April 25, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 4)

Wow! I found so many amazing Frazetta drawings to show that I may need to stretch this out to a few more posts.

Frank Frazetta's drawings are as fascinating as his paintings. Looking closely, we get to see the real, raw talent at work. We get to see how he constructs his characters. Sometimes it's hard to believe that he doesn't use models to draw from, and even Frazetta himself says he doesn't know how he does it. Besides, it would be too difficult to stage these scenes. It simply wasn't necessary as it just always came natural to him to illustrate on the spot. He just "sees" the images in his mind. And that allows him to create moments of action, straight from his imagination.

On close inspection, you'll find every stroke of the pen has energy, and they mimic the fury of the scene. The initial layout is done in pencil. It may be just a scribbling of an image where the pencil hardly comes off the paper. Having a highly developed sense of what will work, he doesn't need to use the eraser much, which is something that comes with experience. Then he begins inking over the pencil lines. Sometimes you can see a few pencil lines where his ink pen didn't follow them.

The sweep of his line work in the shading is fantastic. Notice the lines that make up the legs of the leaping Tarzan. See also how he put leafy shadows on the body of the girl. While his style is purely original, it may be reminiscent of some of the great Renaissance masters. He may have studied the work of Peter Paul Rubens and Michelangelo below who drew with a similar fluidity of motion, but he doesn't claim to have been influenced by anyone. That may be true to a certain extent but every art student is exposed to the masters and Frazetta's work also has shades of Goya, Pyle and N.C. Wyeth. To my eye, Frazetta has many compositions that are based on a circular motif similar to the great Raphael.

A distinction should be made between the drawings that Frazetta intended to be inked in as the final product, such as the Tarzan illustrations above, and preliminary sketches like those to the right which served as a study for a character. They are preparatory sketches he made to zero in on a pose. They can be "loose" or "tight" in their execution depending on his mood or the amount of time he planned to spend doodling. The term "doodling" may be applicable because sometimes that's just what it looks like... a playful moment where the artist is picturing the character in his mind. He's experimenting with different poses to find a composition that works, and in this case, it looks like for the Pellucidar series. I'm not sure if he was inspired by Raquel Welch here in her 1966 movie One Million Years BC, but he seemed to have settled on the pose here and then used it to paint the Pellucidar book cover. This painting is dated 1974.

After looking around at Frazetta art on the web it occurs to me that I've not seen any sites that specifically show the preliminary sketches side by side with the final pieces, so I've gathered a few to compare.

Here's an example which shows a pencil sketch for the concept of Luana along with the final painting as it appeared on the cover of Vampirella. There are some minor differences, such as the position of the panther's paws, but it is essentially the same. What I believe Frazetta did here is something I do myself, that is, once the sketch seems to be right, I transfer the sketch to my canvas or illustration board to paint. So I'll turn the sketch over and rub the backside with the pencil. Then placing the sketch on the canvas, I'll retrace the lines which leaves traces of the graphite on the canvas. That would explain the heavy lines on the sketch above and if you were to overlay the two, I believe they would line up with only minor shifts in position among the elements. If I am right then the back of this particular sketch would have graphite rubbed on it.

On this one, the sketch of the Mahar and the virgin shows no direct transfer of the two. We can see how he kept the concept of confrontation based on the notes and improved it, including the contrasting dark area behind the virgin.

A sketch for Lord of the Rings went through some obvious changes, added clothing for one, but the improvements to the final just goes to show how great Frazetta is. First, you can't help but wonder what she can possibly do to defend herself or escape at this moment. The added strength and motion he put into the evil guy and his outfit, and the line work itself are in the same league as those Renaissance masters I mentioned earlier. Despite how lowly the comic book artist has been perceived in the past, behold, the work of a living, modern master.

My other blog posts about the Master:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

For the most recent blog posts by Mark Astrella, click on the header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer)

April 16, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 3)

I've just had my original Frazetta drawing framed and it looks great! How this Conan sketch falls within the body of Frazetta's career is fascinating to me. There are many Conan images to show, but before we go into battle with him, here's a few samples of what Frazetta is also known for depicting uniquely... his women.

They're typically young, gorgeous, naked and waaaay over-developed. They may be in mortal danger, or out hunting with a fang-toothed pet, or clinging to a hero for protection. Sometimes, they're just out having fun, enjoying nature in all its glory, and in all THEIR glory.

In The Castle of Sin, three lovely wenches are shown leading a knight's horse toward the castle, which may be a trick because there seems to be a Death Dealer ducking just inside the entrance. Frank took his time on this one, to happily paint the detail into the knight, the horse and the ladies. The lighting on all of them is exceptionally executed and the expressions on their faces tells you a little about what's going on... if the title doesn't.

Now, if Tarzan the Ape man was a great subject-model for Frazetta's ink pen, his brother Conan the Barbarian was the perfect model for his paintbrush. The sinewy Tarzan was leaner and more adept at swinging the vines of the jungle while Conan was brawnier and more apt to kick your ass for no good reason. The painting of the Ice Giants, which Frank created for the cover of Robert E. Howard's Conan of Cimmeria shows a couple 'o huge red-bearded Norse giants taking swings at the puny Cimmerian. The weight of the battle axes and the weight of their limbs bogged down in the ankle-deep snow is apparent, which gives an edge to Conan in speed and he gets a piece of one of them in the throat. With the lavendar backdrop and majestic ice peak, it's another scene of beauty and beast.

But maybe this is all too cute for a real barbarian. Howzabout a little more blood 'n guts

What happens when you aggravate Conan by accidentally bumping into him at the local bar is shown in The Disagreement. More than a bar brawl, everyone goes for their weapon. The room becomes tense and everyone reacts. One cool item to note is the frothy beer stein in mid air.

Frank must have felt good about Conan's back swing pose as he also used it in The Indomitable. In this painting, Conan has very little expression on his face. Like a pro-golfer, he's concentrating on his swing. And when you want to get close to the pin in just one shot, you need to put a little extra oomph into it.

That's what Frazetta did in Conan the Destroyer, where his enemies must be dying of fright just looking at how far back he winds up his ax arm. The body pile in The Destroyer is more developed than in The Indomitable and Frazetta put more detail into the twisted torsos and helmets.

Now, if Conan actually looks like anybody you might recognize it would be Jack Palance. Palance had played a warrior in several movies in the 50's and 60's such as Attila the Hun and he played Revak in a movie called The Barbarians. It was a good choice. With a square jaw and high cheekbones, Palance had a great face to use for Conan.

Sometimes the battle comes to you and sometimes you need to go to the battle. Below, Conan rides to the enemy lines and when he gets there he must have decided to just dive into it with horse. No wonder he called this one Berserker. It was actually created for Howard's Conan the Conqueror. Not many of Frazetta's original paintings have gone up for auction. Frank and Ellie Frazetta opted to retain ownership of nearly all of his book cover paintings and had them displayed in their own museum in East Stroudsburg, PA. Of those that were sold, one went for $250K. Then just this past November, Berserker went to auction and was sold to a private collector for a cool MILLION, which says a lot about how much some Frazetta fans treasure his work.

Another well-known iconic Conan painting that really grabs your attention is simply titled The Barbarian. Here we see a pensive Conan standing atop the usual mound of dead enemies and looking mean enough to wipe out your entire town. His muscles bulge, his veins are swollen and he is seen scowling while a female admirer finds co
mfort with his calf. Perhaps it was her presence that had him stop the butchering and take a moment to reflect on the day's work. This is Frazetta creating an image of one super badass. A sexy scar on his cheek and a lovely bird skull and fang necklace make great accessories for his weaponry. Once again, certain areas around him are painted with less detail which only magnifies his awesomeness. The background of fire and skulls was poster perfect and imitators went into over-copy mode to try to get a piece of the action.

There is a biography on DVD of Frank called, Frazetta, Painting with Fire and the trailer for it has a cool animation of The Barbarian in the beginning... It is worth a look.

The next posts of this series will delve into Frazetta's drawings and I will soon reveal my Frazetta treasure!

Links to this 6-part Frazetta series by Mark Astrella:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

April 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 2)

Frazetta has a finely tuned sense of contrast, better than most painters, and it's easy to see why. It came from years of working in black and white doing comics. But going from pen and ink to oil paint has differences. With ink you're starting with white paper and adding the darks, and usually working from the foreground to the background. With oil and acrylic paint, you usually do the opposite, starting with the background and working to the foreground. For something like a black horse, ex. The Moonmaid above, you might start with a dark base and then add the lighter shades and highlights to define the muscles.

The Outlaw of Torn at right is an awesome display of how Frazetta can create a design where everything seems in motion and all elements are at odd angles, but balance out with each other wonderfully. Notice how the horse leans to your left and the angles and lines of its legs and neck and the knight's shield are all tilted one way. And then tilted the other way are the horse's foreleg, the sword and the clouds to counterbalance. He also has made great use of a fiery red cape in more than a few paintings to help with the composition and contrast and it directs your attention to the character.

When it comes to needing valiant warriors on beefy horses, or sexy sorceresses accompanied by ferocious animals, Frazetta's your man. There are gorgeous snarling tigers and lions, black panthers, wolves, bears, gorillas, snakes, dinosaurs and monsters of all kinds. Anything with big teeth is a candidate for a Frazetta pet... or nightmare.

One of his most beautiful designs is The Silver Warrior. This big dude is coming over the crest of a snow peak riding in a crazy, stylized ski-chariot which is being pulled by a team of polar bears. How cool is that? This may be another example of Frazetta creating an image for a story which turns out to be more intriguing than the story it was created for. Such paintings have actually inspired rewrites and new stories centered around the characters Frank imagined.

The warrior is central to Frazetta's world and the swords they carry have two edges. A warrior may be a hero who protects maidens from harm, or he may be a viscious villain who will slice you to bits for breathing his air.

That leads us to one of Frazetta's most evil, badass warriors of all time, The Death Dealer, who became famous after appearing on Molly Hatchet album covers in the 70's and in countless magazines and posters afterward. The Death Dealer is a seriously nasty-looking character who has ridden out of the burning, smoke-filled landscape, or what's left of it, and has stopped momentarily to gaze at you with glowing red eyes. He has noticed that you are still breathing... and he can't have that. His panting horse is actually snorting smoke. The horned helmet and that hooked axe, which would surely make a clean cut through your neck, are enough to make you unknowingly relieve yourself before bolting in the opposite direction. The way in which Frazetta painted the detailed metalwork on this medieval grim reaper is absolutely exquisite. A dent in the shield is perfectly placed.

But then when you look at the paint strokes on the hind side and legs of the horse, they are terrifically loose and seem as though they were hurled onto the horse with the skill of a marksman. It's amazing how much intensity he can put into a faceless figure just sitting on a horse. Another stroke of brilliance is the edges of the Dealer himself. Hair and cape blend into the background paint and help to give him the sinister spookiness he deserves. The rocky foreground looks practically unfinished. This is a choice... knowing when NOT to add detail... knowing when enough is enough. Vultures are following him for a meal. Like the Outlaw of Torn and The Silver Warrior, this is another pure masterpiece and could be his most famous image... or should I say infamous? Later paintings of The Death Dealer have him actually swinging that bloody battle axe.

For more on Frazetta and posts featuring Conan the Barbarian, click on these links:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

Click on the header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer) to see the most recent posts by Mark Astrella

April 04, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 1)

There is little doubt that Frank Frazetta is the king of fantasy adventure & science fiction art. I've always found Frazetta's art to be stunning and recently, I became the proud owner of a signed, original sketch by the master of fantasy art himself and I am VERY excited about it. But before I show it here, I'm going to write a few posts about him. In doing some research to try to date my sketch, I've discovered Frazetta all over again. If you're not familiar with his name, you've probably seen his work somewhere.

When it comes to talent and technique, Frank Frazetta is like Bruce Lee. He just kicks out the light bulb on the ceiling with an unexpected motion of intensity and precision. His style is truly unique and his power makes your eyes widen. There's been a long line of Frazetta imitators, some of them very good painters... but their over-posed heroes turn out looking cheesy in comparison. We shouldn't be too harsh on them, however, because they've also been mesmerized by his amazing compositions.

Frazetta began his career doing comics, and in the 50's he began illustrating Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan books. His illustrations of the seriously-muscular Conan for Robert E. Howard's books were so eye-catching that sales went ballistic.

I first saw Frazetta's work in a 1978 calendar and was so taken that I bought one of his art books soon after featuring the Egyptian Queen on the cover. An intriguing composition that has this sensual beauty slinking up against a massive marble column. She makes you feel the cold stone on her skin. Originally published on the cover of Eerie magazine, there's a tenseness in the room with the crouching cat and the figure in the background.

To the right is a preliminary sketch for this painting. It's interesting to see how he developed it from this stage to the final painting. Even Frazetta's pencil sketches are like little jewels that reveal his enormous natural talent and they are now going for thousands of dollars. I can't remember ever buying the work of another artist and I would only hang my own art on my walls, but that all changed when I came across a little sketch of Conan that I just couldn't resist.

One thing that fascinated me is the way he would leave detail out in certain areas... something I've always had difficulty doing. I'll nitpick over every toenail whereas Frank won't even include the lower legs. His choices of what to leave out are brilliant. The details just fall away into the shadows. They become obscured by smoke or fog or the dust kicked up by the battle. Creatures emerge from the canvas similar to the way the presidents on Rushmore emerge from the mountain.
Neanderthals rush toward you from an orange mist... and they have only one intent... to club the life out of you.

Frazetta loves to toy around with our fears. Of course, years of creating covers for publications like Creepy, Eerie and
Vampirella had him working from that state of mind.

In Bran Mak Morn to the right, he again uses top light to accentuate the big brows on the primitive's apelike features. The long, dark shadow under the tribal leader's face creates powerful contrast. Top light like this is used often in theatrical lighting to create drama on the figure.

The painting of the Captive Princess below skillfully plays with contrasts between cool and warm colors, light and shadow, soft and hard textures, and between what is in motion and what is poised in place. She reaches in desperation for something to grab onto that isn't there.

The musculature and veins are exaggerated but believable, and the color choices are unorthodox... geez, Frazetta would hurl big splotches of green and purple paint right on the skin, but you don't even notice it! It all just works in some dynamic way and seems to emphasize the action.

Just look at the patchwork of paint dabs he lays down on the back of Conan in his painting called Chained. Those muscles aren't real. Frazetta didn't ask a model to pose for him for this. That's just his mind imagining the muscular back of Conan. It works! Because of the passion he brings to the canvas.

Read the rest of this series on Frank Frazetta by Mark Astrella.
Frazetta Part 2
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

To see the most recent blog posts, click on the logo header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer)