The Artist Life

Art Beginnings: The Famous Artists School

Art Beginnings: The Famous Artists School


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In the beginning, we all come to discover art in different ways. Perhaps a teacher in school handed you a small set of paints and said, Try this, or a friend of the family was an art director and encouraged you to learn how to draw, or perhaps a favorite aunt took you to a museum at a young age and that lit the fires of creative passion. Just a little encouragement, at the right time, can start a person on a life-long journey of the spirit.

The Famous Artists Schools correspondence envelope.

In my case, two events sealed my very fortunate fate. In 1957, my father decided to give my mother a really big gift. My mother liked to draw and paint, but never had formal training, so my father decided to enroll her in the Famous Artists School. The School was founded in Westport, Connecticut in 1948 and run by the most well-known and loved illustrators of the day–and this was the Golden Age of Illustration. Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett, John Atherton, Austin Briggs, Stevan Dohanos, Ben Stahl, Harold Von Schmidt and Jon Whitcomb were the founding faculty.

It was my mothers interest in art that paved
the way for my own.

To give you an idea of how in demand the work of this elite group of artists was, they were all making more than $50,000 a year in 1950–thats equivalent to $486,500 a year today!* For the price of $350 ($2,911.61 today), my mother could choose to study Painting, Illustration/Design, or Cartooning, delivered in 24 lessons over three years time. Each assignment that the student completed and mailed in was critiqued by a professional artist (not necessarily the famous ones), who made their suggestions or corrections on tissue overlays on the students work.

The entire course was contained in four heavily illustrated binders. The binders were a complete art course from beginning to advanced. I dont know how long my mother was able to plug away at her studies, but by 1957 I was four and getting around on my own. I found those binders and decided they were my personal property. I even felt perfectly comfortable working right in them in crayon, trying to copy the illustrations with hands that would not obey my desires. As I got older, the lessons in those binders gradually taught me how an artist goes about rendering the world around him and why. I learned craft and design from the silent teachers bound in those pages. Thankfully, my parents encouraged this. Perhaps it was enough that it kept their high-energy son busy for a while. I still love those books, and one can still take the courses today.

The second crucial event for me happened in high school, when an art teacher gave me some left over oil paints, canvas, a worn brush or two, and a closet with a window to work privately in. He was art institute trained, but offered no tips on how to mix or apply paint. I set myself to making compositions torn from newspapers and magazines, recombining or heightening the imagery and trying to paint as realistically as I could manage. That experience helped to convince me that I was going to be an artist for the rest of my life, and Ive never looked back. But I did make a point of tracking down and thanking that teacher.

What started you on your artistic journey? We would enjoy hearing from you. Please join us on The Artists Road for more interesting and informative articles, step-by-step demonstrations and unique store items.

–John

*(Wikipedia ASIFA, dollartimes.com)


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