Norman Thelwell (1923-2004)

Birkenhead-born cartoonist, Norman Thelwell, is considered to be the most popular cartoonist in Britian since the Second World War and some regard him as the unofficial artist of the British countryside. His cartoons of girls with their ponies are what most will remember him for.

Norman is one of thousands of talented graduates of the Liverpool College of Art, the forerunner to today’s Liverpool School of Art and Design, and it was here that he undertook a course in illustration.

He attended the college at the end of the second world war, along with many other ex-servicemen and women who brought a feeling of optimism to their studies. This free-thinking and creative approach to teaching was adopted by the college as its reputation as an avant-garde institution began to grow and each student was encouraged to develop their own distinctive art practice.

Norman was described as a ‘natural artist’ and enrolled because of a desire to see how artists worked.

“We had a piece of homework to do every night and quite a big job at that, to be handed in the next day. They went through everyone's work and put them up in the hall and we were all gathered for a crit when they would say what they liked or didn't like - excruciating. On one occasion we had to do a Welsh farm and I did a humorous painting with things perched on little rocks and, oddly enough, one of the first little horses I did was in that ... it was well drawn and I remember one tutor coming up to my work and saying ‘any fool can do that’ - it tended to be a bit like that in Liverpool!”

– Norman Thelwell on his time studying

Thelwell spent time with George Jardine and Ken Wiffen, fellow artists, with whom he went sketching and water-colour painting on the Wirral. He enjoyed instruction in pottery, modelling, bookbinding, history of costume, history of architecture and book illustration - he felt his ability to draw had not been significantly improved but “in every other way it was marvellous – I loved it”.

Former Art School tutor Julian Roebuck once told Norman that ‘you draw as though there is no other way to draw’ and then in later years, wrote to say how much pleasure his work now gave him.

Education and instruction may have changed and adapted over the years, but what remains is a rich tapestry of history in the teaching of art in Liverpool.

LJMU has the oldest school of art in England outside of London, and talented people just like Norman Thelwell continue to pass through our doors with desires and aspirations that we hope will remain strong for the next 200 years.