The great American illustrator, Howard Pyle, taught about two hundred students in his lifetime. Of those, about eighty became well-known artists and illustrators. His assistant for many of those years was Charles DeFeo, whose job it was to clean Pyle's palette, reset it with fresh color, wash the brushes, and take Pyle's French poodle, Bijou, for walks. While DeFeo was in the studio, he recorded some of the advice Howard Pyle gave to his class.
First an artist- then an illustrator.If you are going to be an artist all hell can't stop you. If not, all Heaven can't help you.If you receive only fifty cents for a job, put as much of your heart into it as you would in one you are receiving $500 for.If you are doing a black-and-white, a little color will hide a multitude of sins.If you are painting a sky full of birds, or a garden of flowers, or any objects- show one or a thousand.If an object in the foreground of your picture looks too big, make it bigger. If it looks too small, make it smaller.After the first half-hour of work, your lay-in should kill at a hundred yards.
If you can make a picture with two values only, you have a strong and powerful picture. If you use three values, it is still good, but if you use four or more, throw it away.In using three values he used to say, "Put your white against white, middles tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want your center of interest. This sounds simple, but is difficult to do."If you're doing a fight picture or a stormy scene make the background fight as well as the figures in the picture.A strange color, that is different from the color scheme of your painting, use in one spot only. It will be beautiful, but do not repeat it.They will never shoot you for what you leave out of a picture.Your picture is finished if it is one-third as good as your original idea.
My favorite of DeFeo's reminiscences of Pyle's class, however, is the comment Pyle would make after giving a painting demonstration: "I'm afraid you didn't get much out of it outside of entertainment for you could see me work, but you could not see me think." Whenever I have witnessed a demonstration by a master painter, I am always left with the frustration of seeing what they did, without knowing WHY they chose to do what they did. For better or worse, I know my style will always have a signature element that is me; I am not seeking to be a copy of another artist (no matter how brilliant they are). If I could only "see how they think," though, perhaps I could approach that master's skill.
Delaware Art Museum, Howard Pyle: Diversity in Depth (Delaware Art Museum: Wilmington, DE, 1973).