Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Aisha's Questions

Art student Aisha Ling wanted to interview me for a class project, so I sent her all my previous interviews and asked her to come up with two questions I haven't been asked yet.

James Gurney writing "The Artist's Guide to Sketching," 1981, age 23
Have you ever faced criticism, and how do you deal with it?

Even before the age of social media, every artist or writer who has ever put their work out in the public has had to deal with both praise and criticism. If you don't receive either, it means no one cares about your work. The first book that I co-wrote, The Artist's Guide to Sketching, only got one published review and we received about five fan letters, and that was it. That was the only feedback, really, but that was normal back then for a book like that.

Now of course, in the age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, comments come flooding in. It's best not to be too concerned about either praise or criticism. Being attached to praise can be as damaging as being obsessed with critical comments. 

I've been pretty lucky because I try to give out positive, constructive energy, and that's mostly what I get back. You can't please everyone, and that's OK. Sometimes criticism is a matter of taste: not everyone likes everything that any artist produces. But if professional reviewers or smart amateurs offer a thoughtful, valid critique given in good faith, I take the comments seriously and see if I can make my work better. It's rare that someone will point out a weakness in my work that I'm not already well familiar with. I'm my own severest critic. The person whose artistic judgment I seek out most often is my wife, who I can always count on for giving me honest feedback.

How do you overcome artist's or writer's block?

I've never had an issue with slumps or blocks, probably because my earliest work experiences (painting backgrounds for animated films) didn't allow for them. I had to produce 11 paintings per week or I'd be fired. The same was true with my freelance illustration work. There was a lot riding on me producing a good result on a deadline. Working on a schedule like that means you can't choke. If something isn't working well, you keep working it until it succeeds.

Some people complain that it's as hard to finish something as it is to start it. You often hear art mentors say that you have to quit working on a painting to avoid overworking it. But I think that's usually unhelpful advice. Too many paintings and book projects are abandoned too soon or undertaken without enough experimentation and planning. 

If there is any way to make a picture better, it's worth considering. Many projects bring you to a place where you want to abandon them, and that's the time to redouble your effort to make them better. Sometimes that means starting fresh or wiping down the canvas, or reshooting video. But you can't do that forever. It's good to have a deadline to work toward so that you're not stuck with an endlessly polished rock.
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Thanks, Aisha!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Mr Smooth Tries to Look Casual



The famous dog head trick.

Here's my favorite version of the gag.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Dean Cornwell Painting to be Offered at Auction


Dean Cornwell's original oil painting for "The Fight at Minowa" will be sold at Heritage Auctions on November 1, 2019.



If you haven't seen it yet, here's a glimpse of Cornwell working on that very painting. (Link to YouTube)

The Fight at Minowa will be at Heritage Auction, November 1, along with a lot of American wildlife and western art, illustration, and landscape painting.

Spectrum 26 Flip Through

Spectrum is the annual book collection of contemporary fantastic art.  The 26th edition has arrived, and here's a flip-through. (Video on Facebook).

Spectrum is the "premier showcase for imaginative fantastic arts in the book, comics, film, horror, illustration, sculpture, conceptual art, fine art and videogame genres. With exceptional images by extraordinary creators, this elegant, full-color collection showcases an international cadre of creators working in every style and medium―both traditional and digital. It features more than 600 works by over 330 diverse visionaries, including Alex Alice, Brom, Rovina Cai, J.A.W. Cooper, Jesper Ejsing, Ki Gawki, Annie Stegg Gerard, Donato Giancola, James Gurney, Tyler Jacobson, Vanessa Lemen, Jeffrey Alan Love, Mark Newman, Victo Ngai, Greg Ruth and Yuko Shimizu."

Here's a link to preorder 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 5

(Continuing from Part 4)

These technological changes encouraged the growth of extravagant drawing-based alphabets, such as “Rustic” (above) and “Leaf Cipher-Letters.” Highly embellished initial capitals can be hand drawn with a pen or brush using inks of various colors or tinted shades. Some of the ornamental initial alphabets are presented with a variety of stylistic treatments, such as the “Ornamented French Script” or the “Ornamental Initials.”


“Old English” remains the standard for formal settings, such as diplomas, but it is difficult to execute well, especially if speed is required. It succeeds best with a steady rhythm and even spacing using a square cut nib. Sometimes good results can be achieved by executing all the vertical strokes first, followed by the diamond shaped feet. A pointed pen adds the finishing touches, sharpening the corners and serifs and completing the hairline strokes on the capitals and on the lower case “a” and “r.”



Two other forms of artistic writing, less familiar today, are engrossing and showcard writing. Engrossing was a particularly lavish type of decorative lettering used on resolutions, certificates, testimonials, memorials, and manifestos. The examples are by Patrick W. Costello (1866-1935), whose engrossing work was notable for being executed in limited tones of Payne’s gray or umber. Originals were as large as 22 x 28 inches, often illustrated with flags, portraits, flowers, or other pictorial devices. They reflect a culture that placed a premium on congratulatory or memorializing messages, usually presented publicly to formally recognize an individual achievement.



Bergling invited his colleague William H. Gordon to demonstrate show-card writing, a more casual advertising form. Painted signboards of the nineteenth century tended to use only upper case letters, but they were gradually replaced by signs made with both upper and lower case. The letters in Gordon’s alphabets are formed quickly and without much preliminary drawing, using specialized brushes with opaque water-based media. Practitioners in this field were called writers rather than letterers. Whether employing the brush or the pen, the student should start by thoroughly understanding the construction before attempting too much speed.

By the time Bergling’s books appeared, typewriters had already been standardized and were coming into common use for business communications. Fountain pens and then ballpoint pens became established by mid century. The Golden Age of Ornamental Penwork was disappearing. Hopefully with the aid of this treasury, a new generation of designers can rediscover artistic lettering and adapt it to contemporary uses.
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Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
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You can get a signed copy of Bergling's "Art Alphabets and Lettering" from my website store.
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Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.
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Friday, October 18, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 4

(Continuing the series on J.M. Bergling's classic sourcebook Art Alphabets and Lettering)

The Roman alphabets are the oldest and most universal The Italian Renaissance capitals, which in turn derive from those carved into Trajan’s Column in Rome, deserve careful study, as they are the basis for many subsequent variations.



Note the circular outside shapes of the C, G, O, and Q; the narrowness of the S; the nearly midline crossbars on the E, F, and H; and the serifs, the small spurs or feet at the top and bottom of ascenders. Achieving the nuances of classic Roman capitals is difficult with single stroke construction using a lettering brush or a broad pen, but some of the examples an attractive alphabet that can be constructed rapidly with a broad pen or flat tipped brush.

Most traditional alphabets have a consistent distribution of thick and thin lines. Typically, letterforms are drawn with greater thickness on the vertical ascender, compared to the horizontal crossbar, a byproduct of pen technique. Novel effects can be achieved by using a constant thickness throughout the letter or by reversing the normal relationship of thick and thin lines, .

Being “modern” or “artistic” or “up to date” became an obsession in Bergling’s day. He revels in eccentric departures from the staid rhythms of traditional alphabets. He includes Art Nouveau features, such as curving ascenders, curlicue serifs, or crossbars placed high or low.

Thanks to his experience weaving letterforms into monograms, Bergling was especially adept at interlocking ascenders and descenders. Some of these ideas were revived by underground comic artists in the 1960s, such as R. Crumb, who took a strong interest in both the music and the phonograph sleeve design of Bergling’s era.


Printing technology was rapidly changing at the threshold of the twentieth century. Photoengraving and photolithography allowed lettering to be printed directly from the original penwork. This opened up a range of possible effects, and liberated graphic design from the relatively labored and mechanical look of set type and hand engraving. The photomechanical processes also made reproduction possible at a size smaller than the original.
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Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
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You can get a signed copy of Bergling's "Art Alphabets and Lettering" from my website store.
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Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.
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Thursday, October 17, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 3

Lettering project inspired by the Bergling book
For most of us, hand lettering is reserved for sentimental or ceremonial occasions, such as this announcement that I made for my son's graduation party.



(Continued from Part 2) But in the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship, which lasted between about 1875-1915, every business person was expected to convey their integrity and confidence by means of their pen skills, culminating in a confidant, flourished signature. To achieve this kind of writing, penmanship instructors stressed the importance of good posture.
Correct and incorrect writing position
First the pen artist must take the proper position, either standing at a podium lectern or seated in a straight chair with both feet flat on the floor, the back held straight. The pen is held, not in the tight grip of most beginners, but rather in a relaxed hold, the arm resting lightly on the table on the large muscle below the elbow.

“Whole arm” or “off hand” capitals, with their elaborate looping flourishes, are made without penciling the letterforms in advance. Their flowing grace requires a great deal of practice. They are formed with broad movements of the arm, swinging easily from the shoulder. Fingers, wrist, and arm cooperate to create fluid movements. Each part of the flourish uses a smooth continuous stroke. By contrast, small letters should be rhythmically created with controlled finger movements.

Ideally these scripts should be executed on a smooth cotton rag paper over lightly ruled guidelines drawn with a hard pencil. The slant of the letters should be absolutely uniform. The slant can be ruled lightly with an adjustable triangle set to a fixed slope and resting on a T-square or parallel rule.

Most scripts require a slant of between 52 and 54 degrees from horizontal, or the 3/4 angle diagrammed below. An oblique pen holder angles the nib to the right, allowing a better wrist position.



In settings where script writing needs to be larger and more precisely considered, it can be constructed by drawing the letters first in outline, and then filling them in with a brush or pen. In general it is a good idea for the student to begin constructing letters larger and at a slow speed. With improving skill, the execution typically becomes smaller in scale and more rapid. It is advisable to try for accuracy and quality first, and then for speed.


The pen-based script alphabets, with their German and French variants, derive from the models produced by engravers in the eighteenth century, requiring the artist to incise a series of fine lines into a copper plate with a sharpened steel tool called a burin. This copperplate engraver’s alphabet can also be constructed with the flexible steel pen nib. Each weighted or “shaded” stroke broadens on the pulling downstroke. Whichever tool is used, this thick-and-thin copperplate style is slow to execute, making it more suitable for headings and superscriptions than for everyday handwriting.

Bergling includes broad pen alphabets familiar to modern calligraphers, such as “Blackstone,”  “Mixed Roman Text,” and the single-stroke Roman and Italic alphabets. Informal round-tipped alphabets can be achieved with a Speedball “Style B” pen nib.

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Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
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You can get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
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Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.
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(Part 4 of this series tomorrow.)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 2

(Continued from Part 1)
J. M. Bergling was an authority in many different disciplines of lettering. As a boy he emigrated with his father from Sweden, working in California and Chicago, where he built his early reputation as an engraver for watch cases and jewelry. 



He became one of the foremost practitioners of the art of the monogram, a popular graphic form where an individual’s three initials are woven together into a clever artistic design. He produced three other design collections: Art Monograms and Lettering, Ornamental Designs and Illustrations, and Heraldic Designs and Engravings.



Art Alphabets and Lettering is his crowning achievement, culling the best specimens from his many years as a leading engraver and pen artist. To make room for more samples, Bergling eliminated the introductory text typically found in comparable books, such as the Ames’ Compendium of Practical and Ornamental Penmanship by Daniel T. Ames (1883) or Studies in Pen Art by William E. Dennis (1914). In such guidebooks, the text would have explained the theory and practice behind the alphabets. The modern reader might want to know at least the basics of the practical knowledge that Bergling took for granted.


For everyday penmanship, the steel dip pen had largely replaced the quill pen, which was made from a prepared primary flight feather of a goose or a turkey. However, the quill pen was—and still is—the preferred tool for certain kinds of elegant writing, and was the primary tool for letterers before the nineteenth century. Steel pen nibs in Bergling’s day were available in a range of degrees of flexibility, and many of them are still available today. The nibs fit into a pen holder, and were dipped into an inkwell of India ink, which was waterproof, or a water-soluble ink such as Higgins Eternal.


The collection begins with script alphabets, notable for their flowing, connected letters, such as “American Roundhand” and “Spencerian.” These models provide excellent guides for handwriting applications where a graceful elegance is required. The Spencerian alphabet was invented by Platt Rogers Spencer (1800-1864). It became standard in the United States between 1850 and 1925, after which it was replaced by the simpler Palmer method that still is taught in schools today. 

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Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
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Get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
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Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

J. M. Bergling and The Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 1

My first freelance work was as a calligrapher when I was in junior high school. I found clients by riding my bicycle to print shops and showing them my samples. I lettered a lot of wedding invitations and menus. My go-to source for alphabets and styles was an old book called Art Alphabets and Lettering that my Mom owned when she was young.

Recently, when I realized how rare that book was, and how it was out of print, I asked Dover Publications if they would consider republishing it. They agreed, on the condition that I would write the introduction. So here's the first installment of that introduction....

From the perspective of our own era of computer-generated typography, it is difficult to appreciate the ubiquity of handmade lettering a century ago. Writing made by hand appeared not only in personal letters and postcards, but also in business correspondence, architects’ plans, store windows, roadside billboards, theater lobbies, newspaper advertisements, college diplomas, engraved silverware, and even embroidered handkerchiefs.


At the dawn of the twentieth century, the art of hand lettering reached flamboyant, exuberant heights. The period known as the “Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship” was still in full flower when John Mauritz Bergling (1866-1933) first published Art Alphabets and Lettering in 1914. He expanded his so-called “Encyclopedia of Lettering” through three subsequent editions, culminating in this enlarged fourth edition of 1923.

Art Alphabets and Lettering has been one of the most sought-after of the many treasuries of designs and alphabets from that period, not only because of the high standards of Bergling’s examples, but because of the wide range of practical applications that he addressed. In Bergling’s day, the field of artistic writing spanned the work of many specialists: engravers, engrossers, architects, showcard writers, and commercial artists. He took care to consider the appropriate spirit for each kind of communication, ranging all the way from a sober commemoration of a retirement from an insurance company  to a playful poster for a college dance.
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Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
----
Get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
----
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.



Monday, October 14, 2019

Painting a Supermarket Entrance

I have painted around this supermarket many times, and I keep discovering new views of it. On a rainy day, I notice how the warm inside lights contrast with the cool light outdoors.


I have to push the painting through the “ugly stage” by having faith in the process. 


The palette of colors is very simple: White gouacheYellow ochre (watercolor), Transparent red oxide (watercolor), and Ultramarine blue (gouache)


In the choice of subjects, I am inspired by French philosopher Emile Zola, who encouraged artists to paint commonplace subjects from our own era. 



He said: “The past was but the cemetery of our illusions: one simply stubbed one's toes on the gravestones.” (Le passé n'était que le cimetière de nos illusions, on s'y brisait les pieds contre des tombes.)

Zola also said: "A work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament” (Une oeuvre d'art est un coin de la création vu à travers un tempérament).

Somehow, by interpreting a subject that isn't often painted, it opens the doors to appreciating our world anew.
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