Monday 4 October 2021

Fans of Frank: Owen Claxton (Part Two) - Frank's highlighting

"Thunderbirds" in TV21 219
White scraped off surface

Frank’s Highlights

Last time Owen Claxton told us about what inspired him in Frank Bellamy's artwork. This time he focuses on one aspect of Frank's technique. I've peppered the article with other examples where I know that Bellamy did NOT use any process white as the original art still exists

OWEN CLAXTON: Being an artist myself I’m always interested in how other artists approach their work and any quirky little tricks or tools they may employ to get certain effects. One aspect of FB’s technique that has intrigued me is how he did highlights without ever resorting to using process white, which is a simple, fast and effective way that many time-pressed illustrators would use. So I thought I would take a closer look. Disclaimer, I don’t have access to any Bellamy originals so this is based purely on viewing printed reproductions. [But lucky for you Norman does!]

"Fraser of Africa" Eagle 27 May 1961 (Vol.12:21)
An example of using ink over white board for highlights

It’s pretty clear that Frank never used process white for painting in highlights, in the Skinn/ Gibbons interview he clearly states that he didn’t like using it. In the same interview he also says the only masking technique he used was a piece of tape for giving a straight edge, no mention of any masking fluid.

In Timeview David Bellamy says his father would begin with a loose sketch in soft pencil without any preparatory work. A loose sketch rather than a tight one suggests to me that the final position of highlights was not decided at this stage. David goes on that Frank would start to ink with a dip pen on top of this loose sketch, building up the picture. 

This stage is where skill comes into play most of all, each pen mark carefully tightening up the initial sketch and providing the structure of the piece. Once this inking stage is over the position of the highlights would be suggested by the ink drawing. I doubt Frank would note their position in pencil as it’s most likely that all pencil would be rubbed out before adding the colour for fear of it showing through the translucent washes. So it must be as the colour inks go on that the final position of highlights is decided. Most of the time an artist can just carefully paint around the highlight with very light washes but there are occasions when this is not always possible. 

Look and Learn #452

If we look at the illustration of French soldiers (page 122 of The Art of Frank Bellamy and above) we can see that the background of fire, explosions and smoke is very loosely painted. However the bits of exploding shell on the left clearly cross over the loose splodges of red and brown ink. If Frank didn’t paint these curving marks over the top with a paler body colour then how did he do it? I can only think of two ways. 

"Montgomery of Alamein" Eagle 14 April 1962 (Vol.13:15)

Firstly while the ink was wet he used a damp cloth or even cotton wool to lift the colour off the board, he would have to work fast to do this to get the ink off before it dried. David Bellamy does state that his father worked at ‘fantastic speed’ and this may well be an approach that Frank used but it’s near impossible to get back to white doing it this way. [see "Montgomery" above ~Norman]

Which brings me to the second way, Frank let the inks dry and then scratched out the highlights with a razor. Now I’ve never used CS10 board but someone who has is Steve McGarry who writes: ‘The china clay surface accepts ink beautifully and mistakes can be scratched out with a razor blade without any feathering, so the art always looks pristine.’ My gut feeling, because I haven’t seen the original artwork, is that Frank used a combination of lifting and scraping to achieve these highlights. If anyone else has any further information or thoughts then I’d be interested to hear them. 


I gave this to David Jackson to have a look and he made some comments:

Some of the early romance - and that era - illustrations [c.1950-1952 ~Norman] have some indications of opaque paint but all later Bellamy art (where it isn't pencil/chalk type) is transparent colour washes of waterproof inks. As Owen has rightly deduced (some of this can be seen in the art) when the washes have completely dried on CS10 board it can be scraped away to the white surface. FB's scraped-back and rubbed-out effects were developed experimentally in black and white line and wash monochrome while still working on Swift. [King Arthur and Robin Hood ~Norman]. 

Thanks David. Paul Holder kindly sent me some of these images in better resolution than produced in the published versions. Looking at the character of Much the Miller in the tree, one can see scraped back elements in the branch, where it forks. 

In the image below that (of the Sheriff of Nottingham) we can see that emphasis has been placed on the gap between the front Norman rider and the one behind, by scraping or sanding the surface of the board. 


"Robin Hood" Swift, 23 June 1956 Panel #4

"Robin Hood" Swift, 23 June 1956Panel #3

And lastly in the two Thunderbirds images below,we see in the Thunderbird 3 image (from TV21 #217) not only white space left blank, but also scraping back to white (to emphasise the circular highlight on the body of TB3) and also the dabbing with cotton wool effect in the spray on the water. But as Paul mentioned, also look at the 'arm' and you'll see a yellow - orange colour in which Bellamy leaves some white for highlight - so confirming what Owen observed.  And in the Jovian Eye (TV21 #152) we can clearly see 'sanding' on the pupil.

"Thunderbirds" TV21 #217

"Thunderbirds" TV21 #152

I've always said I'm not an artist and shy from this sort of article which I know is of interest to many following the blog. So I'm very grateful to the above for so much help - Owen for being kind enough to write down the process he deduced; David for further help and thoughts as usual and Paul for most of the images and thoughts. This can not be done without you guys.