Thursday, July 31, 2008

E.H. Shepard’s Academic Studies

(Note to parents: there’s some minor artistic nudity on this post).

Last weekend some artist friends came by the studio: Barry Klugerman (left), an artist, collector, and connoisseur of illustrated books; fellow illustrator Mark Elliott; and muralist, portrait painter, and illustrator Mike Wimmer (far right). Mike was stopping by on his way home to Oklahoma after attending the Hartford Art School Illustration MFA Program.

Barry brought up his collection of academic figure drawings by Ernest H. Shepard. Better known for his Winnie the Pooh illustrations, Shepard won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools in 1897, where he received rigorous academic training. At age 18, he was the youngest student there, but he was already good at drawing. Both his parents were artists, and they were close friends with the artists Frank Dicksee and Edwin Abbey.

These drawings were done in 11 sessions, 2 hours each (with breaks) in the figure class under proctors like George Clausen and John Singer Sargent. Once the pose was set by the visiting teacher, the students were not allowed to make suggestions, and they were absolutely forbidden to speak to the model. Male and female students worked and lived separately.

Nevertheless Shepard met the woman who was to be his first wife at art school. Her name was Florence Eleanor Chaplin, three years his senior, but at least his equal at drawing (her drawing above). Like many gifted female artists, she sacrificed her career for her responsibilities in a Victorian marriage.

Shepard soon was illustrating for the magazine Punch. According to biographer Rawle Knox, “knowing that he was a draughtsman rather than a colorist, he tried to get a footing as an illustrator and black and white artist.” The apparent ease and simplicity of Shepard’s Pooh illustrations belie the long hours of careful observation from his early training.

All images are copyright their respective owners.
Information from The Work of E H Shepard, by Rawle Knox, available at Amazon.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

ABC: University

On Wednesdays we share in a group sketch game called "Art By Committee." I give you an excerpt from an actual science fiction manuscript and you come up with a picture to illustrate it.

I always try to stump you with a tough one. This one was, "It seemed as if the whole damned planet was a university." As always, you rose to the occasion with some creative solutions.

…and the one from the original sketchbook, a group effort of artist friends at a coffee shop.

Here’s next week’s quote: “His left eye was swollen shut.”Please scale your JPG to around 700 pixels across and compress it as much as possible. Title it with your name, send it to: jgurneyart(at), subject line ABC, and let me know your blog or website if you want me to link (even if you gave it to me before). Please have your entries in by next Tuesday at 10:00 AM Eastern Time USA.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Walking Vehicles, part 2.

This four-legged walking vehicle or “strutter” was a main character in Dinotopia: The World Beneath. It's based on the design of a ceratopsian, with the passenger seat built into the pelvis area, and the driver's seat between the scapulas. This is how it appeared after the head/windshield was bitten off by a T.rex.

I built the original reference maquette (below) by “kitbashing,” or combining parts from about four different Japanese robot plastic model kits and filling in extra shapes with two-part sculptor’s putty. The reference maquette was just a start in conceptualizing the design, but it gave me a lot of information, especially for unusual angles.

You can often find unbuilt plastic models at yard sales, and they make good raw material for kitbashing. The front section of the vehicle above was originally the torso of a humanoid Japanese robot.

Denison’s strutter was one of the toy prototypes made by the concept development team at Hasbro based on the illustrations in The World Beneath. This model shows the full strutter, complete with its head, and the windshield built into the frill. The prototype can walk...sort of—you can see the linkage bars behind the front legs—though the challenge with a real toy is to make it strong enough to be manhandled by toddlers.

Model builder Glenn Ludgate of Australia has built several scratch-built one-of-a-kind Dinotopia vehicles as hobby projects. Here's one of Arthur Denison's strutter in progress.
More about the Hasbro Dinotopia prototypes, link.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Walking Vehicles, Part 1

Vehicles that move across the ground usually have either wheels, tracks, or legs. A walking vehicle has the advantage on uneven terrain. You can base a design concept on many living analogs, for nature has no use for the wheel.

Above is a scratch-built arthropod-based vehicle from Dinotopia: The World Beneath. The small maquette helped to visualize it in three dimensions and from various angles. The design is based on an extinct shrimplike invertebrate.

In the story, the vehicle, or “strutter” as it is called in Dinotopia, gets out of control and fights another strutter, while Arthur Denison and his friends watch in horror.

One reason wheels never arose in nature is the difficulty of designing a circulatory system that could work across a turning axle. Birds, humans, and a few mammals use two legs, but four, six or more legs are more common. Below is a full-size working model of a Japanese armored tech.

Engineers who design the drive mechanisms for walking vehicles usually have to solve three problems: how to translate the energy of the motor to the back and forth movement of the leg, how to achieve balance, and how to steer and change direction.

Tomorrow: part two, including Arthur Denison's strutter.
Addendum: Blog reader Scibotic has suggested these awesome YouTube videos. Thanks, Ben:

Mondo Spider, homemade walking vehicle with driver: link
Walking Sculptures, passive wind-powered beach walker with many legs: link
Big Dog, a four-legged autonomous vehicle that recovers balance on ice and uneven terrain: link

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bleaching and Glare

When sunlight is extremely bright, the eye is dazzled for a moment. It takes a few seconds for the pupils to constrict. The cones are overwhelmed. Color response drops off in the brightly lit areas, and the shadows appear higher in chroma. This is the reverse of the normal rule of “color obtains in the light.”

Before Impressionism there was a movement called “The Glare Aesthetic” where artists used this bleaching phenomenon to convey bright light.
GJ post: "Color Obtains in the Light," link.
Top painting is by William Paxton (1869-1941) called the Chinese Parasol (1908), link.
Bottom painting by William Picknell (1853-1897), Road to Concarneau, link.
Chapter on the glare aesthetic in American Impressionism by William Gerdts, link.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ozark Rooms

On a cross-country trip some years ago I spent a week in Doniphan, Missouri. I met Dode Williams, an older gentleman with no teeth who lived alone in the Ozark Rooms in the middle of town. Inside his apartment was a bust of an Indian, a kerosene lantern, a horseshoe, an owl clock, and a shotgun.

I sketched the entrance to the Ozark Rooms with a pen and gray marker while sitting at the top of the stairs.

Dode took me down to what he called the “Sin Center,” a long smoke-filled room with eight billiard tables used for a game called “snooker.” Each table had a glaring fluorescent light above it. One wall was covered with the fox hunting trophies of Ernie Caldwell, who was then 93 years old. The rest of the old-timers sat on the benches behind the hand painted checkerboards, occasionally swatting flies.

Friday, July 25, 2008


What is going on in your brain when you behold the Pietà by Michelangelo?

On one level your brain instantly perceives the shapes and contours, and it recognizes that the image on your computer screen is a photograph of a three-dimensional form. Even if you had never seen it before, you would recognize that the sculptural form represents human figures. You might observe that the sculpture is accomplished at the highest level of mastery. The subjects portrayed are not just any humans, but Mary and Jesus, with all the emotional and spiritual associations that go with that story. Perhaps you might recall the mentally disturbed geologist who vandalized the work with a hammer in 1972.

When I saw the Pietà in person, I was overcome by its beauty. I remember the feelings welled up inside me. I choked up, my eyes filled with tears, and I was unable to speak.

All these responses to a work of art can be studied using the new functional MRI (fMRI) mapping techniques. Corresponding with each level of response, there is specific and localized electrical activity going on in different parts of the brain.

Traditionally, the study of how and why we respond to beauty has been addressed by the field of aesthetics, a domain of philosophy. But today, a small group of scientists is working to understand aesthetic response in neurological terms, and this is part of a larger movement called “empirical aesthetics.”

One of the pioneers in this new field of neuroesthetics is Professor Semir Zeki. He coined the term, and he runs the Institute of Neuroesthetics at University College London. In his Statement on Neuroesthetics, he says, “Art is a human activity and, like all human activities, including morality, law and religion, depends upon, and obeys, the laws of the brain.”

Professor Zeki graciously responded to a few questions:

JG: Can we tell from brain imaging that the response to art is somehow special or different from the response to utilitarian or nonesthetic objects?

SZ: At present it is difficult to tell the difference between the response to an ordinary object (eg. a chair) and the response to viewing the painting of a chair. The same applies to faces. If, however, one were to focus specifically on the aesthetic value of what is being viewed, one would (I think) be able to differentiate between the two - assuming that the painting has greater aesthetic appeal. This is because, in that case, there would be greater activation of the orbito-frontal cortex.

JG: Tolstoy’s definition of art involves one person consciously infecting another with an emotion. When a subject reports that a work is beautiful or ugly, how is the brain’s emotional center involved?

SZ: Perceiving something as ugly or beautiful involves activation of the medial orbito-frontal cortex. Activity here is much more pronounced when pictures considered to be beautiful are perceived (in other words the activity is proportional to the declared experience of beauty).

JG: Walter Pater said that all of the arts aspire to the condition of music. Can we tell from fMRI studies how the response to visual art actually compares to the response to music or literature?

SZ: This is a question that I cannot answer at present. It is nevertheless an interesting question, worthy of future study.

JG: Does the brain respond differently to abstract versus representational art?

SZ: Yes, it seems to. Portrait paintings activate a specific part of the brain, landscapes another, and still lifes yet another. Abstract art seems to lead to very little activation, presumably because in the contrasts used to elicit the activation, the ubiquity of what is shown in abstract paintings (that is to say the features there that are also common to landscapes and still lifes and portraits) lead to activity being cancelled out in the subtraction process.

JG: How would you respond to critics who say that this line of inquiry is too reductive and diminishes the mystery and grandeur of the aesthetic experience?

SZ: I would say that they are misguided, because knowledge of the mechanisms involved in artistic appreciation and creativity does not in the least diminish the affective value of these works when we view them. I would also say that they are misguided to think that there can ever be a satisfying theory of aesthetics and beauty which does not take into account the neural activity which leads to aesthetic experiences. I would finally say that, whatever their concerns, science has now embarked firmly on a study of neuroesthetics, and there is no turning back.

Professor Semir Zeki's blog and website. and his statement on neuroesthetics.
Wikipedia entry on Neuroesthetics, link
Association of Neuroesthetics website, link.
More about fMRI, link.
Image of brain from:
More about the Pieta and its vandal, Laszlo Toth, link.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Guild of Natural Science Illustrators

The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI) held its annual meeting this week in Ithaca, New York. This organization includes medical illustrators, bird, insect, and botanical artists, paleoartists, and illustrators who work for natural history museums.

A juried exhibit of art by Guild members is currently showing at the Cornell Campus in Sibley Hall, with about 60/40 digital/traditional media, with detailed paintings of fish, cetaceans, insects, dinosaurs, and plants. Here Michael Rothman appears beside his acrylic painting of a forest floor with flying insects.

The emphasis of the convention is the open sharing of practical skills and techniques. Young artists entering the field of natural science illustration report that they’ve learned a tremendous amount from the presentations of other members of the Guild.

Nearby the convention is the Museum of the Earth, which tells the history of life on earth, concentrating on the fossil heritage of the northeastern United States. The museum's director, Warren D. Allmon, was a keynote speaker at the GNSI convention. A highlight of the 8,000 feet of permanent exhibition space is the Hyde Park Mastodon, above, one of the most complete mastodon skeletons in the world.
Museum of the Earth website, link
GNSI Conference, link.
History of the GNSI, link.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Art By Committee: Bored

Wednesday is the day for our group sketch game called "Art By Committee."

It's based on a sketchbook that I started when I was doing a lot of paperback covers. Whenever a line struck me as odd, I'd snip it out of the manuscript and tape it into a large sketchbook. I often bring the book with me when I have lunch with fellow illustrators, and while waiting for the food to come, we sketch a solution to the out-of-context excerpt. Blog reader Jen Zeller suggested we open it to the art blog community by sharing the same quotes that are in the original book.

This week’s quote: “The man looked bored” led to drawings that were anything but boring or predictable.

And the one from the original sketchbook. Let me know if I overlooked your link.

Here’s next week’s quote: “It seemed as if the whole damned planet was a university.”

Please scale your JPG to around 700 pixels across and compress the heck out of it. Title it with your name, send it to: jgurneyart(at), subject line ABC, and please give me your blog or website URL if you'd like me to link (even if you gave it to me before). Please have your entries in by next Tuesday at 10:00 AM Eastern Time USA.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Studio Mirror

Here's a studio tip.

This full-length mirror is about 24 inches wide by 5 feet tall, made from heavy plate glass. I got it at a yard sale. I attached it to a plywood panel with a wood moulding around it. The whole panel is firmly screwed to the wall of the studio with a very strong piano hinge along the left-hand side. This allows the mirror to be swung out from the wall at any angle.

I use this mirror in two ways. First, since it is about ten feet behind my drawing table, I can look back to check the reflection of a work in progress. In this way I can quickly spot any flaws in the drawing, and I can see if the tonal organization carries from a long distance.

Before I hung it on the wall, I used to put a big mirror on an easel behind me, but I backed up into (and broke) a couple that way.

I also use the mirror for quick preliminary studies like this one, where I posed for a figure carrying a bunch of bananas (I was too lazy to get real models). I took the pose, studied the action, and established the basics. The American illustrator Tom Lovell suggested this idea to me.
Thanks, BoingBoing for doing a post yesterday about "My Friend the Cave Man," and thanks, Kyle, for telling me about it (I was literally staying in a log cabin in Ithaca cut off from everything for the last three days).

Monday, July 21, 2008

My Friend, the The Cave Man

Neanderthal humans may have been capable of modern speech, according to archaeologist Baruch Arensberg from Tel Aviv, who discovered the small hyoid bone (in circle), which anchors the tongue muscles.

When National Geographic asked me to paint a small illustration of a Neanderthal father telling a story to his son, the art director emphasized that he should look recognizable, “like a guy who stepped off the subway.” Only the heavy brow ridge should give him away.

Where to find a model? I racked my brain for who would fit the part. One guy I knew named Jim would be ideal. But how should I ask him to pose? “Hey, Jim, would you mind posing for a Neanderthal picture I’m doing?” I was afraid he might be insulted.

I managed to ask him, and he cooperated. Later I asked him if he minded being a cave man. “Not at all,” he replied with a smile. “My girlfriend says it gives me more sex appeal.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Croquet Balls

What’s wrong with these croquet balls?

Well one thing you might notice right away is that they’re in pretty bad shape. That’s because they endured a good-natured grudge match between our 14-year-old and Ralph Bakshi at an artist party here a few years ago. Note the chunk missing from the yellow ball.

Here's another photo, this time of a green ball and a yellow ball. I was going to include the blue ball, but someone sent it deep into the woods, and it never showed up again.

By the way, these balls are set up indoors in a shaft of sunlight, and they’re resting on black velvet, so effectively they’re only lit by the sun and each other.

Well, of course you guessed it. The photos have been doctored in Photoshop. I know—my Photoshop skills are about at the level of the Iranian News Agency.

The thing that's wrong with the croquet balls is the color of the reflected light. I switched the left balls in the two pictures, but the ball that was there originally left its telltale color in the shadow of the yellow ball.

Look what happens when we set the balls up in that shaft of sunlight and let their reflected light spill over to an adjacent piece of white board. The light bounces up and to the right. Its influence drops off fairly rapidly as the distance increases from the balls, and the colors intermix in the intermediate areas.

Note, too that the reflected light from the green ball doesn’t have much influence on the adjacent red ball. Their complementary colors cancel each other out.

Here’s a whole color spectrum set up in the shaft of sunlight, again bouncing into the white board. The reflected colors softly gradate from greens on the left to reds on the right. The individual colors in the reflected light are most distinct and separated where the spectrum is close to the board. The yellow area of the spectrum is far from the board, and its effect is mingled with all the other colors into a neutral-colored light at the top of the board.

We can draw at least three conclusions about color in reflected light.
1. Colors of reflected light drop off quickly as you get farther from their source.
2. The effect is clearest if you remove other sources of reflected and fill light.
3. The color reflected into the shadow is a composite of all the sources of reflected illumination, combined with the local color of the object itself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Painting High Peak

On a recent weekend I thought I’d try the idea of painting a landscape area-by-area instead of blocking the whole thing first. It’s kind of like paint-by-numbers, but without the numbers.

I set up the pochade box on an estate along the Hudson with a view toward the river and High Peak in the Catskills.

I took 20 minutes to draw in the tree silhouettes on an oil-primed 8x10 panel. Then I started painting in each area with a small bristle brush, working from background to foreground and trying to get a finished effect right away. This felt weird at first because I don't usually complete one area at a time, but then I pretended I was doing a cross-hatched pen and ink drawing.

Here’s the painting most of the way finished, with the real background behind it. I consciously enlarged the relative size of the mountains compared to the trees, and I cut that slot in the trees leading down to the river.

And here’s the finished painting. Just as I was signing it, a little gnat landed in the wet paint of the sky and got stuck with his wings stretched out in the exact position of a soaring red-tail hawk. I didn’t have the heart to scrape him off. I guess he didn’t die in vain.
Earlier GJ post on area-by-area painting, link.