Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Virtues of Gray?

This post is a question that has recently been tossed about in my editorial head.

A great deal of work in the Golden Age of illustration was published as halftone (or grayscale) art. For every nice color plate I find for a new Dover publication, or to post here on VIEW, I find three that were printed in various tones of gray.

My question is— Does that work hold any value and or interest to this audience today? I'm not speaking about the general public, I mean people who are fans of illustration for whatever reason, and who are usually the ones who throw down a few bucks for a Dover collection of Golden Age images? If you've been tempted to comment in the past but haven't, or even if you have, THIS IS YOUR WEEK. Throw me some comments, let me know, it could—no, will—affect the selection and layout of my next book to be submitted....

SO—To help the discussion, or at least what I hope will be one, I've picked a few pieces of grayscale art that I have found worth looking at more than once. I don't want to influence your comments on this, so I'll just give you the facts, and you tell me, does this material merit some study, would you pass it up, or is it as worthwhile as a similar color plate?

This first piece picks up on the last entry- The Prospector is an N. C. Wyeth piece from a McClure's Magazine, 1906.
Wyeth's teacher follows, that's Howard Pyle with Blackbeard's last fight, Century Magazine, 1894.
Sydney M. Chase is weighing the fish from Scribner's, June, 1908.
Fourth is Woldemar Fredirich, with a scene of "The Wild Huntsman" from The Illustrator, 1895.
and last is George Wright, with the firefighting scene, Scribner's, 1902.

Let me know if this kind of imagery is welcome in a book you might buy today, and why. Comments encouraged.


Jason Juta said...

I think I know what other people will say already, but personally I am more than happy to see greyscale or black and white art - it absolutely has as much merit as colour work, was entrenched in vintage illustration history and processes, and can be inspirational and instructive to modern artists everywhere.

Thanks for a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff,

We met briefly at illuxcon and I enjoyed your lecture very much. I have followed your blog since and haven't yet been compelled to comment. That is until now!

You ask... "Does that work hold any value and or interest to this audience today?"

I answer with an astounding YES! Maybe Im in the minority here but I find myself drawn to these works constantly. I head down to the Brandywine River museum and Delaware Art Museum every 6 months or so and find myself staring at Howard Pyle's graisailles for hours on end. I have always loved Black and White works, especially those from the golden age of illustration. To this day I find them to be some of my biggest influences in my own work. I cant get enough of them! To me there is something so simple and pure about a painting being successful solely based on value alone without the aid of color.

Anyway thanks for the great blog and insight. Keep up the great work!

Dominick Saponaro

RachelAKA said...

I agree wholeheartedly with the others, and would buy any "grayscale" book in an instant. The best works are sometimes even stronger in B&W/grayscale. Developing a piece tonally is as important as its composition or color. I hazard to say that much of the genre illustration being done today wouldn't hold up in grayscale nearly as well as the classics. Those artists really knew their stuff- and had to. Thanks for asking!

Jeff A. Menges said...

I greatly appreciate those who took some time to get me some feedback on this—and thank you for the kind words as well. What I'm getting is that those educated in the matter at hand understand the value of tone study work, and appreciate a well done piece, the same way that a film-noir movie is appreciated in this blue-ray in 3-d age.... I intend to include a few pages of grayscale work in the upcoming N. C. Wyeth book, but just a few. Thanks again, and stop by again soon. Jeff