Wednesday, November 22, 2006

His Life's One Ambition

In his 1942 interview in American Artist, Dean Cornwell said: "The measure of the illustrator is his ability to take a subject in which he may have neither interest nor information, tackle it with everything he's got and make the finished picture look like the consumation of his life's one ambition."

So its not surpising that Cornwell produced a multitude of roughs, preliminary drawings and colour comps before tackling any of his finished pieces. He used photos almost exclusively for reference of small details - the actual subject matter he drew and redrew until he found it to be satisfactory. "Go to the source," he told his students, and "get the smell of the place."

For Cornwell, the secret to a successful illustration was not in how realistic a painting he could do - it was in how successfully he had composed the picture. "A composition is not just a nice arrangement with everything filling in the space," he said in his American Artist interview. "No matter how satisfying it may be from an abstract point of view it is meaningless in illustration unless it is built around and wholly expresses an authentic idea that motivates the particular picture."

* All of today's images were generously donated by my good friend René Milot, who scanned the originals from his private collection so we could enjoy them as well. Many thanks, mon ami!

You'll find larger versions of today's images in my Dean Cornwell Flickr set.


  1. And thank you, for doing a week on Cornwell and mostly thank you for giving us a daily morning inspiration! We all are very lucky to receive a multitude of carefully researched and selected works! Nice job!

  2. Thanks René for being so generous, otherwise nobody would ever see these.

    I wish more collectors would step forward, who knows how many unseen treasures exist?


  3. These drawings of Cornwell's are gorgeous. For me they are more interesting than the finished paintings -- it's like seeing Cornwell's bones, his illustrative skeletal structure. Which I guess you could say about drawings in general -- It's just that in Cornwell's case particularly his stately finished work -- truly the product of another era --doesn't let me in as much as his drawings do. Many thanks to René for sharing his collection, & of course to you, Leif.