Sunday, December 5, 2021

Annigoni on Photographic Reference

Following up yesterday's post about Why Bother Copying a Photo?, it might be valuable to consider the views of Italian artist Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988). In a YouTube video in the Italian language,  he discusses why he doesn't use photography in his work. Blog reader Mario Zara generously provided the following translation:  
Interviewer: for example, you are one of the few painters, if not the only one, who doesn't use photography. Today everyone...

Answer: Well, this return to the so-called classicism, to reality, based on photography, in my opinion is a mistake, it's a form of impairment, in the end, because working from life, which is so transient, always changing, manifesting infinite aspects... working from life means that you accept an effort, a struggle, a labor of conquest, which is removed if you use photography. If you remove this big effort, this struggle, you are removing too much... too many important aspects of art

I: So it's easy to copy a photo..
A: Well... it definitely makes things easier. And then photography is a frozen instant of this reality, this truth I was talking about. Because truth changes together with us, while you are looking at it, it escapes, and you have to chase after it. It's a completely different view of life, I would say.

I: So, besides technique, there is also a psychological aspect.
A: Yes, of course, it's a different way of life.

I: So, the difficult part of portraiture - When you make a portrait, you require many sitting, don't you?
A: yes

I: What is the difficult part? In grasping the essence of the character?
A: To grasp something that is continuously escaping, in the end.

I: Which is the synthesis of that personality, because the instant...
A: The synthesis of...? It's the synthesis of I don't know what, it's that personality, and my personality mixed together. It's an experience of life, anyway... that's what, in my opinion, the use of photography cancels.

I: So you start studying the character of the model by means of drawings? What do you do?
A: For me a portrait, or a figure, is first of all an object, like painting a still life. I have to draw this object, to put the eyes, the nose, the mouth and the ears in the right place... I mean, the construction of the figure, its shoulders and everything. Then, at a certain moment, I have to 'go inside' this human being. 

So in the first poses I ask for a complete silence and stillness, then, after blocking in the portrait, as I said, with a construction as correct as possible, I start to talk to the person about many subjects, about any subject, in order to see how he or she reacts, and lives, and so on, and I myself identify with that person on those subjects. It is a way to go inside that person, also psychologically.

I: It's...
A: A long, hard, laboring work. That's why, at a certain point, I got tired of making portraits...

I: But the most difficult thing is to let the soul come out from the eyes, isn't it?
A: Well, yes, from the eyes, and from every part: from everything. Sometimes it's a matter of an instant, of a glimmer on a certain part of the face, which can change the expression. There are many aspects...

I: So during many sittings... there comes a moment... when everything gets becomes clear and illuminated...
A: Well, there is... when there is... but sometimes there isn't, and you have to adapt.

I: I've read in your diary, when you went to the US, that J.F. Kennedy let you in his office when he was meeting with his staff.

A: That was the kind of portrait I did for the Time Magazine covers. A few of these things were unfortunately disastrous for me.

I: They considered you the painter, and let you stay near him?
A: He didn't pose, I was forced to “steal”...

I: Which models were the most patient? Was it the Queen of England, or the Pope?
A: Oh, well, those... No. The Pope was like Kennedy. But the Queen at least granted me sixteen poses, Princess Margaret twenty-six. I've always tried to get as many poses as possible, because my type of art...

I: At least, on this subject, regarding you as a portrait-painter, no one has any grounds for objection, and they all agree...
A: Well, I don't know, they may take issue with that too, I don't know...

I: No, no, I say, it's unquestioned... at least on this subject, Annigoni...
A: yes, yes, they let me do portraits, because incidentally portraiture...

I: ..Is considered a genre...
A: A cheap genre, an outdated genre...

I: But on the contrary, it's the genre which requires the best technique and “eye”
A: Well, portraiture... is a big hassle...

I: So, you feel you really belong to our time, as a painter?
A: I feel... to our time? I don't know... to my time, that's for sure. If my time doesn't belong to our time, that's not my fault...
Related previous posts:
Menzel and Photography

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Why Bother Copying a Photo?

After watching yesterday's YouTube video, R.H. asked a fair question: "Why waste time and energy (and potentially vision health) painting something that looks exactly like a photo when you can simply look at the photo?"

Answer: I'm not making something to look at, nor am I particularly interested in being a copyist of 2D images. It's not even that great a copy. Instead I enjoyed learning from the experience of using a comparator mirror. I think of it as a form of visual play. It built my confidence in capturing a slice of reality using straight-ahead paint, and who knows? That mileage may help me in my observational painting and my imaginative work. 

After all, on of my specialties is painting realistic images of things that can't be photographed, so I have a particular interest in understanding how the camera "sees" and how we humans see.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Grisaille Portrait Video Now on YouTube

This new YouTube video takes you along on an unusual painting technique and some thoughts about what would happen if we could live our days in reverse order. Watch the 18-min video on YouTube at this link.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

How much data does the eye transmit?

Researchers estimate that the neural wiring from the retina transmits information to the brain at approximately the same rate as an Ethernet connection, about 10 million bits per second. That sounds like a lot, but it's not as much information as we think we're getting. 

"Much research on the basic science of vision asks what types of information the brain receives; this study instead asked how much. Using an intact retina from a guinea pig, the researchers recorded spikes of electrical impulses from ganglion cells using a miniature multi-electrode array. The investigators calculate that the human retina can transmit data at roughly 10 million bits per second."

"The retina is actually a piece of the brain that has grown into the eye and processes neural signals when it detects light. Ganglion cells carry information from the retina to the higher brain centers; other nerve cells within the retina perform the first stages of analysis of the visual world. The axons of the retinal ganglion cells, with the support of other types of cells, form the optic nerve and carry these signals to the brain."

As we've seen in previous posts, the impression we have of a highly detailed world don't come entirely from the eye, but also in a top-down fashion from in the form of predictive models from memory centers in the brain.

Read the article at Science Daily

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Unraveling Color Pigment Terms

Organic / Inorganic

Pigments are divided into organic (containing carbon) and inorganic (without carbon). 

Inorganic pigments were traditionally made from natural earths such as the ochres and siennas, and the hard minerals such as azurite and lapis lazuli, plus metals such as cadmium, cobalt, iron, and zinc. They are more opaque, denser, and generally weaker in tints than organic pigments. 

Organic pigments were originally made from plant materials, such as root madder, or animal materials such as cochineal. Organics tend to be more transparent, lighter in weight, and higher in tinting strength. 

Synthetic pigments

Both organic and inorganic pigments can be manufactured artificially in the lab, and the resulting pigments are for the most part indistinguishable from their natural counterparts. 

So, for example, ultramarine is a synthetic replacement for the rare and expensive mineral lapis lazuli. The properties are identical, but the price has become so low that it's used in low cost children's paint. 

Light / Deep

When a color is called "light" or "deep," it doesn't only mean light or dark in value. It also has to do with the position on the hue circle. Cadmium yellow deep is more toward red, really orange, while cadmium yellow light is not only lighter in value but also more toward the green side of yellow. 

Convenience Colors / Hue

Some pigments are blended to make colors with familiar names such as “mauve” or "peacock blue." Convenience mixtures fill gaps by offering intermediate mixtures for which no pigment exists, such as phthalo yellow-green. In watercolor, Payne’s gray is a blue-black made from black and ultramarine or other blends. 

When a color is called a "hue," such as "cerulean blue hue," it's a color that resembles its expensive counterpart, but it's made of a blend of inexpensive ingredients.

Designers Colors

The term "designers color" has been used for a paint color that is meant to match a particular color note. A designers color is made to match not only a hue, but a particular tint or shade and a level of chroma or saturation. Designers colors are often mixed with white to result in colors like "pale rose blush" and "cobalt turquoise light." House paints and hobby acrylics frequently are formulated in this way because people use them right out of the bottle for a given use.

Nowadays most manufacturers of artists' pigments use pure pigments and let you do the adjusting, because you may not want the white in the mixture from the beginning. So if a pigment is naturally transparent, it will still be transparent, even in gouache. 

Permanent / Lightfast

The word “permanent” appears on many different art products, but it’s a confusing term. On some graphic art products, such as inks or felt-tipped markers, it really means “waterproof,” rather than “lightfast” (resistant to fading). Many calligraphy or fountain pen inks are not waterproof, but they’re reasonably lightfast, considering that most handwriting isn’t usually subjected to light for long periods.


Learn more:

Color terms explained on the website Handprint

Color of art pigment database listed by pigment numbers on website ArtisCreation

Signed copies of my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

Did I get something wrong, or do you have something to add? Please let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A Funny Face

Have you seen this painting of Ada Lovelace, the Victorian lady who helped invent the computer? Her eyes are kind of close together, but you get the idea. The image was created by a computer.

Image courtesy Daniel Russell @danielrussruss

Now look at the image again. Do you see a dog with a white nose? Ada's eyes become the nostrils.

I found that once I saw the dog, I couldn't go back to Ada Lovelace again.

Most humans see the Victorian lady first. What does Google reverse image search think it is? Mostly it think's it's a dog, but there are some ladies mixed in, too. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Pathway into the Glacier

Pathway into Nekron's glacier, a background painting from the Bakshi/Frazetta animated film Fire and Ice, cel-vinyl acrylic, 8 x 10.”

Sunday, November 28, 2021

ImagineFX Magazine Reviews "Gradients"

I'm honored that my video "Gradients" received an "Artist's Choice" ★★★★★ award from ImagineFX magazine. Here's the review:

"Meets the grade. James Gurney continues to make core art theory approachable, whether you're working traditionally or digitally.

"James Gurney manages to make complex theories easy to understand. His latest instructional video takes a simple idea — paint colour gradients — and shows how this can be applied to your art.

"The principles behind the process are applicable to watercolours, gouache, and acrylic, as demonstrated here, or even digital art. The beauty of James' practical demonstrations is that the ideas transcend the medium.

"The video is split into two stages: theory and practice. First we learn the principles with simple demonstrations, such as painting a graduated cylinder. Then we see James put knowledge into practice. He paints four plein-air scenes. Each one reveals how the previous principle can be used, literally, in the field.

"Which part of the video you get the most from will be determined by your ability and experience, but there's always something to learn, if you understand the principles on offer then sit back and watch a modern master eke out a landscape with thoughtful brush marks. He shows how simple use of the theories can pull and push light around a landscape, and how gradients can bring your art to life — contrasting shadows across and below a fern leaf — and make complex ideas simple.

"There are further degrees to the training video. We love how James answers viewers' questions as he paints. The artist's responses reveal more of his own personal approaches to plein air, and offer insights and tips to beginners, such as prepping multiple papers ahead of painting ready for any scene. Fundamentally, James' ability to make art approachable and theory universal is reason enough to watch."
"Gradients: Color, Form, Illusion" is available on DVD and Download / Streaming

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

On Instagram, I posted about this plein-air still life in oil, and some of you had questions:

fefecru: "Can I ask you what umbrella is that? Anyone in particular you’ll recommend? 
A: It’s a Jullian umbrella, designed to clamp onto a French easel, but I keep it on a C-stand so that it doesn’t blow over and bring my painting into the wreckage."

agustin.poratti "How'd you build that camera trĂ­pod easel?"
A: That’s an Open Box M easel, which may not be made anymore, but there are others like it, and there's a Facebook group about building your own.

bencrastinate "Does painting with an easel help? Ive always painted my canvas flat on my desk. What are the benefits of painting on a vertical surface?"
A: I find it helps my speed and accuracy to have my painting set up perpendicular to my line of sight, and directly adjacent to, the same size as, and in the same light as my subject.

grinningink "Since you used oil here, wasn’t it still wet when you sold it that same day? Was there something to protect it when the customer took it?"
A: Yes, this was for a paint-out. I framed it and it was auctioned same day. I knew the owner, and after it was thoroughly dry I borrowed it back to varnish and photograph it.

thefrankryan "Is this palette approach inspired by Carolous Duran’s method?"
A: A lot of oil painters have used premixed colors. I was thinking mainly of Frank Reilly, but using an adapted version of his practice.

 "Please list the names of oil colors on the pallet, looks like three primaries and white." 
It’s the 5-color palette recommended by John Stobart in his book The Pleasures of Painting Outdoors: titanium white, cad yellow light, pyrrole red, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. You can paint almost anything with those five colors.

 "Would you also premix your colors when you paint with other mediums?"
In theory you could premix with water media, but the pools of color would tend to dry too fast.

Related previous posts: Painting Pumpkins 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Howard Brodie's Portraits

Joe DiMaggio by Howard Brodie, 12x16" 1936

Before he worked as a war reporter and a courtroom sketch artist, Howard Brodie (1915-2010) produced a lot of portraits in crayon of sports figures for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Brodie drew from life whenever he could. According to Gene Byrnes, "He avoids any mechanical means of drawing, and says that when he is asked to use a photograph for factual reference he goes to considerable pains to avoid copying it."

Books: A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning, and Painting by Gene Byrnes

Drawing Fire: A Combat Artist at War : Pacific Europe Korea Indochina Vietnam