Monday, September 17, 2012

Well Dunn

Harvey Thomas Dunn (1884-1952) was a powerfully-built, hard-working homesteader when he enrolled in the South Dakota Agriculture College at the age of 17.  A young art teacher by the name of Ada B. Caldwell, saw in the student a prodigious talent, and encouraged Dunn to seek further instruction at the Chicago Art Institute, where she herself had trained.  Dressed in his only suit, and carting all of his belongings in a single trunk, the farm boy from South Dakota headed to the Windy City, where, for the next two years, he worked diligently to make of himself a competent, though unfocused,  artist.

In 1904, however, Dunn met a man who would change his life, and set him on a course he would adhere to for the rest of his days. It was in that year that the Father of American Illustration, Howard Pyle, visited Chicago searching for talented art students to attend his very select, private art school in Wilmington, Delaware, and the 20 year old Dunn, with his personal sketches of the western prairie, caught the master's attention.  Under the disciplined and inspiring tutelage of Pyle, Dunn blossomed, and within two more years, he was out on his own, working professionally as an illustrator.

Though all of Pyle's students carried with them the valuable lesson's learned in the Delaware studio, none more so than Dunn seemed so driven to become a teacher, and to pass those lessons on to a new group of aspiring artists.  In 1915, he and another artist, Charles Chapman, formed the short-lived Leonia School of Illustration in New Jersey;  and in later years, Dunn taught classes at the Grand Central School of Art and at the Art Students League, both in New York City, as well as private classes in his own studio.  Many of America's top illustrators of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, were students of Dunn, including such luminaries as :  Henry Pitz, Arnold Friberg, Knute Munson, Norman Saunders, Mead Schaeffer, Saul Tepper, Harold Von Schmidt, and Dean Cornwell.

In 1934, one of Dunn's students, a Miss Taylor, recorded the various critiques and pieces of advice Dunn offered in a single class.  At the encouragement of fellow student, Mario Cooper, Taylor printed 1000 copies of her notes in booklet titled An Evening in the Classroom, portions of which appear below.

People say to me how wonderful it must be to be an artist, how I must enjoy my work, etc. . . Not knowing how we have to slave and sweat and struggle and swear before that picture.

Let nothing distract from the importance of the head.  Keep that the most interesting.  Work on the clothing so that the head will be interesting.  As a girl buys a hat, coat, etc., with which to adorn herself.

Know your man.  Then paint what you know.

You don't emphasize the wrong word, if you want to be understood.  Neither should you emphasize the unimportant in painting.

This job is not complex.  Only the muddle of our minds is complex.  The job is simple.  If the time spent before a canvas is unduly long compared to the results achieved, you'll find it's spent in digging self out of the way so that the picture can stand forth in all its loveliness.

Try to find out how boldly you can make your statement.  You can get all the subtlety and beauty you want in the edge of the mass.

Your worry about the figures has robbed the picture of beauty.  Beauty goes right along with conviction.  Let's keep worry and fear out of our pictures.

Paint a little less of the facts, and a little more of the spirit.  Look a little at the model and a  lot inside.  Paint more with feeling than with though.  Did you  feel  those darks should be there?

If you paint what you see you won't have a good-looking painting.

Get the variety in the principal figure, equal to the variety all over the canvas.

If you get a rich statement of values, with a little color in them, they'll delight your heart!

Don't permit yourself to become interested in the incidental.

When we see a beautiful picture, let us realize that we're seeing what that man dug out of himself.  If he made a beautiful picture, he is beautiful inside.  He couldn't do it otherwise.

Avoid middle tones;  They are negative.  Especially on the head, where the tone should be more than ever positive.

While we're painting the fact of it, let us paint the idea as well.

To eliminate takes a good deal of study.  A man cannot lie unless he knows the truth.  Otherwise it's a statement of ignorance that he makes.

A picture, I find, that I'm afraid to tackle and put off doing till I must, because it seems difficult, is often the kind that dances right along.  I believe it's because, approached like that, in humble attitude, it leads the way.  I'd be careful, awfully careful.  I was willing to follow it because I recognized that I couldn't drive it.

We have trouble because we demand something of the picture.

Pictures must demand something of us.

To lay down laws for technical procedure is like saying no man's a man unless he's 6 feet 3!

Cease considering your difficulties.

We come into the world with certain major characteristics which we'll go out with.  And we must be true to them if we expect to attain any measure of success.  The only thing to do is follow our own propensities.  (I have certain very close friends who are always telling me I must quell my propensities. They say, "Harvey, you're too sentimental.  You must quell that."  Well, if I quell those things that are me - I won't be myself.  And I want to be myself.)  If we all do the best we can with our certain capabilities and within our limitations, by golly, we can all have some measure of success.

Do not go below the dark which is shadow on the head, anywhere else in the picture (portrait).

Don't be content when a thing is pretty good.  Stay with it until it is well.  Be content to destroy it again and again until it is just as substantive and full of form as it can be.  Not as full as you can make it.  But as full as it can be.

(Brittany woman, portrait by Karl Godwin, with white headdress, lots of reflected light.)  Look at some of the Holbeins with white headdresses - and look closely into the heads and you'll find some very dark darks, even if they're tiny.  Be sure to have as dark darks on the head as there are anywhere in the picture or the head will lack solidity.  Or else lighten the other shadows to the value of those on the head.

You'll have to see.  Don't try to draw well.  But do try to draw importantly.  When you over-empasize something in your picture, you do it only for a purpose.  And thank heaven when you see something that's done for a purpose!!!

I wouldn't make pictures or studies unless I were interested in them.  Don't paint something if you think you have to or it would be "good" for you.  Whatever we're interested in is interesting to the extent that we are interested in it.  Pictures are mediums of expression, and if we are interested, they become interesting.  You can't touch your brush to a piece of canvas without having every stroke show just what you thought when you put that stroke on.  A picture that is "fixed up" is never fixed.  It's somehow got to be good to start with.

We don't need to express nature.  It's already expressed!  But if we can take nature or things from nature to express an idea of our own, then nature is useful.  Paint this water the color you'd like to see it, rather than the color you think it ought to be or is.  To the end that it may be a handsome canvas.

Let it be an expression rather than a description.  It's simple - just leave everything out but what you need.  Or else this way: - express your idea with only what is necessary.

Don't be negative!  You look for what's wrong in your pictures.  Look for what is good.  Then make everything come up to that.  Be positive!

When you get an idea and you sit down to sketch it, right away all the little doubts and second thoughts and limitations that have been hanging around waiting for you to start some positive action, - one may be over in the corner sleeping, others are playing about - well, when they see you get to work with this idea they come and look over your shoulder, one will say, "Oh, no, you can't do that, that's not going to work."  And another will say, "You don't paint enough," and so on.  Say to them, "I'm only playing;  you go on back to your corners."  And, honestly when you do just play with an idea, they do go away and leave you.  They don't want you to work, that's all.  Play around with those little sketches, saying to yourself, "Now, if I were a really first-rate artist, how would I express this idea?"  Then keep playing around till you think, "that's the way I really believe a first class artist might do it!"  When you begin on the drawing itself, still you keep saying, "Now I wonder how would a finished high-grade man paint or draw this?"  "Why, I believe he'd do it like this," and first thing you know it's painted!

Why don't you, if as you say your first layout is good and you begin to ruin it after two or three hours, why don't you lay one out, then put it aside?  Start another picture.  Then when you come back to the first, you can see just what you need to finish it, and you can go at it with cold intelligence rather than the heat of the beginning - and you won't burn it up.  As though you were looking at another's work.  It's the minute you take possession of an idea that the idea departs and it always will, to the end of time.

A picture is a graphic expression of a pictorial idea.  Not a graphic representation of various objects, brought together.  Just as a man is not made up of legs, arms, eyes, etc., . . although he has those things.  Let us make a statement of a mood that flows from one end of the canvas to the other!  And the various parts are there to complete the statement of that mood.  For instance, take the subject of a man in despair, we are told he went over the hill on his way home.  Let the sky be lowering, weeping in sympathy, the hill be bleak and barren, and shrubbery and trees bending with the same grief.  On the other hand, when you're painting a bride, you think of June, laughter, bloom, sunshine and joy - those are moods.  Let's look at the idea we have of a boy's room.  Isn't hung with pennants, girls' pictures, filled with gimcracks, ukeleles and mechanical bits.  The spirit of a boy's room is not our own.  We  only think of the algebra and history and the work we had there.  And that would take romance out of anything.  It's sort of weaving together of our impressions and imaginings.

Take the kind of picture you've always wanted to do and see.  Tackle something you know darn well you can't do - and by golly, you'll do it!  Don't think you've got to know a lot more before you can do something good.  The best picture you make you deserve the least credit for.  When you make a really swell picture, you don't go around with your chest thrown out, I'll bet.  No, you say:  "How do you suppose that happened?  I was around when it took place, but I don't know how."  Your good pictures belong to the world.  The bad ones are all yours.  When you got into this, you probably thought:  "I guess I don't know enough to do this."  It isn't that at all.   It's that you've left the idea you started with.  You started transcribing Nature and Nature has nothing to do with pictures.  Make use of nature but don't let it use you.  Yes, I know that it hangs on like death to a mummy!  Let your fingers be unconscious of their audience.   If she turned her head up, alright, but if you turned it up, it won't do.

As long as you hold on to your statement of light and dark values, you can run the gamut of color any way you like.  You must have a little more finesse.  Don't make one picture do everything.

If you make the rest flat, make the head as round as a berry.

I repeat and repeat.  Yet, there's little to say.  Little to know to make pictures.  But that little seems very hidden from those who need it.

Try and make your picture so that a single word, or at any rate very few words, would be its title.

You haven't got to make pictures different.  They're bound to be different because you make them.

The idea is not to "simplify" a picture.  Keep your thoughts about it, simple.

Don't make it necessary to ask questions about your picture.  Howard Pyle used to say it's utterly impossible for you to go to all the newsstands and explain your pictures.

We see things because of the light that is reflected from, absorbed by, or obstructed by them.  hints get their color from light.  We see things because they absorb and obstruct and reflect light.

You thought the chap reading the newspaper was the only important thing, so you painted the background so it wouldn't interfere;  and it does interfere.  It's the one thing that draws your attention.  Because it's a false thing.  Can't ever add strength to your picture by adding something negative, untrue.  A false note in your picture is like a stone in your shoe.  It may be a comfortable shoe, but a little pebble destroys all the comfort.  So don't think you can paint a "tone that won't interfere."  You've got to make it positive, an honest, true statement.  You don't like that tone yourself, because it's negative.  And you knew what to do with it but you were too lazy to do it.  Be positive from one end of your canvas to another.  Otherwise your picture will not be a statement of conviction, and if your picture is not a statement of conviction, there will be no one to look at it.

Art schools teach differently.  But I'm telling you the easiest way.  And the easiest way of doing a thing is to do it.

I said to someone who was seeking earnestly to learn what other people know so that he could paint: "I have a picture, and you have a picture, and almost everyone has a picture.  So no one needs another.  Therefore, the only reason for making one is the fun you get out of it.  Or the fun you have getting it out of you."  In this I feel too much striving, and wondering if this or that should be this or that way.  If, in a flight of fancy, you conceived the idea of a young lady sitting out there in the Spring, the bees and birds around, odor of growing things in the air, - kind of symbolizing by her being, all the warmth and sweetness of the day, something romantic and colorful, something you appreciate so much you must picture it - then you'll say to yourself: "I have to spend my time in the studio, but I'm going to go out there in imagination, and I'm going to paint the most beautiful girl, in the most beautiful spot, lush and living, alive with the buzz of bees and the waving  of grass and leaves, etc.  Then it won't be so set, the shadows won't lie there so still across that flat stretch of green.  Paint it because you love it!  Let your pictures be an expression of you love.  I don't say it's easy, but it's well worth striving to achieve.  And there's no point in painting them if you don't love them.  Don't say: "But I want to make pictures that are going to sell.  What are you selling?  You're selling a man or a group of men all over the country something of beauty and romance - something above the common run of their lives.  And if you don't enrich their lives, they'll say, "Yes, very nice, let me see other things you do as you progress," and you're bowed out!  I fell such a criticism is more important than of drawing, color and placement.  Because drawing, color and placement are dictated by the needs of the thing you're seeking to express.

It looks very true, very good.  But it looks literal.  Try and translate your experience into pictorial statements.  Contribute something of art and romance to the casual fact.

Always draw for character.  Don't touch your brush to canvas except to get the  character of the man, the coat, the rail, etc.

Don't draw or paint from a sense of duty, to yourself or anyone else.  Because you can't get any good out of it, unless you have a definite thing to get.  Have some objective.  Perhaps the study of form, or color, or the understanding of light.  Take a drab thing and make it a thing of beauty by what you pour of yourself into it.  But so many of us set up a good-looking still life, and then depend on that to make it a good-looking picture.  Depend on yourself for that, on what you're made of, on what makes you tick.

Talking to my brother-in-law the other day, I told him what hard work picture-making is.  I've done almost every kind of hard work there is to do, but this is the hardest.  However, I've made a lot of money making pictures ( - and lost most of it making conservative investments!)  It is hard work, by taking something out of yourself and mixing it with thin air, to make something substantive.

Don't think that by painting just anything, it will do you any good.  You must have a definite objective. Go after relation of color.

Look for the dramatic presentation even if you're painting a flower.  Everything is dramatic if we can only see it so.  Those who see dramatically get a lot more out of life.

Get your interest in the figures and then paint your picture as strongly as your figure will permit you to.

When you picture looks awful, go take a walk.  Better to start another picture and turn this one to the wall, so that later you can look at it sanely.  A successful picture is as intelligently planned and completely organized as the George Washington Bridge - and is likely to be better-looking.  An artist has the harder job.  He has to organize where there are no formulas to follow.

We can do more in one moment of realization than we can in weeks of solid labor.  So organize well, design it carefully, then put it down quickly, as simply as possible.  Don't keep changing to make it "look better."  It won't look "better," only different.  And if you want to make it different, why (not) take another canvas?  When you've carefully planned a picture, stick to it 'til you've had it out, then work the other ideas in other pictures.  Where would you be if you decided to go to Philadelphia by way of Newark, and halfway there changed your mind - would you strike across country trying to find the other road?  No, you stick to your original plan, right or wrong.  Next time, you may come the other way.

You're here to render the service you can to your canvases.  So furnish that.  Let your pictures be a by-product of your life.  Do not expect them to furnish life for you.

Use a big brush for the face and hands --- you can get a finer line with an inch-wide brush than you can with a tiny hair.  And little ones for the sky.   It sounds funny, but try it.

We can learn to paint and draw till the cows come home, and won't know a thing about pictures.  We can actually draw and paint better than most, and still not make pictures.  Drawing and painting are merely tools in the hands of him who would make a picture and must be used in making pictures.  Most painters are inclined to, when painting from a model, let the model take charge.  And they never make a picture.  Can I define a picture?  No.  I can't very well, because a picture is its own definition.  It's something words can't quite express.

Don't ever paint anything a color or a tone so it won't "bother" you.

When in doubt, leave it out!

I don't suggest that you don't detail every single thing.  Do so - but in proper relation not only to each other and the picture, but to the idea as well.

They say charity begins at home.  Interest in a picture should begin with the heads and spread out from there.  Instead of going to the head, the interest should go from it.

Art is a universal language, and it is so because it is the expression of the feelings of man.  Any man can look at a true work of art and feel kin to it and with he who made it - for he has the same number of heartbeats a minute, comes into the world to face the same joys, sorrows, and anticipations, the same hopes and fears.  A vastly different vision may arise in the consciousness at the mention of a word, but our feelings are the same.  By this you may know that the Brotherhood of Man, is.

I can't but believe, because I spend my days at it, that this is the most important work there is.

The information in An Evening in the Classroom can be found in several places on the internet, but the best source for reading the notes in their entirety (other than in one of the rare booklets itself) is Walt Reed's 2010 book, Harvey Dunn:  Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West.  Reed, the foremost authority on American illustration and the founder of Illustration House in New York City, was a student of Harold Von Schmidt, and as an artist himself, approaches Dunn in a way that appeals to other artists.  The 300 page book is image oriented, with 367 plates; 294 of those plates are in color, and were reproduced from modern photographs taken just for the publication of this book.  In the first section of the book, attention is paid to Dunn as illustrator and fine artist, while the second section is devoted to Dunn the teacher.  This latter portion contains not only a facsimile of An Evening in the Classroom, but also unpublished class notes from another of Dunn's students:  Dean Cornwell.


Susan Roux said...

Amazing work. Thank you for sharing.

Jim Serrett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Serrett said...

That is some great words of wisdom from a great educator. I have got to get a copy.
What is so interesting is the running theme of the "expression of an idea" not the literal. Certainly a different philosophy than the tightly rendered representational work that is in style.

Albert. S said...

The book is totally worth the price, if not more. Has tons of pics, so many are rare, esp on early subjects. Also, lots of wisdom from Dunn himself. I think Dunn came closer to Pyle's ideas than the rest of the Brandywine immortal Bunch.

J. Susan Parker - Lancaster said...

this was by far the most inspiring and encouraging thing ive read since...,.i can remember!