Saturday, November 24, 2007

Syracuse University

Syracuse University's art school has a long reputation for training artists and illustrators. Two of my heroes, Tom Lovell and Harry Anderson, graduated from Syracuse around 1930.

The campus adjoins the city of Syracuse in the center of New York State. Its hilly location gives its students lots of exercise as they travel from class to class.

John Thompson heads the illustration program. His approach is traditional and realistic. We sat in on a class as he introduced an assignment on the theme of “inside and outside” He showed slides of compositional framing devices ranging from Titian to Bernie Fuchs.

He will lead a group of students to India this winter for a sketching tour. He told me that he was in no hurry for students to learn digital tools. At the undergraduate level, the focus is primarily on drawing and painting.

Our guide Tim Coolbaugh took us throughout the rest of the art building, a modern concrete structure at the edge of the quad. Lining the hallways were huge self-portraits showing faces contorted with laughter.

The walls upstairs displayed the results of a line drawing exercise taught by James Ransome, where students used markers to draw interior scenes with figures. They used white artist's tape to erase parts of the drawings as they reconsidered their lines and explored abstract shapes.

Seniors occupied the tower rooms of the art building, which they customized with their supplies and works-in-progress.

Syracuse University also maintains the Special Collections Research Center, which has an impressive collection of artist’s papers and manuscripts, including cartoonist Roy Crane’s remarkable instructional scrapbook, assembled to guide his assistants in composition.

After my presentation, I met several of the illustration instructors including, from left to right: London Ladd, Bob Dacey, and James Ransome, and Roger DeMuth (not in picture) all award-winning professional illustrators balancing their own artwork with their teaching.
Thanks and best wishes to all at SU!


Stephen James. said...

Very cool. Good to see others being inspired to make art.

So yeah I finally read the new Dinotopia book and it was a blast. It's nice to see that the artwork has evolved. I mean it still "felt" like the Dinotopia I'm use to but when comparing this and the first book you can see your improvement as an artist.

Ironically, during the breaks when the model was resting and I got a chance to read I got some curious looks from my fellow students. Some of them wondered "Wasn't this based on a movie or TV series.) Alas I had to explain to them that it was the other way around.

J Gilpin said...

Thanks for the links to Lovell and Anderson - these were not names well known to me before. It's amazing how much incredible work get's buried in the passage of time and the continous flood of images.

Thanks also for your documenting of the ongoing tour of illustration programs across the country! Lately I have struggled with that designation: just what is it that makes someone an illustrator versus an artist or painter? It seems with some art academics that the term is derogatory (often by the post WWII modernists who it would appear (IMHO)are threatened by the illustrator's versatile facility?).

Unknown said...

I was looking through your posts and found this one. I know it's a little late, but I was a junior in the illustration program at Syracuse the year that you visited. I remember being so impressed, intimidated, and inspired by you . . . I really wanted to see if I could email you and thank you for your visit and presentation; I wanted you to know how much it had encouraged me - I was really discouraged by my progress and with art in general. But you and your wife were like a breath of fresh air to me. You were both so inquisitive and curious about everything; taking pictures of everything and it seemed like you were drawing in your sketchbooks every time I turned around. And then your presentation at the symposium and the obvious joy that you took in being able to make paintings and do what you do - it really encouraged me. So, since I was too much of a coward to try and email you then, I would like to take the opportunity now and say THANK YOU for being honest and passionate about pursuing your dreams and being a steward of the amazing talent that's in you. You've touched so many artists and I really appreciate you taking the time to come to Syracuse that year. It meant a lot to me and helped get me through a very difficult period of my education there. Thank you again!

James Gurney said...

Hi, Sara, comments are never too late -- I see all the new ones that come in. I'm so glad you chimed in. I enjoyed visiting Syracuse, and I'm so glad my presentation did something for you. Keep working hard, and stay in touch.