Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Train an Animator

In 1935, Walt Disney wrote an eight page memo to art teacher Don Graham outlining his ideas for how to train an animator.

Rico Lebrun works with Eric Larson as he draws a live deer in preparation for Bambi from Eye-Likey
It's a snapshot of what Disney was thinking about the art of animation during those formative years just before Snow White and Pinocchio, and it offers some ideas that might inspire current art teachers. Here are some exerpts:

"I have often wondered why, in your life drawing class, you don't have your men look at the model and draw a caricature of the model, rather than an actual sketch. But instruct them to draw the caricature in good form, basing it on the actual model."

"In [drawing the model] lifting, for example - or other actions - we should drive at the fundamentals of the animation, and at the same time, incorporate the caricature. When someone is lifting a heavy weight, what do you feel? Do you feel that something is liable to crack at any minute and drop down? Do you feel that because of the pressure he's got, he's going to blow up, that his face is going to turn purple, that his eyes are going to bulge out of their sockets?"

Disney observed that young animators often dwelled on the individual parts of the body that they were animating instead of the expression of the overall pose. To better understand expressive poses, he suggested setting up a translucent screen with the model behind the screen, seen only by the shadow silhouette cast by a spotlight behind, which was in fact an old parlor game.

He goes on to suggest ideas for teaching about the components of facial expression, staging, music, dialog, and the understanding of what drives the movement of the figure. "The driving force behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character - or all three. Therefore the mind is the pilot."

In this video, Disney talks about how his in-studio training program went beyond the static poses that were taught in typical art schools by focusing on the flow of movement, action, and reaction. (link to video).

Walt's interest in an in-house studio was initially inspired by animator Art Babbit, who brought his fellow artists to his home to do figure drawing. Here's more about Art Babbit's role in animation education at Disney in the 1930s.

Artist Rico Lebrun was brought into the program later in the 1930s, primarily to help with Bambi. Read about his Disney art classes here.

Further reading
Full text of Disney's letter to Don Graham
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures
The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams (great book by Roger Rabbit's animation supervisor, who learned a lot from Art Babbitt and other classic animators).

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Art of Copying

Ilya Repin's portrait of Stasov

Photo of the copying room at the Da Fen Oil Painting Village in Buji, Longgang, Shenzhen, China,
which employs over 5,000 artists.
Blog reader Bob Walsh asked what I thought of the business of art copying.

Hi, Bob,
It's an interesting problem, though not a new one, except perhaps in the scale of the enterprises. I like to come at the issue from a lot of different angles:

Copying a master's work was and still is one of the best ways to learn. Here are some of the copies I did when I was teaching myself to paint. They include postcard-sized copies Rockwell, Bouguereau, Waterhouse, Moran, Cornwell, and even that same Repin painting of Stasov.

Many art students do copies at the same size of the original, matching it as closely as they can. Not surprisingly, the market for historical paintings is filled not only with forgeries but also with copies made as legitimate learning exercises, though they should be labeled as such to avoid confusion. 

"Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros," both by Bouguereau 

Many academic artists made replica copies of their own works and didn't consider anything wrong with having multiple originals. For example, Bouguereau painted more than one original oil painting of "Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros."

From a philosophical perspective, all images are real in a way and unreal in a way, too— and all copies are varying degrees of "faithful," "mechanical," "genuine," whether they're made by humans or machines, or some combination.

From the customer's point of view, as long as you know what you're buying, I suppose no one is hurt by copies. As long as some people merely want a hand-painted image to hang on their walls and they don't really care about who painted it, a market will rise to meet that demand, just as there has always been a market for reproduction antiques. 

From the creator's point of view, some artists regard copies as flattering and some as potentially infringing. That mainly depends on whether it's for sale and whether the attribution is genuine. American crafts artists have long been fighting Chinese knockoffs that undercut their market by matching their work exactly but for a much lower price. NPR did a report about New England crafts people fighting such a lawsuit.

Sometimes a copy can sell for more than the original, such as Glenn Brown's copy of a Chris Foss spaceship painting, which sold for 5.7 million dollars, while Foss's painting sold for only a few hundred. The legal and moral argument in that case is whether the recontextualization—the larger size, the new title — legitimized the work as a transformative new work. Whether such a high profile copy diminishes or enhances the work of the "real" original is a matter that's open for some debate.

Bob Dylan's "Opium," (2009) next to a photograph by Léon Busy, taken in Vietnam in 1915/ Left: Gagosian Gallery / Right: © Musée Albert Kahn, courtesy HuffPost
Other high profile artists have gotten in hot water for copying. Singer-turned-painter Bob Dylan received some adverse publicity a while ago when his "Asia Series" of paintings at the Gagosian gallery, which purported to be taken from his direct experience of his travels, turned out to be copies of historical, and sometimes copyrighted photographs.

Copying has its place in art, especially as a learning exercise. But originality and authenticity can be a rare commodities, even among so-called creative geniuses. The best thing is to be open and honest with what you're doing, and give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Trost Richards Plein Air Watercolors

The Brooklyn Museum has a good collection of sketchbooks and watercolors by William Trost Richards which give insight into his practice of painting studies on location.

 William Trost Richards (1833-1905) "Landscape with Tree"
This partly finished study is 10 x 14 inches. (25.4 x 35.6 cm) on smooth beige paper. It's mostly and transparent watercolor with some opaque touches in gouache. He used gouache for the thin twigs on the far left, but he carefully painted around the illuminated leaves in the center of the picture. 

In this case, his initial steps don't include a very detailed pencil drawing. The unfinished area of the fence shows a few light washes and some locator lines painted with a brush in watercolor.
William Trost Richards, American, 1833-1905, Rhode Island Coast: Conanicut Island ca. 1880
This study is the same size, carried through to finish. It uses a similar method: painting large shapes rather loosely (but accurately) with larger brushes, and then subdividing those masses into smaller textures and details.

Although this method requires large reserves of patience and concentration, I don't think it would necessarily take too long; I believe a painting like this could be done in an afternoon or perhaps two consecutive sessions.

Computer Time

I painted this watercolor study of my wife Jeanette doing computer time. Normally, of course, the computer gives off a blue light, but this light is from a lamp shining on the warm-colored wall in front of her.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Trost Richards seascape method

William Trost Richards "British Coastal View (Coast of Cornwall)" circa 1880
Oil on paper mounted on artist's board, 8-3/4 x 16 inches (22.2 x 40.6 cm)
Here's an oil study by William Trost Richards of the coast of Cornwall. If we had been able to see this painting half-finished, I believe that the areas of the water and the the headlands would have been stated as large, flat masses of relatively thin paint, and they would have been detailed later.

You can see the broader statement clearest in the shadowed bluff at the far left, where the brushstrokes from his large bristle brush carry down along the whole form. The darker subdivisions were added later with a smaller brush. At the far left are the marks of the same brush pounding downward to soften the bottom edge of the bluff and to pull the green of the grass upward. 

The preliminary statement of masses probably included the average color of the water, without waves or foam, and the light and dark masses of the headlands on the right of the scene. With that paint sitting wet but not too thick, he painted the smaller lines in the rock following the natural fracture lines. The waves also came in later. You'll notice that the wavelet lines never really intersect the vertical line of the illuminated bluff.

This method of painting the poster statement and then subdividing is in contrast to that of Frederic Church. Church finalized the brushwork from the background to the foreground. The sky would have been finished and the illuminated breakers in the middle distance would also have been finished before the jagged line of the rocks was carried across it.

Previous post shows a similar technique on a Trost Richards watercolor

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Rousse's Illusions

French artist Georges Rousse has been creating single-perspective illusions for several decades now. What appears to be a two dimensional design floating in front of a room is really an unadulterated photo of a painted room. Creating these illusions requires careful choices in site selection, photography, perspective, painting, and lighting.

This video, (link to YouTube) reveals the day-by-day effort required to achieve one of his installations in a narrow, window-filled room in Miyagi, Japan.

The second half of the video is a time lapse sequence showing the effect of changing light, with the camera locked into position. Finally the camera drifts out of position to show the illusion off-axis.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Forgot his brushes

Have you ever forgotten your brushes on a painting excursion? Sir Alfred Munnings did. Here's what happened.

"Once on Exmoor, not long ago," he writes in his memoir, "I arrived by car at Cloud Farm to paint Bagsworthy Water, some twelve miles away, and found I had forgotten my brushes. I have developed the habit of carrying my brushes separately in a brown-paper roll. A box holds a miserable handful, and I like at least one big brush among the twenty or thirty I choose to take...." 

"....With no brushes, I viciously chewed the ends of pieces of wood, tied paint-rags on sticks, sought out minute fir-cones washed down in spate to the stream's bank, some of these matted with fine strands of grass. A teazle was a grand thing on such an occasion. Cursing and raging not to be beaten, I found that with these tools I could do a lot, and the final result was much the same as if I had used brushes."

"I returned next day. Conditions were the same. I sat in the same place near the roaring foam. I made the same design and painted another picture ; this time with brushes. Afterwards, placing the two canvases side by side, and standing back to look, they appeared exactly the same, four yards away."

Sir Alfred Munnings (1878-1959) on Wikipedia
From "An Artist's Life" by Alfred Munnings (free ebook)
Some of the images courtesy Sir Alfred Munnings Museum at his home, Castle House in Dedham, Essex. (thanks, Beth Munnings-Winter)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

What is 'Picturesque'?

For over three hundred years, people have tried to identify ideal landscapes in terms of paintings.

A landscape would be called picturesque if it resembled a painting by Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) or Nicolas Poussin. A tourist would travel with a darkened mirror called a 'Claude glass' or 'Lorrain mirror' to see a reflection that reminded them of a familiar landscape painting.

Scholars have debated what aesthetic factors qualify a scene as picturesque, and it usually boils down to a scene that satisfies the human instinct for beauty and the sublime. Others have said that there needs to be an element of roughness or variation, or a pleasing distribution of masses of trees or ruins.

The notion of what is picturesque has evolved as our taste for images has changed. If you google the term 'picturesque' all by itself, you don't get paintings; you get a lot of HDR photos of nature scenes with mountains and water features, and occasionally a domestic human structure integrated into the landscape. Our collective visual imagination is probably influenced as much by calendar photos and computer screen savers as it is by gallery paintings.

What do you think of when you hear the word "picturesque?"
Previously on GurneyJourney: Lorrain mirror
Picturesque in Wikipedia

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pinocchio in the Bird Cage

Ken Anderson relates the following details about the complexity of one of the scenes in Disney's Pinocchio (1940):

"The most difficult multi-plane shot in terms of design and layout was far from the most spectacular of the film. It’s where Pinocchio is locked in the bird cage in Stromboli’s wagon, and the wagon is moving. You had a great number of levels. There were the swinging bars of the cage, and that cage had two levels, front and back. Pinocchio was inside, responding to the pull of gravity. The problems of proper registration was tremendous. On top of that, you had swinging puppets in the foreground and light coming in the window with the moon shining on the farthest level back. The moon was held while the other things were moving and swinging. The light ray of the blue fairy had to be airbrushed through the window. The final result looks natural, but planning all the effects was very complicated. And expensive."
From Cartoon Brew, where Steve Hulett has been presenting a serialized memoir called "Mouse in Transition" about his years at Walt Disney animation. While he was there, he interviewed older animators, including Ken Anderson, about their work on Pinocchio.
Images copyright Disney Enterprises

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Diner counter

Yesterday at the diner in Red Hook, New York, I painted Tom sitting at the counter reading his paper. 

Since he had finished his meal before I started sketching, I guessed he wouldn't be there long. So I skipped the pencil lay-in stage and dove in with flat brushes, painting shape against shape. I surrounded his red shirt with blues and greens for contrast.

Sure enough, Tom got up and left after ten minutes. Right about then our steaming plates of scrambled eggs arrived to our booth table covered with art supplies. I put the watercolors away and finished up the sketch later, looking at an empty counter.
Shout-out to blog reader Whiskey from Connecticut. Thanks for saying hi. Hope you had a nice meal and ride to the Catskills.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Answers to your questions about sketching animals

Last May, I did a blog post about sketching animals from life and invited you to submit questions for a Q and A in International Artist magazine

The new issue of International Artist is printed, and should be on the newsstands soon. It includes a six-page story with your questions and my answers and sketchbook pages. 

Although I couldn't get to every single question, I think I tackled most of them. Here they are:

Why bother? Why paint the animal directly?” (Karen Robinson)
Drawing and painting animals from life gives me a clearer sense of their characteristic poses and behaviors. As they move around, I’m forced to internalize a sense of their structure. Also, I like being able to feel their bones under the fur or feathers (assuming they’re domesticated). Touching, hearing, and even smelling animals adds so much to my understanding of them, and informs any work I do later when I’m working from references.

And there are unforgettable moments, such as sitting beside a calf that is just a few hours old, and having it get up on wobbly legs and sniff my sketchbook.

(Note above: where you see that YouTube play symbol, there's a live link to a video of the sketch being made)

“Quick gesture studies aside, what are the benefits to sketching moving animals from life as opposed to drawing from taxidermy for example?” (Gavin)
Each has its benefits. No taxidermist can perfectly capture a living animal, and they probably wouldn’t choose to portray an animal in one of its funny in-between expressions, like the way a donkey will lift up its front lip when it smells urine, for example. Life studies are great for gathering quick impressions of natural poses. Museum studies are great for really doing careful studies of structure, texture, and form.

“How about taking a video of an animal as it paces and leaps around in its cage so you can later sketch it in different positions and develop a 3D "model" of its shapes in your head by scrubbing the video back and forth?” (Leif)
All roads lead to Rome. Studying video is helpful, too. Of course animals in zoos or farms don’t behave the same as wild animals, nor are they as fit. If you can shoot video of the animals  that interest you, you’ll have a good reference. But there are so many great wildlife films available online now that you have to ask yourself if it’s worth shooting your own. When I bring both a camera and a sketchbook on a wildlife or zoo encounter I have to decide between one or the other because it’s just too much to juggle.

Do you ever snap a quick photo before starting a study so that after you have the main points blocked in, you can go back and look at some details in case the animal has changed position?  (A.L. Ryder)

I have done that a few times, but not usually. Normally, I forget to do that until after the animal has moved, and I lose interest in working on the sketch after I’ve left the scene.

What advice would you give for training one's memory? (Robert Simone)
I make the most progress when I alternate between observation, book study, and memory. Draw an animal from life, and then draw that pose or another pose later in your sketchbook just from memory. Even if that memory sketch doesn’t look very good, it helps me to come face to face with what I know and what I don’t know. The more I can internalize the animal’s structure, the better I can make headway on a sketch when the animal has changed pose.

“What if the animal decides to get up and walk away? Do you make up the rest or start a new sketch?” (Gabriel S.)
There’s no predicting it. Many times I’ve Iaid in a strong start only to have the animal wake up or saunter off. If I’m pretty far along, I stick with it. Sometimes I can hold elements of the pose in mind, and if I do my job at the beginning and leave a good map of the overall pose, I can fill in the blanks. But if I have a weak beginning, I’ll just start a new one right over the messed-up lay-in.

In the video of the painting of the Belgian draft horse, you can see me restarting two or three times at the beginning of each painting.

Belgian, 2013. Casein, 5x8” (follow the link to a video of the sketch being made)
“How would I catch the pose of an animal or group of animals who are running past, for example at a horse racing event?” (Pascoe)  “How do you capture a running dog, animals fighting / wrestling with one another?” (Susan T)
I’m not too good with either of these situations. I went to a dog walk park once and sat on a picnic table all ready to go with my sketchbook. The dogs were all hyped up and running around at top speed. I sat there for an hour trying to sketch those furry meteors, and what did I get in my sketchbook? Nothing whatsoever!

“Do you choose a pose and then wait for the animal to take that pose again?” (Karen Thumm)
Yes, I try to sit for at least ten or fifteen minutes before I start sketching. It usually takes the animal that long to get used to me while I get my materials ready, and in that time I have a pretty good idea of what pose they’re likely to stay in longest, or which poses they might return to. If they seem likely to move a lot, I’ll just try for small gestural sketches.

Thrush, pencil, 8 x 8 inches.
In the case of a thrush that was stunned after striking a window of our house, I sat quietly near it and sketched it as it gradually regained its consciousness.

Peanut, water-soluble colored pencil, 5 x 8 inches.

Do you catch the gesture first, then observe various individuals as they move into the pose you are drawing for the details or what? (Carole Pivarnki)
If there’s a group of related animals, I can use details from one to finish another that has moved off.

In the sketches of robin hatchlings, I climbed a ladder to the nesting shelf and tried to draw the babies as quickly as possible, capturing gesture first, and then layering details over that as long as I could before the angry parent chased me off!  
Robin Babies, watercolor, 5 x 8 inches

Older Robin Babies, pencil, 5 x 8 inches.

What is your minimum kit that allows for working in a full hue and value range, but is versatile enough for physically limited situations” (Jacob Stevens)
The simplest thing is a small set of water-soluble colored pencils, perhaps yellow ochre, red-brown, dark brown, and black, plus two water brushes, one with clear water, and one with black ink. I use a similar small palette in watercolor, casein, or oil. For mammals, you don’t need much more than that, though you could add a blue.

For a study of frogs, I’m glad I had green on my palette, which I used while sitting quietly beside a frog pond for over three hours. The frogs ignored me after a while and even hunted some insects while I sketched them.
Frogs, Watercolors and colored pencils, 5x8.”

What size sketchbooks do you recommend, and how long does a sketch take to complete? (Liz Gorman)
I like to work in a 5x8 inch watercolor sketchbook, and a sketch can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on how long the animal stays in the pose. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to work with an expert animal handler who will attempt to keep the animal in the same pose.

In the video of the turkey hen, you can see in time lapse exactly how much the bird was moving during the course of the 20 minute study.

How do you sketch birds or animals that perceive staring as a threat? Also, how do you keep your models from nibbling at your sketchbook or drawing tools?” (Laura Young)
With dogs that belong to other owners, they’re confused by the attention, and  refuse to settle down. That can be a gamestopper, so I try to wait until the dog is comfortable with me.

For gorillas and chimps, I arrive early at the zoo, before it’s crowded, and then slowly walk backwards to the glass without looking at them directly, except in furtive glances. That relaxes the apes, and they’ll often be willing to sit  closer to me. In the case of the silverback gorilla, it was a male who was not intimidated by staring from humans.
Silverback, 2013. Casein, 5x8” (link to YouTube video)

”How do you make a drawing of an animal that rather than being a generic drawing is a portrait, distilling the individual essence and personality of a particular animal?” (Tim B.)
To portray an individual animal well, I really have to get to know that animal, especially one that is around others of its kind. By comparing its distinctive qualities to those of others, I can accentuate them.

For example, I’ve painted a lot of hens on the farm near where I live, but Henrietta was a unique character, both in the way she looked and the way she moved.

Henrietta. watercolor, 5x8”

“How do you portray the defining characteristics of the animal or bird--such as fur or feathers--without getting too fussy and labored?” (Gayle Bell)
A good example would be a French bulldog that I drew on a train in France. He wasn’t holding very still, so getting too fussy wasn’t an option. His owner had a little blue padded bed for him and encouraged him to sleep, but he preferred to glance out the window. When I made bird-whistle noises, he looked over at me so I could do his portrait.

French Bulldog, 2010. Water-soluble colored pencils, 5x8” I sketched this dog on a train in France.

“Are there some types of animals you would recommend beginners start sketching first? Family pets, for instance?” (Tim Fehr)
Sleeping dogs are a good place to start—or any sleeping animals, really. One afternoon I took the opportunity to draw a portrait of a friend’s dog named Silver, who was deaf and blind but still very responsive to attention. He napped for about 15 minutes while I sketched him in watercolor pencils. Other than dogs, I would recommend sketching any domesticated animals that you can observe up close in a relaxed setting.

Old Dog Silver, 2011. (link to YouTube) Water-soluble colored pencils, 5x8”

Do you approach sketching animals differently if you are using the sketchbook as a fact-gathering tool for a future illustration as opposed to sketching for sketching's sake?” (Daroo)
Yes, I once went to the zoo to sketch mouflon sheep for an archaeological story on domestication. I ended up making very simple pencil sketches and written notes, trying to note how those sheep were different from other sheep I had drawn before. Narrowing my goals focused my observation.

“Is it more important to capture the spirit of the pose or focus on being faithful to reality?” (Tyler J)
It depends on what you want out to get out of the experience and what you mean by reality. In a way, the spirit of the pose is a key part of the truth of the animal, just as much as the detailed markings or the hair tracts.

“What do you do if you get half way along and find a major mistake? How do you keep proportions correct?” (Colleen Caubin)
If something is wrong, I rub out the goof and paint or draw it again. I check proportions as I go, using the same measuring methods I would use in a controlled studio figure drawing, but doing it rapidly in shorthand.  

“What do you need to know, if anything, about the skeletal structure of the animal you are sketching?” (Janet Oliver)
The skeleton is everything. It helps a bit to study diagrams in books, but I think you really have to find a museum with good animal skeletons and work from those, because that’s the only way you’ll get a three dimensional sense. I’m always thinking back to what I know about what’s going on deep beneath the surface.

Thanks, everybody for your great questions, and sorry I couldn't get to all of them.

Pick up a copy of International Artist at your local newsstand, or subscribe. GurneyJourney blog readers voted it the best art magazine, and I agree.

Subscribe to the GurneyJourney YouTube channel so that you don't miss future episodes.

Radio Sketch Artist

Blog reader Mike Sheehan is a sketch artist who works with his local radio station KPCC to provide visuals for radio stories on the station's website. Here's a short interview and gallery where he talks about how his sketchbook gives him a different perspective on news events.

A "radio sketch artist" is a media model that other GurneyJourney readers might want to try out. One way to make it happen would be to contact a reporter at your local radio station and send them scans of your sketchbook pages of local news events. Mike adds, "make sure they are getting paid for their work."

Mike Sheehan's website
3-minute Interview on KPCC

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dogs diving for balls

Photographer Seth Casteel gets some amazing photos of dogs chasing balls underwater.

Via Distractify
From Seth's new book Underwater Puppies

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Kolinsky sable brushes banned

Artists have long admired the qualities of Kolinsky sable brushes, but American customers are finding them hard to purchase due to an import ban earlier this year from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.

The ban includes popular—but expensive—brushes such as Winsor and Newton Series 7, Escoda Optimos, Richeson Siberian Kolinsky and Da Vinci Kolinsky, all known for their unique "springy" quality.

Kolinsky brushes are not made from sable martens, but rather from the tails of male Siberian weasels, found in Russia and northern China. Siberian weasels don't do well in captivity, so they are obtained by trapping wild animals.

Some have noted that the animals are trapped mainly for other economic uses, and that the tail fur can be regarded as a byproduct. In China, Kolinsky weasels are often regarded as pests because they kill chickens. But for those troubled by the ethics of brushes sourced from a wild animal, there are synthetic brushes that attempt to match the characteristics of Kolinskys, such as the Escoda Versatil Synthetic.

The ban, which affects only U.S. customers, was brought about because the species was grouped into a list of endangered species, though the level of endangerment is reported to be relatively low. According to a Winsor and Newton spokesperson quoted on Artist's Daily, "Kolinsky Sable is not an endangered species."

Manufacturers of Kolinsky brushes are still making them, and U.S. dealers are still able to sell them as long as their supplies hold out, but it's illegal to import new stocks, even to do so personally.

Symi Jackson at Rosemary Brushes, mentioned that they are still manufacturing brushes made from materials that were purchased before the ban, and said, "At the time of purchasing all of the ‘Kolinsky Sable’ hair it was both legal and ethical. Indeed, it still is legal and ethical, though it is now under restriction in the US only."

Further discussion and press releases at Arcane Paintworks