I was raised on Ernest H. Shepard’s illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh books, but for some reason Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows never found me until recently. Better late than never.

Shepard worked in vignettes, letting the edges go, by which device he focussed in on his perfectly selected details. And his style, while very free, is by no means wild–notice, for example, how he doesn’t bring the background tone quite down on the heads as he does on the backs. 


Rat and Mole

His characters are so animated. Look at the fingers on Toad’s left hand as he pulls on his glove.


Toad of Toad Hall


His humans are quite as colorful as his critters.


the Bench of Magistrates

Toad in the dock













Wonderful stuff, stylish and intimate at the same time.



I am not a fan of the work of Julian Schnabel (vide July 7, below). 


“Pascin Pig Passin Time” 1983 [Artsy]

But I’m reminded of his labored crockery paintings by the shore of an inlet off San Francisco Bay, in Richmond. Right across the road from Costco, as a matter of fact. Visible only at very low tide.

Decades ago, the Tepco Crockery factory used this bit of shore as a dumping site for a zillion pieces of  broken crockery.* 



Waves and the tides have spread  them in a thin, crackly layer over the beach, and colored them, creating of them something between lively rubbish and an engaging effect of nature. 



They have the advantage that no one has muddled their charm by painting over them.




* reported by Brody at odysseyseaglass.com



One of the characteristics of oil paint is that it grows transparent as it ages. When the paint is applied in thin glazes, underwork eventually begins to show through. As in Salvador Dali’s “Portrait of Dorothy Spreckels Munn” (1942) in the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.



Here we can see that Dali hogged in the whole piece from the horizon line down in blue, and then painted the foreground, including the figure, on top. Now the foreground glazes are going transparent, and the underpainting begins to tint what lies over it. This is especially visible in her right arm, but in fact the whole figure, including her dress, are noticeably darker and cooler below the horizon than above.



This is quite a common effect in older paintings done in glazes. Below, “Owl’s Head, Penobscot Bay, Maine,” (1862) by Fitz Hugh Lane. It was painted from back to front; the farther shore and far mountains, laid in first, are visible through the sails of the ship. Working this way let the artist build the image in thin, delicate tones, and saved him from having to fill in pesky little background shapes that might muddle the main action. 



Considering that transparency is an old and well-known characteristic of the medium, you’d have thought that Dali would have been more adroit.



Followers of this blog will know, of course, that we ponder only the most lofty and profound questions of art, except when, as now, we pause to notice odd, nifty little things.

As here. Every year dozens and dozens of youngsters fan out to execute pastels on the sidewalk on a shopping street in my neighborhood. As you’d expect, much of what they do is no more than cheerful scribble, but here and there you find engaging, imaginative images.



Staying within the bounds of one concrete square enforces a compositional discipline they might not enjoy if they were spreading out vaguely over unrestricted space.

Fascinating in the piece below is the repetition of colors in the eyes and the voice balloon. If a mature artist had done that, we would all be chattering about the insightful connection between observation and belief. 




Above, a catalogue of delights.



Rainbows seem to have been a widely adopted theme, but put to a variety of uses.



Those waves must have come from someplace, but no artist invents everything, and here they are convincingly folded into the narrative. The pattern on the bathing suit. So much going on.




Recurring to the subject of Cezanne’s methods (see July 28 below), consider two portraits of Antony Valabrègue, done about five years apart. One is so much better than the other.

24 x 20″ 1869-70

25 x 21″ 1874-5
















The earlier piece is just plopped down. The parts are there, but flatly, just showing up for duty.

As opposed to the later piece, where the beard, for example, comes and goes, full of little spritzes and subtleties. The hair and hairline—that delightful escaping ear, and the lock of hair behind it. The shoulders skipping downward, alive with action. The bouncy eyes and brows. Every line and shape witty and on the go.

Every artist, of course, has a range of success. But it’s worth taking a minute to see what that range is, and notice the reasons.


pics from Cezanne Portraits by John Elderfield