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Norman began to draw and paint when he was still a child. He collected pictures from every type of magazine and book he could find and then found ways of improving them. He was especially captivated by the trompe l'oeil realism of artists like William Harnett, John F. Peto and John Haberle.
He studied art at the Los Angeles Art Center School in the early 1950s. While he was in Los Angeles he spent months painting a portfolio in which he used his trompe l'oeil realism to convince the managers of the largest illustration agencies in NY that he could do what no other artist/illustrator could. The three largest agencies in NY wanted to hire him. He chose to work for the Charles E Cooper Studio. While Norman was working in NY he met his idol Robert Fawcett at a Society of Illustrators exhibition.
Like most established Illustrators at the time Norman Adams considered Robert Fawcett to be: "The Illustrator's Illustrator." When Norman Adams finally met Robert Fawcett, he, Fawcett, was so impressed with Adams' paintings that he considered Norman to be a Babe Ruth of Illustration, perhaps because Norman worked for the "New York Yankees" of Illustration at the time: the "preeminent" Charles E Cooper Studio.
Another more obvious reason Fawcett might have referred to Norman as Cooper's Babe Ruth was his versatility. When Norman was working for Cooper only Don Crowley could paint realistically enough to be versatile. All of Cooper's other Illustrators, like Murray Tinkelman, Coby Whitmore, James Bama … were too specialized to be versatile. Not only were they specialized but they were specialized for so long that they would not do jobs outside their “specialty.”
What separated Norman's paintings from others was the “trompe l'oeil” detail he routinely put into his paintings. It was this extra detail that made his paintings stand out, especially to professions like Cooper and Fawcett.
Illustrators took for granted that it was a waste of time to put detail into their originals that would be lost in the published reproduction. Norman also knew this, but what he did not take for granted: although much of the “trompe l'oeil” detail he put into his originals would be lost in reproduction, it was this detail that would get him new jobs that other illustrators would not get. It was all these additional jobs that made him Cooper's “Babe Ruth.”
Norman Adams' illustrations included works for Reader's Digest, Boys' Life, Harpers, National Geographic, TV Guide, Saturday Evening Post, True Magazine, Argosy, Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Business Week, Cabela's, Medical Economics, and other paperback covers. He also authored a textbook now in its 30th Edition, Drawing Animals. When the magazines started to fail the Charles E Cooper Studio had to downscale. This prompted Norman Adams to join an elite group of illustrators at Artists Associates.
In 1980 Lenox hired him to do a very limited edition Lenox Collection of 12 unique plates that were released in 1982 called The American Wildlife Plates by Norman Adams. In the mid-1980s Norman Adams was given an opportunity to paint for the 1988 Minnesota Wildlife Art Show. His work was a life-sized Golden Eagle in a Grand Canyon setting. For years he sold his wildlife and animal paintings in galleries in Scottsdale, Arizona, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
- "Fred Adams Oct. 3, 1933 — July 4, 2014". union-bulletin. 7 July 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2015.[dead link](not available in wayback machine due to robots.txt)
- Opitz, Editor, Glenn B. (1987). Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of american Painters, Sculptors & Engravers. Poughkeepsie, NY: Apollo Book. p. 1047. ISBN 0-938290-04-5.
- "CEC". Atmanart.org. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
- "Drawing Animals: 30th Anniversary Edition: Norman Adams, Joe Singer: 9780823013661: Amazon.com: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
- "ArtistAssoc". Atmanart.org. Retrieved 2014-01-13.