Tuesday, November 18, 2008

W. David Shaw: "Every sketch... a potential finished picture"

Some very interesting things are revealed about W David Shaw's working methods in Ernest W. Watson's October '55 interview with the artist. For instance, Shaw only worked four days a week. His weekends began on Friday and he never took work home. In fact, the artist told Watson, "I don't do any artwork at home."

Yet Shaw was able to produce a tremendous amount of work for a broad range of both advertising and editorial clients. His pictures appeared in Esquire, Holiday, Collier's, Woman's Day, This Week, Reader's Digest and many others.

Advertising clients included Grace Line, T.W.A., American Express, the Nassau Development Board, Johnson and Murphy Shoe Company, and National Distilleries.

Watson wrote, "the answer [to Shaw's prodigious output] lies particularly in the character of his work and the astonishing facility with which he handles the watercolor brush."

Shaw never did rough sketches of comps - every piece he began was a potential finished piece. If a drawing didn't come off at the first attempt, he'd throw it out and start a new one! If that also failed to please him, he'd begin a third.

In this manner, writes Watson, "[Dave's] work is impressionistic; it is free and impulsive. It is entirely devoid of laborious and time-consuming detail."

"His brush does unpremeditated things as the picture develops."

* My W. David Shaw Flickr set.

* My thanks to Harold Henriksen, for today's scans, and to Jaleen Grove for providing the W. David Shaw article from American Artist magazine.


  1. Gawd those are beautiful---!

    Let me re-write that Shaw heading; 'Every illustration a work of ART"....

    As always, thanks...


  2. Some lines appear to be done with a french curve or an ellipse guide but on closer examination are freehand.
    His illustrations done in this way are worth looking at closely.

  3. Wow! this guy was great. You always turn up yet another great artist!

  4. We try, Bill, we try. Thanks! ;-)

  5. My WORD! Yet another example of loving an artist all my adult life without having a clue of who he/she is! Shaw is great!

    As usual, thanks a million Leif. :)


  6. My pleasure, Les - Shaw's work almost has a Mitch O'Connell vibe about it, doesn't it?

  7. wow, these are soo nice! And while I've got you on the line a huge Thanks for shedding light on all of these fantastic artists. Do you have a contact email? I'd like to ask something off topic...

  8. Sure Michael - I can be reached through my website : leifpeng (dot) com - and my email address is also under my profile in the top corner of this blog

    L ;-)

  9. Sophia M8:42 AM

    Just picked up a painting of his at the local charity shop -amazing! He made it all the way to London and his work reminds of me of Raoul Dufy

  10. W. David Shaw, was my mentor. I was so inspired by his work and his occupation as a commercial artist as a teenager back in Boonville, IN. He and his wife came to visit my neighbor usually once or twice a year during the mid early to mid 1950's. David married into the Youngblood family that lived next door to me. I followed his career all the way through my High School years and met and talked with him several times while he was visiting his wife's relatives. He was a very kind man and always took the time to give me a few words of encouragement, after viewing my then crude watercolor paintings. I always admired and tried to copy his loose line and wash style of painting. Never quite succeeded in mastering, or even coming close to, his style of painting. I did, however, continue painting and went on to become an advertising layout artist and later an illustrator. Working primarily in the Publishing industry as a freelance illustrator.

    W. David Shaw, was very instrumental in my becoming the artist I am today.

    -Jerry E. Dillingham