As far back as I can remember, I’ve considered myself an artist. This is likely because, from the age of 5 or 6, I was treated like an artist. My mother and her father, my grandfather, are/were both creative individuals, so I’m sure they were pleased I showed an interest and encouraged it.
I’ve learned, over time, that in addition to my love of art, from my mother I inherited a unique energy. I fall asleep at night (I actually resent having to sleep, at all), thinking about what I’m going to accomplish the next day and hop out of bed, the next morning, chaffing at the bit to get started. I continue driving forward until it’s, once again, time for bed. I thought everyone functioned like this, until many others pointed out to me that this was not, in fact, the case!
I’m of that first television generation. To my recollection, there was always a television in our house. I took full advantage of that. My inherited energy prompted me to jump out of bed, early in the morning, on weekends and during vacations from school, long before anyone else in the house was awake. I’d immediately switch on the TV to a test pattern. Trying to be patient, I’d fidget through the farm report (first program broadcast in the morning), waiting for the old silent black and white animated shorts to begin. I’d watch, learn and dream about creating animation myself, someday.
Saturdays were different, than other days off, however. On Saturdays the National Broadcasting Network presented “Learn to Draw,” hosted by Jon Gnagy, as part of their early morning line-up.
Long before Bob Ross (Bob was likely sitting in front of the TV in his PJ’s, as well), Mr. Gnagy would host on-air draw-alongs, guiding us through the creation of elaborate compositions, utilizing simple geometric shapes: the ball, the cone, the cylinder and cube. Later I’d learn that this was not actually a Jon Gnagy original discovery, but was instead promoted by Modern Art giant, Paul Cézanne.
Under Mr. Gnagy’s tutelage, I created snowy landscapes, asian seascapes, farm scenes, still lifes, you name it. Beginning in 1947 (before I was born, I must add), over time, his show grew in popularity, prompting the retail release of Jon Gnagy Art Studio Kits, sold in toy store. I was the recipient of many of these kits, as family friends and relatives saw them as perfect gifts for a young artist.
I don’t know what it was that made me think about Mr. Gnagy, lately, but something led me to search him out on the Internet. I learned that while Mr. Gnagy is long gone (he passed away in 1981), his studio kits are still alive and available thanks to the Martin F. Weber Company.
My research has also informed me that I was not alone in my devotion to the Learn to Draw program. I found this quote from Pop Art giant, Andy Warhol, “I watched his show every week and I bought all his books.”
I wonder how many other artist, famous or infamous, spread out their drawing materials on the floor in front of the TV set and, along with me, spent a half hour of their Saturday mornings following the goateed instructor’s lead.