Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Ed Vebell: A Commitment to Life as a Professional Artist

Thanks to his involvement with the "Three Investigators" young reader book series (see yesterday's post) there is actually more biographical information available online about Ed Vebell than many other worthy mid-20th century illustrators. This week's posts, however, will draw mainly on material first published in American Artist magazine in February 1962. ~ Leif

Ed Vebell was born in Chicago in 1921 in a Lithuanian-Polish neighbourhood.


Drawing was a popular activity among his group of childhood friends - he remembers that he and many friends began drawing at age 5 or 6 and could draw well - though Vebell was the only one committed to a career in art.


How's this for commitment: as a freshman in high school Ed Vebell arranged to attend his regular classes from 7 a.m. 'til noon. Then, each day from noon 'til midnight, Vebell took additional art courses at the Professional Art School and the Harrison Art School in Chicago. He maintained this daily 17-hour regimen throughout his high school years.


E.W. Ball, Vebell's task master of an instructor, set the tone for the aspiring young artist's education: he insisted that students have a solid foundation in drawing fundamentals and complete understanding of the figure, including anatomy learned while sketching at cadaver dissections. Life models in Ball's class posed only briefly - the students then drew from memory - the models returning after the drawing so accuracy could be checked.


No erasers were allowed - bad drawings had to be redrawn from scratch. Constant practice was insisted upon.


As a result, Vebell said, he developed the ability "to analyze a subject and grasp its essentials at a glance and draw it later from memory." Later, when Vebell was working as a courtroom illustrator for Stars & Stripes at the Nuremberg war trials, E.W. Ball's training served him well. Looking through field glasses from the spectator's gallery, Vebell could draw the defendants directly in fountain pen and used only "a moistened thumb for the middle tones."


Being able to draw from memory "has inestimable value," said Vebell.


After high school, Vebell applied for several scholarship. He was accepted for two at the American Academy of Art and a third at the Commercial Art Institute. He studied at one in the morning, a second in the afternoon and the third at night. For the aspiring young illustrator, his relentless commitment to learning was about to bear fruit. At age 19 Vebell was offered a staff position at the Nugent-Graham Art Studios in Chicago.


Ed Vebell was on his way.

* Continued tomorrow

* Here's something cool: a group from the Society of Illustrators recently visited Ed Vebell at his home! Click here to take a look.


  1. Thanks Leif, for your post about a great guy! Ed and I became friends back when he was a kid of 70, and still deadly on the fencing strip (he an epee man, and I, foil). One of the finest draughtsmen of the generation that gave illustration its second Golden Age, your recognition of Ed Vebell was wonderful to read.

  2. Inspiring guy!
    As are you, bringing so many artists to our attention.

  3. Fine draftsmanship...I like it lots! Thanks for bringing this artists work to my attention. ;-)