Hunting the White Whale

Rockwell Kent’s Drawings of Moby-Dick

Art makes stories come alive. To me, it is as simple as that. And sometimes without art, there is no story-—or, at least, it’s not quite as good. This was the case for the great American novel Moby-Dick. It is hard to imagine that Melville’s opus was once relatively unknown, but it wasn’t until 70 years after it was published—and artist Rockwell Kent got his hands on it—that the book was rediscovered by the literary world.

Illustration from Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent, pen and ink drawing.
Illustration from Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent,
pen and ink drawing.

Kent contributed to the rise in popularity of the book because of his illustrations of the story, which, when they were published in the 1930, proved to be incredibly popular and are acknowledged as part of the reason why Moby-Dick is now recognized as a classic.

And when you look at Kent’s drawings (which are drawn to have the look of woodcuts but are actually pen and ink) for the book, they embody the story just as much as Melville’s words. The dark zeal and sinister character of Captain Ahab is mirrored by Kent’s linework—immersed in shadow made with dozens of thin parallel lines that come so close together they obliterate all but a few highlights. The massive white whale looms as large in Kent’s drawings as he does in Ahab’s deranged mind, but Kent captures the whale’s beauty and and a bit of the wonder that underlies his existence.

Illustration from Moby Dick by Rockwell Kent, pen and ink drawing.

Rockwell Kent’s relatively simple drawings tell the tale of Moby-Dick in a way that is just as powerful as the story itself. The same feelings I have reading the text are there when I look at Kent’s drawing art for the book. That is wondrous—and a reminder to me to never forget the power of art as a storyteller.

My dearest wish is that your art comes alive for you and tells the stories you want to tell as well. If there’s one resource that I think can help along the way, it would be Drawing: The Complete Course. It is an entire art class in one that emphasizes drawing art foundational skills and techniques that you can apply in every area of your art making, with step-by-step drawing instruction that will steer you toward drawings that are more realistic and skillfully rendered. Enjoy!


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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

One thought on “Hunting the White Whale

  1. The images are interesting, but rubber/woodblock carvings not pen and ink. Pre_press blocks are an art form in itself since you have to carve in reverse. It might be interesting to see the process outlined for youths and gay artists who are just riders on the wave versus educated practitioners.
    The art form as I remember has little or nothing to do with the text, but its really appropriate to todays publishing where a local queen/drag gets a “gig” as they call it for a book and jots a “something” down on paper for free money and a carver cuts the block for the new “queenie”. I laugh at how gays play royal royal and give money allocated by state to legal hetero artists away to their new Drag Queen at grave expense to society. I suggest the new queen should be paid by drueling FBI, police, party politicians from their weekend counterfeits rather then valid funds. Keep the CIA drag queen in the closet. So is published art valuable? Depends how you get there and whether you did the work. In science and weapons military leaders like to watch a drag queen show up and do demos of equipment. Today the queens are University Presidents due to 25 yrs of Bush War Politics. Bush Sr is a drag queen by history for a WW2 airplane carrier. So, who carved it might be more important then Kent, the period drag queen.