Book Review: AT PENCIL’S POINT by Harry Roth

Publisher: Stephen Day Press / The Murray Printing Company

Year: 1946

Pages: 210

Type: Hardcover


To overcome your fear of a piece of plain white paper.”

Was there a dust jacket?

Every image of this book, including every reprinting (the last being June of 2005), seems to indicate that it was never released with a dust jacket. Probably because it was meant to be used as a hands-on workbook and not simply as a coffee table volume that one would show off as a display piece. Being a textbook of sorts with its publishing in 1946 (yup, it’s old!) is a good reason for its utilitarian look.

I attended Sheridan College in the mid 80s for art instruction. So many of the things in this book I can attest to. They are valid and do work. But some of the things are strange and funny! Such as the suggestion to practice your landscape drawing by looking out your house window. That in itself isn’t the strange part. Mr. Roth suggests then taking a black marker with which you would draw a horizon line on the glass along with other reference and plotting marks! Did they have dry erase markers in 1946? But wait, it gets better: If you felt that the view out of your window wasn’t interesting enough, the author suggests that you go to your friend’s house and complete the exercise there. Yes, go to your soon-to-be ex-friend’s house… and draw with marker on his windows. I wonder how many friendships were destroyed by this book?

Most of the ideas and suggestions in this book are more sensible! One good rule is given at the beginning of the book. It states that ‘you may copy’ but ‘tracing will do you no good.’ This is so true! I can illustrate this for you with a personal story: My mother loved to paint. She struggled with perspective and enlarging the reference material she copied from, mostly images of wildlife. If she had stuck with it, she would have overcome this and eventually been able to recreate and re-envision what she was seeing. Instead, my father, with good intention, made her an enlarging machine. With this, she simply inserted the image to be copied, it projected it up onto a canvas, she traced the image, and painted it. Thanks to this method, she was never able to create original pieces of artwork throughout her many years as an artist. Yes, it may seem that ease of rendering is taking forever to achieve, but the time invested will be well worth it!

I would say that this is definitely a how-to book in the truest sense of the term. It is written in a straight forward instructional tone with tips and exercises to complete. Yes, you don’t just read this book, you use it to actually learn to draw, page by page! In fact, at the end of the book, it says: “If you have worked your way through up to this point – and I mean worked, not just skimmed through the pages – you should have acquired a basic knowledge of drawing…”

A brief bio of Mr. Roth was written in newspapers upon his passing. One such is as follows:

New York Times July 3, 1976, Page 19: Harry Roth, a book illustrator and muralist, died Wednesday in Benedictine Hospital, Kirigston, N. Y., after suffering a heart attack in his home in Woodstock, N.Y. He was 73 years old.

Mr. Roth, a native of Germany who came to this country in 1940, studied at the Art School of Munich. From 1951 to 1968 he was in Topeka, Kan., as an art consultant for the Menninger Clinic and as painter of murals for banks and other institutions. Mr. Roth was the author of “At Pencil’s Point,” which deals with the essentials of drawing.

Survivors include his wife, the, former Lillian Gelb; a daughter, Dolly Honig; a sister and two grandchildren.

To conclude, note the ultimate benefit that could come to you from reading At Pencil’s Point: “Not only art – life itself acquires new meaning for the person who has trained his eye while training his hand to draw.”

I would give this book a 3.5 out of 5 Stars. It does stay with pretty basic ideas that would be easy to follow for most beginners. But some of the exercises would be confusing for some. Also, even the book acknowledges that further instruction with a professional in-person teacher would be necessary to become any kind of an artist. And it also says “that most of my readers will not change the course of their lives because of this little book.” Meaning, that a reader would likely only use the information learned “for your own pleasure and that of your friends.” But that isn’t a bad thing!

If you like artwork, please check out some of my Commercial Artwork and Caricatures by clicking the link. You’ll be able to decide whether or not I’m qualified to critic Mr. Roth’s teaching techniques!

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