Friday, April 16, 2021

"Paint an Abandoned House" Challenge

A while ago I asked which subject would interest you the most for the next plein-air painting challenge.

There was a clear winner. So I invite you to paint an abandoned house from observation.

• Free to enter. Anyone of any age can enter.

• The composition can include the scene around the abandoned house. It can also be an abandoned business. It can be an exterior or an interior, but you might want to get permission before entering an abandoned building. 

• Five finalists will each receive a "Department of Art" patch and a free Gumroad art tutorial download.

• It must be painted on location, or at least started on location. You can finish it from photos.

• You can focus your post on the decadence or nostalgia, the sublime aspects, the technical insights, the beauty or the ugliness, or the human story. Just make sure your painting expresses what interested you.

• All painting media accepted, such as oil, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, acryla-gouache, alkyd, casein, or water-soluble colored pencils. The painting can be bound in a sketchbook or on a separate panel or canvas.

• Take a photo of the work in progress on location, and another photo of the finished painting.

• Please limit your palette of colors to three colors plus white, and tell us what colors you used.

• Please post your entries on the comments of this Facebook page. If you're not on Facebook, please ask for the assistance of someone else who is.

• Enter just one piece. If you do two pieces, please upload your favorite one.

• You can enter as soon as you finish the piece, but no later than the deadline: sunset, Eastern Time, Friday, May 21, 2021. 

• Winners will be announced on this page and on my on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

If you haven't seen it yet, here's a video of a painting of an abandoned house with a surprising human encounter.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Humboldt Exhibition Moves Online

Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey had completed the years-long task of gathering the art and artifacts for her Smithsonian American Art Museum exhibition about Alexander von Humboldt, which was scheduled to open in the spring of 2020.

Frederic Edwin Church, The Falls of Tequendama, Near Bogotá, New Grenada, 
1854, oil on canvas 60 7/16 x 48 1/16 in., Cincinnati Art Museum

Then the pandemic lockdown happened.

When the date was set for the staff to exit the building, she knew she might not be able to visit it again. So while she still had access, she had a brainstorm: why not document the show with a curator's tour? 

She found a videographer. Without time to prepare a script or dress up for the occasion, she did an off-the-cuff video walkthrough of the exhibition. 

It's an inspired presentation: coherent, eloquent, accurate, and concise, especially when you realize how spontaneous it was.   

The curators and education team produced videos and images for an online experience, which you can still see on their website.

One of them is a video focusing on Frederic Church's "Heart of the Andes." The video separates spatial layers and uses lateral parallax movements to create "an immersive journey."
• Another book by E.J. Harvey: 

Thanks, Ida

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Imitation vs. Representation


"Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy." —Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A plant like this forsythia is more than the sum of its flowers and branches. I have to invent a toolset of brush techniques for describing characteristics of the flowers, both in terms of the overall mass and the granular detail.

Complete imitation of every flower on a forsythia plant is probably not possible or even desirable. We have to recreate or represent the characteristic detail rather than imitate it.

Asher B. Durand, in his influential 1855 essays "Letters on Landscape Painting" draws this very distinction between imitation and representation. When painting something as complex as a tree, he says, “direct imitation is impossible." Instead the artist should strive to “represent this foliage in every essential characteristic, without defining the forms of individual leaves. To do this, some analysis of its structure is necessary.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Painting Forsythia Flowers

I paint the flowers of a forsythia shrub using a limited palette of watercolor and gouache. I show how to start by capturing the overall gesture and silhouette of the whole plant and then subdivide the mass into smaller shapes.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Combining Pencil and Oil


Our boat brought us to a settlement of crested hadrosaurs and their human assistants, where we spent a few days drying out in the smoky attics of their houses" 

The painting is done in oil wash over pencil on illustration board, which has been sealed first with some workable fixative spray and then with a thin layer of acrylic matte medium. 

Dinotopian flight instructor Oolu holds a lightweight skybax saddle. 

This technique is fast, direct, and reproduces well. 

handeyeoriginals asks: "What do you thin the oils with to make the wash?"

Answer: Liquin (a fast-drying alkyd medium) and Gamsol (a mineral solvent). Note that both of those are toxic, so you need good ventilation and protection for the skin of your hands.

    joeybruceartWhat’s the advantage of an oil wash instead of watercolour?
    Colour? Vibrancy?

    Answer: It's workable for a longer period and it blends well with opaques.

Illustrations from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time.

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Colexification refers to a method of mapping the meanings of words.

All languages have words for basic emotions like love and anger and shame, but the words may not convey the same meanings in different cultures. 

This way of mapping visualizes the proximity of related emotion words and the connections between them.

These maps are used by scientists to speculate about whether the emotion concepts are genetically coded or are culturally disseminated.

Read more about colexification in Science Magazine 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Text Driven Manipulation

Suppose an art director looked at one of your pieces and said "Great, but could you make it more goth?" 

You'd know what to do, right? How about taking a cat picture and making it more cute or changing a tiger into a lion?

Computers, using large data sets, can accomplish such manipulations. In the top row of each pair is the input image. Below that is the manipulation. The phrase is the text prompt used to drive the manipulation.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Clock in Bryan, Texas

Downtown Clock, Bryan, Texas, gouache 

For this 45 minute gouache sketch I used ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, and white.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Lap Box

Eugen Dücker 1841-1916 painted this portrait—possibly a self portrait—in 1900, showing a portable lap box rig used frequently by plein-air painters at the time.  

The artist sits on a tripod chair with a wooden box open and the painting pinned or propped on the inside of the lid. There also seems to be a white umbrella folded up on the ground next to him.

The arrangement has several disadvantages: you can't easily stand up or back up from the work; the size of the painting is governed by the size of the lid, and unless you have slots cut into the top frame there's no easy way to store wet paintings.  
Read more about 19th-century plein-air painting methods in the book The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature 1830-1880

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

How Do Our Brains Process Images—Decoding or Predicting?

For a long time, scientists believed that images were decoded in a bottom-up process.

It was thought that the image arrived on the retina and was sorted out in stages, starting with edges and shapes that were then assembled into recognizable objects, faces, or symbols by specialized areas of the brain.

You may recognize what this image represents just from the top of the picture; you may even guess who painted it.

Detail of portrait by John Singer Sargent

The alternate way of understanding visual perception is the top-down predictive model. This idea suggests that the brain contains a stockpile of representations of reality that it imposes on what you see. You don't really see reality directly; you see your brain's prediction of what's in front of you. 

According to neuroscientist Andy Clark, "the brain is essentially a prediction machine." 

Most scientists agree that these two systems interact at various stages. Bottom-up constructive image processing meets top-down prediction throughout the hierarchy of image decoding from the most basic to the most sophisticated. 

This process moves like greased lightning until you run across a prediction error or an ambiguity.

Green lines are equal. Source

Optical illusions present anomalies where the top down prediction comes into conflict with the bottom-up construction. Sometimes this conflict happens at relatively basic levels of processing, creating estimation errors of perspective, shape, or overlapping.

This skull illusion creates an ambiguity of interpretation at a higher level of interpretation. 

It's good for us as image makers to be aware of how our eyes and minds work as we decode the world around us and reconstruct it for the enjoyment of others.