5.31.2010

ED EMBERLEY


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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

WOW...............this makes me want to draw!!!!!!!....to make MY own world!!!! Thanks, Sam for the inspiration....and to EE, of course.

mythopolis said...

You used to do 'how to draw' drawings yourself as a child. Emberly, I am sure was an influence. Cool stuff.

Nina Marie Interlandi Bell said...

Wow...I can't believe I've never seen these books before. They look so awesome. I was obsessed with the books that taught me to draw different kinds of dog and horse breeds, and monsters. I can't remember what those were called...but I used to spend hours at the library photocopying the pages so I could keep them for longer.

black Sunshine said...

ED EMBERLY!!!! you just shed light on a part of my childhood that i had forgotten about . . . i used to love those books!!!

SamsMyth.net said...

Do you have any idea what those books could have been, Nina? I'm intrigued... And also surprised you never know about EE!

B. Sunshine -- I'm so glad that this post triggered that memory for you. You may have to do what I did and order new (old) copies on eBay to replace the ones lost since childhood. Do it!

Nina Marie Interlandi Bell said...

OK I just Googled around and finally found what I used to love: the "Draw 50..." series. I specifically remember Draw 50 Horses, Draw 50 Dogs, and Draw 50 Beasties and Yugglies and Turnover Uglies and Things That Go Bump in the Night. The covers shown here look slightly different than what I remember, but maybe they're different editions. The insides certainly look really familiar. http://www.draw50.com/draw50.htm

Lauren T. said...

I still have those books from when I was little. That's really awesome

SamsMyth.net said...

Cool Lauren! Which ones do ya got? We should make some trades :)

Anonymous said...

I loved Ed as a kid. I remember being really proud of myself in elementary school after being able to complete the pirate ship from the big purple book. I drew pirate ships on everything, for years it was my go-to doodle when I got bored in class. One time in math class in Jr. High, the teacher was going up the rows checking homework. He stopped at the kid next to me and started yelling at him because the kid had doodled all over the margins of his math homework. The teacher really yelled at this kid to make an example of him. I was scared as hell at this point, because I had drawn a navel battle between two Ed Emberley style pirate ships on the side margins of my homework. The teacher came to my desk, saw my note book, stopped, and said "Wow! That's a really cool ship!" He stared and nodded for a few seconds and then moved on.

Sam's Myth said...

Anon - what a great story... thank you for sharing.

AllHallowSteve said...

I was doing some internet research on Ed Emberly's Big Orange Book for my site, and found your page.
EXCELLENT write-up!
I, too, had the Make-A-World and it was a book I pored over for days and days. So glad that there's such a fan base for his work.

Great site!
AllHallowSteve

AllHallowSteve said...

I was doing some internet research on Ed Emberly's Big Orange Book for my site, and found your page.

EXCELLENT write-up!

I, too, had the Make-A-World and it was a book I pored over for days and days. So glad that there's such a fan base for his work.

Great site!
AllHallowSteve