If Brent Crabb’s artwork came furnished with a soundtrack, I imagine the song list would include a heady mix of blues and classic rock. Using pencil to sketch everything from historical landmarks to uncanny likenesses of pop icons, and even more lurid subjects like clowns-gone-bad, Crabb’s works are soulful and dramatic. His technique of layering in the pencil work costs him hours per drawing, but it’s a touch that sets his work apart with rich visual dimension.
We settle into what’s referred to as The Drawing Room, not a room furnished with formal furniture for entertaining guests, but a modest-sized room featuring a professional drawing table along with framed drawings and works in progress. It is a sunny space where Crabb works every day on his commissioned drawings and personal works.
As accomplished as he is with detailed sketches of buildings, Crabb seems to switch over to softer subjects with ease. His work entitled, “Brother and Sister” features two dogs relaxing on a porch. Their fur drawn so softly it almost moves in the breeze and their eyes smile a bit, the drawing is an example of the artist’s skill at capturing the essence of any subject. In this case, the magic begins with the eyes.
“I think the eyes are important,” Crabb states. “Whenever I do a drawing that is a person or a pet I always try to get the eyes right before I go on. I block in the drawing – sketch it out, get the values (find where light and shadows fall), but then I try to get the eyes right first because if you don’t get that, you’re going to be crumpling it up and throwing it away. I try to concentrate on that first. Then it’s a matter of getting that softness by layering it over and over to build that dimension. That’s a technique that I got into so much because you could get more dimension out of it, a more realistic feel and look.”
It’s a time-consuming approach to art that can test one’s patience. “One thing that’s helped me with that is working on multiple projects at one time, in different stages. So, if you get bogged down or impatient with it, you can set it aside and go to another project, and I think that helps.”
When it comes to drawing some of the area’s more recognizable buildings, Crabb says he likes preserving the image of a landmark for future reference. “I think when you draw buildings, it’s a capture in time. You capture it for that moment and things change. Since I drew that (he motions to his drawing of the Meyer Theatre) the marquee has changed. So it’s captured for that moment.” Crabb was influenced by an artist named Bernie Moran, a local print shop owner. “I just loved his artwork because I loved to draw buildings.” A recent exhibition of Moran’s work at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers displayed his renderings of streets and buildings. “It was just the coolest thing. Some of those old buildings don’t even exist anymore.”
Crabb and his wife, Peggy, are long-time residents of Green Bay, so when city leaders attempted to bring a Walmart store to the Broadway district in 2013 and 2014, he felt he couldn’t just sit back and throw up his hands. Being an artist, he used his skills to illustrate his opposition to the big box invasion. “I wondered, ‘What can I do to be heard in this battle?’ I can’t write, I don’t want to get up and publicly speak, although I did do that at City Hall a couple of times, and it killed me to do that,” he says with a nervous chuckle. “The way I found that I could really make a difference and be heard was to do some cartoons and put them out on the Internet. Growing up as a kid I loved Mad magazine. So I did pull out the old Mad magazines for reference. I did a whole series of them and it developed into the drawing that you saw,” he explains, referencing the piece called “Death by Box.”