Saturday, November 06, 2010


This is an unpublished student drawing by illustrator Robert Fawcett at age 19.

Sketch from 1922, approximately 5" tall.

In his introduction to the upcoming book about Fawcett, Walt Reed wrote, "He'd had rigorous training in draftsmanship at the Slade School in England and learned to make it almost a science. Within the discipline of drawing the figure with a hard 4H pencil, with no erasures allowed, students learned to record proportion and perspective by eye."

The Slade School was renowned for a tough and relentless approach which quickly weeded out the unfit. Fawcett was given 10 minutes to complete this sketch, but on another occasion he was required to spend a full week drawing a single figure on a sheet of plain paper using a hard graphite pencil -- a form of torture that that forced him to focus on every nuance of the model and of drawing.

Later in life, Fawcett would entertain artist friends with horror stories about the grueling regimen of his two years at Slade. "I did nothing but draw from the model eight hours a day for two years.... They gave us discipline, discipline, discipline."

Unlike most artists, Fawcett never took a class on painting or perspective or technical drawing or any other traditional subject. Instead, he extrapolated from the powers of observation and the discipline he acquired from life drawing.

Some people believe that if you learn everything about one subject, you'll understand something about every subject.

Despite his jokes about his ordeal at Slade, Fawcett must have concluded that the process was worthwhile. Long after he arrived at the top of his profession, and for the rest of his life, he continued to set aside personal time each week to draw from the model.


Vincent Nappi said...

geez, a 4H? he might as well have been using a stylus!

I'd read in his 'On The Art of Drawing' that the two years at the Slade School consisted just of drawing from the model, but I didn't know that was really ALL he was taught.

seems kind of nuts when you look at what he was doing with his work later on. everything gets tossed into those pieces.

it makes sense though. that kind of intensely observed way of working would make a lot of other 'disciplines' obsolete. you'd just draw what you see.

if only life drawing was as large a part of the curriculum at art schools nowadays...

Connor de Jong said...

Holy moly that 10 minute sketch is absolutely gorgeous! Do you have any more of those?

kev ferrara said...

These are fascinating. Each done in its own style, and each demonstrating how mastery of principles allows for freedom of technique. I particularly like the upright woman on white paper clasping her hands between her knees. The quality of the shading is almost like abraded marble and the draftsmanship has that Art Deco/Ancient Greek monumentality. The "drawing-through" is also interesting.

Excited to get my hands on the book.

MORAN said...

I've been waiting for a book about Fawcett for years. When is it coming out? He was the best draftsman of his generation of illustrators. If he never took a painting class, that explains a lot. I never liked his muddy colors. He was a genius with line.

अर्जुन said...

Who were his principle instructors at Slade? Did he ever sight one as being particularly influential. In his book On the Art of Drawing, chapter 4~ On Drawing Naturally, Fawcett explains "sight size". Do you know if "drawing naturally" was taught at Slade?

David Apatoff said...

Vincent Nappi wrote, "geez, a 4H? he might as well have been using a stylus!"

Agreed... or a nail! But apparently the instructor didn't want to leave them any room for equivocation with soft, semi-lines. He wanted commitment, one way or another!

Connor de Jong-- I'm glad you see what I see in that wonderful student drawing. I think it's remarkably mature and sensitive but I also like the way Fawcett experimented so openly with the position of her arm as he ran out of time. Yes, there are a few more of these student works around (including on the back of this one). Fawcett also reproduced one or two in his classic book, On The Art of Drawing.

Kev Ferrara-- it's difficult to pick just four or five examples, there are so many splendid Fawcett life drawings manifesting different strengths. But I do like that student drawing, before he had drawn a thousand models.

francisvallejo said...


I am searching for that level of time with the of the main reasons I did (and still am) trying to study overseas.

Thanks for the incredible post!

David Apatoff said...

Moran-- the book should be available by Christmas. I included a link to the publisher for updates. I agree with you that Fawcett was not equal to many of his peers as a painter; he was color blind (as were a number of other famous artists). But I think his phenomenal black and white art redeems him.

अर्जुन -- Fawcett used to talk about Augustus Johns who was then a leading instructor at Slade, but it's not clear whether that's because he learned the most from Johns or because Johns was a larger-than-life figure for impressionable young students. Fawcett's closest friend there was fellow student Graham Sutherland, who became a famuos modern painter in England. The two were life long comrades.

francisvallejo-- good to have you here! If you discover the secret for sealing yourself off from the world and luxuriating in that much time for observation, let me know how it's done and I'll quit my day job.

Kenney Mencher said...

Wow. So good it makes me sad. Kind of reminds me of Andrew Loomis' books on figure drawing.

JSL said...

Fawcett was the best. I didn't know he was so heavily into figure drawing. I'm glad he's getting a book.

Anonymous said...

Fawcett - right at the top of my list . I actually always loved his offbeat use of color and was surprised when I read of his color blindness .

Would liked to have listened in on any conversations , if they occured , between Fawcett and Fuchs on their respective approaches to drawing/illustration . And what they both might have thought of Frazetta's work .

Al McLuckie

Anonymous said...

With the drawing of the model reclining on the couch, third from bottom, did you not think the lower legs were drawn much to large? Also, the lower arm from the elbow down appeared much too long and the hand was not in proper proportion.

It appears that the artist was attempting to shadow the armpit but it became a hard edge and the distance between the armpit and the upper shoulder was extremely narrow giving the rendition an almost deformed look.

I hope I don't come across as rude or overly critical but I have just recently come back to graphite pencil drawing after a forty-five year absense and would appreciate any critique from the more experienced.

Robert Johnson

Anonymous said...

10 minutes? Seems like a very short time given the hatching. I'm a little skeptical, and the written critique sounds very contrived/staged from that perspective.

Connor de Jong said...

Yes, his sculptural sense of the form's of the figure in that short period of time is what most astounds me, besides the fact that the overall gesture is just plain great. It's interesting that you mention the arm; I didn't put much though to it, but now I see that he was searching for the optimal position in terms of gesture and accuracy. Either way, Fawcett's ability to capture the figure so rapidly in this manner is something else. I'm no foreigner to long poses (at my school in NYC poses range from 40 hours to 80 hours), but it is obvious to me that these long poses greatly informed his short poses, and vice versa. When viewed from a distance, this 10 minute sketch has a truly impressive illusion of form.

I will check out his book; you've really captured my attention with this post. Your post on Martha Sawyers also profoundly shook me up... I'd venture to say that if I hadn't read that post, my life could've gone a very different direction. Thanks for this blog, it's really great.

Kim Smith said...


Tom said...

"Unlike most artists, Fawcett never took a class on painting or perspective or technical drawing or any other traditional subject. Instead, he extrapolated from the powers of observation and the discipline he acquired from life drawing."

A great composer of pictures. Had his book On the Art of Drawing since I was a little kid, but never got much out of it. The landscape drawings didn't seem that good. He obviously learned perspective. If you can't see it in his work one only has to refer to he famous artist school books, or Ernest Watson's book. I don't think he just looked at models and figured it all out. Although it sounds nice.

Anonymous said...

Augustus John, not "Johns".

David Apatoff said...

Kenney and JSL-- thanks, I agree.

Al McLuckie wrote, "Would liked to have listened in on any conversations , if they occured , between Fawcett and Fuchs on their respective approaches to drawing/illustration."

Al, Bernie Fuchs and his young wife arrived in Westport fresh off the pumpkin truck from rural Illinois when Fawcett was already a legend, close to the end of his career. Fawcett was infamous for expressing frank, often caustic opinions about art and artists he considered inferior. As a result, he scared the hell out of many mature, successful artists. But Fawcett had a special soft spot in his heart for Fuchs and his wife. He respected Fuchs' art and voted to bring Fuchs into the Famous Artists School. For his part, Fuchs thought highly of Fawcett work; a few years ago, after inspecting one of Fawcett's famous illustrations for Sherlock Holmes, Fuchs remarked, "drawing just doesn't get any better than that."

David Apatoff said...

Robert Johnson-- I don't find your comment "rude or overly critical" at all. Au contraire, such comments are exactly what we do around here, and I was glad to receive them. While the drawing you describe is not as precise as some of the others, I picked it because it is one of my favorites of the batch. I love that great big swoop of a composition, I love the vitality and energy of those chopping, slashing strokes, I love the way that Fawcett achieves so much sensitivity (regarding, for example, the shape of the face and the mechanics of the neck) with such a vigorous treatment. It is true that he loses some accuracy with this aproach-- she certainly does not have five recognizable toes-- but for me, his sacrifice is well worth it. As I think the other drawings make clear, Fawcett was quite capable of drawing properly proportioned limbs going back to when he was 19. So if he chose not to do it in this case, it is up to us to ask ourselves why.

Etc. etc.-- This drawing was among some old student materials that Fawcett kept, and that were discovered by Walt Reed when he handled the estate for Fawcett's family after Fawcett died. The handwriting is definitely not Fawcett's, and the cruel taskmasters at Slade were not the types to let a student spend 20 minutes on a drawing and call it 10. More likely they would rap your knuckles with a ruler if you went over time. I actually thought the stream of consciousness tone of the comments were typical of a busy instructor with a lot of drawings to grade.

Connor de Jong-- Thanks so much for writing. I agree with your assessment of the Fawcett drawing but most of all I was greatly moved by your comment about my Martha Sawyer post. I hope things work out well for you.

Kim Smith-- wow, indeed!

David Apatoff said...

Tom wrote, "I don't think he just looked at models and figured it all out. Although it sounds nice."

Tom, not surprisingly this same debate took place in Fawcett's lifetime. There are contemporaneous interviews and correspondence where Fawcett says, "people come up to me and say, 'surely you studied perspective and anatomy, etc.' All I can tell them is that they are wrong, and I did not." I think the real answer lies in the fact that Fawcett had on-the-job-training. He quit school at age 14 to work in an engraver's shop and then in a series of commercial art studios. I think he learned plenty from keeping his eyes open there. But there is no record of his taking any art classes except for his two years of drawing at Slade.

Anonymous-- thank you, that's right, it's "John." Must've been think of Jasper (or Glynnis).

Tom said...

Hi David
I am not saying he learned it in school, but he learned it. I bet you could trace the lines in his finish pictures and find the perspective. Just look at Watson’s examples. It would be the only way he could control proportion in those complex Victorian pictures he drew. Beside perspective is a tool of the trade much more then a school thing. In the end perspective makes one realize that you are running into the same problems over and over no matter what the subject is. And some of the best perspective books are by turn of the century English authors R. V Cole and G.A. Storey.
I would not take what an artist says at face value. I think Picasso said he could draw like Raphael by the age of 14. But he would only be fooling people who don't really look. Artists like to create their own myths like all salesmen.

kev ferrara said...

Just because he didn't take a class in perspective, doesn't mean he didn't read a book or three on it. Maybe a friend showed him a few tricks and that was all he needed. Frazetta too said he just "picked it up" when referring to perspective.

Any information passed on to us from the past should be understood as incomplete at best. The context of every artifact is lost.

David Apatoff said...

Tom and Kev-- I agree with you both. It is well established that Fawcett's only formal academic training was his two years at Slade, and that he didn't take painting, perspective, or similar classes while there. However, I am sure he picked up a lot of tricks from his five years as an apprentice and free lancer before he went to Slade. And I agree that we shouldn't rely too much on what an artist says about his or her own work. For example, like many illustrators of his day, Fawcett tended to understate his use of photography.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

I suppose superior powers of observation must be a fundament to being a powerful illustrator, or portrait painter, or ..artist in general...

David Apatoff said...

StimmeDesHerzens-- Haven't heard from you in eons! Yes, Fawcett would say that it is all about the powers of observation. If you have eyes that can probe and analyze the human form, you can turn those same powers on a landscape or a table or a building.

अर्जुन said...

Fawcetts insistence regarding his training directly relates to my previous question regarding the chapter of his book: On Drawing Naturally (sight size*). The concept/practice of the Naïve Eye. Observational as opposed to conceptual seeing. Drawing what you see, not what you know. The dismissal of anatomy, perspective, and technical rendering. Drawing from nature in a thoughtless way (see~ Zen). Through direct observation, "projecting" the visualization size seen, upon the support (paper/canvas/etc etc). Was this taught at Slade? Did Fawcett teach it as such?**

I appreciate the approach used by a realist/impressionist but would an illustrator work in situ as it were, before the motif? Doesn't the moment you rule a horizon line and plot perspective points trash your naïve street cred? Imaginative work does not support the concept (no matter how real the subject), which is why realist/impressionist ostensibly work from life.

Cultivate the naïve eye. Shut down the mind that symbolizes. … Students are reminded that intellectual thought interferes with the direct experience of observation.***

*Not the modern method of Lack and his lackeys. They preach the philosophy yet practice rigid mechanical measuring.

**As with that damn tootsie roll pop, the world may never know!

***See also, Drawing With an Open Mind

Related study;

sight size~A previous ramble.

Zen~…is not possible to embrace in any concept whatsoever, so that any concepts, any ideas, any words… or Be water.

Visual Impressionism~Velasquez by Stevenson. or Harold Speeds books (I can't recall which, if not both, discuss the 2 modes of seeing) or The Boston Painters, 1900-1930, by R.H. Ives Gammell

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised the shadows haven't gone full reflective mode