Norman Rockwell: Celebrating America
by Susan Kay Crawford and Mark Hunt
When the developed pictures were returned, Rockwell would pick and choose details from the photographs to form a final composition. He then drew dozens of preliminary charcoal sketches before beginning the final detailed layout. The artist used a charcoal sketch the same size as the final painting to avoid potential problems he might face when working in oils. This was an involved and somewhat wearisome process, but Rockwell felt it saved him time and produced a better picture. When the sketch was completed, it was photographed and printed on eight by ten inch or ten by twelve inch matte photographic paper. Rockwell then worked out his color scheme in oil directly on the photograph.
After priming his canvas and allowing it to dry, he transferred the charcoal study onto it by laying a sheet of architect's tracing paper over the sketch and carefully going over it in pencil. Then, using transfer paper, he would reline the drawing, transposing the it onto the canvas. In addition to this technique, Rockwell would sometimes use a Balopticon, a device that projects flat images onto another surface, to draft the finished drawing to the canvas. In either case, Rockwell would need to reline the entire drawing.
The canvas was stained with a thin even coating of a single color of oil paint, an imprimatura. When the imprimatura dried, Rockwell chose one color, perhaps a raw umber, to rough-in his entire subject in a monochromatic underpainting. Then he used the earlier color study as a guide to lay-in the other colors. Rockwell developed the final painting by working on the various sections (figures, background, faces) simultaneously, so that the painting would have a finished look at each stage of its development.
In his later years, as his health declined, he would sometimes allow other artists -- such as Joseph Csatari, Rockwell's successor with BSA and Brown & Bigelow -- to work on details in his paintings. Rockwell's last Brown & Bigelow calendar painting for BSA was the Spirit of '76, for which The National Scouting Museum has the color study. The whereabouts of the finished painting are unknown.
Norman Rockwell died on November 8, 1978. He was never a Scout or a Scout leader, but he left behind a rich legacy of art that exemplifies the solid values and traditions that have been the foundation of the Scouting program for over eighty years. To this day, his images of Scouts inspire young men to lead a life of dedication and hard work with the honesty, modesty, concern for others, and sense of humor that Rockwell himself exhibited. Although the artist is no longer with us, his Scouting legacy lives on through the paintings exhibited at the National Scouting Museum.
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