Sketching Miles Davis: Interview with Artist Jeremy Powell


(Artist Series, Volume 3)

I’m always blown away by pencil sketch art; it’s stripped-down creativity I can really appreicate. And speaking of creativity, I am pleased to feature a phenomenal pencil sketch of Miles Davis by the talented artist Jeremy Powell. The structure and form of this particular sketch above is simply terrific, as is all his pencil sketch work.

Besides Davis, Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith, Bud Powell and Art Blakely are some of the jazz luminaries Powell has sketched – which you can see here.

When not working on his own art, Powell operates Mayhem Productions, an artistic community to help promote lesser-known musicians and artists throughout the world. The purpose of the website is to get their works seen and heard, generate more exposure for the artists, more work. It’s all part of Powell’s desire and dedication to keep pushing music and art forward – by celebrating and supporting those who create. It’s definitely an operation we can get down with.

I recently caught up with Powell for what turned out to be an very enlightening discussion about sketching, jazz inspiration and Miles Davis. And for the record I did not ask Jeremy if he listened to Sketches of Spain while sketching Miles Davis. Ba-dump-dump!

Miles Davis Online: Let’s talk about that great pencil sketch of Miles Davis.

Jeremy Powell: Miles is the man, if I may be so frank. He was always and still is in a class by himself. He was always moving forward both musically and artistically, always searching and experimenting. He also did some painting which he’s not really known for, so this has always inspired me because I am also a very visual person as well as a musician.

This particular sketch though was honestly more inspired by the photograph it was based on (I am very sorry that I do not know the photographers name). For me the angle of the photograph and the black and white format really captured the greatness, coolness, and intensity that Miles had. Plus with black and white photos I think they convey a lot more clarity and definition because of the contrast and “cleanness” of that format.

Miles Davis Online: What kind of artistic process goes into pencil sketching?

Jeremy Powell: For me when I was doing pencil sketches the process was pretty simple I guess. I would see or find a black and white photo that really inspired me so much that I would have to stop and really look at it for a good deal of time, noticing and taking into account all of the details and nuances of it. Then I would find some time, sit down and sketch the photo until I was done.

Miles Davis Online: You have numerous jazz-inspired pencil sketches. Is there something about jazz musicians that you like for your artwork?

Jeremy Powell: For me I don’t think it’s necessarily about the jazz musician (probably because I am one, and a very humble one at that) but more about the photograph of the jazz musician, what it captures, and how much it inspires me. All of the jazz musician pencil sketches that I’ve done except for the Miles sketch were actually based on photographs by Francis Wolff. Wolff was the photographer for the great jazz label Blue Note records from when they started in 1939 until the early seventies I think.

When I was in high school my brother and I saw this documentary on Bravo about the Blue Note label. From then on we started buying a lot of blue note albums, which are still some of my favorite albums to this day. The Blue Note albums not only appealed to me musically but also visually because they always had these great black and white photos by Wolff in their liner notes. Long story short, I was eventually given a beautiful hard cover photo book of Wolff’s photographs for Blue Note as a graduation gift and I was in heaven. I started drawing and sketching some of my favorite photographs from the book right away, I just couldn’t help it.

Wolff really captured some great moments with these musicians that conveyed the different mindsets and moods that they were in during their respective recording sessions and rehearsals. Sometimes they’re intense, sometimes insightful, and sometimes very relaxed. The photographs also really dignified the musicians with the angle and lighting that Wolff would use. You knew that these musicians were some great people just by looking at the photos.

Miles Davis Online: What will we be expecting to see in your future work?

Jeremy Powell: I honestly haven’t sketched anything for a number of years now. I think the last think I was working on was a sketch of a photo by Ansel Adams. Most of what I get done visually now is all digital. I love taking photos and video and I do some graphics work for friends here and there but I would love to get back into sketching.

I’ve honestly gotten spoiled by these digital mediums because it’s instant gratification. With sketching you need to have time, be able to focus, and have a lot of patience (something that I think a lot of society has gotten away from since the web 2.0 revolution). Sketching is a real great form of meditation that I need to get back into. I’m hoping that this interview will inspire me to get back into sketching more.

Miles Davis Online: Favorite Miles Davis album?

Jeremy Powell: I think my favorite Miles album has to be Sorcerer. For me that album is an incredible body of beautiful original music that was played with such a great chemistry of patience and intensity that I’ve never gotten tired of listening to it. For example, Shorter’s solos on that album are incredible compositions in themselves.

I especially love the ballads on that album. Definitely an incredible work of aural art.

Artwork is © Jeremy Powell

* If you are interested in purchasing any of Powell’s artwork, or the CDs and original art on the Mayhem Productions website, please click on the cart link.

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