The Death of Drawing

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.” — Vincent van Gogh

Death of Drawing

I admit it. I’m a killer. I didn’t just let drawing (with a pencil, pen or brush) die a slow death, I drove a stake through its heart. I don’t know the exact date (although I could make a good guess with a little research), but I remember the circumstances.

As often as possible, I drew or painted book covers and editorial illustrations. It was fun and kept my classical art training (drawing, painting, printmaking and sculpture) alive. Then one day, after another rejection of an illustration for a magazine article, I was instructed to “just do a photocollage.” This was happening with more and more frequency. I had already created several photocollages for the magazine, so I reasoned, “What’s one more?” Besides, they’re easier to do.

Shortly thereafter, I gathered up my colored pencils, markers, charcoals, paints, brushes and pens and laid them to rest in a cardboard coffin.

I also kept sketchbooks filled with exploratory drawings from each project. I often referred to them for inspiration. But no more. Oh, I still sketch ideas, but they’re very primitive, drawn on scraps of paper and quickly tossed away. I now turn to my computer as soon as possible. I’m still doing the work, but something is missing. If not from the work, then from my life.

By now, you may be wondering what on earth set me to lamenting the absence of drawing in my life. Well, blame it on Drew Struzan and the documentary, Drew: The Man Behind the Posters. I recently watched it on Netflix, and it’s fascinating.

Drew Struzan is responsible for illustrating more than 150 movie posters, including all the films in the Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, Rambo and Star Wars film series. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Struzan produced poster work for such films as Blade Runner, The Cannonball Run, the Police Academy series, the Muppet Movie series, An American Tail and The Goonies. By the 1980s, Struzan was producing approximately ten poster designs a year.

However, in the 1990s, with the advent of computers and digital manipulation, Struzan was drastically affected by the decline of traditionally illustrated poster art. During the 1990s and 2000s, he did produce artwork for such films as Hook, Hellboy and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but each of these projects took a creative toll on him.

For Hook, he had to make a special trip to Dustin Hoffman’s house to consult him because the actor was unhappy with his character’s facial expression on the finished artwork. This delayed the use of the poster for the film’s opening, and a simple poster with a giant hook (by another artist) was used instead.

Hellboy proved a hellish experience. The director, Guillermo del Toro, is a huge fan of Struzan and requested the studio use him for the movie poster. After completing the work, the studio rejected the artwork (Guillermo loved it!) and opted for photography and computer generated graphics. The same thing happened with Hellboy’s sequel and Pan’s Labyrinth. Guillermo eventually released all three posters on his own as limited edition prints.

When Struzan was offered the job for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, he envisioned another long-running franchise like Star Wars. Not to be. The studio only used his art on the American poster and reverted to photographs and the computer for the rest of the series.

The growing use of Photoshop and the meddling of an ever-growing number of people in the creative process prompted Drew to retire in September 2008. He now focuses on personal work and an occasional commercial project. (Although, by all accounts, he’s enjoying his retirement.)

Which brings me back to my box of neglected art supplies. This year, “I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.”