Know Your Idols: Howard Pyle

Before Frank Frazetta, Luis Royo, Julie Bell, and Boris Vallejo there was Howard Pyle.
My introduction to Pyle's work was during a visit to the Brandywine Museum in Chads Ford, PA. I knew I was going to see the work of the Wyeths but I wasn't sure about this Pyle fellow.

Let me give you a wiki nutshell- Born March 5th (Happy Belated Birthday!) 1853, native of Wilmington Delaware. He taught N.C. Wyeth (among other crazy popular illustrators) and is basically the founder/origin of the art we refer to as the "The Brandywine School." Don't get me wrong, there was an actual school but his students' and followers' work is collectively referred to as Brandywine School- regardless of whether or not they actually attended.
Pyle revolutionized illustration and his influence can be seen in pop culture today! Don't believe me? Pyle is credited for creating the modern stereotype of pirates through his work. Can you say "Jack Sparrow?"
In 1911, Pyle died rather suddenly. He was studying mural painting in Florence, Italy.

What's so special?
Before Pyle, illustration was very flat- for lack of a better word. Somewhat unimaginative. Scenes appeared staged and lacked a believable environment and lively mannerisms. I'd like to think that Pyle extracted part of the diverse Delaware Valley landscape and injected it into these fantastical scenes of heroes and villains- fighting for their lives in breakneck terrain. He understood how to convey the suspense of the moment and really get the viewer's imagination reeling!

"Pyle's concept of a picture was never trite. He deliberately looked for new ways to tell a story and involved himself in his subject so thoroughly that his pictures make the reader an eye-witness to a vivid experience."  -Walt Reed. Source: Illustration House

An admirable teacher, Pyle grasped the concept of teaching and had a profound influence on his students... and their students. I've been in art classes where the teacher yells and degrades the artists. I've also seen teachers who were too afraid of hurting students' feelings to be straightforward. Pyle had a unique philosophy, and he wasn't so much concerned with the technical aspects as he was about the students' motivations and inspirations. Read on about Pyle's teaching and critiquing style.

Do you dig comic books and Dungeons & Dragons?
Chances are, if it wasn't for Pyle, your blood thirsty warriors and monsters wouldn't be jumping off the page like they do. The perspective of the hero facing the 100+ foot tall dragon gives the image its UMPH! Can you imagine if it were illustrated from the perspective of an audience at a play? Blahhh. Not nearly as impactful, is it?

Brandywine School, if I remember correctly, is part of The Golden Age of Illustration. A place well earned. Van Gogh once commented on Pyle's work in a letter to a friend, saying it,"...struck me dumb with admiration."

So there. Now you know.

I've had this poster on my wall since my first visit to the Brandywine Museum! Its a gorgeous place if you ever get the opportunity to visit.

More Howard Pyle


P.S. Have you checked out the Van Gogh exhibit now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art???
Van Gogh Up Close- until May 6th 2012


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