Canadian artist Jeff Norwell explains how comic books affected his life and how he got into hot rodding.
Norwell did just that in Palookaville – somewhere south of Hudson Bay but east of Thunder Bay. Directly west of Maine’s 1,500 foot Musquacook Mountain and just a few hundred miles north of Pittsburg.
Norwell calls three acres of forested Canadian heaven his home and studio. He is a native of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, a couple hours north of Buffalo, New York. Jeff began his life in 1963 and has never regretted growing up where he did.
He did school like any normal youngster and attended Commerce High School, which specialized in art. “Commerce was strange,” Jeff admitted. “It was a school to learn fine art and I’d draw cars in my spare time. They’d look at me like: you’re drawing cars? Well yeah, it’s what I like.” He moved to Toronto shortly after high school graduation to study commercial art at Sheridan College. He didn’t last long there and moved on to the Ontario College of Art, graduating in 1986. A couple of years after graduation, he sent his portfolio to Young & Rubicam, an ad agency in New York. Jeff was hired in the Toronto office.
Y&R held the Ford account and he started doing their story boards – art drawn in a series of little blank television shapes to illustrate what the eventual Ford television commercial would be like in real-time action. The Ford storyboards brought more work and in 1989, a close friend asked why he didn’t go do his own thing.
That led to Palookaville, the name started as a joke among Jeff and his close friends back in 1999 after he and his wife Cindy found their piece of paradise one afternoon. The acreage was far enough from Toronto yet close enough to host hot rod pals on the weekends. Jeff and Cindy moved from the strangling confines of Toronto for one reason: not wanting to raise their now 15 year-old daughter, Madison, in the big city. Tired of the constant barrage of ad agency calls and late night’s meeting deadlines, he literally “opted out” full time and set up his studio in the peace and quiet of the ‘country.’
It took Jeff a while to get used to the birds chirping instead of honking horns and sirens wailing at all hours, but now he gets phone calls from all over the world at 3 a.m. “Hey Jeff,” one caller asked, ‘Whatcha doing?” “Sleeping, it’s dark here and very early. Goodbye.”
Thanks to the internet, Jeff’s artwork has gone world-wide and so has his reputation, callers forget he’s on eastern time.
“A lot of people think Palookaville is a put-down, it is most assuredly not. Palookaville is the place hard working men and women live. They aren’t the type that were gifted with Dad’s money when they graduated high school or college but they are the type that continue to work hard, day in and day out for what they have.”
Jeff is that type of guy; he works hard at his art but he likes his hot rods and loves to draw all kinds of them. Jeff’s a hot rodder and has a couple: ’32 eye-searing Red Ford pick-up, a just-finished Maroon ’32 Ford five window coupe and a (future build) ’57 Ford sedan.
A lot of his “car” art has appeared in Rod & Custom magazine, Canadian Hot Rods magazine. Recently Rodder’s Journal and Street Rodder magazine did features on him. He was born in Palookaville, something he readily admits to – to hard working parents and a long line of artists on his Dad’s side of the family.
Jeff is glad he resigned from Y & R, and Toronto, and moved 1 1/2 hours north, just outside a small town. He and his wife had found those gorgeous three acres, replete with large (necessary) 3 ½ car garage and attached house while cruising in one of Jeff’s hot rods. Barely settled in, he announced his own art studio was open for business. His past success at Y & R garnered him several projects: restaurant chains, beverage companies, and insurance companies among other accounts.
Jeff attributes his current success to the computer introduced to him in 1993. He started with a Mac and a program called ‘Painter’ and nowadays acknowledges the advantage is speed. “Although it’s just another tool in the artist’s studio – I can do something in one day on the computer that would normally take four,” Jeff said. “If I don’t like what I’ve just done, the ‘undo’ key is right there. Bam! No hours redoing the base art, no hours redrawing and definitely no hours recreating the art because I accidently spilled ink on it.”
“But,” adds Jeff. “There is no substitute for learning art in the traditional manner, learning to draw and design in school before tackling computer art.” Jeff’s art is filled with motion, ‘movement on paper’ and action. His car art looks like it’s going to zoom right off the paper onto the floor of your living room. “Wish that were so, has anyone invented a way to make that happen? Sure would beat having to wait months/years for the finished product you’re building in the garage.”
Jeff got interested in art while reading comic books in grade school. Let’s just say he liked looking at the styles of art between the pages. Stan Lee and Joe Kubert, the artists that drew the action-packed Sgt. Rock, Enemy Ace and Detective comics conveyed a story and movement thru their artwork. “I’d try to emulate those action scenes but mine always ended up a lot bloodier than theirs,” Jeff said. “Mom and Dad were informed by a grade school teacher that there was something seriously wrong with me – my mentality was being questioned, wanted me to take a psych test.”
Fortunately, he outgrew his bloodthirsty days and moved on to the advertising art found in the Sunday newspapers. He was fascinated by the “gray wash” technique of fashion illustrations and decided that was what he wanted to do for a living. It took some time but the commercial art course at Sheridan College defined his objectives and illustration became his focus. Jeff’s illustrations are becoming collector’s items but he doesn’t do ‘concept” illustrations of vehicles because of the myriad of changes and revisions that are sometimes needed. Too time consuming when he could be knocking out posters for the Lone Star Round-up in Austin, Texas or the Rolling Bones Hot Rod shop.
Like any other artist, Jeff’s art is tagged with “Norwell EQUIPPED,” an homage to a lot of the early speed merchant’s decals that appeared on the sides of drag race vehicles.
All of Jeff’s artwork is copyrighted even tho it’s not shown on his art here. Should you be interested in having Jeff Norwell provide you with a “Norwell EQUIPPED” illustration, contact him at 1- 888- 272- 9191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.