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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

Martha Sawyers: Step-by-Step

Friday, March 12, 2010

In the book, "Forty Illustrators and How They Work", we learn that Martha Sawyers studied with George Bridgman and George Luks at the Art Students League. Luks was a painter of "broad luscious brush-work" but Sawyers' approach was, we are told, more like that of a draftsman than a painter. It is suggested that she must therefore have "had greater sympathy for the teaching of Bridgman," the constructive anatomist.


Sawyers' first job after graduating was in a studio that made stained glass. There she learned a technique of painting with a needle, scratching into flat colour to derive tonal variations. The artist transposed this technique to her illustration work: laying down thin washes of oil paint heavily diluted with mineral spirits to facilitate fast drying. She would then build up form with "crayon-like" brush strokes of those same thin, rapidly drying oils.


Finally (returning to her earliest professional experience in the stained glass studio) Sawyers would scrape through the dried colour layers of paint with a knife, revealing the canvas base colour. The result is the familiar textural look - a look almost of a pastel or crayon drawing - so typical of a Martha Sawyers illustration.


* My Martha Sawyers Flickr set.

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