Monday, July 28, 2014

Coming Soon: New Video on Watercolor


Two weeks from today I'll be releasing an art teaching video all about plein-air painting in water media called "Watercolor in the Wild."


The 72-minute HD video will cover all the nuts and bolts of materials, including watercolors, water brushes, and water-soluble colored pencils. I'll show a few basic tricks and techniques, and then I'll bring you along on six outdoor painting adventures, demonstrating both beginning and advanced techniques for urban sketching.


The six paintings include two architectural subjects, a figure in landscape, two animal drawings, and a spontaneous location portrait. Since you asked for videos that show the whole process from start to finish, I made sure to document all six paintings from the first pencil lines to the final touches, along with detailed, helpful commentary and plenty of closeup details.

If you're an experienced artist wanting to try more water media, or if you're a beginner interested in trying out watercolor or taking your art out "into the wild" for the first time, you'll find this video practical, inspiring, and entertaining.


Here's a photo from the episode where I paint Rosebud, a baby miniature horse. She took a 15-minute nap, and I did a painting while she slept. I documented the whole thing on video from start to finish in real time.


I worked hard to make this one of those art videos that you'll want to watch again and again, because it's both entertaining and informative.

The video will be available as an HD download and a DVD. The DVD will have the addition of a slide show of my plein-air watercolors.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cartoons about Modern Art


 For more than a century, cartoonists have loved to take aim at modern art.


This 1910 cartoon caricatures the paintings themselves. Around them, exhibition patrons express various forms of puzzlement and consternation. In the upper right, an American art student likes the color harmonies. At the bottom is a group of people laughing uproariously, with the line "From the pictures' point of view."

From Britain's humor magazine Punch: "Farmers! Protect your crops using 'Binks Patent Futurist Scarecrow'. Specially designed by an eminent Cubist. No bird has ever been known to go within three fields of it."

 "I just can't wait to see your work, old fellow." (Peter Arno, 1953)

A Renaissance painter comes up with the tomato soup idea long before Warhol.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ghostly Gaze Illusion

Here's an optical illusion. This woman seems to be looking to our left when we see her up close, but she switches to looking to our right when we back up and look at the same face from across the room.

Here are two women with light gray eyes. They're looking more or less forward, right?

If you look at the same image files at a much smaller scale, the eyes of the two women seem to be looking at each other instead of looking forward. 

To create the faces, scientists rendered the eyes so that the sideways-looking eyes were rendered in the form of coarse, blurry detail, and the forward-looking eyes were rendered with fine detail. 

Back up enough and these ladies will all smile at you.

Our brains process fine and coarse detail in different ways, as was first made famous with the Albert Einstein / Marilyn Monroe hybrid image illusion. That's also why we need to back up from our portrait paintings while we're working on them. Otherwise we can unknowingly set up contradictory information streams at the level of fine and coarse detail. Every portrait painter has experienced eyes that seem to move or a smile that seems to change when the piece is viewed from farther back.

These gaze illusions have an eerie effect because it's so important to us humans to know which way another person is looking, and misreading gaze direction is a major issue for social interaction. That's also why it creeps us out to talk to someone up close who is wearing mirror shades.
----
The twin gaze illusion was created by Rob Jenkins of the University of Glasgow.
Hybrid images are a technique first published by Philippe Schyns & Aude Oliva in 1994.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Zorn's Self Confidence

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) painted this portrait of an executioner in Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) while he was on his honeymoon in 1885.

Just 25 years old, Zorn was brimming with self confidence. "I never spent much time thinking about others' art. I felt that if I wanted to become something, then I had to go after nature with all my interest and energy, seek what I loved about it, and desire to steal its secret and beauty. I was entitled to become as great as anyone else, and in that branch of art so commanded by me, watercolor painting, I considered myself to have already surpassed all predecessors and contemporaries."

He later translated the portrait into an etching, which is necessarily reversed.

The quote comes from Zorn's autobiographical notes, included in the recent book Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Magic Realism

Magic realism is a genre of art which endows otherworldly significance to ordinary things. The suggestion of death, the hint of history invading the present, or the sense of inanimate objects coming to life is woven into mundane reality.

Robert Vickrey 1926-2011

The movement goes back at least to the 1920s and originated in literature, with a special vitality in Spanish speaking countries. In painting, the movement was defined by the “Magic Realism” show of 1943 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The curators describe artists using "sharp focus and precise representation" to "make plausible and convincing their improbable, dreamlike and fantastic visions."
George Tooker, "Government Bureau," 1956
One of the ground rules to magic realism is that the dreamlike effect has to happen without any overtly fantastical elements, such as dragons, space ships, unicorns, or trolls—or even fantastical effects, such as glowing rays, levitation, or morphing.

"Spring" by Andrew Wyeth, 1978
Andrew Wyeth often combined familiar things from his world in strange ways, such as showing the aging Karl Kuerner lying in one of the last bits of snow on the field opposite his house to suggest the death and rebirth of spring.

Gary Ruddell, born 1951
Among contemporary artists, not everyone fits the description of "sharp focus and precise representation." Sometimes motion blurs and simple backgrounds convey the magic, as with the science-fiction-cover-artist turned gallery painter Gary Ruddell,  whose paintings often deal with points of decision, rites of passage, and the inability to communicate.

Among contemporary photographers, Gregory Crewdson stages off-kilter scenarios of ordinary people in everyday surroundings, but often in states of undress or with weird lighting that he carefully sets up in Hollywood-style shoots. It looks almost plausible, but strangely otherworldly.

In film, magic realism (or the more recent term "magical realism") might include Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, Jan Jakub Kolski's Venice,  and Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kickstarting the "Perfect Sketchbook"


Cherngzhi Lian is Kickstarting a campaign to produce what he calls the "perfect sketchbook," which he worked out after trying pretty much every sketchbook on the market. His ideal book is hardback, pocket-sized and landscape format, with 100% cotton paper and a grayscale on the endpapers for judging the values in the scene. 

Restaurant Patron

I was impressed with the striking silhouette of a restaurant patron who was sitting about ten feet away from me. She had cornrows that ended in long braids, big silver earrings, and red horn-rimmed glasses.

I opened up my watercolor set and quickly laid down some washes starting with the blue highlight color of her skin. I worked as quickly and discretely as I could. I was a little nervous about the possible reaction from her and her boyfriend if she were to notice I was painting her. I tried to remind myself to wipe the look of intense concentration off my face and wear a pleasant smile instead.


Sure enough, when I glanced up she was looking at me and clearly wondering what I was doing. I showed her my sketchbook and told her I'm trying to get practice painting people in watercolor. She and her boyfriend loved it, and only wanted to take a photo to put on her Facebook page.

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
Online:
Full text of Disney's letter to Don Graham
Books:
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