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Job: 11803 Title: #218076# Drawing Lessons From The Famous Artists School (Rockport)
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CASTING AND POSING YOUR CHARACTERS
Norman Rockwell
Saying Grace, 1951
Cover illustration for
The Saturday Evening Post,
November 24, 1951
Oil on canvas
After composition, what determines the success or failure of an
illustration is the action and expressions of the characters. And why
not? The human figure is one of the most fascinating and rewarding
subjects any artist can tackle. Few things interest us more than the
men, women, and children we see around us. The liveliness and
energy in the vast majority of artworks by the founding artists are
directly related to their skill at making characters true and believable.
We, as viewers, can almost hear whispers, shouts, laughter, and
weeping because of the actions and expressions of the characters — 
no words are needed.
Artists cast their characters as carefully as any stage or movie
director, for an illustration must capture a moment in time. So,
very early on in the process of creating an illustration, artists take
time to consider the individuals who will bring their work to life.
With an eye on the visual narrative, Norman Rockwell went to
great lengths to populate his images with just the right models,
or types. Unlike other artists who engaged professional posers,
Rockwell hired his family, neighbors, friends, and fellow artists to
act out the characters in his paintings to great eect. Following a
series of thumbnail sketches in which his concept and composition
were sealed, he scouted models, costumes, props, and locations,
and captured the essence of character and expression in nuanced
black-and-white photographs — sometimes up to 100 for a Post
cover. “Directing models so you can get the right poses for your
pictures is an art in itself, and is somewhat akin to the motion picture
director’s job,” Rockwell wrote. “Before a model even attempts to pose
for me, I tell him the story I want my picture to tell because I want
him to understand what I am trying to do, what I am trying to convey.
Then, I get into the pose myself and show him how I think it should
be done.” The camera captured countless necessary details, from the
subtleties of facial expression and body language to the folds of a
model’s dress. This all but eliminated repeat modeling sessions
and high professional fees, an advantage in a deadline-driven field.
“Now anybody could pose for me,Rockwell said. Photography’s
spatial ambiguity, oblique angles, extreme perspectives, and cropped
edges oered new ways of seeing, and choice photographic reference
could be retained and filed away for future consultation.
Rockwell’s Post covers generally derived from his imagination or
were inspired by scenes that he had witnessed and remembered, but
Saying Grace was one exception. In the fall of 1951, the artist received
a letter from a woman in Pennsylvania who described something that
she observed in a Philadelphia Automat restaurant. Seated at a table,
she observed a young woman with a little boy of about five. They
walked by her with food-laden trays, situating themselves at a table
where two men were already seated, “shoving in their lunch.” Despite
this, the young woman and boy folded their hands, bowed their heads,
and said grace.
As shown on the following spread, Rockwell used this description
as a jumping-o point.
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DTP: GLP Page: 96
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