Friday, November 22, 2019

Choosing Something to Paint

Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983), Old Maid's Lane
Good advice from Arthur Guptill:

"Don't spend all day hunting for something to paint. Too many students search and search for the perfect ready-made picture just waiting to be transferred to paper. While a truly outstanding painting often shows unusual subject matter, or, at least, a fresh mood or aspect of it, some of the greatest masterpieces ever painted picture the simple everyday things known to all.

"But you are not entirely limited by your subject. We have repeatedly emphasized that it is your prerogative as a painter to take as many liberties with subject matter as you wish, and in this way translate the mere hint of a picture into something of worth. If your subject is too complex, you can simplify it; if too large, you can shrink it or omit part of it. You will be wise, though, to limit your early attempts to relatively small subjects. Too many elements are bound to prove confusing."

From Watercolor Step-By-Step, by Arthur Guptill

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Is College Necessary for a Freelance Career?

A visit to an art school. I'm wearing a T-shirt from San Jose State's
Shrunkenheadman Club
Jacob asks:"Do you think a college education is necessary to become a successful freelance artist?"

If you want to be freelance artist, no one is going to ask you for a diploma. So the answer is no, you don't have to go to to college or art school if you want to make it as a freelancer. You might then ask: What do you need to learn, and how can you learn it?

Anyone who wants to make a living from their art needs two things: impressive samples and good business skills. One way or another, someone has to pay you for what you create, and that means you have to create artwork that art buyers will want to pay you money for, and you have to create a business, with all that entails.

What school can help you develop those skills? To decide that, you should visualize where you want to be in a few years, and choose a school accordingly. Look at the curriculum they're offering (both required and elective), the portfolios of both the teachers and the students. Have lunch in the cafeteria and sit in on a class or two. Consider the cost and the opportunity cost. Then when you get to your school of choice, be sure to get the most out of it by really applying yourself.

Can you develop the skills you need on your own? Obviously there are a lot of online resources that weren't available 20 or 30 years ago. But that course depends even more on you and on your significant other. If you decide to teach yourself or to follow an unconventional study plan, you have to discipline yourself to practice and improve. Regardless of which path you choose, it will help to make friends with other artists and build your network through conventions or associations. Building a network of peers is one of the key benefits of going to an art school.

A final thought: When you said "college education," I first assumed you meant a broad education in science, history, and literature. That's certainly not necessary for a freelance career, but it helps make you a fuller person. A good liberal arts education can broaden your awareness of the world and help you to think and to write more clearly. A degree in science is especially helpful if you want to pursue scientific illustration. A broader education isn't directly necessary to the success of a freelance career, but it expands a person's mind in ways that's often difficult to do on your own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Oblique Effect

Our visual systems are equipped with special cells in the visual cortex whose job is to detect vertically aligned edges, bars, and lines.

There are other simple cells that detect horizontal edges. And there's a third group of cells that detect diagonal ones.

Ivan Shishkin
According to Dr. Peter Hills, PhD., "Humans have more cells for horizontal and vertical bars than for oblique lines. Cats have cells for all orientations. So, humans find detecting horizontal and vertical lines easier than those of other angles. In other words, they have greater visual acuity for horizontal and vertical lines."

Our relative deficiency at judging diagonal angles compared to verticals and horizontals is known as the oblique effect. According to Wikipedia, "People are very good at detecting whether a picture is hung vertically, but are two- to fourfold worse for a 45-degree oblique contour, even when a comparison is available."

Another remarkable fact is that the relative number of these cells depends on the visual environment that we grow up in. People raised in forests have more vertical cells than people raised on the plains.
Quotes from Cognitive Psychology For Dummies
Wikipedia on The Oblique Effect.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Corpus Christi Procession by Ramon Casas

With startling photographic clarity, Ramon Casas paints a historic moment.
Ramon Casas (1866-1932), "The Corpus Christi Procession
Leaving the Church of Santa Maria," (Barcelona, 115.5 x 196 cm).
The scene takes place in 1896, just before an anarchist attacked the procession with a bomb, killing twelve people and spreading panic in the city.

Here's a detail of the painting, showing the individual character of each the figures and the soft edges at the base of the figures.
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia)
Thanks, Sascha Karschner

Monday, November 18, 2019

Is It OK to Mix Water Media?"

Pure transparent watercolor is wonderful, but it’s healthy to experiment with mixed media too.

This is a clip from my YouTube video "Pastel on Gouache for Glowing Light Effects"

Previous post: What's the difference between gouache and watercolor?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Removing Underwater Atmospherics

Engineer and oceanographer Derya Akkaynak has developed an algorithm called Sea-Thru that removes the blue-green atmospherics of underwater photographs and renders them in "true" colors.
Photos courtesy Scientific American
The app is more than an overall hue shift, however. It uses distance data and removes a variety of aqueous atmospheric effects to show the colors of coral reefs as they would appear in air.

Scientific American says: "Sea-thru's image analysis factors in the physics of light absorption and scattering in the atmosphere, compared with that in the ocean, where the particles that light interacts with are much larger. Then the program effectively reverses image distortion from water pixel by pixel, restoring lost colors. One caveat is that the process requires distance information to work. Akkaynak takes numerous photographs of the same scene from various angles, which Sea-thru uses to estimate the distance between the camera and objects in the scene—and, in turn, the water's light-attenuating impact."
Sea-thru Brings Clarity to Underwater Photos
Link to YouTube

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Artistic Integrity and Commercial Art

S. H. R. Rjjal asks: "Mr. Gurney, what's your take on artistic integrity and commercial art? The original Harry Potter illustrator for instance does not own a single one of her work."
Adolph Menzel, "The signal for war was thus given to Europe."
Engraver: Unzelmann, Friedrich Ludwig (Source)
Book: Die Werke Friedrichs des Großen, vol. 2
Author: Volz, Gustav Berthold
Publisher:Berlin: Reimar Hobbing, 1913
Dear S.H.R,
Commissioned work doesn't have to be commercial. Just because you're paid to draw something doesn't mean you have to cynically crank it out. If you're going to do work on commission, it might as well include your personal inspiration and your highest standards.

The same is true with gallery art, which is potentially more commercial than illustration. There's always a temptation to produce work only because we know it will sell, though we may have drifted away from the authentic original inspiration.

If you do illustration work, you typically get to keep your originals. It's wise to keep at least some of your best examples. If you work hard on them, you'll be proud of them and they might be worth a lot more in the future.

An excerpt of my introduction to the book on Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905) addresses this point: As a commercial printer, Menzel threw himself into the task of producing decorative illustration work, such as menus, letterheads, greeting cards, and invitations. Anyone else might have written off such jobs as menial. For Menzel, to produce anything less than a sincere effort would be to “throw one’s cake in the water.” He told admiring students that it was essential to do justice to every assignment, and to accept everything as a genuine artistic challenge. “You will then cease at once to consider anything unworthy of your powers,” he said.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Painting Snow Scenes in Gouache

The new December/January issue of International Artist Magazine has an article that I wrote on painting snow scenes outdoors. I painted most of these small pictures on days when it was above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and there was no danger of the paint freezing. 

I haven’t had much luck using water media when the temperature goes below freezing. I have tried using vodka or whisky in place of the water, and I've tried putting hand warmers under the palette, but those methods haven’t worked for me. Once the paint freezes in a brush, it's game over.

But in the Hudson Valley of New York State, there are many days in the winter when there’s snow on the ground, but the temperature is above freezing. If I want to paint when it’s colder, I sketch from inside a car—or switch to oil paint.
International Artist magazine

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sketchbook of a WWII Soldier

Victor Lundy (1923-) kept a sketchbook of his experiences in World War II.

Victor Lundy. En-route to Europe. Promenade Deck. (September 2, 1944)
His early sketches show the journey to the war zone. On his way to being deployed in Europe, the 21 year old artist wrote: "And you know, we were far from even thinking of combat. They didn’t tell us. We didn’t know what was going to happen, once we landed. …—you know, the day it happens they tell you.”

“Pat” (T/Sgt. Patenaude) zeroing in with the 60 mm
mortars in front of the 3rd platoon. (November 1, 1944)
Trained as an architect, he expected to serve in the rebuilding of Europe. But he was assigned to the infantry and went to the front lines, where he was wounded. Through it all, he documented air raids and crap games, and he sketched dead and wounded soldiers.

Victor Lundy, Rec. hall, intelligence school
Lundy, now 92, has had a prolific career as an architect. He donated his sketchbooks to the Library of Congress, where they've been scanned and put online.
Victor Lundy Archive at Library of Congress
More about Lundy at MyModernMet
Victor Lundy on Wikipedia 
Thanks, Jason Waselenko

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Getting an Oil Change, So Let's Paint

It's a few degrees above freezing, so while they give my car an oil change, I'll paint a streetscape in gouache and watercolor.
If I had remembered, I would have brought chemical hand warmers and fingerless gloves. (Link to YouTube video

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Painting While Facing the Light

How can you capture light in a painting while facing toward the light? I've got a new video that you can watch here or on YouTube.

The technique uses watercolor, gouache, and pastel over a casein priming to capture the feeling of objects against a bright sky. I also discuss whether it ‘breaks the rules’ to combine gouache, watercolor and other mixed media.
Should Watercolors Be Purely Transparent?
Contre Jour Lighting
Light Spill

Monday, November 11, 2019

Fortuny Watercolor Study

Mariano Fortuny's father and mother had died by the time he was 12, so he was raised by his grandfather, a craftsman who showed the boy how to make wax figurines. He took his grandson on the road from town to town, presenting the figures they sculpted.

Watercolor study by Mariano (or Marià) Fortuny (1838-1874)
Young Mariano showed early promise in drawing and painting. In Paris, he studied with was inspired by Ernest Meissonier and Jean Leon Gérôme, both of whom made careful studies from costumed models with watercolor.

Fortuny died young, but his influence was felt by many younger artists, who carried on his tradition of traveling and adventuring, painting people in exotic costumes.

Please see the additional biographical detail provided by Ramon in the comments.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Most Museum-Goers Spend Just 10 Seconds Per Painting

In his new book First Blush: People's Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art, Dan Hill examines how we look at artwork, using an experimental approach that combines eye tracking with facial coding.
Image Courtesy Dan Hill, Sensory Logic

Facial coding involves the careful tracking of minute facial expressions that animate the face of a viewer while reacting to a stimulus. As we process images through our brains, the information passes through an emotional filter before we can rationalize what we're seeing.

Hill uses a market-research approach to analyzing our response to art. In a controlled experimental setting, he invites viewers to respond to a variety of famous paintings and photographs. The book is an informally written summary of his experimental results.

Image Courtesy Dan Hill, Sensory Logic
He makes some observations that should interest curators and us museum-goers. First, viewers have short attention spans. The best chance to hook someone's attention is in the first three seconds. After that there's a dramatic fall-off that never really bounces back.

Hill says: "an art work's window of opportunity for creating an emotional connection is typically super brief." After spending many hours in many different museums carefully watching how people interact with the art on the walls, he concludes that the average viewing time per painting in an art museum is about 10 seconds: "Most often, you're likely to look at an artwork for four seconds before taking five seconds to read the plaque (i.e., "tombstone") describing the work's title, the artist's name, and so forth. Then if still interested, you'll glance back at the artwork for another second, before moving on. The vast majority of museum viewers, he observes, read at most twenty words of the museum caption before their attention falters.
On Amazon: First Blush: People's Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Eisaku Wada's Fuji Studies

While looking into Japan's tradition of European-influenced Yōga painting I ran across the work of Eisaku Wada (1874-1959).

He did a lot of plein air studies of Mount Fuji, which were evidently painted on location. 

Eisaku Wada was chosen by the Ministry of Education to study in France.

He also learned from Kuroda Seiki, who had studied in Paris.

He returned to Japan and became a professor of Tokyo University of Arts.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Yōga Painting

Old Woman (1908) Wada Eisaku
At various stages of Japan's history, artists have been interested in trying out European approaches to shading, perspective, and color.

Flower basket of Takahashi, 1879
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Western style became known as Yōga painting, distinguished from Nihonga painting, which is a more traditional Japanese approach.

Shoemaker by Harada Naojiro (1863-1899)
According to The Art Story, "These new techniques introduced the employment of perspective, a push toward oil painting, lithography, pastels, watercolors, sketching, and the practice of plein air painting, and the incorporation of decidedly Western motifs and subjects."
Yōga painting on Wikipedia (in German)
Previous post on Nihonga painting

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Sargent Images from NGV

The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne has in its collection nine examples of paintings and drawings by John Singer Sargent.
Hospital at Granada (1912) John Singer SARGENT oil on canvas 56.2 × 71.5 cm
One of them shows patients recovering at a hospital in Spain. The scene appears to be painted completely on location, with the artist focusing on each person or grouping in turn.

At the NGV website, you can zoom way into the paintings and see the economy of strokes that Sargent used to describe the forms.

The website also has 64 works by Arthur Streeton, 34 works by Charles Conder, and 77 works by Norman Lindsay, with similar zoomable features.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Repin in Old Age

"When [Ilya Repin] got old and his hand withering, he should have stopped on health grounds, and his family tried to stop him. They took his paints away, and when they came back from a walk one day and found that the artist dipped a cigarette in an ink well and painted on the wall. So, they gave him his paints back." --"David Jackson Talks About Ilya Repin"

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Loopy Reflections

Detail of Sommarnoje by Anders Zorn
In his 1903 book "Light and Water," Montagu Pollock describes reflections that create "a chain of loops or a series of disconnected rings. Such rings are amongst the commonest features of gently moving water in the foreground of a picture. The reflexions of a boom or bowsprit, or of any conspicuous horizontal line, often assume this form."
Light and Water by Montagu Pollock on Amazon
Digital copy on

Monday, November 4, 2019

Loading Lights

Detail of a portrait by Peder Krøyer
The term "loading" is sometimes used to refer to the application of a thick impasto on the light areas of a painting. According to an 1845 painting manual:

"Loading—is a term applied to laying colours in thick masses on the lights, so as to make them project considerably from the surface, with the view of their being strongly illuminated by the light that falls on the picture, and thus mechanically to aid in producing roundness and relief, or in giving a sparkling effect to polished or glittering objects; this artifice however, must be had recourse to sparingly, otherwise it defeats its own object, and gives the execution a coarse and vulgar air."

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Arthur Streeton and Art Theories

Julian Ashton remembered that his friend Arthur Streeton (Australian, 1867-1943) didn't want to argue about art theories:
Arthur Streeton 1895 “Sunlight (Cutting on a hot road)” - oil on canvas
(Height: 305 mm; Width: 458 mm; National Gallery of Australia.
"He was cheerful and fond of company, and seemed to be quite uninterested in theories about art, but preoccupied with the task of representing in terms of paint the beauty of the scenes before him. If an argument about art started in the camp, Streeton would make a jest of it, walking up and down and shouting: 'Apples, Oranges and Lemonade.' He joined with [Tom] Roberts and myself in many a fierce bout with the old Art Society in the hope of widening its point of view, but he never lost his temper over them as many of us did. Indeed, it seemed to me that he never felt that theories about art, or the administration of art societies, really mattered. His nature was that of a fresh, breezy, care-free youth who revelled in the beauty of his country, and whose highest ambition was to paint it as faithfully as he could."

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Constantin Meunier's Social Realism

Constantin Meunier (Belgian, 1831-1905) wanted to reinterpret classical themes in terms of the modern industrial worker.
Three female miners
Rather than painting a trio timeless goddesses, he pictured a group of women as gritty workers.


Ophelia, the doomed sister of Laertes in Shakespeare's Hamlet, appears here drowned and washed up on a gray seashore, with the silhouette of a city in the far distance. 

Meunier started as a sculptor, but once he saw the social realism of Gustave Courbet's 1851 painting The Stone Breakers he turned to painting to express social and artistic issues.
Wikipedia on Constantin Meunier