Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Talking Portrait: 17th Street Locos

In 1981 I drew a portrait of two guys on the Santa Monica pier, then asked them to describe themselves into a tape recorder.

(Video link) For the first time, their faces and voices are brought together in a talking portrait.

Thanks to Mark Frauenfelder of BoingBoing for spotlighting this post.

Worldbuilding with Maps

Concept artist Lorin Wood has launched a new group blog called "Nuthin' but Worlds," about concept art and worldbuilding, an offshoot of his successful "Nuthin' but Mech" blog and books. I'm a contributor, and here is what I contributed for my first post:

For me, making a map is the best stimulant for building worlds and telling stories.

But there are many kinds of maps. Here are a few types I've developed for Dinotopia.

Physical geography map, with emphasis on landform relief. Painted in oil on board.

Seafloor relief, shown in perspective, with the island lifted up to show the caves. Inspired by the 1960s seafloor renderings by Tibor Toth for National Geographic.

Expedition route map. I developed a rough version of this along with the story outline. The final is in oil, about the size of a postcard. The seafloor texture is drybrushed over white board, a fast way to work.

Another route map showing a close-up section of the eastern coastline. The locator map at upper left places the detail map in context.

Antique maps are more convincing if they're made with antique tools. This one is made with a dip pen and brown ink on smooth watercolor board. The watercolor washes around the coast were laid down first when it was in pencil stage.

Here's a close-up of the map above to show the graded hatching of the mountain reliefs, typical of engraved maps of the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries. Traveler's maps were often folded, so I  abraded some fold lines into the surface.

Here's a hand-drawn and hand-lettered city map drawn in ink, with a flourished title block and a "rubber stamp" suggesting its provenance in a museum collection. The lettering is not on an overlay, so I couldn't make mistakes. This is from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

City map of Chandara, showing organic street grid and canals. All sorts of street perspectives can be plotted from a master map like this.

Here's a close-up of the same city in Dinotopia. This is called a building plan, where the buildings are sliced away a little above the ground. Walls are lines and columns are dots. Note the fancy illustrated title block, an exuberant touch that expresses something about the confidence of the city.

I love computer tools, but at the same time I also love the risk and commitment required by dip pens, circle templates, triangles, ruling pens, ships curves, and parallel rules. I used them because I thought they would give the final result a more authentic flavor.

All of these maps have been exhibited in museum shows of Dinotopia artwork. Because they are hand-drawn and hand-painted physical objects, they take on a tangible presence, and they become valuable touchstones in the history and life of an intellectual property.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Quang Ho Portrait Demo

On the last day of the Portrait Society’s annual convention, Vietnamese-born, Colorado-based Quang Ho treated an audience of over 500 attendees to a dazzling two-hour head study. 

(Photo by Susan Voss)
I sat off to the side with my sketchbook on my knee. I wanted to capture Quang Ho’s confident stance and the big curve of his new palette. “I bought it because it looks so cool, really,” he said.

While he painted, he discussed everything from color to cosmology, interspersing profound musings with self-effacing jokes.

Quang Ho’s primary concern was to create interesting abstractions within the context of realism: “I’m not painting a person,” he said. “I’m painting the visual context, the setting in a given light. I’m reading the story of what the light is doing to the form.”

(Photo of Thursday's Face-Off painting)
He regarded the light mass of the picture as a single organism, with its own life and personality. The same is true with the dark mass or shadow. “[The art of] painting is how those two organisms come together,” he said. In any given painting, either the light or the shadow should dominate, but they should not be equal. 

His first strokes were a wild but accurate frenzy of brushwork. The model’s pose and attitude emerged from a tangle of apparent randomness. He alternately advanced toward—and backed away from—the painting, repeatedly relating the part to the whole. “Painting goes at different speeds, like driving,” he said. If you only go fast all the time, you’ll get in a train wreck."

(A sample from his website)

During the breaks he showed a gallery of images on the screen, starting with a microscopic array of diatoms and sand grains, followed by sweeping vistas of the solar system and distant galaxies.

(Above: Detail of "Mizuna.")
He then zoomed into details of his own paintings, which he calls “internal structures.” As with self-similarity in fractals, he was conscious of creating interesting abstract compositions at both the micro and the macro scale. He made an effort to infuse even the negative areas of the pictures with painterly interest.

(Quang Ho, "Mizuna," 12x12 inches, from which the previous detail was extracted.)

In color mixing, he spoke most often about value. “If you’re not sure of the color, think only of the value,” he said. “Value is what is important. You can give me motor oil and I can paint with it.”
Many thanks to Mr. Edward Jonas for inviting me to be a part of the convention, and to all the attendees for your kind words and welcome.

(Above: James Gurney and Quang Ho. Photo by Sivananda Nyayapathi)
Read more:
Quang Ho's website

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Documentary on Wooden Boats

Shaped on all Six Sides from New Canada on Vimeo.
Kat Gardner directed this short documentary about building and maintaining wooden boats.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Demos, Demos

Quick post to show you a couple of demos at the Portrait Society convention here in Atlanta earlier today. 

Here is a watercolor sketch I did of Face-Off champion Jeffrey Hein painting Kate Stone on the main stage. Jeffrey said, "Painting is a long hike to paradise," meaning that it often takes a lot of steady, difficult, and unpleasant toil to arrive at a joyful result. 

Four steps in the process of my sketch, which was about 5x8 inches.

Later I had the honor of sitting as the model for Judith Carducci as she did a two-and-a-half hour portrait in pastels. She charmed the audience with limericks and solid painting advice as she worked. It was fun to be on the other side of the easel. Thanks, Judy!

Portrait Society Convention

I'm in Atlanta, Georgia as a guest of the 15th annual convention of the Portrait Society of America. 

The gathering started off Thursday with the dramatic "Face-off" event, where 15 leading alla-prima portrait painters broke into five groupings of three artists. Each set of three painted from a costumed model for two and a half hour session. 

I sat behind Jeffrey Hein and David Kassan and sketched them as they worked.

Here are the paintings they produced. Out of the fifteen contestants, Jeffrey was chosen as the winner by popular vote. His painting, above left, was both technically excellent, and full of feeling. 

He will do a demo on stage this morning, and I will be sketching him as he works. 

I also watched Mary Whyte and Michael Shane Neal demoing side by side from the same model, Mary in watercolor and Shane in oil. They had a relaxed banter going as they worked. 

A split-screen video projected the work in progress onto large screens throughout the ballroom, which was attended by about 500 people.

I gave a new talk called "Portable Portraits: Sketching People in the Wild," about my encounters as I sketch random people in public. 

I'm having a great time here, meeting wonderful people, and learning a lot. There are attendees and faculty here from all over the USA and Canada, and from many other countries.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Casein Experiment

I did this little painting a couple days ago on location in Rhinecliff, New York. The setting sun turned the Hudson River into a path of golden light. 

The painting is 4 x 7 inches on watercolor paper, painted almost entirely with a half inch flat brush. 

The medium is casein. This is my first outing with casein, and I'm already madly in love with it. It is a water-based paint medium with working properties that resemble gouache, cel vinyl, and, in some respects, oil. I've used all of those latter paints quite a bit, but casein has qualities all its own. It can be used transparently, but it has great opacity when you need it, something often lacking in acrylic.

The paint has a delicious, unforgettable aroma that resembles the smell of cosmetics. The milk- based binder seals each layer enough so that they won't pick up with later application.

It lends itself to bold handling and 'finding the image in the paint.' At left is the first stage of the painting above, where I stated the simplest dark/light relationship before going in with the brush to find the details.

Casein is one of the oldest paints, older than oil, but it had its heyday starting in the 1930s, when they figured out how to tube the stuff. It was a favorite through the '40s and 50's, before acrylic came in. Two masters of casein were the illustrators John Berkey and Harry Anderson.

To my knowledge, these days, the only major manufacturer of casein is Jack Richeson, who bought the Shiva name, and keeps it going as a niche business. Here are the colors I have in my paintbox:

Titanium white
Ivory black
Venetian red
Rose red
Cad red scarlet
Cad yellow light
Cad yellow med
Cobalt blue
Ultramarine blue
Raw sienna
Raw umber
Golden ochre

For the painting of the house by the river, I used only white, cobalt blue, golden ochre, venetian red, and a little raw umber. If you want to try casein, I'd recommend getting just a few colors at first and taking them for a spin.
Read more:
You can get a good starter set on Amazon: Jack Richeson 37-Ml Artist Casein Colors, Set of 6
Check out Jim Pinkoski's online portfolio of John Berkey and Harry Anderson
Note: in my book 
, I think I misidentified the painting by Harry Anderson as gouache. I believe it's really casein.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tactile Drawing

(Video link) There are ten days left in a crowdfunded campaign to provide Lensen drawing kits to sight impaired kids. The Lensen is simple wooden drawing tool that makes drawing lines a tactile experience.

The pen unspools wool yarn onto a Velcro surface, which grips the yarn. The pens are designed for children with visual impairment, but they would be a great experience for any artist to use blindfolded and actually feel the lines coming out of the pen.
Link to "Start Some Good" crowdfunding page
Thanks, Rob Nonstop

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Loading Dock

Yesterday my wife and I went to the supermarket. While she did the shopping, I sat out back painting the loading dock.

Gazing at the back of the market for a half hour got me thinking about how we divide our world into frontstage and backstage, parts we're supposed to look at and other parts we're not.  But from a systems point of view, the loading dock is really important, because it's where everything goes in. It's the mouth of the organism.
While I sat there, two people in supermarket uniforms approached me. They had spotted me from the picnic table where they take smoking breaks, or from the security cameras, I'm not sure which. 

One of them identified herself as the store manager. I was nervous, trying to muster an explanation. She said, "I'm just being nosy. Can I see what you're doing?" She was interested in painting. We remarked on the beauty of the spring day and then she and her associate went back inside.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Plein Air Painting Disasters

(YouTube link) A lot can go wrong when you paint outdoors, but wind is the biggest enemy. Artists at the second annual Plein Air Painting convention share their stories of "gamestoppers," unexpected events that bring a painting session to a dramatic halt.

A few gamestoppers that have happened to me include: 
1. Sudden downpour.
2. Painting falls face down.
3. Subject departs.
4. Forgot brushes.
5. Fog covers view.
6. Tide floods painting spot.
7. Cold air freezes watercolor.
8. Truck parks, blocking view.
9. Biting insects unbearable.
10. Automatic sprinklers turned on.
11. Hordes of annoying tourists.
12. Spat on by people above me.
13. Chair collapses in museum.
14. Drawbridge lifts. I’m on it.
15. Donkey rests head in lap.
16. Easel blown into rapids.
17. Jostled by drunk dancers.
18. Menaced by bull.
19. Kicked out by a guard.
20. Ejected by nun.

Thanks to Frank and Justin for filming, and to Eric Rhoads, Steve Doherty and the Streamliners for hosting. 
To the Plein Air convention gang, thanks for all your stories! Sorry we couldn't fit more of them into this short video.
Please share the video on your blog or Facebook. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dragon Copter

(Video linkFesto has built a working model ornithopter called a BionicOpter. Like the dragonfly it is based on, it can fly in all directions, hover in mid-air, and glide. 

I have always been fascinated by the idea of dragonfly ornithopters. Here is Arthur Denison's steam-powered dragoncopter from Dinotopia: The World Beneath (1995). Even though the dragonfly is a very ancient design, it's one of the most agile fliers among insects.

(link to video) The aerodynamics are suggested in this computer simulation from Wright State University.
Thanks, Luke Davis 
Previously on GJ: 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Black Garden

Here’s a plein-air oil painting called “The Black Garden” (Edit Back Garden) by Adolph Menzel (German 1815-1905). It’s about 35x45 inches. 

A careful study like this would probably be done over two or three sessions. Overcast conditions are a big help for such extended outdoor work because the subject changes less from hour to hour.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

How Rockwell turned a detractor into a defender

My friend David Starrett met Norman Rockwell a couple of times in Los Angeles in 1949 when Rockwell was artist-in-residence at the old Otis art school. David told me this story, which he witnessed.

In those days, a lot of the art teachers at Otis criticized Rockwell. One remarked, as he passed through the hallway, "The only way Rockwell can paint is from a photo." Rockwell happened to be working in a classroom and overheard the comment.

Later that day, Rockwell, a slender and modest man, approached the critic as a dachshund might approach a pit bull.

"You have an interesting face," he said. "May I paint your portrait? Why don't you come by tomorrow around noon?"

The critic agreed, and the next day Rockwell proceeded to paint a perfect likeness from observation, all the while regaling the man with amusing stories. Then he gave him the painting.

The painting went up in the man's office and it blew everyone away. Now Rockwell's toughest critic became his biggest champion. No one could say a single word against Rockwell without an argument from this guy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Marc Dallesio's one-minute videos

Florence-based American artist Marc Dalessio has produced a series of short videos, each one making a single point about academic methods for painting the landscape and the figure.

(Direct link to video) This one shows how to use the the sight-size method for landscape.

(Video link) A pocket mirror helps check the accuracy of a portrait. You can hold it both horizontally and vertically to help spot errors in the drawing.

Some of Marc's other one minute videos:
Using a cuttlebone for to prepare the surface of a painting
Scraping down between painting sessions
Sealing gessoed panels
Marc Dalessio's blog
Marc's website
Lines and Colors profile
Thanks, Thomas Kitts

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Plein Air Gouache in Monterey

Gouache—or opaque watercolor—is a wonderful sketching medium because it's so portable, opaque, and fast drying. It's well suited to oil painters who want to travel super-light. I had a few tubes with me at the Plein Air convention in Monterey last Sunday.

Good thing, because I needed something opaque to cover a failed page in my watercolor sketchbook (better than cutting a page out).

For this painting, I set out to capture a lineup of painters in a warm color range, gradating both the background color and the silhouettes as you shift to the left. The morning sun edge-lit the artists and their easels, helping to separate them in some places, while they merged into the tone at the base.

(Direct link to Video)

You can watch the painting being made on this short video. Note the skateboard dolly shots by my son Frank and his buddy Justin Critelli, who operated the cameras while steering dangerously between tippy easels.
Subscribe for free to the James Gurney YouTube Channel and see the videos before anyone else.

Materials: Designers' GouacheCaran D'Ache watercolor pencilsMoleskine Watercolor Notebook, and various sizes of flat watercolor brushes.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Most Beautiful Abandoned Places

If you like eerily beautiful abandoned places, check out this portfolio of 33 of the best.

Here's an abandoned Russian military rocket factory.

....and Christ of the Abyss at San Fruttuoso, Italy
The 33 of the most beautiful abandoned places.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Air Bus

Yesterday there was a little delay before our Virgin flight could push back from the gate at San Francisco. So out came the watercolors.

The watercolor notebook and miniature pan set fit across my lap. I held the drawing tools in my left hand, but I kept dropping them. The lady behind me was nice and handed me the stuff I dropped.

This was the view out my window to the adjacent aircraft. Most of the fuselage was in shadow. Since it was a white color with high specularity it picked up a lot of reflected light: warm from below, and cool from above in almost equal brightness.

I used a dark blue colored pencil for the accents, staying well above black. I used gouache only for the highlight flares and the tops of the orange rubber posts. The whole painting took a half hour.

As everyone was getting off the plane, I showed the painting to the flight crew. Captain Mike Lawson invited me into the cockpit of the Airbus A320. Thanks, Mike!

Media: Rublev watercolor set, Caran D'Ache watercolor pencilsMoleskine Watercolor Notebook, and various sizes of flat watercolor brushes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Happy 82nd, Dan!

(Link to Video) Happy 82nd birthday to my cousin, race driver Dan Gurney. Here's a YouTube video about his Indianapolis highlights.
Road and Track: "Dan Gurney: The Greatest American Hero"

Activision develops real-time face simulation

(Direct link to YouTube video) Activision's research and development team has released this video of an entirely synthetic animated character. It is rendered in real time, which means that a character could look this realistic during gameplay. Or a character could be created with entirely different geometry, such as an orc or a fish-man.

There are a few jarring artifacts, such as the flat black of the inside of the mouth. But the rest of the simulation—including depth of field, subsurface scattering, tiny skin twitches and eye movements, and skin elasticity—gives the simulation a compelling realism, a big step across the uncanny valley.

I-Wei and Almanac Interviews

Inventor, Artist, Animator, Toy Maker, and Tinkerer I-Wei Huang has posted an in-depth interview on his "CrabFu" blog.

I-Wei makes all sorts of cool stuff like steam turbine tanks and a steam walker.

Also, our local events paper, the Almanac has posted an interview here.