Monday, September 10, 2012


Each day this week I will be posting unpublished drawings from the personal sketchbooks of famed illustrator William A. Smith.

I have previously described my admiration for Smith,  a gold medal winning artist who, in addition to working for the top publications of his day,  traveled to exotic locations around the world from the 1940s to the 1980s.  An artist of insatiable visual curiosity, he always took sketchbooks with him and recorded his impressions of the people he met and the places he saw.

Some of his sketches are highly detailed, such as this meticulous working drawing of a colorful balcony in Rangoon, Burma:

While other sketches are distilled to their barest minimum, such as this insightful portrait:

Some of the drawings are exaggerated and impressionistic, such as this sketch of a burly Russian in a big fur coat:

... while other drawings are exquisitely calibrated, such as this sensitive drawing of a Japanese woman:

By viewing this face at several times its original size, we can begin to understand the subtleties of Smith's technique.  Here, he indicated an eyebrow and hair line with just the point of one pencil, then came back with the flat of a different pencil to achieve the effect he wanted. And note the importance of even miniscule changes in the lines of her jaw and throat in conveying his understanding of the forms.

Note the contrast between Smith's precise treatment of her face, and his broad, lush lines for her hair and kimono:

As you might expect, the sketchbooks contain the obligatory figure studies of people Smith saw on his travels.  No matter how accomplished he became, Smith never tired of making these basic studies:

Smith spent long hours traveling to remote locations under primitive conditions, but his sketchbooks tell us that he made the best use of his travel time:  

The thousands of drawings in Smith's sketchbooks remind us that he was a virtuoso with a pencil.  One of the great things about the internet is that drawings such as these, which might otherwise remain unseen in museum archives or family collections, can now reach a wider audience.

This is going to be a good week.


MORAN said...

Beautiful work.

Anonymous said...

An exceptionally good week I'm going to guess . Smith is one of my favorites and my impression of his work is that he did'nt trace from photos as did Peak Fuchs Briggs as an expedient way to get to the finishing textures etc. I love their work and have no problem with working that way , but , unless I'm mistaken , Smith did'nt use that approach .

The fact that he did notebook life sketching to stay sharp and out of a love for simply doing that makes me wonder how much better the mentioned artists or even Frazetta might have been had they employed the same practice . I know they could all draw very well , and maybe they did do it , but I always thought there was something particularly gutsy about Smiths work .

Al McLuckie

Kim Smith said...

Thank you, David, for your comments. I too will be looking forward to seeing what you choose for the blog this week.

Nick Meglin included several of Dad's drawings in his excellent book "Drawing From Within" (sorry, I can't seem to underline the proper way). This inclusion was a complete and happy surprise for me when I first saw the book two years ago. He, who draws so very well himself, had only glowing things to say about Dad's work.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these. We forget that Smith was one of the few who could really draw. I'm looking forward to this week.


Alex said...

I don't think you can ever get drawings of this purity by tracing.The economy of expression can only be developed from years of observational drawing and (in my opinion) is the polar opposite of the studied brevity of some slick illustration of the 60s.

Untitled said...

Looking forward to this. I enjoy your blog very much. Would like to write to you and your email would be much appreciated.

Thanks for the interesting and unusual art explorations that I would very unlikely be able to find here in India.