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Interview with Bob Crimi: Part One

This is the first part of an ongoing interview with Bob Crimi, Science Illustrator and Artist. Don't miss the introduction to the interview.

KH: Do you have a background in science?

BC: My initial training was in fine art. I came from a family of fine artists with my father and uncle both being muralists and easel painters. In the 1930’s they were employed by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) to do murals in post offices and hospitals.

I grew up around brushes and oil paints and imagined that everyone else did. When I was a teenager, I began to study with my uncle, Alfred Crimi, in his studio in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

It was an ‘atelier’ style of education. I learning the craft of art; drawing from the antique, painting, framing, gilding, and grinding pigments to make oil and fresco paints.

At the same time I trained as an illustrator for a technical publishing house that produced repair and maintenance manuals for the U.S. government. There, I learned to create drawings of mechanical equipment from orthographic blueprints that showed the different sides of the equipment—a conceptual exercise; the parts were drawn exploded out as though they were floating in space.

KH: Can you tell us a bit more about technical drawings? How did you mentally assemble the blueprints into an object and then draw it?

BC: The blueprints depicted three or four flat views of mechanical equipment. From the information conveyed by these views, I was able to visualize a three-dimensional object.

Using proportional dividers, triangles and ellipse guides I created an exploded view in isometric drawing, a drawing done on 30º angle. The pencil drawing was then traced onto blue “vellum”; not vellum at all but very finely woven bleached linen that was coated with blue sizing.

This made an extremely smooth surface. I’d spread ‘pounce’, a fine powder, onto the surface of the linen in order to smooth out the ‘tooth’. When wiped away, it allowed the ink to flow smoothly.

The ink mixed somewhat with the sizing but could be erased with the integrity of the linen maintained. The tracing of the image was done with a Wrico Pen (brand name) and India ink.