Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Prismatic Palette



Frank Mason (1921-2009) was a painter and teacher at the Art Students League who used a shelf-like palette arrangement for his oil paints called "The Prismatic Palette." One of Mason's students, Keith Gunderson, explained it to me this way:

Prismatic Palette by Leslie Watkins
"The value scale was the essence of the shelf arrangements, with emphasis on “Orange Value” as the unifying tone of the lights. The shelves were arrayed with a string of greens made from “Parent Green”; premixed value strings of Blue, Violet, and Grey to calibrate atmospheric perspective; a shelf for pre-mixed tints for the sky; and a “Control String” of pure colors squeezed from the tube, arranged by value from light to dark." 

"Modulating a color with it’s complement was often substituted by mixing grey or brown into that color... perhaps an influence of Frank’s teacher  [Frank Vincent] Dumond (1865-1951) and Dumond’s teacher, [Jules Joseph] Lefebvre (1836–1911)."

I have also heard "parent green" referred to as "vegetable green," the color of transmitted light through backlit young leaves.
Landscape by Frank Vincent Dumond
Here are a couple of paintings by League instructor and link to the French tradition, Frank Vincent Dumond, showing his very sensitive approach to color.
Dumond, Christ and the Fishermen, 1891
Leslie Watkins, another Mason student, describes the prismatic palette this way:

From Pinterest via Outdoor Painter
"It clarifies several strings of colors into even steps, with the lightest or highest values descending to the lowest or darkest tones." 

"The steps are based on pure colors from cadmium lemon yellow to alizarin crimson. The different strings of colors consist of grays, violets, blues and greens."

Another Art Students League teacher (and another Frank), Frank Reilly (1906-1965), also taught a value-based system of premixing palette colors, but it was different from Mason's. Reilly's lineage connects him to GérômeDelaroche and Boulanger

Both systems are descendants of a common practice among painters before the 20th century to premix colors in sequences of stepped values, analogous to the keys and manuals of a pipe organ.

I'm obviously no expert on the League instructors' systems, so I welcome further insights and discussion in the comments.

Previously on GJ Premixing Color
More on the Prismatic Palette by Leslie Watkins at the Art Times Journal
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Edit: After reading the post and the comments, Mason student Keith Gunderson adds this:
"Thanks for an excellent post on the Mason prismatic palette."
   
"I might add though that although most artists that studied with Frank had these shelf boxes at the ready when they painted both plein-air and in the studio, this palette functioned more as a landscape palette, especially with a great gob of “orange value” violet as a harmony- orange value being the lowest form of light. This violet was often brushed over a dried venetian red ground and would infiltrate all the subsequent colors that were applied on top. Unfortunately this would sometime result in an overly chalky appearance in the coloration."

"The palette would be organized along a string of nine values (sometimes more)—the four upper values representing values in light, Yellow Ochre value at value 5 in the middle of the string or “the turning plane,” and the lowest four values representing shadow values. In this case, Cad Orange was the lowest value of light and Cad Red was the lightest value of shadow."

"Often times artists would arrange their color strings on the shelves to mimic the progression of horizontal landscape bands, for example the control string would occupy the lowest shelf with the grey above this shelf, violet above this, blue above this, and finally the light pinks occupying the top shelf (or shelves)."

"Greens would be modulated by inserting a bit of the blue, violet or grey dollop of paint (or a combination of the three) from the value string that was  the equivalent value in the vertical position above or beneath that green value on the string. As I said before, this meant that there was an abundance of white being mixed into the paint, since white was mixed into the violet, ivory black, and ultramarine blue base from which these strings were mixed."

"Parent or “vegetable “green pure ( Cadmium Yellow Lemon with a touch of Phthalo green at the value of Cad yellow medium) was scaled up two values with White and  then scaled down to Ochre Value through the addition of Cobalt Blue and finally scaled down to the darkest values with the mixture of an Ultramarine Blue-Alizarin violet. Modulating these already-mixed greens with the blue, grey, and violet tint mixtures was an issue as all this modulation tended to muddy the greens."

"Often,  F.V. Dumond and Mason, in an effort to keep the green’s chroma intact would use the green string unmodulated which sometimes resulted in “garish greens”. Personally, I was always amazed at how Dumond’s earlier paintings done in Paris where more subdued when compared to the “electric greens” of his more Old Lyme influence period paintings."

"Finally, the notion that greens could be modulated with their complements (reds) was never really broached, since this system sort of replaced a more truly prismatic approach as evidenced in the teaching of Gruppe and Hawthorne."

"Well, I could go on and on but I think you get the gist of all this. Having studied with Frank for many years, I was able to glean much from this approach to color, although I find it now to be limited in certain respects. Frank’s teaching was very intuitive and sometimes I think he himself was always trying new theories . I think that ultimately this approach was devised, whether in the studios of Paris or in Old Lyme, as a way to think about color and that it was less about matching the correct color and more about the emotional equivalence that color evokes in the mind of the viewer."

Thanks, Keith, for sharing all that valuable information.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ebb and Flow of Artists' Reputations

Norman Rockwell, illustration from 1917, "The Ungrateful Man," from the Google Art Project and the Norman Rockwell Museum
The reputations of Golden Age illustrators have risen and fallen over the decades. This Google NGram chart records the number of times their names have been mentioned in print.

Howard Pyle hit his first peak in 1900, but fell away after his death in 1911. He surged ahead in the 1920s, but I'm not sure why. Anybody know?

Norman Rockwell didn't enter the scene until around World War I. During his active career he was best known for painting 323 magazine covers for the Saturday Evening Post, ending that series in 1963. In all that time his renown never surpassed that of Maxfield Parrish. Rockwell's name was overshadowed by Pyle's until 1970, when Abrams published the book Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator. The Norman Rockwell Museum started modestly in 1969, expanding to its current location in 1993, where it continues to build his reputation as his name became synonymous with small town life in America.

The names Howard Pyle, Maxfield Parrish, and Andrew Wyeth were mentioned about equally through the 1990s, but Dean Cornwell is not as well known. That makes it harder for museums and publishers to market books and exhibitions of his work.
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Wikipedia--more about the Google NGram Viewer
The Norman Rockwell Museum

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The County Fair

A crowd forms around a juggler at the county fair. Watercolor 5x8 inches.

Watercolor in the Wild--New Reviews

"Watercolor in the Wild has been getting some wonderful reviews. Here are some excerpts:

Henry Malt, Art Book Review
"...His approach is very interesting. For a start, he allows himself about an hour for a painting. Each demonstration here – there are six, covering buildings, animals, people and landscapes – is edited down to about fifteen minutes and covers all the important bits without leaving you thinking, “hang on, what did he do just then?”. He begins, conventionally enough, with a pencil drawing, but then spends the next thirty to forty minutes putting in tones, values and shading. With a quarter of an hour or less to go, he gets to the detail. That’s not enough, surely? No, not for fine detail, but the point is he’s working on very solid foundations: the subject has structure and substance and he doesn’t paint the detail at all, just suggests what the viewer should be seeing so that they create the finer stuff for themselves. It’s very subtle and, although not unique in itself, certainly unusual in combination with so much preparatory work."

"The exception to the one hour approach is a painting of a sleeping foal. Young animals are rarely still and only for short periods and this one is no exception. A large chunk of this section is taken up with watching the creature running round, interacting with its mother and eating. Finally, it needs a nap and we get to work. The point of this demonstration is to show how you can capture the essence of a subject if you’ve already understood it before you lift a brush. I like the fact that, once again, James doesn’t tell you this, but shows you."

"This is an exceptional piece of work and amazingly good value."

Charley Parker, Lines and Colors blog
"Gurney has a relaxed, conversational demeanor throughout — almost as though you had chanced upon him painting, asked about his materials and techniques, and found him more than happy to oblige. This is, of course, a superb approach for an instructional art video.

"The video production values are high, particularly in reproducing the sketchbook pages as the paintings progress, with lots of close-up views that show the renderings in detail....

"...One of the great things about these instructional videos by Gurney is the wealth of supplemental material available on his blog. This includes relevant material from previous posts and directly related questions answered afterward, all with lots of links to materials suppliers and other relevant resources.

"I now have several books and videos by Gurney, as well as being an avid follower of his blog, and I find a kind of synergy between his instructional materials, in that there is a basic underlying philosophy and systematic approach that comes from his considerable experience. I, for one, am hoping Gurney will follow up soon with a similar video on his techniques for opaque water media (gouache and casein). In the meanwhile, I’m finding transparent watercolor more pliant than I thought I would."


Review from Jackson Sze

"Watercolor in the Wild affords us a privileged look into the working process of a modern day master. James Gurney will inspire you to go out and paint, to try and capture life the way an artist can.With thorough breakdowns of equipment and materials, any artist will be well informed about what he or she needs to get started. The demos are both exciting and educational. As a Landscape Painting teacher, I would highly recommend any artist to watch and learn from Mr. Gurney. Though painting outdoors can be challenging, having this DVD in your collection should provide a constant source of encouragement and motivation."
Jackson Sze - Senior Concept Illustrator at Marvel Studios
https://www.facebook.com/jacksonszeart


"Gurney is an experienced teacher and you can really see that come through here. He is thoughtful and informative, while being very brief and succinct. It's a great companion to his previous DVD “How I Paint Dinosaurs.”  Read the rest—Dan Dos Santos, Muddy Colors Blog


"I highly recommend the affordably priced download for anyone who wants to learn more about achieving realistic paintings on location." —Read the rest—Marc Taro Holmes, Citizen Sketcher/Urban Sketchers.

“James Gurney’s latest instructional video, 'Watercolor in the Wild,' is an educational and entertaining trip into the mind of one of America’s most respected artist / illustrators." Read the rest—Darren Rousar, author of Cast Drawing Using the Sight-Size Approach
"James Gurney is making watercolor sketching from life accessible to anyone who's serious about taking on the challenge! (I'm in the process of begging and pleading with my digital students to learn to paint from life.)" —Nathan Fowkes, Animation Artist
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Karla Mialynne's Photos of Realistic Drawings

Karla Mialynne makes realistic renderings of animals using colored pencils and markers, and photographs them with the tools she uses to create them. The photos give us an intriguing hint of scale and process.
EDIT: There's an interesting debate on Reddit about the legitimacy of these images, with many people suggesting that they're not real drawings at all (thanks Soondaep).

McCauley Conner Exhibition

Yesterday the New York Times paid respectful tribute to illustrator McCauley Conner, even to the point of starting off the article by calling him "an artist."

Mr. Conner is 100 years old and going strong. His paintings are being featured at an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York through January 11.

He never thought he'd live to see his work recognized in this way, but it helps that they're calling him "one of the original 'Mad Men'" —a reference to the popular TV series. The museum says:
"McCauley (“Mac”) Conner (born 1913) grew up admiring Norman Rockwell magazine covers in his father’s general store. He arrived in New York as a young man to work on wartime Navy publications and stayed on to make a career in the city’s vibrant publishing industry. The exhibition presents Conner’s hand-painted illustrations for advertising campaigns and women’s magazines like Redbook and McCall’s, made during the years after World War II when commercial artists helped to redefine American style and culture."
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Museum of the City of New York: Mac Conner, A New York Life

The exhibition is co-sponsored by The Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis and the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies.