Make a world the Ed Emberley way

You ever buy something not really knowing why or when you will use it, but you buy it just because it’s too great to leave behind?

That would explain this purchase:

Ed Emberley's "Make a World"

I found this a few years back at the Multnomah County Library’s annual used book sale.  I suppose I loved it because it reminded me of my childhood. Ed Emberley’s books were hot in the 70s when I was a kid.

But it was more than that. I’ve always longed to be able to draw things, and I’ve never known how. The promise of this book is that if you can draw simple lines and shapes, you can draw the whole world.

Really, I'm not making that up.

Really, I’m not making that up.

But like so many things that speak to some long-buried creative longing, I bought this book and put it on the shelf and forgot about it. In fact, it wasn’t until I was purging my books right after the new year that I rediscovered it. This weekend, thinking about how to create this year’s Valentine card for Cane, I brought it out again.

Wouldn’t you know it, Emberley had just what I needed:  A scooter. And mountains and trees. Which is how I was able to create this:

Emberley exercise #1

I began with the idea that whatever I created, it was all just an exercise. I ended up with a page full of exercises, some taken directly from Emberely, and others that I came up with as I gave myself permission to branch off from his:

emberley exercise

To draw the scooter I needed to look at a photo. I did a Google image search for “scooter back view” and found several that helped me. The Emberley exercises helped me see the scooter as a set of shapes; now I’m seeing everything I look at that way.

Will I use any of this directly in my Valentine? I don’t know. What I do know is that I learned some lessons from this exercise that I will carry into whatever the Valentine becomes–and into other creative projects:

1. Most complex things can be broken down into simple component parts.

2. Hard things can become easy when we’re able to break them down into small, simple parts.

3. It helps to think in layers–to ask, What needs to come first?

4. Small tasks (drawing only a scooter) are good for learning brand-new skills. You get to start over (and over and over) right away.

5. Working on only one small part at a time is good for developing a design. You get to start over (and over and over) right away.

6. Starting over (and over and over) frequently allows you to see progress quickly, so that you don’t get discouraged.

7. A total fail needs to be kept in proper perspective. I had only one total fail in 8 exercises. That’s an 88% success rate!

Just as important as learning some things about creative process, I also had a ton of fun. There’s just something about a handful of colorful markers that makes me feel good.


No better way to spend a sunny Sunday twilight than sitting at the kitchen table with some paper, some markers, a cup of tea, and my favorite guy.

Kitchen workspace

(Didn’t want to take time away from the moment to get out the real camera.)


How about you?

Any other Emberley fans out there? Any other good resources for learning how to draw? Great ideas for how I can turn this into my Valentine?  Just want to chat a bit, share an exercise/experience of your own? I always love hearing from others.

11 thoughts on “Make a world the Ed Emberley way

  1. Marian says:

    I enjoy books that show things “deconstructed” as well. Both my boys have been big on doodling, and my youngest (at least) showed a great improvement in his skills (in other words, his happiness with his drawings) after he began reading Calvin and Hobbes. He’d look at the drawings very carefully and see how Watterson was able to convey an incredible range of emotion with the single stroke of his pen, which I think is simply genius!

    I’ve made the kids’ birthday cards ever since their first birthdays, and while I don’t claim to be much of an artist when it comes to drawing pictures, I do have an especial love for lettering. I’ve found the American Girl Letter Art books to be very useful as a springboard for ideas, and have gotten a lot of oohs and aahs from my kids over the lettering I’ve been able to produce for them 🙂
    Marian recently posted…Processed Food is a Slippery SlopeMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I’ll have to check that one out–thanks for pointing me to it. I was surprised at how much a few simple lines do with the Emberley designs. I guess it’s like most things: less is more.

  2. Lucille says:

    Oh yes! This book took me RIGHT back to my childhood. I used to take that book (and many of his others) out of the library constantly. Thanks for the throwback! 🙂

    • Rita says:

      You’re very welcome! I never did check those books out when I was a kid, but I remember them from school. Wish I had way back then. I’d probably have had more fun with drawing all the years since.

  3. Sarah says:

    Rita I am SO happy to see you blogging again! I’ve really missed your voice. Much as I loved your previous blog, I love this looser, freer place for you to play too. I think the list of principles you’ve come up with applies not only to other creative pursuits but to learning, well, anything. I feel like I should print out your list and tack it up above my desk!
    Sarah recently posted…Thoughts on month one of dressing like a birch forestMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Sarah! I’m definitely still figuring out what this space will be, but it feels good to be sharing things and thinking out loud once again. I like the smaller audience of people I already “know.” Like you. 🙂

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