As we return from Christmas break and push through our remaining exams, Norman Rockwell’s “Family Home from Vacation” perfectly captures the post-vacation exhaustion. Rockwell has a stunning ability to capture special moments in his paintings with charm and realism. Because of this talent, at the young age of 22 he had a contract with The Saturday Evening Post a job that he held for the next 47 years. One of the charming qualities that can be seen in many of his paintings for the Post was his ability to integrate his painting into the format of the magazine. For example, two of the black lines going through the top of “Family Home from Vacation” are a reference to the magazine format. Rockwell’s magazine covers quickly made him a household name and an iconic American artist. His work for the Saturday Evening Post was “particularly optimistic, and, when you look at what was going on at the time, Rockwell was painting through the Great Depression. . . World War II. . . times where American people had to come together and unite as one.” Not only do Rockwell’s paintings capture a pivotal time in history, but he was able to use his position and talent to inspire Americans to unite against their trials. Later in his career, he began to paint for Look Magazine. During this time, he began to use his illustration as a stand on social issues. For example, one of his most famous paintings, “The Problem We All Live With” depicts Ruby Bridges, a young girl “among the first African American children to integrate schools in New Orleans”. She walks to her first day of school flanked by four men at attention, fists clenched, eyes straight ahead. Rockwell composed the painting in such a way that his audience would not be able to ignore how wrong it was to treat another human, a child in such a manner. This painting and others like it have become important images in the civil-rights movement. As such a well-known artist, Rockwell what reaches an established audience with making bold statements about important social issues.
I realize that attempting to paint a Norman Rockwell painting is a daunting task, so instead of placing pressure on your artistic abilities to paint as realistically as Rockwell, try a simpler goal: a magazine cover. Rockwell is known for his work in the photo reference. He would have models come and pose for him just the way he wanted his paintings to look. I picked a photo from when I went blueberry picking for the first time this summer. Print your photo twice, once in black and white and once in color. The black and white copy will help you see where your brightest highlights and darkest shadows should be. The color copy will help you determine what colors to paint. Rockwell projected his images onto his canvas; however, as I do not own a projector, so I settled for grid-lines instead. The easiest way to create to-scale grid-lines is to fold your paper into equal parts on both your small reference and a large piece of paper. I would recommend using a heavier paper for this project. Unfortunately, I used a lighter paper meant for drawing, and the effect was not quite what I had imagined.
Next block-in your colors. This means that rather than attempting to add detail and shading all at once, go over your entire painting with simple colors and not much detail. Try to leave white space for the text of your cover later on. As you can see I decided to paint in my two black lines. However, I found that my painted lines were not as clean and neat as I wanted. I ended up spending lots of time on my digital drawing software removing my painted black lines and adding them in digitally later.
Before adding shading and detail, I found it helpful to let the painting dry. Not only does it let those base colors set before you add more paint, but it also gives your brain a break. Once your base colors are dry, add your lights and darks. This is where the black and white photo reference comes in handy along with your color photo reference. After I let the painting dry again, I went in lightly with color pencils for small details such as hair, eyelashes, and veins in the leaves. Yet another part of Rockwell’s process I was forced to depart from was the media. Rockwell worked mainly in oil, and since I do not own any oil paints I decided to use acrylic. Looking back, oil paint would have given me a much more fluid painting process. Since it dries so slowly, it would be much easier to blend and mix to achieve Rockwell’s realism.
For the final touch transform your painting into a magazine cover. As a clay columnist, it was extremely fun and exciting for me to add my attempt at a famous artist’s work. Looking at some of Rockwell’s covers I used a similar format, only switching out the Saturday Evening Post or Look Magazine for our very own clay mag. As I sifted through endless fonts, I was even able to find clay’s font! Have fun coming up with your very own article titles. . . and yes, we really did pick 83 lb of blueberries the day of the photo.
I would love to see your magazine covers! Send them to me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram @emcardsandcreations
Burleigh, Gerimi. “Norman Rockwell and the Art of Using Photo Reference.” Gerimi, February 13, 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43VeMJvkdF8
“Norman Rockwell.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 13 Apr. 2019, https://www.biography.com/artist/norman-rockwell.
“Norman Rockwell’s Painting Process.” Ramm Illustration, March, 29, 2017, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlufEZCh1Mk&list=PLwygboCFkeeD5xOSZdydl1SkfvUU-ay_Z&index=2
“Painting America: The Art of Norman Rockwell.” Park West Gallery, August 3, 2018, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRGUwYA_KVQ
“Painting Tour: ‘The Problem We All Live With’ 1964” Norman Rockwell Museum, December 3, 2015, Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4Trz-ijBYg&list=PLwygboCFkeeD5xOSZdydl1SkfvUU-ay_Z&index=3