Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Starting with a Brayer Gradient

This little plein-air landscape begins with a sky gradient laid down with a brayer.

I prime the page first in the studio with that blue sky tone and then paint the clouds over it. I demonstrate the process for this painting—including getting pounded by a rainstorm—in my new Gumroad tutorial "Gradients."

Tiffanie Mang says: “James Gurney's video workshop about gradients was the most concise, comprehensive, engaging and informative video I have ever seen about different ways of blending with a variety of techniques and mediums, from watercolor, gouache, casein and acrylic! I loved how his video was interspersed with foundational exercises to clearly demonstrate the fundamentals of the technique. James would then show how he applied the technique in a real life demo with very real life weather scenarios! Watching him tackle the paintings from start to finish was so fascinating and mesmerizing. As a gouache teacher who has mentored many students in gouache, the top question I always get is how to blend colors better, as gouache can be quite tricky since it dries so fast! I can confidently say James' video covers everything you need to know. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is beginner or advanced because it contains such valuable information not just about gradients, but about easel set up, brushes, values, color mixing, and problem solving that every painter should know how to apply in their paintings!”

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dark on Dark, Light on Light

Part of what gives a painting impact is a simple tonal design. You can create the design with a simple light shape and a simple dark shape, almost like a yin-yang symbol. 

Fingal's Cave by J.M.W Turner

The boundaries of the shapes don't have to match up with the boundaries of the forms. So, for example, in this painting, Turner doesn't put his strongest contrasts on the top edge of the cliff. He makes it light against a light sky and loses it in mist. The ship is a dark shape embedded in a dark background. 

As Howard Pyle put it: "Put your white against white, middle tones against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want your center of interest." In the case of the Turner, he doesn't really spotlight any center of interest: it's all veiled and hidden.

Bob Ross was only half right when he said: "Put light against light - you have nothing. Put dark against dark - you have nothing. It's the contrast of light and dark that each give the other one meaning." 

He's right that tonal contrasts can give meaning and draw attention, but at the same time I believe you need to think just as hard about downplaying areas, putting dark things in shadow, grouping light areas together.

Otherwise, if you put strong contrasts all through the picture, there's a risk you'll get a chaotic, non-cohesive result. 

So I would suggest to go ahead and dramatize or spotlight a key focal area, but look for other places where you can downplay or obscure an edge.


Previous posts: 

The Windmill Principle


Monday, September 20, 2021

Harvesting Coal

In 1894, Russian artist Nikolay Kasatkin painted this picture of poor women and children gathering chunks of coal in a worked-out coal mine.

According to the Virtual Russian Museum, the painting describes: "one of the gloomy paradoxes of the industrial revolution in Russia. While their fathers and husbands are mining for anthracite underground, the women and children attempt to make ends meet by scouring the site of an old mine for scraps of coal. The expressiveness of the depicted scene — resolved as an everyday, repetitive action — is increased by the slag heaps, gaping potholes and lifeless landscape."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Artists Painting Airplanes

Artists were painting airplanes this weekend at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. 


I dropped by to visit the American Society of Aviation Artists who were set up at the aerodrome for a plein-air painting session around a World War 1 biplane. 

I used watercolor and gouache to sketch Don Meadows, one of the ASAA members. He was standing at his easel with a Fokker D VII behind. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Skybax Academy

Skybax Academy, oil, 4 x 8 inches. 

Skybax Academy is one of the skill-building centers for young pterosaur pilots in Dinotopia.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Do Some People Have Bigger Visual Brains?

The size of the visual part of the brain varies a great deal from person to person. According to neuroscientist Jeff Hawkins:

"Region V1, the primary visual region, can be twice as big in some people as in others. V1 is the same thickness for everyone, but the area, and hence the number of [cortical] columns can vary. A person with a relatively small V1 and a person with a relatively large V1 both have normal vision and neither person is aware of the difference. There is a difference, however; a person with a large V1 has higher acuity, meaning they can see smaller things. This might be useful if you were a watchmaker, for example. If we generalize from this, then increasing the size of some regions of the neocortex can make a modest difference, but it doesn't give you a superpower."

From:  A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Nikolai Astrup at the Clark

There are three days left for the exhibition Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.

Nikolai Astrup (Norwegian, 1880-1928), Rainy Atmosphere beneath the Trees at JĂžlster Parsonage,
before 1908. Oil on canvas, 35 1/16 x 43 5/16 in. (89 x 110 cm).
Savings Bank Foundation DNB / KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Bergen

The Clark's website says: "Astrup’s oeuvre is notable for its intense, colorful palette, and the magical realism of his remarkable landscapes. Paintings and woodcuts from all periods of his career are presented in the exhibition, including multiple impressions of print compositions that reveal how Astrup modified the mood and meaning of these works through changes in color and the addition or deletion of motifs, often using multiple blocks to create his complex prints.

"Astrup’s work responded to, and helped shape, Norway’s emerging national identity. He created a distinctive visual language that expands on the intentions and achievements of composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) and playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) in Norwegian music and literature, respectively."
The show Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway is up through September 19.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Statue of Ogthar


'Then they saw it: dazzling and glowing, the fruit of a thousand royal workshops, a small sea of riches adorning the feet of a gigantic statue of Ogthar.'
From Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Ferns in Overcast Light

These densely crowded fern fronds on an overcast day are a good motif for studying soft gradients of light and shadow in nature. 

The local color was fairly uniform on the frond surface. As a result, the changes in value were the result of:

1. Variations in the angle of the surface in relation to the sky
2. The degree to which they were overshadowed or occluded by fronds above them.

If you want to try this exercise, head outside on an overcast day and look for a similar grouping of leaves, ferns, or something else, such as laundry on the line. Analyze what causes the changes in tone, and paint the gradients with whatever technique you want to explore—such as in-brush, stipple, or transparent watercolor gradients.

I used watercolor and gouache (Lemon yellow, Sap green, Titanium white, Cobalt blue, Light red, Quinacridone violet, Permanent green pale over a variegated priming in casein), but you could do this exercise in acrylic, Acryla Gouache, casein, or oil.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Using Depth of Field in Painting

What attracted me about this view of the marina at Cold Spring, NY was the “keyhole view” down the ramp to the water.

I also liked the opportunity to suggest depth on the Z-axis by selecting where to put detail. The fine details of railings and wires are only in the middle ground. The front of the vehicle on the right is painted a little out of focus.