Modest Beauty: William Dolan’s Alley Drawings

Dolan_Thumb © William Dolan

William Dolan is an artist working in Chicago. His subject has been the city, and the elements of it which lend credibility to the slogan “The City That Works.”

His style is loose without being sloppy, humble, and loaded with respect for the rough beauty of his home city. His artist’s statement follows at the bottom of this post. You can read some of William’s art criticism at Neoteric Art, the website he runs with painter Norbert Marszalek.


Alley_From_Art_Gallery
Alley From Art Gallery © William Dolan

Alley_With_Bombay_and_Zeenat
Alley With Bombay and Zeenat

Alley_With_Chicago_Theatre
Alley With Chicago Theatre

Alley_With_Elevator
Alley With Elevator

Alley_With_One_Way
Alley With One Way

Alley_With_Portable_Toilets
Alley With Portable Toilets

Alley_With_Red_Leaves
Alley With Red Leaves

Alley_With_Snow
Alley With Snow

Alley_With_Third_Childhood_Home
Alley With Third Childhood Home

Alley_With_Van
Alley With Van

Artist’s statement:

I am influenced by the grimier areas of the city, the ignored, outdated and well-worn bit; the infrastructure that is left behind, as people reshape their surroundings to support an increasingly homogeneous existence.

I grew up in Chicago’s alleys. They were our playground where my friends and I played lineball, did death-defying stunts on our bicycles and roofed things on garages. They are the place where the city does it’s dirty business – garbage collection, deliveries, power and communication distribution.

I often use the alley instead of the sidewalk. It’s where I absorb the city and feel at home. I always take photos, with the mind that I’ll use it as reference for a drawing.

I start with a full sheet of Arches 300 pound hot-pressed stock. Hand torn into quarters, it gives me a nice rough edge that compliments the deckle edges that come from the factory. I then measure the margins and trace one of my alley books to give me the drawing area. It’s all done by hand and sort of eyeballed. I don’t want to use drafting tools.

I sketch the alley in pencil, starting very roughly then add detail. I then just ink it freehand with a Rapidograph technical pen using India ink. A #0 pen point gives me the linework that I want. Sometimes I will go back in with a pencil and add some details, then ink those details. I’ll use a lot of cross-hatching and scribbling to render surfaces and shadows.

When I’m done with that, I will color that with Pitt markers like a coloring book. This process is evocative of and inspired by the mark ups I used to do with comic color ads at Walgreens. The bright and limited palette gives the work a comic book feel. This economy of color brings the small drawings to life, makes them pop, if you will.

With rare exception, I do not put figures in the drawings. I want the viewer to relate to the alley and not another person or event that is taking place. Populate the alley and it just becomes a stage for whatever play is taking place.

However, it’s not all about me. I hope that my work inspires people to experience and appreciate some of the more overlooked parts of the place where they live. By having a deeper more meaningful connection to their home, they are inspired, enriched and in turn become more productive and enjoy fuller lives.

~ William Dolan