Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harry Beckhoff and the Clear Line Style

The new issue of Illustration magazine (Issue 52) has a feature on American illustrator Harry Beckhoff (1901-1979). Although he studied with Dean Cornwell and Harvey Dunn, he didn't pursue the style of painterly brushstrokes and impastos.

Instead, he defined his forms with flat shapes, whose internal forms are defined by thin lines. The emphasis is more on silhouette and line than it is on texture and lighting.

His style is more reminiscent of the ligne claire ("clear line") style of European comic artists like Hergé (Tintin), and of illustrators like Pierre Brissaud (1885-1964) or André Marty (1882-1974).

As with all of the articles in Illustration magazine, this one is comprehensive (47 pages long) and amply illustrated (89 images, most color).

There are a lot of examples of his photo references and his preliminary sketches, which were famous for being exquisite and tiny. The one above is typical, no bigger than a business card.

The bio by publisher Dan Zimmer fills an important gap in American illustration history. Even though Beckhoff was busy and in demand, his work isn't well enough known. There's no book on him and there's not even a Wikipedia page for him. 

The new Illustration magazine (Issue 52) also contains the articles "The Art of John La Gatta" and "Artists for Victory." 
Read more
There is a good chapter about Beckhoff in Fred Taraba's book Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked.

(Online sources)


Unknown said...

Oh, what a wonderful introduction! Thank you for sharing his work.

Rich said...

"...No bigger than a business card?" That little sketch?

Let me honour that with an absolute


Unknown said...

Do you know how he made these? Did he draw the outlines first and then use transparent paint over them so that they wouldn't get covered up by opaque paint?

Elizabeth said...

Yes, I had the same question. I have wanted to do this technique for years, combining gouache and line. I understand that Herge actually did two pieces, a colored panel and an inked panel, that were put together in the printing process. I've heard of illustrators, such as Steven Kellogg, working with two separate plates (is that the right word?) also. But my ink and my gouache never line up when I get them in Photoshop. (And I've always hoped that I could make a physical work by gouache and ink, not just a print.)