norman rockwell learns to draw people -- 5/7/21

Today's selection -- from My Adventures as an Illustrator by Norman Rockwell and Tom Rockwell. In 1908 at the age 14, native New Yorker Norman Rockwell, later to become one of the world’s most famous illustrators, enrolled in art classes at the New York School of Art. Two years later he left high school to study art at New York’s National Academy of Design:
"I drew from plaster casts of Mercury, Hercules, Venus, the Discus Thrower, during my first two months at the National Academy School. The antique class met in a large, high-ceilinged room lit by a ground-glass skylight. Along one wall stood forty or fifty white plaster casts of Greek statues, mostly gods and god­desses, with a few 'blockheads' (simplified casts showing the planes of the human head) on pedestals scattered among them.

"The casts were old and battered: Mercury had lost his nose; Venus had a mus­tache and goatee in bright red chalk; the Discus Thrower had lost three fingers and his empty white eyes stared through a pair of ornate spectacles. The floor was always gritty with the pulverized noses, fingers, toes, ears, and unmentionables of the casts.

"Drawing from plaster casts eight hours a day, six days a week, was tedious and dull. But you can learn to draw much faster from a cast than from a live model. Casts don't move; even the best model will shift an arm or turn his head a bit during a pose. So every student began in the antique class; then, when he had learned the fundamentals, was promoted to the life class.

"At the National Academy the life class and the antique class met in adjoining rooms separated by a pasteboard wall. As I toiled away at my drawing of Mercury or Venus, the teacher strolling among us, stopping now and then to correct a stu­dent's drawing, I could hear from the other side of the wall the monitor of the life class call out to the model, 'Rest,' or one of the students say, 'Monitor, she's shifted her hip.' And I'd sneak a look through one of the peepholes carved in the wall. (Every month the school authorities stopped up the holes and every month the students bored through again.) I couldn't see much -- maybe the legs of the model and the backs of a few students -- but if I looked long enough and concen­trated, I got a sense of being in the life class. So then I'd make a little sketch of the part of the model I could see and turn back to my drawing of Mercury or Venus with determination and a new hope. After about two months in the antique class I was promoted (O glorious day) to the life class.

"In the life class they had two-week poses; that is, every morning for two weeks the model would take the same pose. At the end of the two weeks the instructor graded the students' work, giving the best drawing number 1, the second best number 2, and so on until every student had a number. The following Monday, af­ter the monitor had posed the model for the next two weeks, the student who had got number 1 selected the position from which he wanted to draw the model. He could sit or stand anywhere in the room. Then the student who had got number 2 chose his place, then number 3, etc. The students with the highest numbers had the worst view of the model.

"When I entered the life class I didn't, of course, have any number at all. Af­ter the other students had taken their places I set up my easel in a comer. The model was posed lying on her side, her head propped on one elbow. All I could see were the soles of her feet and her rather large rear end. So that's what I drew during my first two weeks in life class. But I didn't care; at last I was working from a live model. Besides, it was the first time I'd ever seen a lady close up in such decolletage."



Norman Rockwell and Tom Rockwell


My Adventures as an Illustrator


Abbeville Press


Copyright 2019, Norman Rockwell Family Agency


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