Here's a cool illustration I came across a few days ago on the Illustration Art blog:
It's by Frank Frazetta, who is primarily a science fiction illustrator but must have done this for a book or magazine or something along the way. For me, it's a shining example of what makes illustration stand alone as remarkable, underappreciated art form. The forms are rendered so well, showing real weight, movement and power. Positive and negative shapes are clearly defined to create a complete composition. And despite the broad, heavy brushwork, the details are all there (click on the image for a closeup- in particular, look at all the muscles and bone structure in the horse's face).
If you were to see this same scene in a modern art museum today, it would be made in primary colors and intentionally made to look like a six-year-old did it. Personally, I am much more impressed with expert craft than any abstract statement about the artist's life. A picture like this speaks to me and really turns something on in my mind.
This is my attempt to copy Frazetta... I figure if I copy guys like this it can only help me improve in terms of composition and contrast.
Above is my drawing laid on top of Frazetta's, to see how accurate I was. The horse is ok, but I admittedly spent a lot more time on it. The guy is more off- his leg is too long and not high enough, the arm not thrown back enough. Looking at my version on its own, though, I do still think it works.
Here, I digitally went over it in Photoshop just for kicks. (I actually think it may be an improvement on the straight pencil version.)
Above: From MAD Magazine #90, 1964. More on Frank here!