My experience with Jim McMullan
As a second-year illustration student at the School of Visual Arts, I sat confidently in Jim McMullan's figure drawing class working through yet another series of five minute poses. This would have been my second semester in his class, and I had the notion that I'd picked up a few things. I was blending the High-Focus Drawing ways of thinking with inspiration from Egon Schiele. I recall having the distinct impression that I was making some significant progress. My drawings were pretty different from the character the rest of the class was attempting to achieve. The elegant lines that Jim tried so adamantly to train us to execute were replaced by something resembling the scrawlings of someone crippled with rheumatoid arthritis. After some time, Jim came over to me and sat down. 

"You're not a genius." He said. 

This obvious news had been hovering near me for a long, long time just waiting for a willing conduit to deliver it. It was devastating. I think he said a lot of other things at that time, but I was too pissed to recall anything else. It took me most of a week to cool off. After calling him an egotist (I apologized a couple years later), I began to submit myself to his instruction in earnest. He was a great teacher, and I credit his way of thinking about drawing with much of my success as an illustrator. 

He carried a kind of pathos into class. Drawing became an empathetic experience with the subject. I began to think of "how it felt" to stand, sit, do or be whatever the subject was manifesting. He created words when necessary -- "thisness" is one I recall particularly. Drawing began to require a degree of openness and humility that I found I had to struggle to supply. To say that he was passionate about drawing really doesn't suffice. Art making to him was like worship-- a divine experience that if executed with adequate connection to the heart would manifest to the world what that artist was made to do. 

Jim's work still challenges me. After listening to a recent podcast interview he did with Giuseppe Castellano, I ordered an old book of his called Revealing Illustrations (grab a used copy of this gem) where he detailed his process as he works through a commission. I just had him as a drawing instructor, and I'm kind of bummed I didn't get to hear more about what he thought about watercolor and the illustration process. The man  can do more with one line than I can do with a thousand, AND he can articulate WHY that is even possible. 

There are probably better watercolorists out there, but I haven't seen any personally. He makes watercolor do all that watercolor can do and then some. 

I was riding my bike this morning, and I thought that in your personal artistic odyssey, you might benefit from this recommendation. If you already know about Jim McMullan, revisiting his work is always a good idea. If you've never heard of him, check out the books I've mentioned and any other stuff you happen to run across. He's an artist that, to my reckoning, manifests his heart through his work with supreme skill and intention as well as any I'm aware of. 

And I think that's why I ever wanted to be an artist in the first place.

After a couple decades of working as an illustrator, I feel I need to return to class and hear those upsetting words again. I hope it won't take me a week to recover this time. 

Check out Jim's work at



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