Thursday, December 31, 2009

Artists, Thank the Automobile

The development of modern, lightfast pigments owes a great deal to the automobile.

Cars are parked outdoors in all kinds of weather. The sun beats down on them year after year. That puts a tremendous demand on any pigment. Scientists had to develop reliable pigments, especially for yellows, reds, and violets, which had been notoriously fugitive. And the car industry had the money to do the lab work.

The quinacridone red pigments were developed in the 1950s and are mainly used for car paints. Pyrrole Red is also known as Ferrari Red because of its use in sports cars. But it’s exactly the same basic pigment you'll find a tube of Winsor Red.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Gurning Champions

Here's some thoughtful advice from Gordon Blacklock, 2009 World Gurning Champion. Gurning, the art of making funny faces, dates back to 1297 at the Egremont Crab Apple Fair.

Previous champion Tommy Mattinson was not able to take part this year.

My brother Dan and I have a long way to go if we want to uphold the family name in the 2010 championship. The competition might get ugly.

2009 Making-A-Mark Awards

Congratulations to the group blog Sketching in Nature for winning the 2009 "Going Greener" award from Making A Mark. This award is for the art blog which is most stimulating for getting us in touch with nature and the environment. The blog does that by featuring artists from all over the world who use their art as a way to closely observe animal behavior, plant growth, and weather phenomena.

And I'm very excited to say that Imaginative Realism won the "Best Book by an Art Blogger Blue Ribbon." Thanks, Making a Mark, and thanks to all who voted.

There's still time if you'd like to be part of the voting on one of the remaining awards, "Best Artwork on an Art Blog." The nominees are Karin Jurick, Gary Nemkosky, and Pierre Raby.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Transparent Fish Head

A fish with a transparent head. Proof that nature is way weirder than the imagination of science fiction artists like me trying to dream up aliens.
Via National Geographic 2009 videos .

Abstraction Generator

One reason I never understood the quarrel between realism and abstraction is that representational painting involves a constant attention to the dance of pure shapes, both at the micro level of brushwork and the macro level of composition.

Nature is full of delicious abstract forms, many of them powered by the controlled chaos of fractal logic. Concept artists in particular need to be able to freely invent and resolve abstract forms.

H. R. Giger, John Berkey (above), Moebius, and Syd Mead are a few artists who create fascinating abstract forms without sacrificing their representational power.

For those who work with digital tools, there’s a open source application where the computer partners with the artist at the level of random shape-generation. (Above: Andrew Jones).

Seeing those computer-generated shapes then stimulates you to come up with more ideas. (Above: Nicolas Francoeur) It's like mutation and natural selection. You can rationalize them in any direction you want. Or just leave them and enjoy them in all their inchoate glory.

The open-sourced Java-based app is called Alchemy.

Ten years from now, I'm sure software like this will do a lot more than just 2-D shape generation. Imagine a random form generator using a deeper database including anatomy, perspective, nature-based texture logic, and interactive lighting.

A tool like this would become a fundamental ally of concept artists. You'd start with a lump of digital clay, set some parameters---gravitation, climate, habitat---and the lump would evolve before your eyes (with a little guidance, of course) into whatever sort of creature, architecture, or vehicle you're trying to come up with.

For those of us who still work with brushes and pencils and paint, there’s always the sponge, straw-and-ink, toothbrush splatter, crumpled paper, tea leaves, wood grain, Rorschach ink blots, and erratic hand-movements.
Alchemy website and videos.
Thanks, Ben Schram, who told me about this. Visit Ben's website and see some of his Alchemy-inspired sketches.

Monday, December 28, 2009


When hot or flaming objects give off light it’s called incandescence. But some things give off a glow at cool temperatures through a process called luminescence. There are many causes—and many artistic effects—you can create.

In Dinotopia: The World Beneath, (1995), large caverns beneath the island are lit by glowing algae, "sunstone" crystals, and ferns. Although higher plants in our world aren’t known to give off their own light, many things objects are luminescent.


Organisms that can produce light live mostly in the ocean. They include fish, squid, jellyfish, bacteria, and algae. In the deep sea beyond the reach of light, the light patches function to lure prey, confuse predators, or locate a mate.

Land animals that emit light include fireflies, millipedes, and centipedes. Some light-producers are activated by mechanical agitation, creating the milky light in the ocean alongside ships’ wakes. Some kinds of mushrooms that grow on rotting wood emit a dim light called foxfire.

Fluorescence is light that an object converts from one kind of electromagnetic energy of a different wavelenth. Some minerals, such as amber and calcite, will give off colorful visible light when they’re lit by ultraviolet light. Other minerals fluoresce during crystal formation.

Tips and Techniques

1. Set up a dim ambient lighting first, then add the luminescent effects.
2. Luminescent colors often gradate from one color to another along the spectrum.
3. Blue-green colors are most common in the ocean because they travel the farthest through water.
4. Luminescence is very dim and diffuse--it doesn't cast shadows.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Surprise

No one expected a new baby in the manger, not even the farmer, Lenny.

When the vet checked out the donkey Peanut recently, he said she wasn't pregnant. He thought she was just a little fat.

So when Lenny was cleaning out Peanut's stall on Christmas day, he got a big surprise. He saw something dark moving and he thought a dog had gotten in there.

We arrived before the vet, and I did a portrait of her. Her name is Joy. She's not used to gravity yet, and she doesn't know how to move her feet to walk. She just stands there, swaying.

Every once in a while Peanut gives her a push to knock her off balance a little.
Previously: The two-week-old Belgian filly on the same farm.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Daybreak Blues

What happened to the blue in Daybreak?

Maxfield Parrish painted his most famous work Daybreak in 1922. It appeared on several editions of art prints and on the cover of Coy Ludwig’s book from 1973. That book, and all those prints in antique shops have a decidedly “Parrish Blue” tonality (bottom image).

The painting was sold in the 1920s and was hidden for almost 50 years in a yacht near Boston. It surfaced again in the 1970s, where it was sold a couple more times.

In all the reproductions since then, it has a much more golden and violet appearance (top image). I saw the original when it was shown at the Norman Rockwell Museum retrospective exhibit, and it really did have that golden/violet appearance.

If you put the two side by side, at first glance it seems like a difference in color balance. Maybe all the early prints were wrong, printed from a transparency that was shifted too far into the blue range.

Maybe all the warm colors faded out of all the reproductions. Maybe the “Maxfield Parrish blue” was never there in the first place, and was a consequence of bad reproduction. But Parrish personally approved the early reproductions.

Let’s see what happens if you adjust the color balance sliders in Photoshop and make the “new” version more blue. Now they look a bit more similar, but there’s a crucial difference.

The value organization of the new incarnation is completely different from the original version. Note how the milky cerulean water above the sleeping girl’s legs now is a very dark value (1). Where that promontory in the valley used to separate from the shore (2), now the shadows are much darker.

And where the values of the blue shadows in the far mountains used to be much lighter than the bending figure, now they’re darker and more uneven (3). Changing the color balance sliders shouldn’t affect the value organization.

Is it an alternate version? Parrish dealer Alma Gilbert, in her book on Parrish’s Masterworks, referred to rumors about a second version, but put them to rest with the confirmation by Parrish's son upon seeing the painting again in the 1970s.

Was the painting overcleaned? Did some overzealous conservator remove some blue scumbles or glazes? Normally when you clean a painting, you take off the smoky, dirty, orange and brown layers and the yellowed damar varnish, and the painting gets more of a pure blue look. It doesn’t usually get more yellow, brown, or violet. The cleaning of the Sistine Chapel (above) intensified all the colors.

Parrish’s unfinished paintings showed he worked in various layers of pure pigments. Here he left a blue underpainting of a tree, with warm glazes applied on the tree at left. Did he work warm-over-cool glazes and cool-over-warm semi-opaque milky glazes on Daybreak? Is the new edition of the painting closer to the original product of Parrish’s hand? If so, how can we account for all those early approved prints?

I don’t know the answer. It’s kind of a mystery. Maybe some of you can shed more light on it.
There’s a good discussion of the painting at Jim Vadeboncoeur’s site here and here.
Sistine Chapel restoration controversy.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Blessings materialize all around us when we least expect it. Best wishes to you this holiday season.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Orchardwine = Richard Owen

Little-known Dinotopia fact: The character named “Orchardwine” who Arthur Denison meets at the hatchery looks a lot like Richard Owen, the British scientist who coined the word “Dinosaur” in 1841. The names are anagrams.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Time Lapse Plant Growth

It took the BBC two years to produce a 60 second time lapse shot of plant growth for their Life series. The shot seamlessly combines a tracking move on location with a matching plant growth shot back in the studio. Here's how they did it.

Via Best of YouTube

Whelan at Mary Kate's

Here's a portrait of the great accordion player John Whelan, painted in sepia watercolor by the light of a neon beer sign at Mary Kate's pub in Mahopac, New York.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Motivated Light

Lighting designers say a light is motivated if the source is understood by the viewer. In a film, comic book, or illustrated book, this can be important in setting a mood and making the lighting look convincing.

In the boiler room scene from Hiyao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (sorry, the clip was no longer available) the girl enters a corridor where she sees multiple cast shadows projected on a wall. The shadows flicker on and off for no apparent reason. Up until this point the light is unmotivated.

With the lighting now fully motivated, the lighting designer has some freedom for the remainder of the scene. The remaining shots don’t have to make perfectly logical sense. Most of the later shots have single shadows cast to the side or even nearly straight downward.

What’s important in the later shots is clarity of action and expression in the service of the story. Showing those multiple flickering cast shadows again would not only be unnecessary, it would be confusing.

An individual painting can have motivated light as well. At the top of this painting by Peder Severin Kroyer, we can see light flooding in through an upper window. That glimpse of the source allows us to understand where the sharp spots of light on the work table come from.

Monday, December 21, 2009


This 1992 political cartoon by Ed Stein of Rocky Mountain News says: "Visit the island kingdom of Great Britain, where the monarchy, which miraculously escaped extinction, lives lavishly at the expense of the common folk."

Visit Ed Stein's Website.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goethe’s Color Oppositions

Complementary colors suggest an opposition of elemental principles, like fire and ice. Blue opposes *yellow; red challenges green. These antagonistic pairings seem to correspond to the way our visual systems are wired.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s book Theory of Colors (Zur Farbenlehre) was published in 1810. It’s is not so much a scientific theory as a catalog of observations about the experience of color vision.

Based on his first-hand experience, he believed that color arose from the interaction between light and darkness. Darkness is not the absence of light, but rather its rival or counterpart. Blue, he believed, is a lightening of black. Yellow is a darkening of white. All other colors are grouped between them.

Goethe looked for chromatic effects at places where light and dark edges intersect, such as along the edges of dark mullions crossing bright windows. He noticed that if we stare at a strong red color and then look at a white wall, a green afterimage emerges.

He arranged the color wheel with the symmetrical six-color spacing that we’re familiar with today. Opposing pairs of hues line up across the center. Yellow and red were at the “plus” side of the color wheel, and they represent “light, brightness, force, warmth, and closeness." Color schemes where yellow, red, and purple predominate, he believed, bring forth feelings of radiance, power, and nobility.

Blue, he believed, stands for "deprivation, shadow, darkness, weakness, coldness, and distance.” The colors on the cold or “minus” side evoke feelings of dread, yearning, and weakness. “Colors are the deeds of light,” he declared, “its deeds and sufferings.”

His views were at odds with the objective scientific principles of Sir Isaac Newton, which didn’t take into account the human observer. Goethe was more concerned with our response to light and color in physiological, moral, and spiritual terms.

Some of his ideas about color pairings have been echoed in the modern opponent process theory of color vision, which states that all colors that we see are the result of interactions between pairs of color receptors.

But his greatest contribution was to inspire generations of artists, including J.M.W. Turner and even Ludwig van Beethoven.
(*Note: in our perception of color, blue opposes yellow, but in pigments, orange would be the complement)
William Turner. Snow Storm: Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps. 1812. From Olga's Gallery

P.S. Thanks to BoingBoing and Reddit for spotlighting GurneyJourney

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sarah Bernhardt's Leg

Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923) was a legendary French actress of the stage and screen, famously portrayed on posters by Alphonse Mucha.

According to Mucha's son Jiří, as Sarah Bernhardt was still clinging to the pinnacle of her fame, she injured her foot on a rusty nail. For many years she tried to battle the decay of the leg, but it was no use. An amputation would necessary because it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide her infirmity.

According to Jiří Mucha's account:
"'Madame,' said Barnum on day to her, 'I will give you $50,000 for your leg if you will allow me to exhibit it in spirit.' Sarah turned the offer down, but subsequently when during her stay in New York the leg became gangrenous and surgical intervention could not be delayed any longer, she sent word to Barnum.

But the great showman was dead by then and his successors were not interested. The leg was amputated and, weighted with a heavy stone, secretly buried in the depths of the Hudson."

Image from Olga's Gallery.
From "Alphonse Maria Mucha: His Life in Art" by Jiří Mucha, p. 241.

Stout's New Dinosaurs

William Stout’s 1981 book The Dinosaurs was a huge inspiration for me when I was starting out, and so it's exciting to see that he has met and surpassed his earlier work with Dinosaur Discoveries. The forthcoming book brings together more than sixty recently discovered dinosaurs along with facts about anatomy, diet, environment.

The loving crosshatch and muted colors showcases his taste, artistry, and scientific authority. The solid binding and crisp detail continues the impeccable production standards of Flesk Publications.

A companion volume called New Dinosaur Discoveries A-Z marches the menagerie through the alphabet. Note to paleontologists: if you discover a new dinosaur, give it a name that starts with X or Z. You'll get it featured by top talent.

More at:
John Fleskes's Blog
Lines and Colors review
The book on Stout's website.
Other great art books, including the one on Stout's paleo life murals at San Diego, at Flesk publications

Teaching Job at Hartford

Jobs in the art field may be tight right now, but there's a good teaching opportunity being offered at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. I profiled the school after a visit, and they're the host of the Enchantment exhibition.

The teaching position requires an MFA degree, a solid grounding in drawing and painting the figure, and a good ability to communicate that knowledge.

Job description for Assistant Professor of Painting and Drawing

Friday, December 18, 2009

1000th Post

This blog is devoted to three propositions.
1. Art is a doorway that leads into every aspect of human existence.
2. Our visual life is a frontier that is still largely unexplored.
3. I've still got a lot to learn.

For the amusement of newer readers, here are links to some of the most popular posts since I started the blog in July of 2007.

Unexpected Visitors
Gorilla Portraits
Unicycle Painter
Sky Blue
Music While Painting
Teachers Reworking
The Mud Debate

Looking ahead, there's a lot more in store for you, including a look at
The Lay Figure
Hidden Light Sources
Rethinking the Color Wheel
Tips on Plein Air Gear
Color Underwater

....and more of the regular features "Art By Committee" and "Dead Tech."

Thanks for visiting the blog, whether you comment or not. You're always most welcome, and I'm grateful to you for egging me on with this curious obsession.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


The painting below shows two shadowbeams, which are slightly darker than the background sky, slanting down to the left, where they intersect a cast shadow on the floor of the Hudson Valley.

The shadowbeams above were cast by natural clouds, but they most often occur when a jet contrail aligns with the line of sight. The dark beam below is cast by a contrail that's not visible in the photo; it's to the left offscreen.

The shadow is a bar of unilluminated vapor seen edge-on. The adjoining illuminated air is a notch lighter in value. The darker beam is usually only visible when there is a light hazy sky behind it.
Previously: Sunbeams
Contrail shadow photo courtesy Atmoptical.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Classifying Values

John Singer Sargent admired the way Frans Hals classified his values (the light and dark tones in a painting):

"You must classify the values," Sargent wrote. "If you begin with the middle-tone and work up to the lights and down towards the darks -- so that you deal last with your highest lights and darkest darks -- you avoid false accents.

"That's what Carolus taught me. And Frans Hals. It's hard to find anyone who knew more about oil painting than Frans Hals."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Art By Committe: Cinderella

It’s the 15th of December, and that means it's time for our group sketch game called "Art by Committee." This month it was the Business Card Challenge. Your job was to start with a real business card (taken off a bulletin board 25 years ago) and figure out who it belongs to.

The Cinderella maid service card sparked some creative character studies. What really happened after the fairy tale ended? Scroll down and find out, and be sure to follow the links to the artists' sites to learn more.

Susan Adsett

Mario Zara

Robin A.

Andy Wales
Blog, with the full comic story

Mei-Yi Chun

Roberta Baird

Ian Garrick Mason

George Semionov

Paul Bozzo

Jin Lee

For next month, here's an actual dialog from a science fiction novel manuscript. Your job is to illustrate who is talking and by what means.

Have fun! Please scale your JPG to 400 pixels across and compress it as much as possible. Title it with your name, send it to: jgurneyart(at), subject line ABC. Please let me know in your email the full URL of the link to a larger image or your blog or website so people can see your image at full size and learn more about your other work. Please have your entries in by the 12th of January. I'll post the results January 15.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Change Blindness

Here's proof that most of the time we look but don't see.

Prehistoric Times and Digital Image

Thanks to the readers of Prehistoric Times for voting Imaginative Realism the "Favorite Prehistoric Animal Book of 2009."

Also, I really appreciate the review from Digital Image Magazine, which noted that the book is not just for fantasy artists who use traditional materials.
"There are a few pages devoted to traditional materials and methods, but most of the book contains information any artist, digital or otherwise, will find helpful. Even if you’re not painting fantasy images, you’ll find useful techniques for composition, altering lighting, color schemes, focus, directing the eye, telling a story, and so forth."

Check out Digital Image homepage with a cool feature on using chiaroscuro in portraits.

Note to aspiring and established paleoartists: Prehistoric Times is a great venue for getting your work seen. Information about submitting your artwork here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Class Notes on a Typewriter

Here's a guy after my own heart.

Antique Doll

One more Rockwell story before I move on…

Many years ago, a frail old woman arrived unannounced at the Norman Rockwell Museum. As her attendant pushed her throughout the galleries in her wheelchair, docents noticed that she was clutching an antique doll.

Then she spoke up, “My name is Rosemary Hunter. I posed for the little girl in ‘Doctor and Doll.’ I have kept the doll for all these years. I would like to give it to the museum.”

Today the doll is one of the many treasures in the collection.

Another item related to “Doctor and Doll” is a photograph which archivist Corry Kanzenberg showed me. Ms. Kanzenberg wanted to correct my earlier post where I said that Rockwell's earliest known reference photo was from 1935. It turns out that the earliest reference photo in the Museum collection is six years earlier. It shows Miss Hunter and her doll posing along with Pop Fredericks in 1929.
More about the Museum at the NRM site.
Image licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL

Saturday, December 12, 2009

“Soda Jerk” Not the Post Cover

Yesterday, Jeanette and I visited the exhibition “Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera,” and we made an interesting discovery that apparently no one has noticed before.

A painting on exhibit, which purports to be the well-known 1953 Post cover “Soda Jerk” is not what it appears to be.

Have a look for yourself. On the left is a photograph of the original painting in the show. It is owned by the Columbus Museum of Art. According to the official Columbus Museum website, it "appeared in the August 22, 1953 issue" of The Saturday Evening Post.” On the right is a photograph of the actual tearsheet.

Notice the differences. In the CMA painting at left, there’s a red leash on the dog that doesn’t appear in the finished work. The CMA version lacks tiles on the floor, the view out the window is much more green, and the juke box is green, rather than brown.

In this closeup, the CMA version (left) lacks the menu behind the napkin holder. Overall, the painting is much looser and sketchier. Pencil lines are clearly visible throughout.

I believe it is an alternate version that Rockwell abandoned for an unknown reason after what he called “the color layin.” (Guptill, 1946, p. 204)

If you compare the signature on the CMA version (above) to the one that appears on the published version (below), note that the x-height, spacing, and baselines of the red signature are far beneath Rockwell’s standard. Rockwell typically didn’t sign his abandoned versions.

It's possible that the signature on the Columbus Museum painting was forged by another hand, though it would take sleuth-work from a conservator to know for sure. There's no doubt in my mind that the rest of the work is authentically painted by Rockwell.

In the Norman Rockwell Album (1961, p. 134) Rockwell mentions that “I painted this cover twice.” But the alternate version he refers to appears to be a third version, which includes a man in the foreground that is missing in both of these.

Apparently, the authentic published original remains unlocated. I hope that more light will be shed on this mystery.
More about the exhibition at the NRM site.
Image licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL