Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Unfeathered Bird

When drawing or painting birds, it’s easy to get preoccupied with the feathers. But the skeletal structure beneath the feathers is equally amazing, and not as commonly studied. (Below: Jackass Penguin.) 

Artist Katrina van Grouw has written and illustrated a new book called The Unfeathered Bird, which takes a meticulous look at the hidden architecture inside the bodies of birds. 

Formerly the curator of ornithology for London's Natural History Museum, van Grouw produced the drawings based on actual mounted specimens. She also wrote the fascinating and readable text, which explains the function behind the structure. The book has 385 of her pencil drawings, all in natural life postures, illustrating all the major groupings of birds, from hummingbirds to penguins to songbirds to ostriches. There are both skeletal and muscular studies. 

(Above: Orange-winged Parrot) The text avoids needless technical jargon, which makes it accessible to a wide range of people. Among the readers of this blog, I would recommend it to bird painters, creature designers, dinosaur artists, science illustrators, and anyone with an interest in birds.

(Above, Great Hornbill.) Van Grouw explains interesting facts about birds on every page, such as:

• Toucans aren’t strong fliers, and often collapse from exhaustion if they have to fly across a wide river.

• On most birds, the femurs are oriented horizontally in their perching or walking position, pointing forward in order to establish the legs closer to the center of gravity.

• On songbirds, the neck has a strong S-curve inside the form which allows the head to extend or retract without disturbing the airfoil shape of the outer form.

• The extensions on the back of the tongue of a woodpecker fit into a furrow that wraps all the way around the back skull.

The hardback book is 10 by 12 inches, published by Princeton University Press 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wilson’s Natural History Dioramas

Michael Anderson has posted the eighth chapter of his online biography of James Perry Wilson, the master of diorama background painting.

Anderson's new chapter concentrates on JPW's work in the North American Mammal Hall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, considered by connoisseurs of diorama painting as the finest ever accomplished.

Wilson traveled to specific locations, to gather stereo photographs, soil samples, and plein air studies.

Essentially self taught and science-minded, Wilson developed independent theories of color and light which allowed him to paint more naturalistically than most other artists. This 12 x 16 oil study of the Teton range was painted on location.

Anderson writes:
Of the twenty-nine dioramas in the North American Mammal Hall, Wilson would paint nineteen during the years spanning 1938 to 1954. His personal stamp is visible throughout the hall. These are levelheaded, realistic backgrounds, controlled by Wilson to have the greatest effect. There are no flights of fancy, there isn’t a thing painted that wasn’t in his references or empirically available to the eyes of someone at the site. While the realism Wilson brought to the dioramas is on another plane, his colors glow with such luminosity that many visitors have asked whether they are backlit. Wilson imparted a level of three-dimensionality to his backgrounds that had never before been as perfectly realized as this. The remarkable thing is that Wilson also grasped the spirit of a place that seemed to come naturally from the rightness of the finished work. 
James Perry Wilson, Chapter 8, the North American Mammal Hall
Book: Windows on Nature: The Great Habitat Dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History
Previously on GJ:
James Perry Wilson's Plein Air Oils
Wilson's Dioramas, Part 1
Wilson's Dioramas, Part 2
Wilson's Sky Blending Method

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Happy old-time photos

Most antique photos give the impression that people in the past were a sober, sad-faced bunch.

But there are enough smiling, fun-loving photos to give a completely different impression.

More at Buzzfeed

Artspeak Word Cloud

Here are several artists' statements processed through a "word cloud" filter, which enlarges frequently used words.

The biggest buzzword in "artspeak" seems to be "work." I guess that means that art is hard work, or at least writing about it is. It's probably harder to write about it than to do it.

Andy Beckett of the Guardian has published an article about the obnubilating language used in artist' press releases:
"If you've been to see contemporary art in the last three decades, you will probably be familiar with the feelings of bafflement, exhaustion or irritation that such gallery prose provokes."
 Read the rest: "User's Guide to Artspeak"
Previously on GJ:
Artist Statement Generator
Deciphering an Artist Statement
Art Crit Generator
Thanks, Bryn

Monday, January 28, 2013

Breakfast with Ransome

I had breakfast with a couple of artist friends yesterday, including James Ransome (far right). 

In addition to being an award-winning illustrator, James is also an associate professor and program coordinator in the illustration department at Syracuse University.

Tomorrow is the publication date for his newest illustrated picture book called Light in the Darkness: A Story about How Slaves Learned in Secret, written by his wife Lesa Cline-Ransome.
You can watch him paint the cover in time lapse at this YouTube video.

How to make an artificial eye

(Video link) Making an artificial eye requires a lot of custom craftsmanship. The result is almost undetectable.
Via Best of YouTube

Sunday, January 27, 2013

One Week Left

There's just one week left for the exhibition "Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination" at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut. It ends February 2.

Watch the museum video.

Discussion: Convex lines and the figure

I have run across the idea that the human form should be drawn only with convex lines because "there are no concave lines in the figure." The argument goes that the outer contours are governed by the bulging masses of the bones and muscles. Even when you cup your hand, your hollow palm is made up of a set of smaller convex shapes. Convexity is synonymous with life, volume, and fullness. Even on a thin person, the planes and lines should gently curve outward. Concave contours can be conceived as a series of overlapping convex forms.

The opposing view is that the figure is made up of a variety of lines and planes, including straight and concave. Some artists emphasize only straight lines, especially in the layin. Regarding concave contours, elastic skin stretched across any acute angle will form a concave shape, such as on the inside of the elbow or the curve of the neck. This would be true even on Mr. Universe or a heavyset person. Concavity is expressive of receptivity and inertness. Variety is the spice of life, and good drawing is a product of contrast.

I haven't made up my mind yet on this issue, and would be interested in your comments. Maybe you can make one case or the other better than I can. What have you been taught, and what thought process produces the best for you? You can also add your vote to the poll at left.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

One Stroke Snake

(Direct Link to YouTube) It's amazing what you can produce with one stroke of the watercolor brush. Happy Year of the Snake.
Via Best of YouTube

Opera Sketch Report

Last night we attended the Metropolitan Opera's performance of Rossini's little-known comic opera Le Comte Ory.

The seats were orchestra center, third row back, a generous gift of a friend who couldn't use them that night. We could see every flick of the eyebrow of the singers.

We arrived a little early and I sketched the patrons chatting. I used a black Caran D'Ache colored pencil in a Moleskine pocket sketchbook.

Even though the story takes place during the Crusades, Bartlett Sher's production conceives the action as an opera within an opera, set loosely in Rossini's time. Catherine Zuber's eclectic costumes mix medieval headdresses with hip panniers of the eighteenth century. 

During the break between acts I sketched people in the lobby. One gentleman reviewed the playbill, his glasses hanging down below his nose, while others sipped champagne. When Liszt conducted the opera, he said it "bubbled like champagne," and distributed bottles of champagne to the audience, a perfect gesture for this effervescent opera.

Adèle was played by 27-year-old South African soprano Pretty Yende, whose Met debut was last week in this opera. These drawings, all made during the show, are about two inches high. The house lights were so dim that I could barely see what I was doing, so I was working by kinesthetic memory, and concentrating on big shapes.

In the story, the amorous Count Ory, played by Juan Diego Flórez, adopts a variety of disguises to woo ladies whose husbands have gone off crusading. In the second act he and his men gain access to the castle by pretending to be female pilgrims lost in a storm. 

On the way home, the subway was jammed as tight as I've ever seen it. Everyone was bundled for the icy wind.

It has been the coldest week in New York in 17 years, but Rossini had us warmed up from the inside out.
• If someone at the Met would like me to come and unobtrusively sketch backstage during a dress rehearsal, let me know. I'll let you use the sketches in your publicity.
• Review in New York Times
• The sketchbook was a gift from my pals over at White Cloud Worlds/WETA in New Zealand.
• Previous concert sketches on GJ:
Mike McHale
Mass in C
Handel's Messiah
Miro Listening

Friday, January 25, 2013

1903 movie of London street scenes

(Direct link to video) This vintage film records ordinary street traffic in central London in 1903. Pedestrians dodge horse carriages in Hyde Park Corner, Parliament Square and Charing Cross Station. A motorcycle zips past a lamppost at 3:38 and a horseless carriage appears at 3:50-3:60.

"We see crowds of people disembarking from a pleasure steamer at Victoria Embankment, pedestrians dodging horse-drawn carriages in Pall Mall and heavy traffic trotting down the Strand. There are plenty of famous landmarks to spot here, including Big Ben, the National Gallery and the Bank of England, and it is fascinating to see the similarities between the customs of then and now - the dense traffic (mainly horse-drawn, with the occasional motor car) is highly reminiscent of today's London rush hour, while advertising on public transport is clearly no new phenomenon - in one scene, an advert for Nestlé's Milk seems to be plastered on every other vehicle."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Other Nations

“The animal shall not be measured by man,” wrote naturalist Henry Beston. “In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings, they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of earth.”
Henry Beston (USA 1888-1968)
Painting by Bruno Liljefors (Swedish, 1860-1939) "Fox scouting at water's edge" (Spanande räv vid vattenbryn), 1915

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Most animals have lighter coloration on the belly than on the back. This form of camouflage, called countershading, disguises prey animals by offsetting the effects of shadowing on the bottom surfaces.

When standing in bright sunlight, this Cuvier's gazelle is likely to present an unexpected silhouette to a potential predator. 

Countershading is commonly seen in marine animals such as fish as well, darker on the dorsal surfaces and lighter on the ventral surfaces.

Since both predators and prey need to remain hidden, both are frequently countershaded. Penguins and killer whales evolved from very different terrestrial ancestors, and both developed a similar black and white pattern of countershading.
Countershading is mentioned in Imaginative Realism

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Frank Brangywn Video

(Direct link to video) Painter, etcher, and muralist Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) is captured in a vintage interview in this documentary teaser.

An actor represents Brangwyn as charming and bubbly as he discusses working from photo reference: "Took it from a photograph. People didn't talk about using photographs. 'Not done! Cheating!' Rubbish! Saved time and money, in addition to a sketchbook. Tremendously useful."

Anglo-Welsch Brangwyn, a great draughtsmen of the 20th century, was one of the teachers of American illustrators Dean Cornwell and Peter Helck.
Wikipedia on Frank Brangwyn
Book: Frank Brangwyn 1867-1956
Thanks, James Warhola

Corrections: The initial post was incorrect in assuming that the on-screen persona is the real Brangwyn. According to the producers, "The Brangwyn in the film is an actor...The great actor Sir Donald Sinden, who played Brangwyn's father in the film, suggested his friend and colleague, Rowland Davis, to play the part as the physical likeness was so extraordinary." The post has been revised to incorporate this correction.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination

(Video link) Here's a video that tells the story of the making of Dinotopia, created for the 20th anniversary edition and the Lyman Allyn exhibition.

The exhibition called "Dinotopia: Art, Science, and Imagination" ends February 2 at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut. The show has more than 100 objects: original oil paintings, preliminary sketches, maquettes, and dinosaur fossils.

There's more good news. Another Dinotopia exhibition called "Dinotopia: The Fantastical Art of James Gurney" will have a short run from Wednesday, February 20 through Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. That show will include Dinosaur Parade, Garden of Hope, Dinosaur Boulevard and many other classic images.
The four Dinotopia books mentioned:
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, 1992
Dinotopia: The World Beneath, 1995
Dinotopia: First Flight, 1999
Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, 2007

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In the Train Station

This guy was so busy with his iPad that he didn't notice me sketching him.

Drawn in a Moleskine notebook using a black watercolor pencil and two water brushes, one filled with water, and the other with ink. I switch back and forth between all three of those tools throughout the drawing.

Bookshelf Brotherhood

Stefan Kopinski has Color and Light and Imaginative Realism on his bookshelf. 

Stefan is a freelance illustrator for the games industry who visualizes "weird and wonderful ideas" for Sega, Capcom, Forge World, Mantic, and THQ. Here's his illustration portfolio.

The photo appears in the new issue of ImagineFX magazine. Thanks for putting me in such good company!

Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
John Singer Sargent: The Later Portraits
Cover Run: The DC Comics Art of Adam Hughes (Adam Hughes Cover to Cover)
Universe des Dragons, Galerie Daniel Maghen
Digital Painting Techniques, Vol. 3
Color and Light
Imaginative Realism
P. S. Ian Malcolm Miles sent me a photo of his bookshelf, too. Thanks, Ian.

Previously on GJ: Rearranging Art Books