Sunday, March 24, 2019

Cube and Checkerboard Illusions

The dark square marked “A” is painted with the identical mixture as the light square marked “B”. (Link to video on Facebook.)

The square marked “A” is painted with the identical color mixture as the square marked “B”. Both are a neutral gray. (Link to video.) 

The lesson from both of these diagrams is that our visual system uses context cues to override the raw information that our eyes receive. It's good to keep this rule in mind when estimating the value and the color of objects.
From my book "Color and Light: A Guide for The Realist Painter."

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Józef Chełmoński's Wildlife Paintings

Józef Chełmoński (Polish 1849 -1914) studied in Paris and exhibited in the Salon. But after a decade in France, he returned to his homeland in Poland. 

He used his academic skills to paint evocative scenes of the people and the wildlife that he was familiar with. 

One of his best loved paintings shows a group of partridges struggling against the wind, surrounded by the bleak, infinite whiteness of the snow and sky. 

Józef Chełmoński, Partridges, 1891, oil on canvas, National Museum, Warsaw
There's no food or shelter in sight for these small, warm-blooded creatures. The image works on the literal level, but each viewer may identify with it on a figurative meanings, perhaps an expression of human struggle.

Józef Chełmoński , Partridges, detail
The details of their plumage are painted carefully, presumably from actual specimens. Chełmoński creates depth by blurring and obscuring the further individuals.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Your Questions About Gouache

You had some questions on YouTube and Instagram:

Preston asks: Hey James, I want to start painting gouache en plein air. However, I’ve been having some trouble with the colors. I have experience oil painting, but all these gouache colors confuses me. There’s like 3 different types of reds such as “Spectrum Red, Primary Red, and Designer Red”, yet they all look like the same hue. Perhaps they have varying opacities? I plan on just buying Red, Blue, and Yellow with White and Black, and a few Earth Tones. I also plan on building the painting setup you discussed on your blog.

Gurney answers:  I would suggest buying gouache with well-known pigments, such as cadmium red, and avoiding colors with descriptive names like "spectrum red." As you probably know from your oil paints, the pigments are identified by Color Index Names (so cadmium red is PR108), and the reputable brands list pigments on the tubes. There's a website that tells you the pigment numbers. The opacity varies according to the pigment, and in my opinion, it's good to have some gouache pigments that are less opaque to use like watercolor in the lay-in stages.

Gouache is often marketed with "primary colors" or "spectrum colors" because it's so often used in art classes for painting color wheels. I would also beware of the cheap gouache sets that have weak pigment loads or pigments that aren't lightfast.

By the way, here's an interesting video about color pigments. (Link to YouTube)

Brady asks: "I was wondering how you frame a gouache painting once you have completed it. For example, a painting that you finish for a client or plan to put in an art show."

Gurney answers: I would mat and frame your gouache behind glass. You have to protect that delicate surface, because a splash of water, a sneeze, or an oily touch would spoil it. You could use a thin wood or metal photo frame and a generous mat to make the frame look museum-quality. It is possible to varnish gouache and treat it like an oil, but not really recommended, because the beauty of gouache is that matte surface, and a varnish will bring out lots of surprising layers. As always, experiment first!

Jonathan asks: What did you use to tone the paper tan?

Gurney answers: I toned the paper with a thin layer of casein paint (white, yellow ochre, and light red), but you could use Acryla Gouache or tinted gesso, or even brown India ink.

Tom asks: When working with gouache, or casein for that matter, do you wait a little while before folding up the sketchbook to avoid smudging, or does the paint dry sufficiently to allow you to pack up almost immediately? 

Gurney answers: It dries almost immediately (unless it's raining and 100% humidity), so I can pack i it up immediately.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Start a Gouache Landscape with Wild Brushstrokes

Sometimes like to I start a gouache landscape with loose, wild brushstrokes. (Link to YouTube)

Caran d'Ache watercolor pencils
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
M. Graham gouache Ultramarine blue, terra rosa, yellow ochre, and titanium white.
Richeson casein paint (underpainting)
Travel brush set
Water cup
Homemade easel

Gouache in the Wild (Download on Sellfy):
Gouache in the Wild (Download on Gumroad):
How to Make a Sketch Easel (DVD)

Canon M6 (time lapse, video, and stills)

List of Gouache Materials
List of Watercolor Materials

Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist 
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time:


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oolu, Skybax Instructor

Here's Oolu, skybax instructor, shown with emblems for master, apprentice, and beginning riders, an illustration from the book Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Glitter Path

A glitter path is a vertical reflection of a very bright light source on water, extending from the horizon straight down to the water near the viewer.

Glitter path, photo by Harald Edens
Typically the source is the sun or moon, so sometimes it's called a "moon-path." The glitter path widens where the water is disturbed, and it narrows in the areas where the water is calmer.

Study by Peder Krøyer
Wavelets present many small reflecting surfaces at a variety of angles. Wherever those surfaces are just the right angle to reflect the sun, a spot or dash of light appears.

The effect fascinated Danish artist Peder Krøyer (1851-1901), who did many studies of it, and included it in some of his most famous paintings.

In Howard Pyle's magical story, The Garden Behind the Moonthe "moon-path" appears one night and a young boy discovers that he can walk out on the water:

"There was the moon-path, and there was the wave, and there was this bar of moonlight right a-top the wave. I stepped out again, and this time I wasn't afraid. This time, would you believe it, I didn't fall into the water at all. All the same I had to jump off that wave on to another, for the moonlight was sliding under my feet. It was as slippery as glass."
BooksHow to Read Water: Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea by Tristan Gooley
The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle
Online: Glitter Path, explained in Backyard Optics 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Joseph Ducreux's self portraits

Joseph Ducreux (1735 –1802) was a French painter best known for his unusual self-portraits.

He was interested in the study of physiognomy, and wanted to explore expressions that went  beyond the standard ones used in portraiture. 

Some also involve gestures, such as Le Discret (ca. 1790), which shows himself asking for silence.

He studied with Maurice Quentin de La Tour, who was known for his expressive pastel portraits. When Ducreux focused more on oil, his technique was influenced by Jean-Baptiste Greuze.

Portrait de l'artiste sous les traits d'un moqueur, 1793
(Portrait of the Artist in the Guise of Mocking)
When the French Revolution broke out, circumstances were more dangerous for Ducreux. He drew the last portrait of Louis XVI before the king's execution. Ducreux was forced to travel to London.

His self portrait with the mocking expression has inspired a huge number of memes.

We're not used to seeing old paintings or photos of people with facial expressions. See the Previous Posts below for some exceptions to that rule.
Previous Posts: 

Wikipedia: Joseph Ducreux

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sketching Irish Musicians

(Link to video) It's good for a sketchbook to have a little Guinness spilled on it.

This article comes out in the next (April 2019) issue of International Artist Magazine. Blog readers have voted them the best art magazine, and I am pleased to have been writing a column in every issue since 2007.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Victor Perard's analysis of the figure

Victor Semon Pérard (1870-1957) was a Golden-Age American illustrator who trained at the École des Beaux Arts with Jean Léon Gérôme, and later at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League.

He also wrote many art-instruction books in the early 20th century. Pérard's book Anatomy and Drawing presents a sequence of steps for drawing a figure.

"1. Find the center of the paper by drawing lines from corner to corner. This is done to help center the study.
2. Measure with the eye or pencil to find the center of the subject and make a line at that point as related to the center of the paper. Draw a line at the head and another at the feet. With free lines, search for the rhythm of the pose, to help visualize the figure and to place it on the paper the size intended. Draw lightly so that the mental impression of the figure is not obliterated by a heavy drawing, and corrections can easily be made.
3. Decide where the pit of the neck should be placed, and draw a perpendicular line from the seventh cervical vertebra to the feet. Find the line of the shoulders, giving the angle of their positions. If a standing figure, first draw the leg on which there is most weight, to obtain the proper balance of the figure."

"4. Give the line showing the angle of the position of the pelvis. Indicate a line through the kneecaps. Draw the torso, indicating its bulk, marking the width of the shoulders, hops, neck, and head. Block with straight lines going beyond the intersections to obtain a better idea of the direction of the line and to avoid a cramped feeling.
5. Sketch within the lines a simplified skeleton, to check up on position of joints and bulk of chest. See that the pit of the neck, the pubic bone, the navel, the pelvis, the kneecaps, and the inner ankles are in proper relation to each other. Compare relative sizes of head to bulk of torso, hands to face, feet to hands, arms to legs, and thickness of the neck to that of the head, leg, and arm.
6. Go over the outline, perfecting it, searching for character and for grace of line."

"7. Indicate the outline of the planes and of the principal shadows.
8. Fill in the planes in large surfaces, and connect the shadows as much as possible.
9. Without losing their mass, model the planes keeping well in mind the direction of light. In drawing the head, decide on the bulk and draw in the planes of the face, then the eyes, the mouth and the nose last. It is easier to fit a head on a figure, than to fit a figure to a head."
Pérard's book analyzes the figure in many different ways, including drawings that show the expressive contours of action poses.
Books by Victor Pérard
Anatomy and Drawing
How to Draw Nearly Everything

Pérard is profiled in Walt Reed's book The Illustrator in America

Friday, March 15, 2019

Gouache as a Rehearsal Medium

Here's a new teaser for the upcoming article about T. rex coming up in the April issue of Ranger Rick. (Link to YouTube)

I do two quick sketches in gouache before launching into the final oil painting. I paint them over a scan of the line drawing, greatly reduced in size, printed out on my copier, and sealed with acrylic matte medium.

These gouache sketches serve two purposes. First, they help me imagine what the final result might look like. And second, they serve as a trial run, allowing me to rehearse the painting sequence.

I'll be releasing a full length tutorial download in a couple of weeks called "Unconventional Painting Techniques in Oil," intended for all sorts of painters, not just dino-artists. The focus will be on unusual ways of applying the paint to achieve naturalistic effects.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Painting the backgrounds of Akira

The 1988 animated film Akira (1988) included a lot of detailed city scenes, each of which was a handmade painting, created with brush, airbrush, and poster color.

(Link to video)  Most of the paintings are very small, approximately 9 x 12 inches. To achieve the straight lines, the artists used bridges (straightedges suspended above the painted surface). To make window dots in a consistent row, they used glass rods with ball tips that look like stirring sticks, held in the painting hand next to the brush.

(Link to video) If you're not familiar with Akira, here's an appreciation (thanks, Martinho).
Paint: Knicker Poster Color (Japan Import)
Video: Akira (English Dubbed)
Book: OTOMO: A Global Tribute to the Mind Behind Akira
Previous Post: Demo by Kazuo Oga
Guide for Painting Perfect Lines (thanks, Daroo)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Sir Ernest Albert Waterlow

Sir Ernest Albert Waterlow, R. A. (1850 - 1919)
Sir E. A. Waterlow was an English painter who studied at the Royal Academy schools and became a R.A. member.

Sir Ernest Albert Waterlow, R. A. (1850 - 1919)
He painted both in oil (above) and watercolor (below), capturing the changing moods of weather and the appeal of the old-fashioned life in the countryside. 

Waterlow, The mill pool, Hemingford Grey, 1902-1904
A 1906 edition of The Art Journal described his work as: "graceful, charming and harmonious, of singular freshness of execution, appealing to the senses by its elevated style and dignity of beauty, and by its mastery of accomplishment, to the intellect."

"But to the passions it makes no call, because the stern or awful moods of Nature pass over his head and leave him, not unmoved, but unconcerned."
Sir Ernest Waterlow on Wikipedia
Bio on Art Gallery of NSW website

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Breathing before a brushstroke

Do you take a deep breath before you make a stroke of your brush or pen? Many of the old lettering and painting manuals advise the artist to breathe in before beginning a difficult mark. 

There may be a reason, according to a recent scientific paper. Your brain function alters with every inhalation and exhalation. It's a holdover from our sense of smell, one of our most primal senses.

It turns out our breathing in and breathing out is synchronized in lock-step with our cognitive activity. This is true not only for olfactory processing, but also for visual and spatial processing.
From the abstract: "We measured nasal airflow and electroencephalography during various non-olfactory cognitive tasks. We observed that participants spontaneously inhale at non-olfactory cognitive task onset and that such inhalations shift brain functional network architecture. Concentrating on visuospatial perception, we observed that nasal inhalation drove increased task-related brain activity in specific task-related brain regions and resulted in improved performance accuracy in the visuospatial task." 
This makes sense to me. Breathing skills are fundamental to so many art disciplines. After all, the word "inspiration" literally means breathing in. I wonder if the connection between inhalation and brain activity is more than just a link to an ancestral olfactory system, but also an unconscious desire to oxygenate the brain at the onset of increased cognitive load?

Nature Magazine: Human non-olfactory cognition phase-locked with inhalation

Monday, March 11, 2019

Painting from a Parked Car

When the temperature dips below the 32 degree Fahrenheit mark, watercolors or gouache freeze up and my fingers quit working. 

And when it's windy and rainy, painting in gouache can be miserable. In those circumstances I like to paint from the comfort a parked car. 

Lake Katrine, gouache, 5 x 8 inches 
I'm fascinated by this little house that is wedged between a busy highway and a vertical wall of rock, which is taller than the roof.

(Link to video) I'm painting in gouache over a casein underpainting: Rowney blueMagenta,  Cadmium yellow, and Titanium white. The painting takes about two hours. 

Here's a photo the basic build of the steering wheel easel, before sanding and finishing. The cap piece is made from the wood base of a mouse trap. The whole thing fits right over the steering wheel.
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
Travel brush set (Richeson)

Gouache in the Wild (Download on Gumroad)
How to Make a Sketch Easel (DVD on Amazon)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sorolla's Method

 Joaquín Sorolla, Afternoon Sun
How did Joaquín Sorolla produce paintings of such dynamically challenging subjects: kids, boats, oxen, wind, and waves?

Sorolla Washerwomen (sketch), about 7.5 x 10 inches
A 1911 article on Joaquín Sorolla describes his method.

"Sorolla's habit is to observe nature very carefully, to see all that is going on at the beach, sketch attitudes and movements, sometimes very strange ones, then select his models and make careful drawings. This careful drawing never seems to disappear."

Photo of Sorolla painting. Note the rope stabilizing the top of the
canvas and the heavy weight hanging from the easel
"He takes his paraphernalia to the beach, poses his models as nearly like his sketch as possible, but never allowing the stiffness of the model to interfere with the elastic drawing he has made, and then paints the sea and the sky, the sliding water and the beautiful shadows as he there sees them."

Juaquín Sorolla, Before Bathing
"The work is a commingling of careful thought and study with lightning-like impressions. Thus we see beautiful attitudes, beautifully drawn and the most brilliant vagaries united."

The article describes a painting of boys swimming, and says: "The artist took down six boys to the water. Three of these he set to swimming, and when they were tired they wrapped themselves in blankets while the other three went at work, and so on alternating throughout the day. Although he paints with extraordinary swiftness, the picture of life size boys requires time."

"It is no easy matter to work on the sea beach, especially when the size of the canvas is four or five feet. Of course the wind always blows and a canvas is a kite. Not alone could it be easily carried off by the wind, but the linen itself is liable to tremble and flap because of the windy gusts."

"Fortunately for him Sorolla is rich enough to secure every contrivance, and to take with him a sufficient number of attendants, to manage all the details, to anchor down his easel and to fly to his assistance in case of need. He frequently stretches his canvas on a big drawing board, and, it is not uncommon to find places in the pictures where he has planted thumb tacks through the canvas to keep it perfectly still."
Read More
• Online article on JSTOR: Sorolla the Spanish Painter, His Art, by James William Pattison, Fine Arts Journal, 1911.
• Previously blog posts on GurneyJourney: Sorolla Painting on the Beach and Photos of Sorolla Painting
• Upcoming exhibition: "Joaquín Sorolla: Spanish Master of Light" opens 10 August 2019 at the National Gallery of Ireland.
• Book: Sorolla: The Masterworks

Saturday, March 9, 2019

How Do You Stay Relevant in the Freelance Life?

An art student named Corey asked two questions:

1. As an illustrator who has been relevant for a long time and still is relevant today, you have seen how the industry has changed. What advice can you offer so that we will always be a way to maintain our value as illustrators in this ever changing industry?

I don't know if I'm relevant or just a living fossil!

Fortunately, the Universe of Art has many planets. I just choose to live on the one dedicated to imaginative realism and physical media, because there will always be a demand for those.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind. As with any other creative endeavor, visual art is competitive. You have to produce among the best work in your category. That means making the extra effort, studying and sketching, improving your weak points, whether it be lighting or gesture or form or perspective, or landscape.

No one arrives at a bountiful career and just settles into the harvest. The survivors are always improving and learning.

Economic realities change. Anyone who has been around a long time has had to re-engineer their business model a few times. This is true whether you work as a comic artist, an illustrator, a film designer, or a gallery painter.

Computer technology has driven a lot of changes in the last three decades, with new business models springing up around social media, crowdsourcing, and digital distribution.

Taste changes too. There will always be an appetite for novelty. You can be a classicist, but you still have to come up with something no one has ever seen before.

If your work is original and if it draws deeply both from your imagination and from the world around you, your work will continue to have relevance. Take your inspiration first from your own experience. If you want to get fired up by the art of others, look at artists of the past or from other cultures, not your close contemporaries.

Tap in to the thing that you loved about art when you were a teenager. Stay alert to new opportunities, new clients, new ways of reaching your audience, and experiment to see what works and what doesn't.

2. Most of us will at some point will become freelance artists and I know that is how you started as well. What tips can you give that you have learned to help you find and establish connections with clients?

To find clients, go to conventions, send around postcards, and maintain a good website and Instagram account. Once you get trusted with an assignment, hit it out of the park and do everything you can to make your client happy.

I regard any kind of freelance art as a form of collaboration. For example, if you're painting a paperback cover, you'll need to work closely with the art director, and your job is to bring the writer's vision to life for the reader.

If you're concept artist, you are visualizing a director's ideas. You're not just painting pretty pictures. When I do paleoart illustrations for science magazines, I'm mindful of enlisting the input of the editor, art director, and scientific consultant at various stages of the process.

As with any other dealings you have with other humans, communication is the key. Your job is to make a great picture, of course, but your task is also to lower the blood pressure of the art buyer, and to help your client win.

One thing I like to do is to produce behind-the-scenes video content for the social media feed of my magazine client. They can't afford to hire a videographer and they're hungry for content. If you can provide that, you'll be doing them a favor and yourself a favor, and you'll make yourself much more valuable to them.

Above all, be reliable and deliver on time. As Neil Gaiman once said, you need to: 1) Be really good at what you do, 2) Deliver on time, and 3) Be pleasant to work with. If you can accomplish two out of three of those qualities consistently, you might be able to make a living, but it's a good idea to be able to deliver on all three.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Art Advice from Anna Airy

Anna Airy, Verdure and Decay, watercolour
In a recent post I featured Anna Airy, who documented the factories in World War I.

She also wrote an instructional book called "Making a Start in Art."
Here are some excerpts:

Eye level
"You will find, by holding up your pencil or brush horizontally on a level with your eyes and extending it forward to arm's length, a mental horizontal line across your view. The boundaries of your picture having been decided by framing it with your hands, translate that mental observation into an actual light pencil line right across your paper, the eye level, and mark it E.L."

Don't touch wet watercolour
"Do not touch wet watercolour—wait. However bad it looks when wet, it will not look so bad dry and you will get over the trouble more easily."

Half-closing the eyes
"It is very helpful to half-close your eyes every now and then when working; look through the lashes; this partially shuts out for the moment masses of detail that may be worrying you. This is not done with the idea that the detail may be left out to avoid trouble, but to let you see how subservient is that intricate detail to the picture seen as a whole."

Keeping things in proportion
"Do not be led away into making a lot of little measurements, each of which is in all probability a little wrong (and error multiplies): run your eye over your subject as a whole and take note of the proportion of big things to one another, remembering that the greater is bound to contain the less, so that if you get your few big proportions roughly correct, all the smaller objects will fall into their places without much difficulty."

Should we ignore detail?
"Never say, 'Oh! I don't see detail' and 'The detail doesn't matter.'"

How to paint a background around a complicated shape in watercolour
"Take a good brushful of the background colour and go carefully round your difficult flower petals first, leaving a real wet track. It will not dry in a hurry; if you wanted it to you would have to wait a long time! Then start your background wash at the top as you have done in previous examples, and continue it down until it meets the already wet colour round the flowers. When the washes meet you will have more wet colour than you want round the flower petals; take the squeezed-out brush, as before, and very lightly remove some: the remaining wet colour will probably settle itself quite comfortably. You must be neat-handed and careful! Or you can remove the extra moisture with a little corner of blotting paper, like taking off ink blots. Or you may effect the whole process by turning the work upside down."

Assorted thoughts
• "Our business is to be the eyes and the brain for other sorts of people."
• "Key your picture from its highest light, which we will assume to be, as it so often really is, the sky.
• "Don't look at the thing you're painting, look just beside it." (Attributed to James J. Shannon)
Book on Amazon: Making a Start in Art
Previously: Anna Airy's Industrial Art