Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Learning to Draw

When I was young, I wanted to be an artist. More specifically, I wanted to be an artist for Marvel Comics. My older brother was an artist, and I found inspiration from the pictures he would draw. My earliest attempts at heroic anatomy where typified by swipes from comic book covers drawn by legendary greats such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita. Outside of copying the styles of others, I really had no guidance in developing my skills.

Around the age of 13, I discovered a show in the Saturday morning television lineup called "Drawing Power".  All-but-forgotten, it featured an imaginery staff of cartoonists including the never-quite-made-it comedian Lenny Schultz. Each week brought the further adventures of Dewey Decimal, The Golden Turkey awards, and other animated antics. Presented to you, always of course, with a very important lesson. I followed along with my drawing pad, developing my own cartoon characters, but the show never really did spend time teaching artistic concepts.

Several years later, I came across the great Bob Ross on PBS. I spent a half hour every Saturday afternoon marvelling at his broad strokes from which mountains, streams and forests sprang. I even bought the official Bob Ross art kit, but could never match the scenes brought to life through his phthalo blues and burnt umbers. Alas, my paints dried up along with my dreams of becoming an artist.

Long before Bob Ross' "Happy Tree" was even a content acorn hanging from its mother's branch, there was Jon Gnagy.

I'd never heard of Jon Gnagy until this past Friday when at an estate sale in Mehlville I came across an interesting box which begged exploring.

The Jon Gnagy Television Sketching Outfit.  There's little about Jon on the internet, but apparently  he was one of telvision's earliest stars.  In 1946, his show "You Are an Artist" became the first program broadcast from the antenna high atop the Empire State Building.  The show ran through 1950.  His subsequent show, "Learn to Draw" aired into the 1960's.

Jon began each show with a promise that if you could draw 4 simple shapes, a ball, cone, cube and cylinder, then he could teach you to draw.

There are a number of episodes available on Youtube and they're fun to watch. It's no wonder the original owner of my art kit was caught up in dreams of becoming an artist. My kit dates from about 1952 and still holds the aspirations of its owner(s).  The kit was originally labeled the property of Richard Bakula, but has been scribbled out with pencil and replaced with Gloria Weber's name. Inside were sketches drawn by one or both of the art kit's former owners (possibly more since Barabara Weber's name also appears on some of the art).  There's definitely varying degrees of skill here.

The talent show was most likely from 1953 assuming the 11th & 12th pairing was a Friday/Saturday.

A sketch of the famous James Earle Fraser sculpt, "End of the Trail"

I have no idea what the cryptic notes says.

Also in the box are number of clippings which were used as models for the drawings below.  By the way, Roy Williams, the man interviewed in the article, was the shorter and heavier of the adult Mousketeers on the 1950's Mickey Mouse Club television program.

Hidden amongst Donald and Happy, Barbara searched for the interest given a principal amount and rate.  If I had a nickel for every time I got in trouble for drawing pictures on my homework paper...

Someone was fascinated by newspaper portrait sketches.

This has all the earmarks of a Mark Trail Sunday strip, but I'm not sure what all the "shucks" and "wuz" talk is about.

Dick's Adventures in Dreamland ran from 1947 to 1956

At first I thought this was an attempt at a horse, but all I was seeing was Marmaduke:

Then I found this picture of a still-available Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw art kit:

I'm not sure if Barb was entering the National Engineering Contest, but whoever it was didn't get beyond the title.

Some balls, cones, cubes and cylinders.

If you can draw a cone, you can draw a tipi!  A sphere?  A pumpkin!

Some pictures of gourds to enhance your Autumn

They made a nice effort on the wood grain in the floor

The kit also contained what I presume is the official Jon Gnagy art slab.

There are quite a few blank pages left in the kit -- empty and unfilled.

I'll leave you with this lesson from Jon.  Watch it -- you just might learn to draw.


  1. nice find, as always -- i don't recall spending much time with books like these, except for one or two of them, and i certainly don't recall a show teaching you to draw! now your ability to draw makes sense -- i always wondered where you got it from.

    1. Sadly, I haven't drawn anything in years. It's one of those things I hope to get back into some day. Happily, my oldest daughter inherited the talent and draws some great pictures. She's into anime, so mostly draws that, but I'm hopeful she'll expand her horizons.

  2. The cryptic note is a kids' song:


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