Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Look at the circle of red dots with your eyes relaxed. It is surrounded by a ring of blue dots against a black background. 

Does one group of dots appear to come forward or rise above the other? Is there any apparent lateral movement of the dots in relation to each other?

Here are some horizontal stripes: white, black, yellow, and blue, with a stonework texture throughout. Does the figure look flat, or do some of the stripes seem to advance forward toward you, like shiplap siding? 

About half of the viewers of all of these illusions perceive the warm colors to be coming forward relative to the blue and black colors, and many see other movement happening. Some people see the reverse: the blue parts ahead of the red or yellow 

These figures were created by Akiyoshi Kitaoka (link to website) to illustrate chromostereopsis, a phenomenon where warm colors seem to come forward while cool colors appear to recede.

Early stained glass windows suggests that artists have used the effect to create the illusion of depth in a 2D surface.

According to color expert David Briggs, "This phenomenon results from the effect on our stereoscopic vision of the different focal points of long and short wavelength rays, causing a red object to appear to be on a distinctly nearer plane than an equidistant blue object for the majority of observers." 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Will there always be a place for traditional mediums?

Dan Scott, who runs the website Draw Paint Academy, just published an interview.

One of his questions: With the rise of digital art, do you think there will always be a place for traditional mediums?

First, let's talk about the terminology in your question. I don't use the term "traditional" the way you do. The imagery of physical painters is not necessarily traditional. And even though I respect tradition, there's nothing necessarily traditional about the way I use physical materials (such as painting gouache over casein, or combining watercolor with water-soluble colored pencils).

But I see what you're asking. Some analog methods are probably gone for good, such as paste-up with rubber cement, Craftint, and phototypesetting. But other ways of making art have never gone away or are staging a comeback: gouache, watercolor, fountain pens, sign painting, calligraphy, manual typewriters, and sketchbooks of all kinds. Never in my life have I seen as many kinds of sketchbooks available as there are today. The Internet has fostered a fierce revival for hand skills, and the results are often more satisfying for both the artist and the audience.

I remember when digital techniques were first emerging, physical solutions seemed a little embarrassing and cheap and outdated. Now the situation has reversed. While cutting-edge digital art created by leading artists will always be impressive and ground-breaking, the bottom end of the market—produced by the less able artists and by clients with tight budgets—is now accomplished digitally. As a result, digital methods are associated with work that is cheap and embarrassing.

Physical paintings are the only kind that museums want to exhibit and the only valued originals that collectors want to pay money for. When Frank Frazetta painted his barbarian paperback covers, he was only paid a few hundred dollars for the illustration commission, but now, his originals have sold for over a million dollars. That source of value is lost to digital artists.

One also wonders how long the authoring software will remain accessible. I can open any of my sketchbooks and they're in perfect shape, but I wonder if people can still open their old files in MacPaint or KidPix? If you don't keep paying Adobe, how will you be able to access your .psd files? So you might properly ask: "Will there always be a place in the future for digital mediums?"

In truth the two will always live side by side in some form. I'm inspired in my physical painting by things I've seen digital artists create. Some of the most interesting work being done now is some combination of digital and physical media, and hopefully the two modes of making art will inspire each other.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Background Painting for Fire and Ice

Today on Ebay, there's a background painting for the 1983 Bakshi/Frazetta animated film Fire and Ice. The original painting is rendered with brush and airbrush in cel vinyl paint on board, 12.5" x 16"  by James Gurney.

In the film, an animated layer of bright red lava spews out from the volcano gargoyle.
Ebay link Fire and Ice background painting by James Gurney.
Fire and Ice (Two-Disc Limited Edition)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Van Schendel's Moonlight Markets

Petrus Van Schendel was born today, April 21, in 1806. 

To paint his famous candlelit scenes, he divided his Brussels studio into two spaces: an illuminated part where he did his painting and a darker section where he posed his models. 

His outdoor market scenes often set up a contrast between lantern light and moonlight. The candles and lanterns illuminate the fronts of the figures, and each flame is surrounded by a glowing halo of light. The moonlight is relatively cool and the buildings only dimly seen in the shadows.

The challenge with painting the effect of dim light is to suppress detail in the shadows and to make the transitions gradual. We're accustomed to seeing photographic interpretations of night scenes, which typically include far more detail than the human eye can see.
Wikipedia: Petrus Van Schendel

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Are Comics Respectable?

Micheal, a community college student in Idaho, asks:

Jack Kirby (1917-1994) at his drawing table
a) Do you consider comics and graphic novels to be an art form? Is it a respectable one?

Yes, comics are an art form. Like movies, they are a form that can communicate stories, characters, emotions, and ideas. They can be a showcase for a variety of styles of drawing and writing, and an infinite range of moods. There's nothing about the form that makes them respectable or not respectable. Quality work in any art form is always worthy of respect. But you'll also find uninspired, mannered, and derivative work in any art form, too.

Lynd Ward, illustration God's Man: A Novel in Woodcuts
b) Do you feel that a book with illustrations has less literary merit than one without?

It's a circular question, because the term "literary" usually refers to the world of writing, not that of pictures. So an illustrated book isn't strictly "literary." But if you're talking about artistic merit, my answer would be yes, an illustrated book is entitled to be regarded as a work of art. The merit has nothing to do with the form, but rather with how well the work is executed and how successfully it communicates to its audience.

Conventional critics and professional associations coalesce around art forms that are familiar and popular. Literary critics often don't know how to respond to illustrated books for adults because there isn't much illustrated fiction outside of graphic novels. It's rare to find a critic who can respond intelligently to the unique synergy between art and writing.

Superman comic from 1938
10 cent investment; $3.2 million auction record
c) As a person who has studied the masters and been heavily involved with art education, do you feel that comics and graphic novels are fairly represented in the professional art world?

Are comics fairly represented? I don't know, but they certainly have made a splash in the professional art world. A single printed comic book has sold at auction for millions of dollars. Important galleries specialize in comic art. Cartoon art has been featured in museum shows everywhere from Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art to the Norman Rockwell Museum. Art schools offer classes in sequential art. Professors in leading universities have specialized in dissecting the the language of comics. There are books recounting the history of comics. And there are professional awards, professional associations, and popular conventions.

So, yes, comics have earned a place in the professional art world. That doesn't mean it's easy to make a living in comics. And I'm not sure all that gold-plated respectability is always a good thing for any art form. Have the Oscars® encouraged people to make better movies? I'm doubtful about that.

As we think about honors, awards, and auction prices, let's not forget the silly fun of comics, the flashlight-under-the-covers thrill of comic books that your parents don't want you to read, the over-the-top craziness of experimental comics that authorities frown upon, the guilty pleasure of comic books rescued from the dumpster, thrown there by someone who told you to read something more educational.

Being in the Hall of Fame is fine, but the most vital art forms always have one foot in the back alley. Shakespeare wrote for the Globe Theater, which was a raucous, bawdy place for commoners. Mozart's operas were written for low-class working folks. Bob Dylan wasn't thinking about the Nobel Prize for Literature when he wrote his guitar lyrics. He was just trying to channel something deep and ancient, doing it first and foremost for the crazy love of it.

Book: Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Friday, April 19, 2019

Painting The American Flag

I'm back at the supermarket parking lot again, this time casting an eye skyward.

It's a cloudy day with a steady breeze from the south. The flag catches my eye, and I decide to paint it in gouache. I mute the colors and warm them, which means the blue is just a gray. I gradate both the flag colors and the sky colors toward an imaginary fiery orb behind the flag.

(link to YouTube)
As I say in the video, local colors become interesting when they are transformed by a system of illumination.  That's how you animate colors—modulate them according to a logic of light. That logic might be atmospheric perspective, light and shadow, or in this case, halation / lens flare / or color corona.
Check out the website of my pal "Big Jim" Mushett, who will paint a portrait of your favorite car when he's not rounding up your shopping cart.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Oscar Rejlander and Art Photography

Oscar Rejlander contributed photographs to Charles Darwin's work The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.

Published in 1872, the book was one of the first to be illustrated with photographs, and it was unusual at the time to see photos showing such expressions.

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), 1863 by Oscar Gustav Rejlander
Oscar Rejlander took a carefully composed portrait of Alice-in-Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.

He provided reference photographs to assist painters such as Lawrence Alma Tadema. Finally, Rejlander pioneered an ambitious approach to art photography, producing in 1857 a moralistic photomontage called "The Two Ways of Life."

The Two Ways of Life by Oscar Rejlander, 1857

Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer
"This was a seamlessly montaged combination print made of thirty-two images (akin to the use of Photoshop today, but then far more difficult to achieve) in about six weeks. First exhibited at the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the work shows a man being lured to paths of vice or virtue by good and bad angels. The image's partial nudity, which showed real women as they actually appeared and not the idealized forms then common in Victorian art, was deemed 'indecent' by some. Rejlander was also accused of using prostitutes as models, although Rejlander categorically denied this and no proof was ever offered. Reservations about the work subsided when Queen Victoria ordered a 10-guinea copy to give to Prince Albert." —Wikipedia
Wikipedia: Oscar Rejlander and Art Photography
Book: Oscar G. Rejlander: Artist Photographer

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Relative Color Temperature

Anand has some questions about how people talk about color temperature.

He says he understands how a yellow can be cooler if it leans more toward blue, and warmer if it has a red bias. But which blue is warmer/ cooler? One could argue that a blue with a red or violet bias is warmer because red is a warm color. But a blue with a yellow or green bias can also be regarded as warmer because yellow is also a warm color.

He also asks which is warmer, green or magenta? And is there a pure primary color on the dividing line between warm and cool? Finally, Which is the warmest color on color wheel of tube colors yellow or orange?"

Casein paint
Answer: Artists mean different things when they talk of color as warm or cool. A swatch of orange or blue standing alone can be described in absolute terms as a warm color or a cool color. Alternately, some artists use color temperature more as a relative concept to distinguish two closely related colors. For example, a green mixed with more orange might be regarded as warmer than a similar green that was composed with more of a blue-green hue. 

As you suggest, this relative approach to assigning color temperature can be confusing when someone is talking about blue, which could be made warmer with the addition of either red or yellow. I would agree with you that blue is the coolest color, so I don't think it makes any sense to describe a warmer blue.

Is there a primary color on the dividing line between warm and cool? Yes, greens and violets are on the dividing line, but artists don't always agree precisely where to divide the color wheel. Color theory historian David Briggs explains further how the color wheel has been divided between warm and cool through history.  

Which color is the warmest? I'd say a yellow orange, like a cadmium yellow medium is the warmest. But this is also a matter of debate. Keep in mind that warmth is not something you can measure with a thermometer. It's psychological. And the effect of a color in a given painting depends to a great extent on what colors you put around it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Remembering Alphonse Mucha

Alphonse Mucha's son Jiří (1915-1991), who wrote one of the best books on the artist, went before the camera in 1975 to share his recollections. He leafs through old prints and portfolios and tours the family home in Prague.

About 14 minutes into the video, he talks about the reference photographs that he discovered among his father's things. The photos were especially helpful for drapery. Mucha would not copy the photograph, Jiri says, instead he would just use it as inspiration. (Link to video)

He says that his father put the idea of the perfect women on such a high pedestal that he was aloof and even disdainful around his actual models. When his father was about 13, he fell in love with a girl his age, who died. Forever afterward, he cherished that childlike feminine ideal, and tried to recapture it in his work.

Another video that's well worth seeing is the slide lecture on Mucha given by Felicia Zavarella Stadelman. The vivid stories she tells brings the artist to life.  (Link to video)
Alphonse Maria Mucha by Jiri Mucha (1989-03-15)
Previous posts on Mucha

Monday, April 15, 2019


Zoungy asks: "What's the term for painting each area to completion, rather than painting the whole area broadly with pale washes and increasing the depth?"

 "Some people call it "window shading," especially oil painters. I usually call it "area-by-area painting" when it's in oil and "ink-jetting" when it's in watercolor.  

For example, I want to paint this diner in watercolor. I start with a pencil drawing to give a baseline scaffolding. While I'm doing that step I notice that a couple of the cars have already been replaced by new cars.

It has an active parking lot. Patrons stay inside for an average of 45 minutes (according to Google). I decide to paint the motorcycles first and then record the parked cars one at a time. 

The rendering grows outward from those finished areas. I can worry about the sign and the trees after I finish the parking area.

Ink-jetting is just another painting strategy that every painter should try and have ready when you need it, in contrast to the "overall approach" advised by Pissarro and others.