Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pyle's Exploratory Thumbnails

Jeanette and I spent most of last Friday at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington for a presentation to K-12 art instructors as part of their teachers’ in-service day. Newpaper article here. Thanks to all who attended my talk and stopped by to say hello at the signing afterward.


We also had some time to pore over the extensive collection of paintings by Howard Pyle and his students. Curator Joyce Schiller then met us in the galleries to discuss the core of Pyle’s teaching and his methods of picturemaking.


Although Pyle did not leave behind a systematic theory or method in his own writings, many of his students kept copious notes of his spoken words. According to Dr. Schiller, there is no evidence that Pyle photographed costumed models for reference. There are only “fun photos of his students dressed in costumes as though they were preparing for Halloween.” Drawn figure studies are extremely rare.

What remain are many of his rough, exploratory sketches drawn from imagination.


Dr. Schiller kindly permitted me to share a few of these preliminary sketches, appearing for the first time here on Gurney Journey. They were made in preparation for “Kid on the Deck of the Adventure Gallery,” shown for comparison at the end of this post.

According to Dr. Schiller, “they are for compositional arrangement only and are not model studies or preliminary layout images. After Pyle made his composition decisions he went directly to the canvas.”


They have the flavor of a vision snatched from the ether, a snapshot from the swirling creative vortex, a half-remembered dream.

Although Pyle was both a proper gentleman and a respected scholar, he was also a mystic, following the beliefs of Swedenborgianism. This ecclesiastical organization was popular among artists in the 19th Century because of its associations with divination and theosophy. Picturemaking was for Pyle a process more mysterious than mechanical.

My thanks to Joyce K. Schiller. The foregoing images are provided by and copyright of the Delaware Art Museum, reproduced here with their express permission.

5 comments:

tlc illustration said...

Considering Pyle didn't leave behind anything 'systematic', is there one or more central 'sources' that you do refer to for his art theories and instruction?

(your miniature moleskin paintings are amazing).

james gurney said...

Hi, Tara,
Yes, there are a couple of collection of classroom notes written by his students. They're full of memorable quotes. I don't know if they're published online, but if not, perhaps I can share a few of them in a future post.

david santos said...

Fantastic work, thank you.
good luck

Eric Orchard said...

He went right to the finished painting after these? I've been spending the last four days doing the drawings for one picture. His work is so amazing, I wonder if artists lose someting by over drawing. Or if some artists need to do more preliminary drawings.

Jorge "Jay" Garcia said...

Hello again! This is Jay..I was at your presentation at Ringling today. Just wanted to thank you once more for a very inspiring talk! I'll be definetly be keeping up with your blog. :) Your stuff is incredible!