Saturday, December 31, 2005
The First "Doings of the Van Loons"
After a long search, I think I've finally found the start of F. Leipziger's Doings of the Van Loons comic strip. For the longest time I thought the strip started sometime in 1912, but then I discovered that there was a reprint book of the strip that was published in 1911. That sent me on the hunt again, and finally I found a run of the strip starting on December 5, 1910 in the Louisville (Ky) Courier-Journal. At least I'll assume this is the start of the strip until I find something yet earlier.
The significance of the strip lies not in its content; it's a fairly forgettable strip, one of the kajillion about a henpecked husband; but in the fact that it ran as a true daily right from the start. This makes it the very first 'contractual' daily strip, pre-dating by over a year what I claimed was the first, Scoop The Cub Reporter, in an article on early daily strips that I penned for Hogan's Alley magazine a few years ago.
To recap the point I was discussing in that article, I defined a contractual daily strip as one that a syndicate paid to have produced 6 times per week, 52 weeks per year. Many think of Mutt & Jeff as the first daily, but in fact Bud Fisher often put the strip on hiatus well into the mid-1910s, so it doesn't qualify.
The samples above are the first two days of the strip, December 5th and 6th, 1910.
By the way, one of the descendants of Leipziger contacted me a few years ago looking for samples of his strip. I did hook the lady up with some material, but forgot to ask her what the "F." stands for. If she happens to come across this blog, I'd sure appreciate her dropping me a line.
1905 book "A Gallery of Pen Sketches in
Black and White of Our Michigan Friends As We See 'Em" online.
Do a web search of that book and go to
the loc site. Page two will have a picture of Fred I. Leipziger while he
was with The Detroit News.
This comic strip was written and drawn by my grandfather, Fred I Leipziger for the Detroit News. Fred Leipziger was one of six brothers who were all immensely talented. Nate Leipzig was one of the greatest card magicians of all time. He could command a huge audience in an auditorium with only a deck of cards.
It was likely my sister Judy who contacted you, although this post is many years old, so I'm not sure if you're still monitoring it.
(My mother was Jean Leipziger - Fred's daughter)
Friday, December 30, 2005
Westbrook Pegler Pens Tad's Obit
TAD IS DONE, SERIOUSLY (Washington Post, 5/3/29)
By WESTBROOK PEGLER
NEW YORK. May 2.-Tad Dorgan, the great American phrase-maker, gave up and died today. He was the sports page cartoonist of the Hearst Service who originated or popularized more slang expressions than any other man of his time, not excepting the late Theodore Roosevelt. Ever since the time of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, eight years ago, he had lived a hushed existence in the suburbs on Long Island, broken only by rare, cautious trips into New York because he was in momentary danger or dying from heart failure. There was some definite mechanical weakness in his heart and in order that he might realize just how careful he must be it was necessary for him to know just how serious the trouble was. He had to be made to understand that the slightest excitement or overexertion might strain his weakened valve in his heart and kill him.
The Bum Ticker, He Called It, Quits After 52 Years
Realizing this thoroughly he resigned from the crowds at the prize fights and ball games and the places around town and immured himself in his home, but, instead of becoming a pensioner, he continued to draw his pictures for the sports page. His humor was never brighter in his gallivantin' days and, all in all, without any idea that he was being heroic, Tad carried on more gamely for those last eight years than any of the brute-game prize fighters that he eulogized now and again in his reminiscent pictures.
Tad had bronchial pneumonia a few days ago and seemed to have recovered, but today he lay down to rest and just didn't get up. The bum ticker, as he called it, quit going at last, after 52 years.
Tad fought so gamely against misfortune early and late and self-pity was so foreign to his nature that it makes a man ill at ease to use fine language on him or go into heroics over him now that he is gone. It seems like taking advantage of him to say things about him now that he is dead which he would have turned off with some humiliating twist of a word if he were here.
Met Tad at 1912 Convention Sketching Elihu Root.
Anyway, no flights of language could eulogize him better than a plain recountal of what he did and the disasters he had to overcome. I met him at the steam roller convention of the Republican party in the Coliseum in Chicago in 1912. I was defiling good white bristol board with some of the most grevious smears ever committed to paper in a fantastic hope of becoming a comic artist like Tad, but my job at the convention was to run Arthur Brisbane's profound reflections on the farce back to tho telegraph room under the platform.
There was a tall, gawky fellow with a conspicuous nose hanging around the Hearst section of the press section and every now and again he would up with a little pad of paper palmed in his right hand and scribble something on it with his left. I thought he was merely taking notes, but presently I glimpsed the pad and saw that he was drawing a picture of old Elihu Root, with the unmistakable bartender's bangs down over the forehead, the motheaten moustache and the collar-button wart on the nose without which no caricature of Mr. Root was legal in those days. At the bottom of the sketch was the name, Tad.
Tad Was Left Hander Because Fingers Were Off Right
So this was Tad and he was a left-hander and not only that but he was a left-hander because the first two fingers and half of the palm of his right hand were missing. I established relations with Mr. Dorgan at once and before the convention was over I contrived to show him some of the sketches I had drawn.
"Are these any good?" I asked feeling pretty sure that they were and desiring mere confirmation of my own generous estimate.
"What else can you do?" Mr. Dorgan was not exactly carried away it seemed.
"Well," I said, "I am pretty good at writing."
"You had better talk to this dude here then," Tad said.
'This Is Richard Harding Davis. Show him some of your writing, because you are a lousy artist." He had no tact.
Put "No Bananas," "Bunk" and "Apple Sauce" in Dictionary
Tad learned to draw twice. First he learned with his right hand, and when he lost most of it in a saw, he learned all over again with his left. Artistically his drawing was not exactly ideal, but it was his analysis, done in the gruff humor of a fellow who dealt strictly in candor, that made him great. And the kid cartoonist who lost his hand in the buzz saw went on to write the pat retorts of the American mob for more than twenty years, including eight years when he knew that the present moment might be his last.
It was Tad who put "skiddo" on the American tongue and "Yes, we have no bananas" and "What? No spinach?" and "bunk" and "applesauce" and "bone-head." In fact, Tad's language became so familiar through usage that there must be many of his pet words and turns of expression, originally slang, which now are part of American speech and eligible for dictionary rating.
Shunned the Heavy Editorial Stuff For Human Character Hypocrisy
Now and again Arthur Brisbane tried to make him draw sermon pictures for the heavy editorial in the Sunday supplement, showing a young man struggling up a rock-strewn pathway toward a mountain peak with a sunburst spelling "success" glowing behind the height. Tad did them occasionally, but, I think, reluctantly, because that was not to his taste, and he got better results by drawing recognizable, human characters in hypocrisies that were familiar to all and left the reader with a personal sense of shame.
When the doctors told Tad he couldn't cover the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, couldn't go around to Jack's cafe at night, could never again sit in the press box at the Polo Grounds to conjure new predicaments for bonehead Barry, the bush league bear, he might have brooded over his doom if he hadn't been Tad. But instead he retired to Great Neck to get his fights by radio and his gossip of the old familiar but gradually dwindling night-side mob by phone, and suddenly in the lower left-hand corners of his drawings there began to appear such legends as "Tad, Shanghai" or "Tad, Paris" or "Tad, Moscow."
Eased Down Town Twice a Year To Listen In At "Dago Joint"
His world was bounded by his suburban patch and that was his way of laughing it off. Once or twice a year Tad's wife and his brother Ike the prize fighter's press agent would ease him into an automobile and drive him cautiously into town.
Labels: News of Yore
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Tad Pokes Fun at the Boys in the Bullpen
Some of my favorite cartoons are those in which the cartoonist gives us a peek into their lives at the drawing-board. Here we have a very early Tad Dorgan Indoor Sports cartoon from November 1913 in which we glimpse the banter that goes on in the cartoonist's bullpen. I wonder if any of the cartoonists shown here are caricatures of the fellows who inhabited the New York Journal's bullpen with Tad?
Regarding Indoor Sports, I don't have a start date for it though I'm pretty sure it started in 1913. I've read in some references claims as early as 1910, though. Jeffrey Lindenblatt has indexed the New York Journal where I believe the feature appeared, but he lists Tad's non-strip contributions only as untitled editorial cartoons, so we can't tell from that.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Capsule History of Newspaper Illustration 1870s-1914
Here we have an article from The Fourth Estate issue of March 7, 1914, in which a pioneer in the technical side of newspaper illustration discusses the progress made in the field up to that point. Cartooning is discussed along with half-tones and other processes. Interesting stuff to me, as I've found that to understand the early history of newspaper comic strips that a knowledge of the technical side of newspaper illustration is a valuable tool.
PROGRESS MADE IN ILLUSTRATING.
THE PAST TWENTY YEARS HAVE WITNESSED MANY NEW INVENTIONS.
by S. H. Horgan
[The writer of this article has had the fortune to witness the culmination of what may be termed the “Golden Age” of wood engraving in the United States; to be present at the birth of photo-engraving; to have taken an active part in the struggle for supremacy between wood-engraving and photo-engraving; to witness the decline of wood engraving, and to contribute somewhat to the success and popularizing of what is now included in the generic term "process-work."
In 1874 Mr. Horgan was initiated into the mysterious chambers where processes of the New York Daily Graphic, famed for its wonderful illustrations, were worked out behind locked and barred doors. From that day Mr. Horgan's life has been given to the study of all of the methods by which photography could be applied to producing pictures in printing ink. Many of these methods he has put into practice. For many years Mr. Horgan was associated with the New York Tribune.-editor's note.]
In newspaper engraving and illustrating methods there has been tremendous progress during the past twenty years. And at the present time we are entering on another radical change which is puzzling publishers.
Whem The fourth Estate was first issued the big daily newspapers were being illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings and line engravings. The World's Fair had just been "pulled off" at Chicago and some of the papers in that city were setting a pace in illustrating for the whole country. The Chicago Herald's illustrations and the Inter-Ocean's colored supplements were the envy of other newspaper publishers.
William Kurtz, in New York, had demonstrated that colored objects could be reproduced by photography into three relief blocks for printing in colored inks. It seemed as if the process would be applied to the newspapers. It was tried without success.
The printing of a half-tone portrait of the late Thomas C. Platt on the front page of the New York Tribune of January 21, 1897, was a sensation politically and pictorially. It proved that a half-tone could be printed on a stereotyping web press. The method was the invention of the present writer, and it may be said to have changed the methods of newspaper illustrating the world over.
It made the New York Tribune conspicuous for a number of years for the excellence of its illustrations. These half-tones, being inserted in stereotype plates, permitted a finer screen to be used than is possible when half-tones are stereotyped.
One result of the Tribune's introduction of half-tones was the necessity of a photographer to supply pictures of the daily news events. Here began the nervy and necessary news photographer, who has since become omnipresent. One unfortunate feature of the photographer's coming was the crowding out of the "sketch artist" who was a valued member of the daily newspaper staff.
About this time a wise. newspaper publisher discovered that cartoons, large fashion pictures and comics in series were quicker space fillers in sixteen-page afternoon papers than copy and type, and so the "comic artist" has been straining himself harder and harder for ideas since.
In cartoon-making several experiments have been tried. Cartoons have been drawn with charcoal that cannot satisfy as the virile pen-and-ink and brush drawing. The crude caricaturist and amateur artist has in too many cases been permitted to usurp the place of the trained and dignified cartoonist, so that the power of the cartoon has declined.
The year 1910 marked several interesting occurrences in newspaper illustrating. The Freiburger Zeitung in Germany printed a supplement, the illustrations of which were in photogravure and the type matter printed from stereotype plates. About the same time there appeared in this country a German etching machine which improved newspaper illustration by engraving plates deeper and quicker than was possible before. The New York World took advantage of this machine to print some reproductions of pencil sketches that were marvels in newspaper illustration.
On December 15, 1912, the New York Sun issued a supplement in photogravure which introduced into this country the latest idea in newspaper illustrating. The New York Times, in its last Christmas number, used this new method, called rotary photogravure, to print admirable portraits of beautiful women
At the present writing papers like the Boston Herald, New York Times, Philadelphia Public Ledger, Pittsburg Gazette-Times, Cleveland Leader and Chicago Tribune are hastening to get in rotary photogravure plants and presses so that we are going to have a run of art supplements in our Sunday papers
Syndicates have sprung up during the past twenty years to supply plates for color printing, as well as printed sheets and Sunday magazines. The application of the McKee process of self-printing plates, used on the Saturday Evening Post, to newspaper supplements has raised their illustrations to equal the magazine
It appears now as if there is going to be a contest for popular favor between rotary photogravure and halftones printed on magazine presses, in the illustration of newspaper supplements, with the chances that both will be superseded by newer methods still in the making.
One of the problems which has interested inventors is the sending of drawings, sketches, maps and pictures by wire.
The Abbe Casselli of Florence invented a system in 1856 that was put into practical use in France and Russia in 1865. The present writer devised a system by which a sketch was cabled from London to the New York Daily Graphic in 1879, but little was accomplished until Shelford Bidwell found in 1881 that selenium resisted electricity in proportion to the amount of light falling on it.
Amstutz of Cleveland patented a method of transmitting photographs in 1891.
Palmer and Mills telegraphed a half-tone of President McKinley from Washington to the New York Tribune in April, 1901.
Many inventors have now systems for telegraphing pictures, but Professor Korn, of Munich has shown the most practical results. He wraps an unmounted photograph around a glass cylinder in which is selenium and by use of a single beam of light passing over every part of the area of the photograph and operating with differing degrees of brightness upon the selenium, has telegraphed photographs frequently between Paris and London
Collier's Weekly has one of the Korn machines in use and it is expected that photographs will shortly be cabled between Europe and this country for newspaper uses.
Labels: News of Yore
me to ask the question: Was the, what
we call in the U.S., fumetti comic strip ever in vogue in U.S. papers?
Did any comic strips ever use the photograph as a substitute for line
art on a regular basis? The only one that comes to my mind is Stan Lee's "Says Who" of 1976- ???.
Which did not transfer onto the
newspaper pages of 1976 as well as
the two strips of 1900 in the Baker
began in 1976 and probably ended in
1977. It was distributed by The
Register and Tribune Syndicate.
In my area it appeared in the
Modesto (Ca.) Bee.
It reproduced a grainy photo of the
day and had a gag lettered onto it
in a word balloon. If I remember
correctly it mostly used photos of
political figures but the jokes
were non-political. Any photo with
a reaction shot and a public figure
was good enough for Stan Lee.
The one tearsheet I have handy (no
date other than the 1976 copyright)
has a picture of President Gerald
Ford speaking to Congress with
Nelson Rockefeller and Carl Albert
(the butt of the joke) seated behind
Stan Lee seems to have had a
liking for this
kind of thing. Before Marvel flooded
the comic magazine market in 1973,
they kind of tested the waters with
a magazine called Monster Madness
which consisted of movie monster
photos gag-captioned by Stan Lee.
These may have just been reprinted
from his mid-60s magazines of the
And before they went with all those
Marvel comic strips in the late 70s,
Stan tried his hand at this fumetti
strip (my sample has two panels,
though it is the same photograph in
I believe, but cannot swear, that it
appeared before his Vera Valiant
strip. I don't recall if it had a
By the way, I'm sure you know this, but Stan's first newspaper comic writing credit is waaaay before Vera Valiant. He did My Friend Irma way back in 1951, then Mrs. Lyon's Cubs in 1958, then the excellent but mostly forgotten Willie Lumpkin (with Dan DeCarlo art!) from 1960.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Obscurity of the Day: Buck O'Rue
Buck O'Rue might well be completely forgotten today if it weren't for the names of the creators who worked on it. Dick Huemer, writer, was a legendary animator and writer whose credits extend as far back as the primordial days of the cartoon short in 1916. He created Bonzo the dog for the Fleisher brothers, and his main claim to fame is his animation and writing work on many of the classic Disney animated shorts and features.
Paul Murry, artist on Buck O'Rue, is a fan-favorite cartoonist whose credits include appearances in nearly 400 issues of the Walt Disney's Comics & Stories comic book.
Is the strip up to the high expectations a Disney aficionado might bring to it? Well, in my humble opinion this western comedy strip is rather pedestrian and the humor is lowest common denominator. Nice art, though. But I criticize secure in the knowledge that nothing I could say about the strip would dampen the zeal of the Disney completist one little bit.
Buck O'Rue started on 1/15/1951 and ran until sometime in 1953 (but I've never actually seen any that postdate late 1952). Even if the quality of the strip were great, it would have had an uphill road to success since it was syndicated by Lafave Newspaper Features, a syndicate whose only major success was Clifford McBride's Napoleon.
Can anyone supply an end date for Buck O'Rue?
Say, that post is three years old. Pretty long for such an egregious error to hang around without comment or correction! I don't recall after all these eons where I picked up the tidbit about the dog -- wouldn't it more likely be Betty Boop's dog Bimbo, which name is a heck of a lot closer to Bonzo than this Fitz or Toby that you mention? Or is Fitz the same dog renamed? I'm not fool enough to cast aspersions on your encyclopedic animation knowledge -- I seek only to learn oh cel master!
Monday, December 26, 2005
Little Visits With Great Americans -- Part V
And finally, an extended article on the great Frederick Burr Opper. Our Opper sample above is an 1890s editorial cartoon from Puck - the subject unfortunately just as germane today as it was over a hundred years ago.
A "Printer's Devil" Whose Perseverance Wins Him Well-Earned Reputation as a Fun-Maker
The felicity of F. Opper's caricatures is marvelous. His drawings for the Dinkelspiel stories, by George V. Hobart, in the New York "Morning Journal" have drawn to him the pleased attention of those whom he has caused to laugh at the happy expressions of his characters, during Mr. Dinkelspiel’s "gonversationings," particularly at Mr. Dinkelspiel’s earnest look.
He is a caricaturist of the "first water," and in this connection I may say that a caricature too carefully drawn often loses its humor. Still Mr. Opper has proved his ability to finish a drawing smoothly. Those familiar with the back numbers of "Puck" will concede this and much more.
His life is an example of determination. I called, by appointment, at his house in Bensonhurst (near Bath Beach), a pretty suburb within the precincts of Greater New York. We stepped into his library.
He drew my attention to the pictures on the four walls of the room. "Those are all originals by contemporaries," he said, "and there is one by poor Mike Woolf. We were intimate friends, and I attended his funeral."
STUDIES OUT HIS IDEAS.
The conversation turned toward Mr. Opper himself, and I asked--
"How is it you can conceive so many ridiculous ideas and predicaments?"
"It is a matter of study," he replied. "I work methodically certain hours of the day, but very seldom at night. We will say it is a political cartoon on a certain occurrence that I am to draw. I deliberately sit down and study out my idea. When it is formed, I begin to draw. I never commence to draw without a conception of what I am going to do."
"And when did you first put pencil to paper?" I asked.
"Almost as soon as I could creep. I was born in Madison, Ohio, in 1857, and as far back as I can remember, I had a determination to become an artist. My path often swerved from my ambition, on account of necessity, but my determination was back of me, and whenever an obstacle was removed I advanced thus much farther toward my goal.
"I went to the village school till I was fourteen years of age, and then I went to work in the village store. Both at school and in the store, every spare moment found me with pencil and paper, sketching something comical; so much so, indeed, that I became known for it."
A PRINTER'S DEVIL
"I remained in the store for a few months, and then went to work on the weekly paper, and acted the part of a 'printer's devil.' Afterward, I set type. In about a year, the idea firmly possessed me that I could draw, and I decided that it was best to go to New York. But my self-esteem was not so great as to rate myself a full-fledged artist. My idea was to obtain a position as a compositor in New York, to draw between times, and gradually to land myself where my hopes all centered. So my disappointment was great when, on arriving in the city, I discovered that, to become a compositor, I must serve an apprenticeship of three years. I was in New York, in an artistic environment, and had burned my bridges; accordingly I looked for a place, and obtained one in a store. One of my duties there was to make window cards, to advertise the whole line, or a particular lot of goods. I decorated them in my best fashion."
GOOD USE OF LEISURE TIME
"All the leisure I had to myself, evenings and holidays, I spent in making comic sketches, and I took them to the comic papers, to the 'Phunny Phellow,' and "Wild Oats.' I just submitted rough sketches. Soon the editors permitted me to draw the sketches also, which was great encouragement. I met Frank Beard, and called on him, by request, and he proposed that I come into his office. So I left the store, after having been there eight or nine months, and ceased drawing show-cards for the windows. I drew for 'Wild Oats,' 'Harper's Weekly,' 'Frank Leslie's,' and the 'Century,' which at that time was Scribner's publication; and later for 'St. Nicholas.' "
It was then that Mr. Opper had an offer from "Leslie's" to work on the staff at a salary, which he accepted.
"I was only a little over twenty years of age," he continued. "I was a humorous draughtsman, and a special artist, also; going where I was directed to make sketches of incidents, people and scenes."
Six years before, Mr. Opper had left the village school with a burning determination to become an artist. It can be seen how well he sailed his bark,- tacking and drifting, and finally beating home with the wind full on the sails. This shows what determination will do.
HIS CONNECTION WITH "PUCK"
"Three years later," said Mr. Opper, "I had an offer from the publishers of 'Puck' to work for them, a connection which I severed not long ago, although I still hold stock in the company. I not only made my own drawings, but furnished ideas for others. I have always furnished my own captions, inscriptions and headings. Indeed, they are a part of a cartoon, or other humorous work. I think that I may say that 'Puck' owes some of its success to me, for I labored conscientiously."
Mr. Opper walked over to a mantelpiece for two books of sketches, which he handed me to look at. They contained sketches of the country places he had visited on his summer wanderings.
"And you use these?" I asked.
"Yes; if I want a farmer leaning over a fence with a cow in the distance, I can use that barnyard scene And that bit of a country road can be made useful. So can that corncrib with the tin pans turned upside down on the posts supporting it, to keep the rats off. That old hay-wagon, and that farmer with a rake and a large straw hat can all be worked in. I always carry a sketchbook with me, no matter where I go."
THE "SUBURBAN RESIDENT"
On "Puck," Mr. Opper was the originator of the ''suburban resident," who has since been the subject of much innocent merriment; the gentleman with the high silk hat, side whiskers, glasses, an anxious expression, and bundles, and always on the rush for a train.
"I enjoyed those," said Mr. Opper, with a laugh, “before I became a suburban myself "
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Little Visits With Great Americans -- Part IV
Here today is part four of our excerpts from Little Visits With Great Americans. Today we visit with Charles Dana Gibson, who has some amazingly frank and sensible advice for aspiring artists. Our Gibson sample is from Life's 1904 Christmas issue. Merry Christmas!
Being Himself in Style and Subjects, the Secret of an Artist's Wonderful Popularity
Nothing in the studio of Charles Dana Gibson suggests that it is a studio, excepting the alien circumstance that it is artistic. Such proof tends to puzzle the casual-minded, whose mind is trained to look upon any sky-lighted room furnished like a pound party, and occupied by artists, or brokers, or bachelor wholesale dealers, as a studio.
Mr. Gibson's studio is a real room, devoted to stern facts, and is, therefore, beautiful. It has no furniture that is not essential. Even the large rugs, woven of moss and mist and fire, hang on the walls like coverings, and not by way of decoration. The wood is heavy and dark. There are no pictures.
Mr. Gibson talks while he works. His easel stands squarely beneath the skylight, and, as he sat before it the other day, a picture grew under his hand while he talked about the making of an illustrator. Everything he said was emphasized by the slow growth of the glorious creature, who was there to show, from her pretty tilted pompadour to the hem of the undoubted creation she was wearing, that what the famous illustrator insisted may be done by skill and hard work can assuredly be accomplished.
"When anyone asks me," said Mr. Gibson, "what to do to become a successful illustrator, I always assure him that he has thought about the matter and doubtless knows far more about it than I do, for I know of no rule to follow to become what one was born to be, and I certainly know of none to prevent one from failing at something for which he has no talent.
"If a man knows how to draw, he will draw; and all the discouragements and all the bad teachers in the world cannot turn him aside. If he has no ability, he will drift naturally into school-teaching and buying stocks, without anybody's rules to direct him either way.
"The main thing is to have been born an artist." Mr. Gibson said this quite simply, as it he were advising a course in something, or five grains of medicine.
"If you were that," he went on, "you yourself know it far better than anyone can tell you, and you know also, in your heart, that neither wrong teaching nor anything but idleness can prevent your success. If you are not a born artist, you may not know it. I think I can soon say something about the way to find your limitations, but no one can say much to help a born genius. His genius is largely, indeed, that he knows how to help himself."
Lightly leaving the student of illustrating adequately provided with having been born a genius, Mr. Gibson went on to tell what should be his education before he begins to study art, and upon this he put on record an opinion which is a departure from current belief.
A NATURAL ARTIST WILL NEVER REQUIRE AN INSTRUCTOR.
"I do not think," he said, "that the previous training of a student who begins studying illustrating has much to do with his career. It seems to me that his actual previous education matters very little. If he wants to learn, he will learn. If he does not, he will not. If he does not want to learn, his attempt at an education will profit him very little. His gift for illustrating, if he has it, is a thing not more dependent upon his education than upon his surroundings. While there are instances in which an education forced upon a pupil has been acknowledged by him afterward to mean much to him, there are also cases in all arts of which we say that contact with the schoolmen would not have been an advantage."
Mr. Gibson said this quite tranquilly, as if it were not an idea at odds with all other accepted statements that the thorough education of an artist is the best foundation for anything he may undertake.
"That leaves a good deal of work for the pupil's master," I suggested.
"Master!" exclaimed Mr. Gibson, with almost a frown; "what is a master? Have we any masters now? It seems to me that the word has lost its old meaning, and that there is no longer such a thing as a 'master.' Suppose we say 'teacher' instead! And then let me add this: I do not believe the teacher matters in the least."
"Don't you think," I demanded, "that a pupil would make better progress with you for a teacher than he would with somebody whose work had no value ?"
IF YOU DO NOT SEE YOUR MISTAKES, NO ONE ELSE CAN
"Not a bit," he said, promptly. "To tell the truth, I think the teaching of drawing is an over-estimated profession. It doesn't seem to me as if I could teach, as if I would feel it would be exactly honest to teach. Why, see for yourself, what can a teacher do ?"
Mr. Gibson laid down his pencil, but he continued thus:-
"I was for a year at the Art League, and two years in Paris. In Paris we used to sit in rows at canvases, like this. We saw our teacher for half an hour, twice a day. He would come and spend less than two minutes beside the chair of each of us, and what would he do? Point out a mistake, or a defect, or, rarely, an excellence, which, if we had any talent at all, we could see perfectly well for ourselves. This last is the important point.
"If you are a born illustrator, you will know your own mistakes better than anyone can tell you about them. If you do not see your mistakes, nobody can ever help you to be anything. All the teachers in all the art schools cannot help you if you cannot see your mistakes. I said I could help a pupil to know his own limitations. Well, that is the way. If your own work looks quite finished and perfect to you, or if it looks wrong but you cannot tell exactly what is the inaccuracy or lack, you may depend upon it that you were not bom to be an illustrator.
"That is true in anything. The writer, the sculptor and the musician have to stand this test. What sort of musician would a man be who could not detect a discord ? You can see it easily enough with that illustration. Well, your illustrator must see a bad bit of drawing, or bad composition, just as quickly as a born piano player can tell if he has played without expression. It is just as true in art as it is in ordinary matters. The snow-shoveler must know when his sidewalk is clean, the typewriter when the words are correctly spelled, the cook when her pastry tastes right, or they are all discharged forthwith. Well, one expects no less of an illustrator than of a cook."
THE VALUE OF ARTISTIC INDIVIDUALITY
Mr. Gibson returned to his board, and what he said next was wonderfully extra-illustrated by the girl- "Gibson" to her finger-tips,-who looked up at him.
"The whole value of your work is its individuality," he said, "and for that you are obliged to depend absolutely upon yourself. Obviously nobody can show you how to be original.
"Now take the simple example of a copy book. Do you remember how the letters used to look, and the elaborate directions which accompanied every writing lesson? The 'a's,' and so on, must be just of a height. The 't's' must be twice as high. The 't's' and the 'h's' must be a quarter-length or so above those. Well, as a matter of fact, who writes like that? Nobody. If anyone did he would simply be laughed at, and justly so. His handwriting would mean nothing. It would have no individuality. Everybody simply keeps the letters in mind and forms them to suit himself, and after a time he has a writing which he can never change by any chance. That has become the way he writes.
"Well, it is just the same in illustrating. I might tell you all that I know about drawing; any teacher might tell you all he knows; but, gradually, by observation and the assertion of your own personality, you will modify all these forms, and will find yourself drawing one special way. That is the way you draw, and you can never change it in essence, though you may go on improving it forever.
"Now, to my mind, just so much instruction in drawing is necessary as is needed to tell the child who is learning to write which letter is which, and how to pronounce and recognize it. That once learned, the child will go its own sweet way and develop a handwriting such as no one in the world can exactly duplicate. So it is with drawing. When the first fundamental instructions are over, which anyone who can draw can give you, you are your own master, and will draw or not, as you were born to do.
"Remember that I am not saying that I regret the time I spent studying, either here or in Paris. I am only
telling you what I regard as necessary for one who wants to learn.
"Now, just as the way to learn to write is to write, so the way to learn to draw is to draw. I think it is best to begin with objects in the room, and with figures, -any objects, any figures,-it does not matter. But draw one over and over again; draw it from all sides; draw it big, and draw it little, and draw it again. Then go to something else, and then come back to it later the same day. Put them all away till the next day, and then find the mistakes in them. Here is something to remember, and something which ought to hearten many a discouraged student quite blue because of what really should have encouraged him: Do not be discouraged at the mistakes you can find in your own work, unless you find only a small number. The more mistakes you can detect, the better able you are to draw. Do not leave a thing until you are satisfied, after going back to it every day for weeks, that you can draw it no better. Then, if you come upon it the next year, and still see no room for improvement,-well, then there is still room for discouragement about yourself."
WHILE STUDYING ART, ONE SHOULD WORK INCESSANTLY
"In all this work, observe one rule: Never mind about drawing a thing as you may possibly have been told to do in the course of instruction. Draw it the way it looks to you. You will see it differently as you go back to it again and again. If you do not see it differently, you cannot see your own mistakes, and that is positive proof that for you fame is waiting at some other door, or, at any rate, that it will not come to you from art.
"How much ought one to work? All the time.
Draw all the time. Look all the time for something to draw. In the beginning, never pass anything without wresting from it its blessing, so to speak. Before you pass, be sure you can draw it; and the only way to be sure of that is to draw it several times. The objects in a room are a little simpler than figures, at first, but figures are the most interesting, and you must draw whatever interests you. If you would rather draw crawfish and bootjacks than men and women, draw crawfish and bootjacks. It really doesn't so much matter what you draw; the point is that you draw. But it is important to you that you develop a taste for drawing something special, and of that you need have no fear if you are a born artist. If you are not, as I said, it doesn't matter. "I always feel that any general talk about the way to succeed, in any art one selects, is rather unnecessary. I cannot repeat too often that I believe, if the student has it in him to draw, he will not need to be told to persevere, or to work hard, or to be careful of bad influences in his work, or to avoid imitation; he will do all these as naturally as he will hold a pencil. Holding a pencil, by the way, is another example of what I just spoke of. Do you remember that they used to tell us just how our fingers must hold the pen, and how the whole arm ought to move? 'What will they think of you,' they said, 'when you get out in the world, if you hold your pencil like that?' As a matter of fact, nobody gives the matter a thought, and hardly one of us holds a pencil that way. It is so with many of the formulae of an art. But isn't it curious that I never did get out of holding my pencil that prescribed way? I do happen to hold my pencil correctly."
"Maybe you held some of the other formulae the same way," I suggested, "and they are influencing you."
"Oh, well," said Mr. Gibson, "so far as the pencil goes, I fancy, perhaps, that I draw in spite of the way I hold it rather than because of it."
Then he made a small retraction of his remark. "There is one class of teachers," he said, "that I count,-pictures. Pictures are always at hand, and good work is the best teacher in the world. A pupil in New York ought to go to the art gallery often and often, and sit there and steep himself in what he sees.
Let him go to study definite pictures, too, but just to sit and absorb, as one sits in a garden, or before an old tower, or by the sea, without sketching, only just looking; that is the best instruction you can pay for on either continent."
The picture of the girl on the board was practically complete, with its high little chin and haughty mouth and fearless eyes, and it seemed so alive that getting to be a great illustrator appeared hopeless by the side of it.
"How long," I asked, "does it take, normally, to find out if you're a born artist or not ?"
Mr. Gibson laughed and took it the other way.
"A very long time," he said, regretfully, "and some of us even go down blind to our graves."
"May it not be inferred from your idea that the born illustrator has little need of a teacher, that he also has little need of a sojourn in the art atmosphere of Paris ?" I asked.
"It certainly may be," replied Mr. Gibson quickly. "A young man or woman can now learn just as much art in some of our great cities, like New York or Philadelphia, as abroad. Our art schools are as good as those of Paris. In fact, they are superior in some respects, and I am very sure that the average American art student is, in general, better off in the United States.