- Learning about Wayne Thiebaud and his paintings
- Painting desserts in the style of Wayne Thiebaud
- Working with warm and cool colors
halation, vibration of color, impasto, warm and cool colors
Wayne Thiebaud, A Paintings Retrospective is an excellent book with many examples of his paintings. In the short film “Wayne Thiebaud - CBS Sunday Morning," Thiebaud is interviewed while visiting the 2001 retrospective of his work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Almost every year there is a Wayne Thiebaud wall calendar for sale with examples of his paintings to share with the children.
The Life of Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud was born in Mesa, Arizona, in 1920. His father worked, among other things, as a mechanic, an inventor, a rancher, and a milkman. When Thiebaud was six months old his family moved to California where he spent a lot of time on his grandfather’s farm. His first art projects were with his mother on rainy days and with his uncle who was a cartoonist.
For many years Thiebaud did odd jobs like sign painting, cartooning, and illustrating movie posters. One summer he even worked in the animation department of Walt Disney studios. He was almost thirty years old before he realized that he could make a career of painting. When he returned to college to learn about art, he was offered a teaching job and spent many years teaching art in California universities.
At forty years old, he began his series of still-life paintings of food. Drawing with color and correcting his drawings with darker color led to a halo effect around his objects. This outline of pure, intense colors has become known as halation and adds to the vibrancy of Thiebaud’s paintings. He uses bright colors, thick rapid brush strokes, and simplified shapes to paint common, everyday food. Filling his canvas with a single cafeteria-style cake or pie elevates it to an absurd status that is part of his humor. At times he repeats the desserts over and over again, giving the impression that there is no end to these sweet things.
When painting a cake, Thiebaud says that he is painting a picture of an object that has already been painted. It’s as though he transforms the thick rich texture of oil paint into whipped cream or icing as he spreads it across the desserts on his canvas.
Retired from teaching, Wayne Thiebaud lives in California and is still working as a painter in his 80’s.
YOU WILL NEED
- White drawing paper (approximately 10 x 14 inches)
- Tempera paints
- Paint brushes
- Containers of water for rinsing brushes
- Sponges for drying brushes
- Trays for mixing paint colors (Styrofoam or plastic trays from the grocery store work well)
- Cafeteria-style desserts to be used for the still-life paintings (see note below)
- Examples of Wayne Thiebaud’s food paintings
- Become familiar with the life and paintings of Wayne Thiebaud.
- Gather examples of his food paintings.
- Set out pencils and drawing paper.
- Set out paints, brushes, containers of water, and sponges.
- Set out the desserts, planning one per table being sure each child has a clear view.
- Display the examples of Thiebaud’s paintings. As the children look closely, tell them about his life and his work. Explain to the children that they will be making paintings of desserts, using Wayne Thiebaud’s style.
- Point out the characteristics of Thiebaud’s food paintings. He uses common everyday foods that might be found in a cafeteria, bright colors, and thick brushstrokes. He invented halation, where he intensifies his colors by drawing the outlines of his food with lines of bright colors. He either painted a single food filling the whole canvas, giving it a humorous stature, or repeated the foods in a very ordered composition as though there were no end to them.
- Have the children lightly sketch the desserts to fill their papers and then go over the lines with a combination of bright colors.
- Set the paintings aside to dry
- Display the examples of Thiebaud’s paintings.
- Set out the dried paintings and the desserts from the previous session.
- Set out paints, brushes, mixing trays, containers of water, and sponges.
- Explain to the children that in this session they will be painting their desserts using Wayne Thiebaud’s style of bright colors and stark backgrounds.
- Discuss how Thiebaud creates vibrant colors by placing warm tones (red, yellow, and orange) next to cool tones (blue, green, and purple). He paints simple backgrounds so that the food stands out, and he uses a thick impasto or application of paint, leaving the brush strokes visible.
- Have the children paint their desserts, taking care to not cover the halation. Remind them to dry their brushes well between colors to keep the paints thick, and to not rub out their brush strokes.
- When the desserts are completed, have the children paint the backgrounds with either warm or cool colors, whichever will make the food stand out.
- Set paintings aside to dry.
- Repeating the food over and over again, as Thiebaud often did, will take more time.
- As children mix colors, they often thin the paint too much. To keep the paints thick, it's helpful to mix a variety of colors together as a group.
- Using a small paint brush when painting directly around the halation will help to keep it from being covered with the background color.
- Do the desserts fill the papers?
- Are the brushstrokes visible?
- Discuss the use and effects of the warm and cool colors.
- Can I draw more than one dessert on my paper?
- I’m having trouble not painting over my halation.
- I want to use yellow for the background of my pink cake, but they are both warm colors.
- The pudding is in a glass dish, which looks the same color as the background. How can I paint glass?
- I’m feeling hungry. Can we eat the cake?
- You can either draw a single dessert or repeat it several times to fill your paper.
- It is easier to use a small brush when painting directly around your halation. It’s alright if some parts get covered, as long as we are able to see most of the halation peeking through.
- Since you used mostly cool colors for the halation, let’s see if a yellow background will make your cake stand out even more.
- As you look through the glass you can see the colors which are behind it. Try squinting your eyes to see another color that goes around the edges of the glass.
- This food is not for eating. (However, when our paintings are finished, I will bring in cookies to celebrate.)