Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jakub Schikaneder: Mood, Mystery, and Murder

Jakub Schikaneder (1855-1924) painted lonely figures in misty, twilight moods.

He was German-Bohemian, and he came from a family that was poor but they loved art. 

Jakub SchikanederMurder in the House, 1890
oil on canvas, 203 × 321 cm - 6 ft 8 x 10 feet 7 in
His painting "Murder in the House" created a sensation when it was exhibited. Visitors studied the evidence in the painting and debated how the girl died and who may have killed her.

The scene takes place at a specific location in the Jewish Quarter of Prague, where the city's poorest inhabitants lived. The young woman lies in a pool of her blood, but there's another pool of blood farther back and a bloody handprint on the wall of the arched passageway.

The group of onlookers show a variety of reactions: there's the shocked maid with clasped hands, the shopkeeper leaning forward, the young man pointing. Is one of them the murderer?

Jakub Schikaneder, study for Murder in the House
Schikaneder made several charcoal studies to work out the pose of the young woman.

In an age before television and movies, paintings captured the imagination of the public with some of the same themes of murder and drama that have always intrigued us.
Jakub Schikaneder is featured in the book Prague 1900: Poetry and Ecstasy

Monday, March 25, 2019

Artist's Magazine Files Bankruptcy

F+W media, publisher of The Artists Magazine, Pastel Journal, Watercolor Artist, Writer's Digest and Interweave Knits has filed for bankruptcy, citing declining print sales and disappointing e-commerce results.  

The actual story appears to be more complex, involving a family selling its profitable business to corporate interests who racked up a lot of debt in dubious ventures and acquisitions. (thanks, Bob).
Publishers Weekly's article on the business travails 
Wikipedia page with full list of magazines
Previously: Your Favorite Art Magazines

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Cube and Checkerboard Illusions

The dark square marked “A” is painted with the identical mixture as the light square marked “B”. (Link to video on Facebook.)

The square marked “A” is painted with the identical color mixture as the square marked “B”. Both are a neutral gray. (Link to video.)

The lesson from both of these diagrams is that our visual system uses context cues to override the raw information that our eyes receive. It's good to keep this rule in mind when estimating the value and the color of objects.

David Briggs, an expert on color theory, did this lecture on color constancy and painting. (Link to YouTube)
From my book "Color and Light: A Guide for The Realist Painter."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Józef Chełmoński's Wildlife Paintings

Józef Chełmoński (Polish 1849 -1914) studied in Paris and exhibited in the Salon. But after a decade in France, he returned to his homeland in Poland. 

He used his academic skills to paint evocative scenes of the people and the wildlife that he was familiar with. 

One of his best loved paintings shows a group of partridges struggling against the wind, surrounded by the bleak, infinite whiteness of the snow and sky. 

Józef Chełmoński, Partridges, 1891, oil on canvas, National Museum, Warsaw
There's no food or shelter in sight for these small, warm-blooded creatures. The image works on the literal level, but each viewer may identify with it on a figurative meanings, perhaps an expression of human struggle.

Józef Chełmoński , Partridges, detail
The details of their plumage are painted carefully, presumably from actual specimens. Chełmoński creates depth by blurring and obscuring the further individuals.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Your Questions About Gouache

You had some questions on YouTube and Instagram:

Preston asks: Hey James, I want to start painting gouache en plein air. However, I’ve been having some trouble with the colors. I have experience oil painting, but all these gouache colors confuses me. There’s like 3 different types of reds such as “Spectrum Red, Primary Red, and Designer Red”, yet they all look like the same hue. Perhaps they have varying opacities? I plan on just buying Red, Blue, and Yellow with White and Black, and a few Earth Tones. I also plan on building the painting setup you discussed on your blog.

Gurney answers:  I would suggest buying gouache with well-known pigments, such as cadmium red, and avoiding colors with descriptive names like "spectrum red." As you probably know from your oil paints, the pigments are identified by Color Index Names (so cadmium red is PR108), and the reputable brands list pigments on the tubes. There's a website that tells you the pigment numbers. The opacity varies according to the pigment, and in my opinion, it's good to have some gouache pigments that are less opaque to use like watercolor in the lay-in stages.

Gouache is often marketed with "primary colors" or "spectrum colors" because it's so often used in art classes for painting color wheels. I would also beware of the cheap gouache sets that have weak pigment loads or pigments that aren't lightfast.

By the way, here's an interesting video about color pigments. (Link to YouTube)

Brady asks: "I was wondering how you frame a gouache painting once you have completed it. For example, a painting that you finish for a client or plan to put in an art show."

Gurney answers: I would mat and frame your gouache behind glass. You have to protect that delicate surface, because a splash of water, a sneeze, or an oily touch would spoil it. You could use a thin wood or metal photo frame and a generous mat to make the frame look museum-quality. It is possible to varnish gouache and treat it like an oil, but not really recommended, because the beauty of gouache is that matte surface, and a varnish will bring out lots of surprising layers. As always, experiment first!

Jonathan asks: What did you use to tone the paper tan?

Gurney answers: I toned the paper with a thin layer of casein paint (white, yellow ochre, and light red), but you could use Acryla Gouache or tinted gesso, or even brown India ink.

Tom asks: When working with gouache, or casein for that matter, do you wait a little while before folding up the sketchbook to avoid smudging, or does the paint dry sufficiently to allow you to pack up almost immediately? 

Gurney answers: It dries almost immediately (unless it's raining and 100% humidity), so I can pack i it up immediately.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Start a Gouache Landscape with Wild Brushstrokes

Sometimes like to I start a gouache landscape with loose, wild brushstrokes. (Link to YouTube)

Caran d'Ache watercolor pencils
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
M. Graham gouache Ultramarine blue, terra rosa, yellow ochre, and titanium white.
Richeson casein paint (underpainting)
Travel brush set
Water cup
Homemade easel

Gouache in the Wild (Download on Sellfy):
Gouache in the Wild (Download on Gumroad):
How to Make a Sketch Easel (DVD)

Canon M6 (time lapse, video, and stills)

List of Gouache Materials
List of Watercolor Materials

Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist 
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time: https://amzn.to/2xyamRM


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oolu, Skybax Instructor

Here's Oolu, skybax instructor, shown with emblems for master, apprentice, and beginning riders, an illustration from the book Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Glitter Path

A glitter path is a vertical reflection of a very bright light source on water, extending from the horizon straight down to the water near the viewer.

Glitter path, photo by Harald Edens
Typically the source is the sun or moon, so sometimes it's called a "moon-path." The glitter path widens where the water is disturbed, and it narrows in the areas where the water is calmer.

Study by Peder Krøyer
Wavelets present many small reflecting surfaces at a variety of angles. Wherever those surfaces are just the right angle to reflect the sun, a spot or dash of light appears.

The effect fascinated Danish artist Peder Krøyer (1851-1901), who did many studies of it, and included it in some of his most famous paintings.

In Howard Pyle's magical story, The Garden Behind the Moonthe "moon-path" appears one night and a young boy discovers that he can walk out on the water:

"There was the moon-path, and there was the wave, and there was this bar of moonlight right a-top the wave. I stepped out again, and this time I wasn't afraid. This time, would you believe it, I didn't fall into the water at all. All the same I had to jump off that wave on to another, for the moonlight was sliding under my feet. It was as slippery as glass."
BooksHow to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea by Tristan Gooley
The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle
Online: Glitter Path, explained in Backyard Optics 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

Joseph Ducreux (1735 –1802) was a French painter best known for his unusual self-portraits.

He was interested in the study of physiognomy, and wanted to explore expressions that went  beyond the standard ones used in portraiture. 

Some also involve gestures, such as Le Discret (ca. 1790), which shows himself asking for silence.

He studied with Maurice Quentin de La Tour, who was known for his expressive pastel portraits. When Ducreux focused more on oil, his technique was influenced by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Portrait de l'artiste sous les traits d'un moqueur, 1793
(Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of Mocking)
When the French Revolution broke out, circumstances were more dangerous for Ducreux. He drew the last portrait of Louis XVI before the king's execution. Ducreux was forced to travel to London.

His self portrait with the mocking expression has inspired a huge number of memes.

We're not used to seeing old paintings or photos of people with facial expressions. See the Previous Posts below for some exceptions to that rule.
Previous Posts: 

Wikipedia: Joseph Ducreux

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sketching Irish Musicians

(Link to video) It's good for a sketchbook to have a little Guinness spilled on it.

This article comes out in the next (April 2019) issue of International Artist Magazine. Blog readers have voted them the best art magazine, and I am pleased to have been writing a column in every issue since 2007.