of some red oxide paint I had made some time ago. Even though the paint was very thin, it was still too dark on the panel, so I wiped it down with a paper towel.

The drawing I wanted to use was an old sketch I had made of my friend Patricia with her daughter Elizabeth. I took a soft pastel that had a color value similar to the panel, but slightly darker, and rubbed it on the back of the sketch to transfer it to the panel.

I discovered that I can lightly scratch through on the panel to get fine lines to the lighter value under the paint, or also wipe off the paint with a wet brush, so that will let me draw in darker shades, and remove it for lighter highlights, or so is the plan. I’ll start the drawing soon, and show you the results later.

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Uncovering the Unidentified Illustrator

January 2, 2019

Picture yourself having just watched a film or TV show, and at the ending credits some names you might expect to see are missing. Perhaps it was an animated cartoon, and there are no names of the artists who made it. There was a time not too long ago where that was common practice.  You can thank unions for correcting that. For those of you that play video games, do you ever take time to look at the credits? It’s rare to find all the names of those responsible for making the art that you just enjoyed.  

For magazine and book illustrators in particular, this practice has gone on for over a hundred years, and still does today. I’ve never quite understood why, but have guessed that for some reason their work is treated by the producers and directors as less significant content, like the outer packaging that people will discard to get to the real gift inside. The writers and producers will always get their due, but rarely will the artists. Check on eBay for thousands of sellers who have cut out the art from a magazine to resell, without mentioning who actually made it, likely because they have no idea.

I’ve been a huge fan of illustration art of the 20th Century, collecting original paper copies whenever possible, and have spent the last couple decades digging through the internet trying to uncover more examples of this art form, and learn about the people who created it.  Major magazines and most illustrated books gave the artist’s name in small print, but not always, and almost never in advertising. In magazines, sometimes the names might be buried in a credit section at the front, as with Life or The Saturday Evening Post.

Many times, especially with advertising art, the only credit is with a signature. On the printed page it might be so small you’d need a magnifying glass to read it. On the net, small low res scans make it also very hard to read, or whoever scanned it cropped it off as unnecessary. The artists themselves didn’t often help matters by making their signatures illegible, or use only their initials or a unique symbol instead of their name. Some artists complicated things more by only signing with their first name, as with Michael Silver or Lucia Larner. Sometimes the signature of just the last name can be very clear, but the name is a common one like “McCarthy,” making it very difficult to nail down.

The artist Haddon Sunblom created a now iconic “Santa Claus” for Coca-Cola, and many of his pieces are unsigned, despite having a very similar style of painting, so one might think all Coke Santas are by Sundblom. Not true. He had a staff of artists working for him that would copy his style so he could keep up with all his projects. Gil Elvgren was one of them, and he went on in his solo career to establish himself as a popular pin-up artist.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to network with other like-minded fans of this art form to help me identify the names of these artists who might otherwise be forgotten to the shelves of the past. One such excellent resource has been the website called “Today’s Inspiration,” run by Leif Peng. He also has a wonderful page on Facebook by the same name that I believe has the best collection of images for artists of the early to mid-20th Century.  If you’re a Facebook member, please search for it. “American Art Archives,” run by Thomas Clement, is another good resource. The Internet Archive, although not particularly well organized, is an excellent place to find scans of the books and magazines, and occasional reference material, if you know who you’re looking for first.  J. Kingston Pierce’s “Killer Covers” is a good resource for paperback artists. Auction houses, like Heritage, are good places to find scans of original art with credits, even though the names aren’t always correct.

It’s a shame that many of these wonderful artists, even those whose works are properly credited, have mostly disappeared from memory. Many of them stopped working several decades ago, and they and people who worked with them are no longer alive. To this day, I have found printed examples by well-known artists, like Norman Rockwell, that even scholars of his work will say they’ve never seen before. There was a time when thousands of subscribers saw it on a weekly basis. Here’s hoping that someday soon they all get their due credit and admiration, and whatever nonsensical reason that still keeps such work hidden will disappear.

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New Drawing: Sylvia and Freddy

December 22, 2018

A few days back I was walking around Austin with my friend, Sylvia and her dog Freddy. We sat for awhile and I worked out this sketch. I first drew the lines in pencil, and later added the shading in charcoal. The paper size is 11 x 17 inches.

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New Sketches: Dentist Office

December 9, 2018

Had to visit the dentist last week, and since there weren’t any other folks in the waiting room, I picked up some magazines, and found a few pictures to sketch.

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New Drawing: Waiting by the Door

November 29, 2018

I started a new drawing today. I’m using a conte crayon on textured paper (Wallis brand.) The working are is 12 x 16 inches.

drawing of a man sitting by an open door with a figure in the background.

The foreground figure was drawn in rough and dry, and for the wall behind him I used a rag and stump. For the back room area I made a wash of the conte by dipping a brush in some mineral spirits. I was originally planning to wash in everything, but I’m sort of liking the contrast texture. We’ll see how long that feeling lasts as I let this sit for a few days.

I do still need to do something more with those windows and a few touch ups, but I think I need to spray fixative first. It’s getting messy to touch.

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Some New Random Sketches

November 20, 2018

These are four random sketches I made over the last weekend. Some were made at the library, and one in my friend Sam’s bedroom.

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Appreciating the Art of M. Leone Bracker

November 13, 2018

Several years back, as I was digging through online archives of magazines from the early 20th Century, I kept coming across the fascinating drawings of an illustrator, named M(urray) Leone Bracker.

I haven’t been able to uncover much information about him other than he had a younger brother, Joseph, who was also an illustrator with a very similar style, so they must have agreed that Joseph would sign his name differently as “J. Henry” (Joseph Henry Bracker.) I only recently learned that the “M” stood for “Murray.” It appears that he was born in the late 1800’s, and I assume he began his illustration career around 1900. The earliest work I’ve seen was dated 1909, and the latest was advertisement art from 1928.

He seemed to prefer charcoal as his medium of choice; although, I have seen at least one painted magazine cover. The realism of the rendering shows what appears to be a strong photo reference with high contrast lighting. The staging and poses of his figures generally have a theatrical melodramatic characterization. His work is very unique for illustrations of this time, and wonderfully drawn.

Below is a selection of a few more examples of his art. I’ve found story illustration from books and magazines, as well as posters.

If you want to find reproductions of his art, look for magazine issues of Scribner’s, Hearst’s International, and Collier’s around 1910 – 1930. He also illustrated books for Bruno Lessing and Arthur Roche, among others.