Thursday, September 17, 2015

Austin Briggs on Sketch to Finish

American illustrator Austin Briggs (1908-1973) says: "When working out an idea for an illustration, it is essential to keep in mind the shape of the finished painting at all times. Otherwise you are likely to develop a composition that simply won't fit the picture space."

"If you become too fond of an unworkable idea you may find it hard to start over on a new approach. The sketch above was sone quite spontaneously for a [Saturday Evening] Post cover. A momentary pose of the group suggested the compositional pattern—sort of a hammock design with the body suspended, so to speak, between the supporting figures at left and right."

"I sketched the idea with great satisfaction, thinking I had the answer to the picture problem." 

"When it came to working out the rough, however, I soon realized that this idea could not be made to conform to space requirements. It was very difficult for me to get this approach out of my head and find a design that would work. If I had kept the shape of the picture in mind from the start, I would have discarded this idea before I became too attached to it."
From Austin Briggs' Master Course from the Famous Artists Course, 1952
Austin Briggs on Wikipedia
Thanks, Matt Dicke


Matt Dicke said...

Welcome. Glad those scans are coming in handy. FYI Manuel Auad is working on a Briggs art book as we speek.

Carmel said...

Damn, this post messed with my head! Very important advice, and great example - such a great example, in fact, that I had the weirdest mental dissonance for a minute or two:

At first glance, both images seemed like almost exactly the same composition of the same scene. Then I started looking back and forth between them to identify the differences - but when I looked back to the top image to examine it, I couldn't imagine how an artist could fit that scene into a portrait-oriented canvas. Then I looked back to the bottom image and found myself unable to imagine how anyone could fit it into a landscape-oriented canvas. Took me a little while to figure out some of the changes that Briggs used to accomplish this:

- adding the house with another group of watching people from the top storey - making the house and its increased height part of the scene
- angling the falling man's body downwards
- shifting the falling man further down relative to the watchers on the docks
- slightly compressing the group of watchers

Rich said...

Man that's interesting!
Just a few days ago, on the 13th, the topic had been:

"painting a person doing a real action, rather than holding an artificial pose"...

The pottering figure on the 13th almost looks like a motionless still life, compared to the chap here flung into the pond.
And how Briggs altered the figure from the preliminary sketch (drawn within a few seconds?) to the final product.
How amazing!