Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ken Riley: The Importance of Drawing

Having learned that Riley drew comic book art during his earliest professional years, and remembering his statement, "I think with a pencil - in terms of line, and my paintings are essentially drawings", it made sense to me that we should devote one day this week to focus on Ken Riley's black and white line art.

The pieces above and below, excerpted from Frederic Whitaker's article in the June 1958 issue of American Artist magazine, are described as being "charcoal on a toned ground" (above) and "charcoal with grey and white gouache accents" (below).

I suspect the three pieces below from 1960 were similarly drawn in charcoal.

Whitaker writes, "There may be important artists who can't draw, but... drawing demonstrates two capabilities, that of analyzing what is seen or thought, and that of recording it, and these two faculties in combination constitute the very foundation upon which art production is based. The importance of draughstmanship was instilled in Riley personally by Thomas Hart Benton."

All of this is greatly impacted as well by an understanding of the nature of composition - and Ken Riley's vituosity at composing a picture is handily demonstrated in our final example below. Riley reinforces the importance of drawing to his working method when he says, "I make a number of thumbnail compositions in pencil. As I have said before, I think best in terms of line. After the line comes the masses. Design, which after all is an abstract matter unrelated to the appearance of reality, is the most important part of any picture [bold type mine] and this I seek to define with the lines and solid shapes."

My Ken Riley Flickr set.


  1. these all have great draughtsmenship, leif....riley is great...the last? i heard he was still living, in his late 80's...there was a nice book i found on him at the strand book store years dealt with his western paintings....he also did many readers digest condensed books...and,by the way....i'm fairly sure he was a student of harvey,brian...

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  3. Yes Brian, he was a student of Harvey Dunn and before that a student of Thomas Hart Benton in 1938 at the Kansas City Art Institute. He had a very solid and varied education in art and illustration, and is very intellectual about the process of creating his paintings... a very interesting guy with a ton of talent.

    Tom Watson

  4. Wonderful work! Thank you for posting this. I am going to try to find one of his books!