James Hanlon Guest Lecture -
Aesthetics & Criticism


First of all, I would like to offer this lecture to the well being of all humanity. My name is Jimmy Hanlon and I am an artist. What does an artist mean to me? It means that for some reason I have been attracted or attractive to a certain energy, as most of us here are. And that energy is the energy of creativity. I have been an artist all my life. Since the time I could remember I always did it. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am uneducated. I had one year of school but I have taught in the Art Institute of Atlanta, Union School of Art and Design, for about 7 years in different art schools. Why? I don't know. I, uh, I seem to have fallen into it and I love it very, very much. A wise man once told me that I have to pass what I know to someone else before I can move on. So in a sense I have to empty myself and that's one of the reasons I teach.

I just want to say something else about being an artist. Artists are not special. We are no different than any other human being on this planet. We're no different than a carpenter, a policeman, or in any profession. I know we all think well, the artist is you know, suffering and all this kind of stuff. It is not so. We're just human beings. Fortunately, I seem to have, or we have this gift. I don't even know what else to call it. We are receptive to the energy of creativity. This lecture I am going to be giving is called The Tranformation of This Energy or the energy of creativity. And I'm going to read it, and then talk, and read and talk.

To make art is to generate ideas which are translated into images. The artist wants to effectively project these ideas in the simplest, yet meaningful, unique, creative, stimulating, appropriate, and powerful visual terms to the viewer. In a sense, the viewer and the artist are identical. They are both participating in the same act, which is the work of art. In simplest terms, art is information which goes from the artist's mind onto the piece of paper and from that piece of paper is reflected into the viewers' mind. There is a connection.

The work of art is what connects the artist and the viewer. Art, you can say, is a function. A medium of achieving unity between human beings. I'll say that again. Art is a function; it is not a noun. It is a function, it is a medium of achieving unity between human beings. This is true whether the artist is communicating with one human being or with millions and millions. A work of art is never an object. A noun in terms of language. A work of art is an act, an event that goes on happening. The action of creating. In terms of language, art is a verb. No work of art stands still. It is always changing itself and changing the viewer.

As soon as you show the Mona Lisa, Leonardo was a different man from his contemporaries. And his painting still changes those who see it in the Louvre today. And we can be sure that both before it was restored and after, it looks quite different than when it left the artist's studio centuries ago. And the Mona Lisa joins us all with Leonardo.

The goal of art in trancendental terms is the forging of this unity. In this lecture I'm going to be talking about roughs and comprenhensives and how this relates to art, to finished art. Let's look at the creative process in relation to turning out comps, sketches and roughs. They're called comprehensives or roughs. This is in, when you're doing commercial work. There you are, a white sheet of paper in front of you. Clean and vivid. You have a job, and you wonder what you are going to do. You hope something will come along inside your mind and fill this white void with inspiration. With genius, with magic, with power, but you would settle for something good, well thought out, professional. Art, in other words, to make money.

Let's just put it like that, we have to make money. I make money doing art. You have books, magazines, photographs, illustrations, dictionaries, references of every source scattered around you. You are sitting there also with all your experience as an artist which you have accumulated throughout your life. In a sense, your character is nothing more than the accumulation of this information. You are sitting there alone in front of this small, fragile piece of paper surrounded by this accumulated information. It is like sitting at the eye of a hurricane. You are waiting, and yet you aren't waiting. Better to say you're just sitting there. And then finally, sometimes later than you thought you could live through, it comes. It always comes at the perfect moment. It comes when you give in. It comes when you stop straining for it. If you have panic, you're filled with panic. No way is creativity going to come into you. Absolutely no way. This is the peak of the whole process of creating a work of art. That moment when you see it. When you have the whole picture. It is the creative moment. You are usually given the whole picture. Of course, details will change if the process reaches completion. But in that one creative flash, you have it. All the rest can be likened to editing.

The basic idea simply wants to gush out like water out of a spring, like a dam bursting. The amount of energy that comes forth is equal to the amount of energy that you put into the piece of work that you're working on. And that is a law. If you are sitting there, and you're going "Well, maybe I'm not going to... Well, this is going to be okay." That is you you're talking about right there. That is you. That is your energy. So if you're sort of going with mediocrity in this piece of work, that is right there in front of you. And the viewer is going to see that, the client is going to see that, and most likely, he is going to see that and say forget it, guy, forget it. I'm talking about enthusiasm. I'm talking about love. I'm talking about joy. No matter what you're doing. No matter what the project is. Whether you're doing a ten foot canvas that will hang in the Met or a flower and pastels for your lover's birthday, you want the maximum intensity that would be appropriate. You don't want to be stingy with the energy, either.

The "maximum energy appropriate," what does that mean? If you're getting $10 for a piece of work, you are going to have 100% inspiration and enthusiasm, but in regards to knocking your brains out for $10 and technical know-how, forget it . So there you are with your comical light bulbs flashing over your head, and what next? Where does your idea go from here? For the moment, the idea is neither inside nor outside. We say "It's in my head" but it seems to be out there somewhere. I'm sure you can relate to this experience. This is the moment when you reach for the butterfly net, as it were. Now the idea must be, now the idea must be transferred onto that sparkling, taunting, "touch me if you dare" surface. This is the tricky part. You want to get this renaissance under way. Don't hesitate...take pen and pencil, mark whatever with your hand, and let the idea come from your hand onto that white surface. That white surface isn't really sitting there alone in front of you. It's in the dead center of all this confusion. There're a lot more pieces of paper touching the big one in the middle. The big one I'm talking about is the finished art.

What I'm talking about here, to remind you again, is comprehensives. These are the babies of the Big Daddy: roughs. Don't be intimidated by the blank page. It wants to be covered. It attracts to be covered with something. Look what happens to any fresh wall, before you know it someone has written "Joe loves Lucille" or slapped up a sign. The wall attracts that. That piece of clean, white paper attracts that. Roughs are absolutely necessary, both for you as an artist and to show your client. When you are doing a piece of art for Lotus 1-2-3, a computer company and you're doing a big poster, you don't finish a big poster and spend 20 hours on it or 100 hours, excuse me, on it. He wants to see comprehensive, a detailed drawing, dimensions, type, size, everything.

Before you let the idea move out of your mind, out of the air onto that paper, you can never judge how much, exactly, you're dealing with. Be prepared for a deluge. Have all your tools in front of you. It's like opening a bottle full of genies. You want to get everything down fast and as accurately as possible. That is the importance of practice, of technical facility. You don't want to take the chance of losing anything. God forbid, it might be the one--the big answer to the whole project. You quickly sketch whatever comes onto, whatever comes out, and then you'll hear voices. "Wait! What about this? What about this? I'll use this." You reach for another sheet of paper. You find you have no more room. Again, don't panic. Don't be in too big of a hurry. There is an ancient proverb that applies here: Make haste slowly. Put on the brakes and settle into it. You're settling into the creative process. The panic will leave you once you're under way. The panic will leave you once you're under way. Once you sit down and pick up that pencil and paper, you got it made.

So the images have started coming but for your immediate purpose, that of selling your client, you need the fewest number of images. You want your images presented in the very fewest number of roughs or comprehensives. An overly complicated piece of art will cause confusion. Confusion will lead to misinterpretation. The artist doesn't want to project misinterpretation about himself or about his art. Maholy Nagy said, he was a great illustrator, "An illustrator is the high point of an idea; any work of art is really that: Anything less than your best isn't worth your while doing. Because it doesn't aid your growth as an artist. If you are going to be redundant and do the same thing over and over again, you know where you're going to get? You are going to get nowhere. You always have to take chances as an artist. You always have to forge ahead and be brave. Why not? Life's short, believe me.

So what you are talking about is simplicity in concept and simplicity in execution. So we need to express the idea in its most powerful terms. We need to capture the essence, the total being of that which we are trying to convey. Whether of a glass of water or Moses' parting the Red Sea. Everything and everyone involved in this project -- all the parts, the artists, the client, even that piece of paper wants the image direct and to the point. Roughs or comprehensives are means of achieving this.

Now let's look at greater detail the process of making roughs. Your immediate goal is getting your idea down on the paper. It's like taking notes. You want to get them down in the most efficient and effective way. You never really know, (excuse me), you never really know how something looks until you've captured it on paper. (Student:" Well Mr. Hanlon, What about, what about this, and what about this?") You don't know unless you can see it. That's your goal, getting it all down. You're using roughs to sell your client, not finished art. This is the second goal: the client has to see roughs before he can okay for you to move on to the finished art. With what means do we do roughs? Certainly not with finished typography and perfectly, not with a complicated air brushing. We use only basic tools: pencils, colored, colored markers, newsprint paints, cheap bond paper, whatever medium is convenient and effective for you. The appearance you want to give to a rough is clean and accurate. The rough has its own beauty; it can be an...attractive as finished art. Remember that this rough has captured what you are first trying to say. This finished art does that in a much more completed sense, but your comprehensive is your main idea; it is what you are trying to express in that very, very moment.

Remember roughs are roughs in concept and execution. This is not to say that they lack clarity, but any moment you must prepare to change techniques, substitute colors. At any moment an individual rough can be eliminated. The appearance of your roughs must also project all the information that needs to be communicated, all the information that needs to be communicated. Sometimes that's incredibly complicated. Type, color, logo design, copyright, art, photograph, this is all in one piece, let's say. Your roughs must have the graphic power to hold these elements in a comp... composit... compositionally convincing manner. Everything about the rough must be powerful. In a rough, the clear image must hold together the whole concept. Our deepest psychic functions understand images rather that words. And the simpler the image, the deeper the understanding. The rough, although it can be interesting as art in itself, must never lose its sense of direction. Roughs are simply a function-- a verb, remember, of the completed project.

In roughs, we do not want all your ideas crowded together on a piece of paper. We want many relevant ideas on many sheets of paper. Can you imagine the number of roughs Michelangelo did for the Sistine Chapel? They certainly weren't done on one paper. I can't. We don't want perfection of technique, either, in this. You don't spend hours drawing each component part, let's say of a jar on a table with Rousseau's dream in the background, all finely delineated. This is not what roughs is about. In the world, in the real world, in the art world making money, you don't have time. Time is money out there.

Roughs are roughs, but there is an essential difference between boldness and sloppiness. Professionals never, never accept sloppiness. Whether it's in your resume, your portfolio, anything in your presentation, your charisma, they will not stand for it. The competition out there is incredible. They want professionalism, and that does not include any sort of sloppiness. Roughs do not include grease stains or coffee cup rings peeking out from, peeking out from under lines of type. In roughs, you must eliminate everything that is, that is, isn't absolutely essential. Be bold--every rough must be complete in itself. If all you need to show is the position of a flower, then just show that. An individual rough, you might say, is one idea, one scheme of type, one color, one composition. Roughs are, as I said before, are also discards. You may do a rough, and throw it away. Do-- when you are working on a project, do not throw away anything until the check is in the mail. Believe me, because I've done pieces, finished pieces, and they'll say, "I don't like this color, Mr. Hanlon," and you're paying, they're paying you twenty thousand dollars for a poster--you'll change the color. But you want to have all the sketches and everything that you've done there to repeat it. So never throw anything away... I have all the sketches I've all... done for all my work because I could pull on those and use those in other projects, et cetera. Catalogue it neatly, if possible.

As for the method of achieving a good rough, there's inspiration and hard work. Inspiration cannot be taught, but rational working methods can. Inspiration needs material to give it body, as it were. That material is your experience, the information that brought a sensation..at your disposal. To achieve a good rough, you must digest all you know that might be bearing on the project at hand. When I had a job, again, Lotus 1-2-3, $10,000 I got paid for this job, it was composed in two weeks. Not bad. When I am working on something, I am, everywhere I am going, looking, seeing, I am taking that project into my memory. I am driving a car, and I'll see a sign, that red. Well, maybe I'll use that.

It's constant, you're absorbing all the information you see and experienced when you're working on a certain job. As you probably all know, as painters and artists, this will include poems, magazine articles, photographs you clipped over the years. If you haven't started an archives, do so. Polaroid sketches, everything you've heard of and seen. This method has two parts: collecting all the relevant visual information, and then selecting the most effective elements. Everything is grist for your mill. For example, you go for a walk and see a red sign, not quite red, but perhaps it's the perfect red for the typeface you've chosen.

Creation, artistic creation is really invention, invented. King Solomon, a long time ago, said, said, "There is nothing new under the sun." He was right; all our ideas are only new to us. Don't overlook your past experiencing in doing a similar job. Your own personal experiences will yield many images, and you may use them. An example-- I was living in Abiza, in 1968, with a bunch of ladies and men, and they were all outside bathing in this glorious sun with olive fields all around and the smell of the sea air, and the more ancient, ancient, land. And I remember, someone splashing this water on this person, I remember the water glistening and gleaming in the sunlight... that image I used ten years, ten, after ten years I used that image-- I saved that image there; I used it in a painting-- it was a nine foot painting of someone being splashed with water.

That image, that emotion, that experience that you've had, it will cause a responsive chord in the viewer. He can relate to that. Remember, art is a verb connecting artists and viewer. And sifting through all your knowledge and experiencing and sharing with the viewer what is relevant to a project... you are forging that unity I've spoke of. Once the work is in rough, your first viewer is you. Your second viewer is your client. In this process of accumulating and choosing and organizing a sector of your experiencing, putting your ideas in order, you are growing as an artist and as a person. At the same time, your client is getting what he wants. Later, viewers in experiencing that spark of recognition are getting energy. That's why people look at art-- to get energy.

Art is a verb. A function. It is always doing. It does simply settle down and be. In order to do, it has to have life. It has to impart energy like any living system. But again, I'd like to emphasize, that the artist does not create the way god does. God is said to create out of nothing. No artist does this. The life that art has is not of the level of energy seen in any living plant or animal. Artists are channels for creative energy.

So much for the state of mind. Now what do you do? You have everything in hand, those images from your life and from books, all those mind pictures. You've sketched the whole thing as swiftly and accurately as possible, just get it down. Next, you look for the components and do roughs of each one. Color, typeface, separate images, background, alternate composition, different techniques you might use, alternate styles. Roughs are impulsive, they are spontaneous, they are instinctual. They also have their mechanical side, but the mechanical aspect is applied during the final process of the finishing, of the completion of the art.

The needs of the client is paramount. For example, your client wants to demonstrate the need for his product, service, and your rough does that. Not the finished art--he hasn't seen that yet. He needs to see, is this going to serve the function of doing what he needs to do? Sell, whatever it may be, inspire... For example, you want to make sure, does the composition attract that? Does the style you've chosen relate to the product that's going to sell that product? or to sell your fine art?

I'm going to close here. And finally, roughs deliver the very essence of the project. From the roughs, you already know what the finished art will be. You really do. And you are delivering the essence of what you have to say about the product or service. Roughs show us the complete picture. That image, which was in the air when we began, has now been captured on the piece of paper, on many pieces of paper. We have used up all those pieces of paper surrounding the big one on the drawing board. That is the finished art. We have captured its shadow. You can look at it this way: That white sheet of paper, while it attracts my ideas, still wants to remain clean and brilliant and as perfect as possible. It is through the cleanliness of your concept and the execution, that that white paper in becoming a part of your design, maintains its original brilliance. Thanks.

About James Hanlon