Saturday, March 28, 2009

Counting with Wayne Thiebaud

Book: Counting with Wayne Thiebaud
Art by: Wayne Thiebaud
Text by:
Susan Goldman Rubin
Publisher: Chronicle Books

This genius book uses a selection of Wayne Thiebaud's delicious paintings spanning his career to help teach numbers. Art, math, rhyming text, and lots of luscious food? What more could you or your baby need from a book?

I am just a little bit too pleased that this is Henry's favorite book! In addition to being entertaining, educational, and scrumptious all at once, there is some history to why I like this book so much. Here it is:

Wayne Thiebaud is one of my all-time favorite painters. When I was in high school, I discovered his painting "Toy Mickey" in a book of painters reinterpreting Mickey Mouse--it was my favorite painting in the book. When I was an Art major in college, I realized that Thiebaud actually taught classes at my school. I would often wander around on the painting floor of the art building with no real reason other than to see if he happened to be there. (Alas, I never saw him in my wanderings.) I don't think I was ever so excited to register for a class as when the stars finally aligned and I could be in an Art History class he was teaching!

He was delightful. He wore a bow tie every day, for one thing, which was completely charming. Mr. Thiebaud is currently 88 years old, and still painting; when I took the class, he was in his early 80s. He was so enthusiastic about art. I loved getting to hear him talk about his favorite paintings, and why he liked them, and also about his early career as a painter. It was truly a privelege, and no matter how modest he was, I never got over how lucky I was to get to take a class from Wayne Thiebaud!

I also have rarely been as nervous as when, near the end of the quarter, I finally went to his office and found him there. I wanted to ask him about "Toy Mickey." (Is Mickey a toy? Or is Mickey really Mickey?) His reply: "Look at the shadows." He explained he'd always been very interested in shadows and what they reveal. (The "Toy Mickey" shadow does show a toy outline, so my take: The painting is a toy, seen from the perspective of a kid, or someone who believes the toy is real.)

Anyway, that's a really long way of saying, when Brad got me (I mean Henry) this book for Christmas, it was the perfect gift.

Baby Henry's current favorite spread: The hot dogs ("Seven Hot Dogs," 2006)

Henry slaps at the hot dogs on the page!

My favorite spread: "Pie Slice" (1991)

The texture of the painting comes across very well, especially for a baby board book. Plus, Henry often dives right into this page and smushes his mouth against the pie, which cracks me up. (Of course, I want to do the same--but how does an 8-month-old who's never had pie even know that that would be fun?)

Spread that could inspire OCD: The last one, "Gum Machine" (1964). The text prompts the reader to count all the gumballs. If you did this, though, maybe you'd get really good at estimating and win one of those "how many M&Ms are in this jar?" contests.

Deep thoughts: The concept is brilliant, and you get fun language, a little math, and lots of lovely pictures. I love the clean font and the soft, creamy yellow and light blue-green-gray page backgrounds. They perfectly set off the paintings and drawings, the real stars of the book.

It's an artsy book, but it's not pretentious; it's beautiful, but accessible to anyone; and I love it more the more I see it. Just like Thiebaud's paintings. Looking at the paintings from Henry's perspective is also great fun--and of course, I'm still studying the shadows.


  1. That's incredible that you got to take a class with an artist you admire so much! That must have been so exciting! The equivalent for me, I think, would be to take a creative writing class from someone I adore reading, like Kim Harrison or Jacqueline Carey. However, I don't think either of them would wear a bowtie. Mr. Thiebaud sounds very, very cute.

    I like his artwork, too. :)

  2. Kate, I think there's a Thiebaud exhibit going on (or maybe coming soon?) at the Crocker Art Museum. We were downtown yesterday and saw signs for it with Thiebaud's cakes and things on them.

    Also, I think the next book to be featured here should be the pooping penguins book! LOL

  3. That sounds like a wonderful experience.

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  6. Hello, I am in Southern CA. this "winter" and as I tell people, I have spent A Year Above The Sea, in a beautiful home in Palos Verdes, with a Catalina Island to Malibu view, or views as things change by the hour. On a clif above it all and living in the weather as it ebbs and flows. Back in LA as my Mother, lived her last year hear among us. It has been a reflective and contemplative time of waiting and observations.

    I had to drive down to Dana Point, a few weeks ago and decided to take my time on the return trip up the coast on PCH. With the windows wide open and the ocean on my left. As I drove into Laguna Beach, I stoped at a red light and looked up to see a Wayne Thiebaud, poster in the Art Museum window. Parked and walked the show. Fantastic serendipity and a joy. Loved it out of the blue of surf and sand and into his world hung on the walls in multiple rooms. A fantastic representation of his life and work loaded on brush and presented.

    After the walk I sat a bit in front of a few revisted works and then I exited throught the gift shop. A good freind just had a new baby and I purchased this book on counying for both my friend and his baby.

    At San Francisco State, in 1985 I was an Art and Film Studen, having desgined my own course of study under August Copola, and had the great opportunity to study with Richard McCleain and Robert Bechte, I learned so much from them. I was able to attend the S.F. Museum of Modern Art, where McCain, Bechtel and Wayne Thiebaud were featured in a show on the SF Realist and were set to speak on opening night. As I walked up the center of the huge marble hallway about to enter the auditorium for the presentation, I head my named called out. I looked and saw my two intructors calling me over. I stepped over and said hello and told them I was excited to hear them speak and then see their work hung in the gallery after. Wayne Thiebaud, a gentelmen, pushed his hand out in my direction and asked Richard, who is this and then said to me hello, I am Wayne Thiebaud, I shook his hand and he then said to me, and I paint. He then did not let go having heard from McClean I was a painting student of both of them. Then still holding my grip he ask Richard, looking me dead in the he any good ? I was on the spot now.........Richard said, he could be. Then still shaking my hand he looked at Robert and he said he has a good hand and is develping a style.

    Honored, to have met this man under these circumstances and in this way.

    I still pull out the water colors from time to time and have a box of paints and canvas that after stumbling into this show last week I am now motavated to place paint on canvas ...soon.

    Sorry this was so long. Donald C. Todd