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Monday, March 12, 2018

Ed Emberley

Ed Emberley joins his creations.
Ed Emberley's thumbprint
instructional illustrations. 
At the most elementary level, children, and even adults, have long been taught to draw using basic shapes--circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, and thumbprints. Thumbprints? I'm not sure if Ed Em-berley is quite old enough to have "invented" the teaching of drawing using basic shapes, but he can certainly be credited with the use of thumbprints for that purpose (left). Although I don't remember hav-ing learned to draw through such methods, I do recall having used Ed's thumbprints as the basic shape in teaching children as young as six and as old as sixteen the basics of drawing using what I termed the "rule of thumb."
I called the cartoon-like little creatures "thumb-buddies." At the most elemental level, a child's thumbprint pressed into a sponge dampened with watercolor then printed on paper leaves a simple oval image ideal for any number of human and animal creatures. The older students created "Thumb-buddy" stationary with such figures placed in the upper corners of a blank page and on a matching envelope. My high school students then packaged them in re-sealable plastic bags. The art club sold them ten for fifty-cents. We didn't make much money but the teens loved it and learned from it. (Kids that age seldom wrote letters, even back in the 1970s.)

Emberley's books fill shelf after
shelf in many bookstores.
Ed Emberley's most popular books teach kids (and adults sometimes too) how to draw through a refreshingly straight-forward method. Emberley’s step-by-step instructions visualize how a diverse range of creatures, people, and objects can be created by using just a few shapes—and the occasional thumbprint. Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, for instance, uses a small half circle, which he transforms into a porcupine through the addition of a few staccato lines (for spikes), and a tiny dot (for an eye). In Fingerprint Drawing Book, fingertips dipped in paint and pressed to paper become butterfly wings, tadpole torsos, and snail shells. Emberley has made 22 of these drawing books over the course of his career, many of which remain in print today. Drawing Book of Animals, for its part, has sold over a million cop-ies since it was first published in 1970. Emberley has also written and illustrated mesmerizingly beautiful children’s storybooks, like Drummer Hoff, which won the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1968. 

Today, 22 books later, Ed
makes a living largely by
 just signing his name.
Ed Emberley was born in 1931 in Malden, Massachusetts (a northern suburb of Boston). He was raised in Cambridge. From an early age, Ed was surrounded by makers. His father and grandfather were both carpenters, his mother, a dressmaker. The family didn’t have money for lots of toys, but there were always pencils and paper around the house, and Emberley’s grandmother would occasionally give him a box of his grandfather’s wood scraps. He played with them for hours--lining them up, making shapes from his DIY blocks. He went on to study traditional figure painting, sculpture, and etching at Massachusetts School of Art. He eventually decided it was illustration he liked best. After graduating, he made ends meet by working as a freelance direct-mail illustrator, which entailed sending illustrations to greeting card companies, children’s magazines, and religious newsletters, then receiving payment by mail in return. It was a tenuous career if ever there was one.

Ed Emberley's art from basic shapes.
Emberley, who is now 87 years old, is something of a jokester. He’s also one of the world's most successful children’s book illustrators—due in no small part to his playful, experimental approach to art. Emberley is a firm believer in not taking art too seriously. While studying at the Massachusetts School of Art in the 1950s, Emberley gained a reputation for dragging a papier-mâché dog around campus on a leash. Despite the popularity of his books and a loyal following, Emberley admits that he’s surprised by his success. He is coy if you ask what inspired his career in illustration. “I still don’t know,” he answers, mischievously. His books, however, tell a different story.

Not all of Emberley's drawing lessons use live
models. This one uses wheels, not legs.

Teaching the alphabet through drawing.

I wonder if Bob Ross got his
start like this.


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