Thursday, December 03, 2009

Correspondence School

In case any of you are wondering where the name of my blog, "Light and Shade," comes from, I'll explain.  When I decided to start this blog, I was trying to come up with a title that would make some sort of reference to either the act of drawing or the way we see images.  As I scanned my bookshelves for inspiration, I came across the title of a book that once belonged to my mother.  The book is called "How to Draw the Head in Light & Shade," by Edward Renggli.   The last part of the book's title "Light and Shade" jumped out at me as the perfect name for this blog.  One element of the act of drawing involves interpreting what we see in terms of light areas and dark areas, so "Light and Shade," seemed perfect.

The book is a slim little volume, less than a hundred pages. As you can see from the image in the upper left, the dust jacket on my copy is nearly ripped to shreds (I've got it protected under a clear mylar book cover). It is a book that I remember my mom having on her bookshelf from my earliest memories.

My mother had at one time had ambitions to be a commercial artist. She had even enrolled in the Famous Artists correspondence school - you know the one that used to be advertised on the inside of matchbooks asking if you could draw this man (or sometimes it was a cartoon turtle). The add went on to say something like, "if you can draw him, then you might have what it takes to be an artist." My mom signed up, received the three volumes of lessons and course work and began doing the assignments.  Unfortunately, she was sidetracked when my older brother was born. I was born 20 months after that, and then in another 20 months, along came my sister. With three kids under the age of four, there went my mother's free time to finish the course, and also her dreams of a career in art. Anyway, I still have the Famous Artists correspondence books that she received and they served as my first introduction to the world of illustration. The books still contain some of my mother's finished assignments.  At the end of each chapter, there was an assignment description and a page with an example of what you were to copy.  To the right of that was a blank space where you were supposed to create your copy of the work.  After you finished the assignment, you would mail it in and then it would be sent back to you with a tracing paper overlay that would have criticisms and comments written on it in red pencil.  You can see an example of one of my mom's assignments in the image on the upper right (unfortunately my scanner's bed wasn't big enough to scan the entire page, but I think you get the idea).

The three volumes are actually really great and they are where I first learned about many things related to illustration - anatomy (there are black and white photos of naked women and men in nothing but jock straps.  Pretty shocking considering this was the early 1950s!), how to mix shades of gray using gouache, how to do cross-hatching, how to draw folds in clothes and drapery, mixing colors, how to draw animals, and more.  The books also contain examples from many of the top magazine and book illustrators of the time, people like Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, Ben Stahl, and Jon Whitcomb.  I use to spend time copying images from this book and I still find the books useful for their lessons on perspective and anatomy and still reference them on occasion.  These volumes are over fifty years old now and I count them among my most treasured possessions.

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