Monday, May 25, 2020

Adolph Menzel's Hochkirch Painting

Adolph Menzel (German 1815-1905) undertook this ambitious painting without a commission. It was a battle scene, but it didn't glorify the war.

Adolph Menzel, Frederick the Great and His Men in the Battle of Hochkirch
(Night Attack at Hochkirch),
1856, oil on canvas, 295 x 378 cm,
destroyed during the Second World War
It shows Frederick the Great's soldiers engaged "in a crushing defeat suffered during the Seven Years War, and, to make matters worse, a defeat that could be laid entirely at the feet of the king and that cost the lives of a sizable number of his leading generals, not to mention those of nine thousand soldiers, was not a painting that lent itself to propaganda purposes or the the glorification of the Hohenzollern dynasty."

Nevertheless, the painting was much talked about, and eventually it was bought by the king. What helped sell it was the argument, which Menzel made in a letter to the king, that the painting shows Frederick's nobility in the way he accepted defeat.

The work took Menzel a long time to complete. It come down to us in photographs of poor quality, because the canvas itself was destroyed in World War II.
Quote from the book Adolph Menzel: The Quest for Reality by Werner Busch.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Grouping Heads in a Composition

"Alas, poor Yorick," scene from Hamlet by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret
Compositional tip: If you're staging a scene with more than two figures, overlap two of them, especially if those two are reacting to something.

This illustration from Emma by Jane Austin by Charles and Henry Brock
In this scene from Jane Austin's Emma, the two characters have been whispering to each other, and the tale is told from the point of view of the woman on the left. By bringing two of the faces close together, it's easier to see their reactions.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Luis Jiménez Aranda, Capturing Everyday Life

Luis Jiménez y Aranda (1845–1928) painted moments from ordinary life in Spain.  

Luis Jiménez y Aranda The Bibliophiles, 1879
Here he shows book lovers from various walks of life surveying the wares. To paint scenes like this, he used models, and he would have set up the actual costumes on lay figures. 
Luis Jiménez y Aranda, The Artist's Studio
Here he paints of an artist's studio, showing the artist with his palette standing behind a wealthy patron, as a model lounges in a festive pose on the far right.

 Luis Jiménez y Aranda, Self Portrait
Luis Jiménez y Aranda was part of a worldwide artistic movement using realism to capture the detail of everyday life.
Previously on GJ: Costumbrism

Friday, May 22, 2020

Attacked by a Bugling Elk

Wildlife artist Ken Carlson (born 1937) learned to draw animals at the zoo." Eventually the director gave him the keys to the animal cages so that he could go there at night after work."
Bugling elk by Ken Carlson
"'At night I would turn on the lights in the zoo and sketch. I worked in the pens, wearing a keeper's jacket. One day I went into the elk pen to get photographs of him bugling, and the animal charged and almost killed me."

"After that,' Carlson says wryly, 'I lost my zoo privileges and spent a week in the hospital. I had paid my dues as a wildlife artist."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

What's in Your Kit?

Charlie asks: What’s in your kit?
Everything I need for drawing or basic painting lives in a belt pouch which I bring everywhere. It's small enough to take everywhere and big enough to hold a whole painting kit.

What are your favorite watercolor art supplies to use? 
I have a 12-color watercolor pan set and a small, changing set of gouache. 

What brands do you prefer in watercolor and gouache? 
I keep coming back to M. Graham and Winsor and Newton, but I have samples of most brands. I keep a several different brands in play at any given time, and combine colors from more than one brand in any given painting. Holbein makes a good starter set, and Shinhan Pass makes a watercolor/gouache hybrid set that is quite reasonable with a wide variety of colors. People who watch my videos know I also use Richeson casein occasionally, both for doing finished paintings, and for underpainting. 

What brushes do you use?
I use flats and rounds the most. A good starter set is the short-handled travel brush set made by Richeson.

What kind of paper do you recommend? 
I use a Pentalic watercolor sketchbook, which has heavyweight, medium-textured watercolor paper that works for all my water media paintings and sketches. I use illustration board and linen canvas for my separate framable oil paintings. 

What cameras and audio do you use to capture your videos?
Lately, I've been using a Canon M6, which is great for video, stills, and onboard timelapse. I keep a compact point-and-shoot Canon PowerShot Elph on a belt holster. For a digital audio recorder, I use a Zoom H2N, and that's handy for capturing voiceover and for room tone. I also include a Rode Video microphone.

What else do you carry?
I also carry a couple of water cups with lids that hold on well. In the metal box I carry a water-soluble colored pencil set, plus graphite pencils, a few pastels, a fountain pen, erasers, and water brushes, which work with the colored pencils in tight spaces. And of course I need a paint rag. 

Where can I learn more about your easel?
I use a homemade sketch easel and a tripod. Here's a link to a tutorial on how to make one, and here's a link to a Facebook group of other builders.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Alfred Munnings Paints a Horse

Here's Alfred Munnings painting a white horse while a stableman holds the subject roughly in position.

Scenes like this could have been painted in that way, by having each horse pose with an assistant.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Monday, May 18, 2020

How do you paint portraits in gouache?

Daniel asks:
"I have been drawing portraits for some time, then chose gouache as my painting medium, not oil, because I have a very cramped apartment.... I would definitely like to mimic the opaque properties of oil in gouache, though know that is not totally possible.

My issues are that the color value changes slightly when put on paper vs when on the palette, and also about the fast drying nature of gouache. I have tried paper towels and stay wet palettes, but found it not good for me. Moreover, I know that gouache reactivates with water, but when I go to my dry paint after about 10-15 minutes, it has a more crusty and undesirable feel compared to first when out of the tube.

I would like to blend and do transitions better. I would also like to do a more classical style, with a first drawing, then a grisaille Underpainting, then adding color layers on top for the portrait. I could perhaps even glaze with thin layers. Is trying to mimic a traditional indirect oil process somewhat futile in gouache, do you think? Should I attack the paper surface more directly Alla Prima style? Is gouache conducive to multi layers like oil? I think I want to know more about the nature of this gouache medium.

I have bought a few painting courses, which have been very helpful, but none have been in gouache. So I was wondering if you could just give me a few tips on a better way to paint portraits in gouache? (I will always start with a drawing at first, at least for now. I love the drawing part). Your portraits in the wild course might be a start. 
Answer: Gouache can be used for portraits, but it presents all the problems you mentioned if you try to use it in the slow, indirect way of grisaille and glazing.  


The issues that you're facing with its fast drying time are really unavoidable. You've just got to work faster. Speed of execution can be gouache's virtue in painting from life. I show several examples of directly painted gouache portraits on my Gumroad tutorial "Portraits in the Wild."

Here's a sample of the new video "Color in Practice" which shows a portrait of a Greg at his workstation in an auto repair shop. (Link to YouTube)

You can always use pastel to get controlled gradations, following the example of Maurice de la Tour, who did the one above. Pastel lets you work at whatever speed you want, but de la Tour worked quickly to avoid tiring his sitter. The advantage is that he achieved a sense of fleeting, momentary expressions. 

You can use acryla gouache if you really don't want to pick up previous layers. But I like having an open surface because it allows me to soften blend later if I need to. With regular gouache, you can place a wet stroke over a dry passage if you have a very light touch and don't mess with it. 

You can also varnish it to recover the values of the darks. I would only recommend varnishing if it's a very dark-keyed painting.

Adolph Menzel, Senior Privy Councillor Knerk,
portrait study for the painting The Coronation of Wilhelm I in Königsberg, 1863/1865,
watercolour and gouache over a preparatory sketch on vellum paper

I would practice painting vegetables first until you're familiar with the medium. If you try to figure out the properties of a type of paint while handling the immense subtlety of a portrait, you're inviting frustration.

I hope that gets you started on the path,
James G.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Art Chat with Justin

(Link to YouTube)
I enjoyed this conversation with Justin Donaldson. I should have explained that I can't do a video chat, because my internet connection is too weak. At least I got decent audio.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Thomas Hart Benton Talks About Popularity

In a vintage audio recording, Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) talks about art and popular taste. 
He argues that advertising and illustration can be great art only if it has a form that transcends the message. Link to YouTube.