Friday, November 5, 2010

Good Old Walter Foster: How to Begin Painting for FUN

Back long ago, Walter T. Foster published a large number of 10 x 14 inch books -- really, booklets, since most were 32 pages or fewer -- that covered many a subject around how to do art.

Walter is gone. Worse, his art collection appears to be gone, which is really unfortunate, since he lived his latter years in the art colony of Laguna Beach, California, and had a number of really good artists as friends. His collection was made up of works collected from his friends and on numerous trips abroad. A sad loss, a minor repeat of the library of Alexandria.

There is some good news: Walter Foster publishing is still alive and still publishing how-to art books, some of which are top-notch. One of the latter, How to Paint Plein Air Landscapes by Frank Serrano, is on its lugubrious, slow-footed Media Mail way to me.

But, back to the past.

A certain number of Walter's selections were what in our era has come to be known as shovel-ware. Remember when CD-ROMs were first being published for computers? A lot of them were randomly-gathered crap shoveled into then-wondrously huge receptacle of the CD. Walter's shovel-ware can be safely ignored, as it can be a mix of any or all of the following: haphazard, baffling, inadequate, badly dated, or only of historical interest.

But there are a number that are gems. One in particular is truly outstanding: How to Begin Painting for FUN, by [Estelle] Fedelle. (Walter did a lot of messing with fonts to make points, especially in titles. "Easy," "fun," "simplified," "pleasure," and other highly positive adverbs and adjectives are featured in many titles.)

Estelle is remembered with fondness in the posts in the Fedelle discussion area of AskArt:

Back when eBay was eBay, you could find this book(let) for 49 cents, or maybe 99 cents. Bookfinder.Com goes down only to $5.95, but that includes $4 shipping. Ah - I see one for 99 cents on today's ruined eBay.

I don't know if Estelle's nomenclature rhymed (esTELL fedELL) or whether it was esTELL fedELlee, but whichever, she's a mighty fine teacher. It would take you around a year to do all the exercises in the book, but it would be the equivalent of several years of art school.

Walter's organizational handiwork is usually either confusing, labyrinthine or just non-existent, so the tight progression of Estelle's book has to be her work.

It's a 2-part tome:
I. Drawing
II. Painting

"Begin," she says, "with the big shapes." ("Most beginners start this way -- details drawn in too soon," she says. "Do big shapes first!")

She then presents composition of line, composition of values, composition of color, emphasis, and texture. Each has a little example -- and a strict, no-nonsense exercise for you to perform.

Covered are both quick-sketching and perspective -- the latter points to another of Walter's absolute top best books, Perspective Drawing by Ernest Norling, a name that students of perspective still mention in hushed tones.

After introducing us to the key tools, Estelle puts us through some tough assignments: smooth oil painting, looser landscapes, and yet looser palette knife, all in monochrome.

Finally, you get to color, and boy, are you put through the paces. From the 12 color wheel to color mixing, to color schemes, to which colors dry fastest... all the way through to styles from (again) smooth -- we'd most likely call this an illustrator's style -- to palette knife, limited color -- on to soft-edged or wet-on-wet knife, to realistic, stylized, traditional, non-objective, cubist, abstract, and collage.

Now, you do have to make allowances for dated things. There are a lot of Chinese figurines among the examples. Ethnic subjects, statues and figurines were a big deal from the 1930s through the 70s -- even much earlier, if you include the Impressionist adaptions of Japanese prints. In fact, you'd have to say that only three or four of the example paintings would seem contemporary to us. But, as Estelle would tell you, you aren't here for her art. You're here for your art.

The, the fact is, this thing is an art school jammed into 30 pages.

And if you think the following (the cover) is a simple-to-do color chart, just try to make that many regular rectangles with a palette knife!

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