Matthew Woodson

Matthew Woodson
I really enjoy the work of young artists, whether still in art school, recently graduated or on their own independent course of learning. There is a particular appeal to that part of an artist’s development when their style and approach has not yet “hardened” into a set path.

Illustrator and comics artist Matthew Woodson is a recent graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

His sometimes stark, sometimes poetic images are spare, usually consisting of linework and a few tones of gray or muted color. He works in pen, brush and ink, occasionally with the addition of color in gouache and frequently with color added digitally in Photoshop.

His subjects are people, often portrayed with unflattering directness and occasionally in compositions that don’t include the head, studies of natural objects like plants and animal skulls, and landscapes.

His site features comics as well as illustration, including a story called “Tendergrass” that was published in the Flight 2 anthology.

I can’t give you direct links to his site sections because his web site is in frames (for no apparent resaon). His site (and business?) is called “ghostco”, the introductory page for which informs us that most of his work can’t be displayed because of contractual limitations, but promises more in the future. My thought is that his progress will be worth watching.

Link via The Art Blog, which included a “Bonus Link” to Woodson’s “How to Ink Like an Idiot” tutorial on deviantArt.


Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich
“Caspar David Friedrich…”, wrote sculptor Pierre-Jean David d’Angers, “created a new genre: the tragedy of landscape.”

Friedrich attempted to create Christian religious art without the traditional biblical scenes, instead using allegorical landscape to convey religious themes. In spite of its message of Christian redemption, his work is steeped in loneliness, isolation and desolation, perhaps because of tragedy in childhood. He witnessed his brother drowning in the Baltic after falling through thin ice while attempting to rescue him from the same fate, his mother died when he was 7 and two of his sisters died by the time he was 18.

His fascination with ruins of churches, graveyards, shipwrecks, isolated individuals among hauntingly portrayed landscapes and mist enshrouded planes populated by bare trees made him a favorite of the Surrealists, who saw him as a visionary painter.

Similarly, he had a great impact on Symbolist painters like Arnold Böcklin, whose own tragic life and fascination with death undoubtedly found resonance in Friedrich’s silent stones and “haunted, frightened trees” (to borrow a wonderfully appropriate line from Bob Dylan).

Friedrich started his career doing sepia ink and wash drawings of landscapes; he didn’t take up oil painting until he was 30. In the course of his career he became one of the masters of romantic landscape painting along with Turner and Constable. Toward the end of his life he was crippled by a stroke and, unable to paint in oil, he returned to sepia drawings.

Unfortunately, some of his work was lost, both to fire and to the Allied bombing of Dresden in World War II. We have only photographic records, mostly in black and white, of some of his masterworks, although some have been colorized by modern artists in an attempt to reconstruct their original appearance.


Raphaël Lacoste

Raphael Lacoste
If you, like many people, envision the process of 3-D CGI (Computer Graphics Imaging) as arranging a few wireframe shapes and pressing the “render” button, you may as well say painting is as easy as taking a brush and slapping some color on a canvas.

The same skills of composition, proportion, perspective, color and, yes, drawing, are as important in the creation of a successful CGI image as they are in traditional painting. Yes, it’s possible for an amateur to make an image in a 3-D application without knowing those things, and the results are similar to someone trying to paint without them. I’ve seen enough poorly done amateur CGI, and have worked in 3-D applications myself just enough to have some idea of how important those skills are to a good CGI image.

Raphaël Lacoste is a French matte painter and concept artist now living in Canada. He is also an award-winning art director for high-end games in the Prince of Persia series. He uses a combination of 3-D CGI and 2-D digital painting in Photoshop to create beautifully atmospheric images that are at times evocative of classical and 19th century paintings.

The image above, Path to the Gothic Choir (large version here), is the subject of a feature article on the CGSociety site that goes into some detail about the process of creating this kind of image, including preliminary sketches, initial renderings, details and an image of a painting by 19th Century German romantic painter Caspar David Fredrich called Cloister Graveyard in the Snow, that was the inspiration for Lacoste’s image.

Lacoste’s own site has a nice selection of his moody and atmospheric matte paintings and concept art, including a wonderful evocation of Arnold Böcklin’s The Isle of the Dead. (See my previous post on Arnold Böcklin.)

There is also a gallery of his work on the CGSociety’s site.


Tim Jessell (update)

Tim Jessell
I first wrote about illustrator Tim Jessell and his “realistic with a twist” style in this post back in October of 2005.

Since then, his site has been completely redone and the Portfolio section expanded with larger versions of his editorial and advertising illustrations for the likes of Time Magazine, American Airlines, Nike, Polaroid and Apple Computer.

Jessell also illustrates children’s books, including the Secrets Of Droon series by Tony Abbott, Superhero Christmas, a children’s book written by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee, and Amorak, written and illustrated by Jessell (details here).

His style is at once varied and consistent, changing with his subject but retaining a foundation in realistic painting and solid draftsmanship. Browsing his portfolio, you can find a straightforward portrait next to a fearsome dragon in from the Droon series next to lighthearted children’s fantasy.

His new galleries also feature a display gimmick that I’m a sucker for, showing a “reflection” of each image as if the painting was sitting on a dark reflective floor. The effect is repeated on the gallery thumbnail page and I’ve chosen to use a section of that here, rather than try to choose a “representative” image among his broad variety of subjects.


Katsushika Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai
When I write these posts, I take the approach of describing artists from one tradition or genre to readers who are coming to lines and colors with an interest in a different area, in the hope that I can introduce you to something that you might not have encountered otherwise.

Even so, I usually try to avoid images that those familiar with the artist would consider a cliché because they are that artist’s “hit single”, and find treasures that are less frequently seen.

Some images, however, are simply too strong to resist.

Katsushika Hokusai’s In the Hollow of a Wave off the Coast at Kanagwa (from a series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji), commonly known in the West as “The Wave”, is one of the most recognizable images in all of art. It is certainly the most widely recognized image of Japanese art in the Western hemisphere, and many think of it as the archetypical example of a Japanese print.

Ironically, Hokusai is possibly the first Japanese printmaker to introduce elements of Western art into Japanese printmaking, incorporating Western-style perspective, shading and lighting effects learned from smuggled European prints at a time when contact with Western culture was still forbidden.

So the Western artists, notably French Impressionists like Monet, Degas and Toulouse-lautrec, and American artists like Whistler, were entranced and influenced by the Japanese prints of Hokusai, the first Japanese artist to become popular in the West, who in turn had absorbed influences of European printmakers like Rembrandt and van Ruisdale.

Hokusai represents a nexus between the art traditions of East and West, whose development until that time may as well have happened on separate planets. Hokusai had a tremendous impact on the course of Western art and is, in fact, more highly regarded in the West than in Japan. He was uncharacteristic among Japanese artists in other ways. He was a rebel, a restless individualist, changing homes, and names, frequently throughout his career. Katsushika Hokusai is not his actual name, simply the one most recognized. One of his later works was signed “The Art-Crazy Old man”.

In the Hollow of a Wave is such a remarkable image that it has become an icon, like the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s self portraits, at once familiar and still unknown. Often incorrectly thought to represent a tsunami, it is actually a scene of fishermen encountering one of the dangers of their profession, large offshore waves called okinami.

A wave yes, but more than that, Hokusai’s wave is alive, it’s foamy crest breaking into grasping fingers, its troughs and crests swelling and falling as if the sea was breathing, and the sea spray flying like clouds of fireflies.

The image is even more remarkable for its composition. Hokusai was a master of “negative space”, the areas of an image where the objects are not. This was a characteristic that particularly enthralled the impressionists.

Hokusai wave turnedThe sky is the negative space here, and it is a remarkable echo of the shape of the wave, as you can see if you look at the image upside-down (left) and look at the shape of the sky as a wave.

Beyond that, many have pointed out that the two waves together, the one that is “there” and the one that is “not there” form a pattern uncannily like a Taijitu, or “Yin Yang symbol“, the ancient Chinese icon representing the balance and blending of the duality of light/dark, positive/negative and masculine/feminine believed to form the foundation of existence.

Whether this is intentional on Hokusai’s part is unknown, but his powerful compositions, delicate colors and beautifully finessed lines can captivate today as easily as they did before the turn of the last century.

I was disappointed to learn that I missed an exhibit of Hokusai’s work at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian, itself a remarkable nexus of art from East and West, that ended in May,

I’ll list some online resources below, and there are several excellent books available, including Hokusai by Gian Carlo Calza and Hokusai: One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, edited by Henry D. Smith.

I’ll leave you with Hokusai’s wonderful quote about his development as an artist throughout his life:

“From the age of six I had a mania for drawing the shapes of things. When I was fifty I had published a universe of designs. but all I have done before the the age of seventy is not worth bothering with.

At seventy five I’ll have learned something of the pattern of nature, of animals, of plants, of trees, birds, fish and insects. When I am eighty you will see real progress. At ninety I shall have cut my way deeply into the mystery of life itself. At a hundred I shall be a marvelous artist. At a hundred and ten everything I create; a dot, a line, will jump to life as never before.” — Hokusai


Käthe Kollwitz

Kathe Kollwitz
German artist Käthe Kollwitz began her career as a painter until, inspired by the prints of Max Klinger, she began creating etchings, lithographs and woodcuts, eventually abandoning painting for graphics.

Kollwitz was also a sculptor and her drawings and graphics have a distinctly sculptural quality, as if rough-hewn from wood or stone.

Her subjects were “rough” as well, often drawn from the poor and downtrodden in Berlin, who her husband attended as a doctor. She remained committed to pacifist and socialist ideals throughout her career. Much of her early work in particular was shaped by the death of one of her sons in the First World War.

She was the first woman elected to the Prussian Academy of Art, a post from which she was ejected by the Nazi Party, who also forbade her to exhibit; although they used some of her work for propaganda and included her in their derisive exhibition of “Degenerate Art”.

Through it all, she continued to create, and her work, even when portraying grief and tragedy, resonates with an uncanny strength.

There is an exhibit of her prints, posters and drawings at the CSU Art Museum in Long Beach, California from June 23 to August 5, 2006. Unfortunately there isn’t an online gallery accompanying the exhibit listing.

There is a Käthe Kollwitz museum in Berlin that has a gallery of her work.

The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco has over 60 images of her work in their online image base, including the image above (detail here).

Link via Art Knowledge News.