Thursday, May 12, 2016

More on Armour

After writing about G. D. Armour yesterday, I took his autobiography, Bridle & Brush down from the shelf and re-read a few familiar chapters. His life's account is a pleasant read, except for the parts where he goes out deer stalking or bull fighting. It's much easier to relate to him than Munnings (The Start, The Second Burst and The Finish) or even Lionel Edwards (Reminiscences of a Sporting Artist). For some reason, whenever I try reading their biographies, it's a case of "you had to be there". The drinking, carousing and all night talks about art are never as funny, exciting or interesting on the printed page as they seem to be to the participants. Armour's style is more direct. For instance, his explanation of how he arrived at the title of the book is disarmingly honest - he submitted a title which the editors condemned, so he left it to them. I could borrow his dissection of the title to explain the title of my blog, "The Fox's Brush" - the reference to the fox is pretty obvious, being that elusive creature that has fascinated anyone who's ever ridden to hounds, the brush being a familiar foxhunting term, but in this instance refers to "the instrument by means of which pictures - good, bad and indifferent - are painted." George Denholm Armour was a very down-to-earth fellow, with no pretentions and an admirable, workmanlike attitude towards his art.
Born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, he was never a bona-fide member of the smart hunting set of southern England. He grew up in Liverpool, then attended Edinburgh College of Art. Like F. A Stewart, another Scotsman and one of my all-time favorite painters, he doesn't have the name recognition of  some of his contemporaries, Cecil Aldin, Alfred Munnings and Lionel Edwards, at least not in this country. Although he wasn't as prolific as they were, Armour produced a large body of work for which he deserves some recognition.

He contributed work to Punch for nearly forty years, after an introduction by his friend and fellow artist, Phil May, doing mostly hunting and racing subjects. He started out illustrating a series of proverbs, but soon became the go-to sporting artist for the paper. On the subject of hunting he says, "To deal with such things as hunting, or, in fact, any sport, if it is to appeal to those who participate in those sports, it is absolutely necessary to take part in them oneself. There are technicalities quite unnoticeable to the townsman, mistakes which would damn the picture entirely to the people who know, and would cause them to laugh at the artist instead of at his joke." (And we all know how critical "those people" can be!) He goes on to say that he had to find his own subjects most of the time, and rarely had ideas submitted to him through the editorial department or from readers.
Armour preferred working in pencil, which he says was his favorite medium. I find this interesting because his pen & ink drawings are so much stronger than either his pencil drawings or oil paintings. When Country Life enlisted his services in 1911-12, he was able to use pencil for his illustrations, explaining, "At that time Country Life was, I think, a good deal ahead of most weekly papers in the matter of paper and printing, and in view of this I tried most things in pencil - a favourite medium of mine and a new thing for a weekly paper, I think." It seems he was initially hired as an illustrator but after a lot of "word spinning" with a writer who had no knowledge or interest in sport or country matters, Armour ultimately ended up doing the writing as well, which he, "most regretfully...had to give up after about two years' hard but enjoyable work." Country Life published books as well as a magazine and the quality of their printing allowed him to render his drawings in pencil, which he seems to have thoroughly enjoyed.

Armour was also quite proud of his illustrations for Surtees' Jorrocks, which he did for Messrs. Hodder and Stroughton, the publishers, starting in 1908. They were watercolors painted on holland (paper or board?), a method he says was invented by Joseph Crawhall, another friend and colleague. He even mounted an exhibition of these paintings and sold most of them. He was never satisfied with his illustrations for Reynard The Fox or the Ghost of Heath Run, by John Maesfield, done much later, and attributes this to not having got back into his stride after the Great War. I think he just enjoyed painting more than drawing.
In 1913 he went to America to cover the International Polo Matches on Long Island for Country Life. He attended the polo matches at the Meadow Brook Club and racing at Belmont. He had planned an exhibition and sale of his paintings in New York City at the same time, but had to agree not to sell any of them because of the heavy customs duty which needed to be paid in advance before they could be "landed".
I wholly subscribe to Armour's assertions that one must be a participant in the sport one is depicting for accuracy and conviction. But what can one make of the fact that Paul Brown, one of best sporting artists to put pencil to paper, never threw a leg over a horse? His drawings of horses and riders in all sports are very convincing. His books on the subjects of polo, racing and hunting are still highly sought after, seventy-five years after they first appeared in print, and he is recognized as one of the truly great illustrators of the 20th century. His pictures of horses and riders in all kinds of poses, and the skill and imagination with which he draws them are well worth studying. He's written a few books on how to draw horses and people which are straightforward and informative, but they're a bit disappointing because they oversimplify the subject.
Of course, I think every artist who teaches is somewhat guilty of this oversimplification of their techniques. Black & White by Brown, Simplified Drawing, by Paul Brown is a perfect example of this. In the book, he teaches his technique of drawing figures using tracing paper overlays, in order to easily modify a pose till it looks convincing without doing a lot of erasing. It also encourages the student to "draw boldly, without fear of mistakes".
He goes on to say that saving all the overlays enables the student to recall any part of any drawing and put it to good use if need be, because nothing's been erased. Lastly, he assures us that all that's needed is a pad of semitransparent typewriter paper and a fairly soft five-cent pencil. (Remember this was written in 1939.) So much for expensive art supplies!
One can see from the lesson shown here that it's possible to arrive at Figure 5 from Figure 1, but it's not as easy as it seems, and one can get frustrated trying to master this seemingly simple technique. The back of the book has cut-out shapes which one can fasten together and "pose" which I haven't bothered to try yet, as I can't quite see how flat, two-dimensional shapes can be made to resemble a human figure in action. I've reproduced them below for anyone wanting to give it a try.


One further note. When you read an artist's biography, it's a great help to read their biographies online as well. Wikipedia gives a pretty good account of the fundamentals. It's like reading Cliff Notes, with all the major events, dates and places presented in an orderly fashion. One can then cross reference this factual summary with the writer's own embellished account!
I highly recommend reading artists' biographies. Reading about the experiences of other artists makes me realize that creating art is universal, with the same obstacles to overcome and the same achievements to celebrate. The Internet has made everything available with just the click of a button, so it's easy to get your hands on just about any book you can think of. Obscure titles are being reprinted at a fraction of the out-of-print versions, so look on Amazon and other booksellers' websites. My favorite place for finding obscure titles is, but when searching you have to be very accurate when typing in the fields. Any misspelling produces a "sorry, no such book" message. I'm a terrible speller and am constantly having to revise my searches.
Books of interest: Cecil Aldin, Time I was Dead, Munnings, The Start, The Second Burst and The Finish, Lionel Edwards, Reminiscences of a Sporting Artist, G.D. Armour, Bridle & Brush.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Beauty of Pen & Ink

I wrote yesterday that I was getting ready for the Bryn Mawr Hound Show. A large part of the work I'll be showing are pen & ink drawings of hounds. Drawing with pen and ink is one of life's simple pleasures. I love to study the pen work of the grand old British Masters (as I call them) of the Edwardian era.
One of my favorite draftsmen is G. D. Armour, a British sporting artist whose colleagues include Lionel Edwards, Cecil Aldin and Charlie Johnson Payne (a.k.a. Snaffles). Snaffles is best known for his humorous color prints, including his most popular "The Best View in Britain" & "The Worst View in Britain", which made him a household name in the hunt countries of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. George Denholm Armour never enjoyed the same fame and name recognition in this country as Snaffles and Cecil Aldin, but he was every bit as funny, and a better draftsman. I discovered his cartoons for Punch, or The London Charavari, on eBay years ago. His sense of humor was second only to his exquisite pen and ink drawings.
G. D. Armour illustrated a number of books, including Surtees's Jorrocks, but they're not nearly as interesting as his black & white drawings. I much prefer Reynard The Fox, or The Ghost of Heath Run, by John Maesfield, with Armour's bold drawings.
Armour also wrote and illustrated several volumes, including his autobiography, Bridle & Brush, which tells of his life as a sporting artist and his service in The Great War. Copies of the book can be found on as well as on eBay. I hope my blog will motivate some readers to seek out his work and discover his great appeal for themselves.
Here are a few of G. D. Armour's cartoons:

For my own pen and ink work, I use Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pens and a Canson Acid Free Sketch book available in any art supply store - even out in the burbs. I've never gotten used to A.C. Moore or Michael's as the only purveyor of art supplies after living in New York City for so many years. Pearl Paints on Canal Street was the only place I ever bought art supplies, even after I moved to New Jersey. With the demise of that iconic store a few years ago, I've been forced to scramble to find alternatives. There are none. Dick Blick/Utrecht is a poor substitute. They're expensive and cater to main stream arts and crafters, not art students or professional artists. Perhaps I'm just a snob, but no art supply store I ever frequented in my youth had rubber stamp kits and silk flowers. New York Central Art Supply is the best of what's left in New York. If you know of any other great art supply stores in the New York metro area, please let me know.
Back to Pilot disposable fountain pens. Although the line they make is not as variable as the old fashioned drawing pens, (the kind you dip in India ink), they're still wonderful to draw with. I found them in one of the giant box stores out here in the boonies, in a three-pack of black, blue and purple. They're wonderful for outdoor work because there's no messy, leaky pens or bottles to cart around with you. As I said before, they don't let you vary the line much. With a "real" drawing pen, you can increase the pressure on the point to spread the nib, making the line thicker or thinner as you vary the pressure. With the Varsity pens, you can get thicker and thinner lines too, but the control is not quite as accurate. A small trade off for the convenience and ease of using a disposable fountain pen.
I write with the blue pen, and people are always asking me where they can get them. They're becoming hard to find in stationery stores, so I order them on eBay in boxes of 12. They now come in a variety of colors, usually in a set of 10 or 12 or something. Not sure. Look online.
The drawings I did yesterday seemed a bit too timid. I did the sketch in pencil first and then redrew it with the pen and erased the pencil lines. They look too careful to me. I'm going to do one without a preliminary pencil drawing today. I think it gives a more spontaneous result.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Bryn Marw Hound Show

The Bryn Mawr Hound Show is fast approaching and I'm busily putting together an outdoor exhibition for the event. The weather is very predictable this time of year. It's either blazingly hot or raining. Last year it was like an oven. This year, considering the wet spring we've had, it may be the latter.
I love outdoor venues for exhibiting. You get to see a lot of the action, take photos and meet a lot of the competitors and spectators. It's a wonderful combination. Of course, there's a downside too.  Putting up and taking down an exhibit in one day is very hard work, and it doesn't get any easier the older you get. There's a 10' x 10' tent to pitch, GridWall to assemble, paintings to hang, not to mention packing & unpacking your vehicle for the excursion. Tables, chairs, tools for repairing anything that breaks, painting and photography equipment, PR materials and a hat are just a few of the items on my list. An assistant or helper is also recommended. I usually set up my booth myself, so it's possible to do it alone, but it's always nicer when you have someone helping.

If you've never attended a hound show, I recommend just going to watch the first time. Take a camera and some sketching materials of course, but mostly just observe. I find when I have a camera, I miss a lot because I'm too busy taking photographs. It also doesn't help you to train your memory.

The first thing you should do when you arrive is to purchase a program and acquaint yourself with some of the terms used at a hound show. Terms like "entered" and "unentered", Crossbred, PennMaryDel, couples, dogs, bitches, get and Jr. handlers can have you totally confused in a matter of minutes. Of course, none of this information is necessary to enjoy the colorful pageantry of the show. It will help you understand what's going on however, which will certainly enhance your experience. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I find that most people at hound shows have some knowledge of hounds and hunting, lots of enthusiasm and are quite happy to explain what's going on in any ring at any given time. It's usually not a good idea, however, to ask anyone who looks like they're about to enter the show ring!
First and foremost, there are the hounds. Splendidly colored in patches and splashes of white, black and brown, made even more interesting by the play of sunlight filtering through the trees onto their coats, one could spend a lifetime trying to capture the dazzling effect. Handlers run hither and yon in white kennel coats and black hats, sometimes leading three or four hounds at a time. The excitement is electrifying. Dapper judges stand in the middle of each ring, consulting their programs and making notes, while hounds circle the ring or stand attentively anticipating the appearance of a biscuit out of a handler's pocket! The eye is definitely quicker than the hand!

Spectators' fashions run the gamut from jeans and muckers to Seersucker suits, fanciful Kentucky Derby hats and dressy dresses. Hats are"de rigueur" for ladies. Even a baseball cap with a little black dress is better than no hat at all. My rule of thumb is to take everything from a winter parka to a bathing suit. That way you're sure to be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. I did say earlier that Bryn Mawr's weather is either unbearably hot or raining, but I've been in storms with gale force winds trying to keep my tent and artwork from being lifted off the ground!

I have tried sketching at hound shows with pen and sketchbook, but it's extremely difficult as everything and everyone is in a constant state of flux. The temporary kennels set up for the hounds, on the other hand, is a perfect spot to catch hounds napping or relaxing. They don't move much when they're not in the ring, and there are lots of terrific subjects to sketch or photograph. I take photographs in case I want to work up a sketch into a painting later on. A good digital camera with autofocus and at least two lenses is imperative: a close distance lens (18 - 70mm), an optional medium distance lens (105mm) and a zoom (75mm - 300mm) are my lenses of choice.

The show program will help to identify hounds and their corresponding hunt clubs, which is especially helpful. The handlers have numbers on the upper left sleeve, identifying each entry, so it's a snap to check names, hunt clubs, huntsman, etc., when you're back in the studio working up paintings. An important aspect of painting sporting pictures is knowing who the movers and shakers are, both the two- and four-footed types.
One of the best features of a hound show is you can get very close to the action. Each ring has a fence around it, and spectators are permitted to stand anywhere they like. It's a wonderfully informal atmosphere, which adds to its appeal.
I love doing pen & ink sketches of the action once I'm back in the studio. I work from photos for this. I don't have the ability to draw from memory as well as I'd like, so I rely on photos to capture the action. My favorite classes are the Junior Handlers and the Pack Class. I've heard it said that judges for the junior handlers class leave their cars running in the parking lot! The classes feature children of various ages, from tiny toddlers to teenagers, showing hounds in their respective age divisions. This is the only class where the handlers, not the hounds, are judged, so it doesn't matter if they have an older hound who doesn't have perfect conformation. In fact, an old veterans is often preferable for this class, since they know the drill!

The youngest children are the most fun to watch, as they're often being dragged around by hounds much bigger and stronger than themselves. The older kids have more experience and have figured out how to avoid some of the pitfalls. The full spectrum of human emotions is evident in the junior handler class. It's a gold mine of subject matter. The obvious delight on the face of the winner, contrasted with a small boy's skeptical inspection of a fourth place ribbon, or a young girl looking lovingly into the eyes of her hound after not placing are all there for the observant artist to capture.

The pack classes at the end of the day feature five couple of hounds (10) with the huntsman and whipper-in showing off their pack. The pageantry of the hunting field is quite evident here, complete with scarlet hunt coats, black caps and white breeches. The judges are looking for a pack that hunts together and obeys the huntsman. The lighting is always wonderful at this time of day, when the setting sun's light is very warm and the shadows are long and cool.

The Championship is awarded at the end of the day and the winning hound is presented with all sorts of ribbons and trophies, as good as any they hand out at Westminster.
When it's all over and the Champion Hound has been selected, you have a bunch of dust covered paintings, a car to pack up and a long drive home. But it's always a day of fun and if you're an animal painter and you've never seen a hound show, you really need to add it to your list of things to do at least once.

If you go:
Arrive early so you can get acquainted with where the action will take place and when each class is scheduled to begin. You won't want to miss the Junior Handlers classes or the Championship at the end of the day. In addition to the items mentioned earlier, bring plenty of water, rain gear, a folding chair, a hat and snacks. You'll be glad you did!
For more information go to: