Saturday, April 24, 2010

Schoonover Explains Joan of Arc

In a 1927 issue of The Federal Illustrator, Golden-Age illustrator Frank Schoonover (1877-1972) described the thought process behind his painting of Joan of Arc.

“Glance for a moment at the reproduction of Joan of Arc and some of her army. This portrays a crowd of mediaeval figures, some mounted, some afoot, rushing across a causeway. Mediaeval costumes present in themselves great possibilities for color, but in this particular picture all that was held in abeyance.

The fragment of the army, the horses, and the foreground, are all kept well within a range of close gray color values. The sky is rather gray in its effect.

But against this effect of subdued color comes a horseman bearing aloft a yellow and orange* flag—bright and dazzling in the setting sun. This is a fine use of dramatic color.

And why is it dramatic? It is dramatic because the eye of the observer had been filled for a moment with the subdued color of the foreground of the picture, and when it encounters the sudden—the “unexpected”—burst of vivid yellow and orange, it is held as if some dramatic action were taking place against the curtain of the sky.

It is not necessary, in fact, it is more often a grave mistake to write your drama all over the canvas. Save your dramatic color note and play it with all the drama that is in you.”

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*I’m not sure why he says “yellow and orange” when the flag really looks red and green. Maybe there’s something wrong with the reproduction, or he was conjuring the colors from memory. But either way, he makes an excellent point about staging bright color, a point that probably echoes his teacher, Howard Pyle.

Thanks, Bob H!

9 comments:

Jason Peck said...

Hey James,

Great post, When he says yellow and orange, I believe he's referring to the much larger flag that rest in front of the cloud. Although to me it appears to be yellow and red.

Alan said...

Perhaps he used a fugitive yellow? ;)

jeff jordan said...

I love to play bright colors against greys--got it from Ingres.

Daroo said...

I really like Schoonover -- maybe he thinks of green as a cool yellow....

huxleyoa said...

maybe he means the other flag there are TWO in the picture.... it almost blends in with the clouds but you can clearly see the finial of the flag pole in the upper right hand corner which is almost exactly matches the tip of the the true red green flag finial... and no I do not think it is a spear covered in clouds.....

Will Kelly said...

"It is not necessary, in fact, it is more often a grave mistake to write your drama all over the canvas. Save your dramatic color note and play it with all the drama that is in you.”

What a great quote, and how true. Dramatic scenes are hard to concieve, but this is a fine ideal to work with in that scenario. Thanks for sharing this great bit of advice!
-Will

Karin Corbin said...

perhaps the writer was color blind.

Gene Snyder said...

Hey Jim,

I just visited the Delaware Art Museum this weekend. I spent the entire day there from 10-4 and pretty much had the whole place to myself. What a great museum and only an hour away. Loved your work in the Dinotopia show - very inspiring!!

It's ironic to read this post since during my visit, I went through the museum's Howard Pyle rooms a second time with a docent. She explained that Pyle would teach his students to use line, color, etc. to capture the mood of the story. One painting we ended up talking about in length was "The Flying Dutchman". She asked the group, "What do you see first?" I replied, "Those haunting red eyes..." It's those red eyes and red sash against that big sea of blue-green that makes the dutchman so compelling.

Just thought I'd share. Cheers!!

James Gurney said...

Hey, Thanks, Gene. I'm looking forward to heading back down there on May 15 and 16, and hopefully will have more time to really look at those Pyles!