Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Norm Taught Me

When Norman Rockwell died in 1978 many books about the great illustrator came out.  Many were reprints from the Forties and Fifty's.  I recommend three books for the artist:  Norman Rockwell Illustrator by Auther Guptil,  Rockwell On Rockwell, How I Paint A Picture, and My Life As An Illustrator by Norman Rockwell.  These three books give great insight and behind the scenes glimpses of Rockwell and his practices.  They are available on fairly cheap, except for the Rockwell On Rockwell which will set you back at least $70.00.  Back when I bought them on sale, I didn't spend more that $10.00 on any of them.

As I mentioned yesterday, Rockwell was a classically trained artist.   During the time he went to the Art Students Leaugue in New York City students were expected to go through the same type of instruction that was offered in Ataliers in the mid nineteenth century.  First the student spent months laboriously drawing plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture.  Then they graduated to drawing the live model, and lastly they had painting class.  The League didn't care what you did with this knowledge.  You could become a Fine Arts painter or an Illustrator.  And the early years of the 20th century was the "Golden Age of illustration".  Long forgotten, but huge in their day were artsists such as James Montgomery Flagg, Howard Chandler Christy, Howard Pyle, Charles Dana Gibson and J.C Leyendecker.  (Jeez, maybe I should change my name to Kevin E. Mizner).  Google them, they're all good.  Every magazine had a painting on it's cover.  Newspapers used artists and drawings for their news stories.  Books were often lavishly illustrated.  And illustrators made a damn fine wage.  In an age when a new automobile cost $400.00, a successful illustrator made over $100,000.00 a year.  That's not exactly chump change even today!

So what did I learn from Norman?  Well, the routine I use to this day is derived from those books that explained his methods.  Roughly speaking, the first step Rockwell would do is make a small "thumbnail" sketch of a painting idea.  Then he would gather his models and props.  During his first fifteen or twenty years he painted live from the model.  After 1932-33, he primarily used photos.  He would then make a drawing in charcoal the same size as his painting.  After he transfered it to canvas, he would put a one color wash on the canvas, then a color lay-in, and lastly his final colors.  How do I do it?  Pretty much the same.  Now, of course, I don't paint human interest stories like Rockwell, I'm interested in landscapes.  But I do start out with a small sketch.  Instead of the full size charcoal, and because I usually paint on gessoed masonite, I draw my design directly on my painting surface as fully rendered as I can.  After that, I do the washes and layers pretty much like he did. 

Now, even though I follow his routine, there is no one alive who would ever mistake a K. Mizner for a Norman Rockwell.  I kind of think of it as my little secret.  I am not averse to taking any one of those books down from the shelf and re-reading them just to keep me on the right track.  They are very much my old friends.  And on occasion when someone pays me a compliment on my work, I just give a silent thanks to good ol' Norman Rockwell.

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