Looking at Frank Godwin’s inking . . .

One of the truly amazing things about Frank Godwin and his art is his ability to use inks effectively. In the course of his career, Godwin produced an enormous quantity of art. I would think that a reasonable estimate of the total number of portrayals of people in his drawings (one drawing could have a dozen or more) would easily be in the tens of thousands. This being the case, drawing a person must have been second nature to him.

And, of course, other physical objects  (houses, clouds, horses, dogs, snow, and a thousand other things) presented no difficulty for him.

Just where Godwin picked up his many inking techniques is not really known. One of his principal influences was James Montgomery Flagg, and sometimes it is difficult to tell a Flagg drawing from a Godwin drawing, and vice versa.

But I suspect that Godwin had entire arsenal of techniques that Flagg did not have. And overall, typical Flagg drawings seem looser than typical Godwin drawings. A lot of Godwin’s work on the Connie strip was pretty loose, but when Flagg was drawing loosely, the result was not always all that satisfactory. Sometime I may go into this in more detail, but Flagg’s work on the Book of the Month strips kind of comes to mind.

Godwin’s drawings, I am sure, were often produced almost as though he were sculpting.  If he needed to remove some metaphorical clay in order to create a certain shadow, he knew exactly what kinds of strokes to make that would achieve a shadow of a desired size and density (or of appropriate varying density).

The following image (from the original art for the December 28, 1955, Rusty Riley daily) demonstrates what I have been saying. This shows Tex’s friend Luke, with a blanket on his lap. In some ways this is very routine for Godwin. It is an excellent composition, but composition was one of the things Godwin was particularly skilled at, and you will rarely, if ever, see a Godwin drawing that is not beautifully composed.

Notable here is a fairly standard technique of showing the more important features in more detail than the less important. This more or less simulates our way of looking at things, since we are really only focus on one main thing at a time. (I think that too is pretty standard. Andrew Loomis teaches on this technique (without mentioning Godwin) in his main book on illustration.)

Of course, there are several “things” in this drawing, each of which is seen as a separate phenomenon. And in fact, I think there are about a dozen places where one’s eyes can come to rest when looking at this panel. Some people will just glance across the whole, then read the speech balloons. But if you want to, you can have your eyes linger on several details of Rusty’s appearance, and the only place you will be disappointed is when you look at his hat.

The table and lamp, and the picture on the wall, are all blocked-in roughly, but that’s okay, because we don’t want to know about them.

But the focus of this panel is plainly Luke. And, interestingly, the segments of the “Luke portion” that received the most loving care are Luke’s blanket and Luke’s chair.

(Continued below the image.)

snow rusty satu cropped 1 100

Now in the following image, we see a closer view of the chair and blanket. Here we begin to see better the skill that Godwin applied to this image. The image rages from areas of no detail at all (the lampshade, the opening of the doorway), to areas of high detail, found in the chair and blanket, yet the shadow under the arm of the chair to the right is handled very casually, because it is only needed to supply an impression — no one is looking closely at that (except us).

(Continued below the image.)

snow rusty satu sat some crop

In the following image, one can easily discern the fact that many different types of strokes (probably both pen and brush) were used to create the overall effect. I would say that there are 15 or 20 different strokes used, when you categorize them as to width, curvature, density, and pattern. We see zigzags, and curves, and parallel lines, and crosshatching. Godwin threw everything at this drawing.

snow rusty satu det 2One might justifiably wonder: why did Godwin put so much care and effort into this drawing?  Well, I will say this.  Daily newspaper comic strips, at their best, displayed an incredible amount of detail. So, it is not as though the detail would all go to waste. Secondly, although this work was somewhat laborious, for Godwin it was fairly straightforward — put in the time, and arrive at a great drawing. This is apart from his perfectionism and pride, which undoubtedly were the real reasons.

—Tom Sawyer

June 29, 2017

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