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THE ELOQUENCE OF SIMPLICITY
was not one of the many professional models engaged by Rockwell
when he lived in New Rochelle, New York. Instead, he chose Dave
Campion, the owner of a local news store, for this and other images
that required a character who was tall and lean. Positioning him in
a crouching position gives his body angles that create movement,
and the diagonal nightstick and shadow add to this eect. Streaks of
white paint in the foreground tell us a car has just gone speeding by.
Ben Stahl
Story illustration for
Fugitive From Terror
by James R. Webb for
The Saturday Evening Post,
April 23, 1949
Oil on canvas
When Ben Stahl was a young artist, his mentors often told him to
“keep it simple.He found that hard to do: He loved drawing every
single leaf on a tree. However, he “began to see the eloquence of
pictures that possessed this restraint and simplicity.” It’s not easy
to paint that way—“to attain simplicity while maintaining the true
essence of a scene is most dicult.”
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The illustrators of the Famous Artists School worked largely for
publication, and their art for magazine covers, stories, and adver-
tisements was seen and enjoyed by a vast, popular audience. They
knew they had just seconds to capture a reader’s attention, tell a
cohesive visual story, and engage their audience suciently, so as to
inspire the purchase of a magazine. To accomplish this, artists found
inventive ways to incorporate common, recognizable symbols that
conveyed meaning and also had a strong graphic identity. Simple but
striking symbols are employed in Atherton’s July 4th illustration, in
which a lovable Scottish terrier is delivered with a happy birthday tag
in a box of patriotic colors in celebration of an all-American holiday.
THE USE OF VISUAL SYMBOLS
Austin Briggs, too, talked of simplicity. He cautioned the novice
painter against including unnecessary detail, and counseled re-
straint in introducing extra shapes and forms, excessive colors, or
too many dierent tones and values. The elements of the image must
be designed to work together, to complement each other rather than
battle for the viewer’s attention. An artist is much more successful, he
said, “when he chooses a limited number of well-assorted ideas, and
presents these in a coherent, interesting, and forceful way.”
John Atherton advised his students to “try to cultivate the ability
to make a picture out of each subject,even when making simple
studies. “When you jot something down on a sketch pad that you
think is interesting, always think of your sketch as a picture as well
as a study. Place it on your paper or other materials so that it forms
a pleasing and eective composition. In studying the sketches of the
great masters of the Renaissance, I am impressed constantly by how
beautifully composed they are.” He challenged artists to think of each
drawing as a finished picture, “framed by the four sides of the paper
or canvas.
Austin Briggs
In this drawing, Briggs eliminates unnecessary detail and leads our eye directly to
the focal point the boy who is more interested in eating the turkey than expressing
thanks for it.
John Atherton
Studies for Duck Hunters,
c.1953
Pencil on paper
In these composition
sketches, John Atherton
was searching out the
grouping that would
create visual interest
and be both simple and
direct in telling the story.
Small changes indicate
his thinking process:
Separate one hunter
from the group, or bring
them closer together?
Push figures back in
space, or bring them
forward? Raise or lower
the horizon line? Small
adjustments to the main
elements of a picture
can impact both meaning
and design.
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