Saturday, January 23, 2021

Can We Tune Our Level of Satisfaction?

A question came about my recent YouTube video which talked about the mindset that I try to cultivate while painting.

M C  asks: "How do you go from a high level of dissatisfaction to a level of satisfaction when you’re finished?? I find that I’m never satisfied with my work and therefore cannot enjoy it when I’m done."

My answer: MC, I think both of those feelings are vital for success throughout the process. We need the dissatisfaction to push ourselves to improve, but we need the satisfaction to motivate us to keep going.

Paintings don't always turn out well enough to satisfy my inner critic. Even if I do all the steps that I know will help guarantee a good result, I can never be sure it will work out. But sometimes it does, and what that happens, hooray! Either way, I try to trust the process.

Can we harness those twin horses of satisfaction and dissatisfaction? Can foster the emotions we need for success? Yes! 

According to neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions don't just happen to us; we create them. In her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, she explains where emotions come from and how we can influence our own emotional life. 

In the case of the satisfaction that we get while engaged in a task-oriented activity like drawing or painting, a lot of it has to do with the production of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, is part of our reward system when we're engaged in a cognitive task.
YouTube video: Painting Mindset
Book: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Portrait of Ben Franklin

One of the paintings that President Biden chose for the Oval Office is a portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis

Franklin posed for the artist in France. Various versions of the portrait exist, including one in pastel.

The White House has its own collection of art, but the curators there are able to borrow paintings from any museum in the Smithonian collection. This one appears to be the one from the National Portrait Gallery. This image of Franklin also appears on the hundred dollar bill

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Sargent's Study of the Marlborough Family

John Singer Sargent did a pencil study (right) of a group portrait of the Duke of Marlborough and his Family by Joshua Reynolds (left). 

Sargent's study seems to concentrate on the shapes of big light tones set within the large dark shapes.

He drew on the memory of this composition when he painted his own group portrait of the Marlborough Family.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How do you justify so much preparatory work?

These charcoal-on-vellum line drawings are half the size of the final painting of Waterfall City

This is the step where I figure out perspective, placement, and storytelling, thinking about how those gliders could get across the gorge, which areas to lose in mist, and which architectural forms are repeated.

Here are more preliminary sketches:

Eloise Scherrer asks: "Do you always do so much preparatory work for such paintings ? Was it a personal work or part of an editorial project/command ? (the underlying interrogation is how do you keep balance between the artistic necessities - lots of sketches - and the financial necessities - can't spend that much time in proportion of how I am paid ?)"

I've never done this much preliminary work on any picture. This one stuck in the back of my brain for many years. I did the sketches in my spare time after a day's work on paying assignments. This was the sandbox for playing in. 

The emerging print market gave me an avenue for monetizing this dream. The whole concept of Dinotopia came later.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

Civil Twilight

The term civil twilight refers to the period between the time when the sun goes down and when the natural illumination is so dim that artificial light is needed to distinguish objects on the ground. 

Officially it begins at sunset and it ends when the sun's geometric center reaches 6° below the horizon. 

The designation has some legal ramifications for laws that define when headlights are required or that designate a crime as having occurred in the daytime or the nighttime.

Artists are conscious of the big changes that happen during this period of time when the sun no longer shines on objects on the ground, but the light still touches the higher clouds. Maxfield Parrish made a career of painting during this fleeting time period.

Civil twilight is followed by nautical twilight (above), where the sun moves between 6° and 12° below the horizon. When you're at sea during that period of time you can still distinguish the horizon, but the sky is dark enough to discern many stars for navigation.
Wikipedia on civil twilight

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Painting with Two Colors (Plus White)

Here's a great exercise to try: paint a snow scene with just ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, plus white gouache.  (Link to YouTube video)

Art teachers of the past have recommended this method for centuries.

Arthur Guptill said, "A rich effect can be obtained with only a limited palette. A warm and cool combination affords the student the best approach to his color problems, especially as they relate to outdoor sketching." 

In his book on the history of watercolor painting, E. Barnard Lintott said, "For a young student there cannot be a better way of entering upon the study of water colour than by rigorously banishing all but two colours from his palette. It is the best and surest way to the study of full colour. The colours should be a cold and warm one; cobalt blue and warm sienna—or Prussian blue and burnt sienna—are two combinations which lend themselves to a great variety of treatment."

I also used a tiny bit of Alizarin crimson

Get the full video
Gumroad (HD download or lifetime streaming)
Sellfy (HD download) 
Cubebrush (HD download) 
DVD direct from publisher 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Illustration Techniques of Robert McGinnis

Robert McGinnis (born 1926) painted glamorous women and gun-toting spies for paperback covers and movie posters.  

This video by producer Paul Jilbert introduces McGinnis and his work and puts it in context. (Link to YouTube Video) Jilbert also produced a video showing the process of painting a standing semi-nude in egg tempera. 

The drawing is enlarged from photo reference on a Balopticon, similar to the one used by Norman Rockwell and Mort Kunstler. (Link to Video on YouTube

Book: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis 

Robert McGinnis on Wikipedia

Friday, January 15, 2021

Planning Waterfall City, Part 1

 The original painting for Waterfall City went through a lot of planning stages. 

I started with a lot of thumbnail sketches, trying to lasso my hazy mental image without looking at any references. One of my early ideas was to show the scene dramatically at night, with light from below.

Here are more early concepts for Waterfall City, some using pen and wash....

....and some little oil sketches, about 4 x 8 inches. 

Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for an idea to gel, and I need to generate lots of options to see if a feeling, and a story, emerges. I ended up with an eclectic mix of architectural scenes.

James Gurney, "Waterfall City" is 24 x 48 inches, 1988

The image appeared in Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, 1992.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

To get a healing break from the images of chaos and violence in public spaces, I've been trying to take a minute to focus on the beauty of the art in the Capitol building, which I remember making a pilgrimage to see with the same kind of reverence that I have experienced in cathedrals.

A full-figure marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is one of the large sculptures in Statuary Hall, and there's a remarkable human story behind it.

The sculpture was commissioned by Congress from an 18-year-old young woman named Vinnie Ream.  According to the Capitol campus's art curators:

"Ream had previously shown her ability to depict the president in a bust that she created from life in Washington. Her selection, however, was accompanied by controversy because she was young, female, and had friendships with members of Congress."

She developed the sculpture first in plaster as was the practice. In the sculpture, Lincoln's right foot is forward and he's holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. His head is tilted forward with a serious expression. 

But Ream's sculpture was almost destroyed. During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, her family played host to Senator Edmund G. Ross. Ross was the Senator who broke with his party to vote against the removal President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached by the House. 

According to Wikipedia, "she was almost thrown out of the Capitol with her unfinished Lincoln statue, but the intervention of powerful New York sculptors prevented it."

Ream was a prodigious talent. She had trained with sculptor Clark Mills and with Luigi Majoli in Rome and with Léon Bonnat in Paris. She brought the Lincoln sculpt in Rome, where it was carved from Carrara marble with the assistance of Italian stone carvers. The finished statue was brought across the Atlantic and unveiled in 1871. 

After her early period of sculpting she had a 40 year gap in her productivity as she took on the obligations of being a wife and mother.

"When she married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie in 1878, he imposed restrictions on his wife's work as a sculptor. Their son, also named Richard, was born in 1883. In addition to her work in the U.S. Capitol, Ream's sculptures include her statue of Admiral David G. Farragut (1881) at the well-known Washington landmark, Farragut Square. Ream died in 1914 in Washington, D.C. Her grave in Arlington Cemetery is marked by a replica of her sculpture Sappho."

Wikipedia on Vinnie Ream

More from the Capitol campus's art curators

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Machine Algorithm Turns Text Into Images

Neural networks are able to generate plausible images by starting with a descriptive phrase written in natural language and then mining a large dataset of photos for the style.

For example this array of images was created by the Dall-e algorithm using the prompt "pentagonal green clock." 

They're all green, and they all have a sort of clock face with a long hand and a short hand. Those that have a numbered dial are mostly right.

But a second glance reveals that there are plenty of hexagons and heptagons too, and the spacing and symmetry seem off-kilter on a lot of them.

Here's a set of images generated from the phrase "A store front with the words 'Open AI" written on it.'

If you go to the Dall-e website, you can tweak the phrase and see what the machine comes up with. This one says "A neon sign that says 'acme.'"

Although it gets a few obvious things wrong, it's remarkable how the results pick up on incidental effects like the tubular nature of neon and the glow of the neon light on the colored background.  

The developers say: "We find that DALL·E is sometimes able to render text and adapt the writing style to the context in which it appears. For example, 'a bag of chips' and 'a license plate' each requires different types of fonts, and “a neon sign” and “written in the sky” require the appearance of the letters to be changed. Generally, the longer the string that DALL·E is prompted to write, the lower the success rate. We find that the success rate improves when parts of the caption are repeated."

Try it yourself at the Open AI Blog about Dall-e. Be sure to scroll down and try some of the art styles, too.

Thanks, Joseph Santoyo

Monday, January 11, 2021

William Fraser Garden

Victorian watercolor painter William Fraser Garden (1856-1921) grew up amid a large family of artists.

He painted carefully observed views along the river Ouse, using muted colors and often indirect light. His scenes usually don't include people.

Detail of the painting above

This is probably a studio painting based on location studies. Before he began laying the watercolor washes, he established a very careful drawing outlining each branch. 

In this wilderness study there's a lot of scrubbing and loose washes in addition to the carefully drawn parts. Below is a detail:

This closeup brings us in close to one section of the painting so that you can see the brush stippling technique he uses to build the masses of leaves.

There's currently no Wikipedia page about William Fraser Garden. 

Detail of the painting above

He was not well known in his day because he didn't paint very many paintings per year and he was not a member of any major organizations.

According to Charles Lane, "His apparent lack of ambition and the consequently few watercolours which he painted each year, even when at his busiest, resulted naturally enough in his failing to come to the notice of all but a local audience." 

Stephen Ongpin writes: "Garden was very poor for most of his life, and was declared bankrupt in 1899." 

Christopher Newall, in the book Victorian Landscape Watercolors, says: "He was always short of money, and in his old age he led an eccentric existence, living at the Ferryboat Inn at Holywell and paying his bills with drawings instead of bank notes."

More online info at Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Exhibition catalog: Victorian Landscape Watercolors

Book: Victorian Watercolours, also by Christopher Newall 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Polar Stratospheric Clouds

Polar stratospheric clouds appear high in the sky in the polar regions in winter.   

Photos in Iceland. Photos by @ h0rdur c/o Fabulous Weird

They are composed of ice crystals and supercooled water droplets, sometimes mixed with nitric acid.

Wikipedia says: "Particles within the optically thin clouds cause colored interference fringes by diffraction." 

The visibility of the colors may be enhanced with a polarising filter."
Thanks, Atlas Obscura and Fabulous Weird

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Defining "Art"

What is Art? It can be a class of objects, an act, a process, an experience, or an idea. Definitions of art have been proposed and challenged by thinkers through the ages. This video offers a smorgasbord of quotes about art. You can try them on for size, accepting or rejecting them and testing your own ideas. (Link to YouTube

For myself, I find the most useful definition is Tolstoy's description of art-making as the communication of emotion: "To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then, by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed in words, so to transmit that feeling that others may experience the same feeling -- this is the activity of art." He also says: "Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them."

But sometimes artists draw or paint in private sketchbooks with no intention of communicating emotion or sharing their work with others. This kind of sketching can be from the imagination. or from observation. In that instance, art can be a form of conjuring, a kind of magic. It's an exciting experience to bring into existence an image that seems to take on its own life. 

Which definition or description in the video resonates most with you? Have some of them proven unhelpful or misleading to you? Please share in the comments. 

Thanks, BoingBoing

Friday, January 8, 2021

Using a Skeleton Model as Reference


When I painted the skeleton pirate for the cover of On Stranger Tides, the reference setup included a real skull, a costume hat, and a plastic model of a human skeleton.

I tried various color sketches until I arrived at the muted color scheme. I found some photos of sailing ships, treasure chests, and cannons.

In the final painting, the skeleton refuses to die. A cannon shot has broken through the railing at right. His right leg is held together with a strip of cloth, and his missing left leg is replaced with the end of an oar, whittled into a simple hinge for his knee. The original oil painting is about 9 x 15 inches, oil on panel. 

It will be featured June 12 in the upcoming exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum called "Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration." 


On Amazon: plastic model of a human skeleton


Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Gouache Rubbing off or 'Dusting Off'

Roy asked a question on my YouTube channel. He says: "I have recently discovered gouache and like the process of thick over thin. Some gouache artists warn of “dusting off” when gouache is used thinly. Do you have that problem? And if so, how do you avoid it? I have not noticed it occurring so far."

Roy, there have only been a couple of times that I've had the problem of pigment coming off. For me it happened when I used gouache thinly over a casein or acrylic underpainting where the underpainting was too thick and had a smooth surface. As with oils, thin over thick can sometimes be a problem.

Apparently the problem would have happened because there just wasn't enough roughness in the underpainting for the thin film of gouache to adhere to, and not enough chemical adhesion. Gouache is just comprised of pigment loosely held together with a binder. The glue-like binder is gum arabic (an edible sap from the acacia tree), which has a much weaker emulsion strength than acrylic or oil. 

If a wash is watered down too much when you put it on, it can result in an underbound film emulsion, which is subject to rubbing off, like pastel or chalk. If you're ever afraid of that happening, you can add a small amount of acrylic matte medium to your paint, and that will strengthen the emulsion.

Even if you use gouache in the normal way, the final surface will be fragile, and it doesn't stand up to much abrasion. (It's also sensitive to hand oils.) That's also true of watercolor pencil and regular pencil, by the way, even if I seal the surface with workable fixative. I've noticed that some colored pencil strokes will rub off and transfer to a facing page. So I try not to paint on two facing pages and try not to handle my sketchbooks too roughly.