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Chambersburg grad draws on experiences

April 01, 1999

Will WilliamsBy DON AINES / Staff Writer, Chambersburg

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - To look at Will Williams' work from across a room, you'd think he's a pretty good photographer.

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On closer inspection - in some cases much closer inspection - you realize they aren't photographs, but paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh sold just two paintings in his lifetime, but Williams is no starving artist. The former Chambersburg man's works have appeared on book jackets, and in National Geographic, Reader's Digest and other magazines.

"When I was younger, I always dreamed of doing work for Reader's Digest," Williams said. His first illustration for the magazine was of campers stranded on a mountain to accompany a "Drama in Real Life" article.

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On Wednesday, he returned to Chambersburg Area Senior High School to talk with students about his art, how he comes up with ideas and develops them into finished work.

Williams, who lives in Annapolis, conceded he wasn't a great student in most subjects, but art teacher Louisa Etter believed he would be a success as an artist.

"Will had a lot of talent and a lot of desire. ... He loved his artwork," Etter said.

Now a pen-and-ink drawing for a book can earn him several hundred dollars, Williams said.

In the library of the high school, where Williams graduated in 1986, were three large paintings on easels and several examples of his commercial work. The trio of oil paintings, all with aquatic themes, can fool the viewer into thinking they are photographs.

Even from a few inches away, the brush strokes on a painting of a man and woman rowing a scull are nearly invisible.

"At first I started doing a lot of photo-realistic paintings," said Williams, 31. One of a woman swimming laps in a pool won him national honors when he was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.

Williams said he studied the work of photo-realist painters, such as Chuck Close and Richard Estes, but some of his work also reflects the influence of Winslow Homer and N.C. Wyeth, the father of painter Andrew Wyeth.

He graduated from the college of art in 1990 and began a five-year professional apprenticeship with an illustration studio.

"It really helped me get my foot in the door" and establish a reputation with publishers, he said.

Williams showed slides of work dating back to his high school days. They showed his evolution from a talented student to a polished professional.

They also showed the more workerlike aspects of illustrating. Among them were technical and scientific illustrations for Time-Life Books and textbooks, including cutaways of human and plant cells and the skeleton of a saber-tooth tiger.

"These natural history people are real fanatics for accuracy," he told a class of art students.

"For me the magazine work is the most fun. They give you the most freedom and the subjects are usually the most interesting," Williams said.

"When I get an idea, I'll do rough sketches out of my head," he said. Williams also does plenty of research and takes photographs, sometimes using himself as a model.

Showing an illustration for Kid's Discover magazine of American Indians playing lacrosse, Williams pointed out a figure on the left.

"I wore a wig and posed in my Speedo swimsuit for that," he said.

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