Friday, November 30, 2018

Favorite Artists 6 - Wayne Thiebaud

For the sixth installment of my favorite artists, lets focus on Wayne Thiebaud (1920- ) a living American. Mr. Thiebaud is a well-known painter whose luscious color and simple shapes have found a wide audience. He became known six decades ago and has been active and working on the west coast throughout that time. As he has aged his work has been less noticed, it seems to me, but, he remains a real favorite of mine.

"Pies Pies Pies," 1961
My exposure to Mr. Thiebaud's work began with the earliest works, his delicious paintings of cakes and pies, which he began showing in the 1960s. Although his paintings of pastries, among other ordinary objects, predates Pop Art, inevitably he has been included as a member of that movement, and was exhibited initially with the likes of Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol among others. Subsequently he has often argued that he isn't one of them and even objected to being included with Andy Warhol. In any event, during his long career he has gone in several different directions, all of which have been visually and aesthetically satisfying.

Mr. Thiebaud spent his entire career (except brief interludes) in California, where he trained at San Jose State and Sacramento State, and later became a long-serving professor at the University of California, Davis. He has been working as an artist at least since high school, when he spent summers apprenticing at Disney Studios. He was even an artist during his World War II service. According to artist acquaintances who have met him, Mr. Thiebaud is a genuinely humble and warm individual whose work and teaching have influenced hundreds.

Early works like "Pies Pies Pies" (above) have a distinct resemblance to advertising, at first glance, complete with bright lighting and dark shadows. But the more one looks, the more interesting the pies become, the shadows varying widely from plate-to-plate, the pies and crusts vibrating with complements, slathered down with brush strokes as luscious as whipped cream. He was said to have been so delighted with this painting that he laughed out loud. One can see why. The repetitive, simple shapes, the deceptively similar slices of pie, the different shadow colors and hints simply make me smile every time I look at the work.

"Two Paint Cans," 1987
Another favorite of mine is the dazzling "Two Paint Cans," from 1987. In this one the colors are deliciously saturated, the reflective paint cans dripping complementary colors on opposite sides, one topless and the other yet to be opened. In this as in all of his work, the paint itself is a celebrated part of the work, applied in thick, delighted strokes. The shadows themselves show opposite color temperatures--the reflected shadows on the cans are a warm dark brown but the cast shadows behind the cans are a deep cold navy blue. Mr. Thiebaud's sense of color and brushwork has always been dazzling to me.

"24th Street Intersection," 1977
Around a decade earlier Mr. Thiebaud had begun painting cityscapes of the dizzying San Francisco Hills, first with "Potrero Street," and then "24th Street Intersection," (right) which always makes me feel as if I'm falling. He went on to paint quite a few others, each providing a vertiginous view of the hills of the city. He continued these cityscapes of San Francisco, along with still life, during the 1980s and 1990s, adding the occasional beach scene, with crowds, and a whole body of work with an airborne viewpoint.

"Farm Channel," 1996
The cityscapes are deceptive, it seems to me, because they're actually composed of simple shapes that come near to abstraction. They work on both a realist level and an abstract one, which is a delight to see. He manipulates our perception and gives the receptive viewer much to contemplate. In some of the early cityscapes like "24th Street Intersection," too, there seems to be a debt to Edward Hopper, but perhaps that's simply the Queen Anne architecture. Many times too when looking at these particular works by Mr. Thiebaud, one sees something of the work of Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series.

Besides paint itself and as itself, clearly simple shapes and their arrangements fascinated the artist, as they have kept me staring more than once. Although firmly in the representational camp of artists rather than abstractionists, Mr. Thiebaud's pleasure in paint and its application is very appealing and his dedication to simplicity and colors continue to make me smile.
Favorite Artists
Favorite Artists 2
Favorite Artists 3--Grant Wood
Favorite Artists 4--Diego Velazquez
Favorite Artists 5--Andrew Wyeth

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Caring for Artists' Brushes

When you read about caring for equipment, one of the most confusing seems to be what to do with those expensive brushes. Long ago I learned to wipe away excess paint, rinse carefully in mineral spirits and dry, wash in lukewarm water with gentle soap and then condition my natural fiber brushes with conditioning gel. Synthetic brushes require less--wipe, rinse, wash. One of the more controversial recommendations that one reads on social media is storing brushes in oil. Many swear by the use of an oil to not only store brushes but to clean them too. Brushes are quite varied, though, both in materials and in manufacture, which makes for serious confusion. (This post refers only to oil painting. Watercolor and water media brushes obviously shouldn't be cleaned with or stored in oil.) 

Hog Bristle Brushes (Four Shapes)
A quick review of brush types is in order. First, there are brushes made with natural hair or fibers. Among this enormous group are hog bristle brushes and natural hair brushes (sable, for example). While I've no data, one suspects that these are the kinds of brushes in widest use by serious painters. The second group of brushes are made with synthetic fibers like nylon (Golden Taklon is an example). Caring for these different kinds of hair and fibers is necessarily going to be different--one method doesn't necessarily fit all.

There has been wide discussion online about how best to care for oil painting brushes, with a loud contingent recommending cleaning them in an oil and then storing them in oil as well. This particular regime and habit grew out of sign painting and has been adapted by some to care for their oil brushes. However, it seems to me that at least some of those folks may not realize that the method may not be the best for all of their expensive brushes.

Several Sizes of Round Sable Brushes
Considering that cleaning and storing brushes is a critical skill for oil painters, it seemed reasonable to ask an experienced sign painter who is also an oil painter about the process. I interviewed my friend Richard Bingham, who operates Idaho Graphics for this post.

Q. Before we get to cleaning oil brushes, can you discuss the types of brushes used by sign painters and how they were kept?
RB: Sure. Hog-bristle cutters, flats, and strokes were segregated by color groups. So there were separate sets for red, yellow, blue, etc. Each was wrapped in brown paper in way to preserve the shape and kept in cans of mineral spirits between uses. They were never washed in solvents and soap and water. Soft hair brushes were kept with their fibers in a non-drying oil.

Q:  Why do sign painters use an oil to clean and store their brushes?
RB: Sign painters use (or used--many signs are no longer hand painted) primarily soft brushes for lettering, fitches, quills with brown or grey hair, camel, ox, and other natural hair, and of course they were using mostly alkyd enamels that dried rapidly, were of a consistent viscosity, and generally controlled it with "hot" solvents like turpentine, mineral spirits, automotive thinners, Penetrol, and other rather nasty stuff. Throw into the mix that brushes were used all day every day and cleaning brushes and keeping them soft in suitable oil made sense.

Q: How did they clean brushes?
RB: As is recommended for any brush, thorough cleaning well into the heel and hafting of hairs [i.e. the ferrule] is especially important. Using a light oil that can penetrate well can eliminate paint residues when properly worked into the heel of a brush. Of course, drying oils are "out" since they would ultimately be counterproductive if the brushes were put aside for any length of time.

Q. Okay, so if drying oils aren't good for brush storage, what oil can be used? 
RB: Sign painters have been known to use motor oil, which is a poor choice, castor oil (which, amazingly, behaves as a drying oil given enough time), lecithin (a generic term for a group of fatty compounds found in plants and animals and a component of many lettering enamels), and neatsfoot oil. Of course, the possibility of contaminating one's paint with a problematic oil is a consideration.

Q. You're both an oil painter and sign painter. What do you recommend for cleaning and storing oil painters' brushes?
RB: Soft hair brushes may profit from the sign shop method--storing in a non-drying oil--but hog bristle, being a hollow-shaft hair, eventually becomes oil-saturated and "logy," losing it's stiffer handling and defeating the purpose of the type of brush.

So in summary, if you're interested in reducing your use of solvents, perhaps storing some of your brushes in oil would be useful. However:
  • Do not store hog bristle brushes in oil unless you don't care if they become soft and feel rather mushy. Instead, wipe out excess paint, wash them in warm (not hot) water, rinse and store with the fibers upright. If you're careful, you can manage this without solvents.
  • Synthetic fiber brushes like nylon can be treated the same as bristle brushes--no solvents, mostly--and do not need an oil storage bath.
  • Storing soft brushes--sables, and so on--with the hairs in oil may be useful if you don't use inappropriate kinds of oils. 
Previous Posts on Brushes:
Brushes Part 3 Care and Maintenance
Brushes Part 2
Brushes Part 1

Friday, November 23, 2018

The Day After

Gone Shopping...

If you stumbled in here on Black Friday, sorry to say there isn't much going on. But okay, here's a self portrait:

"Selfie," 2018

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Art

Our American holiday of Thanksgiving is coming very soon. The holiday is interesting because many Americans aren't completely clear about its origins and traditions. We attribute the holiday to 17th century Pilgrims in funny clothes feasting with local natives, but its origin is more complex. Yes, Pilgrims did hold a harvest feast of thanksgiving with local natives but others in North America and elsewhere held similar festivities on various occasions. For many decades an autumn feast of Thanksgiving was very much a local or regional event rather than a national holiday. The national holiday of Thanksgiving that we celebrate now has its roots in the American Civil War. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving as a way to ask God to care for those who had become "...widows, mourners, orphans, or sufferers..." in that war, and as a way of asking for healing of the wounds of the nation. The holiday was to be celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November, and it was except for a brief period when it was moved up a week. (It is also true that other proclamations of a day of thanksgiving were made, notably by George Washington, but it is the one by Lincoln that carried over into a U.S. holiday.)

Norman Rockwell, "Freedom From Want," 1943
For most of us now, Thanksgiving is the day in November when we get together, eat too much, watch football and nap. For many, it can commemorate a time of a completed harvest, of settling in for the darker months and of warmth and comfort, each in our own snuggery. Regardless, the American holiday is mostly secular. Our Thanksgiving art reflects those attitudes too, seems to me.

Probably the best-known and liked American Thanksgiving painting is by Norman Rockwell, but it wasn't painted for that holiday. It's part of a Rockwell's four painting series that was used during World War II to raise money for war bonds. The series by Mr. Rockwell was based on "The Four Freedoms," enumerated in President Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union speech. The freedoms enumerated were freedom from want and fear and freedom of speech and religion. The painting "Freedom From Want" did actually make a cover of the Saturday Evening Post during March 1943 rather than at Thanksgiving. But it's certainly appropriate for November.

J.C. Leyendecker, "Saturday Evening Post Cover" 1928
One of Norman Rockwell's own heroes was J.C. Leyendecker, who did covers for the Post himself, even before Mr. Rockwell. In the example here, Mr. Leyendecker gives homage to the Pilgrims and to to football, which even in 1928 was an American Thanksgiving event. Mr. Leyendecker continued doing the annual Thanksgiving cover for the magazine during much of the 1930s.

For me, perhaps the most poignant Thanksgiving painting is another by Norman Rockwell, this time the Thanksgiving cover for the Post in 1945. "Home for Thanksgiving," (left) shows a soldier home from the war, grinning and doing K.P. duty for his mother. He has survived the war and made it home, the wrinkles in his face a testament to what he's been through. He wears a military shirt but civilian shoes, no rank visible anywhere, and the patch on his shoulder suggesting he is an Air Force veteran. In his bravura way Mr. Rockwell places the fixings for a big dinner on the table behind the pair, a foretaste of a true feast of thanks.

The soldier's mother is of course the entire civilian nation, overjoyed at the return of their sons and husbands, yet grieving for the enormous loss; thankful for deliverance.        

This year, Lincoln's hope that the wounds of the nation can be bound up by a national day of thanksgiving is a more fervent wish than in many years. 


Friday, November 16, 2018

The Joy of Drawing

Thomas Fluharty has been one of my favorite contemporary artists for a long while. Mr. Fluharty is one of the more versatile artists working today. That is, he has worked in numerous media, from oil painting to digital illustration. His work has been on numerous magazine covers, including Mad magazine, Time, and others. His work has been featured in The Weekly Standard as well. Besides being a phenomenal draftsman and painter he teaches students via the online site Schoolism. Active online, Mr. Fluharty owns one of the most upbeat, positive and uplifting voices on social media.

This week I received my copies of  two of Mr. Fluharty's books, The Joy of Drawing and The Art of the Sketch. These two books are, quite simply, gems. The newer one, Joy of Drawing, was just published in October after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The book contains selections from Mr. Fluharty's Prismacolor Indigo Bleu 901 series, sketches made using a type of blue pencils by that name. The book is a result of a very successful Kickstarter campaign
and is now available on his website, linked above, as is the earlier Art of the Sketch.

For the past few years, Mr. Fluharty has done hundreds of drawings and sketches using the Prismacolor blue pencils mentioned. He says that these provide him with a wide range of opportunities to produce great lines and values but carry the challenge of erasability since they smudge rather than disappearing cleanly. Like other media that aren't readily erased, the artist must work carefully and slowly; a mark made will remain there. The benefit, on the other hand, is that such care and deliberateness is essential in making a successful drawing.

Thomas Fluharty, "Horse," Prismacolor Bleu pencil, 2018
As part of the campaign, the books supporters at various levels received not only one or two books but also a signed individual print. Each book also contains a unique sketch by Mr. Fluharty done on the inside cover. Mine are wonderful for a number of reasons. The first sketch (inside cover of The Joy of Drawing) is a horse's head, likely rooted in his interest in the American cowboy, done in Prismacolor blue. The horse looks rather cynical and tired, which I suppose many cowboys' horses might have felt, given how hard they were worked. Regardless, the sketch is a fine example of the entire body of work, and a worthy accompaniment to the contents.
Thomas Fluharty, "Ingres," ink, 2018
The other book (The Art of the Sketch) is a few years older, published as a retrospective look at the artist's sketching life. It contains establishing sketches in large formats, allowing the student to study his techniques and ideas as Mr. Fluharty developed them. Replete with caricatures of well-known politicians and celebrities, it's a dazzling collection of work cross various media, from graphite to digital. Inside the cover of my copy Mr. Fluharty made an ink drawing that is a take on the work of Ingres, the famous French artist of the early 19th century. It's clear from the drawing how much the artist reveres Ingres, but the sketch stands alone as great fun, in my opinion, the heavy-lidded woman showing us the hint of a smirk.

The greatest thing about these books and the artist himself is their display of his deep and fundamental love for humanity and for drawing. The beauty of these books is the size of the reproductions--many full-page--that give the reader important insights into the artist's thinking and methods. It's actually the stated goal to provide "...close-ups and insights as to how I think and create." But even if you're not an artist seeking instruction and inspiration (which are both present in abundance), you'll find these books will give you pleasure.

(As this is written, the world of art, illustration, and the world in general are mourning the passing of Stan Lee, 95, who is featured on the cover of The Art of the Sketch. The original is 40x24, exceptionally large for a drawing. Mr. Lee was a natural subject. More than three decades ago Mr. Fluharty worked with Ken Bald, an artist who was Stan Lee's best friend, and he knew Mr. Lee as well. Mr. Lee of course was the creative force behind the flourishing of Marvel Comics and the entire superhero genre during the mid-20th century.)

In sum, if you are someone who loves beautiful drawing, someone who wants to study technique, or someone who simply likes eye candy, each of these books has a great deal for you. In short, this pair of delightful books are certain to please. They are only available through his website, linked below.

Fluharty Books

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Vincent van Gogh, "Bridge in the Rain, (after Hiroshige), 1887
In the late 19th century, a passion for the art of Japan, particularly woodblock prints known as ukiyo-e swept through Europe. In France, quite a number of artists were significantly influenced, although others were also smitten. For example, Vincent van Gogh collected woodblock prints by various Japanese masters including Hiroshige who is now considered perhaps the last great master of ukiyo-e, and Hokusai, the great master of the common man, whose work I mentioned a few posts back. Moreover, a number of painters studied these works and spent time copying some of them, van Gogh being one.

The fascination with Japanese works was given the name Japonisme (in French), and refers to not only fine art but also architecture, music, performance, dance and decorative art. Japan had been isolated from the outside world for two hundred years, its cultural path mostly hidden from the West, and of course not exporting its own arts. Japanese goods and art were known, but only in minuscule quantities, while western arts were known and studied by Japanese masters. In any event, the widespread availability of inexpensive Japanese prints on paper was a revelation.

Mary Cassatt, "Woman Bathing," oil, 1890
Among others, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas. Gustav Klimt, and Vincent van Gogh were captivated by the Japanese use of bold color, in flat masses, asymmetric compositioin and reduced detail. Van Gogh in particular copied prints he admired, including one of figures crossing a bridge by Hiroshige, above. Others, like Mary Cassatt, the famous American ex-pat painter worked to give their paintings the same kind grace and impact in contemporary terms. In "Woman Bathing," 1890, right, she emulated the elegance she saw in Japanese works, for example.

Even now, more than a century later, we study the works of ukiyo-e masters like Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Kesai Eisen, who was a contemporary. As I mentioned before about Hokusai, I've found the study of these works to be very productive, particularly the Hokusai Manga, the great compendium of woodcuts of the common people of Japan. His use of line is a wonderful study, alone. But add in his compositions, coloring, and humanity too.

After Hokusai, "Saisoro," digital 2018
While I am not a printmaker, digital media are a malleable and worthwhile method of emulation. The image here is "Saisoro," or "Old man gathering mulberries," that appeared in the Manga. The image refers to a dance performed in Japan in the Imperial Court since the 9th century. The single dancer is dressed in white, carries a stick, and shows great decrepitude. The image has also been thought by some to represent how Hokusai saw himself in his advancing years. Regardless, it's impressive to see what can be done with a brush and a few tints. Hokusai was a true master.

Copying Hokusai

Friday, November 09, 2018

Further Into Fall

The clocks are set back, the evenings dark, and the trees are almost stripped of leaves, excepting the green patch of undergrowth here and there along Druid Hill Creek. An earlier post mentioned that our spate of heavy rain might result in dimmer autumn foliage. As it happened, the trees and shrubbery along our stretch of Druid Hill has been brilliant and has lasted longer than expected. Some large trees may have suffered during the dry days of summer and those leaves fell early and in abundance. But other mature relatives along the street and the creek supplied brilliance and a lot of it.

Fall is an especially fun time for sketching, and the past couple of weeks have been particularly so. The burning bush shrubs in many gardens went bright crimson, sometimes unbelievably bright. And maples have given us a lot of reds, rusts, bright oranges and even yellows.

The watercolor and ink painting above was actually the second of this particular group, but hasn't been posted before. There was a kind of parade of changing leaves, punctuated by others fully-fledged and still-green. The scene is near the studio, sketched on the street. The light was filtering through the foliage, making their colors even more brilliant. A sapling like a yellow lollipop stood out. Northern grasses like ours stay green longer into the cool months, but even the grass had begun to go to a dormant yellow. I laid in a rough drawing then painted the colors in several layers, being careful to let each dry before proceeding carefully to the next. When I was satisfied with the colors and shapes and values I added ink here and there to provide dark details. This particular painting is about 10x5 in a pocket sketchbook.

The next of these watercolors is about the same size as the first above. There was a sapling along the drive that had begun to yellow just the slightest, while in the middle ground an exceptionally brilliant maple and a very large burning bush competed for attention. I drew the bare outlines in graphite, painted the background and reserved places for the middle and foreground, then drew masses of foliage with waterproof ink. Painting took a couple of steps to secure a three-dimensional appearance for the tree and shrub. This is also about 10x5.

Only a couple of days later the colors began to show even more. Down the street was this array rusty reds and orange, greens going yellow, and This was sketched and painted similarly to the one above, in the same sketchbook.

Sometimes it's fun to try to produce a sketch from memory. The yellowed tree and sapling in this sketch were inspired by a patch of woods across Druid Hill Creek, but this isn't an exact record. In the case of this one I spent a lot of time observing and memorizing the masses of leaves still on the tree. The topmost twigs and branches had begun losing leaves, making them lacy and less mass-y, so I wanted to make certain to include that tracery of twigs as well as the weighty look of the rest. The small sapling in the lower right was closer to the main tree, and angled away from it; the mental trick as to reverse it in memory. The yellows of the leaves were more buttery but I wanted to punch the chroma more. The drawing and painting process was very similar to the others above, but here I used much less ink, preferring to blur the background much more.

In the very few days since these last sketches, the cold winds of the north and blustery rain have arrived. These leaf patterns and colors no longer exist, except spread below in fading puddles. The last sketch here (L) was actually done the day before the yellow trees above, but exemplifies what the weather became--cold, wet and bitter--that stripped most of the trees.

Sketching the fall is not only fun, it can add to the mental library of a painter, too. Using quick and portable media like watercolor (or other watermedia) one can sketch as a way of notation for other work. The colors, shapes, and light of the times can be translated to studio works, even when you don't reproduce the sketch but only use it for guidance.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Selling Chop Suey

In a few days, Christie's will auction one of my favorite paintings. "Chop Suey," a 1929 work by Edward Hopper, will be auctioned the evening of November 13, and one suspects it will sell for even more than the estimate of $70-100m, given that this is one of the few major works by Mr. Hopper that is still in private hands, plus the iconic beauty of the piece itself.
Edward Hopper, "Chop Suey," oil, 32x38, 1929
According to Christie's "Chop Suey" was inspired by a Chinese restaurant where Hopper often dined. Overlooking Columbus Circle, it's obviously long gone today. If this was simply a painting of a New York interior, the work would deserve interest for its composition and ideas. But Mr. Hopper shows us his genius in almost every corner of the work, turning it from a good work to a stunning one. Although the partly-seen sign is perhaps the major color point, the other parts are a delight too. The colors contribute to a pleasing abstraction of shapes, the far blue rectangles playing off the dominant yellows. Notice too how he continued that byplay, placing the blue of the near woman's cloche against the bright yellow light coming through the painted window. And see how that blue is echoed by the tiny hint of blue shadow in the lampshade against that same yellow. In the background, a man is in cool shadow, pushing the two figures farther back against the blue light of the far window. The woman in the red cloche on the far left breaks the window frame and helps with the perspective. Also crucial to the painting are the two angular shapes in that far window--reflected lights of two differing intensities, one a scumbled blue--that bounce our gaze back to the lady in green, the actual focus of the painting. Her dress color is the combination, by the way, of the two major colors of the piece. Her face and neck are at the apex of a cone of light coming down through the enormous windows, lighting up the tabletop and reflecting onto the figure, the yellow spilling over her left shoulder. To my eyes this is simply a magnificent work.

Although Chop Suey is being sold from a private collection, I hope it will be acquired by a public institution like, say, Crystal Bridges, the new museum of American art down in Arkansas which is starting to accumulate a fine collection and has a big bankroll. Regardless of the acquiring institution, lets hope the public will have access to one of Edward Hopper's greatest works.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Copying Hokusai

Western art has been influenced by the East for centuries. At the end of the 19th century, European painters in particular were deeply affected by the new wide availability of Japanese woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e. That influence was deeply felt, for example, by post-impressionists like Gaugin and van Gogh. The impact of Japanese art and aesthetics was called Japonisme.

Hokusai, "Great Wave Off Kanagawa," woodblock print, ca. 1830
The master of ukiyo-e who became best-known, and even beloved in the West is Hokusai. His "Great Wave" (r) from a series called 36 View of Mount Fuji is instantly recognized worldwide and endlessly reproduced.

Over the decades, the culture and art of Japan have been a particular interest of my own. During years in the Air Force duty regularly took me to Japan, mostly Honshu, the island that is home to Tokyo, Kyoto, and much history. Besides art, the literature (haiku and Matsuo Basho, for example) and customs of the country have also been fascinating to me. Although Hokusai and a host of other masters of ukiyo-e have been known and even familiar to me, I hadn't spent much time analyzing their works.

Hokusai (and for that matter other masters) did not do their own woodblock cuts. That was done by a different master, based on drawings by Hokusai. This relatively little-known fact means that the prints are in some ways the work of two people; and Hokusai himself seems to have been dissatisfied with the work of the wood cutters more often than not, complaining in letters to his publishers. Still, these plus preliminary drawing are widely available, and the study of the master includes much preliminary work.

Hokusai, "Self portrait," 1839 ink
One of the inspiring characteristics that Hokusai embodied is dedication to the work. He spent hours and hours drawing, striving always for perfection of line and beauty. Although he lived to be nearly ninety, he professed to only be learning how to draw when in his eighties.

For a long while much of Hokusai's drawing was difficult to find and less well-known than his more important print series like those of Fuji. But in the early 1950s James Michener published a wonderful compilation of the master (available but scarce) based on his own taste and research. The books that were published by Hokusai are called Hokusai Manga (Hokusai's Sketches). Based on volumes of drawings by the master published in Japan between 1814 and 1878, the Michener book is a great way to become acquainted with the work of Hokusai, but distill the thousands of drawings into a few hundred. For most western readers, that's probably fine. The Manga are books of drawings of Japanese daily life, animals, landscapes, and even erotica. The last few were published after Hokusai's death and are less valued, but the rest were best-selling throughout Japan immediately as they were published, making Hokusai quite famous.

For an artist who is interested in the drawings, copying them is an interesting exercise. Although appreciative of his work, I'd never done any copying of Hokusai, mostly because it is so different from my own. However, here are a few copies of Hokusai's drawings, from some published in the Michener book. What one immediately sees is the economy of the master. His lines summarize the figures and gestures beautifully. Here I copied two figures in the broad hats of his times, one dashing along with hands holding his cloak shut, the other shuffling under a loaded yoke. Hokusai tinted these woodblocks with only three colors, grey, black, and pink, but it in these images it is the lines that make the picture.

Hokusai not only studied the lives of the common people of Japan, he enjoyed making images of sumo wrestlers either in the ring or relaxing. This wrestler is resting, possibly after a match, and fanning himself. This figure, like the one above, was done digitally using Sketchbook and a Wacom tablet. I was interested in the drawings more than the tinted woodblocks, seeking to emulate the master's economical line.

In the ultimate of cheekiness, here's my copy of Hokusai's self portrait, posted above. I omitted the facial features, focusing instead on the way he rendered the sinuousness of his old-man frame. The folds and draping of the figure are cues to gesture and proportion. This drawing is actually quite small, perhaps not more than 4-5 inches if printed in real dimensions. Perhaps it would be instructive to look for a print done in the original dimensions.

For those who find Asian art and culture engaging, try looking at Hokusai's drawings. You just might love them as much as me.