Monday, March 5, 2012

Howard Pyle's Criticism

Today is the birthday of Howard Pyle, and it just so happens that the magazine ImagineFX has honored Mr. Pyle with a special issue devoted to his lasting legacy.

The cover of the magazine shows a pirate lady by Aly (Alastair) Fell. The issue also has a workshop by Dan Dos Santos. I sketched them both at Illustration Master Class.   

I contributed an article to the issue on Pyle’s working methods and his teaching philosophy.

One of the reasons Pyle was so admired as a teacher was his unique way of critiquing student work in his composition class. Student’s preliminary charcoal drawings were presented for Pyle’s comments one evening each week. The master would choose just a few pieces to talk about.

He didn’t just talk in abstract terms or how to apply brushstrokes. Instead he entered deeply into the students’ inspiration, and put into words what they were groping to achieve. 

They returned to their studios enchanted, transformed by what he said and they knew just what changes to make as they went to the finished picture.

For example, speaking about a painting, now lost to us, called “Wisdom giving the light of knowledge to Youth” by a Mr. Edwards, Pyle said:

"The art student learns rules for doing things but all the rules in the world never made a picture. A great picture can only be made through inspiration and truth, and rules are of use only for correcting.

But why put the sun behind those turrets, and that weak light burning in the sage’s hand—the light of the sun would have obliterated the flickering lamp-light.

That mediaeval life was dark and peopled with men of iron—fierce and bloodthirsty. Light to them was precious.

I can imagine how the painters of that day would have treated this.  Albrecht Dürer would not have made a flimsy doorway and this thin woodwork.  This ancient structure would have been massive, dark and mysterious, and this figure of age would have been the very incarnation of all the handed-down wisdom of the years and not the ordinary old man that you have made.

The youth would have been fresh and full of ardor—eager to go on his journey.

To youth the world is boundless but as one grows older one looks about and says, 'why, my possibilities are growing smaller. I cannot do this and must keep within these bounds.' And as age advances and one knows more of oneself and the world about one the more do the limitations increase.

As I grow older I feel that my life is narrowing down to a house built of my environment and  around me are all the circumstances and habits of my life and of my forefathers.”
ImagineFX magazine is on the stands in the USA now.
Illustration Master Class is now fully registered, but there is a wait list.
Howard Pyle blog, the go-to place for Pyle trivia.
The Pyle exhibit will continue this June at the Norman Rockwell Museum
Howard Pyle book with my essay on his methods


My Pen Name said...

off topic but of interest to GJ readers in the NYC area:

In the Company of Animals: Art, Literature, and Music at the Morgan
March 2 through May 20, 2012

Ancient seals, drawings, prints, books, and medieval, music, and literary manuscripts will illustrate the use of animals as symbols, teachers of moral lessons, talking characters, companions, and subjects of scientific study and artistic inspiration.

Included in the exhibition are works by John James Audubon, William Blake, Albrecht Dürer, T. S. Eliot, David Hockney, Ted Hughes, George Orwell, Sergei Prokofiev, Peter Paul Rubens, E. B. White, and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

P.T. Waugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
P.T. Waugh said...

I had a design teacher (designer of the Talbot's logo) who only give vague, cryptic remarks when critiquing work. I often parodied him saying things like, "you're giving me ice cream, but I want a brownie."

Anonymous said...

A great picture can only be made through inspiration and truth, and rules are of use only for correcting.

Couldn't any hobbyist painter be inspired and truthful? Maybe he meant "truth" to subsume "experience", but it still seems like a shoot-from-the-hip, poorly thought out statement to me.

Aly Fell said...

Thank you so much James! Renae just gave me the heads up. Sadly I'm going to miss IMC this this year...

Anonymous said...

It's hard to miss the IMC once you've been there.
but its also great to look back and realize the whole IMC experience stays with you year after year.

Just picked up the Imagine FX issue and look forward to reading your article James.

Congrats for getting on the cover Aly. Look forward to seeing/reading how you do your digital work...

Hi Renea...


Frost Titan Mike [imc2010]

Ian Schoenherr said...

Speaking of Pyle trivia: "Mr. Edwards" was Edward B. Edwards (1873-1948), artist, Pyle student, and author of Pattern and Design with Dynamic Symmetry (which is still in print, I think).

Janet Oliver said...

What a coincidence! I'm packing up our books for an upcoming move, and just put "Robin Hood" by Howard Pyle in a box.

Maria Arnt said...

How is it I manage to buy what seems like the only issue of ImagineFX that you haven't written in? (the Mucha issue). I need to save up the money and get at least a digital subscription for it!

With 51 hours of graduate study in Illustration under my belt, I can well appreciate the gift of an instructor who gives good reviews. Too often I found they were too focused on inconsequential details, too vague, or mostly focused on making my art look like theirs. Pyle's comments are informative and topical, and look at aspects of the subject which are so often skipped--what's being told in the story of the painting.

Erika Baird said...

It's like a poem...I love Pyle...