Dennis Wojtkiewicz

Dennis Wojtkiewicz
Anyone who has really studied biology and the natural world can tell you that even the simplest of organic objects can be a marvel of biological complexity. If we take the time to stop and examine them, we find that simple organic objects can be visual wonders as well.

Dennis Wojtkiewicz makes that brilliantly clear for us. He paints large, luminous oil paintings of simple-but-complex objects like single flower blossoms or slices of fruit or melons. The fruit slices are often lit from behind, giving their intricate interiors the appearance of being illuminated from within, and the flowers are bathed in warm light that gives their finely textured surfaces an almost angelic quality.

I would really enjoy the opportunity to see his canvases in person because they are large in scale, many are 4ft x 4ft (121 x 121 cm), and the visual impact must be wonderful. The fruit images are more recent than the flowers. According his artist’s statement he has been working on the series for the past two years.

Wojtkiewicz is a professor at the School of Art, Bowling Greeen State University in Ohio, and his work has been in an impressive list of exhibits, collections and publications.

The links for Wojtkiewicz’s galleries below are to the J. Cacciola Gallery in New York, the Glass Garage Gallery in West Hollywood, and the Robert Kidd Gallery in Burmingmham, MI, all of which represent some other very interesting artists.

One of the things that art does best is to remind us how astonishing the “ordinary world” around us really is. I would love to gaze at Wojtkiewicz’s 4 foot high painting of a grapefruit for a while and then sit down to breakfast.

Link via Changing Places.


Coloring Comics: Steve Hamaker Colors Bone

Steve Hamaker Colors Bone
In yesterday’s post on drawing comics I pointed to some thumbnail to ink sequences Jeff Smith has posted of his working process for Bone. Thanks to some recent posts by Steve Hamaker, who is coloring the new Bone color editions for Scholastic Press, we can follow the process to its next step.

Hamaker’s first blog entry on coloring Bone with Photoshop features a detailed sequence of images but not much explanation. His more recent post has more explanation and both posts have interesting comments from readers.

You can read the explanation from the second post and then go back and look at the first sequence with his process in mind. Hamaker promises to expand on his coloring how-tos in more detail in the near future, perhaps on the official Boneville site.

In addition to his work on the Bone color editions, Hamaker is the creator of Fish N Chips, a comic that features a fish whose bowl sits atop a robot body that he controls via telekenesis, and an electric cat. He also contributed coloring to a Jeff Smith story in Flight Volume 2 and is contributing a complete 16 page story to the new Flight Volume 3, which is due in June. Hamaker is also applying color for Smith’s upcoming Shazam! limited series for DC and is illustrating a series of books written by Dave Stewart, beginning with Turtletown.

In addition to steve’s blog, Hamaker has a regular web site that showcases his projects in a more general way.

Links via Bolt City and Drawn!.


Drawing Comics: Jeff Smith’s Bone

Jeff Smith
Jeff Smith’s Bone was one of the surprise comic delights of the ’90s and has continued to stand as one of the great single-artist comic series, running for over 50 issues from 1991 to 2004.

Smith managed to create a style, with influences from Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and other classic comic artists, that is perfect to portray his unique blend of innocence and sophistication and humor and adventure. He also has managed to incorporate divergent drawing styles in the same story (used brilliantly to portray different characters). His black and white comics are beautifully drawn, lovingly rendered and perfectly balanced, both in terms of the spotting of blacks and the overall composition of the pages.

Boneville, the official Jeff Smith/Bone site has numerous features about artwork in various stages for many of Smith’s projects, including Bone and Stupid Stupid Rat Tales, a Bone spin-off. In several cases, there are “making of” sequences that follow the creation of Bone pages from initial written script to thumbnail sketch to blueline pencils to finished inks.

The sequences in the image above are from Stupid Stupid Rat Tales #1, and Stupid Stupid Rat Tales #2.

There are also lots of other features on the site, including games, news and discussion boards and, best of all, a Library, where you can see many preview pages for Bone and other titles.

There is also an interactive version of Bone from Telltale Games, which has also been running he new Sam n’ Max comic as I mentioned back in December.

You can’t currently buy Bone albums from the official site, as they have cleared the decks in anticipation of the new full-color versions from Scholastic Press.

As much as I’m looking forward to the color versions, which are sure to be wonderful, I strongly recommend that if you haven’t seen Bone, you should go to your local comic shop or bookstore to pick up at least one volume of the story in glorious black and white. You can also still order the black and white versions from Amazon.

There is often a tendency to think of black and white comics as something of a “lesser form” or “incomplete” version, a subset of color comics, but I disagree. Black and white is a set of “colors” all to itself and Jeff Smith knows how to work with that palette like few contemporary comic artists.


Frederic Edwin Church

Frederic Edwin Church
How about some church on a Sunday? Frederic Edwin Church, that is.

Church was the only student of Thomas Cole, who essentially started the Hudson River School of landscape painting, although whatever teaching transpired was probably more about what to paint than how to paint. Cole reportedly said that Church already had “the finest eye for drawing in the world” at the time, and Church is widely regarded as one of the finest American artists, perhaps the finest prior to Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer.

He set out to convey the drama and grandeur of the North American and South American wilderness. (This was back before business and industry had really started in earnest their campaigns to rid both continents of those annoying patches of undeveloped wilderness.) Every spring to fall he would travel and sketch, often traveling by foot, and return to the studio in the winter to create his monumental works.

He painted landscapes on a grand scale, both in terms of subject and in the monumental scale of some of his canvasses. His famous painting Heart of the Andes, is a five foot high by ten foot wide (168 x 302 cm) canvas that was originally unveiled in a special room with dramatic gas jet lighting, curtains and palm fronds, to great response. Thousands of people paid admission to see the painting. We’re jaded by exposure to movie screens and billboards so it’s hard to grasp the visual impact of a dramatic image of exotic wilderness on that scale in the mid-1800’s.

Church became very successful and in 1867 he bought a parcel of land with a magnificent view of the Hudson River and later constructed his personal Persian-style castle Olana, which is today a museum dedicated to Church and his work.

Church became the youngest artist elected to membership in the National Academy of Design in New York, which is now the National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts. Fittingly, a show of Church’s work, Treasures from Olana, is now on display at the National Academy Museum, along with a companion exhibit For Spacious Skies: Hudson River School Paintings From the Henry and Sharon Martin Collection. The Treasures from Olana exhibit is in New York until April 30, 2006. It then travels to Portland, ME, San Marino, CA and Princeton, NJ.

Church is also deservedly famous for his sweepingly dramatic views of Niagra Falls (before development, honeymooners and the Three Stooges), of which he painted several. I had the pleasure of seeing one of his paintings of Horseshoe Falls (above) when it was on display at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts several years ago, and it just knocked me out. It’s stunning. I’ve also seen his work in several permanent collections here in the northeast.

The remarkable thing about Church’s work is that someone with an eye for composition can easily pick out numerous small paintings that could be cropped from areas of the larger works and stand on their own as wonderful paintings.

Exhibition link via Art Knowledge News.


The Unreal Rockwell

The unreal Rockwell
In art, as in philosophy and politics, we’re often presented with the question “What is real?”.

For years experts have been mystified by inconsistencies in one of Norman Rockwell’s most widely recognized illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, a painting known as Breaking Home Ties (above, left… or is it right?).

The painting originally appeared on the cover of the Post in September of 1954. The original was purchased in 1960 by Donald Trachte Sr, Rockwell’s friend and neighbor, who was himself an illustrator, painter, amateur architect, astronomer and inventor. Trachte was also a cartoonist and drew the Henry Sunday newspaper strips after Carl Anderson’s death in 1948. (John Liney took over the dailies.) It is Trachte’s version of the Henry Sundays that are reprinted in papers today.

Trachte had loaned the Rockwell out for exhibit for years, but over time there was more and more concern that the painting had been damaged in some way, perhaps by an overzealous restorer or cleaner trying to cover unintentional damage at a museum, or even that the painting had been stolen or replaced with a forgery. Those who knew Rockwell’s work well could see that this was just not up to his normal standards, particularly in terms of color and the appearance of the paint in many areas. The painting’s original provenance was unquestionable; it was widely known that Rockwell had sold the painting to Trachte, but the questions remained about how it had come to its current state.

Trachte Sr. died in 2005 and it turns out that the Rockwell on display was indeed a forgery (above, right,… or is it left?), painted by Trachte himself. This was revealed when Trachte’s sons discovered the original (above, left… no, right) in a secret compartment behind a bookcase in the family home.

Donald Trachte Jr., in an interview on NPR yesterday, said that their father had given them no indication that the painting on display was a forgery (or even that he was capable of painting at that level), or that the original was hidden in their house. There is some speculation that the existence of the forgery was related to the divorce of Trachte Sr. and his wife, but no one really knows.

You can see the two paintings in larger reproduction on NPR’s site. There is a nice detailed account on the Berkshire Eagle, and the originals of both paintings are currently on view at The Norman Rockwell Museum.

As for the little guessing game I’ve been playing with you, go to this post’s comment page for the answer.


Frazer Irving

Frazer IrvingFrazer Irving is a British comics artist who has done work for UK titles like 2000 AD and Judge Death as well as working for American companies like DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics and Wizards of the Coast. He cites his influences as mostly comics and British TV (“…a never ending assault of sci-fi, horror, and the generally weird…” in his words); but somewhere he picked up a wonderful tendency to use great, fat brush strokes in a way that sometimes make his comics panels look like bizarre woodcuts.

His work tends toward horror and the macabre. One of his projects for Dark Horse Comics was a four issue mini-series (and trade paperback) called Fort: Prophet of the Unexplained (written by Peter M. Lenkov), ostensibly non-fiction about an actual 19th century paranormal investigator named Charles Fort.

I first encountered Frazer Irving as the artist of a DC Comics series penned by Grant Morrison (one of my favorite comics writers) called Klarion the Witchboy, which Morrison has folded into a story arc with other titles he writes (with different artists) to produce a larger story called Seven Soldiers of Victory. The relevant issues of the individual titles have been collected in sequence and released as a series of trade paperbacks under the Seven Soldiers title. I picked up the story because I like Morrison’s writing and was immediately struck by Irving’s unique drawing and coloring style.

His drawings are nicely stylized but still have a foundation of solid draughtsmanship. When coloring his own work (something that mainstream comics artists seldom do) Irving often meets the edges of discreet areas of color with broad “feathering” brushstrokes of color, a technique usually reserved for the application of black ink in comics, but nicely applied to color in his approach. That and his sharp use of blacks and large flat areas of color give Irving’s color work a unique graphic sensibility.

But it’s hard to focus on his color work, as nice as it is, when his black and white style is so captivating. Irving really has a good command of the language of black and white comics, even if the end result has color added. His pages are rich with blacks, nicely balanced between black and white areas, and punctuated with enough texture and rendering to give them a real snap. His style is particularly appropriate for the disturbing, horror-themed stories he often takes on, and has a great ability to deliver the shock of the story with real graphic punch.

In addition to his personal site linked below, there is a Frazer Irving page on the official 200AD site with articles and interviews and a gallery of Frazer Irving prints available on the unofficial site.