Fastest Draw in the East
An Interview with Brian "Brine" Bednarek
If a master of his craft is one who
can make a complex task look simple, then Brian Bednarek is a master
of figure drawing. His style is scribbly, but far from sloppy. His
drawings demonstrate enviable skills in rendering anatomy and blending
color, and he has a looseness that many artists strive for. Most
impressively, he can do all that in five to ten minutes. —
Your hair is so short!
I recently cut off all my hair and donated it to
Locks of Love to make wigs for
kids with cancer. Some say I look like a cross between Curious George
and a drill sergeant.
What a generous thing to do.
Well, let's talk about your art. Your style has
a paradoxical quality to it. Your loose, scribbly lines have an untamed
feeling to them, and yet you drawings look very deliberate and accurate.
How do you develop this style?
When I first started drawing, I was very linear and
stuck to just outlines. I wanted to be a comic book artist. For years
I would draw loose and then use a light table to refine the drawing until
it was tight enough to ink. That approach crept into my life drawing.
I do a loose outline and then keep drawing tighter and tighter. The only
difference is that instead of being on multiple sheets of paper, they
are all together on one.
approach to color is fascinating. Rather than blending or mixing, as one
would do with paints or pastels, you seem to create an optical illusion
by using different combinations of adjacent colors. Could you talk about
I really can’t say when my colors turned into
a scribbly mess. I remember going through a lot of phases where I imitated
various artists. Vincent Van Gough, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and David
Hockney were huge influences, as were all the Impressionists. Somehow
the idea of a color being made up of every color crept in and there is
also a vibration that comes from multiple colors that I really like. I
don’t consciously decide on colors, I just do it intuitively and
hope it looks good.
You mentioned a number of famous artists. How
have they influenced your work beyond appreciation for color blending?
The artists I mentioned all did very personal work
and I think they were all concerned with the human condition. That’s
something to aspire towards.
you go to art school or were you self-taught?
And, did you have a mentor?
Yes to all of them. I started drawing as a kid. The
first things I remember doing was copying Dick Tracy from the newspaper.
I think of Chester Gould as my first great influence. (I still can do
a great imitation of his style.) Later on I discovered Jack Kirby who
created Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Thor and about a million
other comic book characters. I used to copy his style and dreamed of being
a comic book artist. This went on for years. Fortunately my Mother was
supportive of my drawing and when I was 15, I took my first life drawing
class. I was hooked. All I wanted to do was draw nudes from life. My first
teacher was quite helpful and he introduced me to an artist named Frank
Thorne. Frank Thorne was drawing a comic book called Red Sonja at the
time and I used to go to his house with my drawings and he would be supportive
and also take out tracing paper and show me where I could improve the
drawings. I still have those and treasure them. I went to Pratt Institute
and graduated with a BFA in 1980.
did you start your art career?
I started to sell artwork when I was in college.
I used to do a lot of portraits around the holidays, and I made enough
money to buy Christmas presents for my friends and family. Art sales have
rarely been enough to quit the day job. I have worked as a sign painter,
typesetter, art director and pre-press specialist in addition to a variety
of retail jobs when I was in school. Over the years my personal artwork
has been more important for my sanity. Since I do it first for myself,
I don’t worry about it being commercial on any level. If somebody
likes it they will buy it, but I do it for me.
do you find inspiration?
Religion, sex and gender identification are big motivators
for me, but when working with a model, it’s the model that inspires
me. I look for what I feel is unique about a model and try to capture
What do you hope to communicate through your art?
Drawing for me is an expression of how I feel at
the moment. When I draw, I am taken to a different place. Corny as it
sounds, it’s spiritual. There is no specific message, just a feeling.
I hope to capture something of the special quality that a model possesses.
I want to honor them and thank them for posing for me.
What reaction from a viewer makes you happiest?
Well, everybody likes to hear how much somebody likes
their work, but I like to hear why or what you like. Also, if you don’t
like it I want to know why. Either response is fine, there’s no
one type of art for all—wouldn’t that be boring.
do you think separates good art from great art?
Good art is hard to describe, there are things that
can be considered good about a piece of artwork. There is a way to look
at art that includes evaluating the composition, proportions and illusion
(if representative). Great art for me elevates you and usually can’t
be described. Great art speaks to your heart and soul; good art goes only
to your intellect.
What have been your cultural or environmental
Having pretty much grown up during the late 70s,
I think that the whole 70s punk explosion was a major influence on me.
It came at a time when I was going through my teen rebellion phase and
I still feel more like an outsider than mainstream. I have lived in New
Jersey, New York and England. I spent 18 years in suburbia then 18 years
in an urban setting and now I’m back in suburbia. We’ll see
where I end up.
are a few of your favorite art books?
the Way I See It by David Hockney and Nikos Stangos, and Secret
Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters by
In my opinion, David Hockney is the greatest living artist.
He is also a great writer about art. My fantasy is to go to a museum with
him and just listen to him talk about the artwork. I think these two books
are a good way to see how his mind works and hopefully understand why
I feel he’s so great.
do you find figures to be interesting subjects to draw, and what a what
makes a pose interesting for you?
I love the human body. It’s the perfect work
of God. The rest of the universe is pretty good, but being human I feel
more empathy for bodies. As far as poses go, I am torn between dramatic,
twisted poses and very classical feeling poses.
How long does it typically take you to complete
a finished work, and how do you know when it is done?
This is difficult to answer. When drawing from life
I tend to prefer quicker poses: five to ten minutes—no longer than
20 minutes. Life is all about the moment. When I do a finished pastel
or acrylic painting, it’s usually at least five or six hours, but
can be longer depending on the size and composition. As far as knowing
when it’s finished, I guess I just stop when I feel I did all I
is your favorite medium?
For the past few years I have settled on colored
pencil as my favorite medium. I also really like pastel, chalk and oil.
Ultimately, I like drawing with a “stick.” I don’t really
draw with a brush or wash. My favorite surfaces are vellum Bristol and
a variety of colored papers. I like a little tooth to grab the pencil.
Does this mean you have given up acrylics?
I still do acrylic paint, but even that starts with
a drawing done with a pencil, so the “stick” applies even
there. I think what I’m trying to say is that my style is more linear
than tonal, even though the lines create tones. Does that make sense?
Yes. Perfect sense.
You've drawn a lot of self-portraits. Is there something cathartic about
doing a self-portrait?
A self-portrait is both the truth and the falsehood
you want the world to see. I have always been fascinated by the changes
my body has gone through in the last 46 years. There is a lot of working
through issues and just plain fun doing self-portraits. Picasso did many
self-portraits and one of my favorite photographers, Lucas Samaras did
some amazing Polaroid work that was self-portrait based.
favorite of mine, Jan Saudek did
many self-portraits that he hand colors. He prints his photos in Black
& White and then colors them with oil paint. I do this also. It's
a more hands on way to work with photos.
In addition to drawing self-portraits, I've been taking
a photo of myself every day since November 1997. It started as documenting
my last year in my 30s and I just kept doing it. Eventually I have to
figure out what to do with the over 2,200 images.
That's a nice segue to my next topic: your photography.
You use a lot of Russian equipment. What is compelling about Russian cameras
versus using, say, a Nikon?
I tend to use medium format or larger and Russian
cameras give you more “bang for the buck.” For under $1,000
you can get a camera and two lenses. The lenses are designed by Carl Zeiss,
who designed all the Hasselblad lenses. The Russian-made equipment can
be quirky, and has less quality control than Hasselblad or Rollei, but
for about one-tenth the cost I can deal with it. I have four camera bodies
and about a half dozen lenses. With the money I spent I could only afford
one used Hasselblad with a single lens.
you been won over by the convenience of digital cameras or do you think
film is worth the extra expense and hassle?
I have used digital for almost a decade. I’m
on my fourth camera. The downside of digital is that they become obsolete
too fast. I have an early 20th century 8 x 10 inch Kodak camera that I
use from time to time that still works and the images are superior to
any digital device that I can afford. I tend to use my digital cameras
for the self-portrait project and snapshots, very little creative.
I also do Van Dyke prints and Cyanotypes. They are
both 19th Century processes where you mix your chemicals and hand coat
your paper. You then need to contact print and expose either in the sun
or under a UV light. A larger negative works best for that. I have a 4
x 5 Speed Graphic that I use a lot for that type of work as well as Polaroid
cameras that use film that gives you both a negative and print. "Against
the Wall" [at left] is a Van Dyke print on watercolor paper.
I think that as my day job got more and more computer
based, I stopped doing personal work on the computer and went back to
more hands on processes. Fifteen years ago I was quite involved in a CompuServe
Forum doing comics on computer, now I rarely do anything like that.
an artist, what are some of your greatest challenges or obstacles you
face when making your art?
I find it challenging to capture the feeling I have;
sometimes I feel it’s successful. The greatest obstacle is time.
Life can be too busy.
What do you think has been you biggest achievement
so far during your career as an artist?
Hopefully that hasn’t happened yet!
Ha! That's a good attitude. It offers something to look
forward to. Have you any regrets in terms of your
Not really. Of course I would like to have artwork
in every museum in the world, but there’s still time.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Work on your art. If you are passionate about it,
you will find a way to do it and you will only get better. You need to
listen to criticism and decide if the critic’s opinion matters.
Just be true to yourself and it will show.
How can one acquire your work?
I can be reached by email at brinesprintmail.com
Thanks for discussing your artwork with us today.