One day last Spring, as my friend Caleb Neelon and I walked over the Mass Ave bridge in Boston, he told me about a show he was starting to piece together that would pay tribute to the children's drawing book illustrator, Ed Emberley. I loved it. As someone who was heavily influenced by Ed Emberley books as a child, it seemed like such a great homage and a brilliant idea. Those books were pivotal in my learning to draw and made it seem so accessible. Plus, who doesn't like to wax nostalgic about drawing as a child? It seemed like such a no brainer, and especially if Caleb was behind it. An artist and muralist, who spends a lot of his time encouraging inner city kids to draw, Caleb seemed like the obvious person to bring this idea to light.
It seemed obvious how quickly Ed Emberley & Friends came together over the past year. Opening this coming weekend, the show will feature Ed Emberley's original mock-ups, as well as on-site panels and work from six artists who were influenced by Ed Emberley books as children; Raul Gonzalez, Seonna Hong, Matt Leines, Christopher Kline, Saelee Oh and Ben Woodward. Each of the panels will be donated to various Children's Hospitals around the U.S. Amazing.
Caleb sat down and answered a few questions about his inspiration behind the show, getting to work with Ed himself and how such a humble and prolific illustrator helped shape his career. - meighanEd Emberley & Friends opens Saturday July 17, 7-10 pm at Scion Installation, LA 3521 Helms Ave (at National) Culver City, CA 90232. On view until August 7.
For those who didn't grow up with Ed Emberley books, can you give us a little background on him, his drawings and the books.
Ed Emberley is an author and illustrator best known for his step-by-step drawing book series: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Animals, Ed Emberley’s Make a World, Ed Emberley’s Big Green Drawing book, Ed Emberley’s Big Purple Drawing Book, and so on – most of these came out in the 1970s and early 1980s. In the drawing books, he breaks down drawing into a very simple language of squares, triangles, squiggles, dots, and lines. And these funny characters he taught – lions, faces, space creatures, etc – are so pervasive that even if you didn’t learn directly from his books as a kid, the kid at the next desk over might have – and they showed you how too.
Something one hears again and again about Ed – this is a quote from my friend Anne, but I’ve heard it a lot in putting this show together is that “Ed Emberley made drawing possible for those like me who have no sense of how to create anything but a few simple shapes!”
Tell us about your earliest memory using/reading an Ed Emberley book.
His Big Green Drawing Book is very near and dear to my heart. I still have my old drawings of Zorts and Wooflers (kinds of space creatures) to prove it!
Is there a certain animal you drew as a child (and perhaps in adulthood) that Ed Emberley books helped shape for you?
Well, my Lilman character, which I even ended up publishing a children’s book about, grew out of an Ed Emberley beastie. The funny thing was, I didn’t realize it until I was in my 30s. I never had his Big Purple Drawing Book as a kid – I had looked over another boy’s shoulder as he had the book, drawn one of Ed’s characters, then after that I mutated it along until it was something my own.
Tell us about the show, Ed Emberley & Friends.
Well, enough time has passed that some of the kids who grew up on Ed Emberley books are now accomplished artists in their own right. So I wanted to put together something that showed this generational connection. And along the way I made the connect with Ed and his wife Barbara. Turns out Ed and I are even from the same old neighborhood in Cambridge.
So the show puts Ed together with artists Saelee Oh, Matt Leines, Raul Gonzalez, Seonna Hong, Chris Kline and Ben Woodward. They’re all showing a bit of their artwork, but also, each one of them is painting a six foot by six foot panel that is a happy mash-up of their style with Ed characters and flavor. These big pieces are gonna be donated for display in children’s hospitals in various U.S. cities.
And then there is Ed himself! He is showing the original mock-ups for
several of his books, and they are so so rad….. He’s also done a small
amount of drawings for sale (also to benefit children’s hospital art
programs). They are going fast!
What was his reaction when you first contacted him about putting together a show based on his work?
Curious to see what this would look like, I think.
I know you've spent time with Ed leading up to the show. Can you tell us what that was like?
Ed and Barbara live in a million year old house on Boston’s North
Shore, it’s beautiful. Old wood beams and everything. He has a great
little studio upstairs with lots of his old stuff. And spending time
with him has of course been a treat. It’s inspiring to see someone
who has made a life out of encouraging millions of kids to draw.
Is he still drawing today?
Yes, and still is making books. They look different from the Drawing
Book series that I grew up on, but they are no doubt influencing new
generations of kids.
Each artist that you asked to be in the show has a pretty distinct style, can you briefly tell us what each artist will bring to the show?
Everyone makes art that I love, that’s what! I wanted to bring
together a group that would have fun together – everyone is painting a
big fun happy panel on-site in the week leading up to it, and it’s Ed
Emberley, so it’s art camp!
You are an artist that frequently works with children in Boston, how has Ed Emberley's work shaped your interactions with kids?
The spirit of Ed’s work is that it doesn’t take ‘I can’t draw’ as an
answer. No. Really. You can. Try it again. Then try it again.
And have fun doing it.
Do kids nowadays now who Ed Emberley is?
Not in the way they know Elmo, but yes.
What do you hope people will take away from the Ed Emberley & Friends Show?
I want people to go home and lie on the floor and eat cereal and draw!