Austin Briggs was born in Humboldt, Minnesota, but he has no nostalgic feelings about the place. He has no memory of it, for he was born in a railway car on a siding, while his father was installing telegraphic instruments in the local station. After the death of his father he lived with his grandparents, first in Marion, Michigan, and then Detroit.
He began to draw at an early age and in high school his work attracted so much attention that he was awarded a scholarship to the Wicker art School. He attended afternoon and evening classes but his interest flagged and he gave it up. He had concluded that Wicker didn't know anything; later, when he was older and wiser, he realized that he had missed some excellent instruction.
Briggs spent one semester at the City College of Detroit after his graduation from high school, but he was still looking for an opportunity to use his drawing ability. His chance came when an illustrator who specialized in automobile pictures took him on as an assistant. Briggs was only sixteen then, but his ability to draw the human figure was considerable, and it became his task to draw in the pretty girls and prosperous men, in a slightly reduced scale, so as to enhance the proportions of the sleek, shiny cars. It was good traing, and thirty-five dollars a week was an excellent salary for a youngster, but he became rebellious when he learned that his employer was receiving a thousand dollars a drawing. He threw up his job, became a free lance and did very well.
But he was dissatisfied with advertising routine and anxious to do story illustration. His first opportunity came in 1927 when he began working for the Dearborn Independent. Later in the year he sent some photostats of his Dearborn Independent drawings to Collier's. He received an encouraging note from the art editor, so he packed up and moved to new york. he first enrolled in the Art Students League and then called upon Collier's. The editor who had encouraged him was leaving but his successor gave Briggs his first big magazine assignment.
For about three years Briggs worked busily. He was attending classes at the Art Students League and studying under the fine draftsman George Bridgman and with Jack Walter Duncan. He also became acquainted with Wallace Morgan. And meanwhile he was drawing illustrations for Collier's, McClure's, Pictorial Review and newspaper advertisements for Cosmopolitan. All these illustrations were in pen and ink, for at the time, Briggs had done little painting in color. He was beginning to be regarded as an important young illustrator when the depression came and Briggs' work disappeared from the magazines.
Excerpted from the October 1950 issue of American Artist magazine, written by Henry C. Pitz
* My Austin Briggs Flickr set.