Sunday, November 9, 2008


Illustrator Chris Van Allsburg once said that he spent only a small percentage of his working time making creative choices. The vast majority of his time was spent on the manual labor of implementing those choices. He would spend days and days painstakingly drawing individual blades of grass and leaves.

Artist Bernie Wrightson seemed to work the same way. He spent a great deal of time mechanically implementing his initial artistic decisions:

(In my view, this often resulted in a mountain of effort for a molehill of a result.)

Illustrator Robert Vickrey had a similar laborious style. Once he designed a picture, he would spend weeks filling in backgrounds such as concrete surfaces and brick walls.

I was thinking about this trade off as I was marveling at the paintings of Dreamworks artist
Nathan Fowkes. Fowkes works at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Note the simplicity and economy with which he created that notch in the nearest line of mountains, or the way he conveyed important gradations of color within a single brush stroke.

These are small paintings (most are less than 3x5") that were painted very quickly (usually in 20 to 40 minutes) yet each one contains the entire genetic code for a larger, finished painting.

These sketches demonstrate all of the hard artistic decisions (commitments to a composition and a design, selections of color and technique) by which a finished work of art might be judged. They are pure artistic choice in its most concentrated form, without all the numbing labor and secondary refinements found in the finished pieces above.

Don't make the mistake of thinking there is anything crude about these paintings just because they are sketches. The subtlety of color in this next little beauty is absolutely breathtaking:

While they are smaller in size and took a fraction of the time, Fowkes's sketches convey far more information, with far more insight, than the larger finished works of Van Allsburg, Wrightson and Vickrey above. Each stroke or color choice by Fowkes has real significance.

I particularly enjoy the rich variety that Fowkes finds in the view from his window. These tiny pictures are so dense with knowledge, they must have the atomic weight of weapons grade plutonium:

I find his curiosity about this view quite contagious.

Van Allsburg, Wrightson and Vickrey are all talented fellows and I admire their work, but there is a separate beauty to Fowkes's economy, and I commend his work to you.