Tag Archives: art

Welcome to 1982!

Okay! It’s now 4 AM, and I’ve just finished the homework assignment that’s due today/was due today. It took me this long to finish because I’m all keyed up about a new “Star Wars” movie, which I’ve already seen twice but have made plans to see a third time.

It’s a bit distressing that the thing that’s true on January 20, 2016 was also true during the weeks that “Return of the Jedi” was in theaters. It makes one wonder if one has actually made any damn progress on the road to maturity.

We will leave that question to your after-class discussion groups. Unlike when I was a high school freshman (or eighth grade? Look, it’s 4 AM and I can’t be arsed to look it up), I actually enjoyed my homework and stayed up so late because I completely lost track of time.

I’m taking an illustration class. Danielle Corsetto is one of my fave webcomics artists (“Girls With Slingshots”: read it) and she recently started teaching a class at a nearby college. She got the brainwave to simultaneously teach an online version of that same class to her Patreon supporters. I upped my existing pledge the moment I heard about the class.

I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I encountered it at her table in Artists’ Alley at some Penn Plaza comicon, God-knows how long ago. I can only tell you that it was back when seeing Stormtroopers at a con was something of an exciting novelty. I’ve also been wanting to take a class like this for quite some time. I’ve been a lifelong doodler, but an undisciplined one. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil really got my blood pumping again…chiefly because it removes the frustrating parts of drawing that has nothing to do with my own lack of ability. It’s easy to undo that last horrible mistake you made (which also means you can loosen up and experiment more), and you’re not constantly shelling out bucks for new tools and supplies that you can’t figure out how to use properly.

The first lesson ended with a homework assignment: choose three artists that you like, and reproduce the same photographic image in the style of each of them.

I chose a photo I shot at PAX East last year: a portrait of a cosplayer in a huge, way-cool wig.

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And here are the three drawings I did.

The Drawings

Drawing 1, in the style of Colleen Coover:

Assignment 1 Colleen Coover Published

I chose Colleen because I admire how simple, clean, and effective her style is. She’s a master of her tools. The particular challenge of trying to draw in her style is figuring out how to throw away every single line that isn’t totally necessary.

What on earth would she have done with those curls? There have been characters with curly hair, but not like this. I imagine that she would have drawn this woman’s hair using even fewer lines than I did, and would nonetheless have made it clear that she had a huge pompom of curly hair on her head and wasn’t just wearing some sort of Turkish-style hat.

I added the smile lines at the last minute because it looks a little naked without them. But I know that Coover would have conveyed them without drawing them. I also love how she colors things. Her “Bandette” pages appear to be flat watercolors, with bold, confident ink lines locking everything together, and then the most judicious touches of ink wash to add depth and shading. Again, she would have pulled all of this off with way fewer strokes.

I had an issue of “Bandette” (one of my favorite-est comics) open in front of me as I drew. I knew that if I were truly going to copy her style, I’d have to choose a limited palette of bold colors. I was pleased to notice that I happened to choose red, white, and blue…the French tricolor. Quite appropos, as the stories are all set in Paris. Let’s say that this woman is a character in a “Bandette” story, as a member of the Ministry of Culture or a docent of one of the national art galleries.

It was a valuable lesson in economy. One little stub of a line, bent just so, delivers a hell of a lot of punch.

Drawing 2, in the style of Tom Beland:

Assignment 1 Tom Beland Published

Oh, boy, what a failure. This one took me the least time to draw and it was the hardest one.

Beland first came to my attention via his autobiographical comic “True Story, Swear to God,” which told the story of how he and a broadcaster from Puerto Rico had a love at first sight thing happen to them while they were both covering an event at Disneyworld for their respective news outlets. It’s a magnificent story and I was instantly in awe of his line. The way he gets the pen to flare and fan and then contract at exactly the right moment…his drawings are immensely lively.

I drew this one in Graphic, a vector drawing program, because I thought it would do the best job of simulating his linework.  But of course, it takes years and years just to figure out how to hold a pen properly. Like Colleen Coover, Tom Beland draws with a lovely economy. So at first, I was thinking “Yay! The face is just a half a dozen strokes, and I won’t need to color it!” Soon enough, I realized that drawing in this style is like neurosurgery. Your line either starts and ends in exactly the right places and curves and flares right on cue, or it’s no good at all. The drawing process was like line nope line nope line nope line nope but okay, let’s use that as a placeholder and move on…line nope line nope…

There’s also the question of how Beland would have handled that hair. I think he’d have used piles of curlicues but jeez, who knows.

Drawing 3, in the Fauvist style of Henri Matisse:

Assignment 1 Mattise published

I haven’t read any of Matisse’s comics, so I can’t pretend that I’m a huge fan of his stuff or anything. I just wanted to do one in oils. I’m smart enough, and honest enough about my limitations, to choose a style where the aforementioned “no more lines than necessary and each line in its place” wasn’t a dealbreaker.

This is the one I enjoyed drawing the most. There’s such freedom in trying to do a painting in this style. I can’t pretend to have gained any practical insights into Matisse’s technique, but it’s joyful to not have to worry about matching a skintone exactly, and to choose a color combination simply because you think it’d be interesting. Sure, I happily concede that the results aren’t…brilliant. Who cares? This image is the result of an hour or two of play, play play…just trying things that occurred to me and (for the most part) trying to integrate, improve, or hide mistakes instead of just tapping the Undo button on my painting app.

And a funny thing happened as I continued to work on it: I began to subconsciously grasp the rules of the game. “That shape needs to be outlined,” I determined, and mixed a purpleish-blue. But when I got to the other side: “No, now that side needs to be more of a reddish-brown.” I’d like to do this one again. I feel like I could find a more direct route to this style now.

Part of the class assignment involves answering a set of four questions, and I’ve done that inside these descriptions. I haven’t answered #4: “What elements of your experience would you like to apply to future projects?” Well, whenever I got stuck, it was super-helpful to think “So how did (artist) solve this same problem?” And salvation lies at the other end of a quick Google Image Search.

Primarily, I’m going to try to maintain a sense of play. If someone pins a badge on me reading “Andy Ihnatko, Competent Artist,” it’ll only come at the end of a lot of more years and a lot of more hours of drawing. The good news is that there’s no reason why it can’t be fun.

I would also like to get started on next week’s homework five or six days before it’s due, instead of putting it off and then doing it the night before. Yeah. That’d be sweet.

The iPad Pro

Miz Coover will be discussing all kinds of traditional tools and techniques along the way, but the lessons will work with any medium. Natcherly, I intend to use my iPad Pro and Pencil as my sole tools (after asking her if she thought I’d be missing out on any of the point behind the lessons).

IPad Pro Splitview Art web

The iPad Pro continues to be a magnificent art tool. At least for folks at my skill level. This was my workspace for all three images. Split View let me keep an eye on my reference while remaining free to let my creativity wander.

I did have to think about how I was going to go about this. The Procreate app can import a photo as a background layer, and then it’s quick work to pencil some detailed layout lines over it. I’ve had a lot of fun drawing from reference this way but I instinctively believe that I wouldn’t get the most out of this class if I used a shortcut instead of training my eye to see properly and my drawing hand to (goddamn it) draw what I’m thinking, not what I’m telling it to draw.

Here’s another question: if it’s trivial for me to Undo a line or even the whole previous 20 minutes of work, am I really working as hard as someone drawing on paper, who has to be far more deliberate?

Yeah. It’s a dumb question. I’m an idiot for even admitting that it had occurred to me. Sure, it’s easier. So is buying paint ready-made instead of grinding your own pigments. So is buying paint in pre-mixed colors instead of mixing it yourself. So is applying it with a brush instead of an extremely pissed-off groundhog. Creativity has always been about the personal process and the results. If anyone disagrees with you on this point, you can go spit in their hat, and then sell the hat to the Tate Modern.

I’m also not worried about never learning the intricacies of the steel pen nib. I’ve got a few sheets of art board somewhere around here that represent the time I spent trying to learn how to use one, many years ago. I kind of started to get the hang of it after a few weeks, but I was spending all of my time serving this instrument instead of drawing things. My iPad Pro and Pencil allows me to fast-forward right to the act of creating.

And it’s not as though these digital tools don’t demand that I develop new skills. But good Lord, they’re way more forgiving.

It’s yet another opportunity for me to say that my iPad Pro was some of the best money I ever spent. I’m getting lots of paying work done with it, I’m having a lot of fun with it in my off-time, and it’s making it easy for me to push myself to learn new skills. There’s definitely a little Oprah in this thing.

There’s one last thing to mention about this class, and this post. I was a little bit timid about posting these images here. It’s the easiest way for me to “hand in my homework” so that Miz Corsetto and the rest of the class can see it. Alas, everyone else can see it, and obviously this is the work of a student.

I could have just published it inside a static page, away from the main blog. I quickly realized, though, that this was unnecessary, and just a case of my ego getting in the way of my common sense. I’m okay with people seeing this stuff. I realize that it isn’t anywhere on the “terrific” spectrum. And if people look at these (and future) drawings and think “…yeesh” or post “…yeesh” it doesn’t matter.

Yup, I’m reliving my teenage years, all right. It’s now about 6:30 and I might be able to get two or three hours of sleep before I need to be sitting at a desk pretending to be alert and competent. Yes, this week’s Ihnatko Almanac podcast should be, um, an interesting one.

But I’m also tapping into the power of being a kid. It’s not just about being tried as a juvenile. You also have an innate understanding that nobody even expects you to be good at anything, so there’s absolutely nothing holding you back from trying everything. Pride and dignity are only hypothetical concepts at this point in life. Great! Because they’re baggage.

I should carry this lesson forward in my life. As an artist, I have no reputation to damage. So I might as well try everything, and share what I’ve done. We should all be just as brave in all aspects of our lives…particularly the stuff that we think other people think we’re good at.

Angel on my Shoulder

Angel On My Shoulder

Through the entrance; approach the grand staircase; proceed instead through the little hallway that runs alongside it on the right; enter the big medieval church-like exhibit space; exit immediately to the right; go through hallway of additional medieval art; straight past the silver saddle in the glass case and Gallery 700 (the Charles Engelhard Court of the American Wing) is just past the double glass doors.

Yup, I’ve now been here so many times I know the way by memory. The Met sculpture garden of 19th and early 20th century American works is slowly closing in on the Boston Public Library as my favorite photo spot.

It has that same sort of appeal for me as a photographer. The more times I visit it, the better I know the place and where to look for photos. I think I build a map of the space that informs me on a subconscious level as a walk around with my camera. If I were a better photographer, I might have spotted this shot on my first visit, instead of here on my…tenth? Well, it’s been a lot of visits and I’m neither the photo geek nor the guy interested in lovely art is anywhere near tired. I’m so lucky to be able to sneak up here during so many of my visits to the city. It’s become my default place to go when I’ve got a couple of hours free and no time to make plans to see something new.

Oh, and there’s another advantage to familiarity and repeat visits: I remember the shots I screwed up the last time. It’s too bad I can’t arrange a do-over on some of the photos I shot in Beijing!

Select All-Copy-Paste, the Hard Way


Snapped this shot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Thursday.

“Watching someone who’s good at something, doing that thing”: Whether it’s on TV or happening right in front of you, it’s never less than 100% enthralling.

She’s clearly not a hobbyist. I wonder if she prepared her canvas beforehand with layout lines. Because if she’s duplication the composition this precisely by eye…well! That’d be even more amazing.

Continue reading

The Troubles With New Memorials

This monument to Edgar Allan Poe was erected in October. It honors Poe’s roots in Boston and shows him returning to the former home, just down Charles Street. He stands in “Poe Square.” It was named after on Euriabam Daniel Pograham, a mid-1800s grocer and chorister known as “Poe” to his friends. He had a shop in that area.

(Ho, ho.)

I’ve been taking an interest in public sculpture and I’m very pleased to see some more of it placed in the city. It’s quite appropriate that this figure be located where it is (above and beyond the historical connection, that is). He’s walking away from Boston Common and the Public Garden, where a couple of dozen gorgeous monuments exist…so this one only adds to the value of a good walk around these two blocks.

Second bit of pleasure: they went with a representational approach. I’m often disappointed by modernist public sculpture. I’ll see a monument that looks like nothing so much as a fish being crushed by an acorn, the plaque says “In Honor Of French-Hungarian Immigrants, 1872-1905.” I blink and I re-read the plaque and then I think there’s at least a 70% chance that the artist had this thing cluttering up his garage for twenty years, unsold, before he heard about a competition for this memorial. The greatest effort he put into it was to explain how these shapes related to the subject.

Okay, and I’ll tread softly into a sensitive issue: the 9/11 memorial in the Public Garden. The Public Garden is filled with remarkable sculptures and monuments, most of them placed no later than the 1920s. Placing a new memorial there was an interesting challenge, no doubt, and given that two of the four hijacked planes departed from Boston, bearing so many New England passengers, the connection to the city is quite a painful one.

The memorial isn’t supposed to be a sculpture; it’s meant to be a contemplative garden. Benches are arrayed around a stone crescent engraved with the names of those murdered during the 9/11 attacks who had connections to Boston.

I walk through the Public Garden and I sometimes wonder if this was the most fitting tribute possible. How will visitors to the Public Garden relate to this monument in fifty years’ time? Will it draw people in? Will it cause people to stop, and sit, and reflect?

Or will they simply see another stone shape with names carved on it, and not look or think twice?

I think about the George Robert White memorial, also in the Public Garden. Also known as “Bread Upon The Waters,” it was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, one of the three dominant American sculptors of the age. It’s objectively a thing of beauty. You want to come closer and examine it. And this winged figure, casting seeds from a basket, is a fitting tribute to a philanthropist who contributed so much towards the beauty of the city’s public spaces and to area hospitals.

I learned about him and his work because the monument intrigued me. Me, someone born seven decades after White died.

Ditto for the Robert Gould Shaw memorial on Boston Common. It engages people’s minds and spirit in a way that a basic marble plinth engraved with the names of the members of the 54th Regiment never could.

Back to Ed. I’m surprised he isn’t little bit further up towards the Common, though. If he were nearer to the corner, he’d be easier for people to spot. As-is, anybody headed up Boylston Street — a major thoroughfare, particularly for pedestrians and tourists — is likely not to spot him.

Curious, I looked up the story behind the statue. Ah. Poe hated Boston and mocked certain Boston writers as “Frogpondians.” He’s walking purposefully away from the Frog Pond in Boston Common, and towards his former home. Cool.

Mystery Portrait May Be a Lost Raphael

Mystery Portrait May Be a Lost Raphael.

Has Peter Silverman done it again?

He’s the art expert who spotted a nifty portrait of a young woman in Renaissance-style clothing, which had been attributed (and priced) as a mid-ninth-century work from an unknown German artist, and bought it on the hunch that it was actually authentic Renaissance…and possibly drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.

He amassed a body of expert opinion, scientific analysis, and old-fashioned detective work to defend the case that he’d discovered previously unknown da Vinci (and that his $21,850 purchase was actually worth upwards of a hundred million). It’s a great story and you should read the book he wrote about it, or watch the PBS NOVA special.

In the book, he describes a peculiar passion for hunting down mis-attributed works. Now he claims that a $50,000 portrait he bought in April is actually a Raphael.

My initial reaction: “Cool.” This is precisely the sort of story that makes for great reading: buried treasure, hanging in plain sight, waiting to be claimed by the first person to look harder and think “Heyyyy…”

Second reaction: “Aw, crap…this is precisely the sort of story that some basic-cable network will try to turn into a reality series.” Round up a couple of colorful characters, spend a few months hammering them into reality TV stars (odd facial hair, labored nicknames, hire them an office assistant with a complicated personal life…the works) and then stage a series of “finds” for ’em.

Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup

Rather than viewing the mashup as a modern phenomenon, it could also be described as a modern and digital re-iteration of practises long used by artists from the past. From ancient Roman copies of Greek sculpture, to Raphael’s numerous quotes from sources as diverse as a Roman sarcophagus, a  Memling portrait or a drawing by Leonardo. The determination of what constitutes influence, homage or direct plagiarism is a complex undertaking, with accompanying legal concerns raised since the fifteenth century.

via Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup.

A typically engaging post from Hasan Niyazi’s art history blog. It neatly presents a historical context for modern mashups.

Looking at someone else’s creative work sometimes provokes an artist into thinking what he or she would do with that same subject, or it inspires a new twist, or even the direct thought “Gee, if I ever need to draw the face of somebody shrieking their lungs out, I am definitely going to remember how da Vinci did it in his cartoon for ‘The Battle Of Anghiari’!”

Theft is theft, and when a lazy creator blandly copies the work of another, the work usually tells the tale within five seconds. But it’s no good to recognize an influence and then dismiss the second work without thinking any deeper. That reaction is ignorant of the creative process, and it’s contemptuously dismissive of the amount of hard work and innovative thinking that the original work inspires. George Lucas himself acknowledged that “A New Hope” was hugely influenced by Kurasawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” But would anyone deny that Episode 4 is an original work?

Today, we all acknowledge that designing software and hardware is a creative, even an artistic, endeavor. That’s a welcome change in attitude. Engineers were once perceived as just a bunch of dull technicians ticking items off of a list of features and specifications under fluorescent lighting. Now, we often think of these men and women as artisans who want to make something that functions beautifully.

If we’re going to fully embrace this new perception, however, we need to acknowledge that the artistic process is universal, whether the thing the artist creates is a single painting or 10,000,000 phones. It’s the same in Jony Ive’s day as it was in Raphael’s. Software patents, as well as the most hysterical superfans of a platform, try to pretend that art is made in a vacuum and that ideas, like real estate, exist with firm boundaries and sole ownership. Hogwash on both counts.

Yes, theft is theft. Sure, a direct, lazy copy is easy to spot. But when Google pivots their new mobile OS away from keypads and towards multitouch after they see the iPhone, and then Apple changes the iPhone’s notification system after they see Android, they’re just following in the footsteps of the Old Masters. It’s fine.

Dinner with Jim Lee

Tigra, drawn by Jim during dinner. As the sketch progressed, our table was getting progressively more attention from male waiters and busboys.

Months ago, Jim Lee and I made plans to get together for dinner when he was here town for the Boston Comic-Con. I was so eager to keep our Saturday night date that I took a 1 AM redeye home from the Conference On World Affairs that morning. Jim kept the date even though he was battling food poisoning.

“I think the two of us would have made great Victorian gentlemen,” I said, upon learning of his troubles. Way back then, it didn’t matter if you’d lost a leg in the First Boer War that morning or that your manservant had crashed your autoheliogyro in the Strand, killing fourteen children and forcing you to walk the remaining three blocks to the Reform Club. A gentleman kept his social engagements.

It was a swell dinner (for those of us who could partake freely of the restaurant’s board of fare) and it was great to meet Jim and his family. I gave him a copy of my latest book. He gave me this sketch.

Yeah, I think Jim kind of got screwed in this deal…!