Saturday, August 30, 2008

Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles/ Simple vs. Complex

One of my favorite illustrators of all time is Noel Sickles. He's not very well known and it's always been hard to find out much about him or see much of his work...until now.

There's finally a beautiful book dedicated to his work. It includes the whole run of the comic strip he was famous for, "Scorchy Smith", as well as tons of his other illustration work. He did a lot of great WWII illustrations for "Life" magazine that are my favorites among his work.

Over at Today's Inspiration, Leif Peng has written great posts about the Sickles book here, here and here.

Here are a couple of great line drawings he did that illustrate a really important concept that few people ever talk about...simple vs. complex.

We all know that every drawing needs blank, simple areas for the eye to rest on. But if the piece is all blank, open areas without any areas of detail, then the piece will lack contrast. And if a piece is all complex areas of detail then it will seem too busy and frenetic and will be tough for the eye to absorb.

You should always place your simple blank areas right next to areas of detail. After all, putting two blank areas next to each other is meaningless. Putting two areas of heavy detail next to each other is also meaningless because the eye will probably have a hard time telling where one area ends and the next starts.

So in the first illustration take a look at how Sickles put the big empty areas of the tents against the complicated, detail-rich drawings of all the soldiers. In the second illustration, take a look at how he put the simple, blank areas of the log cabin and fence in the foreground to contrast with the complicated drawings of the soldiers in the background.

Balanced areas of detail and empty space can help you create a composition that is very pleasing to the eye.

If you are a fan of Milt Caniff, be sure to check out Sickles's stuff. He and Caniff met early in their careers and were friends their whole lives. Sickles had a big impact on Caniff and had a giant influence on the way Milt drew. I like Caniff but I prefer Sickle's stuff by quite a wide margin, so for me it's great to finally have a collection of all his stuff in one collection.


Kevin said...

Bravo, Mark!

I bought the Sickles book the day it was released. It is a joy and incredibly inspiring! It's a crime how little Sickles is known considering his great influence on both comic books and storyboard illustration (two artforms that he never even touched.)

I came across Sickles about 7 years ago as I started getting into Alex Toth. I have to thank Leif Peng for sharing his Sickles collection in the meantime as Sickles' stuff is so hard to find. Finally justice is done!

Gareth said...

David Apatoff over at Illustration Art had a good post on Sickles work a while ago:

I didn't know who he was before that, but those drawings alone made me a fan. I will definitely be checking that book out!

Good post btw, the contrast of detail and compostion are handled masterfully in these.

EL GRANDE said...

These blogs are so great to go to. Thanks for sharing all the great information.

joe y elio

Anonymous said...

Back to work, check out Temple of the Seven Golden Camels,and what's this? Scorchy Smith! A Noel Sickles book.

Picked it up at lunch time, lucky me, the store was having a 20% off sale.

Years ago a friend gave me a complete set of photocopies of a Scorchy story that was collected in book form. Even from those less than stellar copies I gleaned the simple beauty of Mr. Sickles work.

Another illuminating post Mark.


Anonymous said...

I saw the Sickles book today at the comic book store. Yoew- it's the size of a couch. I'll have to wait until I get a bigger apartment.

Looks amazing though.


mark kennedy said...

kevin- Yeah, I found about Sickles when I was learning about Milt Caniff. Sickles was great and has been mostly forgotten, a lot like Robert Fawcett has.

gareth - thanks for the tip I will check out the post! I like David's site a lot.

el grande - great, glad you like the blog!

kraiger - wow, 20 percent off, what a good deal. Even at full price it's a great value.

barry - yeah, I know, the thing is huge. But a good value for the size!

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