Monday, October 20, 2014

The Character and The Values

Students at the French academies didn't get a whole lot of instruction from the teachers. Most of the masters came into the drawing and painting classes once a week at most, and sometimes their feedback was brief and enigmatic.


John Lavery (1856-1941), an Irish art student who spent three winters under William Bouguereau's supervision at the Academy Julien, recalled that he received just one sentence from the master.

After looking at his drawings from the nude and asking him a number of questions, Bouguereau kindly said: "Mon ami, ça c'est comme bois; cherchez le caractère et les valeurs" ("My friend, it is like wood; look for the character and values.")

William Bouguereau, Biblis, to be auctioned in NYC at Sotheby's Nov. 6 

Sir John Lavery, Miss Auras, The Red Book
Lavery admitted that he had a tough time learning French, so he probably missed out on a lot of the art talk in Paris. But looking back on his training, he said, "The rest of my training came and continued to come from what I saw rather than from what I heard."
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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lecture in Texas This Week

I'll be in Texas this coming week as an artist in residence at Texas A&M in College Station

The university is a leader in research, and the Department of Visualization is working on some exciting interdisciplinary projects with game-based learning, eyetracking, interconnectivity and digital animation.

If you'd like to see my lecture about the worldbuilding and picturemaking of Dinotopia, I hope you can come to the Geren Auditorium on Thursday, October 23 at 7:00 pm. 

The lecture is free and open to the public. 
Link to the event listing at the Texas A and M Website.
Google Map location

And if you can't make it, don't worry—I'll be posting along the way about my sketching adventures in the Lone Star State.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Book Review: The Drawing Club

Every Thursday night in Los Angeles, a group of artists gets together to draw from the model, but this is no ordinary sketch group.
Characters by Mike Swofford from The Drawing Club
Organized by Art Center teacher Bob Kato, attendees of the Drawing Club work from costumed models who are set up with props and set pieces to suggest a specific character. Themes include such classic types as "The Detective," "French Maid," "The Samurai," or "The Rock Star."

The Thursday night sessions are mostly short poses ranging from 5 minutes to a half hour, and they have long poses on Sundays.

For example, here's Steve Jacobsen modeling as The Chef.

"The Chef" by Brett Bean from The Drawing Club
And here's one of the drawings by visual development artist and character designer Brett Bean.

The Drawing Club is not a class; it's more of an open workshop. Anyone who pays the $20.00 entry fee can attend, and the regulars include a lot of master animators and character designers from Walt Disney Feature Animation or DreamWorks Animation who are looking to brush up on their drawing skills. There are also plenty of students, and a spirit of experimentation.


Bob Kato recently released a book of some of the work that has come out of the Drawing Club. The 9x9 inch softcover edition is 144 pages long, and is lavishly illustrated with examples from 66 different artists.

The text by Mr. Kato is full of encouraging tips for going beyond what you're actually observing from the live model. He suggests a variety of media: pencil, markers, brush-and-ink, watercolor, and digital.

Mr. Kato explains how each artist approaches the challenge differently depending on the kind of work they do.
"Story artists like models to do quick, daring poses because they're looking for gestural movement as it relates to storytelling. Their sense of design is heavily invested in the communication of the moment, rather than what media looks best....The character artists, on the other hand, are always looking at the model like a raw ingredient that will be turned into their own version of the character. When the model shows up in costume and starts posing, they look at the shapes made by the costume and character and get to work redesigning...to make the character funnier, scarier, happier, or sadder. They take the pieces apart—a gangster's hat, tie, overcoat, drooping cigarette, and gun—and create their own version."

Book: The Drawing Club: Master the Art of Drawing Characters from Life
Website: The Drawing Club

Friday, October 17, 2014

Snapshot Sketches


I did these watercolor sketches when I was exploring Salida, Colorado. Each sketch is 3 inches across and took 5 or 10 minutes. 

I might do a few of these to explore possible motifs. The main thing I'm looking for is the basic value organization. Painting a small monochromatic "snapshot" helps me cut through the clutter to see the essence of the image.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Painting a Busy Street Scene

How do you convey the bustling motion of a city street in a painting?

Jules Bastien-Lepage The London Bootblack, 52x35 inches, Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Jules Bastien-Lepage attempted the effect in the background of "The London Bootblack" from 1882. Bastien carefully observed the action on the street and sketched his impression. He told the Irish painter John Lavery,
"Always carry a sketchbook. Select a person—watch him—then put down as much as you remember. Never look twice. At first you will remember very little, but continue and you will soon get complete action."


In his book "The Realist Tradition," Gabriel Weisberg notes that:
"Bastien-Lepage seems to have been anxious in the bootblack picture to convey a sense of the movement and flashing color of the setting. Areas of white priming on the canvas were left exposed and others were scraped down 'according to a new method.'....'His idea was to lay on the colour rather more than an eight of an inch thick, and when it was quite dry he would shave off the surface, and thereby obtain beneath a delightful quality of surface."
For the figure, Bastien-Lepage found a suitable—but fidgety and reluctant—model on the streets of London, and prevailed on him to pose. He painted the figure with a premier coup method that observers likened more to Whistler or Sargent:
"I was much surprised to see how very near Bastien-Lepage stood to his model, who was not even raised on a platform. The boy was only six feet from the canvas. Bastien-Lepage walked backwards and forwards a great deal, using very long brushes, which he held at the extreme end."
Another painter who tried to capture the impression of a busy street scene was Giovanni Boldini in his large painting "A Night on Montmartre." More about Boldini and this painting at my previous post "Boldini at the Clark Institute."

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From the book: The Realist Tradition: French Painting and Drawing 1830-1900 by Gabriel Weisberg
Book: Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1848-1884

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Question: Age Range for Dinotopia

Blog reader James Jones asked: "I'm a college student in Idaho studying to become an elementary teacher. I was just wondering, when you created the world and artwork and subsequently the story of the Dinotopia series, did you have a specific age range in mind for the series? I personally discovered the books in the 4th grade and have loved them ever sense, but I was wondering if they were meant for a slightly older audience."


Hi, James,
I don't buy into the "target age range" mindset of contemporary publishing. I wrote Dinotopia fundamentally to amuse myself as a 30-year-old adult who was rediscovering dinosaurs and utopias. I was also a new dad when the idea came to me, so I was aware of the magic that picture books have for young kids. And I was thinking of making the kind of book that I would have enjoyed when I was 10 or 12. At that age I didn't really like very many children's books, but instead loved the old illustrated adventure books by Twain and Stevenson and Verne.


A book should be like a swimming pool, with a shallow end and a deep end. The few "children's" books that I did like when I was young, such as the Winnie the Pooh books or The Little Prince, had layers of meaning that fed me as I got older. I don't see why a book can't have meaning for a person at different stages of their lives.


In fact, I was deeply touched yesterday to receive a letter from a young filmmaker who has carried the book along with him overseas as he has grown from child to adult. He says:
"Dinotopia began as the favorite book of a little boy fascinated by dinosaurs. It later evolved into a personal inspiration for a young man just starting to dream about how he might make his mark on the world. I'm now happy to report that, as I approach my thirties, it has evolved into professional encouragement for how to keep that childhood spark alive while pursuing a creative career....and all the discipline, terror, heartbreak, exhilaration, and wonder that come with it. Thank you for that gift; I hope that some of my work can one day provide just just as much inspiration to even one little child somewhere."
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Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time