I'm always surprised—and, okay, a little peeved—when my mention of an arts background is
often met with a puzzled look followed by the somewhat skeptical question,
"What do you do with that?" The truth is there's a lot to do with that,
especially now—at a time when images are all around us, where a website can so
easily turn into an artist's own gallery and exhibition space, and because
collectors, gallerists, publishers, and fans can easily find and follow artists
whose work they respond to and respect.
This sense of
opportunity can be especially true for artists with a strong foundation in
illustration and drawing. When I recently spoke with Richard Harrington, the
chair of the Phillustration, The Philadelphia Sketch Club's annual juried
illustration exhibition, he pointed out that those who submit to the show work
in a variety of creative fields. "We get a lot of children's book illustrators,
artists working in the fantasy realm, ones doing concept work for video games,
magazine cover illustrators, those who do album cover designs, cartoonists,
comic artists, accomplished painters," he said. "People cross over and work on
many different projects—children's books to postage stamps to calendars."
Harrington also mentioned that his former illustration students from Moore
College of Art and Design, in Pennsylvania, have worked in as diverse fields as
the film industry and prop houses, to the advertising and branding departments
of companies such as Target.
What seems to be a
common denominator for such successful draftsmen and illustrators is a strong
grounding in the traditional arts. "Our students want to understand how to
paint in oils; how to do life drawings, compositions; understand negative and
positive space, and value structures," Harrington explained. If students are
working with modern technology, time-honored artistic practices still hold a
lot of appeal. "Even in the digital realm there's crossover to a lot of
different mediums, which probably was not done so readily 10 or 15 years ago,"
by Dominic Saponaro, digital.
Another change that
was also not so apparent with illustration a decade or two ago is the changing
status of the field. "There's a new respect for illustration and a renewed
interest level," Harrington explained. "Not because of any kind of nostalgia,
but because with illustrations, people know what it is about and because
illustrations give viewers information they need, and no one needs to explain
to them what it means. There's a certain comfort level there—not a 'fuzzy
bunny' comfort, but a comfort in being entertained and stimulated."
|Man Sleeping in the Temple
by John Thompson,
acrylic on wood panel.
isn't always easy to evoke. As a society, we are pretty savvy viewers,
inundated by images all day long. Most don't make any kind of lasting
impression, but, obviously, some images stick with us. They evoke a response
and we enjoy seeing them. Think of the last book you picked up from the shelf
for no other reason than the cover appealed to you, or a billboard
advertisement that made you pause mid-stride or slow down as you drove by.
"I was once told
that the best painters are former illustrators," Harrington quipped. By that,
he meant that an inherent part of an illustrator's training is learning to
harness the communicative possibilities of visual media. Knowing that you can
tell a story, create a mood, and make people react with images. All artists
should be so lucky to have this kind of awareness. Coupled with honed
traditional artistic abilities, this understanding allows art of any
kind—created in oil paints or acrylics, mixed media or watercolor, sculpture or
comic-book storyboards—to stay relevant and memorable.
To put your work
well on the road to being relevant and memorable, a solid foundation in drawing
is crucial. Artist Daily's new DVD, Mastering
Portrait Drawing with Susan Lyon, is like taking a one-on-one drawing class
with a modern master. You'll come away knowing how Lyon creates moving portraits
while capturing the attention and stimulating the imagination of her viewer. Developing
this skill set can allow you to communicate effectively with your work, sending
out your own message for the world to see.