Beneath the Ink: Peter Arno


The late, great cartoonist of New Yorker Magazine fame, describes his process for getting it right.


“It’s a long tough grind, with endless penciling, erasing, rectifying, to recapture the effect and mood produced in the original rough. This penciling is the invisible framework that’s later erased so the viewer will never suspect it was there -the labor and sweat which enable it to look as if no labor or sweat had been spent on it…
Sometimes this pencil layout won’t come right, no matter how I wrestle with it. It lacks life and movement it should have. When this happens I start all over again on a new piece of gleaming white board. Sometimes I make five or six beginnings, reworking faces and postures, striving for the exact comic quality the idea calls for…But finally I think I’ve hit it, and am ready to continue…
Now you -let’s suppose, here, that you’re the artist -you dip a fine pointed sable brush into India ink and start laying in the heavy black strokes that will be the skeleton of your drawing. You keep the line rough, jagged, spontaneous-looking. That’s your god (or mine): spontaneity. You move fast, with immense nervous tension, encouraging the accidentals that will add flavor to the finished drawing
When the ink is dry, if it still looks right to you, you start that awfullest of chores, the erasing of the maze of penciling that lies beneath the ink, till nothing is left on the board but crisp, clean black-and-white.”
from The Comic World’s of Peter Arno, William Stieg, Charles Addams and Saul Steinberg, 2005,
Johns Hopkins University Press

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