Yesterday, in the New York clubs — Salmagundi Art Students League, the Society of Illustrators — I was cruising historical and current members’ work, listening to wisps of conversation, digging in archives, wandering down memory lane.
Howard Pyle (1853-1911) came to New York from Wilmington, Delaware, in 1873. “Pyle arrived at the right time and instinctively recognized the power of pictures for everyone,” says Pyle’s biographer, Henry Pitz. Beyond his success in magazine and book illustration, Pyle had a large influence on a generation of American artists. His students included N.C. Wyeth, Violet Oakley, Harvey Dunn, Stanley Arthurs, Frank Schoonover and many others. No Pyle student ever forgot him — nor could they ever stop quoting him. What were the qualities that made him the prince of empowerment? What was his advice that might be of value to some painters today?
— Develop a sense of history.
— Seek your training close to home.
— Respect books, picture-books and reading.
— Engage in writing as a parallel skill.
— Research your interests thoroughly.
— Seek truth and correctness in settings.
— Put in time to get your drawing right.
— Sketch first to find the focal center.
— Be vigorous and stand up to work.
— Commit to the highest of possibilities.
— See the drama and theatre in your subjects.
— Depict basic emotions — grief, pride, greed, etc.
— Look for new ways to see and tell a story.
— Don’t let reality destroy your imagination.
— Be an eyewitness to vivid experiences.
— Simplify compositions and waste little.
— Don’t ask opinions from those you don’t respect.
— Be idealistic in your life and picture making.
— Be willing to share and pass the torch.
— Be willing to mentor and teach without fee.
After writing this sum-up of Pyle’s thinking, I went back and had a look at a letter I wrote about his student N.C. Wyeth. The torch was indeed passed.
PS: “I can be of use to the younger artists through the advice and criticism which I give them. It is likely that some of my pupils will reach unusual distinction.” (Howard Pyle)
Esoterica: The idea of teaching for free has some merit. An individualistic, successful and non-tenured artist leads well by showing and demonstrating. His cryptic critique and practical insight are respected. He need only take on students with potential. His independent spirit is part of the inspiration. He need not be troubled with curriculum that is best learned privately from books. He can walk out of a lecture room or workshop without feeling the slightest pang of guilt, and he can never be accused of anything but the love of making art.
This letter was originally published as “Howard Pyle” on October 15, 2004.
“Paint ideas; paint thought.” (Howard Pyle)
Learn the secrets of landscape and cityscapes from master UK painter Andrew Gifford, color mixes, techniques of layering and glazing different brushes and palette knives to priming and grounding boards. He will demonstrate how to paint from an early sketch to the final piece in the many stunning locals of the region = all while you live in a genuine castle and eat like royalty.