Picture the scene. It’s 2 in the morning on a residential street in a small town. Seen from above, a yellow fenderless Model A coupe and a silver ’70 Dodge Dart are parked in the glow of a streetlight. A pair of legs is sticking out from under the Model A and a few young guys are gathered around the cars. They’re making a racket, laughing and cursing at their buddy as he tries to get his hot rod running in the middle of the night.
They don’t know it, but they are being watched. Their commotion has woken up a 9-year-old kid in a second-story bedroom of a nearby house. For an hour or more, the boy sits at his window, taking in the activity on the street until the Model A finally fires up and the two cars wail away into the darkness.
The 9-year-old kid was Jeff Norwell, who vividly remembers the scene. Those types of scenes take place all the time in Jeff’s automotive artwork, which has appeared in Street Rodder, Rod & Custom, The Rodder’s Journal, and numerous other hot rodding magazines, as well as on event posters, T-shirts, shop advertisements, and all over the Internet.
Jeff’s interest in cars—and in art—began early. He can’t remember a time when he didn’t love to draw. "According to my mother, I was always drawings cars. Anything automotive—or trains or planes. Anything that moved fast.
"I was 7 or 8 years old when I first discovered hot rod magazines. I was at a church bazaar. A guy had about six boxes filled with a stack of car magazines. He was selling each box for 50 cents, so I bought all of them. I could carry two boxes at a time, so I made three trips.
"Every night I would draw from the pictures in those musty old magazines. It was all action and drag racing stuff. The late ’60s and early ’70s was a dead time for traditional hot rods, but I was into muscle cars and drag cars with huge rear tires and blowers sticking out of the hood, launching and doing burnouts."
Performance cars weren’t the only action subjects Jeff liked to draw. Anything that conveyed movement appealed to him. "There were a couple of men’s adventure magazines called Argosy and True," he says. "The front covers always had illustrations showing a guy fighting a wild bear or native Indians on a buffalo hunt. I’d clip out those pictures and try to draw them."
He was also fascinated by advertising art. "When I’d open the Sunday newspaper and see the illustration of a pretty girl holding a soft drink bottle to her cheek, I’d think ‘Who drew that?! That’s what I wanna do!’ because it was slick and cool.
It has the look of a traditional painting, but this is digital art. You may recognize the
"My parents, seeing that I liked to draw and paint, would take me to the National Gallery of Canada or to art shows and exhibit openings, but I was more interested in comic book artists like Stan Lee and Joe Kubert, who drew Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace and Detective Comics. I liked the way comic books told a story through the artwork; that made more of an impression on me than flying babies and bearded old men from the 1400s. Comics and adventure magazines were all about action—even a little bloodthirsty. So when I drew my versions of a buffalo hunt, I wasn’t satisfied showing the buffalo going down. I had to have its side ripped open! One of my grade school teachers actually called my parents. She wanted me to take a psych test. But I turned out all right."
By the time Jeff got to high school, a few of his teachers were able to see real talent in his drawings and paintings. "When I got to Grade 10, my art teacher had a meeting with my parents to talk about my going to Commerce High School in our town of Ottawa, Ontario, which specialized in art. At that time I said no because I wanted to hang out with my friends at school. After suffering through high school for another year or two, I realized that drawing and painting were what I was best at. So after I graduated, I went to Commerce for a year and a half before going on to college.
Jeff helped Mark and Kelly Skipper create the right color combo for their homebuilt ’51 Fo
Jeff’s interest in telling a story through artwork is demonstrated in this comic book–styl
Professional builders have to please a car owner. With commercial art assignments for big