The Multifaceted Life and Books of Arthur Guptill

by Weston D. Gardner M.D. ©1995

This article appears in the 1995 Journal of Natural Science Illustration (Vol. 2, No. 2)

All of us know of the American Artist's Magazine, its American Artist's Book Club and their publisher, Watson-Guptill Publications (ownership now is in Billboard Publications). This article is about Arthur L. Guptill, co-founder, co-editor and co-manager of these businesses in art, with his long time friend, Ernest Watson.Together they undertook many art enterprises under the Watson-Guptill umbrella.


The word I have used goes back into early Victorian history: a person with multiple interests and vocations who pursues all of them vigorously at the same time. Guptill's major occupations were artist, architect, decorator, teacher and finally author with the Watson-Guptill firm thrown in between. At all of these things he was good; to them all he brought a strong artistic sense; and in them gained an enviable reputation for his work.

He was born in 1892 and in due time became a student of art and architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York, continuing his graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At one of these institutions he became certified in interior decoration. As a partner (from 1916) in the architectural firm of Bearse and Guptill in New York, he found that he needed to be combined architect, artist and interior architectural designer — valuable self training in the period from 1919 to 1925. He moved freely from the design of an architectural structure to the interior design of the building and then to its interior decoration. By the1930's structure had become separated from decoration and he then concentrated on architectural design and pen, pencil and water color drawings which delineated the future structure's finished appearance.

At various times from 1916 to 1937, Guptill had free-lance periods when he worked in architectural design, as a free-lance artist and indesign art, all of which enriched his back ground for his future work in teaching and writing.These might have been enough vocations for anyone person except for the call of the Pratt Institute and Brooklyn Museum. He was lured there to teach the same subjects in which he had been so successful vocationally. He had the ability to teach in a lucid, expository style, and attracted a wide variety of students, from those in professional architecture to those in academic art curricula, as well as those who wished to learn to draw and paint for their own pleasure.No matter whom he taught he always started with basic principles, techniques, and the tools to help them create their desired results. Ernest Watson, famed artist and engraver who also was teaching at the Pratt Institute, said of his friend Guptill, "The measure of his success as a teacher was that, semester after semester, there was never an empty seat in his classes."


Arthur Guptill had another talent. He could write! He could write in an easy, interesting style that was devoid of artistic jargon used by all too many art school professors. Verbal-visual correlation came naturally to him. He organized his pages so that his beautiful illustrations amplified his text, making his books as interesting as his lectures. Over the years, into his retirement,art publishers would seek to capture the next manuscript that he was working on. These next books contained no repetition. New Guptill books were always on different subjects in art; their popularity demanded multiple editions.

I first encountered a Guptill book in 1959, about the time he died. I was amazed at the list of his books in the introduction.

I vowed to have them all, not realizing how difficult that would prove to be. There were 10titles and many subsequent editions, but many owners held on to them so that few appeared in secondhand book stores. You will see shortly what secondary publishers did to these beautiful books in their efforts to cut the rising costs of production.

I accomplished my goal of having them all thanks especially to the treasure hunting of a grand old man, Mr. E. Weyhe, of the book store bearing his name, and specializing in Art andArchitecture, on Lexington Avenue in New YorkCity. Mr. Weyhe and I would sit on dusty old wooden boxes, some labeled from foreign lands,and drink tea while talking books in his “second back room” where customers were rarely invited. A respect grew between us that must have fired a desire to help the professor from Milwaukee find those books. There are other ways to hunt for old, classic art technique books,but I found this to be the best path to success, for six of the ten books came from this dealer. They have given me much pleasure and learning. In Guptill I found the teacher I needed and could admire. From these beautiful books I was able to learn the principles that art school attendees labor to acquire. Guptill books, as described below, are still available from publishers, notably Watson-Guptill and Van Nostrand Reinhold,who acquired their copyrights. The later books are sometimes abstracted, changed in size, or reduced in illustrations but they are still Guptill books. They are all worth having.

Publisher data and descriptions of eachArthur Guptill book follow in the chronological order of appearance of publication.

1. Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, ©1922, ThePencil Points Press, Inc., N.Y.

This press published a magazine, “PencilPoints”, on subjects of interest to architects.Magazine articles were combined in a series known as the Pencil Points Library. This first Guptill book was formed from monthly chapters in “Pencil Points” that appeared from August1920 to December 1921, and this first Guptill book was published in 1922. This was the first“How To Do It” venture in the art and architecture field. It was tremendously successful with architects who tended to carry their concepts much farther in pencil than artists who treated the pencil as a preliminary tool in the1920’s. But artists needing help in executing buildings and their details, as well as landscapes,soon flocked to this book also. It set an artistic and publishing standard, established Arthur Guptill as an author from whom more was awaited, and led to his “Step-by-Step” titles.

2. Pencil Drawing: Step-by-Step, ©1949,Reinhold Publishing Corporation, N.Y.: ©1959, 2nd edition with New Material, Reinhold. (Out of chronological order due to subject)

In this expansion of the 1922 book Guptill inaugurated his “Step-by-Step” style in which the instruction is segmented and progressive.The 1959 format is smaller but the illustrations of the 1949 edition are retained though somewhat reduced to fit the format of the book. All text from Sketching and Rendering in Pencil is retained although printed smaller. As noted in the title, Guptill added new illustrations to the1959 edition – a close call because this was the year of his death.

3. Drawing with Pen and Ink, ©1928, The PencilPoints Press, N.Y.

This is the big Guptill production. It is his classic on pen and ink illustrations and how to make them. The unanticipated success ofSketching and Rendering in Pencil encouragedPencil Points Press to ask Arthur Guptill to undertake a similar book on ink drawing. His own ink drawings in this book are superb and his inclusion of the works of others makes it an atlas to study at length. Equally valuable are his margin vignettes found early in the book to illustrate the use of various pens and their uses to render structures and nature.

Guptill did not have Rapidographs nor Rotrings – 1928 was far before their invention. But if they had existed then, this progressive artist would have seized upon them. His tools were steel pens and he favored the Spencer Crow Quill and Gillott pens numbers 290, 303, lithographic and sometimes the mapping pen. He did not have the exasperations of the modern technical pen. He just wiped his nib, dipped into the ink,and moved on.

Arthur Guptill made repeated references to another “ink man” whom he admired and respected above all others. In his text he would refer to his technique and was proud to have several examples of his work to display. This man was Joseph Pennell, a famed Victorian ink artist and engraver, who worked both in Philadelphia and London. He had published a large format book entitled Ink Drawing and InkDraughtsmen, containing work by some of the leading pioneers in this medium, which Guptill counseled his readers to find. One time I mentioned this to Mr. Weyhe as we sat in that“second back room”. He just shook his head and said, “And for what other unobtainable treasure do you seek? I’ve been pleased to aid you in your search for the improbable, but now you’re after the impossible!” About a year later a letter with his spidery handwriting came, which said,“Pennell is resurrected and is on his way to you.”The book in its large format is bound in board and paper already yellowing. Many of the illustrations are mounted separately or are tipped in behind tissue for removal for framing.What an inspiration it is to have on the bookshelf with all the Guptills!

4. Freehand Drawing Self-Taught – With Emphasis on the Techniques of Different Media, ©1933, Harper and Brothers, 6th edition.

This is Guptill's resolution of the problem of there being no one book in the early 1930’s which covered the principles and techniques in the various media, which bothered him in his own teaching. It was also the subject of complaint by other teachers and their students.The book was a sensational success. It garnered a market of persons who wanted to learn to draw for their own sake as well as those who were taking formal training in an art school.

5. Color in Sketching and Rendering, ©1935, Reinhold Publishing Co., N.Y.

This is as detailed as Sketching and Rendering in Pencil or Drawing with Pen and Ink. Together they make a trilogy of art instruction with a focus on techniques. Nor has Guptill in this third book of the trilogy wandered from his explicit explanations of the first two.

This book is in two large parts. The first part in an authoritative treatment of color: its theory,pigments and their use in color mixing and painting. The second part is a detailed account of architectural rendering in color; not surprising in that in 1935 Guptill was still writing and making color illustrations primarily for architects. For most of us Guptill's book, WaterColor Painting – Step-by-Step (see book #7) would be more rewarding.

6. Oil Painting – Step-by-Step, ©’s1953 / 1958 /1965, Watson-Guptill Publications. Each of the three editions have 2nd printings.

The number of editions and printings indicates another very popular book. Many of the pigments and varnishes, etc., have been superseded now, and acrylics have become more dominant. However, this is a book full of Guptill's teaching and technique suggestions. It is worth an attempt to find a copy if oil is your thing.

7. Water Color Painting – Step-by-Step, ©1957 and ©1967, Watson-Guptill Publications.

There is a division in responsibility between the 1957 first edition which was totally Guptill's book, and the 1967 book which was published after Guptill's death. The latter is mostly the work of Editor Susan Meyer of Watson-Guptill.In the 1957 edition Arthur Guptill had largely reworked text and layout organization on watercolor from Part I of his previous book, Color inSketching and Rendering.

In the 1967 edition Meyer, a skillful editor who, without the author's knowledge or intent,worked to interpolate those parts of Color inSketching and Rendering which Guptill had not transferred to the first edition of this book. She also revised material from the 1957 first edition to use in this book. In so doing she brought Guptill's work, which had been long out of print, back into the mainstream. The composite nature of the 1967 edition is hardly noticeable to the first time reader. This would be a valuable book to have. You might be so lucky as to fall upon it.

8. Drawing With Pen and Ink, ©1968 (original edition 1928) Edited by Henry C. Pitz, Van Nostrand Reinhold, Litton Education Publishing,Inc.

Don't be fooled! Van Nostrand Reinhold should be ashamed of what they have published here by respected ink artist, Henry Pitz. According to the publisher and the editor they lifted the best (to them) of Guptill's 1928 original.They have dropped sections that are covered in other books, consolidated other chapters, and ruthlessly eliminated illustrations that Guptill collected from contemporaries for their aptness to sections of text or that he specially drew himself for the classic 1928 book.

The publisher and editor stated that their idea was to replace many of the original drawings with more contemporary architectural drawings.It appears that the reason was to save space and make a smaller, thinner volume to reduce the price of the book.

Henry Pitz was a contemporary and friend of Arthur Guptill. He must have been recruited todo the job of drastic changes because he was one of the artistic profession's premier ink artists and willing to take on the task demanded of him.Faced with this situation he should have walked out in memory of his old friend. This may still be in print. If this book is the only way to have some version of Guptill’s Ink Drawing, look it over carefully to see if it meets your needs and expectations.

9. Rendering in Pen and Ink, Edited by Susan Meyer, ©1976, Watson-Guptill Publications.

Susan Meyer here resisted the changes she made when creating the following book (#10). I must say at the outset that she has done justice to the 1928 Drawing with Pen and Ink. If printing of that original book were to be continued something major had to be done because the1928 plates had become so worn down from the many copies already printed that to run anymore through the press would have compromised typographical quality. Thanks to Susan Meyer’s expert work present day artists can enjoy and profit from the spirit, presentation of material and the techniques of Arthur Guptill.

10. Rendering in Pencil, Edited by Susan Meyer, ©1977, Watson-Guptill Publications, Division of Billboard Publications, Inc.

Here Susan Meyer has created a revision of two books on pencil drawing, mainly Sketching and Rendering in Pencil and Pencil Drawing:Step-by-Step. She says, in a publisher’s note in the book's introduction, that since the two books were dissimilar she was able to merge the two.The original readerships may have been dissimilar since Guptill had different objectives foreach. It could be that the publisher desired to republish two books in one in times of rising prices. But the result is far from resembling a Guptill book.

Elegance of design and layout is gone. The beautiful little marginal drawings are missing to a large extent. Space is wasted where larger drawings would not fit the new page format and no reductions were contemplated. The book is highly architectural and stresses the opulence of interior decoration, design and architecture that was more suitable for Guptill's first book(book #1) of 1922 than this posthumous one of1977. For a non-architectural artist PencilDrawing – Step-by-Step is a more useful book and a more suitable choice.


Choices of Guptill books (numbered as in this article's text): Best Choices – #'s 1, 3, 5 (the classic trilogy). Acceptable alternates – #'s 2, 7, 10.


1. Decide which books interest you. Take the time to visit the library of a major university and consult the head librarian, not a student working hourly. Authenticate the seriousness of your intent: you are a natural science artist, student ornot.

2. Find out from the librarian if there is a bookstore in the city, or the next major city, which might deal in classical books on art and architecture.

3. Find out if there is a major architectural firm that has been established long enough to have or have had a partner old enough to have bought books in the late ’20 - ’40’s. It's amazing how books get stored away on the top shelves of back closets.

4. Contemporary, chain, shopping mall bookstores are a waste of your time as are those in airport terminals.

5. But a real, well-operated book store, where real readers and university people go, is a jewelto cultivate. They have patient, knowledgeable employees who have sound backgrounds in books. These are the ones who would do a search for you or give you suggestions where else to look.

6. Similarly, there are high class antique stores which, in purchasing from estates, frequently acquire book collections. Hidden among the classics of literature sometimes are art books of many types. I found such a treasure trove in the university area of Evanston, Illinois. Sitting on its bargain table was Guptill's book #1: Sketching and Rendering in Pencil.

Arthur Guptill has enriched my life. Maybe he, or a similar artist/author, may do so for you.


Fig. 01 - Arthur L. Guptill (1891 - 1956)

Fig. 02 - One of a comparative composition series in which tonal values are rendered in Guptill's versatile pen & ink technique. From Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928.

Fig. 03 - Guptill used series of vignettes in the wide margins of his books to illustrate a variety of basic subjects such as materials and tools, pen strokes, composition elements, and light sources. Instructive comments were hand-lettered, giving the page margin a look of informal classroom immediacy. These margin sketches are from Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928.

Fig. 04 - A Drawing by Walter Jardine from Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928. “An exceptional rendering of a composition of decorative objects in full range of values and textures...” Guptill included the work of many other artists in his books, giving a divergence of style and approach united by media. He referred to these illustrations throughout his text to demonstrate specific points.

Fig. 05 - Detail from drawing by Walter Jardine.

Fig. 06 - A page by Guptill from his Drawing in Pen and Ink,1928. “A typical problem in drawing from a photograph,using recomposed values. Usually some recomposition is either necessary or desirable.”

Fig. 07 - Illustrated instruction by Guptill from Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928. “Focusing attention by means of strong contrasts of light and dark. The student must become familiar with all value arrangements.”

Fig. 08 - “Illustrations of methods of obtaining values and of grading tones. Progress is often retarded through the omission of such practice.” by A. L. Guptill from Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928.

Fig. 09 - “A highly conventionalized design of marked decorative character” from a poster done in pen and brush by Bob Fink, Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928, is an example of Guptill's inclusion of the work of other artists to give style range to his books.

Fig. 10 - Guptill excelled in architectural rendering. In this example, from Drawing with Pen and Ink, 1928, he shows his free line rendering technique.

About the Author:

Weston D. Gardner, M.D. is a Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anatomy, Medical College of Wisconsin. He is the author of several editions of Structure of the Human Body, W. B. Saunders Co. Wes has been a member of the Guild since 1972 and served on its Executive Committee from 1977 to 1981.

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