John Muir's Natural Ability

John Muir
Self-portrait sleeping in Bonaventure Cemetery
Savannah, GA, 1867

John Muir walked from Jeffersonville, Indiana to Cedar Key, Florida in 1867. Muir walked all over the place. Throughout his peripatetic life, he would sometimes fall to sleep hungry and without a roof over his head but he always had a journal and a pencil.

Drawing was simply part of Muir's everyday life. For Muir, drawing was a way of seeing nature, of recording and sharing his experience.

John Muir's letters and journals are littered with drawings. Drawings include botanical descriptions, maps, landscapes, geophysical observations, the well known self-portrait sketch (above) and recordings of personal adventures and explorations, like his hike into Yosemite's Matterhorn (below.)

Whether by rough cartoons or skillful draughtsmanship, Muir conveyed grand expanses and sweet beauty close at hand, a rabbit in the grass (below) with a pencil point.

An inventor from an early age, Muir also used drawing as a way of designing and describing his devices.

The Hickory Clock
Design sketch, c. 1863

John Muir called his home office his "Scribbler's Den" and let it be known that writing did not come easy for him. But drawing seems to have. Still, I can find no quote or passage in which Muir actually mentions his drawing. That was probably because, to him, drawing was as natural as the weather.

I doubt that Muir considered himself an artist. If he thought about it at all, he understood that drawing helped him better see and comprehend the beauty and mystery of nature, to become one with what he loved.

The artist's signature?

"When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty."

Follow the links below to learn more about and see John Muir drawings and journals.

Many of Muir's drawings and journals are housed at The University of the Pacific Library Collection, others can be found. Others can be found at The Wisconsin Historical Society.

Most of the images in this post were sourced from John Muir's Wild America

Click here for books by and about John Muir.

Henry Fonda: Drawing for relaxation

Norman Thayer, Jr., 1980
Henry Fonda
Watercolor and pencil, 15 3/4 x 24 1/5 inches

A good friend of my youth was hired in the late 1970's as location scout (and, later, location manager) for the film On Golden Pond. A year or so after the film was completed, I visited his apartment in West Los Angeles and ogled the painting over his mantle. At the time, I was starting my own career as a watercolor painter, making photorealism portraits on commission of LA friends.
"Where did you get that? Who painted that?"
He said it was a lithograph of Henry Fonda's watercolor of the three hats he wore in On Golden Pond.

I have never forgotten the watercolor and I have yet to see another Henry Fonda painting.

The thing about the Fonda watercolor is that it shows such fine draughtsmanship. Fonda's drawing skill was superb. 

I have searched and searched for information on Henry Fonda drawings and paintings but all I've found is a 1988 New York Times article that quotes Fonda's wife, Shirlee, who said,
''Henry painted most of his life, but he took up serious painting during 'Mr. Roberts.' ''
...and a few paragraphs from a Bio-Bibliography by Kevin Sweeney (who quotes from an American Film article by Andrew Sarris),
"Fonda had always enjoyed drawing, and during the run of Mister Roberts he began seriously working in pastels. The first time he tried drawing was when he brought crayons and pastels home for the then-small Peter. "On a rainy afternoon I picked up his pastels and drew a picture of a glazed picture in our house. Much to my surprise, it turned out looking like a glazed picture."

Although Fonda drew mainly for relaxation, his work also fetched some high prices. He once sold a series of four prints for $2,000. In the 1970s a drawing of the view from the rear window of his New York town house was purchased by the Frnaklin Mint for $11,000, and soon after actress Jennifer Jones bought an oil called "Ripening" for $23,000 at a charity auction.

"Insanity! They're not worth it," Fonda said in 1981. "I can't believe anybody would want one enough to pay that kind of money."

"I can sometimes hardly believe a painting is mine when I've finished...I get a real kick out of friends asking me for a painting."

He cites W.M. Harnett, Andrew Wyeth and the Dutch realists as major influences. In fact, it was Wyeth who introduced Fonda to his favorite medium, dry brush. It appeals to him because of its similarity to watercolors.

Fonda doesn't do detailed preliminary sketches before adding colors. "He may do a very light pencil outline, just to establish composition. But once he adds his first wash of color, he erases the pencil marks." His favorite subjects are landscapes, window views, location scenes and especially fruit -- apples in particular. He's never tried to paint people.

Fonda rarely exhibits his work, and he prefers not to sell his paintings." 
I cannot tell you much more about Henry Fonda's drawing activities except the obvious — that he was able and well practiced. The Andrew Wyeth influence is clear. I can tell you a bit more about his watercolor of the hats.

Katherine Hepburn gave Fonda a brown Fedora on their first day at the On Golden Pond set. The Fedora was Spencer Tracy's "lucky" hat. Fonda made the above painting of the three hats he wore during the film and gave the original to Hepburn as a thank you gift.

Fonda had 200 lithographs made of the watercolor. He numbered, signed and sent one to every person who worked on the film, thanking each by name.

After Fonda's death, Hepburn gave the original painting to playwright (etc.), Ernest Thompson.


Drawn by Nature

The first thing I have my students draw is a leaf. I have a variety of reasons for this first exercise one of which is that a leaf is a deceptively simple subject. Another reason is that everyone can produce a recognizable representation of a leaf.

I do not know enough (if anything) about the behavior of a decaying leaf or the effects of other species that feed on tree leaves to even guess at how the lines and colors were drawn in this Eastern Redbud Tree leaf. All I can do is wonder and enjoy the beautiful result.

On my walk this morning, I didn't notice the leaf but rather the drawing and color, thinking how very like the work of my drawing and watercolor friends and students.

Click here to learn more about my Online Drawing and Watercolor Course.

David McCullough Watercolors

I have looked high and low and, short of contacting McCullough family members, this final part of the HBO documentary on David McCullough called Painting with Words is the only public evidence of his watercolors. Unfortunately, since creating this post, the video has been removed.

A Pittsburgh, PA, native, McCullough attended the Shady Side Academy and created all of the artwork for his graduation yearbook. McCullough seriously considered becoming a professional artist and his wife fell in love with him (in part) because of his ability with watercolor. He was called to another form of creative expression but continued his practice of drawing and watercolor till the end of his life.

Throughout my years of teaching drawing and watercolor, I've met many, many prospective students want to leap immediately into watercolor without any drawing experience. When I used to say "Oh, all right," and allow students to start directly into watercolor, I would invariably run into the problem of having to teach them the fundamentals of drawing anyway.

That's why I'm including David McCullough's watercolors here. Because you can't make these sorts of paintings without an underpinning of drawing. Period. End of story.

Here's an excerpt from a 2015 Boston Globe interview with McCullough in which he talks about his paintings:

"I paint a lot. I started painting when I was about 7, and at college, I took as many painting and drawing classes as I could get away with as an English major. I draw something to put it in my mind; when I went to Truman’s birthplace, I did a watercolor of the house. I’ve always felt that everybody who wants to learn to write should take a course in drawing and painting. It teaches you to see in a different way, since you really look at things and have to analyze what you’re looking at."

Chapman's American Drawing Book

Chapman's American Drawing Book
John Gadsby Chapman
New York: A.S. Barnes and Co. 1870
Page One

Once upon a time in America, drawing manuals were all the rage. Like keyboard instructionals and sheet music for pianos in the parlor, drawing books provided in-roads for citizens to practice the basics of visual art for pleasure and entertainment at home.

Michael Kimmelman describes this civilizing cultural phenomenon beautifully in his 2006 NYT review of a show at The Grolier Club called "Teaching America to Draw." I urge you to read this article — An Exhibition About Drawing Conjures a Time When Amateurs Roamed the Earth. Reflect upon Kimmelman's thoughtful and succinct appraisal. He expresses my own views on the subject far better than I could.

The Chapman American Drawing Book has been floating about the web as a free download for a couple of years. Take advantage of this offering for fun or study (or both). Try it out on your new iPad or Kindle (though it works fine on any computer).

To download a complete copy, click on this link at the Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture or stream it from Harvard with a variety of download formats.

It's true what Chapman claims at the outset — "Anyone who can learn to write can learn to draw."

Read my related post on Thomas Eakin's Drawing Manual.

Drawing America by Bike

Eric Clausen is a brave and ambitious soul. He can eat whatever he likes because he's burning it all off as he bicycles across America this year, making drawings of people and places he sees along the way.
"This year, I'm riding my bike across America. It will take about 13 - 14 months. I'm drawing the entire adventure. I want to meet Americans, see how they're doing in this recession and draw their picture." —Eric Clausen
Eric is Drawing America By Bike and you can follow his adventures via his blog and his Facebook page.

Send Eric $5 and he'll send you a hand drawn postcard. Send him $50 and you'll have a year's subscription of monthly postcards.

Eric started his adventure cycling out of Brooklyn on September 6th. At this writing, he's pedaled through Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond.

Visit Eric's blog to see his planned route.

Meet Eric along the way of this cool, unique and timely project and feed him some  healthy food! Please help fuel Eric's drawing hand and biking stamina by cheering him along on this great adventure, leaving encouraging comments and sending him $5 or $50 bucks.

Go, Eric, go!

Drawing America By Bike Blog
Drawing America By Bike on Facebook
Drawing America By Bike on Twitter

He Drew Fire

"Nobody tells me what to draw." —Paul Conrad
Farewell to the fearless Paul Conrad.

Paul Conrad was the right man at the right time with the right job. Chief editorial cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times from 1964 to 1993, Conrad helped bring that newspaper to national prominence and was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes. Conrad's searing inks of President Nixon won him a place on Nixon's Second Enemies List in 1973. His favorite irony was that he was later named to the Richard M. Nixon Chair at Wittier College (1977-78).
"Conrad's name strikes fear in the evil hearts of men all over the world. Where there is corruption, greed or hypocrisy, everyone says, 'This is a job for Paul Conrad.' — Art Buchwald
As a child, Conrad was encouraged in the arts and drawing by his parents. After service in the Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, he began his cartooning career at the University of Iowa's Daily Iowan then spent 14 years as editorial cartoonist at the Denver Post.
"I've never seen bad drawing destroy a good idea. On the other hand, I've never seen a good drawing save a bad idea." —Paul Conrad
"Conrad is ... more than a legend in cartooning and an institution in American journalism, he is a force of nature….You measure Conrad on the Richter scale." —Doug Marlette
Watch Barbara Multer-Wellin's fabulous film Drawing Fire in its entirety, complete with opening commercial and commentary by Terrance Howard on PBS Independent Lens.

Read Yvonne French's article "Afflicting the Comfortable" on Conrad's 1999 talk at the Library of Congress on the occasion of official acceptance by the Library of a gift of 21 of his original editorial cartoons.

Conrad passed just after an exhibit of his work, "I, Con: The Brilliant Work of Paul Conrad" opened at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California.

"No one ever accused me of being objective." — Paul Conrad
Books by Paul Conrad include Pro and Conradwith Art Buchwald, Conartist: Paul Conrad 30 Years with The Los Angeles Times,I, Con: The Autobiography of Paul Conrad, Editorial Cartoonist,and Drawing the Line: The Collected Works of America's Premier Political Cartoonist.

Visit Paul Conrad's official website.
Conrad's New York Times obituary.
Conrad's cartoons from his Denver Post years are housed at the Syracuse University Library.

Big Man On Campus

It's back to school time for most American teenagers. America's perpetual teenager, Archibald Andrews, is going back to Riverdale High for the sixty-ninth time.

Archie's creator, Bob Montana kept an illustrated diary during his high school years from 1936 to 1939 describing life at Haverhill High School in Massachusetts.
"The city on the Merrimack inspired the fictional town of Riverdale, home to Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, and others in the comic gang who were patterned, in some cases, on Montana's friends from his student days at Haverhill High from 1936 to 1939." —Mark Reynolds, The Boston Globe
Read more about Bob Montana and the Haverhill roots of Archie Comics in NOW 60 YEARS OLD, ARCHIE HAS ROOTS REACHING TO HAVERHIlL.

Archie Comics are chock full of dumb jokes, predictable behavior by a small ensemble cast, stylized teen sheen on lustrous hair and turned up noses, and dependable, clean entertainment.

Read the 2002 Scoop article on the history of Archie Comics in relation to the overall trend in American comic publications of the last half century.

The very first cover of an Archie comics book.

It's been a big year for Archie Comics. Archie finally decides whom to marry. I think. In alternate futures. Read this to get a handle on the fantasies. Also, a new character has entered the Riverdale scenario. Meet Kevin Keller.

Between the ages of 10 and 12, I had a high stack of Archie Comics in my bedroom. Now that I've written this, I'm in the mood to roll over, kick my feet up and leaf through a few!
Read Jim Windolf's 2006 Vanity Fair article on Archie Andrews at 65 — American Idol.

Coming up very soon (but not quite yet) is publication of The Classic Archie 1940 Newspaper Comics.

One copy of
Archie: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume 1 is available at Amazon.

Visit the Official Archie Comics page.

Click here for a simple Archie primer with links that include video of The Archies singing their 1969 hit song "Sugar, Sugar."


Archie dies.


Edward Gorey
from The Gashlycrumb Tiniesor, After the Outing

While a more extensive post on Edward Gorey is prepared
Click here to enjoy a slide show of the complete Gashlycrumb Tinies
to a Graveyard Tango.

The child’s alphabet book is considered one of the oldest literary genres of American literature. Wikipedia says so. It must be true.

Edward Gorey created many books on the alphabet - a perfect convergence of his main forms. These include The Utter Zoo,

The Glorious Nosebleed,

The Gorey Alphabet and others.

The Eakins Manual

Thomas Eakins
Drawing of Gears
Pen, ink and pencil on paper, 11 7/16 × 16 7/8, c. 1860
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

"Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), said to be "the greatest draughtsman in America" didn't really like to draw. He rarely sketched in pencil and hurried his students into working with brush and paint. He did like teaching, but was fired twice for his insubordinate, unconventional ways. ...

Before he came to prefer oil painting, Eakins intended to be a drawing teacher. Star drawing student at Central High School in Philadelphia, he applied for (but did not get) a position teaching drawing classes there in 1862, the year after he graduated. Son of a drawing master, he worked for his father for a time, inscribing documents and teaching penmanship. Then, taken by an ambition to become a painter, he traveled to Paris in 1866 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts."—Kathleen A. Foster, The Tools of Art: The Drawing Manual of Thomas Eakins
The best way to understand the importance of A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins is to read the editor, Kathleen A. Foster's entire introduction and the accompanying essay by Amy Werbel. Published in 2005 by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, this book is exquisitely produced.

I am taking the liberty of excerpting a few paragraphs from the introduction and essay to give you a glimpse of the position and importance of this manual in Eakin's life and in the history of American art. You'll have to find your own copy to fully value this work.
"Although Instructional art books have been widely used since Leon Battista Alberti first published De Pictura in 1435, their popularity has waxed and waned over the centuries. One of the periods in which such manuals flourised was in the United States in the nineteenth century, during the era Peter Marzio has dubbed the "art crusade." Influenced by the widespread belief that drawing instruction could raise the cultural and economic prospects of the nation, Americans bought more than 145,000 copies of drawing manuals between 1820 and 1860. Many, such as Rembrandt Peale's ubiquitous Graphics, were intended for public grade school students; others were authored for the legions of Americans who took up drawing as an edifying hobby. Unlike Alberti's text, these treatises emphasized drawing rather than painting, and most of them discussed mathematical systems of linear perspective only as a small part of a more universal introduction to art.

By the early 1880s, however, when Thomas Eakins, then director of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, sat down to draft a drawing manual for his students, the enormous wave of interest that had inspired these manuals and defined the period of the 'art crusade' had already crested, and the popularity of perspective drawing had largely given way to interest in more sensual approaches to rendering pictorial space. Those who have studied Eakins will not be surprised that he undertook authorship of a text that ran so dramatically contrary to the trends of his time, but a more searching analysis of the methods and topics included in his drawing manual, as well as its relationship to other simimlar texts, reveals much about the artist's influeences and beliefs. Eakins first formed his conception of the nature and purposes of art during the art crusade; as a result, mathematics and drawing remained the ground line of his artistic practice throughout his life. His text thus owes its very existence to the works produced by earlier "art crusaders," and their spirit infuses both its practical and its philosophical pedagogy."
Amy B. Werbel, Thomas Eakins: Last of the Art Crusaders
Personally, I would never use Eakin's manual for my own or any student's instruction. It's quite technical and relies heavily on mathematics. However, it's historic importance is a fact and because of Foster's article and Werbel's essay, I agree with the Philadelphia Museum of Art Publications blurb that states: "This book is essential for any student, scholar, curator, or individual interested in American art and art education."

To appreciate the hands-on depth and breadth of her scholarship, read Thomas Riedel's review of Kathleen Foster's Thomas Eakins Rediscovered.  Thomas Eakins Rediscovered on Google Books.

Read Amy Werbel's article Process on Paper: Thomas Eakins Drawings from the Charles Bregler Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

I took my first formal drawing classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and had the great luxury of regularly wandering through that museum and its collections as an adolescent when I could hear only the echoes of my own footsteps. Buy your copy of A Drawing Manual by Thomas Eakins there.

Read more about Thomas Eakins, his teaching and legacy.

See a selection of Eakins Drawings at Wiki Commons.

View the collection of Thomas Eakins letters, some of which include drawings, at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

To survey some paintings online, visit

Finally, one great big book Thomas Eakins</>

"Of course, it is well to go abroad and see the works of the old masters, but Americans... must strike out for themselves, and only by doing this will we create a great and distinctly American art." —Thomas Eakins

American Sloane

Eric Sloane
1905 – 1985

"As far back as the early 1700s, may American artists began their careers as sign painters and I can see why. The pleasure of creating a piece of work necessary to the buyer is a satisfaction beyond that of the artisan who paints merely to decorate. Some of America's finest and most prized examples of folk art are antique trade signs and inn signs. The signs I painted on midwest restaurant windows, even on hotel rest room doors, probably gave me more artistic satisfaction than anything I might have accomplished in art schools. I still letter freehand as easily as I write script and still have profound reverence for classic lettering." —Eric Sloane
Sign painter, muralist, prolific author, illustrator, teacher, painter, meteorologist, Eric Sloane began life as Everard Jean Hinrichs in 1905. After his mother died, young Everard launched a string of runaway attempts until his father finally gave him the family Packard Roadster and twenty dollars. That car and twenty dollars got him as far as Ohio where he "set out on foot as an itinerant boy painter." Not much later, he'd earned enough to buy another car and broadened his prospects.
"Henry Ford had not yet invented the glove compartment, but I shared the seat of a Model T with a traveling office of paper and pencils, a dictionary, and sketching equipment."
After a stint in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his own sign business, he changed his name.
"When I left Lancaster to wend my way afoot toward the west, I decided to create a new nom de plume and chose the name of my teacher [John Sloan] but added an e to the name of Sloan. I knocked off the first and last two letters of American, which left eric and headed westward as Eric Sloane."
Traveling through Taos, New Mexico not much later, Sloane discovered his true purpose.
"Inspired by the eight-thousand-food view of sky, I had decided to make meteorology and sky painting a life's work and, after all, the best way for me to learn a subject has always been to write a book about it."
In the process of this life's work, Eric Sloane composed one of the great American books on drawing —

Starting with descriptions of cloud formations, Sloane helps the reader see and understand the sky before laying out (fun) drawing instruction.

It's a personal favorite but only one of a stack of books that Sloane wrote and illustrated on skies and meteorology. These include Skies and the Weather, Look at the Sky, The Weather Book, For Spacious Skies, Eric Sloane's Book of Storms.

Like John Ruskin, Eric Sloane was most interested in helping people see and understand what they were looking at. His books on drawing, skies and weather help us. His larger body of work help us comprehend America as Sloane did.
"My research finds that the difference between the early American and the man of today is a matter of awareness. The first pioneers were awake to the dangers and simple differences of the new world's Indians, sudden storms, diseases, wild animals, severe winters, droughts and all the hardships of the great adventure. They were conscious of each moment, magnificently aware of life.
We today are lethargic, for so many things are done for us. And so we are robbed of the joy and satisfaction of awareness. We switch on lights with no idea of the source, turn a faucet with no idea of where the water comes from. Our clothing might come from New Jersey or Taiwan and even the source of our food is of no particular concern. Few of us know why we are existing and the country with its politics has become too big and complicated for individual awareness. My life's work by writing and painting has been to reawaken the original American consciousness, that quality which created the United States and abounded in earlier days." —Eric Sloane
Drawing America was founded to raise consciousness through drawing. Eric Sloane blazed a trail.


Learn more about Eric Sloane through his own words.

What's up, Doc?

A Wild Hare
Released June 27th, 1940

Happy 70th Birthday Bugs Bunny!

Icon of the American screen, one of the great cartoon characters of all time (American or otherwise), Bugs was born in Brooklyn in a warren under Ebbets Field.

Created by Tex Avery, animated by Virgil Ross (both of whom we will attend to in a future post), the 1938 prototype for Bugs Bunny appeared in Pokey's Hare Hunt.

Read a little Starpulse blurb on Bug's birthday, and even more at the Smithsonian Libraries.

Hallelujah Anyway

from Selected Poems by Kenneth Patchen
"I don’t consider myself a painter. I think of myself as someone who has used the medium of painting in an attempt to extend."
In the late 1950's, after a series of back surgeries dating to a 1937 spinal injury, the poet Kenneth Patchen suffered a botched and unnecessary operation. As a result, Patchen spent the remainder of his life in constant pain, incapacitated for the most part, and destitute.

Because of this condition, he took to writing his poems in a long hand scrawl, accompanied by ink drawings.

Because Going Nowhere Takes A Long Time
from Because I Is

Because It Is is a collection of poems with drawings. Published in 1960, this New Directions book marks the beginning of what would eventually become his "Picture Poems."

Kenneth Patchen's Picture Poems were revolutionary, whacky, and spiritually transformational. Foreshadowing what's now become more common place in visual arts — writing on paper or canvas with drawn or painted images, Patchen's work was born of necessity. He only had so much energy, time and freedom of movement to express the flood of his mighty soul.

Bedridden for years, Kenneth Patchen blazed trails that others have continued to fumble forward upon.  Patchen helped to create the poetry reading performance and was the first to read poetry accompanied by jazz musicians.

His novel, SLEEPERS AWAKE on the precipice profoundly changed my understanding of life and art when I read it at 19.

If you are not familiar with Kenneth Patchen, start exploring now.  His universe of work is wondrous and brutal and true. If his work doesn't blow your mind, it may expand it if you let it.

Follow the links embedded in this post. Check Kenneth Patchen books out of your local library orbuy them at Amazon. Special thanks to New Directions for publishing Patchen's work throughout the years.

Visit an Online exhibit of selections from Patchen's Picture Poems and read about the 2009-2010 Legion of Honor Fine Arts Museum exhibit of his painted books and picture poems.

New York States of Mind

People in Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle
December 19, 2009

Jason Polan is drawing Every Person in New York and publishing those drawings on his blog. This grand obsession has been in the works since late March, 2008.

Jason is drawing anyone and everyone and, this being NYC, in the pages you can find the noteworthy likes of Lewis Lapham, Peter Sarsgaard, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Helena Christensen, Malcolm Gladwell, and other folks of fortune and fame.

Spend some time scrolling through the Every Person in New York blog. It's fun and might inspire some bright drawing ideas of your own!

Read a nice, lengthy article and interview with Jason by Jill Singer for Sight Unseen.

How a pencil is made

Enjoy this inside look at how a pencil is made at General Pencil CompanyPencil Makers in the USA Since 1889!