American Artist Appreciation Month

Do you want to be a great American artist? Celebrate Artist Appreciation Month by learning from notable American illustrators and teachers.

Eric Sloane (1905–1985) is a perennial favorite. His illustrations and text in A Reverence for Wood minutely examine and appreciate the wood-butcher’s art and its place in American history. Sloane loved New England and spent most of his adult life in Connecticut, and a museum in Kent preserves his legacy. Sloane could tell when a building was constructed by the type of nail that was used and by the angle of the saw marks on a wooden beam.

“I think I have almost all of the Eric Sloane books and they opened a world not found anywhere else,” says one reader. Another gives them as gifts, passing on the love of a great chronicler of a fast-disappearing America. A reader who works as a ranger in an 18th century park depends on Sloane’s books for accuracy about period costuming and weaponry.

Much of Sloane’s instruction is in his work, including detailed weather observation. And the challenge of drawing weather gets its own book and includes great advice like, “Although clouds appear motionless, they are really slow-motion explosions.”

Switching here to another natural phenomenon: dinosaurs! Everyone knows that dinosaurs were terrifying! They ripped one another to pieces with their terrible teeth and they shook the earth with a terrible roar! Or not. It might have been more of a squawk.

Who knows? Anyway, there are alternatives to Jurassic Park. Have you ever been to Dinotopia? Artist and illustrator James Gurney (1958) has given us this mystical land, and Dover has published a 20th anniversary edition. It includes behind-the-scenes studies and maquettes. The book has great information for artists or people who are simply curious about what goes into creating a sumptuous land. Gurney is a passionate teacher. You can visit his web site, which links to instructional videos. His blog, Gurney Journey, contains a wealth of references, artistic challenges and opinion

Another great art instructor was George B. Bridgman (1865–1943). His nimble lines continue to inspire students just as did in the classroom when taught at the Art Students League of New York, where he taught artists Will Eisner and Norman Rockwell.

Drawing the human form can be intimidating. Pick any point on the body and then consider the intricate structure underneath — tendons, bones, muscles . . . And how to catch the shifts of facial expression or the contortion of a woman looking over her shoulder?

Bridgman not only showed students how to draw, but explained in great detail within the text why a particular point of anatomy looks the way it does. “The eye,” he said in Heads, Features and Faces, “is slightly projected in front, due to the cornea which fits over the iris, making a part of a small sphere laid over a larger one.” Short of an anatomy class — which most of us can’t or won’t attend — where else can you get that kind of detailed discussion of the shapes and components needed to create believable features?