Friday, January 27, 2023

Manu Forti

The Mackays of Scotland have a clan badge that says "Manu Forti," which means "with a strong hand." When I was just 13 years old, I realized I had Mackay ancestors, so I drew this bookplate on scratchboard and printed it out as a bookplate for my graphic arts class. 

Thirteen years old is the age when I started to figure out who the heck I was. I discovered it was possible to make a living with my hands in graphic arts, calligraphy, animation, or illustration. 

All my heroes—Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, Preston Blair—had their heyday between 1900 and 1940. They were long gone before I got started. But that didn't matter to me. They were all people in books, anyway. I just saw the glimmer of a path out of the thicket of teenager-hood into the possibility of an adult life.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Black Umbrellas

Susan asks: "Do you recommend black umbrellas for plein-air artists?"

No, I really don't. Here's why I don't think a black or silver umbrella is useful. The goal of any sun-modifying system should be to transform direct sunlight into soft (indirect) light. The amount of light on the artwork—and the color of that light—should be as similar as possible to the amount and color of the light on the subject. 

The problem with blocking the light entirely with black or silver material is that the level of illumination will be too low on the work, making the eye have to adjust from one to another. Worse yet, the only light shining on the work is whatever bounces up from the ground. This light is often highly colored, especially if it’s grass, bricks or dirt, making accurate color judgments almost impossible. 

All that doesn't even take into account another issue that all umbrellas face: wind! They're wind traps, and lead to blowdowns.


Instead I recommend you make your own white diffuser system. They give good soft diffused light, they're easy to use, and they don't lead to blowdowns. I've made several variations and I demonstrate them on YouTube and my Gumroad video about sketch easels.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Alice in Larvaeland

No, it's not AI art—not digital either. I painted it for fun in acrylic during lunch break while I was a 22-year-old working as a background painter on the animated movie "Fire and Ice."

I suppose I was tapping into some weird corners of my subconscious mind, trying to figure out how to adapt H.R. Giger's biomorphism to landscape painting, and tossing some story possibilities out there for Ralph Bakshi's team to play with.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Shadow Letters

Sign painters and show-card artists in the golden age of penmanship had a variety of styles of applying shadows to make letters stand out.

According to Atkinson, "All letters must be shaded on the same angle, and every characteristic must be indicated.

"On letters A, Y, V, W, M, the shade is narrower in width on the diagonal "letter strokes" that are affected by the shade at a forty-five degree angle.

"On ordinary work and Card Writing, the relief shade is most commonly used, as it permits of quick execution, and in most cases is rendered in single stroke, using a brush that will accommodate itself to the width of the shade desired.

"Where extremities of letters are close together, the stroke can be left disconnected, which liberty is legitimate and permissible, especially on card work.

"On the relief shade leave "relief space" quite wide—i. e., the space between the edge of letter and inner edge of shade; it gives the letter better emphasis and is more professional."

From A Show at Sho'-Cards by Atkinson 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Developing Neural Pathways

Learning to paint requires developing two different sets of neural pathways. One is the cognitive / perceptual skill of strategic observation, where you learn to see what you need to see at each stage of the process, no more, no less.

The other is a cognitive / perceptual / motor pathway that allows you to plan a move of the hand to pick a brush, lift the right amount of paint of the right color and consistency, and apply it in a way that gets you closer to the interpretation you visualized.

Much of this neural architecture takes place outside the cranial vault and requires that you develop new skills of hand/eye coordination, head movement, and even breathing.

Read more:

Neuroscience News: The Link Between Drawing and Seeing in the Brain

Science Direct: Digest of Motor Learning Articles

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Rhinecliff Hotel

The Rhinecliff Hotel overlooks the Hudson River alongside the railroad tracks. For many years it was the scene of lively Irish music sessions. 

You'd pay your five bucks, walk past the pinball machines and the pool table, and find a folding chair near the back of the room, where a single light bulb illuminated the scene.

In the shadows it was rotting a bit, but no one minded, as long as your chair didn't fall through the soft floor at the edges. 

There was a hole in the tin ceiling where the resident squirrel (or was it a rat?) stuck his head through when the music really got going. Sometimes a train would thunder by right in the middle of a melancholy slow air. 

Other times the "phantom pay phone" would ring. There had once been a payphone, but someone removed the phone, leaving the ringer intact behind the wall. When it would go off, you'd just have to wait for it to quit ringing, because no one could answer it.

Someone bought the hotel and rebuilt it at great expense, but the business fell through, and it sits vacant now. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Death King Louis II of Hungary

Louis II was a king of Hungary whose life was framed with drama. At his premature birth he was kept alive by court doctors who killed animals to wrap the baby in the warmth of their carcasses as a primitive incubator.

He died at age 20 during a battle against the Ottoman Turks. 

The Discovery of the Corpse of King Louis II by Bertalan Székely, 1860

His story was immortalized by Hungarian painter Bertalan Székely. According to Wikipedia, "Nearly the entire Hungarian Royal army was destroyed in nearly two hours on the battlefield. During the retreat, the twenty-year-old king died when he fell backwards off his horse while trying to ride up a steep ravine of the Csele stream. He fell into the stream and, due to the weight of his armor, he was unable to stand up and drowned."

Székely based the reconstruction on a letter by Ferenc Sárffy, who experienced the battle. The composition and arrangement of figures and lighting evoked feelings of national pride and independence.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Head Study in Watercolor

Head of a Woman (1893) by Julian Fałat (Polish:1853-1929), watercolor on paper, National Museum, Warsaw

Julian Falat studied in Kraków and Munich. He used to say: 

"Polish art ought to convey our history and our beliefs, our qualities as well as our defects; it must be the quintessence of our soil, our sky, and our ideals."

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Van Dyck's Study of Saint Jerome

In 2002, a collector named Albert Roberts paid $600 for a painting of St. Jerome at a small-town auction in New York State. He suspected it might be a Van Dyck, but a few years went by before he got it cleaned and authenticated. 

A study for Saint Jerome, Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641)
oil on canvas, laid on panel, 37½ by 23 in.; 95 by 58.5 cm.

"Though the artist was about eighteen years old when he painted it (400 years ago), he was a precocious talent and already a master,” said Van Dyck scholar Susan Barnes in a statement. “Van Dyck painted his sketch from a living model, carefully rendering his furrowed, sun-weathered brow and time-worn body."

Anthony van Dyck, Saint Jerome with an Angel (circa 1618–20). 
Courtesy of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

"His goal was to convey the sense of the saint as a real person—one with whom faithful viewers could identify and whom they could aspire to emulate.” Quoted from Artnet,

The study will be auction later this month on January 26 at the Sotheby's auction of master paintings. Previews of the show will be in New York, January 21-25, 2023

Monday, January 16, 2023

Painting a Parking Lot

 Today's post on Instagram about "non-motifs" seems to have struck a chord.

. Here are some of the responses:

How do you take such a Mundane looking place and make it look really cool? I need to train my eye better to respect the spaces that are right there in front of me. You Did a lovely job. Thank you I will review those tips every time I go to paint.!

Fantastic. Love watching your videos. Thank you 🙏 😍

I've been doing these 'boring scene' drawings for a while and am ALWAY shocked by how interesting they are in pen and ink... but of course, @jamesgurneyart takes it to eleven with his rock-solid ability. Gorgeous stuff.

Your work always amazes me. You capture the beauty of the most mundane scenes. 😍😍

Thank you!

Your underpaintings always sing, James. Bravo!

Excellent as always. And a great demo/reminder.
Love that Pentalic Field Book!👏👏

I need to watch this on YouTube and take notes!

Well said !

Beautiful 🙌🔥🙌👍🏼🎨💪

I’ve been loving painting non-motifs for the past few years, especially because it suddenly makes everyday life much more interesting!


❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️! Right on!!!

Wow, great piece!! And tips!

Suuuuuperbe cette lumière. Je dis un peu envieuse…😍

Thanks for exist Mr James

Question for you, I usually work in oils, they allowing me to blend colors. Between Gouache and Casein which is easier to blend?

@snowboundartstudios The main difference in blending is that Gouache can be rewet and blended after it dries.

Incredible, I wouldn’t have given a parking lot a second glance if you asked me to pick a place to paint but of course you show it can be as good as any 👏

I’m always amazed by the cool compositions of Highway, cars, and curves in my rearview mirror.

We need a video on how to paint backlit!