Saturday, September 22, 2018

Book Review: The Profitable Artist

Artists want to create work that is original and relevant, but we also want to make a living doing it. 

A handbook called "The Profitable Artist" is designed to help us succeed with the business aspects of our journey. It focuses primarily on marketing, law, finance, strategic planning, grant writing, and pricing. This second edition has been updated to include some basic common-sense advice on social media, crowdfunding, and some new information on launching start-ups.  

The book gives an overview of general contract issues facing not only visual artists but also writers and performing artists. It touches on gallery art, but doesn't get into the business details of specific sectors of visual arts, such as illustration, publishing (or self-publishing), concept art, or animation, and it's not a pricing guide or a book of sample contracts. Without that granular information, it has some value as an introductory guide, but not as a reference book.

Recommended books that focus more on detailed business issues faced by visual artists include:
Kirsch's Handbook of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors and Agents
Business and Legal Forms for Fine Artists
Art, Inc.: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist
If you're already published as an author, you can join the Author's Guild, which has a lot of helpful printed guides and services to help with publishing contracts.
The Profitable Artist: A Handbook for All Artists in the Performing, Literary, and Visual Arts, published by the New York Foundation for the Arts, a non-profit that supports

Friday, September 21, 2018

Gertrude Fiske

The paintings of Gertrude Fiske (American 1879-1961) are being featured at the Portsmouth Historical Society in New Hampshire. 

Fiske was a student and then a colleague of American Impressionists Edmund C. Tarbell, Frank Benson, Philip Hale, and Charles Woodbury. 

Woman at Work, 1910
Her paintings feature portraits, genre scenes, florals and landscapes, composed with an eye to simple and expressive value organization. As with other American Impressionists, she has a refined sense of edges, capturing a sense of mystery and poetry.

She passed up several opportunities to marry, preferring her independence. She maintained friendships with fellow painters known as “The Pine Hill Girls.” Her work won many prizes in her day.

Some of her paintings include "character portraits" where older models posed as representatives of occupations.
Gertrude Fiske: American Master will be on show at the Portsmouth Historical Society in New Hampshire through the end of September, 2018. Admission is free.
There's a catalog: Gertrude Fisk: American Master

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Painting a Cranberry Isle Skiff in Watercolor

This skiff from Cranberry Island in Maine is parked out in front of the The Carpenter's Boat Shop.

This behind-the-scenes video shows the how and why. (Link to YouTube)

The Carpenter's Boat Shop is a community that nourishes teams of apprentices, who work with master boatbuilders to learn time-honored skills.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Painting on Main Street in Maine

Mid-September is a great time for painting in Maine. The summer crowds have gone home and the leaf peepers aren't here yet. 

We're staying in the mid-coast region. I'll start off by painting Main Street, Damariscotta. (Link to video on YouTube)

Art Supplies:
Titanium White (M. Graham)
Raw Sienna (M. Graham):
Terra Rosa (M. Graham)
Peacock Blue (Shinhan Pass)
Rowney Blue (Daler-Rowney)
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
Travel brush set

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

World's Oldest Drawing?

Colored marks on a stone found a cave in South Africa may be the oldest drawing in the world. National Geographic reports that the red-ochre lines are 73,000 years old, nearly 30,000 years older than the oldest cave art.
"Inside the cave, scientists have found other evidence of Homo sapiens being crafty from as far back as a hundred thousand years ago. Discoveries so far include perforated shells that archaeologists think were used as beads; tools and spear points; pieces of bone and ocher with scratched faces; and a group of artifacts that seems to point to production of a liquid form of ocher pigment. The discovery shows 'that drawing was part of the behavioral repertoire' of early humans, the researchers write. If people were making paints, stringing beads, engraving patterns on bones, and drawing, then they were behaviorally modern as early as 70,000 years ago, and perhaps earlier."

Nat Geo: "73,000-Year-Old Doodle May Be World's Oldest Drawing"

Monday, September 17, 2018


Costumbrism—or Costumbrismo in Spanish—is a movement of painting in Spain that emphasized scenes dramatized from ordinary life, with a focus on the customs of common people.

Penitents at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, 1874 Museo del Prado
José Aranda Jiménez (Spanish 1837-1903) was an example of the trend, which was inspired by photography and the movement for realism.

José Jiménez Aranda, A Disaster, 1890
Jiménez studied in Spain, Rome, and Paris. He staged his scenes like a movie director would, with a sense of drama and mystery.

Conversation in a Sevillan Courtyard
According to a Armand Gouzien, writing in 1930: "In the folklore paintings of Jiménez Aranda we admire the knowledge and cleverness of the composition, the acute study of the types, the truthfulness of the attitudes, the elegance of the finish, and the perfection of the drawing."

"His pictures are masterpieces of observation, with the serenity of descriptive works”. 

Aureliano de Beruete said of him: "the most important thing “(…) even more than technical execution, (is) the clarity of the scene represented." 

Figure study by José Jiménez Aranda
Costumbrismo on Wikipedia
José Jiménez Aranda on Wikipedia

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Julius C. Rolshoven

Julius C. Rolshoven, Model Reclining and Reading a Sketchbook
Julius Rolshoven (1858-1930) was a Detroit-born artist who studied in Europe. He is best known for his paintings of women and Native Americans.

He joined a group of high-spirited artists called the "Duveneck Boys" in Florence, enchanted by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. He bought and fixed up a dilapidated Tuscan castle known as "The Tower of the Devils."

He bounced around Europe for a while, studying in Paris, and finally landed in the Taos art colony in New Mexico.
Read the biography at the Gerald Peters Gallery
Wikipedia article on Julius Rolshoven

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Carlos de Haes

According to Wikipedia, Carlos de Haes (Belgian/Spanish, 1829–1898) "believed that the end result of art should be the truth found in the imitation of nature, the source of all beauty."

"The painter should imitate nature as closely as possible, and to do so, you must know nature and not rely on imagination. Leaving behind Romanticism, he was early to embrace the en plein air style, working from outdoor preparatory sketches which were completed within a workshop."
Carlos de Haes on Wikipedia

Friday, September 14, 2018

Summer Foliage

Summer foliage by Aaron Draper Shattuck (1832-1928)
I'm out painting today, but I'd like to offer a study by A.D. Shattuck, one of the later Hudson River School artists:
"Described as affable and inventive---he held several patents, including one for metal stretcher keys found on the backs of paintings---Shattuck was also sensitive to his environs, capturing the subtlest nuances of pastoral landscapes in his oils."
Aaron Draper Shattuck (1832-1928)
Best book on Shattuck and his contemporaries: The New Path

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gruger on Composition

Following are some thoughts about composition by Frederic Gruger, from his 1929 article on "Illustration" in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

"The outward form given to an inward vision depends upon composition. Technical skill merely develops that outward form and is governed by composition which, in its character, must possess the emotional meaning of the vision and speak directly to the emotions. It has been said that the artist struggled with nature to learn the laws of composition, and after that he devised rules for it. One should know, then, the fundamental natural law so that he may, at need, disregard the rules.

"The meaning of emotional character of form in composition may be illustrated by referring directly to human experience. Mankind has looked with awe upon the mountains for countless generations. The effort to cross them taxes his utmost powers and has cost much in pain and death.

"The vast pyramidal forms of mountains stand in his imagination as a sign of majesty. In composition the pyramidal form is used sparingly, only when the emotion of majesty, of grandeur, is to be conveyed.

"Man has long looked upon tall trees with respect and has endowed them with personalities; he has bowed low before temples stately with tall columns. Tall lines in composition are used to express dignity.

"The sombre greys of storm clouds, full of thunder, have terrified us since the infancy of the race Cloud forms, subtly introduced into a composition, suggest impending evil.
Quote is from The Encyclopaedia Britannica 1929 - 14th Edition
The main monograph on Gruger is: Golden Age of American Illustration: F. R. Gruger and His Circle
Memory Games of Artist-Reporters
Gruger on Illustration

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Tyranny of First Decisions

Heather, a fine-arts student from Oklahoma, asks:

How have you overcome roadblocks in your creative process to create works that meet your artistic goals?
Almost every artistic project has roadblocks. Some are from the outside and hard to control, such as a requirement from your publisher, a demand from your gallery, or if you're painting outside, bad weather. Some are internal, such as doubts or bad habits or other psychological barriers you have to get beyond.

The hardest roadblocks to overcome are initial creative decisions that seemed good at the time, but which turn out to be flawed thinking. I call this problem the "tyranny of first decisions." That might be as simple as choosing a vertical 36" x 24" linen canvas for your portrait, or it might be as bad as the decision to make a live-action adaptation of Popeye. The final product will be the offspring of the very first choice that you make, and nothing later will fix it. Those problems are hard to address because they're hard to recognize. The problems that issue from the first decisions aren't evident until later in the process. Until you recognize the problems and face them, you can't correct them. 

Sometimes getting past a roadblock means starting over entirely. Sometimes it means fixing something mid-stream. Knowing what can be changed and how it can be changed isn't easy, even for an experienced artist. You have to be honest with yourself, or ask a friend to give you feedback at various stages. Most mistakes can be fixed if you catch them in time.

What is something (perhaps a habit, a learning experience, or an inspirational figure) that you feel has helped you on your road to be a successful professional artist?
At an early age, I ran across a book about Norman Rockwell, where he described his process in great detail. He showed his thumbnail sketches, posed models, comprehensive drawings, and color sketches leading to the final painting. I realized that every big task can be broken down into meaningful steps, solving one problem at a time. If you approach the making of a picture or the development of an illustrated book in that way, you're almost guaranteed of a successful result. As Rockwell did, I put up in my studio a little sign that says "100%" to remind myself to make a full effort on every step and to trust the process.
Best two books on Rockwell's process, by the man himself:
Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture
Norman Rockwell Illustrator

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A.I. systems that generate photo-real video

Computer networks are getting pretty good at synthesizing video from fragmentary sources, as shown in this latest production from Two-Minute Papers (link to YouTube).

Photo-realistic expressions at right are generated
purely from the line drawings at left. Source
The generative adversarial networks can effectively create video from animated line drawings, as in the still frame above. They're also getting better at classifying the elements of a scene into its various components and translating one class of objects into another. So, for example, a tree-lined street can be changed so that it's lined with buildings instead, or vice versa.

This latest iteration does so without as many weird jumps or gaps.
Read the scientific paper here as a PDF

Monday, September 10, 2018

Cowboys, Tractors, and Robots

I transform a tractor into a robot with the help of Wyoming cowboys Tom Lucas and John Finley. (Link to YouTube video).

I start the painting in gouache and finish in casein. 

Farmwife on myYouTube channel, says:
"Nice work. I like that you see the value and beauty in the workings of the farm. We have a gifted 1945 Massey and my husband did some work so it works for cutting and such. Ours isn't painted yet, next summer. We also have a 1950 Farmall M that he overhauled, not repainted but that old work horse is road and farm ready. He'd love to get hold of that diesel Farmall. My husband is a retired farmer if there I such a thing, farmers do not retire but our horse stable did. He is also a farm machinery mechanic so our property sports all manner of old tractors and parts. As soon as one tractor moves on out, another appears, seems to be no end to old farm machinery since farmers do not scrap their tractors no matter the condition. I have to admit though that I wish some of them would transform into robots and make their way down the road!"

See it in print
This painting will be featured in the upcoming book, Nuthin' But Mech 4, which releases on September 15. So if you want to see it in print, that's the place to get it.

More Resources
Web article about the actual autonomous robot cowboy "Swagbot" 
YouTube Video: Making robot maquettes from foam
Video tutorial: "Fantasy in the Wild: Painting Concept Art on Location":
Digital download (HD MP4):
DVD (NTSC Region 1)
DVD on Amazon

Canon PowerShot Elph (point-and-shoot)


Thanks to the SKB Workshop, where I did this painting.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Motion Blur in Old Master Art

Did any artists from before the era of photography capture the effect of motion blur?

Diego Velázquez, Detail of Las Hilanderas (The Spinners)1655-1660
A good place to look are images of spinning wheels. The spokes dissolve into a blur when it really gets spinning.

Esaias Boursse, Interior with an Woman at a Spinning Wheel, 1667
Painting the spokes that way is a remarkable choice, because it means allowing the impression to  overrule the knowledge of the actual structure. Once the era of photography arrived, artists were fascinated by motion blur, but only a few have used it in their paintings.

It has shown up as a joke in this Charles Dana Gibson cartoon, and it also appears in the wildlife art of Manfred Schatz.
Previous posts that mention motion blur
Manfred Schatz: Wildlife in Action

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Should a watercolor be purely transparent?

Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874), The Rare Vase, 13 x 11 inches
watercolor and opaque watercolor with selectively applied glaze
over traces of charcoal on paper
Walters Art Gallery

Blog reader "Unknown" asks: "I've recently read some horribly-rigid definitions for "watercolor" at some recent shows and competitions. Some go as far as to say if even just the signature is in ink it's not "watercolor" ... but "mixed-media" and excluded. This strikes me as pompous and ridiculous. Many of the past masters of watercolor intermixed transparent watercolor and gouache-like opaque watercolors. Personally I find the initial use of broad transparent washes and then gouache or casein for the details appealing, especially for plein-air painting. But I'm now concerned about compromising my work for future presentation, display, or, God forfend, eventual sale.
As an established artist, where do you stand?"

Well, if you want to succeed in competitive exhibitions, you should follow their rules. I don't enter many such exhibitions because a lot of them are money-making schemes and there are more effective ways to get my work seen.

I also don't spend much time worrying about how other people define watercolor. It's true that many  watercolorists of the past and present are strict about not using opaque white, and that's OK. There is an undeniable beauty to paintings made with purely transparent watercolor.

But you're right that many previous masters, such as Anders Zorn, Adolph Menzel, Edwin Austin Abbey, Thomas Moran, Mariano (or Marià) Fortuny, and John Singer Sargent experimented with mixing media. The Pre-Raphaelites also experimented with using white gouache as a ground. Trying out new ways to combine water-based media is a healthy idea in my opinion, as long as it achieves the results you want and is valid from the point of view of archival conservation.
Wikipedia on Marià Fortuny
Read the List of Unacceptable Materials from the Transparent Watercolor Society of America
Met Museum website: Watercolor Painting in Britain, 1750–1850

Proko's Top 5 Drawing Mistakes

Stan Prokopenko shares five of the most common drawing mistakes he has seen in his students. (Link to video) "Draw what you see, not what you think you see," he says—which was the best advice I got a kid. By the way, thanks for mentioning my work in the video, Stan!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review of new documentary WYETH

WYETH - Extended Trailer
A new documentary on Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), which airs later today on PBS, gives a rich portrait of the life and work of this essential American artist.

Previous videos, including Michael Palin's Wyeth's World for BBC, David McCullough's The Wyeths: A Father and His Family, and Christina's World, narrated by Julie Harris, capture facets of his story, but this is the most complete and thorough production yet.

Andrew Wyeth's studio, © Phil Bradshaw, FreshFly
This new documentary dives deep into the archives, sharing Wyeth home movies, including a clip of N.C. Wyeth dressed up as a very scary Santa Claus. "I was terrified to the point that I wet the bed," Andrew remembers. 

We see NC's collection of stereoscopic photographs of World War I, the drama of which fascinated Andrew's father. In a remarkable visual effect, the directors fuse the stereo images of a battle trench, and fly into a 3D virtual image, an effect I've never seen before. 

Director Glenn Holsten and cinematographer Phil Bradshaw were inspired by Wyeth's artwork, handling many of the film's moments in emotionally resonant and visually powerful ways. For example, to evoke the terror and tragedy of NC's death from the train accident, we hear the sound of a train, and then we see a low and slow dolly shot over some train tracks, with dry leaves blowing in the wind.

Director Glenn Holsten sitting at the window in the Kuerner farmhouse
The film explores Wyeth's familiar haunts in Chadd's Ford and Maine at various seasons of the year, allowing us to see the viewpoints that inspired many of Andrew's paintings. There's archival filmed footage of Christina Olson, the subject of Christina's World. Helga, the model for Wyeth's secretive series of nudes in his later career, goes before the camera to speak about her recollections of Wyeth and their unusual relationship. There's a beautiful shot of her on a sunlit porch that almost looks like Andrew could have painted it. The film also takes a look at his friendships with the African-American community around Chadd's Ford. 

This production reveals how much Andrew Wyeth's work is cherished in Japan, where there have been several extremely popular books and exhibitions. Wyeth's paintings are in tune with traditional Japanese artistic sensibilities, which value change, transience, abstraction and negative space. This connection is enhanced by gorgeous shots of cherry blossoms and gardens shot in Japan.

Although she never appears in filmed interviews, Andrew's wife Betsy receives due recognition as the organizational and financial genius behind Andrew's success. She was the one who helped arrange his life to keep him painting, regardless of the demands that money and fame would otherwise have placed on him. She titled and catalogued his paintings and held him to high standards: "Betsy encouraged him to work on [a painting] until it couldn't be better." Her role as author and editor of the extraordinary books Christina's World and Wyeth at Kuerner's is also acknowledged. 

Arriving nearly a decade after his death, this video is an ambitious and comprehensive production which benefits from access to archives and to people close to Andrew Wyeth, evoking the strange magic behind his life and work.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Commercial Streetscape in Watercolor

What attracts me to this scene in Kingston, New York is the cluster of poles and wires next to the sign, and the delicate details of the far distance.

Route 9W, Kingston, watercolor with gouache highlights, 5 x 8 inches.
Transparent watercolor is fast and direct. I also like watercolor because it makes gradations easier, and the accidental variations and textures seem to work in my favor for this scene.

I limit the colors to a blue / brown gamut, disregarding greens and reds. I want to keep the lights light and the darks dark like a high contrast photo.

(Link to video on Facebook) This video takes you through the process. Note that I first wet the surface with clear water before applying the ghost wash. There are a few white gouache touches at the end.

On Facebook, Linda Navroth asks: "It's cool to watch you use gouache like oils - building up layers. How do you choose your scene? Sometimes at first they look quite unremarkable, but by the time you're done, it's always something special. Do you sense that quality when you start or is it imbued with some sort of "Gurney Magic" during the process?"
The first requirement was shade, because it was so hot. Second was the contre-jour angle toward the light. Beyond that I felt the view had minimal prospects. And I had very low expectations about my painting from the beginning to the end of the process.

There's no Gurney Magic, but there is a procedure that I trust. To slightly paraphrase photographer Gary Winogrand when asked why he photographs certain things, I would say 'I paint things to find out what they look like painted.' Route 9W seems to be my Briar Patch, my Kuerner's Farm. That unloved stretch of highway always attracts me. I know that artistic gems are hidden there that I have a chance of finding if I just set up and start painting, with the meter of my mind tuned midway between doubt and confidence.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

How can you draw accurately but quickly?

Drawing by Samuel Chamberlain
On YouTube, a User asks:
"Is there a learned technique to drawing so quickly and accurately at the same time? Or is it just years of doing it by the book, and then getting good enough to skip the etching marks? Or is it just a talent that I'll never acquire? I'm always frustrated watching people like you draw so quickly and get these results without sketch marks, and making it look like poetry in motion. You all seem to draw in a similar manner that I see often, but have no clue where it's coming from. Am I even asking this correctly? Or is my ignorance so extreme that you don't even get what I'm asking?"

Fair question. Drawing quickly but accurately is a skill that you can develop with practice. I don't do things 'by the book' because I don't think there's a single book that has all the instruction on drawing accurately. But there are some good ones (listed below).

You have probably run across explanations showing how to take measurements with your pencil held out at arm's length. I demonstrate that in my video "Street Painting in Indiana." Other methods involve: measuring slopes, checking vertical alignments, looking for big geometric shapes, evaluating negative shapes, comparing sight size, or using a cropping frame. What these strategies have in common is that they all involve perceiving the 3D world as if were 2D. These strategies don't take very long, and they help keep a drawing on track. Setting up your painting or sketchbook close to your line of sight can also be a big help in achieving accuracy.

When I'm drawing quickly, I might use a few of these methods just to make sure I'm reasonably accurate with the first lines. Experienced artists can apply these methods quickly and unconsciously, or "in their heads."

If accuracy really matters for a particular piece, I may spend much more time on the preliminary drawing, using several of the above-mentioned strategies, and correcting errors with an eraser as I refine the drawing. In that case, light construction lines or "sketch marks" may be part of the process.

I would suggest that every art student spend some time learning rigorous academic methods for drawing what you see. It's good to be able to push accuracy to a high level so that you know you can do it. At the same time, let's keep in mind that changing what we see is also our prerogative as artists. We have the right to distort and exaggerate if it serves our purpose. In fact, the 19th century academic artists were encouraged to alter what they observed in a living model to approach a classical ideal.

Regardless of your artistic goals, I would suggest that students train themselves out of the habit of using a lot of hesitant, back-and-forth sketchy lines. Instead, be deliberate and economical with your touches. Spend time really looking carefully until you know what mark you want to make, and make it with assurance. There's no need to rush our art. Patience and concentration is also a worthy goal.
Recommended books that explain accurate drawing:
Sketching from Square One to Trafalgar Square
Figure Drawing for All It's Worth
Charles Bargue: Drawing Course

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Streetcorner Sketching in Watercolor and Gouache

Hooley on the Hudson 2018, watercolor and gouache
(Link to YouTube video) Here are some technique tips for street sketching:
1. Capturing the silhouette of a figure in watercolor.
2. Using gouache to cover up a false start.
3. Painting soft smoke over gouache.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Andreotti's Character Portraits

Federico Andreotti (Italian, 1847 – 1930) painted studies of characters in situations that he imagined from the 18th and 17th centuries. 

This portrait of a working man clutching a box is as much a study of his hands as it is of his face. 

Federico Andreotti, The Flautist
He would hire models to pose in historic costumes, acting out a simple story with a prop or two. Here, an old flautist balances his music on his bottle of wine.

Federico Andreotti
He also painted coquettish young women wearing dresses from an earlier century.

Federico Andreotti, A Good Vintage
His paintings were very popular in his time, as were those of Ernest Meissonier in France or Norman Rockwell in America.

Federico Andreotti, The Violin Teacher, circa 1875-1890,
Glasgow, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
The fact that most of his figures are lit by soft light from the left suggest that he typically posed his models in his studio, illuminated by a north window, and that he was right-handed. 

Federico Andreotti, The Love Letter
This young woman has received a letter from a suitor. Her hand pose communicates shyness.

Sometimes he painted a young man and woman in a courtship scene.

This working-class card player is weighing his options. 

Federico Andreotti An Afternoon Tea
A few of his paintings are multi-figure scenes, in this case variations on the theme of courtship.
Federico Andreotti on Wikipedia