Friday, October 16, 2009


Comments by Tom Watson

Illustration #7

Sitting lower and looking up into her eyes, a sympathetic Huck consoles “Miss Mary Jane”. Again Rockwell portrayed the emotions of the human condition, through posture, gesture and expression. The edge lighting on the figures and chairs (from the windows), adds to the mood , and delicately defines their features. This scene shows the tender side of Huck, as Miss Mary Jane appears sad and upset. Hearing her crying while packing her trunk, he consoles and asks her what the problem is. Rockwell depicts another well tailored and carefully manicured composition. Everything works to bring us into the subject matter. The stripes in the carpet and the nearly white window light on each side function to contain the figures in the center.. at least they appear at first glance to be centered. But, actually they are just left of center, avoiding a static symmetrical composition.

Notice one chair is a high back rocking chair, and the other, a backless stool. This gives variety and becomes a design advantage. To give variety to the rigid geometric shapes in the room, Rockwell angled the trunk and then echoed the nearly white windows in the lower portion of the illustration, with a small light shape inside the trunk. To give reality, he carefully adjusted the position of the window shades.. one slightly lower than the other. The picture frame and slip of paper under the corner of the frame on the wall, is another vintage Rockwell touch. Once again, every element functions to create a well conceived and well balanced illustration.

Illustration #8

Rockwell changed his color scheme in this illustration, and repeated the gold and amber tones, similar to the first illustration. He subtly indicates a rustic appearing interior, probably in the kitchen area. In this case, he wanted our attention to go straight to the subject (the snake and Aunt Sally), without hesitation. Unlike the last illustration, this is an action pose, and is obvious what is taking place. IMO, with a little information in the background, it could easily work as a Saturday Evening Post cover. The posture and attitude of the main figure is not a mystery here. And, Rockwell makes the most of it.

Notice how the spoon stops her from falling out of the picture. Theoretically, the bowl and spoon landing on the floor would scare the snake away, but fear and panic knows no logic. This is a classic example of effective counter change.. Aunt Sally’s head and hands reversed out of a dark background, while the snake reversed out of the light tone of the floor.. the two most important elements in the illustration. Notice Aunt Sally’s dress is darker than the floor, yet lighter than the dark gradated background toward the top. Just a key portion of Huck and Tom show behind her arching body. As Rockwell read the story or manuscript, I suspect he formed a visual image in his mind, of each character and each situation. This, no doubt, was the easiest part of portraying each illustration. The result however, is a unique combination of two master storytellers. If only Mark Twain could have seen Norman Rockwell’s contributions to his great classic novels. Twain’s inspiration on Rockwell is quite evident in these remarkable story illustrations.

* Tom Watson is a retired West Coast illustrator, art director and educator. He has been a frequent contributor to Today's Inspiration and his storyboard work for film was a subject of a post on my other blog, Storyboard Central. Many thanks, Tom, for an interesting, informative week!

This week's images are © MBI/Heritage Press, 1940 and are used with the permission of the Norman Rockwell Museum. This past summer the museum featured the grand opening of a traveling exhibition, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.

Stephanie Plunkett, Chief Curator of the Museum would like readers to know that the Museum does travel an exhibition of signed lithographic prints from the Tom and Huck series to other museums and cultural centers. Stephanie writes, "We do have two upcoming bookings for that exhibition that are listed below, so perhaps your readers will have the opportunity to visit if they live in the region."

Here is the information about the traveling exhibition:

Norman Rockwell's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Florida
November 14, 2009 through January 29, 2010

Averitt Center for the Arts, Statesboro, Georgia
March 12, 2010 through May 7, 2010

"It also might be interesting to note that the original paintings for the series are in the collection of the Mark Twain Museum in Hannibal, Missouri. The originals are beautiful. A study from the series will be on view in our upcoming exhibition, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, which opens on November 7, 2009."


  1. Terrific series. You know that Rockwell really got into these books. Traveled to hannibal and even had locals give him vintage, traditional clothes. And though not his first use of the camera, it was extensive for these books. Unfortunately a fire took them. The Rockwell museum preserves the remains of the vast photo collection ( The show and book (Behind the Camera) will be an eye-opener as to this talent of his.

    Terry Brown

  2. Superb, very informative.

  3. Thanks Joel, appreciate the comment.

    Terry, thanks.. I will check that book out. I would love to see those photos that were salvaged.

    Rockwell was hiding the use of the camera for years before he finally admitted it. It was considered cheating and almost sinful to "stoop to photographs" over a live model. He was roundly criticized by some of his peers, but eventually nearly every illustrator was using photographs, and painting from live models became impractical. But, I believe it was all those years of painting from live models that gave those illustrators the skills to paint realistically from photos, without it looking like hard boiled "photo realism" copies.

    Tom Watson

  4. Chad Sterling6:27 AM

    Yes, a terrifically accomplished painter, but what I cannot stand about Rockwell is the hokey,vaudevillian,cartoonish posing of his characters.People acting like cartoons instantly undermines the reality of a situation and renders the image as artificial and therefore redundant.To me, this facet of his art will always prvent him from being categorized as a 'great' artist.

  5. There's something about Chad's remark, especially about Part 4 here. But I'd say it's less prominent in Part three. And in Part two and one i fail to see anything cartoonish, or hokeyyvaudevillian, or what however that may be.