Learn to Draw with JON GNAGY

If you're of a certain age your first introduction to drawing might have been watching Jon Gnagy on tv. My mother watched it religiously. She also watched Jack LaLane. These two men visited our house on a regular basis. My dad seemed okay with it.

My mother purchased the Jon Gnagy Learn to Draw kit. I still have the book and the chalk. Somewhere I have a few drawings she did.

Jon Gnagy, known to millions as America's television art teacher, was born at Varner's Forge, an outpost settlement near Pretty Prairie Kansas in 1907. The pioneer environment of his first seven years at the Forge and family farm reflect a strong influence in his work as an artist. Son of Hungarian-Swiss Mennonites, Jon early developed inventive skills common to rural craftsmen. At the age of eleven he began drawing and painting without instruction, winning sweepstake prizes at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson when he was thirteen years old. Gaining attention each year at the State Fair as the self-taught "blacksmith" of art, his vigorous compositions of the American Scene brought him an offer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. When he was seventeen he accepted the position of art director with an industrial public relations organization in the Oil Capital, where he produced posters for the International Petroleum Exposition. (SOURCE: Jon Gnagy)
The above is from a web site his daughter runs. There you'll find links to the art kits that are still sold under Gnagy's name. You'll also be able to watch full 10 minute broadcast lessons.

And the following is a portion from a piece that appeared in Reminisce Magazine November 22, 1997. To read the complete article click here.
Did You "Learn to Draw" With Jon Gnagy?

Television pioneer convinced a generation of viewers that anyone could be an artist

by Bill Einhorn,
Fairfield, Connecticut

If you watched television during the 1940s, '50s or '60s, you likely recall Jon Gnagy, the engaging art teacher who assured folks that anyone could draw.

"Ball....cube.....cylinder....cone," Jon would say at the beginning of his 15-minute program, Learn to Draw. "By using these four shapes, I can draw any picture I want. And so can you!"

Sincerity and quiet confidence flowed from Jon, reflecting a humble Mennonite upbringing in Pretty Prairie, Kansas. His trim Vandyke beard, smile and plaid shirt were his trademarks.

I produced Jon's TV show from 1950 to '55. Later, through syndication, it was viewed by millions of folks across the U.S. and Canada well into the 1960s. While many remember this selftaught artist's Saturday-morning TV show, they may not recall that he was a television star before Lucille Ball, Milton Berle or Arthur Godfrey. In fact, Jon was the first act on the first commercial television show ever, broadcast May 14,1946. On that day, NBC's Studio H in New York City was filled with excited anticipation. The tiny studio, up until then used for radio, was ablaze with whitehot lights and jammed with technicians. (SOURCE: Allan M. McCollum)
And from an article called Each and Everyone of You by Susan Morgan:
On the first episode, Jon Gnagy, sporting a goatee, wore an artist's smock and beret. He led the viewing audience through his step-by-step method to make a drawing of an old oak tree. His crayon melted under the studio lights, his chalk squeaked, but in seven minutes the lesson and the picture were completed. "You were great! Your show is pure television!" exclaimed the production manager.
Jon Gnagy introduced to American families the idea of being an artist, an idea that was not couched in terms of privilege or preciousness. All of his references were incorporated subtly, informing his teaching method rather than exalting the past. He was sharing some first hand knowledge at a time when television viewing still had a sense of intimacy and concentration. To go along with his television show, Jon Gnagy produced a kit of art supplies and a book of drawing lessons. The writing style is direct, outlining his plan. The chapter titles are terrible puns, the sort of jokes one forgives a favorite uncle for making (While There is Still Life There is Hope, How To Get A Head By Going in Circles). At the end of the book, he wrote "The plan I have outlined in this book will be invaluable to you. It will release the creative drive in you and set you free. . ." That was Jon Gnagy's plan. A lot of people growing up in the fifties watching television got the idea. (SOURCE: Real Life Magazine)

Gnagy took some of the mystery out of art. Yes, it was sort of a draw-by-the-numbers, but it opened a world to people who believed art was something only "artists" did. My mother enjoyed his show and I think it was part of what made me become an artist. Art was something real, not something that hung in museums. And for a quiet shy child it was a world I could visit on my own, create on my own.

I think of Jon Gnagy's show as a bit like Basic Studies the first year in art college. First you learn the basics and then you use that to take flight.

Now, from the book, you can learn to draw a train. Don't give me the old "I can't even draw a straight line" business. That's a crock. Nobody can draw a straight line without a ruler. Oh, someone might be able to do a few inches, but eventually the line will waver.

Click on any image to see it larger.

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Published by Arthur Brown & Bro., Inc. ©1960 by Jon Gnagy

Gnagy shows you the possibilities and opens your eyes to seeing the world in shapes which is the first step towards drawing; seeing things differently.

Hello homeschoolers. I know you're out there.


  1. OMG...I had this!!..over 50 years ago!! I got it for Christmas!!! Sadly...I still can't draw!
    I loved this and remember his show well!!! I have the box somewhere.but the rest is long gone! What a happy memory!! thanks so much!!

  2. We didn't have a TV when I was growing up, so I didn't get to see him or his program. I did however, HAVE THE BOOK. My mom was forever bring me home goodies like this to 'help me' be like Charlie Russell, whom she thought of as the greatest artist since sliced bread. There were lots of helpful hints in that book.

  3. Oh, this is totally different. There's actually a mountain of good advice on the practical side. I probably would have killed for a book like this as a kid but I certainly had ALL the How to draw animals, faces, dogs, cartoons books. We had Rolf Harris painting live on a black and white televsion. I thought he was magic. Wasn't crazy about his didgereedoo imitations.

  4. I always wished I could draw but just didn't have the knack. My son was good at it from the time he was a little fellow. Good perspective. He did funny, far out people like a young boy would do. I have some really funny Christmas cards he made in high school.

  5. That's nice you kept the drawings. I have one drawing from when I was a child. And all the Christmas cards, along with most family photos, were ruined/destroyed when water heater broke.

  6. I never found those kind of books much use for learning to draw. But funnily enough I just drew a bird tonight (for a craft challenge) using a similar kind of technique. I got the lesson from a website!

  7. Thanks for sharing! I used to watch Jack Lalane with my grandmother, and I swear I've seen Gnagy's show as well - maybe on re-run in the 70's? I was born in '66, so it would have been in the early 70's. The Oak Tree lesson looks so familiar.

  8. My wife Polly is Jon Gnagy's daughter, and we have maintained the webpage on his life and work since 1996. We very much appreciated your tribute to him on your webpage/blog, and I hope you don't mind if I posted a link to it.

    I have been updating the Jon Gnagy page. The original site was done in early HTML, and it is pretty basic. I guess it was when someone wrote, "stupidest and ugliest webpage ever," that I decided it was time to start over!

    Using iWeb and some things I've learned over the years, we now have a new site but with the same address. It is also posted at www.jongnagyart.com.

    One of the pages lists a number of blogs, including yours.

    I assume that it's okay to post your link. Thanks for your good words about Jon.

    Thaddeus Seymour
    Winter Park, FL

  9. Thaddeus,

    I'm thrilled you found the post. I remember before I posted it I trying to contact the family to let them know I was doing this. Hopefully you'll be happy to know that the post has received a lot of visits, specifically from home schoolers. So I think there's a market out there just waiting to learn to draw with Jon Gnagy. Target the home schoolers and Jon could be helping a lot of kids learn to draw.

    Thanks for contacting me. If you wish to contact me in the future I've put my email address in my profile information, at least for now. If I start getting nonsense mail I'll have to take it down again.