His series of "Learn to Draw" books is still in print today - and popular as ever!
Ed Emberley books on Amazon, and I was instantly transported back to my childhood, spending hour after hour hunched over a stack of paper on the small desk in my bedroom, following the instructions to make one after another of Ed Emberley's creations.
Emberley's drawing books had their biggest surge in popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s. His books took you step by step through the process of drawing a tiny, simple little figure. Most of the drawings featured just a few easy shapes. You might start with an oval, add a few squggles and a triangle, and end up with a pretty great dragon. The possibilities were endless, and myriad.
It was heady stuff, to a little kid - and to the adult that I am now. I recognize that Emberley simply took a basic idea of art principles and ran with it: everything in the world can be broken down to a few simple shapes. Two ovals and two lines, and you've got a coffee cup. Two more ovals, and that cup has a handle.
The process of adding shape upon shape to create a form is nothing new. But there's something truly fantastic in the appeal of Emberley's books. For one thing, they didn't mess around with perspective. Everything has an artistic aesthetic which is wonderfully, cheerfully 1950s in nature. Bold colors, adorable forms… the look of Emberley's books hasn't aged a bit, it's only become more wonderfully retro.
In hindsight, there was no objective reason to draw all of Emberley's creations tiny. But you felt you had to. Clearly from a perspective of book design, the drawings had to be small just to fit them all in there. But it had the feeling of creating and populating an entire, miniature world. You could do a tiny intricate fantasy world (complete with knights and dragons and sword-wielding maidens [at least in MY fantasy world, the maidens wielded swords!]), or an industrial world with war ships and airplanes and robot cranes. Monsters! Animals! Household appliances! It felt infinite and powerful.
And such is the lasting legacy of Emberley's popular "learn to draw" series of books: they didn't just teach you how to draw specific things. They taught you how to draw anything you wanted. After a while, it was pretty obvious how it worked. I know that spark of understanding is part of what led me to become a life-long artist, and I'm sure I'm not the only one!