Monday, August 19, 2019

Focusing Light on One Part of the Painting

Olana is the Hudson Valley home of 19th century landscape painter Frederic Church (1826-1900) (Link to YouTube video

My goal in this plein-air gouache/watercolor study is to focus light on one part of the painting.

Frederic Church himself inspires me to try this kind of lighting, given that he distributes the light in his paintings in a theatrical way.

Frederic Church designed his home, inspired by his travels in the Holy Land. 
Frederic Church on Wikipedia

Glories of the Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church's Views from Olana (The Olana Collection)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

R.I.P. Richard Williams, Animator and Teacher

(Link to YouTube)
Richard Williams has died at age 86. He animated Pink Panther, produced a 1971 adaptation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and developed the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit? 

Perhaps his biggest contribution, though, was as a teacher. He had a huge base of knowledge, which he shared freely and cheerfully with a younger generation.

He learned the craft directly from Disney greats like Milt Kahl and Art Babbitt, as well as Warner Bros. talents like Ken Harris, who animated Bugs Bunny during the golden years, and later came to work with Williams in London.

All of that information is compiled in his excellent instructional book The Animator's Survival Kit. The book contains a wealth of drawings illustrating all the principles of animation and is considered the classic instructional text in that field.
Book: The Animator's Survival Kit: A Manual of Methods, Principles and Formulas for Classical, Computer, Games, Stop Motion and Internet Animators
BBC: Roger Rabbit animator Richard Williams dies at 86

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Serov's Fable Illustrations

Though better known for his portraits, Valentin Serov (1865-1911) illustrated the animal fables of Ivan Krylov with expressive line drawings.

In "The Monkey and Her Glasses," an older monkey with poor eyesight buys some eyeglasses. Unfortunately, she doesn't know how to wear them. Since she can't see better, she breaks them in anger. 

In "The Quartet," a bear, a goat, and donkey, and a monkey decide to play music as a string quartet. Having no luck at playing the instruments, they keep trading instruments, but still they can't make a good sound. Finally a musically inclined nightingale appears to remind them that you can't play music without skill and talent.

It's interesting to see how a great portrait painter explores gesture and character in loose line drawings that blend the real with the imaginary.

In the book Valentin Serov, Dmitri Sarabyanov says: "This combining of the imaginary with the real was something Serov always tried to achieve, whether in his portraits or drawings for Krylov's fables or historical themes."

Some of Serov's later paintings explore mythological themes such as "Rape of Europa" (left), where his stylization departs from naturalism and becomes more expressionistic.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia: "Europa was charmed by the docile animal and decorated him in flowers. Then, thinking she might ride such a gentle beast, she climbed on his back. The bull swam with her into the sea, soared into the air and carried Europa far away from Phoenicia."

Book: Valentin Serov: Paintings, Graphic Works, Stage Designs 
Wikipedia: Valentin Serov

Friday, August 16, 2019

A Street in Ravenna by Signorini

The street is half in shadow and half in light, with an irregular shadow edge cast from the building tops across the cobblestones. 

A Street in Ravenna by Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901).
To pull off the idea, Signorini must have been very conscious of grouping the values. The tones in the illuminated side of the street are well organized as a single light shape. And the values of all the forms in shadow never go above a middle range. The sky is kept fairly flat, and he didn't overplay the warm and cool effects.
Wikipedia on Telemaco Signorini (1835-1901).
Book: The Macchiaioli : Italian Painters of the Nineteenth Century
Previously: Mezza-Macchia (painting impressionistically in two tones)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Challenges Faced by Women in Art Academies

There are quite a few photos of female art students in 19th century academic ateliers.

Female art students at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, Sweden
So women had it good, right? But according to academic teacher Sadie Valeri, circumstances for women weren't as ideal as they appear:
"Women were not allowed into the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris until 1898. Until the very late 1800's, women were not able to become professional artists. They could paint as a hobby, but they could not accept money for commissions or sell work. Until the very late 1800's women could not study the live nude model. The small commercial studios that allowed women (like the Academies Julian in Paris) charged women double the tuition men paid, and so those schools were highly profitable." 
Maybe the reason there were so many photos of female students was that the photos served as a form of advertising, inducing wealthy families to send their daughters to study in the expensive ateliers in Paris.

Marie Bashkirtseff, In the Studio
Berthe Morisot
Women were strongly encouraged to pursue flower painting, miniatures, still life, portraiture, or landscape, which were considered minor genres.

Once they had access to live models, they could begin to pursue paintings from history and mythology, which were considered more important.

According to Nicole Myers of NYU, "women artists were virtually excluded from state commissions and purchases as well as from participation in official competitions such as the coveted Prix de Rome, a prestigious scholarship offered to history painters for continued study at the French Academy in Rome."

A woman pursuing an independent career in art was a destabilizing threat to upper-class society. The private instructor to the young sisters Edma and Berthe Morisot told their mother:

“Considering the characters of your daughters, my teaching will not endow them with minor drawing room accomplishments, they will become painters. Do you realize what this means? In the upper-class milieu to which you belong, this will be revolutionary, I might say almost catastrophic.”  
Read more:
Book: Women Artists in Paris, 1850-1900
Previous related posts:
Thesleff's Echo
Studying Art in Paris, 1902
The Ups and Downs of Anna BiliƄska-Bohdanowicz
Juana Romani, Artist and Model
Advice for Anna Ancher
Nicole Myers. “Women Artists in Nineteenth-Century France.”
Sadie Valeri atelier

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Robert Wood's landscape prints

One of the most popular print artists in mid-20th century America was Robert W. Wood (1889-1979).

Robert Wood, October Morn
His print October Morn sold more than a million copies in less than two weeks. 

He painted scenes of the Catskills of New York, the Rocky Mountains, The Grand Tetons, and Texas Hill Country.

He grew up in England, but spent the rest of his long life in America. He lived in various places in the USA and traveled all over the country looking for subjects.

A prolific painter, he produced over 5,000 paintings, many of them being made into prints during his heyday from the 1950s to the 1970s.

He also produced a few art instruction books, including:
How Robert Wood Paints Landscapes and Seascapes
Bio on

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sci-Fi Art Auction Today

Aliens, spaceships, dinosaurs, monsters, and scantily-clad women in captivity!
Earle K. Bergey (American, 1901-1952)
Shadow Over Mars, Startling Stories cover, Fall 1944
Oil on canvas, 26 x 18 in.
Today and tomorrow Heritage Auctions is selling a big collection of science fiction art and ephemera.

John Conrad Berkey (American, 1932-2008).
Run to the Stars paperback cover, 1986. Acrylic on board
The sale includes works by John Berkey, John Schoenherr, Ed Valigursky, Jeff Jones, Kelly Freas, Earle Bergey, and many others.

Virgil Finlay (American, 1914-1971)
Reader, I Hate You, Super Science Stories cover, May 1943
Acrylic on board
Advance bidding has already started, and the first round of the live auction starts today at noon, Dallas time.
2019 August 13 - 14 The Glynn and Suzanne Crain Science Fiction Collection Signature Auction - Dallas

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Fadeaway Girl and the Kanizsa Triangle

Coles Phillips was a Golden Age illustrator who popularized the "fadeaway" style of magazine cover.

In the fadeaway style, the subject is painted with flat colors that blend into the background tone, allowing the viewer's imagination to complete the lost contours. 

Kanizsa Triangle 

The name for this perceptual trick is "illusory contours," and images that included them were very popular around the turn of the 20th century. There was another flurry of interest in the illusion when Gaetano Kanizsa published his triangle illusion in 1976.

Phillips recalls:
"It was a number of years ago that the idea of the fadeaway style came to me. I was doing some advertising for a cigar company. The poster had to be done in solid blacks and whites, and I tried for some time to think of a new stunt for using them—something unusual and striking. At last I hit upon the fadeaway idea and tried it out. It seemed to take pretty well. And after that I used it quite often for a while."

"At that time I had a number of other artists working for me in the advertising business, and I tried to get them to do the stunt too. But they didn't seem to look at it the way I did, and they weren't so successful with it. If, for example, I was drawing a horse's head I made the whole head the same color as the background and let the bridle show the outlines of it.  But the other artists always tried to put a highlight on it somewhere or did something else which changed the whole idea. So I gave it up for some time and didn't use the idea any more until after I began doing stuff for Life."

Phillips got the idea to apply the fadeaway style for the covers of Life Magazine.
"I thought it would be just about what Life wanted, and tried it out. This was in the middle of 1908, and since that time I have had about all I could do in the fadeaway line. The idea seemed to be popular and took so well that I kept receiving orders for similar drawings. I have done a good many of the other kind of covers, but the fadeaway stuff seems to be the most popular."
Coles Phillips is the cover feature of the new issue of Illustration magazine. The issue also features editorial cartoonist Ollie Harrington and sporting illustrator Aiden Lassell Ripley. At the Illustration website, you can preview the issue online.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Mark English, 1933-2019

Famed illustrator Mark English (born 1933) died on August 8. He was one of the star illustrators when I was in art school. 

He helped define the world of contemporary illustration with paintings that combined abstraction with realism in a way that was expressive, elegant, and always surprising.

I met him at a gathering of artists hanging out at a convention hotel eating tacos and sipping beer. Even though he was well into his 80s when I met him, in his leather jacket, he looked like he was always in style.

Mark English in the lounge of the Kansas City Marriott, gouache.
As I squeezed out my paint to sketch him, he told me he still had the gouache paints that he used in his illustration years, but he switched to painting larger canvases with house paint.

Mark English "Pink Patchy Face"
In his later canvases, which he made for galleries, his images edged further into abstraction. He delighted in juxtapositions of colors, textures, and shapes that hinted at portraits but dissolved into an intriguing primordial stew.

Drayton Grant Park at Burger Hill

A view from the top at Drayton Grant Park at Burger Hill. Don’t miss the hill climb and the Catskills view if you visit Rhinebeck in New York’s Hudson Valley.

I did the painting in oil. What you're looking at here is a reproduction on the orientation sign.

Saturday, August 10, 2019


An ambigram is a word or logo which reads the same when inverted.
Remarkably, the word itself can be made into an ambigram.

The cover to the DVD version of "Princess Bride" is also an ambigram.

John Langdon designed this one, which reads "Philosophy Art & Science" right side up or upside down.

Wikipedia about Ambigram
There's a nice collection online in "An Optical Illusion"