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October 24, 2009

Action! ... Camera! ... Paint!!!

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --


I bought a copy of this book hot off the press due to my curiosity about how artists go about their trade.

That artists have been using cameras as a working tool since the days of the French Impressionists (think Degas) is no longer much of a secret. Commercial illustrators were no exception, probably being the most intensive users because of the need to economize on model's fees and meet deadlines.

Norman Rockwell did use models for the first 20 or so years of his career but then eased over to using photographic references and even projectors as tracing aids. He seems to have thought this shameful at first ("Real artists don't do such things! You have sinned!!"), but eventually became a skilled and enthusiastic photographic director. (He would plan his painting, locate appropriate costumes and props, carefully recruit models from around town and then supervise the posing. In almost every case, however, another man would actually snap the pictures.)

Rockwell went to such pains because his artistic nature was that he could paint well only what was before him. Apparently he even found it difficult to make a major color change from what a model was wearing. Perhaps for this reason all of his thousands of reference photos were in black and white, not color.

Due to a fire that destroyed his Vermont studio, most of the early photos are gone. It would have been interesting to see how his transition from live models to photos evolved. By the time the book is able to pick up the matter, Rockwell took (as the auteur) lots of photos of bits of the final painting and used the ones that best suited his needs. In other words, if a scene had more than one character, he might have separate photos of the models and even detailed photos of faces, hand poses, and so forth. In later years he sometimes would have complete scenes photographed.

The charm and intrigue of the book is its juxtaposition of reference photos and final paintings or reproductions of Saturday Evening Post covers (probably in cases where the original art was lost).

The book was created in conjunction with an exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum.



posted by Donald at October 24, 2009


You might find it interesting to glance at this link and the school link inside the item.

"This is not a photograph"

"This is a painting completed in February 2005. It was a Portrait Class project that I decided to finish in my spare time after the workshop. It probably took a total of around 65-75 hours to complete. The small images are step by step photographs taken during the painting process, and the large image is the final painting after detail and skin texture are added with an eraser and colored pencil. The main colors are blocked in at the beginning, but refinement is withheld until the very end. Look for a more complete step by step article in an upcoming magazine issue~Dru Blair" -

Posted by: Vanderleun on October 25, 2009 2:18 AM

Vanderleun -- Thanks for the link. The resulting painting does look photographic and some of the earlier steps on the face and upper torso look reasonably like what an artist might do. The almost fully-complete top half-face stage seems a little odd, but not totally out of line with how some 18th century portrait painters and a few modern illustrators like Boris Vallejo operate.

That said, I'd like to see both the final work in person as well as some of the painter's other efforts to be fully convinced. And he clearly used a reference photo.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on October 25, 2009 9:41 AM

O that's true. He did use a photo, I'm almost sure.What's interesting is to follow the link to Blair Art School and see some of the seminars and other classes that he offers. Especially the ones on "Pinup"(Just missed it. Darn.)

Posted by: Vanderleun on October 25, 2009 2:22 PM

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