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Scanning Around With Gene: Drawing with Walter T. Foster

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I grew up in Southern California. Each time we drove to the beach or Disneyland, we’d pass a building off to the side of the 405 freeway with a revolving sign that stated, in fancy signature style, “Walter T. Foster.” The sign was distinctive, and I often wondered who Walter T. Foster was.

Years later I saw my first Walter T. Foster art books in an art store and made the connection. Last week at a thrift store I found a small pile of Walter T. Foster art books from a time when the price was $1.00 and shipping and handling was 15 cents. None of the books have a date in them, but I’d guess from the printing and the price that they are from the late 1950s or early 1960s. Click on any image for a larger version.

At that time the Walter T. Foster Publishing Company was in Laguna Beach, home of artist and educator Walter T. Foster. Laguna Beach was always an artist’s colony, and the town was full of galleries and people my mother referred to as “Bohemians.”

Foster published his early books from his home, doing the writing, binding, and artwork himself. Many of the books in my pile have the signature WTF prominently displayed on the examples. Foster even hand-lettered much of the book text.

I imagine many young artists getting their start with a Walter T. Foster art book. I wonder how many young girls bought the book on how to draw horses.

By the time of my thrift-store find, Walter T. Foster had about 60 titles, from “101 Heads” to “The Art of Rakusan Tshuchiya.”

All of these books are large — what would certainly be called “oversized” trade paperbacks (more like a heavy magazine, actually). Most of the interiors are in black and white with an occasional color spread thrown in.

The books focus on tools and technique of the modern artist, and are more heavily illustration than text. Walter T. Foster believed in showing, not explaining. He encouraged artists to copy, to experiment, and to have fun while drawing. He taught perspective, color theory, and all the basics, plus showed the steps in going from a few circles and squares to a herd of horses.

In addition to training the artist, Foster presented books of photos to use as inspiration, and even books where you could trace images. The company also published some general craft books on topics such as leatherwork and linoleum-block printing.

Walter T. Foster books are still published today, though not by the original company. Foster died in 1981 at the age of 90.

I’d love to hear from any of you who got your artistic start with Walter T. Foster. I suspect he influenced many generations with his simple and direct way of teaching art.

I just wonder whatever happened to that great revolving sign I use to see on my way to Disneyland.

Gene Gable

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com. Follow Gene on Twitter
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Posted on: April 2, 2010

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. After a decade in commercial typesetting and design services, he chronicled the desktop-publishing revolution from his post as publisher and president of Publish magazine. With nine international editions, Publish became the leading global resource on the use of digital technology for print and Web production. Gable served on the operational boards of International Data Group's PCWorld, The Web and PC Games magazines and was earlier publisher of Sporting Times magazine. During his tenure at Ziff-Davis Gable was on the executive team responsible for major business events such as Comdex, Networld+Interop and JavaOne. As president of Seybold Seminars and publisher of The Seybold Report, Gable managed a global slate of conferences, trade shows and other graphic-arts educational products. During his leadership Seybold events featured prominent speakers such as Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of the New York Times, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, Christie Hefner, president of Playboy Enterprises, Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe Systems, and Daniel Carp, CEO of Eastman Kodak. Gable has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. His clients have included A-list brands in technology and financial services. Gable's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com. Follow Gene on Twitter

27 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: Drawing with Walter T. Foster

  1. Yup, I had the cats one (which I can’t find now), and the cartoon one. I loved them.

  2. I’m pretty sure my third grade classroom had the “How to Draw Horses” book, and I checked it out over and over and over …

  3. What a rush! I can still remember the hours I spent with that book learning to draw horses. I can still draw a pretty good “Foster” pony. Thanks.

  4. Gene,
    Thanks again for one of your great articles, they really hit home!

    I got my first Walter T. Foster book in the late 50’s. I still have a stack of at least 25 of the books in my studio. If I remember correctly, I even purchased one book as late as the mid nineties. I recognized the “How to draw with PASTELS”, “The Sea In Action”, “How to Draw and Paint SEASCAPES”, “Drawing in Charcoal”, “How to Draw the Head”,,,,, et all immediately. Great Books!

    I’ll never forget a comment made about Foster’s books from a professor in 1975. I was in grad school working on a FMA in painting. The general “art school” consensus was a snide smile and “greater than thou” attitude to these plebeian “How to” books. “You can say what you like about Walter T. Foster and his books. But, in reality there are only a handful of students, graduate or undergraduate, that can execute basic drawing and painting skills at Foster’s level. We would do well to teach and train at least this well.”

    Thanks again Gene.

  5. Thanks again, Gene, for another great article! I entered a coloring contest at a local grocery store and won two or three Foster books for third place. I still have them and collected others as my art interests grew, especially lettering, which I would copy from my mother’s Longines Symphony LP covers. Still good advice within those pages!

  6. You can still get some of these books at Amazon. They are still the best.

  7. I had quite a stack of his animal books and some of the landscape books (not sure where they went). They were a great source of instruction and inspiration – Thanks Walter T. Foster!

  8. you forgot the horse books

  9. My parents bought the first book that you show – they were encouraging me to follow-up on my “artistic skills!” I am now a graphic designer and while I use a computer most of the time; I still remember the basics that I learned from that book!
    Thanks for the memories!

  10. Thanks so much for covering this topic! I so often see the old books in used book stores and no one is interested in them any more..except you and me! I have several cover on the wall of my classroom and my high school design students think they are funny – sooo “old school”!

  11. I had several of his books. =)

  12. How about we give props to the source since we’re distributing their content for free? Walter Foster Publishing

    We don’t know if this material is still under the original copyright, if it was renewed, and if this material is still for sale and may be harmed by free publication here.

  13. My first steps in learning to draw came from one of Walter Foster’s books. I was about twelve and my father gave it to me to encourage my interest in drawing. Full of examples, and little exercises it helped me the grasp the possibilities in ways that a later art education didn’t.

  14. I remember first seeing these books when my sister owned several (some of which I swiped and still own!). My particular favorite was “How to Draw Animal Expressions” — thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  15. Gene, I hope you will post more of this kind of material as you encounter it.

    I remember a friend at university, also an Art major, who had a book with the theme of “mother color”–could have been Foster. Wish I could have a look at that book now, 46 years later. I am much less likely to dismiss this sort of stuff than I was, having seen Art Education at all levels decline over the years.

  16. Gene’s posting of this material is more likely to boost sales rather than interfere with them—I’m going to go to Amazon right now to purchase a nostalgic gift for someone who will appreciate the gesture and the book.

  17. Another great item from Gene. I bought a good few of these books here in Ireland back in the seventies and still treasure them. They have survived annual rid outs ( everything must go!) since then. There is such a feel good sensation about them the beautiful images the clear text and instruction and the result when you followed his or the tutors advice. The lessons are the formula for good work and are still true, the end result can reflect the tastes of today even if the book came from the 60’s. Well done Gene and CreativePro. Brian.

  18. Oh what memories! I enjoyed this post. My mom bought me the How To Draw Horses book when I was quite young, and I still have it, tattered from much use. I dedicated a lot of time to drawing and doodling horses when I was a youngster. I am now a graphic designer and still draw horses in my spare time.

  19. My parents bought the first book that you show – they were encouraging me to follow-up on my “artistic skills!” I am now a graphic designer and while I use a computer most of the time; I still remember the basics that I learned from that book!
    Thanks for the memories!
    sesli sohbet sesli chat

  20. I really like the picture of the monkey asking, “why is he drawing me?”. Underneath is Walter’s signature, which, of course, a juvenile mind like mine immediately thought of the other meaning for WTF.

    Thanks for the memories.

  21. Hi, I own also 3 of his books one of them is “How to Draw the Head”. I bought them for less than $20 from a second hand shop. I wonder hor much do they really worth nowadays.

    Do you have any idea? Those are great books from a great artist.

  22. As a child in the 50s in Birmingham, England, I came across books by Walter T Foster at the local Newsagents. Since my name is Tony Foster the coincidence of the name plus my already growing interest in drawing led me to enthusiastically purchase and learn from Walters books. As a mature artist/designer I can look back and say that Walter did a damn good job. Were he alive, I am sure he would be pleased to learn that his work was so positively influential.

    To me drawing remains unquestionably the crucial basic skill for understanding and practising art and design. Only drawing teaches you how to use your eyes and interpret what you see. It is a great shame that drawing has fallen out of favour due to the overwhelming influence of digital software. Milton Glaser speaks for all artist/designers when he argues for greater attention to the practice of drawing.

  23. I had several of these books, with my favorite being “How to Draw Horses”. I went from the Foster books to the Bob Ross shows on PBS. Great memories! (Remember the Draw the Deer or Turtle ads in the TV guide?)

  24. I absolutely love Walter T. Foster. I learned to draw from an early book I found at a yard sale for a mere .25 cent when I was 12. Now into my late 20’s early 30’s I have started a collection of vintage W.T.F books that I use for reference. Certainly I do appreciate the vintage quality of the illustrations and lettering, but I have learned much from them as well. I will continue my search for rare vintage books to add to my 50+ collection.

  25. I grew up in West Vancouver, British Columbia & learned to draw using Foster’s How to Draw Animals while in elementary school in the late 1960s. I also learned by copying horses in works by the old masters in our family’s set of art encyclopedias, The Book of Art, published by Grolier, 1965…& will keep both forever, along with my dad’s The Sea in Action. Thanks for the reminder!

  26. I have an original copy of the first How to DRAW by Walter T. Foster that is not dated and sports a 2 color cover and b/w interior. Perhaps I have an original from his home studio! I cant find a picture of the early ones on line or on the Walter Foster site. Great article!
    Later, LI

  27. u lucky guy! I had most of the books above and had purchased them from my measly scholarship when i was in school! after marriage, i had no time to paint and was so depressed that i gave all of them away to someone who, at that time, i thought would put them to good use. instead, she just sold them for scrap! now i do have the time to paint, but cannot find the vintage books that inspired me so. the new version does not have that attraction and the prices are too much for a pensioner like me.

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