I can't let any more time go by without posting about the most influential artist of my childhood, Ed Emberley. When I was a young boy, Ed Emberley's books taught me everything I knew about drawing, and inspired me to become an artist. My mom would take me to the downtown Nashville library, and I would run to the childrens art section and see what Ed Emberley books I could find there, and when a new one showed up in circulation it was like finding a buried treasure chest. All of Mr. Emberley's drawing books (he has illustrated over 80) center around one main idea: that if you can draw a few basic lines and shapes, you can draw ANYTHING. What a beautiful idea.
One thing I loved about Ed Emberleys books was how they took on such massive topics with each title: Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Animals. Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Faces. One by one, I discovered his books organized by color: Ed Emberley's Big Red Drawing Book, Ed Emberley's Big Purple Drawing Book, and my personal favorite as a boy, Ed Emberley's Big Orange Drawing Book. I loved how Ed decided what would be in each book in a seemingly arbitrary but perfect way: pandas would be in the Purple book, Santa Claus in the Red book, pirate ships in the Green book. Then came even more specific worlds: Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Weirdos, Ed Emberley's Drawing Book of Birds, and Ed Emberley's Halloween Drawing Book.
This massive scope that Emberley would always conjure reached a new level with his next title, one that blew my 10-year-old mind: Ed Emberley's Drawing Book: Make a World. In this book, Emberley laid out his simple, step by step pictoral instructions for how to draw, well, everything. From trees to park benches, policeman to porcupine, bridges, mountains, trains, dinosaurs, from the Empire State Building to an ant (designated as a simple dot). This book was my most cherished possession, and I still have two copies on my bookshelf next to me at all times for comfort and immediate inspiration.
Keep in mind that when I was at that age, there was no internet. I couldn't look up what else Mr. Emberley had done or what other books were out there. Finding out about a new book, or finding an old copy of one I'd never seen before at the library, was always a revelation. I found his Picture Pie books, which saw Mr. Emberley move into a new realm of pictoral design; these instructional books were every bit as simplified as his other books, even more so, as they outlined different pictures and designs that could be created with shapes alone, cut out of construction paper for example.
Only now in my adulthood am I discovering the other books that Emberley wrote and illustrated. Thanks to a Grain Edit post by Amy Cartwright, I just recently discovered and picked up this lovely little childrens book about the Big Dipper, illustrated by EE. Many of the drawing books I've mentioned above are still in print, but in new editions that aren't nearly as charming in their presentation (for some reason they are now oriented vertically instead of horizontally). I encourage any young artists, or anyone who has produced a young artist, to seek them out at your local library.
There has never been an artist who inspired me like Ed Emberley did. To this day, I look to these books as an inspiration to simplify and refine my drawing philosophy, and although these books were written for children, I think that adult artists could learn a lot from him as I still do. More than anything else, I learned from Ed Emberley to let my imagination run free. If I could imagine something in my mind -- an animal, a city, a weirdo -- I could take a swish, a dash, and a dot and make it come to life on a piece of paper.