Wednesday, April 09, 2008


When it comes to strong, opinionated drawings, I know of no 20th century illustrator better than Robert Fawcett.

He did not simply record the world around him, he aggressively sought out nature's designs and amplified them with astonishing power and clarity. For example, this vigorous drawing... just the seat of some old guy's pants in one of Fawcett's illustrations.

How many other artists could find such energy and beauty in such a banal subject? Next, look at the designs Fawcett finds in the folds of Sherlock Holmes' cape...

...or in the anatomy of a hand. Now that's what I call drawing!

More bold designs in the pants legs and clothing of this couple stranded in the desert:

Even the most delicate lines reflected Fawcett's distinctive personality. Note the hair of this lovely young lady from a P.G. Wodehouse story.

Some very astute observers of illustration art, such as Mike Vosburg and Leif Peng, recently paid fresh attention to Fawcett's work on their web sites. He has been gone for 40 years, but Fawcett's art always rewards attention.


Dominic Bugatto said...

That piece of the couple in the desert's a stunner . Such authority in his marks shows true confidence.

Diego Fernetti said...

Impressive. Did he drew after live models or pictures? Anyway, his stroke is something to be admired!

Kurt Ankeny-Beauchamp said...

Yeah, Fawcett's a massive talent. He would always start his drawings with a near-savage rendering, because he knew that each refinement would have less and less energy. You can tell there's energy still pulsing through those finished pieces many iterations later!

Anonymous said...

Everybody keeps talking about what a genius Fawcett was. I don't see the big deal. He was no Frazetta.

David Apatoff said...

Dominic, one difference between the couple in the desert and the pictures that preceded is the difference between scanning an original and scanning the dull results of a printed Colliers page. I've added another image from an original just because I feel bad about showing so many printed images this time. The difference is really remarkable.

David Apatoff said...

dfernetti, Fawcett used photos from time to time, but not the way that many illustrators of his day did.

Kurt, that is a superb way of putting Fawcett's special quality.

anonymous, l would agree that Fawcett did not paint as well as the great Frazetta, but in my view there is no doubt that Fawcett was a far superior draughtsman. Frazetta must have admired Fawcett too, because he "borrowed" from Fawcett on more than one occasion.

Anonymous said...

in my opinion, frazetta shouldn't even be compared to someone like Fawcett. I enjoy frazetta, but we are talking about a genius on a differen't level. Fawcett is completely one of a kind, its absolutely remarkable that there isn't a collective book of his work. I truly believe Fawcett stands within the company of the greatest artists ever... Maybe i am going too far, but, I don't think i am. He took drawing itself to places it had never really been. If you look at his compositional sketches, they are flat out amazing. Thank you for the post david. once again, just my two cents!

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous (no. 2), even though I know in my head that your praise for Fawcett has to be a vast overstatement, I have to confess there are moments when I look at a Fawcett original up close and say to myself, "you know, he just could be right."

Once I had the pleasure of standing next to one of the world's most famous illustrators as he studied a Fawcett illustration for the Sherlock Holmes series. This illustrator was silent for a full two or three minutes. Then he said, "You know... that's just about as good as drawing gets."

chuck pyle said...

David, your comment just about sums it up for Fawcett.

Anonymous said...

One of the most impressive things about Fawcett's work is how great of a graphic designer he was. I once sat with Bob Peak and talked for hours going through the book 200 years of American Illustration.
He enjoyed Fawcett's work and
Bob Peak too was a great designer and his interest was at times much more towards the graphic design layout of a piece rather than the subject matter itself. We see that in many masterful illustrators. I really enjoy these blogs David.
Thanks for all that you do in continually bringing richly deserved recognition and awakening our appreciation to these masters.I once stood in front of a Rose Oneill drawing of a mother reading to children and did not know her work that well prior to seeing this particular piece. I know that feeling of being astonished and speechless. It happens and how wonderful that is when it hits you like that.


Thanks for your post, David.

I've had the privilege of studying both Bob Peak and Fawcett originals "up close" and at length.

Peak possesses a verve for design that seemingly never flags.

Fawcett delights in his virtuoso arrangement of details-- furniture, supplementary figures, etc., but never loses his very strong sense of form , space and overall composition as part of a single, articulate statement.

Both are fine illustrators, but seeing Peak up close was a disappointment-- the difference between a TV Guide cover whose original was 36 by 48 inches, for instance, and the tiny magazine reproduction.

Reduction of Peak's work serves it, and him, very well.

Fawcett's originals, on the other hand, reveal ever more wonders as one is able to follow the track of his brush, crayon or pencil.

I agree with the previous comment that his preparatory "sketches" are among his best work. In his decisive graphic statements he reminds me of Sargent.

Again, thanks.


Brenno said...

Hi David,
Thanks for this excellent post.
Do you know of a book by Howard Munce called "Drawing the Nude: The Figure Drawing Techniques of Noted American Illustrator Robert Fawcett"? In case you do, do you recommend it? or is it redundant (or not comparable) when seen against Fawcett's own "On the art of drawing?")