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)


  1. I didn't realize he traced his own sketches. Are those the only two examples you know of or are there others examples?
    Oh, and thanks for hte frazetta research!

  2. Thanks so much for the excellent reproductions and commentary. Especially, thank you for his working sketches.