Sunday, August 04, 2013


In the 1950s, Robert Fawcett visited the instructors working at the Famous Artists School in Connecticut and talked with them about his method of constructing pictures.  He sketched three examples of how one might depict "a knock at the door":

Original size: 4" x 6"


He told the instructors that when designing a picture, it is important to focus on the pattern created by lights and darks.   He suggested that students use a tissue paper overlay to block out the geometric shapes which form the abstract pattern: 

He told the instructors that students should not try to redraw the underlying drawing on their overlays, but rather "outline mechanically" to separate the form from the content. 

He made handwritten notes for the instructors to use:
 Among his advice: to keep the pattern lively, use a "quick, nervous, spotty method" when outlining the key shapes:
He also urged, "wherever possible, use angular forms and emphasize differences of direction":
The materials from this long ago lesson were taped together on an illustration board (along with his separate lesson on creating "interior atmosphere"-- apparently they couldn't spare a separate board.) 

Worthwhile advice from a smart artist.


jeanne said...

this is beautiful, thank you

Larry MacDougall said...

Fabulous !

jsl said...

Brilliant. Do you have any more of this stuff?

kev ferrara said...

The lesson he's setting up here - and I don't know if this actually became part of FA teaching -- is very sound.

But those first three drawings... those are just killer! His simultaneous command of texture, structural form, lighting, and gesture is very humbling. A lot of it seems drawn from his imagination (?)which looks to be quite well informed by years of acute and astute observation.

Anonymous said...

beautiful, to see the originals

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...


अर्जुन said...

I wish he had done a strip…panel after panel of R.F.!

L. Benson said...

thank you so much for your wonderful blog!!

Stephen said...

Thank you for posting these, David. I'm a proud owner of your Fawcett and Al Dorne books, and I'm very glad to see more posts on Robert Fawcett. Can we look forward to another book on contemporaries of these artists?

Ryan Lovelock said...

where do you even find these! great post!

Donald Pittenger said...

I second the various motions above.

What I really want to know is . . . Where did you find / get that stuff? An FA School archive? Taraba?

Fess up, David: that material is golden!

Anonymous said...

I have tremendous respect for Fawcett. These illustrations are basically great. But they have blown into oblivion by the overuse of harsh contrasts of overly fragmented black and white shapes. Putting tissue over them amounts to a tacit admission by Fawcett. I'm sure some color could clarify, unify, and rectify the situation, but why over fragment to begin with? Just not a fan of this kind of graphic treatment.

David Apatoff said...

jw, Larry MacDougall, jsl, Erik Johnson, One1more2time3-- Many thanks.

Kev Ferrara-- As far as I can tell, these pictures were never published in any Famous Artists School materials. They were just pointers for instructors behind the scenes.

अर्जुन-- He would have been great at it. A strip would have forced him to simplify, and leave out some of the detail he worked into his illustrations, but he knew how to do that.

David Apatoff said...

L. Benson-- and thank you so much for visiting!

Stephen-- The next book, due out later this year, is about Bernie Fuchs.

Ryan Lovelock and Donald Pittenger-- I encountered this material crawling on my hands and knees through a remote warehouse.

There is a special challenge (as well as charm) to tracking down picturess with high artistic but low commercial value. People can't put them in gold frames and sell them in fancy galleries so they tend to stash them in the most unlikely places.

Etc, etc-- I gather from his notes that Fawcett was exploring "simple, uncomplicated" alternatives but what he said as he worked is lost to history.

Stephen said...

Thanks, David. I can't wait! I'll keep buying them as long as you keep writing them. It's a crime that there hasn't been a books on Bernie Fuchs yet. I'm glad you're going to right that wrong.

FlatClem said...

Wow, the notes are really interesting documents.

I'm toying with the idea light and darks patterns for a few month and i have to say this is an awesome method.
I love how it forces to bring back design in the compositions.

Im definitly persevering in that direction.

Thanks for sharing.

william wray said...

have you got the originals David? Or just the photos!