Monday, 10 September 2012

THE SKETCHBOOKS OF WILLIAM A. SMITH

Each day this week I will be posting unpublished drawings from the personal sketchbooks of famed illustrator William A. Smith.

I have previously described my admiration for Smith,  a gold medal winning artist who, in addition to working for the top publications of his day,  traveled to exotic locations around the world from the 1940s to the 1980s.  An artist of insatiable visual curiosity, he always took sketchbooks with him and recorded his impressions of the people he met and the places he saw.

Some of his sketches are highly detailed, such as this meticulous working drawing of a colorful balcony in Rangoon, Burma:


While other sketches are distilled to their barest minimum, such as this insightful portrait:


Some of the drawings are exaggerated and impressionistic, such as this sketch of a burly Russian in a big fur coat:


... while other drawings are exquisitely calibrated, such as this sensitive drawing of a Japanese woman:

By viewing this face at several times its original size, we can begin to understand the subtleties of Smith's technique.  Here, he indicated an eyebrow and hair line with just the point of one pencil, then came back with the flat of a different pencil to achieve the effect he wanted. And note the importance of even miniscule changes in the lines of her jaw and throat in conveying his understanding of the forms.

Note the contrast between Smith's precise treatment of her face, and his broad, lush lines for her hair and kimono:



As you might expect, the sketchbooks contain the obligatory figure studies of people Smith saw on his travels.  No matter how accomplished he became, Smith never tired of making these basic studies:


Smith spent long hours traveling to remote locations under primitive conditions, but his sketchbooks tell us that he made the best use of his travel time:  


The thousands of drawings in Smith's sketchbooks remind us that he was a virtuoso with a pencil.  One of the great things about the internet is that drawings such as these, which might otherwise remain unseen in museum archives or family collections, can now reach a wider audience.

This is going to be a good week.