Photoplay movie stars from the 1950'S
Paint by number: anonymous work from mid-20th century America

Figures from life: Walter Foster and Robert Duflos

Walter Foster ran his How To Draw empire from his home in California in the 1950's. I came across a stash of his older books at a yard sale several years ago and was impressed not only by the clarity of the instructions but also by the beauty of the illustrations.  This book is Figures From Life, with art by Robert Duflos.

 Figures from life, walter foster, robert duflos, cover 

Figures From Life, Robert Duflos and Walter Foster

Duflos was an early to mid 20th Century French decorative painter, whose pastel nudes command modest prices at auction these days. He is probably most famous for his work with the Walter Foster Series.

It's not high art, but that's what always intrigues me - work that straddles the barriers of high and low. As always, it's the distance of time that allows us to view things that were once quotidian, low art, populist art, in a new light. That's why I -and I'm not alone - have been obsessed with Paint By Number paintings.

 Figures From LIfe walter foster, Robert Duflos, page 4 

Figures From Life, p.4 Walter Foster, Robert Denos

I mean, Foster just breaks it down for you. Draw this kind of line, use this kind of brush. The thing is, the illustrations with the instructions are far more interesting and, to me, visually pleasing, than the plain originals.

 Figures From LIfe, walter foster, robert duflos, p 6
Figures From Life, Walter Foster, Robert Denos p. 6

Text on this page: "The more you know about drawing the easier these step sketches will be for ou, as well as the finished picture. You can do it in Oils, Water Colors or Pastels, whichever you have on hand or just sketch in with pencil for practice. The side view like this is good to start on. You can make the figure more slender or lengthen the legs if you want. The original to most of Mr. Duflos' paintings which are in Oils are twice the size you see them here. Study carefully and take your time."

With four illustrations breaking it down for you,  this page has visual punch.

 Figures From Life, Robert Duflos, Walter Foster p 7
Robert Denos painting from Figures From Life. Page 7

Whereas this painting is a bit, well, dull. I mean, this guy was living in France at the same time as Picasso and Matisse. There's nothing at all exciting about the color, the composition, the point of view. This was not a problem at all for publisher Walter Foster, in fact it probably helped. How you gonna break down a Matisse? I've tried and it's a lot harder that it looks. That's what's so wonderful about Matisse. Looks simple but the experience, vision and practice that went into that beautiful line is something hard to do.  Here's what Foster said  in his introduction:

"No one starts out in art much ahead of the next fellow and you will get ahead much faster if you do not try to rest on the fact that your folks thing you are a Michelangelo of the 20th Century. Just be yourself and get pleasure out of your drawing and painting. Join an art class, evening or day, or start one. The meeting of kindred souls is very good, yes, a wonderful tonic"

I love that. A tonic. Indeed.

"As you can see by by Robert Duflos' painting, not all Frenchmen in Paris have gone so-called Modern. I wanted Robert to do this entire book and to have the directions in French and English, but the language barrier seemed to have stopped that idea, even between the two of us, so another beautiful dream became a cropper so you will find many of my drawings also in this book."

Figures From Life, Robert Duflos and Walter Foster p.26

This is my favorite picture in the book. It's so unclear if the brushes are part of the picture: is an invisible hand painting the actual model, since they are represented in the same medium...or are we supposed to pull ourselves out of that imaginary plane and recognize that we, the viewer or student, is the one holding the brush against a drawing of the model. It's a drawing of a drawing with drawings of the studio equipment drawn onto it. Divine.

You can find vintage Walter Foster books on eBay or Ruby Lane at reasonable prices. Or, if you are lucky, you might run across some at a yard sale.

Your comments are always welcome.