Dave Klemencic

Art. Music. Words.
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Artist of the Week: George Pratt

George Pratt is an American artist, writer, illustrator, film-maker, teach and musician, born in Texas in 1960.   I had the pleasure of studying under him at VCU in 2003 and 2004, and his attitude, approach and vision for his art has informed a great deal of my own opinion about painting, teaching and what it means to be an artist.

With a background in illustration, painting and comics, George’s work bridges the gap between high art and the graphic novel and comics world.  He studied at Pratt Institute (no relation) beginning in 1980, and later taught there, as well as Savannah College of Art and Design, VCU, the Joe Kubert School, the Illustration Academy and Ringling College of Art and Design, where he continues to teach currently.

His first graphic novel, Enemy Ace: War Idyll was met with great critical and commercial success.  Released in 1990, the story brings a 1960’s DC Comics character into a modern day setting, with the Ace as an aging warrior, bed-ridden and helping a Vietnam vet cope with his own experiences.  The book is composed primarily of gouache paintings, spontaneous and flowing but with an incredible attention to detail and historical accuracy, and a clear effort to draw upon the universal experience of soldiers at war.

George has also undertaken several other ambitious projects in the comics field, including such books as Batman: Harvest Breed, the Wolverine: Netsuke miniseries, many cover illustrations for Detective Comics and Legends of the Dark Knight, and a great number of other works for private commissions, advertisements and more.

As a filmmaker and writer, George traveled to the deep south to research and produce the documentary “See You in Hell, Blind Boy” about the great tradition of Blues music, working with Steve Budlong and James McGillion to produce that film.  A book by the same title is in the works.

George’s work has been nominated for numerous Eisner Awards, including the Eisner Award for Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, which he won for the Wolverine: Netsuke series, and the France Info Award for Best Foreign Graphic Novel.  His work has been displayed in galleries and museums across the world, as well as many private collections.

Perhaps of greatest significance to me personally is George’s incredible approach to teaching.  As his work has taken many forms, he draws upon many areas of knowledge, both historical and pertaining specifically to the arts to provide a context for his students and a framework upon which to build their own work.  His instruction relies heavily on hands-on demonstrations, slideshows and lectures in which he’s not afraid to pass around books, printouts and documents and speak candidly about his own influences and experiences.  This approach provided me with a fresh change of pace at a time when I was struggling through my own university studies, and helped me gain a new outlook on my work.  He preached a can-do attitude, following ones own gut interests and pushing hard work and discipline over a flighty conceptual approach that I had found all too common in school at the time.

One demonstration in particular stands out to me, which George dubbed the “Barron Storey Technique”.  Storrey, a great illustrator and teacher in his own right, was known for a mashing-together of media and techniques that created a new amalgam of illustrative styles informed by African and tribal art, traditional painting and literature.

The technique went something like this: (if you care to try it yourself, do be sure to take the necessary precautions for ventilation, material safety and not destroying your apartment or living space)

Starting with a single sheet of paper and some sort of source material such as a sharp-contrast photograph, hone out a quick sketch with a pen, dip brush, charcoal and/or pencils.

Once you’ve got a good working ground, you can affix the media to the paper with Crystal Clear or a similar gloss enamel spray.

Let the material dry, (a hair-dryer can speed along the process, but again, this stuff is kinda dangerous so be careful about huffing too much) and coat the dryed surface with acrylic matte medium.

Once coated, layers of transparent inks and watercolor (Dr. Martins yellows and browns are particularly useful and moody) can be applied in washes to harmonize the colors and add a depth and tone that would normally be washed away without the intermediary layers of coating.

Additional hand-working can be then applied with acrylic paint or goauche, which will pull up some of the watercolor/ink to further harmonize and deepen the piece.

From there, you can spray on additional coats of enamel spray and paint on more matte medium to reopen the piece.  After you’re content that you’ve sufficiently beaten your piece into submission, a top gloss coat can seal it up for good.

I’ll attempt to walk through the technique and document it myself, as this is probably a bit more clear in my head than the explanation here would imply.

All said and done, I’m very appreciative for the time I studied under George, and would recommend anyone with an interest in comics, painting, illustration or teaching take some time to dig up his work, read the graphic novels and share with your friends.

Further reading and images:



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Posted in Art History 9 years ago at 9:52 pm.

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