Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Proko's Skelly App

Stan Prokopenko and his team have just released a new app called "Skelly." 

It's named after the virtual skeleton character from Prokopenko's anatomy instruction videos on YouTube

The Skelly app lets you put the human skeleton into any pose and to see it from any angle. Tapping on a joint brings up a spherical overlay with directional arrows that let you drag the joint in the desired plane of movement.

It’s a useful tool for art students or professionals wondering what the skeleton is really doing beneath a life pose or for anyone wanting to visualize a pose from scratch. 

The interface is intuitive and easy to use without sacrificing any of the nuances of the human body’s complex range of movement. 

I tried it on my iPad, which is big enough to really see all the small bones, but it will also work on other mobile devices.

A control in the lower left of the screen lets you switch between a detailed skeleton model and a more simplified blocky skeleton, which Proko calls "RoboSkelly." Two other controls change the background and the light source.

Proko made this promo trailer with his characteristic wit and sense of fun.

I recommend the Skelly app for animators, storyboarders, comic artists, illustrators, and figure painters.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dinotopia / World Beneath Podcast, Episode 14

Close your eyes, open your imagination, and travel to Dinotopia. It's time for Episode 14 of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.

The explorers find the treasure of the lost city of Poseidos.

Who are the king and queen of the World Beneath?

This audio re-creation was produced by ZBS Productions. Audio producer Tom Lopez and composer Tim Clark created many layers of sound to make Dinotopia come alive to the ears.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

The final episode arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

Monday, May 4, 2015

On-the-Spot Humorous Illustration

I like trying out new ideas when I'm drawing on location. One approach that I tried many years ago is the on-the-spot character study.

For this one, I was sitting in a barber shop while a customer was getting a haircut. 

I told them what I was doing, and they didn't pay much attention to me after that. I used whatever elements of the scene helped to support the story, such as those odd head forms mounted on the barber chairs. 

The customer didn't have a mop of hair and beard like that. I kind of made that up, and I exaggerated the barber, too. But I used real details from the scene, like the comb in the barber's back pocket.

I drew the picture with a brush and India ink over a pencil underdrawing, about 11 x 14 inches. I was inspired by the caricature illustration of Al Dorne, Norman Rockwell, and Mort Drucker. 

Further reading
I intended this sketch for The Artist's Guide to Sketching, but it never made it into the book. A book that inspired this thinking is Humorous Illustration by Nick Meglin. Also, check out the more recent books: MAD's Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Works and Albert Dorne: Master Illustrator

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Meissonier / Mackay Scandal

A scandal about a displeased portrait client damaged the career of the most famous painter of his day, Ernest Meissonier (French 1815-1891), and ended with the portrait thrown onto a fire.

Ernest Meissonier, Self Portrait
Despite his celebrity and the vast sums paid for his work, Meissonier had painted few images of women, and few portrait likenesses. This commission came in the last decade of his life and at the pinnacle of his international success.

The sitter was Mrs. J. W. Mackay, of California. After seeing the portrait nearly finished, she rejected it [Edit: she asked for it to be finished to her satisfaction.] A bill was sent, and at first her husband refused to pay for it. The price was vast for 1884, estimated between ten and twenty-five thousand dollars. Meissonier responded by vowing to keep the painting and he put it on exhibition, where the public would be the judge. 

In his view he had simply painted a picture that was too accurate. In her view he had made her look coarse, and made up like a painted doll.

"It seems that after Meissonier had painted the portrait, Mrs. Mackay criticised it a little and wanted it just a little more finished. It was not finished then when she went into the country, and she wrote him she would come up anytime he wanted to finish it."

"He never said a word, but finished the hands from a model of a big, coarse woman with ugly hands, and made the cheeks and lips powdered and painted frightfully, and left the neck yellow, just because he was so angry that she should dare to criticise such a great master as himself."

"Now Mrs. Mackay thought, with good reason I think, that she ought to have been the model to her own portrait, and that she could ask at least for a faint resemblance, especially as she would have to pay $15,000 for the picture."

"Without informing Mrs. Mackay as to his intentions or asking her consent, he simply sent the picture to the exhibition, where her friends saw it and told her of it. She wrote and asked for the picture, and at the close of the exhibition it was sent to her, with a bill."

"Mr. Mackay was so provoked that he wanted to make a fuss about it, but his friends persuaded him to pay it and say nothing more about it. This he did, and threw the picture in the fire. But on the same day Mr. Mackay left for America the papers: came out with the story, abusing Mrs. Mackay, and the French artists are to meet and have an indignation meeting that a canvas immortalized by Meissonier should be burned by a vulgar American."

The debate about who was in the right was taken up in all the papers on both sides of the Atlantic. An early writer about the incident said that "Meissonier, by the haughtiness of his manner, his artistic independence, and, most of all, by his unpardonable success, had been sowing dragons teeth for half a century. And now armed enemies sprang up, and sided with the woman from California. They made it an international episode: less excuses have involved nations in war in days agone....The tide of Meissonier's prosperity began to ebb: prospective buyers kept away; those who had given commissions canceled them."


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Segrelles Exhibition in Spain

José Segrelles Tom Thumb
An art museum in Valencia, Spain, has opened an exhibition called "The Labyrinth of Fantasy" about  the dreamlike paintings of José Segrelles (Spanish, 1885-1969—His name is sometimes written as "Josep Segrelles Albert").

Segrelles worked as an illustrator for The Illustrated London News, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Fortune, The American Weekly, and The New York Times. He lived in New York between 1929 and 1935.

The exhibition features more than a hundred watercolors, oils, and pen-and-ink pictures, as well as copies of the magazines and books in which his illustrations appeared.

José Segrelles illustration from Wagner
Many of his pictures evoke the mysterious realms of music, particularly Beethoven and Wagner. He would have been a killer concept artist for Disney's Fantasia.

He was also renowned for his illustrations of Cervantes, H.G. Welles, Dante, Poe and other writers of the mysterious and the macabre. 

José Segrelles The Greedy, illustration from Dante's Inferno
Many artists and movie directors have acknowledged an influence from Segrelles, including Guillermo Del Toro, William Stout, and John Howe.

I hear there's an extensive catalog of the exhibition, and I'll review it if I can get a copy. 
MUVIM Segrelles: The Labyrinth of Fantasy (The MUVIM is short for The Valencian Museum of Illustration and Modernity)
Book: Jose Segrelles Albert: Su vida y su obra (a large monograph in Spanish from the 1980s)

Friday, May 1, 2015

GJ Book Club: Chapter 5: Mass Drawing

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 5, "Mass Drawing," of 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.
In the last chapter, Speed discussed the aesthetics of outline-oriented artwork. He emphasized the innocence and imaginative appeal that such work can have, and he recognized that linear quality in non-Western and earlier European painting. In this chapter, he concentrates on a more impressionist or tonal kind of visual expression, which he calls "mass drawing." Here's his definition:

1. This form of drawing is based on the consideration of flat appearances on the retina, with the knowledge of the felt shapes of objects for the time being forgotten.

Harold Speed, who was born in 1872, was living through two revolutions in how we visually experience the world. One was photography, which was becoming accessible to everyone, and the other was Impressionism, which revolutionized painting. 

To me it's really interesting to see how he was rationalizing this change in consciousness. Speed's explanation of this change of seeing is one of the most articulate in any art instruction book, and I find it inspiring even today. 

2. Las Meninas by Velazquez
Speed recognizes that mass drawing wasn't an entirely new idea, and he credits Velazquez with creating a "painter's picture" from this point of view. I haven't seen the original, and I wonder whether some of you would agree with his discussion of the painting's impact.

3. The Impressionist movement has produced chiefly pictures inspired by the actual world of visual phenomena around us, the older point of view producing most of the pictures deriving their inspiration from the glories of the imagination, the mental world in the mind of the artist.

I think this was largely true in his day, but the two ways of seeing and painting are not mutually exclusive. There have been many artists who have reconciled the two; that is, they painted imaginative pictures with an Impressionist's sense of light and color and edges. 

The illustrators N.C. Wyeth, E.A. Abbey, Tom Lovell and Harry Anderson, whom I've discussed a lot on the blog, come to mind. Ilya Repin's early historical pictures did this, too.

4. Art has gained a new point of view
Speed recognizes not only a new way of painting, but a new range of subject matter that was deemed "ugly" by the older generation. 

And he's quite right to say that the impressionist way of interpreting things allows artists to tackle immensely complex light effects or a profusion of small forms, such as "sunlight through trees in a wood." Once you free yourself from thinking about rendering solid forms, and think instead of capturing visual appearances, anything can be reduced to a retinal impression. 

In Speed's day in Britain, a lot of the impressionist ideas were coming from artists who had gone to the Continent for French training. The "French look" didn't go over too well at first. The old guard of Britain's Royal Academy, such as Poynter and Leighton, were more concerned with traditional subject matter and methods of painting, while the Newlyn School and the Glasgow School were more under the sway of the juste-milieu sensibilities of Bastien-Lepage.

4. Michelangelo / Degas comparison
Speed says that in the Michelangelo, "every muscle and bone has been mentally realised as a concrete thing and the drawing made is an expression of this idea," whereas the Degas was created with a sense of mass shapes. 

According to Speed, Michelangelo's drawing is more of an idealized type, while Degas captured more of a specific individual in a particular moment. So for Speed, these are not superficial distinctions about technique or method, but a whole different way of seeing the world.

I look forward to your thoughts, and I enjoyed the discussion last week.
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)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club