Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shoes Make the Man

While we're on the subject of Norman Rockwell, please allow me an observation I've made about him as a character designer.
There are many who would quite incorrectly dismiss Rockwell as an artist enslaved by the photograph. The contrary is true. One of Rockwell's many gifts was his ability to choose what to use from a photo and what to throw out. More importantly, the photos he worked from were of subjects he posed and clothed himself. Now to my point: for a short but (I feel) illuminating lesson in character design, take a look at any Rockwell painting, and don't even bother with the faces. Look down. In every one of his paintings his figures are dressed in exactly the shoes that character should be wearing. Their color and patina, style and condition speak volumes about the wearer's history and personality. You almost don't have to look up again to know who's wearing them.
I am still not the costumer of characters I would like to be, not by a long shot, but artists like Rockwell make it very clear:
it's not the amount of details you choose to include,
but which ones.


  1. Ohhhhhhh...GREAT post! Those shots take my breath away. "illuminating lesson in character design" yes! THANKS!!

    .....Your North American readers might also be interested in knowing "Sketchy Past" is now shipping from Stuart Ng Books...Amazon still says pre-orders are not expected to ship until after March 5th 2010 (?!?).....and whhhhennnn is that freakin' DVD finally coming out??? are they sitting in a warehouse somewhere? does another break-in need to be planned? : )

  2. gets a person thinking. . . yes . . right, you are

  3. A very interesting comment of Rockwell work. A new proof (if needed) of his talent. Thank you Peter !

  4. I'm so happy that I'm not the only one who loves to look at shoes as well in Rockwell's work. For some reason, I always thought it very nerdy to geek out over the charm of such a small component in his illustrations.

    Also, I have been fortunate enough to read the Duchess and completely felt like I was 5 years old again. I probably took a good half hour reading and pouring over your beautiful work. Congratulations once again to the both of you!

  5. Shoes are very revealing indeed. No body draws a pair of Converse like Rockwell did. Great observation Peter!

  6. omg thank you for this observation! As if i didn't enjoy your blog enough, now i get useful illustration analysis of classic artists? FABULOUS.

    i'm really intrigued by the general conception that Rockwell was "enslaved" by the photo reference he used... if he's the one dressing and posing the models, and setting up the light and props just so, then he has complete control of the photographic results-- hardly a slave! I suppose by that logic, YOU'RE enslaved by the zoo-full of animals you've visited and drawn from life over and over again when designing characters! and in that scenario, you have less control over your "models" than Rockwell did... it seems like the notion of illustrators using a camera is "cheating" or "selling out", which smacks of stuffy old persons too stuck in their ways to embrace a new tool.

  7. Very interesting observation. I think you have just changed my whole approach to character design in one short post. I always gave vague thought to the details, but you are right, the details are just as important as any other aspect of the design for they inform the character and reflect its personality... thanks for that!

  8. Every time I design a character for work I make sure to always study Rockwell!

    Looking forward to your books. And I'm just now listening to your interview on Sidebar. ^ ^


  9. I don't know if it was Rockwell or Mad Magazine that taught me to obsess over details like the shoes. Good post.

  10. Great post, and so true. Funny, when I was about 11 I went to see a show of Rockwell originals. It was the shoes that I remember best, I think because I was too short to get a close look at the rest of the paintings. You could practically smell the old polished leather on those shoes, they were (and still are) so convincing.

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