Charley Harper’s artistic life was all about shape and color. From his early days on a West Virginia farm through his career as a midcentury modernist, Charley (1922–2007) understood the power of black lines in art. He never owned or used a computer to draw. Rather, Charley maintained a collection of drafting tools familiar to the architect and the engineer: compasses, T squares, and french curves with which he applied lines to paper via a ruling pen filled with india ink. Even in his early eighties and challenged by osteoarthritis, he could still draw straight lines and keep a steady width of ink flowing from the nib of his pen for a long distance. I often watched, amazed by the skill and confidence my father had achieved after some sixty years of practice.
Many of Charley’s most complex images were created between the late 1970s and the beginning of this century. Some pictured entire ecosystems rather than individual creatures or several creatures interacting. These massive images, especially the ten huge paintings commissioned by the National Park Service that required a year each to paint, are marriages of clever design and stunning colors. These images, along with others created for national monuments, nature centers, birding centers, zoos, parks, and an international bio preserve, are sure to offer an “escape” into Charley’s natural world. Recently I uncovered a letter of his, written in 1966, in which he confessed, “If I had not become an artist, I am sure I would have been a conservationist.” In a way, I think he succeeded at being both.
With painstaking care, the graphic designers at Pomegranate Communications have traced by hand the outlines of over fifty classic Charley Harper images. Thus, every complex image has been carefully extracted and redrawn from the original painting housed in the Harper studio archives. Each flower, beak, wing, leaf, fin, leg, and head has been retrieved and prepared to provide you with many hours and days of enjoyable coloring. If you wish, follow the reproductions of Charley’s actual full-color images and employ them as your guide. Or, use creative license and make up your own color combinations. I just want you to relax and have fun!
Brett Harper, son of Charley and Edie Harper
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