Feb 2, 2010
Guest Artist of the Month Philip Howe
"Comes the Dawn"
"Comes the Morning"
When I was in high-school, I was fortunate enough to have a good teacher who allowed me to learn at my own pace. Mr. Graves told me I ‘passed him up’ as a sophomore, so he let me create a class for myself that essentially allowed my workaholic temperment to take advantage of the library, where I learned as much as I could from the small list of illustration books they had available. Again, that was fortunate, since a lot of schools don’t really have budgets set aside for any art books, let alone illustration.
The work that excited me most were creative images done by the classic illustrators of the past- for two reasons-1, they were the most technically advanced images I have ever seen, including most museum pieces. And 2- the work was not more barn paintings or landscapes, which dominated most of the midwest art that I saw. The illustrations were creative, inventive, and often had made up areas that were just as well executed as the rest of the image.
No one taught me anything about illustration, not many knew about it, coming from Indiana. I learned by reading and then doing sample after sample, from small photo-realistic pencil drawings to full watercolors and acrylics, always done realistically. I began to win first and best of show awards in the few competitions I entered, always showing small watercolor landscapes or figure pieces. By the time I was a senior, I had a professional technique and looked around for a good school to use my scholarship. Rather than go to a fine art school, where everyone I checked into had dirty halls full of abstract work that didn’t make sense to me, I found a 2 year vocational school that a friend recommended. On a work study program, I had access to better materials and took full advantage of the course. My instructor would even give me some of his commercial jobs to render, architectural pieces or other gouache illustrations that he would touch up and send off to clients.
At nineteen, I started freelancing in the midwest doing magazine covers and worked as an Art Director for 4 or 5 years, designing ads and collateral material for national accounts, mostly due to my comping ability. Back then, we used markers and I could draw well, so I did nice presentations, my boss would go in and pitch the accounts, and we ended up with large accounts that we had no business getting over the much larger ad agencies. I was so green about the entire agency business back then that I had no idea what I was doing expect that I knew I did some nice renderings, apparently. I looked at everything as I still do, a way of visualizing any idea to allow others to see it.
In 1980 I began freelancing full time, much of my work coming from the west coast for the new Atari or other game companies doing box covers and ads. Over the years I have done over 4,000 jobs and worked for all major NY publishers as well as many international corporations, annual reports, portraits, and whatever came in. Some of my clients have included Microsoft, Nintendo, Dow Chemical, Lilly/Elanco, IBM, Intel, Weyerhaeuser, Caterpillar, and many others. I have been lucky to have had a variety of clients and worked with some good designers and Art Directors over the years.
When Photoshop first came out, I could see where the business was headed, living in Seattle, one of the hotbeds of the digital age. I quickly adapted to digital work and within a year half of my income was digital. Now, I do both.
That was the bulk of my commercial career. I have always painted, filling in any free time with large canvases. I consider myself a painter who also does the occasional illustration. Now I concentrate on my writing, painting, and developing books.
My technique initially stemed from seeing those old samples in the illustration books, especially from the classic illustrators of the early periods like Dean Cornwell, Maxfield Parrish, Wyeth, Pyle, Abbey, and many others. If you haven’t seen their originals, and you love good realism, then you owe it to yourself to go to whatever museum or colletion has them and see just how much fine art went into their thinking. Illustration usually gets a bad rap, and much of it is justified. After all, its done primarily for clients. But if you want to see outstanding technique, if for no other reason than to learn from it, then by all means seek out those artists and others who dominated the business. Another favorite period of mine was the 60-70’s when master designers like Bernie Fuchs or Mark English did some outstanding magazine spreads. As fine art moved into more inventive ways of applying paint and color, so did the commercial work and it is a true reflection of the period.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I began to study some of the brilliant fine artists of various periods, all of whom have influenced me in some way. Painters like Waterhouse, Sargent, Zorn, Klimt, and many other realists have always impressed me technically, but I feel its up to my design and creative tastes to come up with my own kind of imagery. One of the disadvantages of developing a polished realistic style at an early age is that it can often stiffle creativity. I was well aware of my need to do my own subject matter and have fun with my work, otherwise I would have no interest in painting. I tried abstract and other looks, but always came back to creative realism, I think because it was the most difficult to do well and yet the easiest technically because it’s how I think. I spent years experimenting in my free time and turned each painting or study into an experiment in techniques. I also spent a dozen years going to drawing sessions with various life drawing groups, three or four times every week until I felt my freehand skills were up to speed, which, for me, meant it helped me paint better. I always have room for improvement and I’m my most severe critic. I don’t think I’ve ever passed a painting I did without thinking I could do it better now, or could experiment this way or that to get a better effect.
Since I have not had to paint for money, meaning I don’t have to show in galleries as most artists do to survive, my commercial work was always there to support my family financially. So the experimenting and the paintings were free of commericial constraints and I think that’s why I turned to more spiritual and dream imagery as this is a personal expression and certainly not mainstream conservative work. I don’t know if that is lucky or just determination, but so far it’s worked out for me. When I taught, I always tried to get students to see the value of their own vision, not the vision of any gallery or a sales approach. Once you go down that road, you might as well call it illustration. There’s nothing really wrong with it, it just doesn’t appeal to me or what I thought ‘Art’ is all about. If I can continue to paint my own vision and approach it with the same enthusiasm that I started with, doing the all nighters and painting fast and clean with an illustrators flair, then I know I can come up with a body of work that at least says something and was fun to do.
To see more of Philips work go to this site: