Articles

YOU’LL GET A KICK OUT OF PAINTING

Forget about Art, and have the playtime of your life slapping paint on cardboard or canvas. Vou don't have to have a beret, or even an easel, and a dinner plate makes a good palette

RICHARD LAWRENCE July 1 1949
Articles

YOU’LL GET A KICK OUT OF PAINTING

Forget about Art, and have the playtime of your life slapping paint on cardboard or canvas. Vou don't have to have a beret, or even an easel, and a dinner plate makes a good palette

RICHARD LAWRENCE July 1 1949

YOU’LL GET A KICK OUT OF PAINTING

Forget about Art, and have the playtime of your life slapping paint on cardboard or canvas. Vou don't have to have a beret, or even an easel, and a dinner plate makes a good palette

RICHARD LAWRENCE

RURAL Rembrandts and urban Utrillos are slapping great daubs of paint on canvas these days in a lively Canadian renaissance of amateur painting. Everybody’s doing it— butcher, broker and pediatrician; the GovernorGeneral paints and so does Ernie Sellery, elevator operator. So can you.

On a bald stretch of prairie, a few miles west of Medicine Hat, farmer John Thornbury sits on the running board of his car and paints a lonely haunting picture of a freight train highballing east.

In West Vancouver, Jack Scott, newspaper columnist, relaxes on the veranda of his seafront home, and with his paintbrush tries to spear and pin on canvas the same screeching gulls he writes about in his newspaper pieces. “Boiling them in oils,” he calls it.

On Toronto’s Yonge Street, Vernon Taplin operates what is probably the only shoe store in the country hung with the proprietor’s own oil paintings. The Taplin masterpiece is a portrait of his mother.

The Toronto offices of McLeod, Young and Weir, investment dealers, have been turned into a oneman art gallery by senior partner D. I. McLeod. More than 60 of his paintings are hung there; even the switchboard girl’s cubicle is enlivened by a landscape.

Judge Frank Denton, another Torontonian, often has a dozen of his landscapes on display in his chaml>er8.

Dr. John R. Ross, Toronto pediatrician, paints to take his mind off children’s ills. (His painting of the death of Sir Frederick Banting, discoverer of insulin, won a second prize of $1,000 at the American Medical Association’s annual exhibition two years ago. Dr. Baifting, incidentally, was an enthusiastic and talented painter. Dr. Ross often accompanied him on sketching trips.)

This boom in oils is not likely to unearth a native Cezanne or even a primitive painter like Grandma Moses, but it is certain to add up to a good deal of unadulterated fun for the thousands who dabble.

The beauty of painting is that anyone—even you and I—can paint. There’s no mystery to it. All you need to do is to scare up a few inexpensive materials and have at it—paint. That’s all, just paint.

In many ways it’s like golf. Golfers talk a lot of hocus-pocus about grips, stance and keeping your eye on the ball. Strip golf of its mysteries and it’s simple—all you have to do is hit the ball. Same thing with painting. Don’t let all the talk about art, with a big high-brow A, throw you.

There is a slight catch, of course. As you keep at it you’ll find painting never gets easier; it gets tougher. Which, again, is like golf. This is a quality of both which lends them much of their fascination.

But how to start? What materials do you need? What colors do you paint with? What should you paint?

For the answers to these and other questions about painting for fun I asked Bill Winter, a successful Toronto artist and magazine illustrator whose work appears regularly in Maclean’s Magazine.

Winnipeg-born Bill Winter is a genre painter, which means he paints ordinary people in ordinary day-to-day situations and sells the results at an extraordinary price. At 39 he is a thorough-going professional who still paints for fun as well as for money and enjoys seeing others paint for fun, too.

Fun, of course, is the big thing in amateur painting. “The goal,” says Winter, “is the simple pleasure you find in it. There’s loads of pleasure in just working in pure, lovely color. Slap it on with carefree abandon. Have fun. Forget about art.”

You don’t need all kinds of fancy and expensive equipment. “Some people are frightened by the elaborate and costly

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sketch boxes they see in the art supply shops,” says Winter. “Others buy everything but a beret and an artist’s how. Don’t be frightened and don’t blow a fortune on equipment. After all, if you were going to take up the violin you wouldn’t expect to start on a Strad.”

The cost of painting as a hobby can be kept within the bounds of almost any budget. If you buy student colors they shouldn’t cost you much more than $5. Brushes may account for another couple of dollars. A $10 bill will set you up.

You need only nine colors to start. They are flake white, cadmium yellow, vermilion, alizarin crimson (deep red), ultramarine blue (warm blue), viridian green (deep green), Prussian blue (deep cold blue), burnt umber (rich warm brown) and yellow ocher. There are plenty of other colors, but, says Winter, you’ll find your way to them when you are ready to use them.

It isn’t necessary to buy a palette to mix the paints on; nothing beats a white dinner plate. For one thing, it’s easy to clean.

You might try a soup plate, for that matter, if you want to join Joe Gatto, a former steam fitter and professional prize fighter, who has been recognized as one of the few genuine American primitives. Gatto uses a soup plate and 10-cent store brushes in the manufacture of his canvases which sell for $50 to $1,000 apiece. (A primitive painter is one who has had no training, who has a simple view' of life such as is found in a child, who is able to communicate this view to his canvas, and who is incapable of being influenced by other artists. Such a painter is Mickey Walker, the former welter and middleweight boxing champion, who took up painting after seeing the film “The Moon and Sixpence.”)

Most artists paint on canvas and most nonartists think nothing else will do. They’re w'rong. For a start Winter recommends a heavy piece of cardboard. Cardboard is not only less expensive than canvas but less inhibiting, too. Winter recommends a devilmay-care attitude: “Pick up your

brush and say, 'This time I don’t care what happens,’ then slap the paint on.”

The cardboard has to be treated, but that’s simple and inexpensive. Coat it first with clear shellac and then, when dry, with one or two coats of the best flat white paint.

If you have some Masonite, that will do instead. Grandma Moses, foremost of the American primitives, buys sheets of Masonite and saws them up herself. By the time she’s dabbed a bit of paint on them they’re worth as much as $3,000 apiece.

There is one thing you should not skimp on. You need the best brushes you can get. You need them in several sizes and shapes, some flat and some pointed. Two hogs’ hair bristle—Nos. 5 and 8—and a smaller pointed sable brush will get you started.

Turpentine is needed for diluting paint and Winter recommends the medicinal brand obtainable in drugstores simply because it is odorless. However, the hardware variety is quite usable. A fruit jar makes a good turps container.

You don’t need an easel and you don’t need a sketching stool. On sketching trips Winter draws on his knee; Grandma Moses lays her Masonite flat on the kitchen table.

Now that you’re equipped-what to paint? As there is little danger of you

executing a masterpiece the first time_^, out Winter suggests a simple beginning exercise providing experiments in color, texture and design: a few oranges against a blue book on a piece of white toweling.

Whatever you do don’t strip a calendar off the kitchen wall and start copying its winter scene. There is nothing satisfying in copying.

When you have your subject set up, squeeze out the colors around the edge of the plate. You’ll need about the equivalent of a shot of toothpaste. Dilute with turps and mix your colors in the centre of the plate. Trial and error will eventually lead to the correct thickness of paint.

Now sketch the picture with pencil or charcoal on your canvas or cardboard; sketch lightly, not laboriously. Then, with your brush loaded with thinned burnt umber, outline the objects with a thick bold line. That done, fill in the color of the oranges, the book and the toweling.

“Feel if you can,” Winter advises, “the waxiness of the oranges, the nice shape the book makes and the coarse texture of the toweling. As you develop the picture your attention will be caught by the subtle difference in colors, which you must add later.”

Don’t strive merely for a naturalistic reproduction of the objects. “One paints to express how one feels about a thing,” says Winter “If all you want is a photographic reproduction get a camera, nota paintbrush.”

But above all the one big, beautiful idea Winter would like to get across is that when you pick up your brusli let down your inhibitions. In the words of Winston Churchill, himself a dabbler of unbounded enthusiasm and some talent: “Audacity is the ticket.”

“A lot of people are terrified bv the sight of that big white space,” says Winter. “It’s a doorway leading to the unknown and it takes some courage to enter with dash and verve. Fight off the feeling of fright. Lash out! Be bold !”

You’ll make mistakes, of course, but in oil painting you can often correct them by rubbing paint off with turps on a rag or by painting over it. Winter advises the beginner to leave water colors alone, because mistakes in that medium are almost impossible for the novice to correct.

Paint a Tarzan Jungle

When you have applied the last masterful stroke to your canvas—or cardboard — depicting the waxy oranges, the coarse-textu red toweling and the nicely shaped blue book, you will be less human than generally considered legal if you do not nail the first person who hoves into sight and show him or her what you have done. More than likely the victim will be your wife or husband.

Self-consciously, you'll smirk: “Well, how does it feel to be wed to a Michelangelo?”

After you have explained that Michelangelo was, and still is, a big wheel in paint, your mate will undoubtedly remark: “But what’s that uglyshaped blue thing?”

If you’re going to survive as a painter past the orange-and-book stage you will have to learn at the outset to accept this kind of criticism as well as unqualified praise for what it is worth - and it is worth about $3 in $3 bills.

“Paint to please yourself” is Winter’s advice. “You’re the one who is having the fun. There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you or sees the world exactly as you do. Whatever you have to say will be of value, even if only to yourself.”

Life is going to be pretty dull if you

stick to painting oranges and books, but what you choose to paint after that beginner’s exercise is entirely up to you. Choice of subject is a completely personal matter and advice should neither be sought nor given.

Winter finds a high percentage of his subjects on city streets, but you can be stubborn and refuse to be moved by the life which teems around you. Perhaps you feel compelled to paint African jungle scenes though your knowledge of Africa may be entirely from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and the films of Johnny Weismuller. There is no rule against this; indeed, you wouldn’t even be unique.

Henri Rousseau, a Paris customs clerk who is accounted the greatest of all modern primitives, startled the art world with his paintings of lions and jungles though he had never set foot in Africa or any other continent that boasts a first-class jungle.

The choice of subject, then, is left entirely to you, but you should choose something simple in form. Most amateur artists, even the accomplished ones, stick pretty close to landscape and simple figures.

Leave portraiture to the professionals; it’s even too tough for a good many professional landscapists.

“Simplicity is the great thing in painting as it is in all the arts,” Winter points out. By skimping on detail you’ll not only make your work much easier, but perhaps more effective. Winter hastens to add, however, that a lot of great paintings such as “The Dutch Proverbs” by Peter Breughel, the Flemish artist, have been as detailed as a year-end bank statement.

Painting will create its own problems. One of them may be perspective which whips many a beginner and plagues not a few experienced artists. Winter’s advice is to take it in your stride, don t let it lick you. Perspective is, after all, only a point of view. Chinese art has always beem as devoid of perspective as Dali is of conformity and yet no one has ever said it isn’t art.

You Can Pull Out All the Stops

When it comes to composing your picture remember that you do compose it just as a musician composes music and an author composes a story. You may shift scenery about as prolifically as a stagehand at a drama festival if you wish. If there are too many trees in front of the lake to suit your artistic taste, chop them down, as many as you like. For that matter, you may fill in the lake and plant a few more trees.

Winter got his first and best lesson in composition as a boy. He had tramped miles through the woods one beautiful summer day and returned with what he thought was a pretty fair landscape. He displayed it rather proudly to his instructor and went into a running commentary on all the beauty he had encountered that day. There had been a babbling brook, then an open meadow, a brightly colored woodpecker doing a job on a stump, a beautiful cloud formation— and he rambled on and on. Finally, he had stopped in an open field and painted his landscape. 1

“Why,” asked his instructor, “didn’t

you put all or at least some of those other things in your painting?” That was easy to explain—they hadn’t all been in one spot. The instructor then explained patiently to Winter that had he been a writer he would have gathered them all together on paper, a musician would have done the same— why shouldn’t a painter have done it?

An artist can no more tell you what colors to use than a writer could tell you what words to use in writing a book. But as a guide Winter suggests you think in terms of warm and cold colors. Things in nature will usually divide into those two classifications. The cold colors are all the blues and greens, the warm colors are the reds and yellows.

The steps to follow in your first painting are only an elaboration of those you followed in the beginner’s exercise. The color illustrations on pages 16 and 17 show seven stages in a work by Bill Winter and the finished painting. Winter suggests you follow his sequence — with audacity and strictly for fun.

Friends Get the Masterpieces

It should not cause you any great disappointment if, after you have struggled through these stages, you have produced something a thousand times more horrific than the picture of Dorian Gray. You may wonder after a while if you should put yourself in the hands of an instructor. Winter would answer, “yes.” He believes some formal training is essential, though you don’t need to take a protracted and expensive course.

No matter how small your community it is likely to have an art club or group of some description. Winter suggests you join it. There you’ll get instruction, formal and informal, and also you’ll be exposed to enjoyable and instructive shop talk. There, too, you’ll find companions to accompany you on sketching trips.

“Golf and bridge are good pastimes,” says Judge Denton, “but when you finish a game you have nothing to show for it. An amateur painter always returns from an outing with something which is more than can be said for many fishermen.”

D. I. McLeod, the painting investment dealer, finds it refreshing to mix with artists whose interests are completely removed from his own everyday interests. His paintings make novel wedding and birthday gifts to friends. “That’s the only way an amateur can get rid of them,” he said.

Ernie Sellery, who operates a Toronto elevator by day and paints Swiss mountain scenes by night, finds painting helps fill the void left by the recent death of his wife. He began to paint when he found a box of paints among his wife’s effects.

Shoe merchant Vernon Taplin says, “I love to paint, my wife loves to paint.” On week ends they go out driving, stop the car whenever they spot a scene worth sketching.

Dr. John Ross paints because he “feels the need of complete relaxation” and has found it in painting.

Mickey Lester, radio disc jockey and comic, paints because “Here is my chance to do something serious. In the words of the song, it’s a big, wide beautiful world we live in, and you can express how you feel about it in paint.

“I am,” says Lester, “the world’s greatest living barn painter. Even when I paint a man he looks like a barn.”

If you have the urge to paint, paint and let your men look like bams. Perhaps that’s the way they really appear to you. ★