I recently purchased a copy of Francis Marshall’s book “An Englishman in New York”. It contains a series of drawings created during a trip to New York in 1949. Marshall was a well known fashion illustrator who had a 10 year working relationship with Vogue Magazine in both London and Paris.
He had this to say about drawing in New York:
“New York is an ideal place to sketch in; people rarely if ever seem to bother me when I am drawing. Perhaps they do not think I look much like an artist at work. My apparatus is very simple; just two types of sketch-book, one about the size of a school exercise book for outdoor sketching and another pocket sized for restaurants and other indoor work. These and a few pencils complete my outfit. New Yorkers may think I am the Borough Surveyor taking notes!”
The book ‘reads’ as if you’re following Marshall as he explores locations in New York City. On one page he’ll discuss the East Side Fish Market.
Then on another page he’ll cover a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As the book progressed, there’s even a page that talks about a relaxing Sunday at the home of the family that was hosting him. It’s interesting to note that the kids in this page are reading the adventures of Superman (Superman was 11 years old in 1949).
To create the drawings in this book I suspect that Marshall took his life drawings and re-worked them in his studio. For example, look at this page of sketches done at a Madison Square Garden horse show. They’re loose and less refined than other illustrations in the book and most likely drawn directly on-the-spot.
Now let’s take a look at this illustration that he did of the Stork Club (which Orson Welles frequented). I suspect that he did life drawings, much like the MSG drawings, that were then pieced together later on (using a brush and ink). Unfortunately, there were no examples that I can share that show a step-by-step process, but these two examples will give you my best guess about his working process.
At one point in the book he talks about hamburgers and that they’re specifically an American dish (and, in turn, foreign food to him). This caught my attention because today it’s easy to find hamburgers all over the world, so they don’t feel like such a unique food item. Here’s what he had to say:
“A Hamburger is a kind of soft roll with minced meat (spiced or flavoured) inside it, and usually eaten in your hands. New Yorkers are very fussy about hamburgers. I expected this is an acquired taste. Those I ate seemed unexciting and I wondered what all the fuss was about. My friends said I didn’t mix enough sauces with them, and demonstrated, but somehow I never could seem to get excited about hamburgers. But the small restaurants called Hamburger Heaven are beautifully designed places – all wooden and spotless; the benches with their kidney-shaped wooden trays on a swivel are delightful.”
One location that stood out to me is the “Wall Street Skyport”. It no longer exists, but was a location on the East Side that businessmen used for their work commute by flying into the city. Do people still fly into work? I don’t imagine anyone still does that in NY, especially after 9/11, but I don’t know that for a fact. Here’s what he said on that page:
“Near the fish market on the East Side is the Wall Street Skyport. It is for the benefit of modern-age business men who life to live far off in the country and yet do their business in Manhattan. They usually fly amphibians, landing in the East River and taxi-ing up to the wooden ramp. There they get out, collect their inevitable brief-case, wait a moment, perhaps, for Ed to land, and walk off briskly to their Wall Street office, leaving the mechanic to swing the aircraft round on a turntable and take it out to a buoy until required again.”
Here’s a selection of additional drawings from the book.
It’s a fun book and I love that it documents a specific city, especially one as active as New York (where I used to live). The drawings are loose and the compositions have a sense of life to them; nothing is static. Additionally, there are figures where the shapes are left open and some even have sections that aren’t drawn at all. That helps give the compositions room to ‘breath’ while not being overwhelmed with detail. I enjoyed getting a view of New York from the perspective of an Englishman in 1949 and I hope you did too.