Paying tribute to Rockwell, one sketch at a time

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STOCKBRIDGE — Illustrator Dan Howe appeared Saturday at the Norman Rockwell Museum, on what would have been the 20th-century American artist's 124th birthday, to demonstrate some of the techniques that made his portraits lifelike and eye-catching.

Howe, who specializes in narrative classic paintings, displayed some of his work to museum guests who came and went from the gallery Saturday, before asking members of the audience to pose for charcoal drawings.

"It's the shapes that are the most important part of the picture," Howe said while drawing 29-year-old Amy Leszman. "Not the shape of the eyes, nose or the mouth, but the shape of the overall head."

Howe explained to the group that Rockwell's paintings are often made up mostly of neutrals, but accented with complementary colors like red and green. The sharp accent colors are typically where the artist wants to direct your attention, the focal point of the work, he explained.

When creating his portraits, Howe has an overall theme in mind, but will "audition" different characters, trying out different body and facial expressions before deciding who will be featured in the final product.

In one piece of fantasy art that he's working on, Howe is deciding on the mood of a woman who is pointing down a dark corridor toward a dungeon.

On separate, larger pieces of paper, Howe drew the woman with a strong, forceful demeanor, as if she is demanding someone to go toward the dungeon. In another sketch, he drew her as soft, almost defeated, as if she is directing someone toward the dungeon but hoping they don't go.

The 15-minute portraits of members of the audience were not nearly as detailed as Howe's finished works, but they bore a striking resemblance to the models Saturday.

The first model was 15-year-old Shannen Rainey of Hope Valley, R.I.

Howe didn't bother spending too much time on the teenager's ponytail or sweatshirt; rather, he focused on the outline of her round head and her soft, childlike lips, nose and eyes.

Rainey is on a ski vacation with her family. Her mother, Dawn Rainey, said Rockwell is one of her favorite artists.

Leszman, of Brooklyn, N.Y., attended Howe's lecture with her mother-in-law, Leslie Garwood, a botanical artist from Sandisfield.

Leszman's curly bob cut created texture in Howe's portrait, and he described starting with the shape of her curly hair to frame her face.

Howe runs a regular program at the museum, "Painting Like Rockwell," on the first Saturday of every month.

The workshops usually take place in the basement studio, where Howe walks attendees through re-creating a Rockwell piece.

Saturday was opening day for the 32nd Berkshire County High School Art Show at the museum, so Howe held his workshop in one of the galleries instead, grabbing the attention of museums visitors.

Howe admires and practices the techniques of Harvey Dunn, Mead Schaeffer, Andrew Loomis and Tom Lovell, for whom he was an apprentice in Santa Fe, N.M. He now lives in Canaan, Conn., with his wife, Pam, and 9- and 11-year-old daughters.

"A lot of people come to the museum and think that this kind of artwork died with Rockwell," Howe said. "But it didn't."

There are many artists around the country who still specialize in realism, he said.

"I happen to be one of them," Howe said.

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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