Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Best Podcasts


The last decade has witnessed a flowering of podcasts. Here are the best story-driven audio documentaries and long-form interviews, chosen with visual artists in mind.

99% Invisible
The pitch: A tiny radio show about design with Roman Mars
Sample episode: Johnnycab (Automation Paradox)

Note to Self (Formerly New Tech City)
The pitch: Host Manoush Zomorodi talks with everyone from big name techies to elementary school teachers about the effects of technology on our lives.
Sample episode: There's Just Something About Paper

Suggested Donation
The pitch: Artists Tony Curanaj and Edward Minoff talk art
Sample episode: Marc Dalessio

This American Life
The pitch: There's a theme to each episode of This American Life, and a variety of stories on that theme. It's mostly true stories of everyday people, though not always.
Sample episode: Batman--can a blind man see if he changes his thought process?

New York Public Library
The pitch: The New York Public Library Podcast features your favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations.
Sample Episode: Werner Herzog on Greece and Wrestlemania

Radiolab
The pitch: Weaving stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries.
Sample episode: Eye in the Sky

Invisibilia
The pitch: Explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.
Sample episode: The Power of Categories

The Moth Radio
The pitch: True stories told live
Sample episode: Lewis Lapham, Rookie Reporter

WTF
The pitch: Comedian Marc Maron is tackling the most complex philosophical question of our day – WTF? He'll get to the bottom of it with help from comedian friends, celebrity guests and the voices in his own head.
Sample episode: Louis C.K.

Criminal
The pitch: Criminal is a podcast about crime. Stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.
Sample episode: Ex Libris

TED Talks 
The pitch: Ideas worth spreading
Sample episode: Why We Laugh

Snap Judgment
The pitch: Glynn Washington delivers a raw, musical brand of storytelling, daring listeners to see the world through the eyes of another.
Sample episode: Mystery Man

Savvy Painter
The pitch: The podcast for fine artists who mean business.
Sample episode: Errol Gerson--Sound business and marketing advice for the artist.

Sidebar
The pitch:  Comics, art, and pop culture
Sample episode: Brad Holland

FX Guide 
The pitch: A visual effects and post-production community website founded by three visual effects artists, Jeff Heusser, John Montgomery, and Mike Seymour
Sample episode: The Visual Effects of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Memory Palace
The pitch: Historical narratives
Sample episode: I'm Still Alive

Edit: a few more, thanks to your suggestions)
The Collective Podcast
The pitch: The Collective Podcast brings you weekly episodes of entert​aining, inform​ative, honest discussions with creative industry profes​sionals from around the world.
Sample episode: Greg Broadmore

Have I've missed your favorite podcast? Tell me the name of the show and a sample episode in the comments.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

GJ Book Club, Chapter 13: Variety of Mass

On the GJ Book Club, we're looking at Chapter 13: "Variety of Mass" in Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing. The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in boldface. If you would like to respond to a specific image or point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

This chapter brings us to some Speed's best material about painting, with some insights that I haven't seen in other instructional manuals.

1. Variety of shape is one of the most difficult things to invent, and one of the commonest things in nature.

He brings up the excellent point that if you don't regularly study from nature, your work will contain "two or three pet forms repeated." I'm thinking of N.C. Wyeth's whipped-cream clouds, for example (sorry, N.C.) . I think this tendency to see forms in a standardized way can even be a problem for a plein-air painter if they aren't sufficiently patient and selfless to really observe carefully and slowly and vary their approach.

2. Nature does not so readily suggest a scheme of unity, for the simple reason that the first condition of your picture, the four bounding lines, does not exist in nature. 

Despite the fact that we must go to nature to appreciate the endless variety of nature, at some point we need to impose design order on it because we're operating within the artificial universe of a rectangular picture.

3. Variety of tone values

Speed defines tone value (light to dark on a gray scale) as a property of light on form, and also as an element of pictorial design. Both of these properties can influence the tone you choose for a passage, and alter it from the actual local color of the object you're painting. 

Twachtman at the Metropolitan Museum
4. This quality of tone music is most dominant when the masses are large and simple.

Another way to say it is: "big tones create mood." The Twachtman above has both big tones and simple shapes. Large, simple masses of similar tone are what give a picture poetic impact, but they can be hard to achieve. Speed mentions that mist or fog can help. I would add that backlighting can too, because it automatically reduces complex value patterns to simpler silhouettes. 

5. Tone relationships are most sympathetic when the middle values of your scale only are used, that is to say, when the lights are low in tone and the darks high. They are most dramatic and intense when the contrasts are great and the jumps from dark to light sudden.

This is a great truth in keying a picture. The value scale has a lot to do with lighting, as any photographer knows. Fashion or food photographers can control the lighting ratio and the softness of the light using fill lights and diffusers and thereby achieve an image well within the middle range. By contrast, film noir directors use lighting to emphasize dramatic contrasts between light and dark areas. 

But unlike photographers, painters have complete control over all the variables of a picture, and we can achieve effects that are almost impossible in photography.

6. Variety in quality and nature is almost too subtle to write about with any prospect of being understood.
C'mon, Harold! It's a bit of a cop out for him to bring up this point and then not really explain it. But I think he's talking about variety of textures within a painting, including the types of brushstrokes (dry vs. wet, large vs. small, thick vs. thin paint, etc.). He argues—and I agree with him—that many of the celebrated Impressionists suffer from an overall sameness of paint texture, which interferes with any sense that you're looking at nature's infinite variety. You just get stuck in the paint instead.

I love his line "Nature is sufficiently vast for beautiful work to be done in separate departments of vision, although one cannot place such work on the same plane with successful pictures of wider scope." 

7. Every student should make a chart of the colours he is likely to use. 
The purpose of this chart is to see how the paint changes over time. In oil, the chart should have thick blobs of paint on one side thinned with the palette knife to a thin smear. There's a tendency, he says, for oil to rise up through the paint if it can't sink into an absorbent ground, and certain oils can darken. Can one of our paint material experts explain this a bit more?


8. Variety of edges.
He gives the usual advice to vary the edges around a given form—hard, soft, hard, etc. 

He then makes the more unusual observation that in some great works: "the most accented edges are reserved for unessential parts." In other words the face is handled with a lot of softness, and the accessory areas around the face, such as the costume, is given more hard-edge handling. He shows the detail from Velazquez's Surrender of Breda, but I think Sargent has many good examples of this, too.

It strikes me that this quality is the opposite of what you would do in focusing a camera on a face with a shallow-focus prime lens, where you'd want sharpness and detail in the eyes and the center of the face, and softer edges everywhere else. 

9. A picture that is a catalogue of many little parts separately focussed will not hang together as one visual impression.

Little bits separately focused is a common flaw in beginner's work. The unity of vision that he's setting up as a goal in picture-making is one of the marks of enduring masterpieces, and it requires conscious effort to achieve.

10. What perspective has done for drawing, the impressionist system of painting to one all-embracing focus has done for tone. 

We're talking about atmospheric perspective here, which he says is as radical a discovery as the discovery of linear perspective in the Renaissance. 

He continues, "Before perspective was introduced, each individual object in a picture was drawn with a separate centre of vision fixed on each object in turn. What perspective did was to insist that all objects in a picture should be drawn in relation to one fixed centre of vision." These days we've absorbed impressionist values so completely that it's hard to appreciate the impact that the revolution in vision brought to painting.


11. Treatment of foliage edges

Speed discusses the challenge of painting convincing foliage silhouettes. He says: "The poplar trees in Millais' "Vale of Rest" are painted in much the same manner as that employed by the Italians, and are exceptional among modern tree paintings, the trees being treated as a pattern of leaves against the sky. Millais has also got a raised quality of paint in his darks very similar to that of Bellini and many early painters."

He continues, "It is interesting to note how all the great painters have begun with a hard manner, with edges of little variety, from which they have gradually developed a looser manner, learning to master the difficulties of design that hard contours insist on your facing, and only when this is thoroughly mastered letting themselves develop freely this play on the edges, this looser handling."

12. Variety of Gradation
There's one more thing to consider when planning how to handle tone—variety of gradation. He concludes: "There you have only the one scale from black to white to work with, only one octave within the limits of which to compose your tone symphonies."

The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club on Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
New GJ Facebook page, credit Jenna Berry

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sargent's Portraits of Artists and Friends

John Singer Sargent, Ambrogio Raffele, 1904
An exhibition of John Singer Sargent's portraits of artists friends has opened at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and will be on view through October 4.
-----
Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends

Dorian Iten's Accuracy Guide


Swiss artist and teacher Dorian Iten, who has studied in some of the best ateliers in the USA and Europe, is now offering a teaching package that concentrates on how to achieve accuracy in your drawings. 

The teaching rubric of "Accuracy: A Drawing Guide" begins on familiar ground. He takes a line drawing of a figure on the left, and reproduces it on the right. The drawing on the right shows alignments along a vertical line. 

Checking alignments is just one way evaluating a drawing for accuracy. There are four others, and he has concretized these modes of seeing by proposing five kinds of glasses. Each pair of glasses represents a different way of checking. 
Clockwise from upper left, there are the Alignment glasses, Angle glasses, Measurement glasses, "Creaturizing" glasses, and Implied Line glasses. These are all methods used for 2D copying of static subjects; they don't really help you deal with moving subjects, and they're not about constructing forms in space.


Here's what you look for with the Implied line glasses on. The simplified contours seem to extend beyond the small forms and pick up again in other parts of the pose.


To Dorian, these glasses are more than just a metaphor. He actually has his students cut them out of cardboard (but you don't really have to). Here's Dorian wearing the angle glasses. Very stylish.

The entire teaching package includes two videos, a PDF guidebook, and a cheat sheet that thoroughly discuss this clever approach. 

When deciding how to monetize the packet, he decided to offer it as a "$0+" pay-what-you-want product, registered under the Creative Commons license. I asked him why he decided to structure it that way. He said he did it that way because: 
"• I'd like more people to be familiar with it - and use it
• I want to make the guide available to everyone, without a paywall
• PWYW removes the upper ceiling of fixed prices and allows happy/supportive contributors to give as much as they like
• It feels easier to promote than a fixed price product
• If there is a sacrifice of profit in order to reach more people (which there might not be), I'm willing to make it at this point in my journey"
If you are interested, you can download the packet for what it is worth to you: a cup of coffee, a magazine, or a day-long seminar.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Is Casein the Oldest Paint?

Residue of a milk-based ochre paint has been found on the edge a 49,000-year-old stone tool, Archaeology magazine reports today. This finding in the Sibudu cave of southwestern South Africa would make casein—paint that uses a milk-based binder—perhaps the oldest paint formulation of all. 


stone age paint-making workshop found in the nearby Blombos cave included stone and bone pestles for grinding the pigments. There was also an abalone shell caked with orange and red pigments used for mixing or storing colors.

Researchers say the milk ingredient was identified by "several high-tech chemical and elemental analyses" and that it may have come from a bovid such as a buffalo, eland, kudu or impala—presumably a wild-killed lactating female—since cattle were not domesticated until 1,000-2,000 years ago. I'm not sure how they ruled out human milk, which would be a lot easier to obtain, and would be available throughout the year. 

Pigments mixed with fat also date back to the Middle Stone Age archaeological record, and their use was probably similar to the body paint used in Africa today. The oldest known paintings are the 40,000 year old stenciled handprints in the Maros cave system in the Sulawesi island chain of Indonesia.

What other paint binders were used by Paleolithic cultures? Archaeologists have found evidence of "vegetable oils, egg whites, yucca juice, yucca syrup, white bean meal, piñon gum, plant fluids, saliva, blood, and even urine." In the Lascaux caves, the dissolved limestone in the water may have provided the ingredient to stick the paint together, since it dries to a hard calcite layer.

Whether the Sibudu casein paint was used to decorate the body, a cave wall, or some portable object is not known.
-----
Press release. Photos courtesy Archaeology Magazine (Thanks, Greg Shea and RobNonStop)
Materials of Ancestral Art
-----
New review of Gouache in the Wild from "Thick Paint" author Brad Teare: "Gouache in the Wild simultaneously respects traditional techniques while infusing them with a spirit of invention."

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Clipping Services

Before the Internet, press clipping services once provided a necessary service to anyone running a publicity campaign.

With teams of readers scattered across many geographical markets, they would monitor print media for specific keywords and then snip out the articles, mark the keywords in the margin, and mail the client binders with all the relevant clippings.

Clipping services also advertised in art magazines for illustrators who wanted to collect tearsheets of other artists or photos of certain cities or subjects.

Is it a case of Death by Google? Some of these companies have shifted to monitor digital media, or they've merged or gone the way of the dodo.

But there are still players in the print-clipping game because a lot of print media is hidden behind paywalls.