Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ulrich's "In The Land of Promise"

The scene is set in Castle Garden, America's first immigrant processing facility, before it moved to Ellis Island. Eight million people passed through Castle Garden between 1855 and 1890. 

Charles Frederic Ulrich, In the Land of Promise, Castle Garden, 1884
The artist, Charles Frederic Ulrich (American, 1858 – 1908) focuses on a young mother sitting on her trunk of worldly possessions. She nurses her baby as her daughter looks off to the left. 

In the background, a man in a bowler hat tends his ailing wife. Cholera and smallpox were common in the crowded, noisy conditions of Castle Garden. In New York City itself, the conditions were not much better. 

Among these desperate people arriving in a foreign land, none were braver than the mothers. 

"The bravest battle that ever was fought!
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you will find it not;
'Twas fought by the mothers of men." 
(Read the rest of the poem)

—Joaquin Miller

Monday, January 30, 2017

GurneyJourney App Now for Android

You asked for it, and it's here: The free GurneyJourney App is now available on Android. It lets you use your Android device to keep up with GurneyJourney blog posts. Please let us know in the comments how it works for you.

If you're an Apple/iOS user, there's already an app for your iPhone or iPad.

GurneyJourney App for Android
Thanks, Dan!

Second Chance at Dean Cornwell Book

A second printing of the popular book The Art of Dean Cornwell is in the works via Kickstarter. The first printing was limited to 1000 copies. It quickly sold out, leaving Cornwell fans wishing there was another chance to buy a copy.

Measuring 9x12 inches with 224 pages, the book resembles some of the other books in the Golden Age series published by the Illustrated Press. Although it has a complete biographical summary of Cornwell's life and working methods, the emphasis is on the art itself, with over 260 published full page and in full color, almost entirely from the original paintings and drawings.

A few years ago, I produced a video showing some blurry but fascinating footage of Cornwell at work. (Link to YouTube)

More info about this book
Dean Cornwell second printing on Kickstarter
Read my full review of the original book
Thanks, Ethan Davidson

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Sunday, January 29, 2017

BoarCroc Maquette

(Link to video) Here's a mini-video I made to show a reference maquette I built.

It helped me figure out the lighting for this reconstruction of "BoarCroc" or Kaprosuchus.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Geza Vastagh's Lion Studies

Geza Vastagh (Hungarian 1866-1919) sketched lions from life. This study is in pastel.

Many of his best studies were done at the zoos in Hamburg, Leipzig, and Berlin. He also sketched and photographed in Africa in 1898.

An oil study like this demands patience, knowledge, and a well-stocked memory.

One of the challenges is deciding which moment to capture. A snarling pose like this passes so quickly. It's a lot easier to capture an animal in a sleeping pose.

More samples of Geza Vastagh on Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to R.D.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Snow Pile

Snow pile, gouache, 5 x 8 inches. 
The old pile of snow crouches at the edge of the parking lot, gritty at the edges, slowly melting toward a drain, and dusted with the whiteness of yesterday's fresh snowfall.

I choose to paint it for a practical reason: it's visible from my car in the parking lot where I'm waiting for Jeanette to do the hunting and gathering.

But I also like it because it's an overlooked subject, something artists don't usually paint. Unlike an "artistic" subject like a Venetian canal or a Maine seascape, there are no artistic precedents here. It's virgin territory.

It speaks to me for other reasons, too. Anything in nature that is white—such as a cloud, a breaking wave, or snow—reflects the dynamic light conditions of the scene. The sun is coming partially through high clouds from the right. The up-facing planes on the left side of the pile are cooler and a little darker.

I'm also fascinated by the contrast between the fractal-organic forms of the snow and the rectilinear lines of the parking lot. I greatly simplify the background to put the focus on this contrast.

Finally, the infinite complexity of the surface suggests the passage of time. The shape of it even changes a lot during the 45 minutes I'm sitting here. It speaks to the dynamic interplay of elemental forces and the impermanence of all external forms.
Two artists who I admire who paint similar kinds of scenes of the built environment.
Andrew Haines and Scott Lloyd Anderson

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Fundamentals of Painting" now in English

The best source for Russian academic teaching methods are the two books by Vladimir Mogilevtsev, the head of the Drawing Department of the Russian Academy of Arts (also known as the Repin Institute) in St. Petersburg.

But for a long time, his teaching was difficult to access unless you could speak Russian. Fortunately, last fall, his book Fundamentals of Drawing was released in an English edition, and now his companion volume called "Fundamentals of Painting is also available in English.

It's a big hardbound book in full color with high quality printing, 13 3/4" x 9 3/4" (35 x 25cm), 96 pages.

It includes concept, materials, charcoal drawing, preliminary sketches, color relationships, copying, and final details.

The book is organized in a series of extended step-by-step demos: a female head study, a male portrait with hands, a male nude figure, and a copy of a Rembrandt portrait.

There's a fixed layout. On the right hand page is a large reproduction of a work in progress. On the left hand page is a commentary about each stage, with additional illustrations to illuminate his points.

About the charcoal preliminary, he says: "We are solving two tasks: composition and large proportions. Then we mark out the shape of the head, hands, clothes etc. In the silhouette of the head we find the outline of the face and hair...Draw according to the principle from general to specific."

Mr. Mogilevtsev discusses issues that face any painter, such as color relationships, mutual penetration of colors, tonal value, silhouette, mass, and shapes. 

Throughout the presentation, he shows teaching examples by masters of the past, such as Titian, Holbein, Repin, Serov and Fechin.

The quotes from the text are very helpful and no-nonsense, for example:

"Look at your sketch and determine what are the most important and what are the minor details. You should not allow all details to be equal. The sense of unity and completion is achieved when the details vary in significance and the degree of execution. In a portrait, the most important detail is usually the eyes. Next are the nose, the mouth, and the chin, then the forehead and the neck. After that we create variety in edges of the silhouette of the face, the hair, and the clothes."

At Amazon:
You can also buy them directly from the publisher 4-Art in Russia.
Also recommended 
Academic Drawings and Sketches  is 168 pages, softcover, 9.5" x 13.5".
Anatomy of Human Figure: The Guide for Artists (RUSSIAN language)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Variety of Line

In this engraved illustration of a billiard player by Paul Gavarni (1804-1866), there's a wonderful variety of line.

The score is nothing to fifteen, so the player is worried.

Squiggly lines describe the hair. Curving lines follow the
curves of his forehead. Short, staccato lines define the
plane change of his nose. 

Think, straight, parallel vertical lines
and simple outlines define the setting, but
push it back in space.

Relaxed zig-zags describe the repose of the floor.
Thin arcs follow the arc of his shin.

Masters of engraving and pen-and-ink knew the descriptive potential of a simple line. The old-time art instruction books recommended doing exercises of a variety of types of linework to stay in practice. 

Then, when you go into the finish, it takes a deliberation to decide what sort of line best suits the subject and the story. 
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Tuesday, January 24, 2017


A praxinoscope powered by a miniature hot air engine.
During the 19th century, inventors figured out that they could create the illusion of movement by presenting a series of related drawings, each seen for a split second.

Praxinoscope from the collection of Mel Birnkrant
Before the era of film, there were several devices that could accomplish this magic, such as the phenakistoscope (spinning vertical slotted disks), and the zoetrope (slotted cylinder). But the most sophisticated was the praxinoscope, which consisted of a spinning circular platform with a series of mirrors mounted on a central drum. The mirrors reflect drawings on a roll of paper set into the inside of the outer drum. 

The moving figures combine with a background, and they seem to float in 3D space. No shutter, eyepiece, or set of slots is required.

In 1888, Charles-Émile Reynaud took this idea to the next level with his Théâtre Optique (Optical Theater).

The device used 36 mirrors, with longer strips of images that went beyond simple cycles. The images were illuminated with an electric lamp — invented just a few years earlier by Thomas Edison.

Reynaud also figured out how to project the images on a screen so that an audience could watch the show, making Reynaud truly the father of animated film technology.
Wikipedia entries on:
Charles-Émile Reynaud
Théâtre Optique
More about the origins of animation at collector Mel Birnkrant's website

Monday, January 23, 2017

Malcolm at the Art Museum

I always bring my friend Malcolm to the art museum. People stare at him at first, but then he charms them with his stories.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Clarence Doore, pulp artist

It wasn't that long ago that men's magazines had covers like this. It takes some mental effort to imagine an elephant as a "killer brute" attacking a scantily clad woman.

The illustrator who painted that cover was named Clarence "Boo" Doore (1913-1988). He's best known as a specialist in pulp themes.

Boo was a distant relative of mine. My great-great grandfather, John Hopkins Gurney, was his great grandfather.

The extended family spent summers in a camp in Maine. That's my grandfather Dan with the hat driving the touring car. Boo is the little blond-haired boy sitting directly behind him.  

Clarence Doore did this cover for a story in TrueWeird Magazine called "Fish with Human Hands Attacked Me." 

Other magazines he worked for included: Cinderella Love, Flyboy, Football Thrills, The Hawk, Kid Cowboy, Romantic Marriage, Space Patrol, Tales of the Sea, Tops In Adventure, Wild Boy, All Man, Animal Life, Battle Cry, Champion For Men, Fury, Male, Man's Adventure, Man's Exploits, Rage For Men, Real Men, and Rugged Men.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Extinct Giant Owl

Behold the giant prehistoric owl, Ornimegalonyx.

It was the top predator in Cuba until 6,000 years ago. It was the largest owl that ever lived—about 40 inches tall, weighing more than 20 pounds, with long legs and fierce talons.

Its stubby wings might have extended its glide in a foot-first pounce attack against a giant ground sloth many times its size.

The reconstruction is part of the ¡Cuba! exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the sculpt is by Jason Brougham.

Link: AMNH Website

Friday, January 20, 2017

'The Devil Draws!'

When he tried sketching in Albania around 1849, Edward Lear (British, 1812-1888) encountered some opposition from the local residents.

"No sooner had I settled to draw than forth came the populace of Elbassán, one by one, and two by two, to a mighty host they grew, and there were soon from eighty to a hundred spectators collected, with earnest curiosity in every look; and when I had sketched such of the principal buildings as they could recognize, a universal shout of 'Shaitán!' (Devil) burst from the crowd; and strange to relate, the greater part of the mob put their fingers into their mouths and whistled furiously, after the manner of butcher-boys in England."

"Whether this was a sort of spell against my magic I do not know...[Later] one of those tiresome Dervíshes—in whom, with their green turbans, Elbassán is rich—soon came up, and yelled, 'Shaitán scroo!—Shaitán!' ('The Devil draws! Devil!') in my ears with all his force; seizing my [sketch]book also, with an awful frown, shutting it, and pointing to the sky, as intimating that heaven would not allow such impiety. It was in vain after this to attempt more; the 'Shaitán' cry was raised in one wild chorus—and I took the consequences of having laid by my fez for comfort's sake—in the shape of a horrible shower of stones, which pursued me to the covered streets..."

From Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania (The Balkans) by Edward Lear

Thursday, January 19, 2017

One-Minute Notan

Here's a challenging exercise for practicing brushwork: Try to paint a scene or object within one minute, interpreting it in a notan design, using black gouache and a big brush. 

A minute goes by very fast, as you can see in the video. (Link to video on Facebook)

Not only is there no undo button, but also there's no time for hesitation, and you have to use a brush fully loaded. Materials used: smooth bristol board cut into a 5-inch square, black gouachesynthetic round brush size 12.
You can watch the video looping on Instagram @jamesgurneyart
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Where should I dump my waste water?

Mike Simpson asks:
I have a question about what you feel is the hazardous effect, if any, of disposing watercolor waste water onto the ground or plants, etc.?

I guess the best answer I can give you is to bring along a big container to dump the wastewater in and then dump out the water responsibly when you get back home or back to your hotel.

The same goes for cleaning the palette, by the way. My wife makes me clean out my palette in the shop sink because if I do it in the kitchen, no matter how neat I try to be, a speck of cadmium yellow always shows up in the sink or on the pot scrubber.

Although some pigments such as titanium white are relatively inert in watercolor our gouache, it's hard to know what hazardous materials might be in an actual jar of wastewater. If you use cadmiums or cobalts, etc., there are going to be some toxins in the mix.

Some pigments can also stain a sidewalk, stone, or a ground surface, and that's not good. And appearances matter. Even if you know what you're dumping is innocuous, it may not look like that to someone walking by, or someone organizing the event. One artist in a group who accidentally drops their palette or dumps their wastewater in a sensitive location can wreck it for every other painter who comes later.

Also, some institutions such as colleges have to follow very strict OSHA rules. They get in major trouble unless every artist follows very strict clean-up practices, which involves designated buckets for wastewater. All this is even more important for oil painters who deal with solvents. So it's a good idea to ask around to find out what's OK.

Please be sure to read the comments, which has some expert insights about what happens to toxins after they enter the waste stream.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Woodcarving a Seated Figure

This video (link to YouTube) shows how British sculptor Guy Reid (b. 1963) uses photographs shot at different angles to find the silhouettes of his sitting model. He cuts the shape out of wood with a band saw. Then he refines the 3D form with wood carving tools.

The video itself is remarkable for the way it eschews voiceover and music, letting the visuals explain the process instead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

How I start a casein painting

I often approach a casein or gouache painting with two passes: a semi-transparent lay-in of the big shapes, followed opaques, going for the details last.

The surface is a Pentalic watercolor journal. Here's a big blowup of the page so you can see the finished sketch up close. Note that "PALACE HOTEL" is painted dark over light.

The limited palette of the Gurney 6 Pack is enough for this subject: Colors include titanium white, ivory black, Venetian red, yellow ochre, and cobalt blue. The cobalt blue mixed with Venetian red makes a nice near-black that I use as a base for the shadow. Note the partial mixtures in the shadow..

(Link to watch video on YouTube)
My Gumroad tutorial: Casein Painting in the Wild
On Amazon: Casein 6 Pack
Casein six pack with travel brush set

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Painting in an Age of Apps

A photo with a low pixel count via Tech in everyday life
After reading the recent post about the photograph technique of cross processing, John Tija asks:

"On the subject of cross processing, in addition to Instagram and Photoshop effects, there are also apps on the smart phone. I recently came across Prisma for the iPhone, and have found that the app can transform my ordinary looking photos into some pretty spectacularly different renderings, both in the color scheme and also in the details of the subject itself (e.g., photos become line drawings, or mosaics, or even Mondrian-line canvases, all with color schemes I could not have dreamed up)."

"My question in all this is where the "artist" is in all this. If I paint a scene based on how this app has transformed it, am I "cheating"? I guess it comes down to my starting suspicion of how much I can rely on a photograph (a "ready made" scene) as a start to my painting? And if I start relying on some color scheme produced by an app algorithm, do I then lose more of my originality, since I become, step-by-step, nothing more than a copier?"

"As a funny aside, I used this app to run a photo I took of a painting I did based on another photo I had taken, and I came out with a pared down digital rendition (koi in a pond) that had strangely alluring colors and was pretty good. So what kind of an artist am I in this? This has puzzled me!"

Head painting detail by Frank Brangwyn
John, that's a very thoughtful question. You're right to ask about these powerful tools, including photography, digital processing, and apps. And we're just beginning to arrive in the era of machine-learning algorithms. They all challenge our idea of what makes us an artist.

Let's consider what we do when we paint. You could look at all painting as a form of altered—or even degraded—vision. It's the opposite of the usual way we regard representational painting. Typically people talk about painting as a way of representing exactly what we see, or even enhancing what we see. 

But really, in terms of detail at least, paintings and drawings nearly always reduce the amount of information, and I've found that the more they do, the more they people talk about them as "artistic." Think of monochromatic paintings, notan drawings, limited palettes, and paintings made with big brushes. All images follow processes that reduce information. The Brangwyn at left looks a lot like a low resolution photograph.

Of course there are highly resolved, detailed, color-enhanced styles of painting, too. But even those are usually simplified, flattened, or reduced from our genuine stereoscopic, dynamic visual experience in some way.

So the question is: what aesthetic and practical criteria should guide us in the interpretation of reality, and how should we employ all these new tools in this process?

Photography presents us with another way of seeing, another way of mapping the 3D universe into 2D. There are so many forms of lenses, films, and processes before you even get into digital manipulation. Cameras and computers have expanded our vision. We can see infra-red images, we can stop action, we can see through things with x-rays, we can see wildlife up close. Photography has really given us new eyes. 

That doesn't mean we have to project and copy the random detail of a single given photo, though that's OK, too, if that's what you want to do.

But the more we understand how cameras see, the more we appreciate our eyes, the little "meat cameras" in our heads. The more we know about photography, the more we realize our eyes and our visual brains are not like cameras at all. That's been a big subject on this blog. 

So where does that leave us? How can each of us find the best way to use the tools to make our art? It's going to be different for each person.

In my case I'm usually either trying to interpret my experience of reality directly into a sketchbook, or I'm trying to visualize a scene from the ancient past or from a science fiction future. In some cases I want my paintings to incorporate photographic effects so that they can fit into a magazine presentation that's mostly comprised of nature photos. To get that effect, I try to learn the theory behind photography, and I also surround my easel with a lot of different reference photos, taking a little from one and a little from another to make something new.

For what I do, I find the old-school methods of drawing and painting are the most efficient and they produce the best results. But I'm always open to learn more and to try new things, and if there's any tool that helps me make better art, I'm willing to try it.

As the tools give us new ways of seeing and new ways of producing images, they also challenge us to create things that machines can't create. They make us ask what is truly the human component of our vision. There's no moral right or wrong about what tools you use. No tools can directly bring your dream world to life. That's up to you. As long as your work is original and it communicates your own experience, it's not cheating. It's a gift.
Previous posts about:
Computer Graphics
Visual Perception

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Young Ladies Visit Coney Island, 1905

In this vintage 1905 motion picture, a group of young ladies in white dresses visit Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Some of the amateur gags involve the girls outrunning their chaperones.

They climb onto a big horseless carriage, open their parasols, and visit Dreamland, with its thrill rides, the Steeplechase, and the beach. The film captures the spirit of buoyant fun and playfulness of that era. (Link to video on YouTube)

Incidentally, the title cards seem to be made of felt letters. A set of flimsy letters cut out of white wool felt can be repositioned on a black or green felt background. It sticks to itself like weak Velcro, with no need for glue, tape, or pushpins.

I still remember these felt or "flannel" boards when I was in grade school in the early 1960s. If a kid was good in class, they would be allowed to make the felt sign in the front of the classroom that might have a seasonal message. You can still buy educational flannel boards, or better yet make your own out of Merino wool felt, which would feel much nicer in the hand.
Previously: The story of Coney Island's Dreamland
Thanks, Kay