Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Anderson's Brother & Sister Covers

In 1949, illustrator Harry Anderson did a series of covers for Woman's Home Companion featuring a blond-haired brother having fun with his brunette sister. 

Anderson was a specialist in painting children for the women's magazines. The covers in this series are consistently well drawn and full of Anderson's generous and playful spirit. 

Harry Anderson (1906-1996) painted in gouache or casein because he was allergic to oil. If you want to see more examples of his work, check out the online collection by Jim Pinkoski.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Sketching in Iraq and Afghanistan

In this TED talk, news illustrator Richard Johnson tells what it was like to sketch during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how sketching brought him closer to the military company he traveled with.

Art by Richard Johnson, courtesy WBUR
He shares how the combat and courtroom artist Howard Brodie (1915-2010) inspired him early on, and he discusses what art can capture that photos can't. (Link to YouTube)
Interview with Richard Johnson on WBUR radio

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Fitz and Van's Formula

Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman teamed up to paint many of the classic car ads of the 1960s. Using gouache, Fitz painted the cars and Van painted the backgrounds. They had a formula, but it was a great formula.

It goes like this. Coloristically, they choose a overall background color (here, blue). They let that color key fill the scene, including the areas that aren't so important. Those areas are allowed to stay flat (here, dock, water, and sky). The car is the feature color (here, a soft gold). And there's usually an accent color in the background (here, red). A black shadow beneath the car makes the other colors look sharp. 

Compositionally, they fill the foreground with the car's front end, seen in perspective and stretched horizontally. They pick a complex background theme which suggests an attractive couple enjoying leisure time at an exotic location with other affluent people. This time we're dockside with a pleasure-boat party. 

Fitz said that the ad was supposed to make people feel: "I wanted to be in that car, in that place, with that gal on my arm." 

Overall background color—cyan. Feature color, magenta. Accent color—green (figures and swash of light). Background—tropical foliage. Theme—moonlight in the tropics.

Overall background color—dull ochre. Feature color—brighter yellow and blue. Accent color—red. Background —mountains and crowd. Theme: A day at the races.

Overall background color—magenta to violet. Feature color—red. Accent color—yellow. Background— architecture. Theme: Evening party. 

Overall background color—yellow green. Feature color—green with blue highlights. Accents—yellow and pink. Background —stately mansion. Theme: Southern elegance.

Overall background color—blue green. Feature color—yellow. Accents—pink. Background —country club or hotel architecture. Theme: party in the country.

Even though the paintings look photo-real, when you compare them to a photo of a real car, you can see how many artistic choices they brought to their renderings. They ignored a lot of hood reflections, made the windshields more transparent, simplified the ground plane, and exaggerated the car's geometry.

Van Kaufman died in 1996, and Art Fitzpatrick died last year at age 96. Here's a New York Times article about how Fitz received some recognition late in life for his accomplishment.
Fitzpatrick's art appears in a book called Pontiac Pizazz!
Previously: More technical notes about Fitz and Van
My video tutorial "Gouache in the Wild"

Saturday, February 6, 2016

How to Paint a High-Contrast Study

When painting from the figure, it's easy to get lost in all the subtle middle tones, and end up with a painting that has no force or impact. Shadows are usually darker than you think, and lights are lighter and more unified.

A helpful exercise to push your awareness in this direction is the High Contrast Study. Here's how to do it.

Material Prep before the Painting Session
1. Find some 9x12 inch medium brown chipboard. You can also use mat board scraps (ask your framer), heavy brown paper, or even corrugated cardboard. The tone or color doesn't matter that much, as long as it's not black or white. Don't use precious or expensive materials.

2. Seal the surface completely with a layer of acrylic matte medium, brushed on freely.

Material Prep at the Painting Session
1. Use two #4 or #6 bristle filbert brushes, one for white and one for black.

2. Use titanium white and black oil paint, and keep them separate. You can "dirty up" the white just a little bit so that you have a little room for highlights, and you can mix the black with a little umber if you want, but don't put any white in your black.

Model Prep 
1. Use a single light source on the model, and try to reduce secondary light sources such as reflected or fill light. This exercise doesn't work if there are multiple light sources. And make sure there's some light on your painting so you can see what you're doing.

2. Set up an simple background, either mostly light or mostly dark.

2. Position yourself in relation to the model so that some of the model's form is in light and some is in shadow.

3. Keep the sessions under an hour. The examples in this post were done in 15-20 minutes each.

1. Use the "black" brush to draw the lay-in, then mass in the shadows. After those are in, begin massing the lights.
2. Use black for all the areas in shadow, and white for all the areas in light.
3. If two areas of shadow come together, shape-weld them together with the black.
4. If two areas of light come together, group them together with white.
5. Try to avoid outlines.
6. Don't do too much blending at the transition between light and shadow.
7. You can leave some areas of the background tone of the board showing, but not too much.

Next Steps
1. After doing this exercise in its purest form, you can allow yourself a little variation within the shadows and a little within the lights, but keep those variations very close in value, and don't be seduced by middle tones.
2. Replace the black with a more mid-range color, so that you do the same exercise but within a narrower value range. I'll show examples of this in the future.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Harold Speed, Painting from the Life: Part 1

Today we'll start Chapter 9: "Painting from the Life" from Harold Speed's 1924 art instruction book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.

I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by comments of my own. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

The chapter on "Painting from The Life" takes up a major part of the book, so let's break it down into parts, starting with the introduction and Painting from the life in two colors.

1. "Painting from the antique [plaster casts] is now much out of fashion."
Fortunately it's not out of fashion any more, and is very much a part of the curriculum of modern academic ateliers.

2. Why it's good to paint from casts before painting from a live model.
Speed explains why painting from plaster casts is a good idea. Skin has a lot of variation in local color. This variation has to be considered in addition to the modeling. Also, hair also doesn't follow the normal principles of modeling. I would add that if the light is placed too near the model, there's a variation in value intensity that also must be considered.

3. "Keep your work as large and simple in treatment as possible."
 This is consistent with Speed's advice throughout: State the broad masses with a big brush first and save the nuances for later.

4. "Reflected lights in the shadows are what give the luminous quality to them, without which they are heavy and opaque."
Speed explains how reflected light usually comes from the direction opposite to the light, making the darkest part of the shadow (often called the "core" of the shadow), just beyond the terminator. This isn't always true, however. If there are sources of reflection or secondary fill lights near the viewer, the core won't be apparent. It's often an artistic choice whether to include it. The core of the shadow is also generally not apparent with indirect, diffused, or overcast light.

5. Painting from the life in two colors.
Speed suggests using blue-black for the cool color. You can mix such a blue-black by mixing some French ultramarine deep with ivory black. On the warm side, you can use Venetian red or burnt sienna. As Speed says, the relationship of warm and cool colors is one of the most important features to watch in flesh painting, or for that matter, any painting.

6. The advantages of painting with limited palettes
"In training oneself, the thing to aim at is taking the difficulties one at a time, and concentrating the whole attention on them....Muddling along with a full palette, and the whole difficulties of painting presented at once, which is the common method, is asking for trouble."

Using limited palettes is like living within a strict financial budget, where you're forced to account for every expense. It forces the painter to get the most out of the limited resources, and encourages clean handling.

"Fine coloring usually results from a simple palette the range of which has been fully used. You are forced, by starting with two colors, to find the utmost that can be obtained with them." Later when you use a full palette, you won't be seduced into using too many bright colors.

7. "In flesh, seen under an ordinary indoor aspect, the half-tones are usually the coolest colors, the warm being in the shadows and to a lesser degree in the lights."
I'm always a little skeptical about such hard and fast rules, but this is a good one to think about and experiment with. The Bouguereau detail at left shows a very nice distribution of warm and cool colors, with slightly cool halftones and warm colors in the shadow and the forms and hollows of the form. I suspect that subsurface scattering and the peculiar qualities of how skin reflects light may be a part of this principle.

Next week—Chapter 9, "Painting from the Life," continued.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials (with a Sargent cover)," and there's also a Kindle edition.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Priming and Surface Preparation

Felice House, a painting professor at Texas A and M, says: "Just today a student came to me with a question about how you prime your surfaces. We looked through the blog but couldn't find details. If you can fill us in that would be really helpful."

OK, Felice. Let's talk plein-air oil first. Before I leave home to go painting, I prep a bunch of panels in advance. That way the priming is dry when I'm ready to start. 

I use Masonite or wood panels. The wood panels are typically birch plywood panels with canvas glued to them. I start with a coat of gesso. Then I cover that with a Gamblin oil ground. With its alkyd resin binder, this oil priming takes a day or two to dry. Putting a couple drops of cobalt drier speeds the drying time.

Typically I'll mix the oil ground with burnt sienna or English red oil to give it a light brown or pink tone. Here's a study where I left the priming. Sometimes I'll tone a panel to a cool color—bluish or grayish. I often choose to prime the board the complementary color of the landscape I expect to paint. 

For those who aren't familiar with oil priming, it presents a more impermeable surface to the paint you apply in the field, so the paint floats on the surface more. Oil priming is rather slick and shiny, though, and doesn't take well to pencil or charcoal, so I just do my drawing with the brush.

In addition to Gamblin oil ground, there's Williamsburg oil ground. Both use titanium white for the pigment. Some artists prefer a lead white ground, which is OK as long as you're fully aware of the health risks.

Many people prefer to paint over acrylic gesso priming alone, without the oil ground. This allows for a pencil or charcoal underdrawing. But for field sketches, I find gesso too absorbent, which is why I like the oil priming.

When doing a painting in the studio, such as a smaller Dinotopia painting or a science illustration, I'm working in oil, but I have to start with a very careful pencil drawing on illustration board. For larger Dinotopia paintings I do the drawing gesso-primed canvas covered plywood panels. The gesso priming reduces the canvas texture so that it's not so insistent.

After doing the pencil drawing, I need to prepare the surface for subsequent layers of oil, so it has to be sealed first. Otherwise the turpentine would melt the pencil.

I use workable fixativeand acrylic matte medium to provide that impermeable layer. It's also possible at this stage to pre-texture the surface with acrylic modeling paste to give the paint more surface texture, even if the oil is applied thinly over this priming. This is my secret for using oil on jobs that require short deadlines.

I demonstrate this method of priming on my recent tutorial: Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art.

You might want to check out my previous post about the Dinotopia priming technique. Also, my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist covers many of my technical methods. And please have a look at my earlier posts on Constable's Oil Painting Materials and Warm Underpainting