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Richard Johnson: Postings from Afghanistan

Richard Johnson sketchSmall Dead Animals — but do please check out the National Post of Canada blog Postings from Afghanistan.

Of course, you have to admire a guy doing it old school and flying his own ass out to Kandahar to sketch his country’s troops. That’s a given. But I have to tell you, this man is seriously good.

Yes, I know you’ve seen drawings in this general style, but they’re often not quite the quick, spontaneous sketches they seem. There’s a whole ‘nother art to laboring over a drawing and making it look like you didn’t. This guy, on the other hand, is the real deal; he’s doing these drawings on the spot, in one take, with very little underdrawing (preliminary sketching) or overdrawing (correction after the fact).

another Richard Johnson sketch

How do I know? I’m a professional artard, dammit. I can draw, but I’ve never been good at quick and fluid life drawing like this. I’m deeply envious of people who are, and I’ve made a study of them.

Like, check out the boots on the kneeling guy in the sketch above. Boots and shoes are tough (I had to draw a pair as part of my entrance exam to art school; it’s harder than drawing Binky, I can tell you). Not only does he do them well, he shows them at slight angles, natural to the pose. Novices need to draw things from clean angles: directly in front, directly from above, directly from the side. The ability to render objects slightly tilted is a sure sign the artist has grokked a shape so completely that he can rotate it in his head, three dimensionally. In other words: damn.

I traded email with him Saturday; I was lucky that his connect was good that day and he was sitting by a computer in Kandahar. He confirmed that he draws, as much as possible, quickly and from life. He takes photos as well, but refers to them sparingly. I believe it. As a technical illustrator, of necessity I’ve done a lot of drawing from photographs. It always gives itself away. Even experienced draftsmen can’t avoid a certain a stiff, flat, mechanical look when relying heavily on photos. You look at a photo and tend to think there is a dark shape next to the eye instead of there’s an indentation next to the eye. The difference shows.

His words are good, too, but I haven’t finished reading them. I hate reading a blog from the beginning; the format is so damned uncongenial. New entries are on top. You have to go to the bottom, look up until you find the top of the unread entry, read down to the end of it, then go up above that until you find the unread entry above the one you just read…well, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a pain. It’s fun to see his drawings get better over time, though. That’s natural — you gotta draw every day to get good at it, and the more the merrier.

Anyway, I think he’s over there for two months this time (he went in 2003, as well) and he looks to be about halfway through. There’s a link from the top of the Post, but I don’t think he’s getting the attention he deserves. Wander over and check it out.

sock it to me

July 23, 2007 — 6:24 am
Comments: 5