James Akers

James AkersI’m constantly amazed at the way in which we, as artists, allow ourselves to be locked into restrictive little boxes by accepting and participating in an unspoken hierarchy of the artistic value of different genres of visual arts.

Those in the fine arts community, even within all of the strata it contains, look down on illustrators as “not artists”. Mainstream illustrators look down on science fiction and fantasy illustrators, who, in turn, look down on comics artists, and so on; stratification within stratification. By accepting these distinctions, we culture elements of mutual disdain to coddle our tender egos, in the process allowing ourselves to be classified and pigeonholed.

Not only is this unfortunate for individual artists, and the appreciation of different styles, it allows wonderful art to go ignored by those unwilling to cross boundaries within these strata. Fighting this tendency is actually at the core of what I try to accomplish with lines and colors, and I take particular delight in finding terrific visual art in areas that, while respected and valued within their own industry, are often ignored by the larger artistic community, like scientific, medical and botanical illustration, paleontological reconstruction art and entertainment industry concept art.

Closely related to the latter is the field of architectural rendering, in that it involves the imagining and visual conceptualization of things that don’t yet exist.

Unfortunately, this is a field where the convenience of 3-D CGI is replacing a lot of the traditional rendering with boringly adequate renderings of 3-D models. In the cases where the presentation requirements are more sophisticated, however, hand-drawn and painted renderings are still in demand.

What a delight it is to see a proposed architectural work portrayed, not as a blandly rendered CGI model, but as a fresh, clear ink and watercolor drawing, as in the beautiful work of James Akers.

Akers is an award winning architectural renderer whose work has been featured in shows for the American Society of Perspectivists and the New York Society of Renderers. His renderings (a convenient term in this case, as ink and watercolor works could easily be called either drawings or paintings) not only convey the appearance of the proposed structure, but have a refined sense of color and a superb feeling of texture, materials, place and atmosphere. If the buildings were not in the process of being imagined, you might assume that these were simply wonderfully precise works drawn and painted from life.

Akers has a knack for including just enough detail in the surrounding elements to make the proposed building fit seamlessly with its environment, while making it clear that the proposed structure is the highlight and subject of the image.

Akers works on a variety of projects and the galleries on his site feature renderings related to Hospitality and Entertainment, Institutions, Retail and Office, Sports and larger scale Planning and Urban Design. The highest resolution images, in which you can get the best feeling for his watercolor technique, are in the Recent Work section. (This is unfortunately displayed by way of a randomized script, so you may have to persevere through repeats of several images to see the larger variety.) There is also a Sketchbook section that includes travel sketches.

I would particularly encourage artists interested in concept design for the film and gaming industries to study the masterful way Akers handles the representation of structures and physical spaces in both linear and atmospheric perspective, and his naturalistic handling of the structures in their environment. (While you’re at it, also look at the work of Thomas Schaller).


Howard Pyle and the American Renaissance

Howard Pyle and Lawrence Alma-Tadema
In 1876 the Centennial Exposition (officially the “International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine”) was held here in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence had been signed 100 years earlier.

It was the first major World’s Fair to be held in the United States and served as announcement of the nation’s emergence as a major industrial world power. The exhibition was also announcement of the new nation flexing its cultural muscles, and the exhibit of American art that accompanied it must have been something to see.

It was around this time that a number of American artists and architects, among them the great illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle, come to feel that not only was American art coming into its own, but that it had matured enough to inherit the mantle of the great traditions of the European Renaissance and classical antiquity.

Though the artists themselves used it for awhile, the term “American Renaissance” isn’t in common use these days. The period isn’t widely recognized as a coherent art movement, and you won’t find more than cursory mentions of it in most sources. In fact, if you search for the phrase “American Renaissance” on the web, you’ll find more references to a literary movement earlier in the Century.

Pyle felt that painting, and illustration in particular, could have a civilizing influence on large numbers of people, and it was within his fascination with the classical ideals that he emphasized history painting. In his case, of course, it was not European history that he portrayed, but the history of his own nation. Pyle became renowned for his paintings of the American Revolution. His ideas influenced his students, who included many of the greatest American illustrators.

The Brandywine River Museum, a gem of a small museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Pyle taught his classes in the summer, and not far from Wilmington, Delaware, where Pyle was born and had his studio, has picked up this theme for a wonderful exhibition called “Howard Pyle and the American Renaissance”, with works by Pyle and many of his contemporaries who were influenced by this ideal.

The show features many seldom seen Pyles, like his illustrations for Quo Vadis, as well as many of the best from the collections of the Brandywine and the Delaware Art Museum, which houses the single largest collection of his work; and includes a newly acquired painting, Richard de Bury Tutoring Young Edward III, jointly purchased by the two museums.

Other artists represented in the exhibition include Edwin Austin Abbey, Joseph Clement Cole, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Kenyon Cox. The N.C. Wyeth illustrations that are the stars of the museum’s collection have been temporarily replaced by his infrequently displayed landscapes. The exhibit includes European and English artists who influenced the Americans; among them is Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, whose beautiful “Sappho and Alcaeus” (image above, bottom) is on loan from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

If you’re fortunate enough to catch the exhibition, which runs until May 20th, 2007, don’t miss another exhibit of American Illustration, on display in a separate gallery that is not well marked (straight ahead as you leave the Pyle exhibition).

Here are some web links for Howard Pyle; there are additional links on my earlier post about Pyle.


Vladimir Kush

Vladimir Kush
Vladimir Kush is a Russian painter who studied at the Moscow Art Institute and is now living in the U.S. He works in a vein of fantastic art obviously influenced by Surrealists like Dali and Magritte, but with a distinctly different emotional context.

His paintings have something of a visionary mystical quality and many of them feature recurrent themes like butterflies, sailing ships, fruits and other natural forms, and visions within cloud formations.

His images often deal with interesting combinations of visual elements. Sailing ships are masted with stalks of gladiolus, their blossoms unfurled as sails. Giant butterflies catch the wind on another ship (above), or form the blades of fantasy windmills. Giant mechanical fish and dragonflies and a monumental rhinoceros undergo maintenance. The rising sun is revealed to be the yolk of a giant egg or the pearl of an oyster. A half pear is envisioned as a lute, and a half apple as a butterfly. Through many of the works, beautifully stylized and textured clouds roil and tumble revealing visions of seas and harbors or taking on forms like hot air balloons.

Unfortunately, the images on Kush’s own web site are too small to get a real feeling for his paintings. Fortunately, his work is represented on the web on the sites of galleries that carry his prints or originals.

There is a nice selection with large images on the Reflections Gallery, and another selection with somewhat smaller images on the Art Center Gallery. There is a particularly nice selection of images featured on the Dark Roasted Blend blog, some of which are linked to even larger versions on Flickr.

There are print collections of his work, but I’ve had trouble establishing their availability (it may be primarily through galleries rather than traditional book sources). One is called Metaphorical Journey and seems to be pricey ($200) as a used book on Amazon. On the books page of Kush’s site two other titles are shown, The Bronze Drops of Time and Journey to the Edge of Time, which is apparently new and more readily available.

Journey to the Edge of Time isn’t a collection, per se, but a coffee-table science fiction book, arranged as diary with many of Kush’s paintings as illustrations. The authors are Oleg Kush and Mikhil Kush, though I don’t know their relation to Vladimir.

Link suggestion courtesy of Karl Kofoed


Dan Gheno

Dan GhenoDan Gheno is an artist and teacher who places a special emphasis on figure drawing. He teaches at The Art Students League and The National Academy School in New York and is Prefessor Emeritus, The Lyme Academy College in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

I’m particularly fond of his life drawings because his approach is similar to my own, in that it is a combination of line and tone, heavily influenced by an admiration for the drawings of masters like Michelangelo, Raphael and Rubens.

Gheno also credits his approach to an early fascination with comic book art, and the corresponding desire to develop the ability to draw the figure from his imagination; a path that gave him the impetus to approach figure drawing with special emphasis on a solid sense of geometry underlying the form and a feeling for the volumetric nature of the human form in three dimensional space.

One of the key skills that sets comic book artists apart from other illustrators or cartoonists is the need to develop a consistent ability to invent and quickly draw figures from the imagination, portraying the human form, however exaggerated, in an enormous variety of positions and spatial relationships, often with severe foreshortening.

Dramatic foreshortening and dynamic projections of the figure in space are also hallmarks of masters like Michelangelo, Raphael, Carracci, Tiepolo and Pontormo; and I’ve always suggested that comic book artists and illustrators who work with the invented figure would do well to supplement their life drawing with the study of these artists’ drawings, along with more traditional sources of instruction like the books of Andrew Loomis, George Bridgeman and Walt Reed. (Would-be comic book artists who study only the work of other comic book artists are simply lost.)

To that list of instructional inspiration, I would easily add Dan Gheno, not only for comic book artists and illustrators, but for any artist interested in drawing the figure.

Though Gheno has not yet written a book of his instructional methods, he has over time written a series of articles on figure drawing for American Artist magazine and American Artist’s Drawing magazine. These have been collected into a special issue of Drawing Highlights that is now on the newsstands.

This is essentially a figure drawing instruction book in magazine form and is a tremendous resource for under $10. Gheno supplements his clear and thoughtful instruction not only with his own accomplished drawings, but with the work of a variety of master draftsmen, including the artists mentioned above and a host of others, like Rembrandt, Ingres, Goltzius, Rodin, Durer, Da Vinci, Prud’hon, Greuze and Charles Dana Gibson.

There are articles on drawing the figure, the hand, the head, actions and gestures and the seldom covered subject of drapery on the human form, i.e. folds in clothing.

You can also find somewhat truncated versions of some of these articles on Gheno’s web site in the Teachings section.

Unfortunately, Gheno’s site is one of those awkward, mid-90’s style nightmares with scrolling pages full of centered text and oversize linked headings, but you’ll find it worth the trouble to dig around and find your way to his drawings, metaphorical figurative paintings, landscapes, teachings, reading list and materials list. (The navigation links that should be on the home page are strewn down this page. Click on the large text links that look like headings for the subsections; the images are linked to their larger versions. In the galleries, only the images with red dots are linked to larger versions, the others are empty links that will leave you 404.) Gheno has also provided a nice set of links to art resources he has found of value.

There is also a transcript of an online chat with Gheno on the American Artist site. The special issue of Drawing Highlights should be on the newsstands for a few months (or until it sells out).

Addendum: The managing editor of American Artist was kind enough to write and let me know that the issue of Drawing Highlights mentioned here can be ordered directly from them through this link.


the asia drawing portal

startdrawing.org: the asia drawing portal
This is a tremendously rich source of articles and links to artists either working in Asia or of Asian descent living elsewhere.

Though the emphasis is a bit more focused on contemporary artists, the site is a bit like lines and colors in terms of the different genres covered: illustration, gallery art, comics, concept art and animation, in both traditional and digital media; but goes even further to include architecture and product and toy design.

There doesn’t seem to be a month-by month navigation, as common in many blogs, but you can navigate by category or by geographic region in the upper right or simply move through the pages with previous and next links at page bottom.

The blog has a wonderful variety of styles and approaches and, if you like the mix on lines and colors, and Drawn!, I think you’ll appreciate the nice stew of styles, genres, and approaches in contemporary Asian art that the blogs creators, josef lee and junming, are constantly cooking up.

Image above, clockwise from upper left: Aya Kato, Hoang Nguyen, MAC56 (Yorga) and Yanyan Ye.

Note: The site has been discontinued and is no longer available


Chris Sheban

Chris Sheban
OK, admittedly I’m a sucker for the kind of parody/homage to Vermeer seen in children’s book illustrator Chris Sheban’s take on Vermeer’s “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher“, hanging on a kid’s bedroom wall in the illustration above. Add in my affection for paleo art and dinosaurs in general (I want one of theose brachiosaurus lamps) and I couldn’t help but be fascinated.

I was delighted to find that Sheban’s other work is just as terrific. His illustrations are wonderfully imagined and executed, composed of rich, atmospheric colors, a subtle play of light and striking characters; and enlivened with a beautifully textured rendering style.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find much biographical info or details on his working methods, as Sheban doesn’t seem to have a web site. I found a few stray bits of information, he lives in Illinios and trained in Perugia, Italy, but that’s about all I could find.

Fortunately, his work is represented on the web on the site of his artists rep, The Graphic Artists Guild and two illustrator portfolio sites.

I was particularly disappointed to see that many of the books he has illustrated, apparently including I Met a Dinosaur, for which he received a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators and which I presume included this image, are not currently in print (undoubtedly a result of the insane overemphasis on what’s new at the expense of all else, that’s indicative of the sorry circus of self-destructive madness that is the modern publishing industry, but, I digress).