"Making travel sketches pay"

by Norman Saunders


Having known Norman Saunders almost since he left high school, and since he graduated from both our art courses in the twenties, this writer feels very close to the artist. He studied our courses while living in Roseau, Minnesota, way up north near the Canadian border. He had talent and worked very hard at it. We arranged his first interview with the art director of fawcett Publications and it was there that he obtained his initial experience in magazine illustration work. In the early thirties he decided to try his art wings in Chicago, but at this writer's insistence, went to New York. He still reminds me that I promised to pay his fare back to Minneapolis in the event that he did not make good in the big city. I am enough Scotch to be glad that I did not have to buy his return ticket, in fact had so much faith in Norm that I did not even reserve space in a box car for him. Though he is chiefly known as a cover artist, which work keeps him busy in his New York studio, he has written and illustrated numerous articles for magazines about his sketching experiences in China and Tibet, while soldering in these places during the second world war. We think that his sketches in water color are not only his top work, but some of the finest art work brought back by our soldier artists. Because of this, we asked Norm to write this article and we feel very fortunate to be able to reproduce a few of these art gems in this magazine. - Editor



All you need in order to turn your road to financial independence into a pleasant sketching trip are strong arches, an alert mind (whetted razor-sharp by ART INSTRUCTION, INC.), a supply of pencils (Prismacolor No. 935), a couple of sketch pads, a small box of water colors, and a few assorted brushes.

The ability to sketch accurately and quickly is of vital importance to a successful career in art. Constant use of this ability will sharpen your perceptions, broaden your general knowledge, stimulate your curiosity, and in turn develop your latent talents.

Now is the time to start and your own locale is the place.

I started sketching up in Northern Minnesota, upon learning that Walter Wilwerding had financed a trip to Africa with his sketches and paintings.

Everything was and is gist to my mill. Opportunity, I have learned, hides everywhere--even on a bleak mountainside in western China. lacking anything exciting to sketch, I was diligently filling a page with color notes of indigenous plants and shrubs, when I noticed a small field of Asiatic tobacco under cultivation. Upon completing a detailed drawing of one of these plants, I looked up and into the eyes of an ancient Oriental, who apparently had materialized in the haze of his smoking pipe.



The sketch of this contemplative tobacco grower was followed by a picture of a small donkey bound for a nearby village with a load of cured tobacco. Then I found auctioneers, warehousemen, and sundry experts - all of them preferring American cigarettes and tobacco, incidentally.

Alerted to the possibility inherent in the subject, it was only a matter of time and patience to complete a series showing the major steps in the growth and processing of tobacco in China. this led quite naturally to a collection of smokers and their pipes. The portfolio was topped off with a couple of opium addicts replete with pipes and dreams. (The story as a whole was tied up with the wartime tobacco shortage back in the United States.)

This sketching-for-profit is an insidious process--and pleasant. Following one idea, you'll find a dozen others luring you on. I was on the lookout for unusual pipes when I discovered a hand-cast aluminum pipe of local manufacture. After sketching it and questioning its owner, I was able to locate the smelter where it had been cast, in an adjacent village. This smelter was supplied with aluminum by a struggling line of industrious Chinese coolies who were mining it from the hull of a C-46 which had crashed recently in a local rice paddy. Their ingenuity had turned this defunct airplane into a high-grade bauxite mine for them--and a small gold mine for me. Sketching and inquiry led me to so much material that I was able to compile a story on "Yank Ingenuity" which I sold to Mechanix Illustrated magazine



While collecting information on that article, I was catapulted into another story when I discovered that China is the graveyard of punctured gasoline drums. These drums hide in the kitchens or the highways under strange disguises. They stock hardware stores, afford shelter, make cooking utensils--their uses are endless. They even provided me with enough material to sell another story to Fawcett Publications.