Thursday, June 21, 2018

Church's Parthenon Sketches


An exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut features the on-location paintings that Frederic Church (1826-1900) did while traveling.


When Church ventured to the Old World in the late 1860s, he decided to visit Athens to paint the Parthenon, "the finest edifice on the finest site in the world."


His studies are on paperboard, with thin, deftly applied semi-transparent layers of oil over a careful pencil drawing, resulting in an almost photographic level of capture.


Church was experimenting with night painting in 1869, and his view of the Parthenon at night captures the contrasts between the reddish light outside the structure and the cooler light inside.


The main focus of his study was this view of the Parthenon, which presents the ancient monument as a noble ruin, surrounded by wild rubble. In fact, he would have had to screen out the bustling city of Athens that crowded many views of the site. 


The structure itself had been almost perfectly intact until 1687, when a Venetian mortar shell hit the building and touched off gunpowder that was being stored there by the Ottoman Turks.

Most of the original paintings in this post are currently on exhibit in the Wadsworth Atheneum show, along with Church's paintings (both sketches and big studio works) portraying Jerusalem, Petra, and other exotic places. The exhibit will be up through August 26.

There's a handsome oversize catalog "Frederic Church: A Painter's Pilgrimage" if you can't make it to the exhibition.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Homer and the Camera


A new exhibition called ‘Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting’ opens this Saturday at Bowdoin College in Maine.


The show and the associated catalog examine the longstanding engagement of Winslow Homer (1836-1910) with various aspects of photography: its purely visual effects, its usefulness as a picture-making tool, and its role in shaping the artist’s public image.

"Winslow Homer, Charles S. Homer, Sr., and Sam at Prout’s Neck,"
ca. 1884, albumen silver print, by Simon Towle. Bowdoin College Museum of Art.
I had always assumed that Homer was camera shy and there are few photos of him, but recent scholarship has turned up new discoveries, many of which are included in the exhibition.

Homer’s interest in photographs gained momentum during his time as a sketch artist covering the Civil War. He collected photographs that were taken by others, which helped him visualize the scenes he portrayed for the popular magazines.

By the 1880s, he sought fresh inspiration for his artwork, so he traveled to Europe, and he bought the first of three cameras.

Though he never wrote about his use of photographs as reference, the authors explore the various ways his art was shaped by the camera, a tool that could simultaneously capture accurate information and deceive the viewer.


His painting of a fish in mid-leap was his painterly response to the ability of the camera to freeze action. Though probably not based directly on a photo, the very idea of painting a moment from fast action was unusual in the nineteenth century, when most other artists would have painted a fish as a still life object.


The exhibition and book contain other insights into Homer's process, including doll-size mannikins with simple costumes, which he used for reference when drawing and painting working-class women.



The exhibit ‘Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting’ is the product of years of study by Bowdoin art historian Dana E. Byrd and museum co-director Frank H. Goodyear III. Bowdoin College hosts the first showing of the exhibition, which travels in November 2018 to the Brandywine River Museum.


The catalog is 208 pages with 138 color illustrations, hardbound, and published by the Yale University Press. The exhibition will be up from June 23 - October 28, 2018.
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Other books that explore the relationship between painting and photography:

Art and Photography by Aaron Scharf, 1968. Covers the influence of photography on portraiture, landscape, realism, and impressionism.

Shared Intelligence: American Painting and the Photograph, Edited by Barbara Buhler Lynes, 2011. Chapters on Eakins, Remington, Steiglitz, O'Keeffe, and Bechtle. In this book the main emphasis is on modern painters.

Painting and Photography, 1839-1914by Dominique de Font-Réaulx, 2012. Textbook-style coverage of the intersection between realist painters and the photographic image, with chapters on genre photography, photographing the nude, portraiture, and painters who were also photographers.

The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso. Oversize book with features on key artists who used photography.

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera. Shows Rockwell's reference photos compared to his finished illustrations, as well as information about how he took photos and how he changed them to suit his purposes.

Previously on GurneyJourney
Using Photo Reference

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Waterfall City demo

Here's the demo painting of Waterfall City, painted while looking at a rough maquette. 

I did the painting for a workshop audience at IMC (Illustration Master Class) in Amherst last week. (Link to video on Facebook)

Photo: Irene Gallo
Total time: 1.5 hours.
Camera: Canon M6 camera positioned on second tripod.
Medium: Casein over a green-gray casein underpainting in a Pentalic sketchbook.
Colors: White, light red, yellow ochre, ultramarine blue.
Final glaze: Payne's gray watercolor with acrylic medium.
Varnish: Acrylic spray Crystal clear.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Art Talk Podcast: Studio Ramble to Ron

The Golden Palm Tape Network was a 1980s precursor of podcasting, where a small group of far-flung artists kept in touch by recording circulating ideas and readings via tape cassettes. (Video link


This one is addressed to my friend Ron Harris of southern California, a comic artist, collector, and art historian who still comments on this blog.

Sandor Bihari -- Before the Judge
Listening to the tape is a reminder to me of how it was in the 1980s. Discovering obscure information required sleuth work at libraries and used bookstores, plus the cooperation of friends with similar interests. 


The primary members of Golden Palm Tape Network were: 

Here are links to some of the books and artists referenced.

Books (links mostly go to Amazon)
The History of Modern Painting by Richard Müther 

Artists Mentioned (links mostly go to Wikipedia)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

How to Apply the Warm-and-Cool Approach

Gary asks about the warm-and-cool approach: 

"I can not see if there is, or should be, a rationale for when a warm or cool tone is used. I believe that this approach brings life to a drawing but do not understand how to best apply it."


Jim asks: "I would also love a good explanation of the warm/cool approach. Obviously the value must be correct, but how does one decide to use a warm or cool color? Is it based on local color of the object? Is it based on light vs. shadow? Is it based on a combination of both? If so, which trumps the other when they conflict? That is, what color should be used to depict a cool shadow on a red ball? What elements are portrayed as gray (an even mix of warm and cool) within a picture? It's worth figuring out, because it's amazing how much "color" can be achieved with just Burnt Sienna (warm) and Ultramarine Blue (cool)."

Richard Parkes Bonington
Gary and Jim, The way I think of warm and cool is that I'm basically doing a value study, but just taking the first step toward color. The warm pigment might describe an area lit by a warm light source, or you might use the warm color to suggest a local color that is intrinsically warm, such as an orange building. If the warm-cool exercise is a preliminary study for a painting that you intend to paint later with full color, the study will give you an impression of what the final will feel like. The limitations of chroma and hue choices keeps you from straying too far away from making primarily value-oriented decisions. 

It's very similar to the way musical composers will figure things out on the piano and then build their orchestration. A composer might work out the melody, rhythm, and chord structure before deciding on the instrumentation.

A simple warm and cool palette such as ultramarine vs. raw sienna is also a worthy approach for finished works. Many painters of the past sought the muted harmonies of warm and cool to achieve a feeling of quietude, dignity, or austerity.
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