Thursday, October 28, 2021

Mapping the Fruit-Fly Brain

 Scientists have succeeded in mapping the neurons and connections of a fruit fly brain.

"A population of neurons that is responsible for updating the fly’s internal compass."

According to the New York Times, "their speck-size brains are tremendously complex, containing some 100,000 neurons and tens of millions of connections, or synapses, between them....The work, which is continuing, is time-consuming and expensive, even with the help of state-of-the-art machine-learning algorithms. But the data they have released so far is stunning in its detail, composing an atlas of tens of thousands of gnarled neurons in many crucial areas of the fly brain."

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Paintings of Sarah Bernhardt


Sarah Bernhardt by Paul Merton

Sarah Bernhardt was a French actress who lived from 1844-1923.

Sarah Bernhardt in the Role of Cleopatra by Georges Clairin

She was greatly admired for her stage presence, her striking poses, and her emotional presentation.

Sarah Bernhardt by Jules Bastien-Lepage

Because of her striking appearance and theatricality, she was a favorite model of artists of the period.

Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Antoine Rochegrosse

Rochegrosse painted her several times in Orientalist mode.

Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Antoine Rochegrosse

In this one she reclines in a chinois interior.

Poster design by Alphonse Mucha

She chose a young Alphonse Mucha to create one of her posters, and the image was a sensation, making both of them much more famous.

Alphonse Mucha

Mucha went on to do many portrayals of her in various guises.

Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt as Roxanna by Walford Graham Robertson (1866-1948) 

The playwright Edmond Rostand referred to her as "the queen of the pose and the princess of the gesture." 

Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Clairin

Victor Hugo said she had a "golden voice."

She's one of the first actors from the period who appeared in silent movies.

Her voice also appears fleetingly in sound recordings. It sounds strange to our ears, but in her day it brought people to tears.
Book: Sarah Bernhardt: The Art of High Drama (Yale University Press) 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Makovsky's Portrait of Tsvetkov

Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920) Lover of Painting. Portrait of Collector I.V. Tsvetkov, 1907

Monday, October 25, 2021

Painting Autumn Leaves

I want to paint the autumn leaves before they’re gone.

In this new YouTube video, I also share Sonnet #73 from William Shakespeare:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away, 
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire 
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 
As the death-bed whereon it must expire, 
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. 
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Creature of the Rondout Lagoon

Something disturbed the deep waters of Rondout Creek.

Just when I thought I was doing an ordinary riverside scene, what pops up but the dreaded Creature of the Black Lagoon.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Artists Collaborate with Museums to Explore Techniques

A growing number of art museums have teamed up with practicing artists to explore the painting methods of historical painters.  

Watercolor expert Mike Chaplin heads outdoors to demonstrate how J.M.W. Turner may have thought about tone (Link to YouTube). Instead of trying to copy a Turner, he paints directly from nature using materials and methods similar to what Turner might have used. Chaplin teamed with the Tate to produce similar videos with line and color.

London's National Gallery examines Titian's technique with commentary from art historians, conservators, and a practicing painter.  (Link to YouTube)

The Victoria and Albert Museum has demonstrated techniques of Renaissance artists (Link to YouTube).

Other museums such as the Yale Art Gallery have hosted illustrated lectures by conservators about painting methods, but it's not quite as engaging as watching someone try to replicate antique methods. It's a difficult gig for the living artist and it requires considerable humility.

Collaborations between artists and museum experts help to bring historical artists to life and make their work more approachable. Are you aware of other museum / artist collaborations? Please share them in the comments.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Sketching on the Subway

In 1980 Tom Kinkade (yes, that Kinkade) and I decided to take a summer off from art school to ride the freight trains across America from California to New York City.

Manhattan thrilled me, terrified me, and fascinated me. I desperately wanted to capture some of NYC's energy directly from life into my sketchbook using pens, and gray markers.

I never went back to art school because I was learning so much more from the real world. Tom and I wrote a book called The Artist's Guide to Sketching in 1982, and that was long before he became the "Painter of Light" and also before "urban sketching" and "plein-air painting" came along.

You can hear a vintage tape recording from that journey on this YouTube video. The quality isn't great, but it's a memory rescued from oblivion.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Branch Autonomy Theory

By thinking of a tree as an individual organism, we misunderstand it. It's better to think of a tree as a colony of branches.

According to the branch autonomy theory, "1) No branch imports carbohydrate from its parent tree after its first year, and 2) Each branch satisfies its own material and energy requirements before exporting any carbohydrate to the rest of the tree."

"The conclusion drawn from these postulates is that where light is the primary limiting factor, critical characteristics of the branch's carbohydrate economy such as photosynthesis, growth, and carbon export are largely independent of the tree to which it is attached." (from the abstract by Sprugel and Hinckley).

The theory is mentioned in a podcast interview with Chris Earle, curator of the Gymnosperm Database.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Graphene Protects Paintings from Fading

In Vincent van Gogh's sunflower paintings, some of the red lead pigments have turned white because of the reactions of paint impurities with light and carbon dioxide. 

But artwork like this can be protected from fading and discoloration by applying a thin layer of a material called graphene.

It's completely transparent and just one atom thick. 

According to Artnet: "Graphene is a two-dimensional carbon allotrope whose molecules bind together through a phenomenon called Van der Waals forces. It is invisible to the eye but forms a honeycomb pattern under a microscope, and can be extracted from the surface of graphite using a piece of tape. Hailed as a “wonder material” since its isolation in a single-layer form in 2004, graphene has many potential uses. China appears convinced of its military and aerospace promise, and it is being used to protect roads in the U.K."

Read more at Artnet: Can Graphene, a One-Atom Thick ‘Wonder Material,’ Keep Precious Artworks From Fading? Scientists Say It Shows Promise

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pipeline of Meaning

Our eyes work with our brain to make sense of the world. 

At any given moment our conscious attention is fixated on one spot, but we're also guessing what's around it. This peripheral awareness cues the eyes where to jump next. That jumping or saltation happens about three times per second. 

By combining data from brain scans and eye-tracking, scientists at the University of Birmingham are trying to understand how we guess at what the next point of attention might be, and how different regions of the brain cooperate in this "pipeline of meaning" as "one object is established while another region of the brain is simultaneously deciding which next item is important."  

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), The Studio, ca. 1913-1915, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 1/4 in.
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Fowler. Photo Rick Rhodes

The scientists say: "Humans do not necessarily perceive objects simply one after another (in series), and nor do they perceive items simultaneously (in parallel). Instead, they establish a pipeline of observations, in which meaning from one object is established while another region of the brain is simultaneously deciding which next item is important."

A similar process happens when we read text. "The neuronal activity required to scan the next word in a sentence also increases according to the complexity of the word."