W. Heath Robinson (update)

W. Heath Robinson, illustrations, cartoons, contraptions, watercolors
William Heath Robinson, who signed his pictures “W. Heath Robinson”, was an English illustrator, cartoonist, author and watercolorist known in particular for his wry cartoons and his series of drawings depicting unlikely and complicated contraptions for accomplishing mundane tasks.

Here in the U.S. we associate the latter with American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, but Robinson was the original, and Goldberg… well, lets just say he “borrowed” the idea from Robinson. Robinson’s elaborate nonsense machines were also the inspiration for Nick Park’s delightful Wallace and Gromit animated films.

W. Heath Robinson’s brothers, Charles Robinson and Thomas Heath Robinson were both well known illustrators, as was their father, Thomas Robinson.

W. Heath Robinson was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the “Golden Age” of illustration. He is not as well known here in the U.S. as contemporaries like J.C. Leyendecker, N.C Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Franklin Booth, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Maxfield Parrish, and Robinson doesn’t really get the recognition he deserves, even among aficionados of classic illustration.

Also, Robinson’s cartoons, as delightful as they are, often overshadow his achievements as an illustrator in pen and ink and in watercolor, and he sometimes is thought of more as a cartoonist than an illustrator. I love his cartoons, but I think it’s unfortunate that many miss out on his superb book illustration.

For me, one project of his stands out as a high point in the annals of pen and ink illustration, up there with the best of the best, and that is his illustrations for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (images above, top, bottom and several of the more complex images in between).

The project also included several color illustrations (image with the reflecting pool above), but it is the ink drawings from the book that have always captured my fascination.

Exhibition at Delaware Art Museum

As much as I have long admired them in print, I was astonished to find how beautiful the original drawings are when I had a chance to see some of them — along with a wonderful selection of Robinson’s other work — at a new exhibit that opened recently at the Delaware Art Museum.

The exhibit is a retrospective drawn from the collection of the William Heath Robinson Trust (UK), and it covers the breadth of his styles and length of his career. It is beautifully arranged and presented, and the selections of his work are superb.

Wonder and Whimsey: The Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson is on view until May 21, 2017.

I intend to go back as I have the chance.

Books

There is not a catalog accompanying the exhibition, but there is a nice book from Dover titled Golden Age Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson that makes an acceptable substitute, and gives a nice overview of Robinson’s work. It was authored by Jeff A. Menges, who wrote the terrific book on 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age that I recently reviewed. Dover also publishes an edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Robinson’s illustrations.

There is a new book of Robinson’s clever contraption illustrations, Very Heath Robinson, coming from Sheldrake Press in the UK; I don’t yet know if it will be available in the U.S.

A general Amazon search will bring up many more titles either by or with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson.

Online images & articles

As far as online resources, the selections are not as wide as I would hope. The Delaware Art Museum offers a modest gallery of a few of the images from the exhibit. The websites of William Heath Robinson Trust, Heath Robinson Museum offer image galleries, but the images are frustratingly small, and in the case of the Trust, defaced with watermarking.

The best and most extensive source I’ve found for Robinson’s images is Poul Webb’s Art & Artists, which features 20 extensive articles filled with Robinson’s cartoons and illustrations.

You can start with the first article and look for links to the others in the sidebar under November and December, 2015; or you can do a general search for W. Heath Robinson. If doing the latter, keep clicking through the “Next Posts” links at the bottom of the pages; there are 20 articles, but not presented in order when viewing that way.

I’ve linked to some additional articles, image sources and biographical information below.

 
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

James Gurney’s Living Sketchbook app

James Gurney's Living Sketchbook app
One of the most fascinating ways to see into the mind of an artist is to have the opportunity to look through their sketchbooks. This is not often possible; sketchbooks are frequently personal, full of unfinished thoughts and experiments and seldom volunteered for display by the artists themselves.

When the opportunity does arise, it’s a treat, as well as being instructive for fellow artists in a manner similar to watching an accomplished artist work.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting author, illustrator and plein air painter James Gurney on a few occasions, and I’ve had an opportunity to briefly look through a couple of his sketchbooks.

Gurney’s sketchbooks are filled with location sketches from his extensive travels, as well as his day-to-day activities in his home town. He is an inveterate sketcher in watercolor and gouache, and he records what he sees, whether a classically beautiful scene in the mountains, of the view out the window of the waiting room for a tire service center, painted while waiting to have tires changed. He is so accomplished that even his most impromptu location sketches are lively and beautifully rendered.

I found myself wishing that I could spend more time looking through his sketchbooks at leisure, and thought that they would make good subjects for publication of some kind, perhaps offered as PDFs if not printed books.

I was recently pleased to find out that Gurney has apparently been thinking along the same lines, only much in advance of what I was thinking, when I received a review copy of a new app for iOS and Android that Gurney has developed in cooperation with his son, Dan Gurney.

The Living Sketchbook is an app that provides a virtual sketchbook experience. Not only does it allow the viewer to go through the pages of a sketchbook, but also includes audio, and sometimes video, commentary by the artist about the pieces, as well as giving access to additional information about the painting, subject and materials. It’s the next best thing to going through a sketchbook while standing there with the artist as he comments on it for you.

I’ve done some iOS app development myself, as well as creating numerous web interfaces in my role as a website designer, and I will give the app a big thumbs up for the accommodating the most important factor in an interface like this — presenting the material in an easy to use manner and then getting out of the way while you enjoy. It’s hard to overstate how many apps, websites, games, gadgets and desktop applications get that wrong.

At the moment, The Living Sketchbook ships with one sketchbook included, this one is called “Boyhood Home”. Gurney names his sketchbooks, and enjoys creating fun hand painted typography for their covers.

The app allows you to simply thumb through the images as if through a physical sketchbook, and at will pinch to zoom into the image. Unlike some poorly designed interfaces for viewing images (I’m looking at you, Instagram), Gurney’s app allows the zoomed image to stay at full size when you let go, and programming by Dan has even provided some subtle touches of physics in the reaction of the scroll as you nudge the image around in the window.

You can also access a row of thumbnails at any point as well as bring up an overlay of information about the painting.

The Living Sketchbook is $4.99 and is available for iOS and Android. You can find links to the app for both platforms in this article on Gurney’s blog.

There is a trailer and teaser for the app on YouTube, that give a better idea of how the app functions, and Erwin (Cherngzhi) Lian, who knows a few things about sketchbooks, has a more extensive review on his blog.

It may be restricted to relatively current versions of the operating systems, so if the respective app stores don’t allow you to purchase it, that may be the factor. I couldn’t view the app on my older iPad 3 (Retina), because it’s too old to run the required version of the OS, but I could view it fine on my newer iPhone 6.

So bear in mind the the screen captures used for my exmaple images above are from an iPhone, and the app will view quite differently and more effectively on a tablet.

I was actually surprised, though, at how effective it is to view zoomable images of the paintings on the relatively small iPhone screen. I can easily see popping an app like this open for inspiration while taking a break when out location painting.

I’m already looking forward to the release of the next sketchbook.

[Addendum: For those interested in the process, Dan Gurney has posted on his blog an article on Building the Living Sketchbook App.]

 
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

Eye Candy for Today: Pissarro’s Boulevard Montmartre, Spring

Boulevard Montmartre, Spring; Camille Pissarro
Boulevard Montmartre, Spring; Camille Pissarro

Link is to a zoomable version on the Google Art Project; there is a downloadablve version on Wikimedia Commons. Google’s listing indicates the original is in the collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; but I can’t find it in their online database.

This is one of the remarkable series of paintings of Pissarro’s views of the boulevard Montmartre from a room he rented in Paris in the fall of 1896 and Spring of 1897.

In it, as well as in the other paintings in the series, Pissarro explored the same subject in a variety of seasons, times of day, light and weather conditions, and continued the practice by the Impressionist painters of painting scenes of everyday life. In itself, the latter practice, following the lead of Gustave Courbet, was as radical at the time as the Impressionist’s approach to brushwork and color.

In this painting in particular, I love the colors in the shadows (don’t let anyone tell you the French Impressionists didn’t use grays), and the wonderful textural quality of the paint evident in the large reproductions.

 
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson, oen and ink Frankenstein illustrations, Horror comics, Batman, Swamp Thing

Bernie (Berni) Wrigntson was an American comics artist and illustrator known for his work on horror comics for DC Comics and Warren Publishing, on titles like Batman and, in particular, Swamp Thing.

Bernie Writghtson died on Saturday at the age of 68.

His work on Swamp Thing set new standards for horror comics art and was influential on other artists. Wrightson eventually left DC for Warren Publications, which was publishing black and white horror comics Creepy and Eerie that were printed larger than typical comic books, at magazine size.

Wrightson was a major figure in American comic book art, and at one point joined together with Jeffrey (Catherine) Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta — like-minded artists who took inspiration from the great Golden Age illustrators — to share a joint space in New York called “The Studio”.

Wrightson was inspired by 1950’s horror comics from EC, and in particular the work of Graham Ingles and Frank Frazetta, but later in his career the influence of great pen and ink illustrators become more prominent, particularly the fantastic work of Franklin Booth. Those influences became evident in Wrightson’s acknowledged masterpiece, a series of elaborate and beautifully realized illustrations for Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein (images above, top two, with details).

This was not an assignment, Wrightson took on the project in his spare time out of love for the material. The illustrations were initially released as a limited edition portfolio. (A personal note: when I got divorced many many years ago, my ex-wife and I didn’t have any children or a house to argue over, but we wound up splitting joint custody, half and half, of the Frankenstein portfolio).

The drawings were later used in new editions of the Mary Shelly novel published accompanied by Wrightson’s illustrations.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the book versions are out of print. Dark Horse still has a listing for their digital version, also for their collections of work from Creepy and Eerie that include some of Wrightson’s work. The print editions of Frankenstein may still be available used, though prices are likely to go up.

Wrightson and writer Steve Niles later followed with a comic book adaptation, Frankenstein Alive Alive! (images above, middle) which was published by IDW.

You may be able to find other Wrightson materials through used book sources, including reprints of some of his classic Swamp Thing issues.

The best currently in print source for his comics work is probably Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, a compendium of some of his work for Warren publishing, meant from the outset to be viewed in black and white, which is how I think his work is at its best.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good major online resource for viewing Wrightson’s work.

There is an official Bernie Wrightson website, with a bio and image galleries, unfortunately, the images in the galleries are maddeningly small and not well reproduced for the web, though they can still give you an overview of the range of Wrightson’s work.

There are a few original art pages still for sale directly from the family (as of this writing) through Comic Art Fans, as well as some from other sellers. Nakitomi has Cycle of the Werewolf box sets available.

Otherwise, I’ll point to some obits and tribute pages that feature some examples of his art. You can also simply try a Google image search.

Included in my row of example images above, bottom, is a little gem from my own collection — a Bernie Wrightson convention sketch gifted to me by Galactic Geographic artist Karl Kofoed.

 
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

John Lavery

John Lavery
John Lavery was an Irish painter who spent a good deal of his career living and working in London. He is known primarily for his portraits and his paintings of what he observed in England during the First World War, but I find his landscapes most appealing, especially those depicting water.

Lavery was acquainted with James McNeil Whistler, an expatriate American who was also living in London at the time, and I think you can see the influence of Whistler on Lavery’s nighttime scenes, landscapes and many of his portraits.

 
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin