Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A 1937 Fashion Illustration Course

If you’re a thrift store devotee and habitual browser like I am, you know that some days you don’t find a single thing worth the price tag, other days you find a rare treasure, and occasionally you pick up something that looks interesting but you don’t realize how interesting until you get it home.

I found this book last year when I was digging through the shelves at one of the local Goodwill stores. The $4.99 price seemed steep for a paperback in poor condition: it’s stained, dogeared, the pages have darkened, and the back cover is missing. But flipping through it, I fell in love with the elegant line drawings.

Later, with the leisure to look at it more closely, I discovered it was published in 1937. There are very few photos, as it is essentially a technical guide to fashion illustration, meant for industry artists-in-training. The only illustrations are by the author.

One of the most interesting comments:
Drawing the Fashion Figure does not include reproductions of contemporary illustration because styles are so ephemeral that the book would be outdated within a few months after publication if it contained such material.
How true, since the business of fashion is based on changing it drastically every couple of months so that consumers must buy new things. And yet how funny is it that any art, history, or fashion student of today would snap this book up in an instant and treasure the drawings of 75-year-old fashions? Could Ruth Conerly have known that we would enjoy her drawings so many decades later?

She was an artist even as a child, but family problems led to extreme poverty and she worked hard to get an education and then to find work. Eventually she became a successful and well-known commercial artist for everything from fashion to war bonds.

The book is meant to be a text for a university course. “Laura Wilkinson, Columbia University” is handwritten on the cover. I wonder what Miss Wilkinson’s major was, and whether she had an interesting career after graduating! Although it’s only 83 pages, the booklet seems to contain all of the information you would need to draw figures. Of course, you’d also need some artistic talent to start with!

Tone, light, balance, proportion, and perspective are explained.

The necessary materials are listed.

The majority of the book is comprised of examples. The lovely, deceptively simple drawings range from elegant, to risqué, to sporty, with a bit of cute!
I see a sly humor at work here. The facial expressions are priceless.

While Conerly may have been mostly forgotten elsewhere, Texas historians are fond of her poverty-to-success story.
In addition, Conerly was painter, and one of her most famous paintings is of Alamo hero Colonel William B. Travis.

Here’s more info if you’re interested:

A few images from another Ruth Conerly book, Home Course in Fashion Art can be found here
Info about a biography of Ruth Conerly written by her daughter.
A short bio from the Texas State Historical Association.

Have you found any thrift store treasures recently?



  1. Wonderful line drawings and thanks for sharing the information on the artist also for the link.

    In UK we have charity shops - I'm an addict. Latest finds? Dressmaking patterns and a table lamp just the size I needed. Both bargains but the real treasure was Pete's wooden model sailing junk. We've been repairing the sails and fixing it up.

  2. I am a thrift/charity/op shop addict as well! Books are one of my favorite things to dig through; I would love to find a treasure like the one you shared here! I have been staying away recently, until my basement space is finished; too much stuff stored where it doesn't belong around here already. However, I've been cleaning the deck and patio areas for the summer and setting up out there, and I need some chairs and planters, so I hope to treat myself to a shopping afternoon soon.

  3. Oh, what a wonderful find! I love how it's timeless, in a way, but also very much an artifact of a particular period. A real treasure.


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