Thursday, June 20, 2019

Tomb of Merlin

Tomb of Merlin by Joseph Michael Gandy, 1815

In this architectural watercolor by Joseph Michael Gandy, Merlin's tomb glows in the center of the dark undercroft of Rosslyn Chapel. Merlin was a wizard from the Arthurian legends who helped initiate the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Eduard Thöny's Caricatures

I always encourage young caricaturists to study the masters of the past, rather than looking too much at the contemporary scene.

Eduard Thöny (1866-1950) was a German caricaturist best known for producing as many as 3400 drawings for the political satire magazine Simplicissimus. 

He was the son of a woodcarver. Many of his silhouettes seem carved in wood.  He studied in Munich and Paris. He traveled with his artist friends to Marseilles, Algiers, Tunis, Naples and Rome.

The graphic impact comes from simplified shapes and well organized tones. He liked to contrast two different characters: young vs. old, rich vs. poor, man vs. woman. According to Kunkel Fine Art:
"In his illustrations for Simplicissimus he depicted figures from all walks of life – members of the aristocracy and the proletariat, military figures and the bourgeoisie, bohemians and the elite. Themes like social vanity, intellectual blindness and moral neglect abound in his work but his drawings were never designed to injure or harm the characters depicted. His intention was that of an anthropologist, using ink, pen and brush to capture the character type behind each individual."

Look at the long toes on this guy and the repeating round forms on the woman.

The cropping of the man's pose makes him seem bigger and closer. He experimented with novel techniques in drawing, combining India ink with opaque white gouache, and laying down tones with a spray technique lends many of the caricatures a painterly quality.

Drunken ladies surround a rich old man, and they have playfully switched hats. Who is in charge of this situation?

The printed work of the day encouraged a limited palette of flat colors defined by a few selected lines.

Eduard Thöny, Munich Largesse, 1911
Mixed media on paper laid down on cardboard, 33.5 : 27 cm
For most of its run, Simplicissimus was tolerated by the government, but over the years, artists, writers, and editors were occasionally fined or jailed for mocking the clergy or the Kaiser. News of these sanctions increased circulation, and the magazine flourished until it began to reinforce the official party line. It went into hiatus in 1944.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Flagg Paints the Instrument Makers

In 1907, American illustrator James Montgomery Flagg found a newspaper clipping about a remote town in Germany called Markneukirchen, where they made some of the world's best musical instruments.

He decided to travel there to paint the craftsmen at work. It was a remote destination far from the train lines, requiring days of arduous travel. 

When he arrived, he didn't have an introduction, nor did he speak German, and they didn't know who he was. At first no one wanted to pose for this strange artist. 

But eventually he managed to meet the right people and get permission to set up his art supplies in the instrument makers' workshops. 

(Painting by Flagg, courtesy the Markneukirchen Musical Instrument Museum.)
He painted a portrait of Heinrich Theodor Heberlein Jr., known as the "Modern Stradivarius."

They made not only violins, cellos, and basses, but also brass instruments. The fumes in the brass shops were so overwhelming he had to sit outside under an umbrella. One model "held a six-foot iron ladle full of hot lead for a half hour, without resting it against anything!"

Everyone in the village, even older men in their 60s, stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, talking and singing. Then they woke up at six the next morning to get to work. When they weren't making instruments they were playing them.
"The workmen in the town have numerous bands of their own, and the instruments they play on are those made by themselves. There is a young boys' band which marches quickly through the streets on certain occasions, followed by scores of children. They play one tune for miles, it seems—no sooner finishing it than they start over again, much to their own joy."

Learn more
• Flagg published his sketches and recollections in an article in Scribner's Magazine. You can read the article online at this link.

• There's also a more detailed summary of Flagg's sketching adventure at this instrument maker blog.

• Wikipedia on James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960)

• A profile of Flagg is included in Fred Taraba's book: Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked...

• There's an illustrated monograph about James Montgomery Flagg.

• Markneukirchen is still a center for instrument making. See what the factories look like now on this YouTube video.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Inside the Brooder Box

Huddled under the warm light of the brooder box is a lively new clutch of guinea fowl keets.

(Link to Facebook video) I set up my stool and dive into the scene in watercolor.

The keets doze off most of the time in the back of the box, and they scramble around when they're startled.
Previously: Guinea Fowl and Donkeys

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Cult of the British Naturalists

A group of British artists of the nineteenth century hung out with the painters living in rural France. They were especially inspired by Jules Bastien-Lepage, who painted working people in real settings.

Painting by Stanhope Forbes
British painters Stanhope Forbes and Henry LaThangue (below) settled in the fishing community of Cornwall and formed what came to be known as the Newlyn School.

Photo of Henry LaThangue
A 1906 biography, quoting Forbes, describes the working principles of this group:

"To paint the picture entirely and absolutely out of doors, braving all difficulties, and relying in no way upon sketches or studies, with which, later on, the work could be comfortably finished within the walls of a studio—such was the creed to which they pledged themselves.

"Nature was to be respected and followed without question: to be blindly obeyed. Models might grumble and dislike having to sit in the street under the very eyes of the whole village, but the cult demanded it, and its exponents gave an example of self-sacrifice, for they spared themselves no trouble, and worked out their principles with admirable conscientiousness."

"'It may seem somewhat of a paradox, but I have often found the success of the picture to be in inverse ratio to the degree of comfort in which it has been produced. I scarcely like to advance the theory that painting is more successful when carried on in discomfort, and with everything conspiring to wreck it, for fear of rendering tenantless those comfortable studios the luxury of which my good friends in the Melbury Road and St. John’s Wood so much enjoy. At the same time, I do seriously think that there is a certain quality of deliberateness most valuable in painting, which is undoubtedly encouraged where the conditions of one's work are not over and above enjoyable.

Painting by Stanhope Forbes
"In his eagerness to get the work done, the painter is careful not to waste time or linger over the job, but to go straight at the mark and make every touch tell. I have never painted with such directness as on those fortunately rare occasions when I have worked at sea, and I have carried large pictures right through to the last touch in smithies, stable-sheds, and amid all sorts of queer surroundings under conditions which when starting seemed absolutely hopeless and prohibitive. It is much discussed whether it is better to work directly from Nature or to make innumerable studies or notes and paint the picture from them. I believe no rule can be laid down, and that it is entirely a matter of individual temperament.

"My own custom has always been to work as much as possible on the spot, and practice has taught me that this offers certain advantages over any other method. There is a quality of freshness most difficult of attainment by any other course, and which one is too apt to lose when the work is brought into the studio for completion."
Quotes from the 1906 book: Stanhope A. Forbes A.R.A., and Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes, A.R.W.S. by Mrs. Lionel Birch

More recent book with color reproductions: Stanhope Forbes and the Newlyn School

Online article: Henry Herbert La Thangue – the pictorial documenter of rural life

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Oil Painting with Textural Effects

Pre-texturing is a way to achieve textural impastos without having to use a lot of slow-drying oil paint. If you add texture first in a faster drying material, you can then use oil thinly over it and the whole passage will be dry within 24 hours. The above video (Link to YouTube) shows how it works.

I use two different kinds of pre-textured impasto. The first one is using acrylic modeling paste at the stage of the preliminary drawing. The second way is to use white or light oil paint with a couple drops of cobalt drier added in to accelerate drying. After letting that thoroughly dry, I can place
YouTube video: Oil Painting with Textural Effects
Check out the full tutorial video "Unconventional Oil Techniques", which is full of practical art instruction for all levels.
Download at Gumroad:
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DVD from manufacturer:

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Peaceful Watercolors of J. J. Hilder

Jesse Jewhurst Hilder (1881-1916) was an Australian watercolorist who was adept at softness and simplicity. 

Here he groups together the dark values into a single interconnected shape. The boards of the structure that are in light are also grouped into a simple light shape without too much texture or definition.

These log-haulers are presented with an emphasis on atmospheric feeling. The far trees are rendered with a simple flat value, and the cool shadow in the foreground melts into the light. There appears to be some scrubbing out of the tone in the right area.

In addition to the softness and the lack of textural rendering, his palette is extremely restricted, with just a hint of warm and cool.

According to Wikipedia, "Hilder was modest, shy and affected by illness; this sometimes led to estrangement from his best friends. He was fortunate in his wife, in the admiration of his fellow artists, and in finding early buyers of his paintings. He was very critical of his own work and tore up much of it; sometimes the final result was the third or fourth effort to capture the subject. He was not afraid of empty spaces and everything in the drawing was beautifully placed. His colour was always excellent, though some of his later work is painted almost in monochrome washed in on very rough paper. The treatment generally is broad, yet full of refinement and poetical feeling."

He died of illness in 1916, as the world was being dislocated by WWI. Fellow artist Julian Ashton wrote in a memorial catalog of his work: "Often, in a disturbed mood, wrapt in black thoughts, I go to our National Gallery and sit in front of the Hilders, and by and by I come away filled with peace."
Jesse Jewhurst Hilder on Wikipedia
Related post: What is 'Poetic' in Art?
Book: The art of J. J. Hilder 1918
Thanks, David Webb

Thursday, June 13, 2019

First-Hand Gleanings from Sargent

In his memoir, painter and sculptor Emil Fuchs said he asked John Singer Sargent for permission to paint in the master's presence in order to learn from him.

John Singer Sargent, portrait of Edwin Booth, detail, 1890
Sargent wasn't particularly verbal about his painting philosophy or his technique, but Fuchs was able to glean some helpful insights anyway.
"He never said much, but what he did say, one might do well to engrave upon the tablets of one's mind. One of the great man's teachings was the dominant importance of values over color. 'Color,' he said, 'is an inborn gift, but appreciation of value is merely a training of the eye which everyone ought to be able to acquire.' "
"Value in art, as everyone knows, simply means the relation of light to shade. Sargent referred to this idea over and over, and it occurred to me that perhaps he meant value not in pictures alone, but fundamentally in all the realms of life. His work demonstrates his ingrained belief in this. I can think of nobody who can see and render values with such delicate distinction as does Sargent."  
"His palette was to me a marvel. His enormous wealth of color he produces with a few simple hues, mostly earth colors — white, yellow ocher, light red or vermilion, burnt sienna, cobalt blue, emerald green and black. His is a rare skill in using and combining them." 
"Some mornings he would come in and, without saying much, would help me in painting a difficult passage from the model. While the direct way of painting appealed to him, he fully appreciated the more subtle methods, especially that of grisailles and glazing, by which many masters obtain their effects of brilliancy. This method, perhaps I should add, consists in painting first in black and white, and then laying on a thin film of transparent color."   
"Sargent's veneration for the work of the old masters was profound. But Velasquez and Franz Hals were the gods of his Pantheon. He copied both freely. Of Velasquez he had in his studio a facsimile of the dwarf Don Antonio el Ingles, and of Franz Hals several groups from his large pictures at Haarlem copied by himself. If my recollections of our discussions about artists are correct, Van Dyck seemed to appeal to him the least."
"About technique it was always difficult to make him express himself in words. Rather than explain a serious problem, he would take a brush and paint that piece and the difficulties would vanish under his touch. When I worked at his studio he offered me the free use of his colors and even his palette and brushes which lay about in profusion. Few artists can bring themselves to lend these objects without feeling it to be sacrilege."
With Pencil, Brush, and Chisel by Emil Fuchs
Emil Fuchs on Wikipedia
John Singer Sargent on Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Joe De Mers, American Illustrator

Joe De Mers (1910-1984) was a style setter in the mid-20th century illustrated magazines.

He painted glamorous women in romantic situations, in a style reminiscent of Coby Whitmore, Tom Lovell, or Harry Anderson

He typically combined abstract areas of flat colors with carefully rendered faces and hands. Large heads in illustrations were an exciting innovation borrowed from the closeup in movies.

He painted often in gouache. Note the crop marks at the corners, the registration marks on the left, and the brown stain of rubber cement around the outside edges. The rubber cement probably held a presentation mat board on the front.

Illustrator Joe De Mers is the featured artist of the new Illustration Magazine #64. In over 38 color illustrations, some full page, the article chronicles his development from Hollywood concept artist to a star in the Charles Cooper Studios in New York, where top illustrators created advertising art for all the leading accounts.
"Illustration Art" blog posts: Joe De Mers and the "Big Head" School of Illustration
"Art Contrarion" Joe De Mers: Mainstream 1950s Illustrator

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Hsieh Ming Chang

Hsieh Ming Chang is a Taiwanese watercolorist born in 1955. 

This painting has an upshot angle of a doorway with carvings and decorations. The illuminated area bleaches out to white. The colors are muted versions of warm and cool colors except for that red accent, which is echoed in the lower right. 

The textures of rust and peeling paint are so loving reproduced. I haven't seen the original, but I'll bet it's looser than it appears.

There's a big variety of shapes and edges throughout the image. If you follow along the edge of that canopy from the top down, you can see how it goes from soft to crisp.

A limited palette gives a sense of permanence and age to this simple rendering.
More examples by Hsieh Ming Chang