Editor's note: The Norman Rockwell Museum provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact The Norman Rockwell Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay

November 13, 2004 - May 30, 2005

 

Building Ship: The Artist's Process

 

 
David Macaulay
Maria Sousa is Beginning to Feel the Strain 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
David Macaulay's interest in travel by sea was first inspired by the memorable transatlantic journey that he and his family made from England to America when he was eleven. The S. S. United States, which provided them safe passage in 1957, is now considered to be the greatest ocean liner ever built. A far cry from the small, 1504 caravel that is the focus of this book, the two ships have much in common. Both challenged conventional thinking in their day, and were faster and more advanced than any other vessel afloat at the time.
 
The 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America (1492-1992), and a friend's passion for recovered shipwrecks and the field of underwater archaeology, piqued the artist's interest in the subject. In this first illustration for his compelling fictional tale, maritime archaeologist, Maria Sousa, searches the Brazos del Diablo reef in search of the anchor and other remains of an early sixteenth century shipwreck that may be a caravel.
 
 
David Macaulay
Suddenly She Releases the Line and Hovers Above the Encrusted Anchor 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
A burgeoning interest in the work of underwater archaeologists ­ what they find and how they recover, preserve, and interpret artifacts ­ was just the beginning for David Macaulay, whose research for Ship started five years before publication. The artist began by reading all that he could find about the history and tradition of shipbuilding and coastal exploration. After referencing materials from archival libraries in America, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, he traveled to distant places where time-honored traditions were still evident. In Portsmouth, England, he studied the rigging of the Mary Rose, King Henry VIII's favorite warship dating from 1510. At Mystic Seaport, he became immersed in the art of rope tying and barrel making. And a trip to Brazil gave him the opportunity to witness the construction of Columbus' Nina in replica. Ethnographically authentic, this caravel was built in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. While on location, the artist drew, photographed, and calibrated structural measurements while speaking with craftsmen about skills and techniques that had been passed down through generations of master ship builders. The hull's dimensions were eventually used to create accurate drawings and a three-dimensional ship model.
 
David Macaulay's narratives are initially written by hand and developed simultaneously with thumbnail sketches that are placed in sequential order. After being transcribed, his manuscript is divided into blocks of text that can be inserted into more finished sketches for placement, as seen here. Two of many, the studies for this image reveal the artist's consideration of content and composition. The anchor appears less prominent in the final drawing, where two divers work together rather than one.
 
 
David Macaulay
While Most of the Vegetation Grows at Random, the Gorgonia
is an Exception 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
As his manuscript and imagery began to take shape, David Macaulay sought the expertise of professional maritime archaeologists to ensure authenticity in his work. Scientists from Ships of Discovery, a research program in Corpus Christie, Texas that has sought, tested, and excavated early European shipwrecks in the Americas, enthusiastically offered advice and information. Letters and notes written directly on the artist's sketches and book dummies provided information on a broad spectrum of issues, from building materials to the cloth that was used for sails and the food that the crew would have eaten.
In addition, Ships of Discovery staff members gave him a three-day "crash course" in underwater archaeology and preservation, which was invaluable. During his visit to their facility, he had the opportunity to draw, photograph, and take notes on their processes and tools.
 
David Macaulay had never gone snorkeling or scuba diving before he began this project, but was curious to know what swimming near the ocean's floor might feel and sound like. After a day of training, he donned diving equipment and accompanied scientists to an excavation site, where he created underwater drawings and observed their work first-hand.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Team is Back on the Site Early the Following Morning 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Pencil, ink and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
While on location at an excavation site, David Macaulay and his fellow scientists drew and made notes while working underwater. As in this image, drafting film was attached to a stiff acrylic board with duct tape and a pencil was kept from floating away with string. Staying focused was a challenge, however, as the current shifted him away from his subject. Divers are seen here searching for artifacts with metal detectors and inserting steel rods into the ocean floor to check for remnants that may lie beneath the surface.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Replyis both Speedy and Troubling 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil, ink, and collage on paper on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In the contemporary half of Ship's story, scientist James Stevens reports to the Cherubian government on the Brazos de Diablo site, noting the reasons it deserves excavation. A sizable portion of the wooden hull may still be in tact, and possible artifacts located by metal detectors suggest that the site has not been salvaged, making it a time capsule of its day. Collaged over the artist's drawing, a letter from Cherubia brings unfortunate news that treasure hunters have recently been intercepted in the region. Beautifully designed elements, like the logo on the letterhead, lend authenticity to the details of this fictional tale.
 
 
David Macaulay
As the Equipment is Being Loaded for the TripA Fax Arrives 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil, colored pencil, and collage on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In this illustration, equipment is loaded onto trucks for the trip back to Brazos de Diablo in the wake of troubling reports. As the team works, a fax containing information about an early sixteenth century caravel arrives from a researcher. The Magdalena, which set sail from Seville in 1504, may be the subject of their investigation.
 
When David Macaulay designed Ship, he considered several ways to integrate the contemporary and historic aspects of his story. Initially, scenes of the past and the present shifted back and forth. In another approach, as seen here, ghostly figures of deceased seamen made their way onto modern vessels, suggesting a sense of continuity. Both possibilities were eventually rejected as potentially confusing for readers. The artist also experimented with point of view, finally placing the viewer above this scene, looking down.
 
 
David Macaulay
Stevens and Keiffer Witness the Carnage 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
When archaeologists return to the diving site, their worst fears are confirmed. In their search for riches, treasure hunters have destroyed anything in their way. The anchor that first welcomed them has been torn away, and artifacts are either missing or disrupted.
Note the diver's shift in placement to the left facing page. His position in the final composition balances and calls attention to the unfortunate discovery on the right
 
 
David Macaulay
All Measurements Must be Accurately Recorded 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
David Macaulay offers detailed information about artifact collection techniques in this double page spread. In a systematic excavation process, grids are used to map the ocean floor, and the location and size of artifacts are accurately recorded. Large objects like this bombardeta, or cannon, are brought to the water's surface with the help of balloons. A blue screen applied to the artist's underwater illustrations during the printing process provides a sense of deep-sea atmosphere.
 
 
David Macaulay
Precious Cargo 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil, ink and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In this expansive scene, the Cherubian government's well-worn Pride of Sea leaves the excavation site filled with artifacts that scientists have collected, and makes its way toward shore. The artist's contemplative composition was a perfect counterpoint to the active, informational images that fill the book, but the piece did not start out that way. Before settling on a final image, David Macaulay explored several potential visual solutions. Reactions to his studies were recorded in the margins and on post-it notes by maritime archaeologists at Ships of Discovery, offering food for thought.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Artifacts are Soaking in Tanks of Solution 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil, colored pencil, and acetate on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The iron artifacts that have been removed from the sea, such as guns and anchors, will deteriorate quickly if not properly preserved. David Macaulay's two-part illustration clearly details the process of preservation. Here, objects are first soaked in tanks of solution to reduce deterioration by salt water, and residue is carefully cleaned away before they undergo electrolysis, another bath, and a wax immersion. Red acetate has been applied to this and other images in the book for printing purposes, indicating that an area of color will appear in an otherwise black and white piece. In the published piece, these sections are blue.
 
 
David Macaulay
Many of the ArtifactsHave Become Cemented 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Pencil and acetate on paper
Collection of the artist
 
For most artifacts, cleaning and preservation takes months or years. The painstaking work of the archaeologist is illuminated in these images, which offer a precise look at two specific techniques. In the sketch on the left, encrustation is pieced together to make a mold of an object that has deteriorated. The finished drawing gives a sense of just how many items have become cemented into this large cluster, or conglomerate, over time.
 
 
David Macaulay
Two More Trips are Made to the Site 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Pencil, colored pencil, and acetate on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In the artist's story, the wooden remains are the last to be taken from the excavation site. Collected during two additional trips over the next five years, these artifacts are less attractive to treasure hunters, and their recovery process is long and complex. Underwater photographs of ship remains on the ocean floor, a building plan that the artist acquired in his research, and his own studies of a ship's hull served as reference for the site plan on the left. In an earlier version, structural remnants stretch out horizontally across the double page spread.
 
 
David Macaulay
I Have Found What Looks Like a Journal or Diary 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Mixed media on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In Ship, fragments come together as a metaphor for a larger process of discovery.
In this final image of the first story in the book, we are seated at the desk of an archaeologist. Covered with utility bills, letters, a magnifying glass, and even the resident cat, it also holds a fax from Diane, a "fellow digger," who has found what appears to be an early sixteenth century diary. The diary's first entries discuss the building of a caravel, which could help the scientists interpret the artifacts found at Brazos del Diablo. This reference to the past provides a seamless entry into the historical section of the book, which is set in 1504.
 
This image was built up in four distinct layers that appear as one through the magic of the printing process. Text serves as a base for the artist's magnifying glass and cat tail drawings. In a third overlay, colored acetate indicates that the desk will appear as one continuous tone. Finally, the signature and envelope return address will be screened separately, in deep blue. Note that a postage stamp illustration in the upper left corner commemorates Ships of Discovery, a nod of appreciation to the scientists that David Macaulay worked with so closely.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Seventh Day of January1504 1993
Illustration for Ship
Ink and marker on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In the first entry of the diary that Diane has uncovered, we learn that two brothers from Seville are enjoying success importing dyewood and pearls from the Indies, but are seeking new sources for these precious commodities. They have therefore commissioned the Guerra shipyard to build them a caravel. "Such a ship, although quite small, is surprisingly capricious," the narrator reflects. "It is also of modest draft and can be heavily armed, making it ideal for the uncertainties of exploration." The story is told in the voice of the journal writer, who records all aspects of the vessel's construction. Silhouetted caravels at various stages of completion punctuate the narrative, inspired by ship drawings of the period.
 
 
David Macaulay
We Passed this Rainy Afternoon Reviewing the List of Timbers Required
for the Hull 1993
Illustration for Ship
Marker on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Master Alonso agrees to oversee the project, and promises that no detail will be overlooked. The ship's hull will be built of the finest white oak, selected by Alonso personally. After specific trees have been marked, they are felled and sent to the shipyard by way of the Guadalquivir River.
 
In Ship, the images that bring us back in time are created in full color, in contrast to the black and white drawings that trace the caravel's eventual discovery. David Macaulay's painterly drawings, created with marker on translucent drafting film, are reversed after completion to soften both color and focus. The effect of snow in this wintry scene was the result of his experiments with the medium.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Guadalquivir River Does All the Work 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Marker and pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
 
David Macaulay
José and His Able Apprentices were Already Shaping the Keel 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Marker and pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Master carpenter, José de Arbora, begins shaping the keel, which is the ship's backbone. Once the rough timber has been shaped, it is smoothed with short strokes of the adze, as seen here. José is reputed to be one of the finest adze men in Seville, but his work is not without cost, for he has lost a toe on his right foot. While on location in Brazil observing the recreation of the Niña, David Macaulay drew and photographed craftsmen utilizing traditional techniques, which served as reference for his illustrations.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Yard is Very Busy These Days 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In this overview of the active shipyard, the Magdalena's keel is situated between two larger vessels that are in need of Alonso's attention. One of Their Royal Highnesses' ships has been hauled onto its side for repairs, and the cargo vessel on the right is being caulked in preparation for a launch. The Magdelena's sternpost now supports a fine, broad transom. Note the artist's experimentation with content, perspective and composition before arriving at his final solution. The messages to be communicated, the mood the image conveys, and its place within the grand sweep of the book are considerations that influence his artistic decisions.
 
 
David Macaulay
The First of Magdalena's Ribs Have been Assembled
and Hoisted into Place on the Keel 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
While on location in Brazil, where Christopher Colombus' Niña was recreated, David Macaulay made proportionally accurate drawings by taking exact measurements of the ribs that form the ship's hull ­ one of the "trickiest" parts of his process. After returning home to Rhode Island, the information that he had gleaned was used to build a precise model of the ship out of cardboard. That three-dimensional structure became the subject of hundreds of exploratory drawings, allowing the artist to view the ship from every possible angle and viewpoint. In this illustration, the Magdalena's ribs are assembled and hoisted into place on the keel. The artist's "camera eye" moves in and out on the scene before the final composition is established.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Last of the Ribs are in Place 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Dazzling in its dramatic use of dark and light, we move beyond the shadow of the boathouse in the foreground of this image to the illuminated ship beyond. Two heavy planks called wales now tie the ribs of the hull together. In an earlier version that was rejected as too symmetrical, the hull stretches across the bottom of the page, while a seascape and text balance each other above.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Keelson is Notched to Fit Snugly Over Every Floor 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Marker and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The artist utilizes one point perspective to great affect here, placing us within the skeleton of the ship's hull to provide a sense of its depth and scale. Visual texture abounds, as marker strokes enhanced by touches of water from a paintbrush emulate the look an feel of wood grain, earth, and sky.
 
 
David Macaulay
They Painstakingly Measure and Trim Each Plank 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker and pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
In this illustration, inspired directly by the postures and activities of shipwrights carrying out traditional building techniques in Brazil, craftsmen sheath the hull by measuring and trimming each plank to create the tightest possible seam. In an earlier version, carpenters appear in a sequence of snapshots that move across the top of the page. Commentary on his studies by Ships of Discovery scientists, whom the artist worked closely with, offers food for thought and factual information.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Ship Glided Whole into the Same River 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Cheers rose in the air as the completed hull of the Magdalena slid along greased tracks into the same river that had delivered her in pieces just a few months before. The drawings of the hull that are seen here represent hundreds that were created by the artist to ensure his understanding of the structure and his facility in working with it convincingly.
 
 
David Macaulay
I Arrivedto See the Mainmast Being Raised Above its Hole
in the Center of the Deck 1993
Illustration for Ship
Marker on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Shortly after sunrise, the lofty mainmast is raised. The narrator in David Macaulay's story tells us that he has inserted a gold coin into the slot in the mast step, which he believes will bring good luck to the Magdalena and her crew. A close-up of the ship's rudder in the facing illustration was eventually substituted by a small silhouette of the boat with an indication its placement.
 
 
David Macaulay
The Long Horizontal Yardsare Made Up of Two Pieces of Timber
Bound Together 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker and pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Understanding the complexities of the ship's rigging preoccupied David Macaulay for some time. He sought visual reference from many sources including research papers and books, built a scale model of Columbus' Santa Maria, and traveled to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut and the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, England to gain first hand knowledge of the subject. The complexities of outfitting a small ship like the Magdalena are underscored in the artist's images and text. In a study for this piece that was eventually revised, workers bind pieces of timber together to make long, horizontal yards to which sails will be attached.
 
 
David Macaulay
Two Wagons Arrived Bearing Magdalena's Sails 1993
Illustration and study for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
The artist's research of caravel cargo lists revealed that at least one extra set of sails was stowed below deck in the event of an emergency at sea. At this point in his story, the ship's construction has been completed, the sails have been lashed to the yards, and the third and final payment to the Guerra shipyard has been made. A complete inventory of the ship and its contents was then begun. The artist's study for this image reveals a simultaneous development of images and words.
 
 
David Macaulay
We Have Arrived in Sanlúcar 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
Viewed from above, the Magdalena points to the horizon in this drawing, recalling a compositional idea that the artist had experimented with before in a study for another illustration. After leaving the shipyard, the caravel travels a short distance to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a pleasant town in a busy harbor where crewmen are hired and provisions are loaded before setting sail. The quartermaster checking his list of provisions is featured in a study for the image, but does not appear in the final work.
 
 
David Macaulay
Our Prayers for a Fair Wind Have Been Answered 1993
Illustration and studies for Ship
Marker, pencil, and colored pencil on paper
Collection of the artist
 
A luminous expanse of sea and sky are emphasized in this final image in David Macaulay's two-part tale of the Magdalena's construction and eventual demise. On this day, at least, fair winds prevail, but the narrator notes his apprehension in a final journal entry. "Two days ago I watched an old caravel as it rounded Punta do Motijo and drifted slowly into the mouth of the Guadalquivir. It was listing badly. The mainmast seemed to have been repaired at least once and the sails, although secure, had obviously been patched a number of times. I thought how strong and seaworthy Magdalena looked by comparison. That evening Captain Suares informed me that none other than Admiral Columbus himself was aboard that weary vessel, having just returned from the New World. It was a humbling reminder, I can tell you, and brought about at least one extra visit to the church for prayers."
 

Wall and label text from the exhibition:

Introduction
Big Ideas! Looking at Architecture with David Macaulay
Journey Books: The Evolution of Ideas

Exhibition checklist

Back to first page


Visit the Table of Contents for Resource Library Magazine for thousands of articles and essays on American art, calendars, and much more.

Copyright 2003, 2004 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.