Thursday, May 27, 2010


There are artists who make great big pictures of great big subjects:

Albert Bierstadt's "A Storm in the Rocky Mountains" is 12 feet wide.

And there are artists who make tiny little pictures of tiny little subjects:

A page from a gothic illuminated manuscript (circa 1494) at Peacay's superb Bibliodyssey blog.

But it takes a special talent to make tiny little pictures of great big subjects.

Observe how some of the masters of the graphic arts-- Mort Drucker, Leonard Starr and Noel Sickles-- squeeze a feeling of great space and weight into pictures that are not much larger than a postage stamp.

Here you see the difference between digital compression by a computer and artistic compression by a true draftsman. Mort Drucker had a mere 3 inches to convey a school bus crossing a yawning chasm. His radical foreshortening of the bus and his condensed treatment of the bridge preserve our sense of perilous height despite the miniature scale.

Look at the wonderful clarity in this small drawing. Drucker conveys the great distance between the two planes, and the even greater distance to the ground below. His description of the ground contains just enough information to explain our altitude, but not enough to confuse or distract us from the men performing various complex functions. This is an amazing example of visual problem solving.

In Leonard Starr's On Stage, the artist convincingly portrays a huge snowball rolling off the side of a cliff.

In just a few inches of space, Noel Sickles gives us the feeling of immense heft of a battleship listing.

All representational artists create the illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional plane. However, it requires an excellent draftsman to convey great scale under such extreme limitations.

These are artists who have slipped the bonds of space limitations. You get the feeling they have the technical ability to implement anything their mind can conceive.

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