09 December 2013

[art] How-To Art, in the Days Before North Light Books, et. al.

While assistance in creating one's self an artist has been been findable, the format has gone through some surprising (at least to YT) evolution. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, in retrospect, but it just seems amazing to me that the how-to art book hasn't been anything other than a medium-to-large, glossy, fun-to-look-at and exciting-to-hold explosion of color and photography that makes you feel as though you're looking over the artist's shoulder as they demonstrate it to you.

But art how-to books weren't always the satisfying fun that they are now. Found about a week back at Periodicals Paradise that, quite honestly, surprised me in its aspect. Here's what it looks like:

How To Draw and Paint, by Henry Gasser. This paperback … in the popular format so widespread in those days … claimed to be able to impart to the beginner the techniques needed to get started in a variety of media and popular materials. And it's just this little paperback.

The introduction sounds big-chested and confident:
"Do it yourself!" Every day new thousands of American men and women alike, are discoverign the fun, the deep and lasting satisfaction they can derive from making things themselves, with their own hands.
This book is addressed to the aristrocrat of all "do-it-yourselfers" – to you, the beginning artist. Whatever your goal in art – whether you hope to become another Rermbrandt, a top-flight commercial artist, or just a happy amateur – How to Draw and Paint should help smooth the way for you.
Makes some big promises to be sure, and the enthusiastic and chest-thumping "American DIY pride awesome" text not only connects the urge to learn to a great democratic American tradition but also pats the self-trained artist on the back with special strokes – you aristocrat, you! But after leafing through this book, those promises are more than just hand-waving, huffing-and-puffing. Somehow, the artist-author has indeed managed to squeeze into this little 240-page book the basic tips and ideas that wouldn't get you all the way to Rembrandt stage but some first steps on the road, and if you were looking for enough protips to start arting around for your own self, well, this would probably get you most of the way there.

And casein! This little guy will get you started in casein, which I don't see a lot of how-tos on these days. His wheelhouse, it is big.

The obverse, as can be seen above, is an ad for the Grumbacher line of art supplies, a line whose name stands pretty tall as one of the American old-guard, and whose products can still be found in art stores today, though its reputation seems a bit more pedestrian than the Gamblins and such … more of a poor-artist's Winsor and Newton.

What really surprised me was the amount of availability this book had as far as even this edition went. I found it for sale on eBay here, here and here.  It's apparently been through several printings; this availability on Amazon UK suggests a larger format and a more modern cover.

If you ever find one of these in a used bookstore, get it. It's a fun read, and actually kind of solid, even in todays world of art how-tos that do everything but draw your drawings for you.

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