Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Spring

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to everyone. This picture is called "The Fairy Way" by Margaret W. Tarrant (1888-1959).

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Urban Plein Air Painting

Yesterday, Good Friday, 2013, we set up our easels on the roughest corner of the roughest neighborhood of the city that New York magazine called the “Murder Capital of New York.” Here is what happened:

(Direct link to Youtube Video) Word quickly spread that there were five artists set up on Lander and Third Streets. Locals told us that they had never seen an artist painting outdoors in their neighborhood in the 50 years they had lived there.

(Photo by Susan Voss)  I was a little nervous when I first arrived, having read what Chuck Schumer said about Newburgh at a Senate hearing: "There are reports of shootouts in the town streets, strings of robberies, and gang assaults with machetes.”

But I felt pretty safe because Garin Baker knew some of the guys in the gang called the Unique Soldiers, who control the north side. Tennis shoes hung from the power lines to mark the group's membership.

Kids came up shyly to watch us paint. One man was on his way to put flowers on his wife's grave. Another guy said the secret to a happy marriage is to "stay prayed up." Everyone who walked by wanted to check out our paintings. They all had a kind word for us, and everyone seemed to enjoy the early spring sunshine.
The Hudson River Rats this time included Garin Baker, Kev Ferrara, Jim and Jeanette Gurney, Mary Sealfon, and Susan Daly Voss
New York magazine "Murder Capital of New York"
Please share this video on Facebook or your blog

Friday, March 29, 2013

Texture in a sunlit round tower

This drawing of a round stone tower illustrates a basic principle of light on form: in direct sunlight the appearance of greatest texture occurs at the area of the form called the darker halftone, just before the line of the terminator divides light from shadow. 

In this case, the region is three quarters of the way to the right of the tower since it's lit from above and to the left. The rough texture of the stone is not very apparent within the big open shadow areas and in the areas on the left of the tower where it is directly front-lit. 

The drawing is in graphite pencil and gray wash, about 6x7 inches. As with any sketchbook drawing, I had to be selective about where to put my time and effort. So with the limited time I had, I loaded the shadow edge with fine detail and summarized the other areas with flat tones.

(photo of Castle Bellver by Randy B.)
A common mistake in rendering a textural form in sunlight is to make the texture equally prominent throughout the form. In digital images, the appearance of overall equal texture can result from mapping a bumpy two-dimensional pattern equally over a 3D form. The texture in the shadow should not just be a darker version of the texture in the light because that’s not how the eye sees it. 

The reason the texture is difficult to see in the shadow region is because it is lit from a variety of directional sources, including the blue sky above and reflected sources from below. These multiple sources effectively cancel the appearance of texture.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Stop motion figure drawing

Life Drawing at The Book Club from Wriggles & Robins on Vimeo.
(Direct link to video) This video is made up of separate figure drawings made by a group of twelve artists arrayed in a circle. As the intervals speed up, the individual drawings merge into a three-dimensional sense of the figure as an animated form.
Thanks, Mary

Book review: "Sign Painters"

(Direct link to video book review) A lot of you liked the recent post about the sign painter documentary. I had a chance to read the book that goes with it, and it's so gorgeous and full of colorful photos that I had to show it to you in a video. Faythe Levine and Sam Macon assembled the book from the stories and photos that they gathered on their quest across America.

Their goal was to profile more than two dozen sign painters who have kept to their handmade tradition instead of going over to vinyl lettering. The book was published by Princeton Architectural Press, and I love the fact that the book cover and inside headlines are lettered by hand.

Sign Painters book on Amazon.
Sign Painter Blog
Previous GurneyJourney posts on lettering
There's a screening of the documentary at 2:00 on March 30 in Washington, DC, and later in Milwaukee, Vancouver, Minneapolis, and Cincinnati. More info on screenings.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Airline sticker for art supplies

Plein Air magazine created this label to explain your art supplies to TSA agents. In the comments, I'd love to hear your stories about carrying your art supplies through airline checkpoints.

Awkward family portraits

It's awfully hard to paint a group scene and get everything working together. So just for fun, here are some awkward family portraits by artists of the past. Here's "Self Portrait with Family" by George Dawe (1781-1829).

"Self Portrait with his Family and Father in Law," by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678).

For more amusing awkwardness, check out the Awkward Family Photos website.
Book: Awkward Family Photos

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dinosaur Art

Over at, Irene Gallo has posted a big gallery of dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and marine reptiles.

Above: Zdeněk Burian, Below, chocolate box art

"Picturing Dinosaurs" at
Thanks, Irene and Charley!

Color in a bird of paradise

In its courtship display, the male Wilson's Bird-of-Paradise presents three bright swatches of color: blue, yellow, and crimson, making it one of the most colorful creatures on the planet. 

(Direct link to video) As with many butterflies, reptiles, and other birds, the blue color is not based on a pigment, but rather it's a "structural" color, which means that microscopic textures interact with the light to reflect back blue wavelengths. The bird also uses structural blues on the legs, and greens on the breast feathers. The yellows and reds are pigment-based colors. 

Wikipedia on Structural Color,

Monday, March 25, 2013

Illustration #40: Minney and Abbey

The new Illustration magazine has arrived on the newsstands. The cover feature examines the sensational men's adventure art of Bruce Minney. The men's magazines offered a spicy mix of half-clad women, Nazis, lions, alligators, guns and explosions—plenty of grist for social historians.

As always, Illustration magazine offers the highest quality reproductions. In the case of Minney, there are 69 images, taken from both originals and printed pieces. The examples span his career, including his later work in paperback genres of historical romance and gothic horror. Contemporary illustrators will appreciate the fact that the article includes some of his preliminary sketches and photo references to show his process.

The other major article in the new edition of Illustration is about Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911). I mentioned him recently on this blog as the artist who painted Richard III and many other scenes from Shakespeare. Here is a scene from Macbeth: "There's blood upon thy face" (Act III, scene iv) 
Originally from Philadelphia, Abbey, moved to England and worked closely with John Singer Sargent and Lawrence Alma Tadema. Beloved in his day and rather obscure now, his images were painterly, evocative, and authoritative. He amassed a costume collection that would have been worthy of a theater company. To see more of his work, follow any of the three links below:
Illustration magazine website (preview the entire magazine online)
More on Illustration #40 on Matthew Innis's blog Underpaintings
Previously on GJ: Richard III by Abbey

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Parrish mural will go to auction

The Palace Hotel in San Francisco has removed its Maxfield Parrish mural "The Pied Piper." It will go to auction May 23 and is expected to fetch three to five million dollars.

The painting, which measures 16 feet long by six feet deep, is considered a major San Francisco cultural treasure and is a major feature of the Pied Piper room, selected as one of the city's "legacy bars and restaurants" by the San Francisco Architectural Heritage. The hotel said the painting was being sold because "it is no longer practical for the hotel to display, an original work of this value and cultural significance, in a public area."
Article in San Francisco Chronicle
Thanks, Susan
UPDATE March 25: The hotel changed their minds and decided to keep the painting. Thanks, CGB

Forging real swords based on pop culture versions

Regular readers may recall my posts about master swordsmith, Tony Swatton, who armored up my pencil box and who leads Viking raids on IKEA.

Tony has produced hundreds of movie weapons, and now he's working with a video team to produce a web series showing the process he uses in his shop in Burbank, CA. Each week Tony forges a new weapon based on suggestions from viewers. He uses grinders, furnaces, and power hammers, and explains each step of the process. Then "he takes his weapon to the streets to bust up some stuff.."

In the first eposide, Tony builds Jaime Lannister's sword from "Game of Thrones." These videos are helpful for concept artists to watch to see the logistics of the build and the strength needed to use real weapons that follow fantasy designs.
Video by Andy Signore, Gabe Michael, Mitch Rotter and Matt Irwin
Tony's shop: The Sword and the Stone, Burbank, CA

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saved by hot chocolate

Yesterday Jeanette and I had some errands to do in Kingston, New York, and we had a little time left over to do a sidewalk painting. It was just above freezing, with dirty snow lingering in clumps and a cold wind blowing off the Hudson River. Not an ideal day for watercoloring.

We picked one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods, called Ponckhockie. It was originally settled by the Dutch, and later by Polish and Irish bricklayers and canal workers. No tourists go there. It's a really friendly neighborhood. 

We set up our folding chairs at random on the sidewalk in front of the White Eagle Benevolent Society and started painting the corner of Delaware and Third Avenues, where there is a defunct neighborhood deli.

Jeanette zeroed in on the market in pencil and transparent watercolor, emphasizing the wires, windows, and sign details. I used gouache, and I tried grouping all the shadows to a near-black composed of ultramarine and burnt umber, while the lights were a pale warm white in opaque gouache.

We both had mishaps: My water bottle leaked out its contents in my bag, endangering the camera, and Jeanette dumped water all over her painting. Our fingers were numb with cold and we were about to give up, when all of a sudden.....

 ....out of the blue appeared our Angel of Deliverance. Paul from the Benevolent Society appeared with two steaming cups of hot chocolate--with whipped cream!--and an invitation to join them for their pirogi, stuffed cabbage and kiełbasa dinner on Palm Sunday.

The hot chocolate and warm gift of kindness revived us and cheered us for the rest of the morning.
Previously: Art Department Traffic Cones
Media: Moleskine watercolor notebook, Schmincke Half Pan Watercolor Pocket Set , Winsor & Newton Designer's Gouache (Jim) Winsor & Newton Watercolor Set (Jeanette)
YouTube video: Watercolor Warriors

Friday, March 22, 2013

How John Sargent found a painting subject

How did John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) find a painting subject? Sir Edmund Gosse recalled:

"He was accustomed to emerge [from the house where he was staying in Broadway, England], carrying a large easel, to advance a little way into the open, and then suddenly to plant himself down nowhere in particular, behind a barn, opposite a wall, in the middle of a field. The process was like that in the game of musical chairs where the player has to stop dead, wherever he may happen to be, directly the piano stops playing. The other painters were all astonished at Sargent’s never ‘selecting’ a point of view, but he explained it in his half-articulate way. His object was to acquire the habit of reproducing precisely whatever met his vision without the slightest previous ‘arrangement’ of detail, the painter’s business being, not to pick and choose, but to render the effect before him, whatever they may be.”
Related post on JG: Ninety Degree Rule
from “John Sargent” by the Honorable Evan Charteris, 1927.
The painting is called "Home Fields" from 1885.
New book: John Singer Sargent: Watercolors

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Otello at the Met

Last night we saw Otello at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It was a thrilling production of Verdi's late masterwork based on the Shakespeare play. 

The sets, designed by Michael Yeargan, evoked the grandeur of the Venetian republic in Cyprus, with soaring columns anchoring the structure for both indoor and outdoor scenes. Duane Schuler's lighting design evoked everything from stormy seas to victory bonfires to sunny courtyard gardens.

To create the sketch above, I drew the orchestra pit and the audience during intermission. I drew the staging from memory on the train ride home since there wasn't enough light to see my book during the show.

According to reviewer Marion Rosenberg, this production by Elijah Moshinsky "draws on the rich but subdued palette of such Venetian masters as Titian and Gentile Bellini and sets the drama on Cyprus, where Verdi and Shakespeare envisioned it. A cult-site for the goddess Venus, evoked as the morning star in the opera’s love duet, the island is thus a bitingly ironic setting for a tale of shattered devotion."

During the show itself, I tried to capture some of the expressive poses of Thomas Hampson, who played the villain Iago. The role requires not only prodigious vocal skill, but also the ability to project the character's gravity and emotion through broad acting, and Hampson delivered brilliantly in all departments.

I recommend this opera to any artist who enjoys Golden Age illustration or academic painting, because it feels like a painting by Lawrence Alma Tadema or Jean-Leon Gérôme or Howard Pyle brought to life on stage. This is one of the Met's classic, traditional, and eye-popping productions, and of course it is Giuseppe Verdi at his very best.

There are still three performances of Otello remaining this season: Saturday, March 23, Wednesday, March 27, and Saturday, March 30. Here's the Met website
in a Moleskine watercolor notebook. Given the environment, I didn't use my watercolor set, but the pencils and brush pens are very discreet and work well in low light.
Thank you, Paul 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Art and Nature

Where should we look for inspiration? Art or nature? 

(Above left: by Giovanni Boldini, 1842–1931), above right: by Adolph Menzel, 1815-1905) 

By “Nature,” of course, I don’t just mean the wild woods, but the real world around us. It’s an age-old question, one that passes through my mind sometimes when I’m making a long pilgrimage to a museum to study paintings of a favorite artist. Such journeys take me past scenes of foggy streets or quiet streams that beckon me to paint them. Hurrying to enter the gallery, I ignore the inspiration of reality in favor of the product of another artist’s hand. 

The appeal of Art is strong. Those who have gone before provide a stimulus, a high example. Facing nature can be bewildering. On its own, reality is overwhelming and infinite. Seeing what others have painted provides a way through the maze of appearances. The example of great art provides new ways to interpret Nature. Nature has already been translated, made comprehensible, achievable. The greatest artists of the past have blazed trails into the wilderness that we can use as a guide for our own personal exploration, just as the mountain climber is lifted up by knowing which routes have been scaled before, by whom, and with what equipment.

What if we turn only to Art for inspiration? Those who base their work only on other Art find that their productions quickly becomes sterile, mannered and derivative. Even the most able artist risks falling back on safe habits, familiar methods, and trite motifs.

Sometimes while looking at a painting by an artist I admire, I can imagine his or her voice whispering to me: “Don’t bother looking at my paintings. Go outside, where I got my inspiration, and find your own art there!” Other times I find myself filling folders on my computer with more and more digital images, and I feel like the diner who keeps eating out of habit, savoring the taste less with each bite.

One might object that the two quantities are fundamentally dissimilar and can't be compared. Art is an artificial creation of the human mind, and Nature is unknowable except through human culture. In fact it can be argued that we can't really approach Nature as artists without the guidance of some template of previous tradition. So it's not really a question of Art or Nature, but cultivating the habit of alternating the appreciation of one with the other.

"Art and Nature" by Francisco de Medrano, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The study of Nature—informed by feeling, memory, and imagination—has been the stimulus for many great movements in art history. And it is the source of the art that I love most. In his poem "Art and Nature," Spanish poet Francisco de Medrano (1570-1607) expresses how art is like a cloistered garden compared to the limitless divine creation, a message that inspired me so much that I wrote it out with a dip pen above.

Farm Kitchen

Here's a sketchbook study of the kitchen at my friend's farm, drawn in graphite pencil with gray wash. They told me over coffee that they're expecting their first lambs of the season in two weeks.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When do you paint highlights?

A couple of years ago I visited the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University as the guest of the illustration department. After giving a lecture, I did a portrait demo of painting professor Tom Barrett. 

As you can see, there were at least three sources of light (two incandescent floods on stands and the window light, but the one next to the table predominated. The drawing is in water-soluble colored pencil and watercolor about 8 x 6 inches.

Once I had established the preliminary drawing, one of the earliest decisions was where to place the highlights, since I was using transparent watercolor only. So when I laid the first washes of skin tone across the face, I painted around the white spaces on the forehead, the tip and bridge of the nose, and the cheeks.

In watercolor, since highlights are the lightest values, they must be left as unpainted white paper. They can also be masked out from the start, or applied with gouache at the last. In oil paintings, highlights should generally be saved for the last. 

There's a lot more on the subject of "highlights and specularity" in the six-page article that I wrote for the current issue of International Artist magazine, which should be on the newsstands now.
Flickr stream with more photos of my visit to AIB
Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University
International Artist magazine, Issue 90
Photo above by Keith MacLelland
Mediawatercolor pencils and water-soluble pastels. Water and ink applied with water brushes, one filled with water, and the other filled with fountain pen ink
This subject is also covered in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (Amazon)also available signed from my website store.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Irish Traditional

I painted this 8x10 oil in 1995 in the west of Ireland, and I send it to you with my warm wishes on this Saint Patrick's day.

If you'd like to hear some Irish music from the comfort of your own computer today, tune into the live-streaming music site Concert Window.

Co-founder and Irish traditional accordion player Dan Gurney will be performing in Texas this afternoon with his good buddies Sean Earnest (guitar) and Joey Abarta (uilleann pipes).

The show starts at 4:00 Eastern U.S. time. They're touring in support of their new album "The Yanks."

Concert Window website
Hear a free track at the the Yanks Band website
Review of the new Yanks album on Irish Echo

Sculpting a hand

(Video link) This seven minute video shows the process for sculpting a hand in water-based clay by Philippe Faraut.

The general thought process is very similar to painting in opaque oils. You first establish the big forms, then carve them down to smaller planes and finally blend and refine the surface and the small details.

The artist's website, with more info on his materials and tools
Mr. Faraut's books:
Mastering Portraiture- Advanced Analyses of the Face Sculpted in Clay
Portrait Sculpting: Anatomy and Expressions in Clay
Via Best of YouTube

More on highlights and specularity tomorrow.