Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Norman Rockwell's Tom Sawyer, part3

* TI list member Tom Watson takes over this week as I enjoy a short break from the blog - thanks Tom!

Continuing Tom's analysis of Norman Rockwell's illustrations for Mark Twain's Adventures of Tom Sawyer...

Illustration #3

When I think of a Rockwell illustration, I think mainly indoor scenes, unless it was for a calendar, perhaps. Landscape paintings were not his specialty, and I suspect he may not have been as comfortable painting them. But, the background in this scene is rendered ideally for the situation. He has kept it simple and impressionistic, so it doesn’t compete with the literal detail in the figures. The scene is warm, inviting and just about everyone can relate to the atmosphere he has conveyed, either directly or indirectly... two boys, on a warm summer day in a grassy meadow, involved together in something very important to them.


Rockwell echoes the poses and attitudes of the figures from the first illustration of the boys whitewashing the fence. Instead of overlapping them, he separates them facing each other, but both visually complementing each other, in virtually the same manner as the first illustration. Never the less, whether overlapping or separated, Rockwell created one large effective shape of both boys combined.

The lighting is somewhat unique for Rockwell, showing an edge lighting effect from the bright sunlight. For the most part, the figures are in the shade as well as the upper half of the background, which gives special emphasis to the sunlit areas.


The dark shadows of the background counter changes the reflective light in the boys skin tones, their shirts and where the sun catches the edge of their forms.. dark against light and light against dark. Rockwell understood color and value relationships, and he masterfully created a mood and a sense of time and space.

The green from the grass reflects up into virtually every part of the figures and their clothing, tying the color scheme together throughout the entire illustration. The red handkerchief is a nice complementary accent, and a relief to the various tints of green throughout.


In his biography “My Adventures As An Illustrator”, Rockwell tells how he bought a tattered old straw hat off the head of a local farmer in Hannibal, Missouri, and I suspect the straw hat Huck Finn is wearing in the painting is that very hat.


Notice how Huck’s baggy ill fitting clothes add to the curved gesture of his body. Rockwell was able to include three props for Tom Sawyer, his hat, a chalkboard and a stick, and only show one arm and hand. That is vintage Rockwell, knowing how to add interest and credibility to his illustrations, and at the same time, strengthen the overall layout.


The spindly little foliage in the lower left corner helps direct us into the scene...


... and the wild flowers at Huck and Tom’s feet help anchor them to the ground.


Even Rockwell’s initials “nr” are carefully planned in the composition for balance on the lower right side. The sense of depth between the figures and the background is achieved through sunlight and shadow shapes and faint suggestions of light catching limbs, and sunlight gleaming between the leaves.


Once again, you can’t move, eliminate or add to a Rockwell composition, without negatively effecting the whole illustration, which was always a carefully planned, fine tuned, well balanced design.

* Tom Watson is a retired West Coast illustrator, art director and educator. He has been a frequent contributor to Today's Inspiration and his storyboard work for film was a subject of a post on my other blog, Storyboard Central.

This week's images are © MBI/Heritage Press, Date (1936 or 1940) and are used with the permission of the Norman Rockwell Museum. This past weekend the museum featured the grand opening of a traveling exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.

Stephanie Plunkett, Chief Curator of the Museum would like readers to know that the Museum does travel an exhibition of signed lithographic prints from the Tom and Huck series to other museums and cultural centers. Stephanie writes, "We do have two upcoming bookings for that exhibition are listed below, so perhaps your readers will have the opportunity to visit if they live in the region."

Here is the information about the traveling exhibition:

Norman Rockwell's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Florida
November 14, 2009 through January 29, 2010

Averitt Center for the Arts, Statesboro, Georgia
March 12, 2010 through May 7, 2010


"It also might be interesting to note that the original paintings for the series are in the collection of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. The originals are beautiful. A study from the series will be on view in our upcoming exhibition, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, which opens on November 7, 2009."

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