For more than 45 years Darrel has honed his unique technique, rendering highly-detailed images to a level that few have the ability or patience to master. To call Darrel’s work “realism” would be somewhat inaccurate. He creates images that often idealize or romanticize reality, infusing the ordinary with an unreal quality. Yet, despite being tightly rendered, Darrel’s work never looks overworked and—because he works in traditional mediums—his images reflect a human touch that’s often missing from digital mediums.
Darrel’s stunning graphite portraits are one of his specialties. He is also internationally renowned for his Biblical images which have earned him recongnition within the relatively small Christian publishing market. However, he is largely undiscovered by the general publishing and advertising industry.
If you’re not familiar with Darrel’s work, read on and get to know one of the few masters of an increasingly rare form of illustration.
Q: When your work is so well known within a specific genre, is it difficult to get art directors to recognize the potential for your work in a wider context?
A: It is easy to become stereotyped I guess. People usually ask me to do the same type of work they’ve seen me do. Since many of my clients have been religious publishers that’s the exposure I’ve been getting. I have enjoyed the many opportunities I’ve had to illustrate for advertising and product representation, but my name is not visible to the viewer as it is when my work appears in magazines or books. Name recognition is invaluable and so it’s obviously a great advantage to have the credit line.
Q: Your style of highly detailed realism seems to be almost a lost art. Have you noticed any trends over the years in the demand for realistic illustration?
A: Not as far as the general public goes. I have found that there are a great many people (maybe most) who want to understand what they are looking at, so that they can identify with it. I think Norman Rockwell illustrated it very well with his illustration of the man gazing at a piece of modern art, scratching his head as he tried to make sense of it. So, whether it’s recognized or not, I think there will always be that great appreciation for traditional realism.
Q: Many illustrators seem to be modifying their techniques so they can work quicker in order to compensate for tightening art budgets. Your work looks very time consuming. Have you felt pressure to find a faster way of working?
A: Yes, to a degree. Although, I realize that I can only take that so far. I have a very detailed style and it just takes time to create that affect. But, it is an illusion and there are some things that I can emphasize and then back off of the things of lesser importance. However, when a client chooses my work, it’s usually because of the detailed approach so I most often have to maintain that look. Many art directors call me because of my realism but may not realize it often takes much more time to accomplish it. Often publishers have a set budget for things like the cover, half page, spot, etc. so I’m kind of caught between a rock and a hard place.
Q: What mediums do you work with?
A: Graphite Pencil, Colored Pencil, Gouache, Pen and Ink. Often I’ll use a combinations such as oil washes with colored pencil.
Q: Your website says you teach private drawing classes and shows some remarkable examples of work your students have done. Tell me about your graphite portrait techniques classes.
A: Of all the things that I’ve done in the arts, I think teaching and sharing what I’ve learned with others has been the most enjoyable. It’s an incredible experience to bring out an artistic ability in someone who never thought that they had any. When even an eighty-five year old can, after all those years, finally unleash something inside them that they needed to express and then realize that someone else has actually been moved by their art, that’s worth everything.
Even though my technique is unique, it does have a clear method that my students can understand. With practice and guidance they gain confidence, skill, and an unleashed passion for drawing to the point that they can hardly put their pencils down.
Darrel’s stock archive:
All images copyright © 2008 Darrel Tank. All rights reserved.