November, 2009 Archives

OK, it’s now been just over two weeks since I gave a drawing demo at The Norman Rockwell Museum. I highly recommend dropping in if you find yourself in western Massachusetts. My contact there was the engaging and way gracious Tom Daly, the NR Museum’s curator of education. Tom, a blast to hang with, hails from the area, is quite the historical resource about the region and recalls seeing the elderly Norman as he trekked about.

    The Museum building, designed by Robert Stern, is handsomely layed out in a wooded area with ample parking about a 2 mile drive west of Stockbridge’s main drag. During the peak seasons for the museum, that would be during foliage, the skiing season, and summer, they really pack ’em in. I had missed the throngs by a couple weeks and found viewing the work comfortable and noncompetetive. Tom even provided me with a chair so I could sit and draw from the paintings at length. Did you get that? They actually encourage folks to really study the exhibits and draw from the work. I brought 2 sketch books with me; a 10″ x 7 1/2″ leather bound ruled journal and a 17″ x 11″ cloth bound ledger with prior entries from 1932 -1946. I love them old ledger books. God knows many of them are archivally challenged because they aren’t always 100% rag, but, they’re meant for linear clarity so they have a smooth surface and usually have some sizing or gelatin which partially seals the paper and means that ink stays pretty much where you put it. That is unless you’re using some of the solvent based markers that will penetrate the page giving you “ghost” images on the reverse side. I was drawing with ball point pens and gel pens and water based pigmented brush pens, drawing tools actually discouraged in some Museums and I don’t really want to mention a couple of those places even though I do still love the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Chicago Art Institute. Still draw on site when I visit. With the required pencil? Uhhhhh…….

    Anyway, the two head studies, first column third row and second column third row, were draw on the spot in the old ledger. You can see if you blow ’em up that I was able to get crisp lines and edges as well as hazy tones by smearing the inks before they set up. The 3 drawings, third column first row, third column third row, and first column fourth row, were drawn in the newer journal. Nice enuff book and size, flexible leather cover, but the bleached white paper has  little or no sizing so it tends to wick the ink just enough that I don’t get quite as fine an edge and hampers my ability to smear the quickly absorbed ink.

    The other drawings in this post were draw on planes or in airports in route to the NRM or are studies for my paintings, some based on hands and figures of Norman’s. I like a number of his poses, postures, groupings, how objects like shoes, prevoiusly mentioned in another post, can feel so sculptural and how one can feel form and structure under clothes and skin. Sure, he made extensive use of photos,  but for that matter so have Degas, Picasso, Richard Estes, Chuck Close, combat artists, and truck loads of mid century book, magazine and pulp fiction illustrators. The NRM had an exhibit running of NR’s photos of himself and models acting out the scenarios for the paintings. He could be pretty faithful to some foto’s while taking liberties with others. The Museum’s extensive collection of photograhs, preparatory and finished drawings and paintings give real insght to his working methods as well as his capabilities which to this pair of eyes were considerable. He liked solidity and Mr. Bridgeman must of hammered on him sufficiently in those life drawing sessions at The Art Students League. It was NR after all who composed the images which brings me to the last image of this post. A figure drawing from a session at one of the area art centers where I drop in for open life drawing.

   Norman Rockwell was a narrative artist and as such everything about the people in his paintings, their postures, expressions, clothing and props, were all maipulated to convey the theme behind the image. At those life drawing sessions, I sit and watch, sometimes for more than 10 minutes, as some of those who attend the workshops look to get an interesting arrangement for the longer poses. Moving a spot light back and forth and back and…never minding the flock of fluorescent tubes overhead. Most agree that the quicker the pose the more the model is capable of holding something athletic and dynamic. Now static or “quiet”, contemplative poses can be just as interesting, no? In fact, getting the right balance, sense of weight, contraposto and subtlety of a standing figure just so, so that it doesn’t come off wooden is hard. You know, that Apollonian thing. At rest but with latent energy and all the promise of action. Always found that challenging.

     Also, I’m one who subscribes to the belief that there are no bad poses, just bad drawings of poses. I show up, shut up, and just try to go to work. But, I do think there are such things as dumb arrangements and dumb drawings. Again the last drawing. I sat there wondering what in the world they were going for? The throned virginal and shrouded Fatima as apple offering temptress? Norman has meant a lot of things to a lot of folks; I get a little sticky from all the corn syrup. And boy howdy, would it have been fun if economics had forced his hand to wring out some greasy and sordid James Avatiesque pulpy noir covers. It didn’t. But spend time with a big body of his work and tell me you don’t come away with a sense of an intelligent guy,  with buckets of ability and a sense of humor, that honored his craft and pushed himself hard. A guy who just happened to make a couple handfuls of iconic images.

Heading out to Stockbridge, Massachusetts this weekend to give an illustration workshop at the Norman Rockwell Museum. In addition to being an archive for a chunk of Norman’s estate, the Museum has rotating shows of artist/illustrators ( I’m not one to get into it over those arbitrary lines of demarcation as I’m likely to look at and steal from anybody) and lectures by visiting artist, the very capable and very informative James Gurney among them.
If you enjoy looking at and/or drawing from his body of work,( hey, when we were in our teens we kept the skin magazines hidden under our mattresses and later, when we were in art school back in the 70’s, we were sneakin’ peaks of old Norman), then I’ll just let you figure out where these drawings hail from. If time permits between now and then I hope to rough out a mock illustration for the demo based on a composite of some of his figures. I had thought about bustin’ out a ton of drawings of shoes. Man that dude loved painting shoes. He did every variety of sneaker made in his day among all the other assorted foot wear. As prolific as he was, contemporary styles would keep that cat in a serious sweat trying to document the ginormity of today’s fashion outpouring. As a Chicagoan, I spend my fair share of heartbeats and ducats on public transit where I make the most of my time drawing fellow riders. And their shoes. I could swear to having been on full cars with 50-60 riders and not one duplicate of the exact same shoe. The land of choice. Jesus.
Well, if I can get any of those attending to draw each others’ zapatos, I’ll post ’em for y’all to gander.
Hope you have a swell weekend. I know I’m gonna dig mine.

Off to Stormin' Norman'sville

As if you need any more proof that my phone ain’t ringin’ off the hook for portrait commissions.

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