January, 2017 Archives

Fast Opus

I’ve been thinking about derivative images lately as I’ve been working on some commissioned illustrations based on prior work and concepts. Often times I tell students to whom I show my sketchbook drawings and concepts,( a practiced that used to be quite guarded and still horrifies some of my artist buddies), to steal whatever they choose. As long as they steal it rather than borrow implying a transformation of concept or design or technique wherein their personality and temperament stomps all over it. I use the example of how Hendrix takes Dylan’s song All Along The Watch Tower and lights it up! Even Bob Dylan said Hendrix heard and found stuff in the song that no one else did. Now there are artist and those in the poetry community that embrace literal appropriation and one poet teaching a class on creative plagiarism at Penn. Many roads to Rome.

So the above page is a collage (in a repurposed diary from 1931) from 25 years ago and is a reference to an image that has cropped up over the centuries. Below are some of it’s predesessors.


Of the three preceding images, the first two are by Luca Signorelli who had many like images of demons carrying away sinners to be inspired by. What I love about Michelangelo Buonarotti’s version from the Last Judgement that I’ve copied above in ink is how he rotates the sinner further disorienting the poor soul not to mention has the wretched person’s nose directly above what would have to be the demon’s sulfurously flatulent hind quarters.

So above are more meat sketches drawn during the same period as the top image of the brawny man lifting the pig carcass.. While I have drawn from photos, I also drew from the butcher stalls in he Reading Terminal Market located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia.

Following are sketchers where my varied influences are evident. In the first, clearly Georges Remi’s valiant hero Tin Tin is obvious from the book Red Sea Sharks. A direct lift of Tin Tin yielding an AK47 tho I’ve given him more of a tuft of locks on top. Drawn with a fountain pen, it is faithful to G. Remi’s clean, uniform line with just enough detail and forms that while they are slightly simplified and generalize, also are telling of specific objects and still manage to show the effects of weight and pressure on the forms. With good reason, he was influential of generations of artists. My enamourment began in 1966 and continues today.

Next at up is a drawing wherein I appropriate a figure from the brilliant illustrations in Brer Rabbit by Arthur Burdett Frost, and install him as an exhausted logger atop his challenge. Ballpoint in the same ledger book/ journal as above. A relic from 1936 that took ink like a champ. I always loved ballpoint for it’s wet line, slightly weird ink of odd blues that when layered on sufficiently dense, appeared to have an iridescent sheen on top. I looked for the broadest, and most gooey points I could find. If they blobbed and bled, so much the better. Notice that I have started smudging and smearing the ink while it is still moist to enhance the mediums atmospheric character.

Okay, the pig in shorts is a tribute to the great, great drawings by the cast of superb animators at Walt Disney Studios. Most notably, The Nine Old Men, wh gave us amoung other gems, Fantasia, in which is the lovely dance routine of the hippos. Easy to see the influence.

The two drawings that follow are based on the work of pioneer Milt Caniff of Terry And The Pirates & Steve Canyon fame, and the under appreciated George Wunder who took over the strip Terry And The Pirates after Caniff left. Both combines pen and brush work and let the ink flow, capturing film noir drama with dense, abundant shadows.

The next 2 images are examples of how I’ve pushed to get a better balance between light and dark, having been swayed by the work of  the above mention duo Caniff & Wunder plus the powerful work in Dick Tracy by Chester Gould. The top image of the street tiffs is not ink but scratchboard and the following image of the wood cutter is an ink rich linoleum cut print. It was in looking at wood cuts and the bold line work of so much graphic work and reductive prints that I put the ballpoint down for fountain pens and  the broad swath of brush work.



Now we come to a sketch for a scratchboard drawing I completed that owes so much to that expressionist granddaddy to artist likeCharles Burns and Frank Miller and scores and scores more,  the great Chester Gould.

The small drawing may suggest any number of sources but it comes from the suit of The Flight From Egypt etchings by D. Tiepolo, Giambattist’s equally talented son who languished in many historians minds under the shadow of his father’s genius. I love ’em both.

For me, I have needed to resolve many of the characteristics of scores of influences from 19th century French, Sears and Roebuck illustrations and technical drawings to Pan Asian greats, to mid-20th century American illustrators, comic books and funny pages, graphic work, contemporary trends and folk art.

For so many years as a kid and even after getting into art school in college, I rarely turned off the lights and let the inky dark flow. Some examples of charging the page with heavy values are:

As a youngster, conture and getting shapes correct was an obsession, and I’m not sure if it was because I was such a skinny kid that linearity obsessed me, but I loved line. That flow, that running, snaking, twisting, smooth, quick, nervous, steady, writhing stream of ink and consciousness that held me in it’s tensile grip. And maybe, it was later, as I gained some muscle and mass as much as impatience and an urgency to capture the idea, that I bulked up the line weight. Ir remember how enthralled I was with Chester Gould’s orchestra of marks and how he bathed the page in darks and then adjacent to those black scars, sliced the light to reveal a wisp of the darkness within. It was years before I would violate the luminosity of the sheet.





Two days of very large turnouts marked the inauguration of Donald Trump to POTUS.

The demonstrations were peaceful by most accounts, though there were a few arrest on the night of the inauguration. So, Friday night, I went downtown to see what would become of a planned demonstration around the Trump Tower which sits beside theChicago River in one of the grandest public spaces in the U.S. of A. I was actually quite surprised and accepting of the building, for sure a large and unmistakably phallic structure from several vantage points. It’s large presence was well situated in the midst of Chicago’s downtown cluster, took full advantage of the immediacy of the river guaranteeing it’s inclusion on the armada of architectural tours popular with out of owners and locals alike. It was the later, unfortunate inclusion of very large letters spelling out the extremely well known developer’s name, that has made the already grandiose building more self aggrandizing and probably increasing the number of it’s detractors.

On my way to Trump Tower, I encountered a police barricade 1/2 a block north of the main entrance, just across from the House of Blues. The fellow in front of me identified himself as press, may even have shown a pass, so…”Evening officer, Don Colley, visual journalist writing for an independent blog”. The officer pointed to the next cluster of cops towards the bridge. I approached the one who seemed to be following me most closely and said, pointing a thumb over my shoulder,”The officer said to tell you I write for an independent blog…” and seeming either satisfied, indifferent, or not particularly impressed, she waved me on. I was on the north side of the river at the Wabash Street bridge and looking across saw the demonstration procession wrapping around the Trump Tower cordoned off a block or more in each direction. Hence, the less than informative view of the goings on as you look towards the bridge tower and the Church of Christian Scientists with the odd buttressed roof.

I got what I could from that view then strolled along the bridge to just behind the police line on the south end of the bridge at Wacker Drive. I got a good start on the drawing before an officer came over to inform me that while she liked my nice drawing, I wasn’t supposed to stop on the bridge and needed to head back or join the revelers. I said I understood but during the course of drawing in court, occasionally officers would permit me to sit in more advantageous spots and this was a particularly good vantage point, yes? She said she had to go back across the bridge and when she returned, I needed to have moved on. Fortunately, I got it done.

The following day I joined some friends and fell into what has been reported as a crowd of a quarter of a million participants for the Women’s March. The high spirited energy of the gigantic crowd was palpable and did not leave this observer untouched. A disclaimer perhaps should be that while I’m prepared to be objective should I witness things out of the ordinary, I was there not just to witness and record the event, I was there in full support of equal rights for Women and Planned Parenthood.

Pitt Pens and fountain pens in a Strathmore sketchbook.

I used to paint. Loved it. Acrylic on canvas, and velvet,  sometimes with the addition of marble dust or coffee grounds to give it body, texture and alter a surface that had too much in common with some of my childhood toys. Worked in oil pant on various surfaces. Gouache, on various substrate, including cardboard. And enamel. Man, I luuuuhved enamel! I used a sign painters fave, One Shot. Occasionally I used some old brands I’d find buried on back shelves in old family run hardware stores that gave deep discounts to get that crap off their books. Messy stuff and tricky to get clean colors when mixing but what a flow and surface. Used it on different substrate including wood, Masonite, and cardboard.

The above painting, “The Proffessor Tries Fishin'”, executed on primed Masonite was painted in the late ’80s with enamel paint. That stuff moved like nothing else. Dried kinda quick, got on everything, was a bloody mess to clean meaning the dependence on turpentine and other funky smelling shit. And, contained lead. Which if I understand it correctly, is what gave it that creamy, self leveling property. Oh, and I’d use my fingers to spread it around sometimes. Sometimes, more so than other times. If you’ve seen my drawings here and on other sites, you’ll know my hands get involved in my craft. You don’t have to look that closely.

Above are two close ups of the northern lights above our intrepid Proffessor. I lived in Alaska as a kid back in the late ’50s. I was too young to remember them oddly enough because I had distinct memories of the neighborhood, family events, getting shocked while playing around with an outlet, throwing a tantrum, or two. But no luminous sky curtains. That’s how Bob, my older brother by eight years, described them. These glowing, billowing curtains. I witnessed them once since leaving Alaska. Saw ’em one night returning to Chicago from it’s northern burbs after catering one night. They were very faint and glowed lightly at the tops of the distant silhouetted tree line miles to our north. I keep promising myself to visit some location, Iceland maybe, anywhere far enuff north in the appropriate season to really bask in their dazzle.

So my attempt above was from my head, Bob’s descriptions, and a couple National Geographic issues. But let’s return to the nature of the medium I chose to depict them, enamel. Opaque, many colors muted, likely as not to create mud when mixed. Hey, you manage best you can when you put the challenge before you. Sorry, I’m even less a writer than I am a painter. Just check out the surface of this delicious if not noxious medium. Gooey, smeary, viscous, it dries rapidly making it difficult to work back into it even when trying to paint wet into wet. And it has it’s own signature form of impasto. Even thin layers maintain an evident meniscus with each newly applied layer claiming brash dominance over it’s predecessors. And if applied thick enough, it would dry first on the skin and as the inner layers somehow mysteriously dried and lost volume, it would collapse and wither gradually over days to a wrinkled worm as if it had been slowly sucked dry of life juices by the spiders of time.

Above, close ups of our sportsman leaning in to haul Gawd knows what. Photographed in raking light, primary layers give up tell tale ridges as the painting is built goo wave by gooey wave. When working quickly as urged and commanded by the medium, I would under paint in one color, say burgundy, then cover that with a lighter layer and before the top layer sealed and congealed, I’d use the tip of the brush handle to scratch and draw thru to expose the color beneath as I have so done on the bow of the boat. This gave not only cool textures but lines much thinner than I could achieve with the pasty glue-like paint. They were hard to predict and control due to differing drying times relative to minute variances in thickness. That loss of absolute control is a stratagem I have embraced for most of my life as a practicing artist.

Alas, I had to let go the use of these unctuous and marvelous paints due to the health effects of their chemistry, although, it is my understanding that the lead has been removed.

Just some heads. Some witnessed and drawn on site. Some started in public and finished later. Some are from sculpture. Some just made up. Various inks on various sketchbooks.

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