Monday, May 25, 2015

Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography

Late in his life, academic painter and teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) wrote a statement of his beliefs about art.



"The fact is that truth is the one thing truly good and beautiful; and, to render it effectively, the surest means are those of mathematical accuracy. Nature alone is audacious above anything human; she alone is original and picturesque. It is, then, to her that we must become attached if we wish to interest and enthuse the spectator."

Illustration by Howard Pyle
"The art of illustration has made progress. It is more documentary, but none the less artistic. From this point of view the Americans excel. They have learned how to make use of the document and to make it serve their purpose. In this, instantaneous photography has been of inestimable assistance…. From all this one must conclude that our sense of sight is not as well developed as that of the Greeks or of the Japanese, and that it is not one of our gifts to observe with sufficient attention the various aspects of nature when in rapid motion."

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Diogenes, 1860, Walters Art Gallery
"When one is young and inexperienced one prefers the art of sentiment, and has even the false idea that too much study, too much truth, take away from work its light and its movement. When one has grown old in the harness, when one has worked for many years, observed well, compared well, ideas change. The artist should be a poet in conception, a determined, honest, and sincere workman in the execution. One must put into his work an artistic probity, and, above all, work, work. But there can be no serious and durable work if it is not based upon reason and mathematical accuracy.—if, in a word, art is not allied to science."

"Color and Light" in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean


We just received copies of the new Chinese hardback edition of "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter" (upper left) from the Eurasian Publishing Group / Solutions Publishing.

There's also a Chinese softcover edition and a Japanese and Korean edition.
The little dinosaur on the cover is Mei long, from China's Liaoning province.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Color Photography from 1913

In its informal pose and rich color, this photograph looks like it was shot in 1973, but actually it was taken in 1913. 

It used the Autochrome process, developed in 1903 by the Lumière brothers, using glass plates covered with potato starch. Motoring pioneer Mervyn O’Gorman took the photo, with his daughter Christina posing. The lack of era-specific costume details adds to the sense of timelessness.
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This and seven other photos of Christina at Bored Panda.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Exhibit Review: Benjamin-Constant in Montreal

"Marvels and Mirages" is more than an exhibition about Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), and it's more than a show about Orientalism. It's a loving embrace of the broader themes of exoticism and storytelling and an ambitious revival of a lost world of picture-making.

Benjamin-Constant Self Portrait, gouache
The exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Art, curated by museum director Nathalie Bondil, is the first major retrospective of Benjamin-Constant in recent times. It borrows from over 60 private and public lenders, including many regional museums in France. Several paintings were restored and reframed for the show. 

Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, The Pink Flamingo, 1876
The exhibit designers made an effort to evoke the mystery of the Near East. As you ascend the stairs into the show, Moroccan music plays softly and light filters down, influenced by shadows cast by latticework-patterned gobos.

Several glass cases show drawings, engravings, and prints. The show is divided into various themes: The Studio, the Salon, the Alhambra, Tangier, and Colonial Diplomacy. It takes some time to absorb all the captions, because there's so much exposition: political events, timelines, historical contexts, and biographical details. Woven throughout the writing are some great lines, such as "between a mirage of seduction and the veiled realities of a colonial republic." 

Unfortunately—and this has nothing to do with the curation of the exhibit—there are reasons why Benjamin-Constant is not an "artist's artist." He doesn't have the psychological penetration of Repin; nor the sensitivity to color of Gerome; nor the archaeological conviction of Alma Tadema; nor the brush fluency of Sargent; nor the exquisite surfaces of Vibert or Meissonier. Some of Benjamin-Constant's paintings are frankly out of perspective, a fault that is usually hard to find among academic painters. He'll often spend a great deal of effort with background patterns without really working out the faces or the human story. Some of the paintings are huge, which magnifies their problems even more.

Unlike many other academic and Juste-Milieu painters of his time, Benjamin-Constant failed to embrace the innovations of plein-air painting. He called Impressionists "daubers" and their work "the oculist's art." That's too bad, because he would have benefited by incorporating the lessons learned from thoughtful plein-air study. For example, in the painting above, Benjamin-Constant uses a blackish dark for the farthest arch, when it really should be lifted up in value because of the intervening illuminated atmosphere. 

Fortunately the show includes some of Benjamin-Constant's contemporaries. One of the standouts is the watercolor portrait by Josep Tapiro y Baro, whom I have spotlighted in a previous post. 

There's also a rare chance to see some history paintings by Jean Paul Laurens. In "The Late Empire: Honorius," he shows the young emperor outmatched by his position. It's a magnificent example of subtle storytelling.

There were also several Henry Regnaults, including this watercolor (detail), which is a riot of cool reds and blue-greens over solid figure drawing. The show includes some fine examples by Gerome, Fortuny, Jose Villegas y Cordero. 

But I wish the curator had included some other notable Orientalists, such as Rudolph Ernst, Frederick Bridgman, Gustave Bauernfeind, Vasily Vereshchagin, Hermann Corrodi, Leopold Carl Muller, William Logsdail, Frederick Leighton, Edwin Lord Weeks, and Ludwig Deutsch. Even though they weren't French Orientalists, their work would have raised the overall quality level of the artwork in the show.

In all, though, the museum is to be commended for rediscovering an artist who has been largely overlooked, and putting his work in context. I hope they will give a similar treatment to other neglected French artists, especially Jules Bastien-Lepage. Like the Waterhouse exhibit from a few years ago, this one provides quite a stimulus for artists. If you want to see it, it's only up until the end of the month.


Friday, May 22, 2015

GJ Book Club, Chapter 8—Line Drawing: Practical



On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 8, "The Study of Drawing," from Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

This is one of the core chapters of the book, with many good illustrations. Rather than try to comprehensively summarize the content, I'll just call out a few key points to provide a memory jogger and a discussion starter.

1. Appearances must be reduced to terms of a flat surface.
In many modern academic ateliers, one proceeds from a 2D shape analysis in an early stage, to a 3D construction stage later. Seeing the forms in front of you as flat shapes can be a challenge, and Speed offers various methods for doing so, including......

2. Method for creating a drawing grid: cardboard with cutout hole, and black thread held in with sealing wax.
Over the years I have experimented with various forms of this grid, including one with black threads woven across. By the way, sealing wax is a sticky wax people would melt and then stamp with a tool for sealing letters. You could use hot glue for the same purpose. 

I've found a more useful grid is a set of lines drawn with an indelible marker on a piece of acrylic or plexiglass sheet. In order to get accurate measurements, the observer must maintain a constant distance and position relative to the grid. Holding it at arm's length is one way, but there are others. Maybe in a future post or video I'll show some other methods.

3. The drawing grid or frame should be held between the eye and the object to be drawn in a perfectly vertical position.
This needs a bit of clarification. Rather than being held in a "perfectly vertical position," the grid or viewfinder should be held perpendicular to the line of sight, which is a different thing in the case of an upshot or downshot. Holding the grid vertically in such an up or down angled view would negate the normal convergent effect of vertical lines. In fact, in photography, "tilt-shift" lenses are sometimes used to artificially hold the lens vertically to negate the normal perspective of verticals.

4. It is never advisable to compare other than vertical and horizontal measurements.
A corollary to this is the importance of being able to judge a true vertical, often aided by a plumb line.



5. Three principles of construction.
A. Block out shape by analyzing into straight lines (Figure X, above)
B. Breaking down the shapes of curves.  (Figure Y).
C. Vertical and side measurements. (Figure Z).
These three basic geometric methods, used in conjunction with each other, are used in the demo of the figure block-in below.

6. Method for blocking in a figure, with the prime vertical drawn through the armpit.
He also says, "Train yourself to draw between limits decided upon at the start." This is so important for placing figures accurately in multi-figure work. Some other methods, such as building outward from the center, will not serve as well for producing figures that must fit within strict limits.

7. In the case of foreshortenings, the eye, unaided by this blocking out, is always apt to be led astray.
This is so true, and in the case of foreshortenened lengths that I try to always remember to make measurements.

8. In blocking-in, observe the shape of the background as much as the object.
In many modern books, this advice is put in terms of judging "negative shapes."

9. Lines bounding one side of a form must be observed in relation to the lines bounding the other.
He continues, "The drawing of the two sides should be carried on simultaneously so that one may constantly compare them." 

10. In line drawing, shading should only be used to aid the expression of form.
Even though this drawing has some tone, Speed uses it to show the way parallel lines can express form and textures like hair.
11. Diagram of a cone (seen from above) next to a window at left.
Speed proceeds to go into some detail about the theory of what we would regard highlights, terminators, core shadows, and cast shadows. But he's not primarily concerned with accurately producing a tonal analysis of form. That will come later in "mass drawing." He is still thinking in terms of a drawing conceived primarily in linear terms. That's why he suggests using the soft frontal lighting of an open window at the observer's back.


12. You seldom see any shadows in Holbein's drawings; he seems to have put his sitters near a wide window, close against which he worked.



13. Lines of shading drawn across the forms suggest softness, lines drawn in curves fullness of form, lines drawn down the forms hardness, and lines crossing in all directions so that only a mystery of tone results, atmosphere. 
In his book Creative Illustration, Andrew Loomis recapitulates these same points, not only for drawing, but also painting techniques.


14. In the method of line drawing we are trying to explain (the method employed for most of the drawings by the author in this book) the lines of shading are made parallel in a direction that comes easy to the hand, unless some quality in the form suggests their following other directions. 
15. Don't burden a line drawing with heavy half tones and shadows; keep them light. 
He says, "The beauty that is the particular province of line drawing is the beauty of contours, and this is marred by heavy light and shade." 


16. Analysis of forms of the eye, the eyebrow, and the eyelashes.
There are many good pieces of advice in the text.
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The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
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GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Urban Sketchers, Montreal

Yesterday we painted in Montreal's Chinatown with the Urban Sketchers group.

We met at Place Sun-Yat-Sen, facing the East Gate. I used gouache, dramatizing the lighting a little to spotlight just part of the face of the main building.

There were four of us painting next to each in one small cluster, and it was fun swapping sketching stories with each other and chatting with the people who were passing by. 

The photo is by Urban Sketcher correspondent Shari Blaukopf. Have a look at her painting on her daily sketchblog.

Afterward, we had a congenial supper together. Clockwise from left: Blue, Elise, Marc Holmes, his wife Laurel, Shari Blaukopf, Jeanette, Ubisoft art director Raphael Lacoste, and Chantal.

After the meal, I drew this little portrait of Raphael Lacoste.

Since we were all sketching at the table, we attracted the attention of a couple of very observant girls at the table next to us, so I invited them over to try out some water-soluble colored pencils and to watch a little demo on how to make something look 3D.

P.S. Yes, we saw the Benjamin-Constant exhibition! I'll post about it on Saturday.
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Urban Sketchers Montreal will meet this Sunday. Anyone is welcome to join them, and here's information about their meet-up. 
Shari Blaukopf's sketch blog