As a young man, Will Davies studied at the Ontario College of Art. Looking at the eager, smiling student in this mid-1940s photo, I doubt he could have imagined that one day he would become one of the college's most revered and respected instructors.
Will's daughter Pam Davies wrote the following about her father's teaching career:
"In 1969 Will Davies was hired as a part-time instructor at the Ontario College of Art (O.C.A.)
For 19 years he generously shared the knowledge of years of experience as a working artist. Many of today’s illustrators, who were previously students, owed their careers to his mentoring. It was invaluable to be taught by the most sought-after Canadian illustrator."
"During the turbulent years of the late ’60s, early - ’70s at O.C.A., life drawing classes (traditionally a basic fundamental for any illustrator) were withdrawn from the curriculum, along with many other basic courses. Davies stuck to his ideals, knowing the value of life drawing as an illustrator, and offered free life drawing classes after school."
"Without this critical basic skill, many students would have lacked the backbone of good illustration. Life drawing classes have since been reinstated."
That Will Davies' teaching profoundly influenced and inspired countless students is beyond a doubt. Many of today's top professionals have told me so personally. Internationally renowned concept artist Dan Milligan said he retook Will's class in each of his four years at O.C.A. simply because the administration would allowed him to do so. Why bother taking classes from some other lesser instructor... this was Will Davies. As Dan says, "He was THE guy to get."
Award winning Toronto-based illustrator Amanda Duffy recalls her experience in Will's class at OCA in the '80s:
"At the beginning of the year, Will's students were shown three examples in one class. He always had photo reference and stressed its importance. All the instructors said the same thing: "Don't make a move without reference." Will showed us his preferred methods of creating mood suggestive of romance: a gentleman is painted in darker tones, is chiseled of feature, has shadows painted of shapes rather than details, and is drawn taller and larger than his female partner. She is crafted to appear delicate and pretty, usually large-eyed, wistful of expression and full-mouthed."
Amanda continues, "We fourth-year students patiently and politely watched his demonstration, waiting for the right moment to ask to claim each artwork as a prize. (I was the most brash, and a split second after my request, the other two pieces were nabbed. We knew our beloved instructor was gold!)"
Former student Tom McGhee also owns one of Will's demo pieces (above). Tom took a night class with Will many years ago and remembers asking if he could have the artwork at the end of one class: "I actually said to him, "So do we draw straws or what?" He laughed and said, "Do you want it?" I couldn't believe it and said, "Yeah, bloody right I do!" But I never asked him to sign it and I wished I had!"
Long-time professional comic book artist, writer and publisher Ken Steacy shared this wonderful appreciation of his former instructor that aptly describes what so many others have told me:
"I was among the fortunate few blessed with having Will Davies as an instructor while a student at the Ontario College of Art. This was long before they became a University, back in the days when the Communication & Design Department ruled the school with career-focused, skills-based training."
"His technical skills were formidable, and watching his rendering demos was a breathtaking experience. But even that paled by comparison to his draughtsmanship, and his eagerly-anticipated life-drawing classes were absolutely magical."
"Our admiration for that skill was exceeded only by our respect for his mentorship. No matter how awful an assignment crossed his gaze, he would invariably find something to like about it, even if it was just that shade of blue in the upper left-hand corner. He would then critique the technique, composition, and drawing in the most constructive and affirming way."
"Will is also one of the most urbane gentleman I’ve ever met. I recall seeing him one summer afternoon strolling through Yorkville sporting a white linen suit in the company of two tall blonde models, one on each arm. Little wonder we all wanted to be Will Davies when we grew up!"
~ Ken Steacy, AOCA 1978
There are only a few hours left to order your copy of The Art of Will Davies. Please visit our Kickstarter page.