Jon Gnagy was the first artist to draw pictures on television, and I was there! I mean, in front of the TV screen. I may not have been in school yet.
“We would both watch him and be spellbound,” my mother tells me.
Shadows and shading, the cube, the ball, the cylinder and the cone…
The lessons were simple, though dazzling as magic tricks for the millions of children who watched him.
Andy Warhol learned to draw from him, or so he said.
“Mr. Gnagy, who was self-taught, was an advertising art director in New York before offering weekly art courses on television in 1946. His NBC-TV program was called ”You Are An Artist.” He switched to CBS-TV in 1950,” reported the New York Times in his obituary.
He passed away on March 7, 1981 at the age of 74.
A plain-talking midwesterner, the son of Hungarian – Swiss Mennonites, Gnagy did attend some evening classes at the Kansas City Art Institute as a young man. He became a company art director who won prizes for his paintings and poster designs.
There’s a wonderful (2006) article about him at the Dali House blog by crackerjack arts writer and journalist Paul Dorsey.
Gnagy was not paid anything for the 700 telecasts he did over 14 years at the CBS and NBC networks, Dorsey says. His revenue came from royalties on the sales of millions of his art sets, “The John Gnagy Learn to Draw Outfit.”
I finally became the proud owner of one of these, at the age of six or seven. The kit had gray pastels to go with the black (and white) pastels and charcoal. The gray pastels were for stuff like shadows. That seemed terribly interesting and sophisticated to me.
Alas, I lacked the concentration to stay with most of his exercises. His subjects — barns in the woods and vegetable-filled baskets on toolshed tables — seemed a little overwhelming and hard. (I’d never be as good as him.) But, oh, how the thought of those lessons tantalized.
Maybe I should find another Learn to Draw set. (You can still buy them!)
Really buckle down this time.
Because it’s never too late to ponder the cube, the ball, the cylinder and the cone — ahh, and those marvelous snow shadows.
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Mark Mitchell, the host of “How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator” is blogging tonight because he’s so behind in writing Session #12 of his course.