Saturday, July 18, 2009


A mediocre painter who wants to portray danger on the road ahead is likely to spell out the danger, perhaps even highlighting it with some corny lightning bolt.

But more talented artists achieve far more powerful results using a diverse array of imaginative solutions to the same problem:

In the following illustration, all that the brilliant Bernie Fuchs requires to create a sense of melancholy is a dangerous bend in the road and forlorn colors. This is the site where a football hero committed suicide by stepping in front of an onrushing truck. Fuchs' depiction of the merciless road is subtler than painting a body lying in the road or an ambulance speeding away, but it is far more effective and universal.

Here is how the illustration looked when published as a double page spread in Sports Illustrated (teamwork by Fuchs and famed art director Richard Gangel).

Next, rather than spotlight the danger (or illuminate it with a lightning bolt), the ingenious Phil Hale understands that it is far more frightening to speculate about what waits in the darkness, just beyond the reach of the beam of light:

Below, the talented Greg Manchess takes a different approach: look at how effectively he uses fog and shadow and eerie light to cast a sinister aura on an otherwise normal road.

It's not that difficult to paint realistically; it must have been far harder for Manchess to decide when to deviate from the safety of realism in order to disorient the viewer. He had to be selective in order to make us feel that the scene is taking place in an otherwise normal world where something is coming unglued. That is the point where an artist has to rely upon judgment and imagination, leaving behind technical manuals on perspective and lighting.

Each of these artists recognized the inadequacy of a literal approach for conveying menace. Each of them used ambiguity and restraint to draw the viewer's imagination into the creative process. Each of them had the technical skill to master a variety of elements to craft just the result they wanted.

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