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You want to see talent?

You guys have made some very kind comments about my artwork. I’m grateful. I thrive with your support. And I wish you all as much good and as much support for your own creative spirits as you’ve given me and mine.

But when it comes to talk of art talent, I take all praise with a large shaker of salt. Let me show you why. These are a few of the works of Bernie Fuchs — to my mind, the greatest illustrator of the twentieth century (a time that produced great illustration on a large scale). This was a man who performed miracles with color and light and who could both draw and design like nobody’s business.

One of his “mundane” sports illustrations

Annie Oakley

Women wading in water

Apparently Bernie’s idea of a rough sketch

Oh, the amazing things he did with light

Old cowboys

And everything else

Okay, it may not be reasonable to plant my amateur self next to the youngest person ever v*ted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame (bet you didn’t even know there was such a thing). Still, Bernie Fuchs is my illustrator idol, even though merely looking at the least of his works discourages the hell out of me.

He did some audaciously odd things, like when he painted John Kennedy and put the emphasis, of all places, on his shirt collar and cuffs (the brassy use of white is one of the things that’s always struck me most about Fuchs’ work).

The Kennedy family loved his portraits, though, and JFK siblings owned several Fuchs works. The man was even more amazing in that he had very little training and was missing three fingers on his right hand (though come to think of it, I’m not sure whether he was right- or left-handed).

In looking at another of his Kennedy portraits I not only see why the family loved them (oh, that false image of JFK as the healthy, vigorous, athletic King of Camelot!). I noticed something odd. Look at JFK’s left arm and the hand supporting his weight. Arms … do not bend that way. His hand could only be so far out from his arm if his wrist was broken, and in that case I don’t think he’d be putting all that weight on it!

So the first temptation is to say, “Hey, look! Great artists screw up, too.” And of course, they do. Renoir was mostly a fairly crappy draftsman. Toulouse-Lautrec couldn’t capture a likeness. Many a great artist set an eye or a nose slightly off-kilter even before cubism and fauvism and other good excuses for off-kilter features came along.

But I look at that “misplaced” hand on John Kennedy and I’m 99% sure Bernie Fuchs placed it that way exactly on purpose. He knew what was right for his painting. He needed the arm angled exactly as it was. He needed exactly that much of that hand showing for best artistic effect. So I’m hearing him say to himself, “Never mind that it makes the wrist an inch longer than it actually is in real life. I’m choosing to do it that way.”

And that, my dear and supportive friends, is TALENT.


  1. ellendra
    ellendra April 12, 2017 8:21 am

    If you want to compare, find something Fuchs did when he was first learning. Because that’s where you are. Nobody sits down and does great their first few tries. Or even their first hundred tries!

  2. Pat
    Pat April 12, 2017 9:05 am

    That truly IS talent — beautiful work! I love the centurion, and the water reflection with the wading women. He loves to play with contrasts.

    Re JFK’s boating picture: Granted the hand does look overly long, but yes, the arm could angle that way if he was stiff-arming it — i.e. pushing straight down because there was no other place to put the hand comfortably. (I never noticed before but, unless Fuchs was simply off that day, JFK may have had relatively short arms for his body, and that could account for the arm angle, too.)

  3. Claire
    Claire April 12, 2017 10:12 am

    Ellendra — I would love to see Fuchs’ early efforts! But I can’t claim to be just learning. I’m re-starting is all. And working to overcome psychological blocks. But I’m re-starting from the reality that I have at best an “above average” ability with art and that I don’t have the deep driving passion of my betters.

    I’m virtually certain Fuchs was one of those rare people whose talent was deeply inborn. Sure, he had to learn technique. But he had something even his supposed equals didn’t, something even better-trained and more practiced people didn’t. It was sublime.

    Pat — Good observation from somebody who knows anatomy. When I look at the top of that hand, I can envision what you say. When I look at the thumb side, though … nope. That thumb could not be where it is in relation to that arm.

  4. Claire
    Claire April 12, 2017 10:49 am

    Can’t disagree, Laird. Parrish also had that sublime something with light.

    Other candidates for great:
    Arthur Rackham
    Norman Rockwell
    Dean Cornwell
    N.C. Wyeth (a super contender)
    ADDED: Howard Pyle

    Then there were specialists like:
    Chesley Bonestell (pioneer of realistic science fiction art)
    Howard Brodie (wartime and courtroom illustrations; he actually did some work for me when he was at the end of his career and I at the beginning of mine)
    Milton Glaser (very stylized, very 1960s/70s)

    … guys who really stand out in their fields, but did only one thing super brilliantly

  5. Pat
    Pat April 12, 2017 11:48 am

    I, too, like Maxfield Parrish; in fact have copies of two of his paintings on my computer.

    But I’m confused about something. In my view, there is a different aesthetic value between drawing/illustrating and painting. Is there no difference, according to others here?

    While illustration and painting may depict the same subject, I tend to prefer the lighter touch of illustration; often paintings are “too heavy” and too demanding of attention, whereas illustrating enhances the intent of the artist and meaning of the subject. But I consider that an internal response I receive, and has nothing to do with the quality of the work itself. But it is why I like Claire’s work — there is a lightness to her touch, no doubt due to the media she uses as well as her style.

    This from an illustrator (who has her own agenda, of course):

    And here:

    BTW, I don’t think selling devalues the work at all (which some artists do believe), nor do I think illustration is less artistic.

  6. ellendra
    ellendra April 12, 2017 12:52 pm

    I sometimes pick an online comic and re-read it from the very beginning. It’s amazing how much the skill and style can change. I’d estimate it takes an average of 1.5-2 years, drawing the same characters every day, for a comic artist to settle into their style. And that’s not including whatever artwork they did before the comic started.

    You start where you’re at.

    And Claire, I think you have a great deal of talent. If the voices in your head disagree, send ’em on over so I can straighten them out!

  7. Claire
    Claire April 12, 2017 12:59 pm

    “But I’m confused about something. In my view, there is a different aesthetic value between drawing/illustrating and painting. Is there no difference, according to others here?”

    Good damn question, Pat. And I suspect you’d get 100 different answers if you asked 100 different people. (And it’s just my prejudice, but also a prejudice built on experience; I’d ignore all the answers from people who consider the “fine” arts to be the only true arts.)

    Drawing: Something both fine artists and illustrators do. I grew up thinking that if a work was done in dry media (pencils, colored pencils, Conte crayon, charcoal) it was a drawing. These days I hear different and I’m not sure what to believe. These days I hear that if something covers the entire canvas or board, then it’s a painting even when it’s done in pastels or pencils.

    Illustration: Painting or drawing that tells a story and/or is designed to demonstrate something/draw the eye to something/enhance something other than the art itself.

    Painting: No difference, far as the quality of art or abilities of the artist, as this lovely post says. But fine-art painting is meant to be standalone, not demonstrative of some separate text, product, etc.

    However, anybody who looks at the “fine art” of (say) Goya or Daumier and doesn’t perceive a story … ain’t lookin’. In fact, in his day Daumier was resolutely “commercial” ( and only postumously recognized as a fine artist. William Blake, too; the poet and artist. All those mystical etchings/lithographs he did were illustrations during his life and are “fine art” now.

    Eye of the beholder!

    My $.02. From somebody else, you might get a whole nickel’s worth. 🙂

  8. Claire
    Claire April 12, 2017 1:03 pm

    BTW, Pat, thanks for the link to the Illustration Art blog. I was there yesterday (it’s where I found Fuchs’ Kennedy portraits). But I missed something until you sent me back. Four years ago we were supposed to have a biography/art book on Bernie Fuchs. I looked for it in vain. Then, going back to that site, I saw that it’s coming out this July and is now available for pre-order. Yay! That blogger is the author.

  9. Claire
    Claire April 12, 2017 1:06 pm

    “You start where you’re at.

    “And Claire, I think you have a great deal of talent. If the voices in your head disagree, send ’em on over so I can straighten them out!”

    LOL! I’ll just do that, Ellendra. Thank you.

    And yeah, well-said on comic art. To me, that’s a particularly difficult form of art. I’m not a big fan of it, but I admire the extreme versatility and accuracy of detail it requires. A well-composed graphic novel is a beautiful piece of design containing wonderful drawings or paintings.

  10. Laird
    Laird April 13, 2017 8:44 am

    I’m still not clear on the distinction between illustration and painting, but don’t sweat it: I probably never will be. Perhaps the distinction (at least in the 20th century) is the degree of pretension! Personally, I’d far rather look at a Fuchs or Parrish work than a Picasso or a Miró!

    And I was glad to see you had Chesley Bonestell on your list. A great artist, too often overlooked.

  11. Comrade X
    Comrade X April 13, 2017 8:53 am

    My uncle was a painter, he had a gallery in NY & later in Mass., he has since pass away, I like simple because of it’s purity, so have you heard of Maud;

    Meet the woman who painted in a one-room shack and became a national treasure….

    …She was born Maud Dowley in rural Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia in 1903. As a result of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, her hands were deformed and her shoulders hunched. She had trouble lifting her chin. Tired of being mocked by her classmates, Lewis dropped out of school after the fifth grade…..

    I like the innocent in her paintings and I don’t think she ever did shadows.

  12. Claire
    Claire April 13, 2017 9:04 am

    That Maud Lewis story is awesome. I’ve never quite trusted the notion of “great” folk artists. Maybe it’s just prejudice, but folk art always seemed by definition “not great.” Still … what a life, what vivid and expressive art, and how interesting that she was influenced by nobody but her own creativity.

    And no shadows! I hate shadows (that is, I hate trying to master the tricksy little devils).

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