Have you drawn an animal today?

Knowing as we do that drawing children, people and  animals is the stock in trade of the children’s book illustrator, let’s draw a difficult animal subject today.

We’ve brought in guest instructor Jon Gnagy to help walk us through it.

Gnagy was the best drawing teacher (maybe the only drawing teacher?)  on television.  He taught Andy Warhol and millions of other American kids to draw during the 1950’s.

I can’t say that he taught me exactly, though maybe he did, but he was a little advanced.  I was all of three years old when my mother (a painter) and I would watch his show together.

But I think he planted lots of seeds and questions in my unconscious. I remember even at that tender age being flabbergasted by his demos. “How does he know  this stuff?” I remember asking myself.  I still wonder about that.

‘Old School’ drawing doesn’t seem to go out of style.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in a courthouse mural by Thomas Hart Benton or a children’s book illustration by Marla Frazee or Tasha Tudor or Robert McCloskey. It just always stays cool. Ask any kid.

The graphic images Marla Frazee renders with such assurance resemble the classic book illustrations of — well, the Jon Gnagy days, the 1950s. They don’t feel  ‘dated’ because they bring us kids, people, animals and landscapes that kids (and the kid in us) can relate to. These subjects when rendered capably seem only to accrue in value.

For a better look at Marla’s work, here’s an animated trailer for All the World,  a picture book illustrated by Frazee and penned by poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Liz Garton Scanlon

Liz Garton Scanlon addresses the Austin chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) on a packed second floor of Austin's famous independently owned bookstore, BookPeople.

Yes, I know that both of them and the book and Jon Gnagy, too have been on this blog before. (Good subjects deserve repeated mentions. )

Scanlon and Frazee are scheduled to talk about their work together at the Austin SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) annual conference Destination Publication on Saturday Saturday, January 30, 2010.  Caldecott Honor artist Frazee will deliver the keynote for illustrators  and also reviewportfolios, as will talented  illustrator Patrice Barton.

Find the full conference  lowdown and registration form here.

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers Creative Director Patrick Collins will review portfolios a month later  at the Houston SCBWI  conference.

Mark your calendars for  Saturday, February 20, 2010 and download information and a registration form for the Houston conference  here.

Liz Garton Scanlon
Liz Garton Scanlon speaks on intuition at the November 7 meeting of Austin SCBWI.
Liz Garton Scanlon
An editor told Liz that she had “an eye for observation and an ear for rhyme.”
So she focused on these strengths to produce her picture book poem All the World that is now garnering great reviews and making all the right 2009 book lists, including most recently a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal.
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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog. Mark teaches children’s book illustration at the Art School at the Austin Museum of Art and through the “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!” online course.

ck Collins of

Drawing Lesson: “Snow Scene by Jon Gnagy”

Jon Gnagy was the first artist to draw pictures on television, and I was there! I mean, in front of the TV screen. I may not have been in school yet.
“We would both watch him and be spellbound,” my mother tells me.

Shadows and shading, the cube, the ball, the cylinder and the cone…
The lessons were simple, though dazzling as magic tricks for the millions of children who watched him.

Andy Warhol learned to draw from him, or so he said.

Mr. Gnagy, who was self-taught, was an advertising art director in New York before offering weekly art courses on television in 1946. His NBC-TV program was called ”You Are An Artist.” He switched to CBS-TV in 1950,” reported the New York Times in his obituary.

He passed away on March 7, 1981 at the age of 74.

A plain-talking midwesterner, the son of Hungarian – Swiss Mennonites, Gnagy did attend some evening classes at the Kansas City Art Institute as a young man. He became a company art director who won prizes for his paintings and poster designs.

There’s a wonderful (2006) article about him at the Dali House blog by crackerjack  arts writer and journalist Paul Dorsey.

Gnagy was not paid anything for the 700 telecasts he did over 14 years at the CBS and NBC networks, Dorsey says.  His revenue came from royalties on the sales of millions of  his art sets, “The John Gnagy Learn to Draw Outfit.”

I finally became the proud owner of one of these, at the age of six or seven. The kit had gray pastels to go with the black (and white) pastels and charcoal. The gray pastels were for stuff  like shadows. That seemed terribly interesting and sophisticated to me.

Alas, I lacked the concentration to stay with most of his exercises. His subjects — barns in the woods and vegetable-filled baskets on toolshed tables — seemed a little overwhelming and hard.  (I’d never be as good as him.) But, oh, how the thought of those lessons tantalized.

Maybe I should find another Learn to Draw set.  (You can still buy them!)
Really buckle down this time.

Because it’s never too late to ponder the cube, the ball,  the cylinder and the cone —  ahh, and those marvelous snow shadows.

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Mark Mitchell, the host of “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” is blogging tonight because he’s so behind in writing Session #12 of his course.