Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Franklin McMahon: "What I lose in accuracy I make up for in spontaneity"

"My method of working is to draw directly wherever possible." said Franklin McMahon in an article in the April 1956 issue of American Artist magazine.


"I pick a point - usually a point closest to me in the scene I'm drawing. I begin at this point and work out. All other parts of the drawing take their place in relation to this point."


"I wait for the people to settle down or assume a characteristic pose and then draw them in."


"What I lose in accuracy I make up for in spontaneity, and there is a hoped-for reality (a feeling of being there) which I don't think can be achieved as well in any other way."


"All of these drawings were made directly in ink with no preliminary pencilling. There is no blocking in. The edge of the subject is almost traced out of the air."


"Sometimes I pencil-up the signs, lettering them in later at the studio."


"I am very much interested in design," McMahon continued. "I have a distinct feeling, however, that design, as we have come to know it, has become rather in-bred."


"Being primarily an illustrator-designer I found that my own personal corrective was to get out and look around - a return to first principles, so to speak. That is why I have welcomed these direct drawing assignments."


"In this sort of drawing the design grows out of the artist's work on the site and his interaction with the subject matter..."


"... rather than being superimposed later in the studio."


At this point in his career (the mid-1950s) McMahon worked with #4 brushes dipped in india ink on large sheets (20" x 25") of cover stock. He said, "I use this large sheet since I never know exactly, when I begin, just where the drawing is going to end!"


"The drawing is not blocked-in or planned in advance...


"... it just grows and the design continues to develop with it."


* More on Franklin McMahon tomorrow


  1. Thanks for the inspirational post and cool artwork! I had to read this post because the quote at the top is the opposite of my own approach... I generally make up in accuracy what I can't grasp in spontaneity... working on that...

  2. Thank you, Leif!!! My love affair with McMahon's work began while studying for my MFA at Syracuse U. I peeked in the door of a class that was one year ahead of me because I caught a glimpse of the projected drawings. Franklin invited me in and not only spoke to me as if he had all the time in the world, but also gave me one of his promotional booklets- treasured until this day. I look at his drawings regularly not only for myself, but also to show my own MFA students. His drawings are steady accountings of so many everyday instances that we take for granted, as well as many significant historical benchmarks- the likes of which are now documented on phones rather than with the personality of a draftsman. The posts are beautiful.


  3. Great post! I had never seen these drawings before. I love the quote you pulled at the top and can relate to it.

    I'm looking forward to this week on TI.


  4. Melanie-

    What does his promotional booklet look like? Very cool that you got to meet him.

  5. Beautiful drawings!--Thanks!

  6. Accuracy versus Spontaneity - Great theme Leif!
    You may be just seismic, hinting at fault lines in art world:-)

    quoting Franklin Mc Mahon:
    "All parts of a drawing take place... in relation to the initial point"
    sounds quite universal....


    "I have a distinct feeling, however, that design, as we have come to know it, has become rather in-bred"..

    "In-bred design" ha ha; do they teach that (and quite a few other things in this entry) somewhere? I mean outside Today's Inspiration university?

    There's lots of in-breeding nowadays in all the fields, but let's get back on topics.

  7. It's interesting to me how different these drawings are from his pieces in On The Spot Drawing. And, Melanie, I second Daniel's interest in that promo booklet!

  8. Amazing stuff. Thanks for posting. His approach (going straight to final w/no penciling) takes a lot of confidence. I'm not sure I could do that!

  9. Great work, approach. As has been mentioned, McMahon's to be found in On The Spot Drawing...

  10. Super cool!

    Is the method he mentions ("All parts of a drawing take place... in relation to the initial point") a standard method? I never heard of that before, (I'm not a professional artist.)

    Very beautiful posts.


  11. Wes,

    I think what McMahon is referring to is using the initial point as a foundation to reference back to for scale and spatial relationships while you are drawing the rest of the picture.