Monday, November 30, 2009

Scaling Up with a Grid

Alphonse Mucha used the time-honored method of scaling up with a grid when he wanted to translate his reference photo to his finished cover illustration.

He drew a series of evenly-spaced horizontal and vertical lines directly over his black and white photo. He then added another set of diagonal lines to subdivide the grid in crucial areas of the face.

Presumably he redrew this grid on a separate piece of paper and then copied the content of each grid square to develop his comprehensive drawing. This separate drawing then would have been his planning step that he would have transferred down to the final painting (shown here as a black and white photo of the magazine cover).

Whether you're working from a reference photo or a hand-drawn figure study, scaling up is still one of the fastest methods, and it has a lot of advantages over eyeballing or projecting an image.

It assures that you've got the proportions and placement exactly right, and at the same time, it lets you feel more in control of the drawing, changing and improving on the reference. Mucha, a master draftsman, certainly used the photo here only as a starting point, and like Rockwell, took it in his own creative direction.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Repin's Duelling Shapes

This painting by Ilya Repin illustrates a scene in Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin when Onegin kills Lensky in a duel. The scene takes place beside a mill in winter, and the white snow gives Repin the opportunity to silhouette the figures. Their simple poses tell the story immediately.

Repin revisits the story in this oil painting of the terrible moments after Onegin kills Lensky. Here Repin uses strong silhouettes again, but in an even more interesting way. Onegin is isolated, grappling with the weight of the deed.

His simple vertical shape is echoed by the drumbeat rhythm of the trees behind him. Lensky's form lies prostrate on the ground, an uneven, wild shape. The seconds, Guillot and Zaretsky, also form ragged silhouettes, shapewelded to each other and to the darks of the mill behind them.

Keep an eye on next month's (Dec/Jan) issue of International Artist magazine, which will have an article that I wrote for them on silhouettes, based on material in Imaginative Realism.

Previously on GJ: Silhouette, Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Clothespins and Crabb

One evidence of the true artist is the transformation of ordinary things into little fragments of beauty.

David Starrett paints each of his wooden clothespins with a different design, each a variation of his mascot, the fox.

A left-handed painter, he thinks big. He came up with this prototype for a large oil palette, though he works more often in watercolor.

He taught for many years in the Los Angeles area at Otis, Valley College, and Art Center.

When he visited in 1990, he posed for Lee Crabb, the malcontent and schemer in Dinotopia: a Land Apart from Time. But in truth he has a heart of gold.

Previously: The Real Lee Crabb

Friday, November 27, 2009

Greek Edition of Dinotopia

The Greek edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara has just been published.

Previous post
on the Romanian, French, Bulgarian, Czech, and Hungarian editions.

Sargent's Repainting

I remember reading that John Singer Sargent would often require many sittings to get his portraits right, and that he was rarely satisfied with his first efforts.

But I always wondered: Did he scrape off each false start and then begin all over again? Or did he just work over the previous start after it had dried? How did he know when a painting was going wrong?

Thanks to two of his former pupils, Miss Heyneman and Mr. Henry Haley, we have an idea of his methods:

"He drew a full, large brush down the whole contour of a cheek (over one of her half-finished studies), obliterating apparently all the modeling underneath, but it was always further to simplify that he took these really dreadful risks, smiling at my ill concealed perturbation and quite sympathizing with it.

"The second painting taught me that the whole values of a portrait depends upon its first painting, and that no tinkering can ever rectify an initial failure. Provided every stage is correct, a painter of Mr. Sargent's caliber could paint for a week on one head and never retrace his steps -- but he never attempted to correct one. He held that it was as impossible for a painter to try to repaint a head where the understructure was wrong, as for a sculptor to remodel the features of a head that has not been understood in the mass. That is why Mr. Sargent often repainted the head a dozen times, he told me that he had done no less than sixteen of Mrs. Hammersley.

“When he was dissatisfied he never hesitated to destroy what he had done. He spent three weeks, for instance, painting Lady D' Abernon in a white dress. One morning, after a few minutes of what was to be the final setting, he suddenly set to work to scrape out what he had painted. The present portrait in a black dress (above), was done in three sittings.

“He did the same with the portrait of Mrs. Wedgwood, and many others. Miss Eliza Wedgwood relates that in 1896 he consented, at the insistence of Alfred Parsons, to paint her mother. She sat for him twelve times, but after the twelfth sitting he said she would both be the better for a rest.

“He then wrote to Miss Wedgwood that he was humiliated by his failure to catch the variable and fleeting charm of her mother's personality -- that looked like the end of the portrait. Some weeks later he saw Mrs. Wedgwood at Broadway, and struck with a new aspect he said:

‘If you will come up next week we will finish that portrait.’

“She came to Tite Street, a new canvas was produced, and in six sittings he completed the picture which was shown at the Memorial Exhibition.

“I have also seen the assertion that he painted a head always in one sitting. He painted a head always in one process, but that could be carried over several sittings. He never attempted to repaint one eye or to raise or lower it, for he held that the construction of a head prepared the place for the eye, and if it was wrongly placed, the understructure was wrong, and he ruthlessly scraped and repainted the head from the beginning. That is one reason why his brushwork looks so fluent and easy; he took more trouble to keep the unworried look of a fresh sketch than many a painter puts upon his whole canvas.

“The purpose of all this reworking was to: develop (in Sargent's words) ‘an appetite to attack the problem afresh at every sitting, each attempt resulting in a more complete visualization in the mind. The process is repeated until the canvas is completed.’

Thanks, Walt Morton!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dead Tech: Esterbrook Inkwell

Dip pens aren't dead tech. Lots of people, including me, use them all the time. That's how I did all the lettering in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

But the Esterbrook 407 Dip-Less inkwell is an endangered species. It came singly or configured in pairs. The black bakelite Art Deco base holds the inverted glass well, which is sealed with a rubber stopper. It was intended to be used with an Esterbrook Dip-less pen, which held more ink than a simple dip pen shown above.

It was made to feed ink to a constant level and to reduce the risk of spillage. You'd find it chained to a desk in the lobby of a bank, hotel, or post office, where a steady supply of ink had to be made available to the public.

Previous dead tech: Zipatone, Waxer.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shady Diamond Illusion

See for yourself: all the diamonds are identical in tone.
Via Best of YouTube

Do Artists See Differently?

During the recent series of posts on eye tracking, several of you wondered if artists look at the world differently from the general population.

According to a study conducted by Stine Vogt and Svein Magnussen in Norway, the answer appears to be yes.

Trained artists, compared to non-artists, spent less time looking at the focal points (here, a face or a figure) and more time scanning the overall image. In both pairings the artist's scanpath is on the right; that of the non-artist is on the left.

This was true whether they were looking at the pictures without any relevant guiding instructions, or whether they were directed to concentrate on the images in order to remember them.
Thanks, David Palumbo.
Complete Story on Science Daily.
Previous post on eyetracking.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Across the Border

The border guard asked who we were, what we were doing, and what we brought back. We told him we were painters up to see an exhibition called "Garden of Enchantment," and all we bought were a couple of art books. He looked kind of disgusted with us, and waved us through.

At the PriceChopper in Plattsburgh we got some turkey sandwiches. I saw a guy two aisles over in the checkout line who looked just like one of Henry Hudson's crew in Rip Van Winkle. I started sketching him, and when he noticed, I just told him: "I'm sketching your picture."

Later I caught up with him at the Lotto machine and showed him the sketch. His shoulders were covered with sawdust. He told me he is a logger, and we got talking about the early chainsaws that the old-timers used to work. They used motorcycle engines and took two men to operate.

He said the oldest trees he had seen in the forest were yellow birch. Once in a while he runs across a chestnut or an elm, but he said he leaves them for wildlife. He invited us by his place, but we had to get home.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Blog Nods

Thanks to Children's Atheneum for naming me Illustrator of the Week!

I'm grateful also also to Blogs of Note (put together by the team at Blogger) for putting GurneyJourney in today's spotlight.

Back to the U.S.A. Border

A long line of cars led up to the border crossing as we returned from Canada. It seemed they were stopping and searching everyone.

Four guys in flak jackets searched a car in front of us, using mirrors on poles to look under the bumpers. They made the guy get out of the car, escorted him away, and then one of the officers drove off in his car.

I asked Doug for his passport. This time I wanted to make sure I presented the passports up front, rather than waiting for the officer to ask me for them.

I turned to Dennis. Last time the guard asked us four times if we had firearms, and when he asked Dennis directly, he just shook his head. This time he said he was going to speak up.

Tomorrow I'll tell you what happened.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eagle Owl in Slo Mo

As artists in the modern era we're lucky to have the advantage of good photo reference, especially good slow motion video. This eagle owl flies toward a Photron SA2 camera at 1000fps in a 20 second clip that shows the heavy wing strokes, the steady gaze, and the disturbance of small feathers along the leading edge.

Waterhouse Expedition: Impressions

We spent the whole day at the Montreal Museum of Art, which has a large retrospective of J.W. Waterhouse's historical and mythological paintings. Instead of trying to do a big biography or thorough analysis or anything, here are a few notes and random impressions for people who are thinking of going. This is the last stop of the show, and it won't go to the U.S. It closes February 7.

Visitor Notes:
The show is dramatically set against black walls throughout, with a special room for drawings, sketchbooks and preliminary studies. It got pretty crowded on a Saturday, but everyone was really polite, and you could spend as long as you wanted. The audio tour has music from Faure, Debussy, and Wagner rather than a bunch of talk. Plan on taking at least a full day. We ran into an art friend who made the pilgrimage and was allowing three full days for seeing everything a few times. We drove up and stayed at the Holiday Inn midtown, which is in walking distance and not too expensive.

Impressions of the Show

--Many of the paintings are a revelation to see in the original. They're not only big (the figure of Mariamne above is life size), but they have a tremendous emotional presence, and they can be absorbed on so many levels: story, paint technique, color.
--Even though Waterhouse was methodical in his planning, the paintings show a lot of improvisation. There are passages painted over or heavily worked, scraped out--more like a manuscript by Beethoven than by Mozart.
--In his best works, such as Lady of Shalott, there's a tremendous feeling of dream and reality perfectly interwoven, with every element of the picture adding to the mood and the story. Not a single thing could be added or taken away.
--There's a lot of color interest that doesn't reproduce well, especially warm and cool passages in the darks, and pale tints and gradations in the lights. In particular I had read contemporary accounts of Ulysses and the Sirens that praised it for its color, but I've never found it very impressive in reproduction. It truly deserves its praise, as it has deep, rich blue-greens played off against warm passages.
--Because of the lack of letters, journals, or other biographical source material, there's a lot of speculation about his personal life. One of the captions suggested the theory that he may have burned all his papers because he was dabbling in spiritualism. Who knows?
--Pretty much all the heavy hitters are there, with the exception of Hylas and the Nymphs, Ophelia, Gather Ye Rosebuds, and Pandora.

For more about Waterhouse, check out the link-rich overview on Lines and Colors and William Stout's impressions of the show.

There's a full-color exhibition catalog called "J.W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite."
Videos of Peter Trippi talking about several paintings by Waterhouse (Thanks SVSART)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Waterhouse Expedition: Border Problems

The first thing I should have realized was that it's a bad idea to act fishy to the border guard.

“You only gave me two passports,” he said. “There are four people in this car. Who are the two in the back seat?”

“Oh, those guys are artists, sir. Art teachers, actually. I mean, also”

"Doug Anderson and Dennis Nolan." He read their names and studied my face. "Why do you want to go to Canada?”

“We want to go to the museum to look at the paintings of a guy named John William Waterhouse.”

The second thing I should have realized was that it’s stupid to make smart remarks.

“How do you all relate to each other?” he said.

“Very well, thank you.” I glanced over at Jeanette. Her eyes widened. She wasn’t smiling. Neither was the guard.

He snapped the passports shut. “I see that two of you have never been to Canada before. We would like to get to know you better. Please pull over to Detention Building 2.

We sat in a bleak room with a lot of desperate looking people and signs about FIREARMS written with capital letters. An hour went by. Finally my name got called. A hard looking lady started asking me a bunch of questions. I pulled out the sketchbook. What did I have to lose now?

“Could you make this take as long as possible?” I asked. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to draw your portrait.

This time it worked. She looked through the sketchbook and actually smiled a little and eventually sent us on our way.

We lost a lot of time before we finally arrived in Montreal, and we’ll have to make up for it tomorrow.
Addendum: Steve, here are the earlier posts on Dennis Nolan. Art History: A Fresh View and Two Things to Remember.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Lines and Colors

Thanks to Charley Parker of the blog Lines and Colors for his thoughtful review of Imaginative Realism. He's one of the only reviewers to talk about the genesis of the book, which of course grew from your input on this very blog!

Lines and Colors is an art blog that I check out every day, and it has led me to many discoveries that have changed my thinking about making pictures.

Art Out Loud Video

Trailer for Art Out Loud, Vol 3 from Kate Feirtag on Vimeo.

Here's a teaser video about the Art Out Loud event, which included Sam Weber, Charles Vess, Donato Giancola, Greg Manchess, and me at the Society of Illustrators doing art under the watchful eyes of some guests--and some cameras. A longer version is said to be forthcoming.

Previous GJ post on the event. Thanks, Irene, Brandon, Kate, Dan, Anelle, and Arkady!

Spectrum 16

Spectrum 16, the annual collection of fantastic art, is now in bookstores.

The 264 page volume contains the work of over 300 painters and sculptors, and represents the best in the field of imaginative book and magazine illustration, concept art, advertising, comics, and sculpture.

Above, the Silver Medal winner in the book category, J.B. Monge.

This years Grand Master Award went to Richard Corben. The book also features editor Arnie Fenner's perceptive essay putting the artwork in it contemporary historical context, as well as a list of artist contacts at the back of the book.

Find it at Bud's Art Books, Amazon, or your local brick-and-mortar.
Spectrum website, link.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bloomsbury Auction

On Wednesday, December 9, Bloomsbury Auction house will have a sale called "Capture the Imagination: Original Illustration and Fine Illustrated Books."

There will be one Dinotopia item in the sale, a rare first edition/first printing with an even more rare title page:

Bloomsbury "Capture the Imagination" Auction Catalog, Lot 279, p. 116.
Website Bloomsbury

Abbey's Morgan Hall

Blog reader Susan Fox did some good sleuth work, and found the Broadway, U.K. home of American expatriate illustrator Edwin Austin Abbey.

"The house is called Morgan Hall," she writes. "It took a little asking around the village, but I found someone who remembered that Abbey the artist had lived here. I walked down the drive, took a deep breath and knocked on the door, but no one was home. The drapes were pulled and a I sneaked a peek at the beautifully furnished interior and grabbed a couple of photos of the outside. This was in 1993."

"As you will see, Illustration and painting seems to have paid pretty well for Abbey. It's quite a house. Classic Cotswolds stone country home. It's right off the village green on one of the roads out of town. As far as I have been able to figure out, this is where Sargent painted Carnation Lily, Lily Rose."

Thanks, Susan! See her work on Cafepress. Previous GJ post on Abbey.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Howard Pyle Blog

Illustrator and collector Ian Schoenherr has just started a blog on Howard Pyle. He explains:

I avidly collect the work of Howard Pyle. But that's only a slender part of my Pylomania. I also seek out information - even seemingly meaningless or useless factoids - about his life, his family, his art school, his working and teaching methods, as well as copies of his correspondence, sketches, drawings, paintings, photographs, books, magazines, prints, ephemera and esoterica - pretty much any and every kind of tidbit that has something to do with Howard Pyle. So, to justify my existence and my obsession, I've start this blog to share some of what I've learned or accumulated.

The Howard Pyle blog.

100 Free Audio Books

Strap on your earbuds and take a journey while you're painting or drawing. Here's a link to titles like Alice in Wonderland, The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Check out the full list of the "100 Free Audio Books You Should Have Read By Now" at Free Audio Books. Thanks, Carol!

Related previous post: "Music While Painting," with 52 comments on what people like to listen to.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

William Bliss Baker (1859-1886)

If William Bliss Baker had not died at age 27 from a skating injury, he might have gone on to be a bright star in the firmament of American landscape painting.

His "Fallen Monarchs," above, shows the influence of one of his teachers, Albert Bierstadt, with a keen awareness of light and atmosphere, and a close observation of forest detail.

More about Baker on Wikipedia and Fine Arts Trader.
Thanks, Chris!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Giovannetti's Skaters

Pericle Luigi Giovannetti (born 1916) was a pantomime cartoonist for Punch who was popular after World War II. He was known for his sympathetic portrayals of the foibles of old age, for his haughty hound dogs, and for a brash little animal character he invented called Max.

This cartoon is from a 1956 book called "Max Presents." More about him on the cartooning blog "Now Read This."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hello to China

In honor of President Barack Obama visiting the People's Republic of China, I extend my best wishes to those who love imaginative art there.

I'm curious if anyone who has been to China and knows the culture could comment on the status of fantasy art in that country. Is fantasy or science fiction art something you see in the poster shops, newsstands, or bookstores?

Art By Committe: Gray Fringe

It’s the 15th of November, and that means it's time for our group sketch game called "Art by Committee." The way it works is I share an excerpt from a science fiction story and you come up with a picture to go with it. This month the quote was :

“He is shorter than I remember, and thin. His fur is grayed to white in a fringe around his head, just below his ears. His coat is dull, thinning, and coarse. His eyes, so bright I…”

As always, the results are impressive and incredibly varied. Nice work, everybody!

Mark Heng

Rebecca Dart

George Semionov
Full size image

Antoine Micheau

Roberta Baird

Mei-Yi Chun
Other ABC art

Paul Bozzo

Mario Zara

Andy Wales
Full story on the blog

Here's the drawing that appears in the original ABC book.

For next month, let’s try the Business Card Challenge. The idea here is to look at a real business card, and try to imagine its owner.

Have fun! Please scale your JPG to 400 pixels across and compress it as much as possible. Title it with your name, send it to: jgurneyart(at), subject line ABC. Please let me know in your email the full URL of the link to a larger image or your blog or website so people can see your image at full size and learn more about your other work. Please have your entries in by the 12th of December. I'll post the results December 15.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Book Trailer Contest

Today is Friday the 13th, the lucky day for one of the four following videos. A while ago one of the blog readers suggested a book trailer contest for Imaginative Realism. You are the judges!

Please watch all four videos (they're only a minute long) and vote for your favorite in the poll at left. The videos are presented in the order I received them. It's OK to vote for more than one video. Poll closes Sunday morning.

"Imaginative Realism" by Room 9 Studios, Chana High School.

"If You Can See, You Can Imagine Too" by Emmanuel Laverde. (Link to website)

"It Begins With a Thought" by The Futuristic Flamingo.

"The James Gurney Show" By GooGoo Supreme (Click Here to see flash animation).

Note to contestants: Since there's a small number of entries, we can improve the prizes that I announced in the contest rules. Each contest entrant will get to choose one favorite signed and remarqued book, DVD, or audio from the selection in The Dinotopia Store, as well as an Imaginative Realism poster. The Grand Prize Winner will get the choice of two books from the Store selection.

Thank you all for entering and working so hard! I'm glad I'm not the judge. I'd never be able to decide!
The votes are in! Thanks for all who voted, and thanks to the four contestants for creating those incredible videos.

Emmanuel Laverde, you were the winner with 113 votes, followed the Futuristic Flamingo with 94, Room 9 Studios with 59, and GooGoo Supreme with 27.

Would all four contestants please email me at jgurneyart (at) yahoo (dot) com? Please let me know your choice of book, DVD, or CD set, along with your mailing address. Mr. Laverde, please choose two items. Congratulations to all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dorne's Pragmatic Idealism

Here's Al Dorne, one of the founders of the Famous Artists School, and the illustrator with the most resplendent eyebrows.

His philosophy of teaching was a mix of pragmatism, idealism, and populism. "Commercial illustration means pictures you can understand," he said. He also believed the work of the illustrator was the highest possible calling. In the introduction to the Famous Artists Course, he said,
"As people divided into different tribes and developed their different dialects, art became more specifically and necessarily the one universal language. It was used to record events——to tell religious stories——basically to communicate ideas to all, regardless of their own spoken language. Today art is used commercially to convey definite messages to the people."

A large collection of Dorne's illustrations can be found (and downloaded) at Leif Peng's Flickr page on Dorne.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monster’s Assistant

Arthur Rackham, the story goes, hired an old woman model who posed for many of his characters: not just nymphs and hags, but also trees and dragons.

Whenever you’re creating an imaginary creature, it’s good to have someone act out the pose. In a pinch you can act it out yourself in front of a mirror or a camera with a self-timer. You can change all the forms around, but there are often valuable details you can pick up from real life.

This little hunchback monster, a sidekick to the Birdman character (full image on earlier GJ post) was such a reality-based creature.

Even though I made a little maquette, I based details of his forehead and his hands on the live-action photograph, which I made with a digital camera on a timer.

The original painting is currently on display at the "Son of Baby Tattooville" exhibition at Riverside Art Museum in southern California. The show will end November 21.

Earlier GJ post on the exhibition.