The Artist's Process

How does Wayne Thiebaud learn from trial and error?

Research is an important part of the artmaking process for Wayne Thiebaud. Before he begins a new painting, he makes many sketches to work out his ideas. This helps him figure out how to make interesting and dynamic compositions.

The artist calls his sketches “thinking drawings.”

Wayne Thiebaud, Page of Sketches with Ties, 1969. Pen and ink and pastel on paper, 10 7/8x8 7/8in. (27.62x20.32cm). ©Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

How do Thiebaud’s sketches above relate to the finished painting below?

5 Things to Know About: Thiebaud's Working Process

  1. In his preparatory sketches, Thiebaud explores the arrangement of objects, the balance of color and patterns, and the use of light.
  2. The artist’s treatment of his subject—often bold, repetitive shapes against white backgrounds—reveals his training in commercial art.
  3. Thiebaud repeatedly returns to many of his subjects to explore new compositions and techniques. 
  4. Thiebaud uses trial and error by sketching, learning from his mistakes.
  5. “I actually can’t think of any place I haven’t taken a sketchbook—hospitals, churches, ships, airplanes, even to the tennis courts,” the artist says.

“Drawing, to me, is a kind of inquiring research tool that painting rests upon.” —Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud, Rows of Ties, 1969. Oil on canvas, 24x24in. (51x51cm). Chicago, IL. Accession #1975.128. Mary and Leigh Block Fund for Acquisitions, Art Institute of Chicago/Art Resource, NY. ©Wayne Thiebaud/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

How does Thiebaud use pattern to make this composition dynamic?

Thiebaud’s Art Analyzed

  • In the sketches above, Thiebaud writes notes to himself, preparing for the final composition, above. 
  • Thiebaud includes heavy shadows in both the preparatory sketches and the painting. 
  • In each version of the composition, a single light source creates the shadows. 
  • Cool shadows and warm highlights create depth, even within a relatively narrow space. 
  • Varied arrangements of the objects in the sketches emphasize color and pattern in different ways. 
  • Thiebaud experiments with heavy and thin and straight and curvy patterns to create a sense of unity and balance. 
  • Although the painting is realistic, the repetition of shapes and colors lends an abstract feeling to the work. 
  • The narrow end of each tie appears to be a single color, but each is actually composed of many brushstrokes in varying colors. 
  • Thiebaud has compared these colors to a “vibration.”

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