Saturday, January 31, 2009

James Gurney’s Hanging

An exhibition of original artwork from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time has opened at the Rhinebeck Savings Bank in New York, where it will continue through February 20.

The Gazette Advertiser quoted the bank’s publicist as saying about me: “He’s been hung all around the world.”

So, if you can, please come to my hanging. And if you want to put a piece of original Dinotopia on your wall, have a look at my original art blog to view the works available for sale.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The BLAST Rule

When it comes to painting procedure, it’s healthy to be suspicious of rules and recipes. Isn’t painting supposed to be a wild dance in the wilderness?

But allow me to suggest five general pointers that lead to happier results in just about any kind of painting. If you like them you can print them out and stick them near your easel.

1. Use the biggest brush possible for a given passage.
2. Paint large shapes first, followed by small shapes.
3. Save your tonal and chromatic accents until the last.
4. Try to soften any edge that doesn’t need to be sharp.
5. Take time to get the center of interest right.

Or, the briefer version: (B.L.A.S.T.)
Big brushes.
Large to small.
Accents last.
Soften edges.
Take your time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Greebles are small details used to break up a large form, usually to give a sense of scale or to make an invented object more believable.

Greebling is a design philosophy used by visual development artists. In this greebled cube, the abstract forms suggest a profusion of buildings or pseudo-functional working parts.

Model builders for the original Star Wars movie coined the term to describe the way the Death Star and the Imperial Star Destroyer were festooned with small styrene pieces and parts kit-bashed from plastic model kits. Greebles have also been called “nurnies,” “wiggets,” “flidgets,” and “guts-on-the-outside.”

Traditional painters and digital artists develop their own instincts for greebling. In this close-up of a dinosaur-based vehicle from Dinotopia: First Flight, greebles appear between the smoother outer forms of the neck sections.

Greebled cube courtesy Wikipedia/ Greeble.
More at
Related term on GJ: “Confetti”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pedal-Powered Airship

Gizmodo tells of this concept for a pedal-powered airship called Aeolus that can stay aloft for two weeks.

From Pig to Alien

Where do ideas come from? That’s easy. Sketchbooks.

I did this sketch of a mama pig and her piglets at the county fair. What a job it must be, I thought, to nurse that many babies all at once.

Some time later I was inventing some aliens for a science fiction paperback cover. I went to my sketchbooks for ideas. The pig suggested the idea of an alien mother who gave birth to a lot kids at once. Fortunately she’s well equipped to feed them.

Review of Un Voyage a Chandara

Dinotopia: l'ile aux dinosaures

A quoi ressemble Ie parfait recit imaginaire? A Dinotopia. Imaginez une ile aux paysages epoustouflants ou humains et dinosaures vivent en harmonie, une ville d'architecture classique construite a flanc de falaise, bordee de cascadesgeantes qu'enjambent des ponts sculptes. Sous un vol de pterosaures, des enfants partent a I'ecole dans un bus Apatosaurus et croisent un Brachiosaurus pompier… Ala maniere d'un Francois Place qui revisitait Ie recit d'exploration avec ses Derniers Giants, James Gurney embarque Ie lecteur encore plus loin dans Ie fantastique. Sous forme de camet de voyage, ses deux heros, Arthur Denison et son fils Will, content leur expedition a Chandara, un ancien empire interdit. Ils y rencontrent des merveilles de la civilisation dinotopienne mais aussi des Tyrannosaures qui ont envahi les basses terres ... Suivez l'etrange caravane, composee de porteurs de blasons et de triceratops. Partez pour un voyage au bout de l'utopie. II etait temps que I'on redecouvre en France cette serie fantastique traduite en dix-huit langues et creee il y a une dizaine d'annees par cet ancien illustrateur du National Geographic. Gurney propose mieux qu'une cartographie de I'imaginaire. Un monde qui fera rever bien des generations. NathalieRiche (Lire)
**Dinotopia. Un voyage a Chandara par James Gurney, traduit de I'americain par Juliette Saumande, 160 p., Fleurus

Monday, January 26, 2009

Giant Pterosaur Behavior

New theories have emerged about the behavior of giant pterosaurs.

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins has concluded that most pterosaurs probably didn’t take off by running on their back legs and flapping, the way birds do. They used all four appendages pushing off the ground to propel them into flight. Link for the Science Daily story.

Scientists at the University of Sheffield have argued that large pterosaurs probably didn’t feed while skimming their bill along the surface of the water. Link.

And finally, a group of scientists at the University of Portsmouth have concluded that large pterosaurs related to the Quetzalcoatlus probably spent a lot of time walking around as “specialized terrestrial stalkers” and may not have spent much of their time flying. Link.

Images are from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, link.
Thanks, Steve B!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Denon in Egypt

In her new book: Mirage: Napoleon’s Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (2007), Nina Burleigh describes the challenges faced by the artist Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825), assigned by Napoleon to be the first to draw the wonders of Egypt.

Denon “…tripped on fresh corpses and mummies and slipped in centuries of bat guano, in rooms so dark they couldn’t see their own hands. Working by torchlight was dangerous in itself, since the long-enclosed areas were highly flammable, packed with wood, ancient paint, and mummy tar. They most feared not ancient spirits but stumbling into unseen holes, and the ever-present fluttering chauve-souris (bats), which swooped around their heads by the hundreds.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Moleskine Loves Schmincke

Did you know that a Schmincke watercolor set opens up to the same size as a Moleskine watercolor book?

That means you can set up the paint kit on the facing page, next to where you need it.

You can clamp it to your Moley with a spring clip. The water cup is taped to the Schmicke so it doesn’t tip over and dump all over your work. Wrap some extra tape around your water cup, because tape always comes in handy.

With the rag in one hand and the brush in the other, you’ve got everything you need within reach. It will serve you if you’re leaning on a paddock rail, crowded into in an Irish pub, or perched a mountaintop.

Here’s the painting of Gibraltar next to the real thing.
Previous GJ post on light sketching supplies: link.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Google’s Prado Project

Google has cooperated with the Prado in Spain to scan major works in the museum in a fully searchable and interactive format, built on the Google Maps model. You can zoom right up to the paint texture of your favorite works.

This little movie from Google shows how they did it.

To enter the interactive search page at Google: link.
Read more:
Computer World report, link.
Guardian report, link.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hand-Painted Signs

At Tuesday’s inauguration ceremony, poet Elizabeth Alexander called for a “praise song for every hand-lettered sign.”

In Asian and in Arabic-speaking countries, where calligraphic lettering is part of the cultural DNA, hand-painted signs are everywhere.

In America, permanent hand-painted signs show up either in wealthy communities with posh boutiques, or in poor neighborhoods, where hand-lettering is an economic necessity or an expression of ethnic pride.

Between those two economic extremes, we have resigned ourselves to machine-made signs. In the franchise landscape, handmade signs are extinct animals.

In North Africa handmade signs are as common as home cooked meals.

This store in Morocco takes an exuberant approach to its advertisement of rose water and fossils.

Another store stacks big block letters like boxes, hoping to grab the attention of motor tourists.

This proud and edgy sign advertises a Tunisian sports club called the “Étoile Sportive du Sahel.”

The lone word “cyber” advertises dingy basement rooms with antique computers and distracted teenagers.

The word “Coca-Cola” still has its swoop in Arabic; the rest is a riot of joyous color.

You have to admire an earnest huckster.

Yes, let us sing the praises of hand-painted signs. Let us show school kids how to write their names in block letters. Let us teach art students the secrets of Copperplate, Old English, and showcard lettering. Let us treat them to serifs and ampersands and ligatures. Let us shape our own words with our own hands.
There are several Flickr groups devoted to this subject:
“Hand-Painted Signs of the World.”
“Folk Typography”
“Signpaintr,” dedicated to the lost art of hand-lettering
“Hand-Painted Signs of Cambodia.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sub-Zero Bubble Discussion

Your votes have been tallied in the poll about the behavior of sub-zero bubbles (see previous post).

22 Warm Risers
25 Milky Spheres
46 No Difference
40 "Plastic" Shreds
24 Crystal Globes

I believe the best answer is "plastic shreds," as many of you with direct experience also attested. The other answers made either poetic or logical sense, but they don't match my own observations so far.

However, the answers aren't cut and dry, as you'll see in the videos and photos. There should be some healthy debate. We have may have discovered a Gap in Human Knowledge.

We can safely rule out "no difference" and "warm risers." I would argue that warm air doesn't lift bubbles higher because the air cools very quickly, and also the elastic walls of the bubble instantly expand to keep the pressure gradient constant. In other words, the air in the bubble can't stay less dense than the surrounding air long enough to lift it up. Soap bubbles are always heavier than air; bubbles only rise with air currents.

The descriptions involving hard frozen spheres in #2 and #5 are pure invention and wishful thinking. I'm not a chemist, but my understanding is that the glycerin which helps form the bubble membrane also interferes with the formation of the molecular latticework needed for hard crystalline freezing. If there was a way to produce a bubble with some other chemical additive, a hard-frozen bubble might be possible.

Can bubbles hold a shape or give the appearance of being frozen? Here's a video, which clearly shows frozen bubbles rolling on a carpet, making it impossible to rule out the hard-frozen globe choices. My impression, though, is that the bubbles are still a bit leathery and not hard like ice or glass.

The solid freezing argument also seems to be supported by this YouTube video, but it's a bit inconclusive:

What happens when the bubble pops? For reference, here's what a soap bubble does when it pops at room temperature. The aperature opens around the sphere in a moving front of scattering droplets:

In very cold temperatures, the popping behavior is unexpected. Like a tired "day-after-the-birthday-party" latex balloon, the action is often slow enough to be observable.

In temperatures of -25 Fahrenheit, the bubble rips open and sometimes stays together, falling delicately like a torn gray bag. At 15 below, it breaks up into floating ash-like shreds, looking like fairies, as Amanda remembered from her childhood in northern Illinois.

Finally, here's a great link with really gorgeous still photos.

They say it will get to a few degrees below zero this Sunday. Those of us in the Frozen North, get your bubble stuff and cameras ready!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

With the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, it's a day of great hope for America, and for the world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Cliché and the Surprise

I know, I know. A lighthouse is a tiresome cliché. Haven’t we seen a thousand paintings of lighthouses just like this one? It’s like other well-worn motifs——the barn or the fishing boat. It can be hard to find a twist or a connection to make it interesting.

But I was tired from walking for four miles along Gibraltar, and I just plunked down and painted it from the first angle I saw it from. There was nothing interesting or unusual about the painting. I was just thinking as I painted the lighthouse how the brave lighthouse keeper had protected ships from the dangers of the coast.

Imagine my surprise when I finished the painting, packed up my stuff and walked a hundred yards farther. Hidden behind the level of the bluff was a jaw-dropping shipwreck. In the foreground was a junkyard of refrigerators inhabited by wild monkeys. Motifs everywhere! But I had to go catch a plane.

I guess the lesson is to take a minute to walk once around the motif before you get started.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sub-Zero Bubbles

The temperature plunged to 15 below zero Fahrenheit (-26C) yesterday morning. Here at GJ Laboratories, we wondered what happens to soap bubbles in such extreme subfreezing temperatures.

Before reporting to you on the results of the experiment, let’s see if you can guess which of the following phenomena actually happened:

1. WARM RISERS. The warm air from my breath made the bubbles rise upward to the height of the treetops. Some drifted out of sight and others popped as they touched the branches.

2. MILKY SPHERES. The bubbles turned opaque after about five seconds and froze into delicate white ice spheres. They drifted gradually downward, cracking or breaking silently when they touched the snowy ground.

3. NO DIFFERENCE. There was no observable difference from the behavior of bubbles at subzero and normal temperatures.

4. “PLASTIC” SHREDS. The bubbles floated for a while and then popped, but they popped in slow motion, turning into droopy sacs or ashen wisps like shredded plastic bags, rather than a spray of droplets.

5. CRYSTAL GLOBES. Most of the bubbles popped right away, but a few froze hard and clear with a pattern of frostwork forming from the top down. They stayed in that state for about 30 seconds. After that, the sunlight made the ice sublimate, opening up a hole on the top half of each bubble. The bottom half fell like a cup and dissoved into vapor before it could hit the ground.

Please vote in the poll at left to choose the true answer and explain your thinking in the comments. I'll give the answer on Wednesday, Jan 21. If any Canadians or Scandinavians want to come up with your own experimental results, I will post the best photos or YouTube videos.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andrew Wyeth: Absence and Presence

To mark the passing of Andrew Wyeth yesterday, I’d like to focus on just one aspect of his paintings: his instinct for removing elements from his compositions.

When he started planning “Groundhog Day,” above, there was a German Shepherd and a figure in the foreground, instead of a table setting.

Wyeth recalled, “I kept working on the dog and then I started doing the window. Then the dog disappeared.”

He got interested in the table and the wallpaper. “Then the dog came back,” he said. He worked restlessly on the image, and then decided to remove the dog for good, keeping the memory of the dog in “the ragged, chopped, sharp sliver part of the log,” and the knife on the table, which for him represented the dog’s fangs.

Wyeth believed that elements that he removed from a picture still remained as a phantom presence.

Howard Pyle, his father’s teacher, once said, “No one will ever shoot you for what you leave out of a picture.”

In the painting “Brown Swiss,” (detail, above) Wyeth deleted the windows from the left side of the Kuerner’s farmhouse, as evidenced by the photo of the actual building. He also erased or downplayed the stone wall and the road below the house.

Other artists in the past have recognized the power of eliminating elements. When Rembrandt began to develop his etching “Ecce Homo: Christ Presented to the People,” in 1655 (left), he crowded the scene with figures. Later he realized that the image would have more power if he burnished out most of the crowd. The final state of the etching (right) takes on more drama with less baggage.

Andrew Wyeth has gotten up from the table and left behind an empty chair. But his impish spirit will forever haunt the space and the silence.
Addendum 1/18/09
There's a good sum-up of Wyeth's career at Charley Parker's blog Lines and Colors.
Michael Kimmelman's obituary in the New York Times, link.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Forgotten Master: Hiremy-Hirschl

The reputation of artist Adolf Hiremy-Hirschl (1860-1933) has been unjustly mired in obscurity.

He was born in Hungary and emigrated as a boy to Vienna, where he was trained as a history painter at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts under the orientalist Leopold Karl Müller. He joined the Visual Artists Cooperative and became friendly with Gustav Klimt, before Klimt departed to form the Vienna Secession.

Hiremy-Hirschl had a promising start to his career, with Salon honors, a scholarship to Rome, and travels to Egypt. But a scandalous love affair with a married woman ostracized him from the Viennese social circle, and he left to live in Rome.

Many of his works are concerned with a sublime and sensual decadence. For example, the painting Ahasuerus at the End of the World, (1888) shows the legendary Wandering Jew as the last man in the polar desert, caught between the angel of Hope and the spectre of Death. Before him lies a fallen female figure, the personification of Dead Humanity, surrounded by grisly crows.

In 1898 he painted Souls on the Banks of the Acheron ("Die Seelen des Acheron" Austrian Gallery, Vienna.) Click the image to enlarge.

The mythological figure of Hermes Psychopompos stands at the edge of the river of the dead, facing a throng of recently deceased souls who implore him to save them from the last trip to Hades.

A 1984 essay* by Gert Schiff says:

“They are all in a state of extreme agitation; only a few children and a couple petrified by despair do not share in the general frenzy. The figures are crowned with roses and daffodills and have the dishevelled look of bacchantes in ecstasy…There is an aesthetic of horror as well as an aesthetic of hedonism."

*Schiff’s essay is from an exhibition catalog “Adolf Hiremy-Hirschl: The Beauty of Decline,” Roger Ramsay Gallery, 1984.
More samples of his work on Deviant Art, link.
Additional biographical material at Humrich Fine Art, link.
More on Wikipedia about the Wandering Jew legend and the Acheron.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Art By Committee: Keep an Eye Out

Many of you have asked that we bring back the group sketch game called "Art By Committee," which was in hiatus during a busy fall and winter.

For those new to the game, the way it works is that I share an actual excerpt from a science fiction manuscript and you come up with a way to visualize it. To view previous games, follow this link.

The quote this time is “I should stay here and keep an eye out.”

To make the game easier on all of us, Andy W suggested that we make it once a month instead of once a week. (Check out Andy's blog "Panel Discussion," where he offers his new Eclectic Comics, where he has published work that he's done for Art By Committee.)

And Dave H suggested that to save bandwidth you put the contest entries on a photo filesharing setup like Photobucket, and I can link to your entry from the blog post. Maybe in the comments one of you can explain better how this should work.

So let's try it! Please send me either a link to your full-size file and a JPG of 200 pixels across and please compress it as much as possible. Title it with your name, email it to: jgurneyart(at), subject line ABC, and let me know in your email the full URL of the link to your blog or website if you have one (even if you gave it to me before). Please have your entries in by Thursday the 12th of February at 10:00 AM Eastern Time USA, and I’ll put them up on the 15th.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Recent experiments by Beatrice de Gelder of Tilburg University in the Netherlands showed that a blind man in Switzerland could respond to the visual world without his conscious awareness.

“TN,” as he is known, has a unique condition. His occipital lobe, the part of the brain responsible for seeing, was damaged by two strokes, but his eyes still function normally.

When he was asked to navigate past a series of obstacles, he responded successfully. The researchers ruled out auditory or other non-visual perception. Apparently, TN was using a subconcious type of vision. He could not form an image in the conventional sense.

“Blindsight” is the ability to see at the subcortical level, where images are processed by the amygdala and other primitive parts of the brain. As the New York Times put it: “The brain has a primitive, subconscious visual system working in tandem with our conscious visual sense.”

Other experiments have shown that blind-seeing patients also respond emotionally to social signals like angry faces, even though they’re not aware of seeing them at all.

What are the implications of these revelations for us as artists? Even though our visual systems are intact, there is a deep part of us that responds to basic images—things like barriers that we might bump into, sources of illumination, or faces that might threaten us.

We’ve all experienced related phenomena. It happens when we react viscerally to something that looks like a snake or an insect, making us recoil a split second before we consciously register the object. It happens when we look at an optical illusion that persists in “fooling” our rational mind. It happens when a painting or a book cover “speaks” to us from across the room before we’re even aware of it.

Vision is more than just a function of rational awareness. It is also a profound ocean of experience, with strange stirrings that move us deep below the surface.
Article in the Guardian, link.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

West Clare Graveyard

I woke up before dawn in Kilnaboy, County Clare, Ireland to paint this graveyard. The church was in ruin behind me. Three gravestones with Celtic crosses rose up from the overgrown grass to be blessed by the first rosy light of morning.

Monday, January 12, 2009

James Perry Wilson’s Dioramas, Part 2

In the midst of World Wart II, a young soldier wrote a series of letters to James Perry Wilson, painter of the illusionistic diorama backdrops for the American Museum of Natural History in New York (see yesterday's post). Mr. Wilson replied with valuable insights about his approach to color and atmosphere:

“It is one of the fundamental principles of aerial perspective that the dark tones of a landscape are the first ones affected by the interposed veil of atmosphere.

“A green tree in the foreground, for instance, will appear dark green in the shadows; but you don’t have to get very far away from it before that green disappears entirely, especially if you are looking toward the sun. In the middle distance the shadow areas in the foliage will take on a violet tone, while the sunlit parts are only a little cooler green than they are close up.

“At a distance of several miles this violet will become more and more blue. By this time air will have begun to affect the sunlit parts also, and the green will begin to disappear. A forest-covered mountain fifteen or twenty miles away, in clear air, will probably appear of a violet hue; but if it is fifty or sixty miles, it will be a clear pale blue.

“Another thing to remember is the effect of air on values. Here again it is the darkest tones that are affected first. The deep shadows and the halftones melt together, while the detail is still distinct in the highlights. As the distance increases, both dark and light objects approach the sky in value; but the light objects will hold out the longest.

Objects lighter than the sky grow darker as they recede, instead of lighter, and they grow warmer instead of cooler. You can observe this on a clear day when there are cumulus clouds in the sky. As the clouds recede they become yellowish, and those away off in the distance will be pinkish. (Note: the above image is the painted background from a Peabody Museum diorama.)

“The reason for this diverse behavior of light and dark objects is to be found in the fact that the air absorbs and scatters light of the shorter wavelengths toward the blue and violet end of the spectrum, while transmitting the reds and yellows whose wavelength is longer. Toward sunset, when the slanting rays of sunlight have to traverse a thicker layer of air, still longer wavelengths are filtered out and the sun appears red.

“Do you remember the band of pinkish light across the top of the mountain in the Jaguar group? What happens here is that all the blues are filtered out high up in the sky, and by the time the sunlight reaches the lower air and falls in front of the mountain, it is decidedly reddish. So you are looking at the mountain through a reddish veil instead of a bluish one.

“The most important thing to remember in painting a sunset effect is to keep all your tones harmonious and consistent. And if you have bright clouds, yellow or rose-colored in the blue sky, don’t paint your sky too blue. Keep the blue very quiet. That way your clouds will appear much more brilliant and luminous.”

Color Palettes
According to his assistant, Ruth Morrill, Wilson used the following nine colors, along with Permalba white.

Ultramarine blue
Cobalt blue
Windsor blue
Cadmium yellow pale
Cadmium yellow deep
Yellow Ochre
Indian red
Cadmium scarlet
Alizarin crimson

“He could make anything he wanted from those colors,” Ruth Morrill said. He did not use black and only rarely used browns. He regularly premixed graduated tints of each of the primaries on his palette before commencing to paint.

According to one of Wilson’s letters, the entire distance of the Connecticut shoreline diorama (above) was painted with ultramarine, light red and yellow ochre. “It is astonishing what variety you can get with these three,” he wrote, “especially since both the red and the yellow are rather subdued colors. I recommend your experimenting to see what you can do with just these three. They are bound to impart a mellow quality to the greens, which is a good thing.”
More information
As blog reader Armand Cabrera pointed out, there’s a good article on JPW in American Art Review, December 2000. There’s another detailed article in the Peabody Museum publication Curator, October 2000. Both articles are written by Michael Anderson, who has compiled 20 years of research about Wilson. I am grateful to him and Ruth Morrill for sharing their unpublished interview material.

Jaguar image courtesy Supreme Fiction, which has an interview with Stephen Quinn about the art of the diorama, link.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

James Perry Wilson’s Dioramas, Part 1

When you stand in front of a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it feels like you’re looking into miles of real space.

But just beyond the taxidermied animals and the fake twigs and leaves, you’re really gazing at a painting on a vertical wall just a few feet away from you. The slightest wrong color note or eyecatching brushstroke would jump out and shatter the effect.

The artist who painted these illusions was James Perry Wilson (1889-1976), who established the highest standard ever reached in diorama backdrop painting.

His first training was in architecture. He was mainly self-taught as a landscape painter. He traveled to study the environments that he sought to portray, making stereo photographs and plein air paintings on location, often using a “widescreen” format with two or more adjacent canvases.

According to contemporary accounts, he occasionally removed his clothes in remote locations and painted in the nude.

He captured both the artistic and scientific truth of a particular locale, with painstaking accuracy of botanical, atmospheric, and geological detail.

In addition to his work in New York, he painted some of the dioramas for the Peabody Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, The Museum of Science in Boston, and the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

Every diorama has a “tie-in” area where the 3-D foreground comes up against the painted back wall. Nay-sayers had claimed that it’s impossible to represent water along the tie-in line. Rising to the challenge, Wilson designed the Connecticut shoreline diorama to feature a couple of areas with tie-ins crossing water areas, including the section above, where the painted illusion begins just beyond the turtle.

The full backdrop was often 35 feet wide or more, with a dome-shaped ceiling. This required large amounts of paint and careful mixtures. To make the perspective accurate across such a oddly curving surface, Wilson worked out a unique grid system that he called “the unsquare square” to compensate the foreshortening of the side sections.

Every backdrop was carefully planned using maquettes, color sketches, and full-size charcoals drawn on the backdrop before the final paint was applied. The tie-in area was the last section to be completed, and had to be painted with four-foot brushes after the foreground elements were in place.

Tomorrow I’ll share some rare notes and technical tips from JPW.
More on Wilson
Wilson’s dioramas have been lovingly preserved thanks to the efforts of Michael Anderson of the Yale Peabody Museum, link,
Stephen Quinn of the American MNH, link,
and Ruth Morrill, JPW’s former assistant and the widow of dioramist Ralph Morrill.

Stephen Quinn’s book Windows on Nature chronicles the story of the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History.

Continuation of this post: James Perry Wilson's Diorama's, Part 2.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mr. Moha of Aït Benhaddou

Beyond the Grand Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the kasbahs are made from a reddish brown mudbrick, what we would call adobe in North America.

In the fortified city of Aït Benhaddou, I met Assofi Moha, a Berber man who sold leather and brass handicrafts to the occasional tourist.

He sat on a short stool in the sunny alley. I sat across from him, and when he saw me sitting on the ground, he took the little cushion off his own stool and offered it to me. We got talking and he agreed to pose for a quick watercolor portrait. The bright sun cast dark shadows from his features.

When the portrait was finished, I handed him a fountain pen, and he wrote his name.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Nacreous Cloud

Laurent Alquier, a connoisseur of unusual atmospheric phenomena, sent me this photo from his collection, with the following comment:

This is a case of Nacreous Cloud, horizontal rainbow diffused throughout a cloud layer. Apparently, these can be seen in northern countries closer to the pole.

More on nacreous or polar stratospheric clouds, link.
This photo is from the website Dark Roasted Blend, link

Spherical Panoramas

If you’re a visual person, and you haven’t yet experienced a spherical panorama, you’re in for a treat. It's also called Quicktime VR or QTVR.

A spherical panorama is a photographic representation of the full 360-degree field of vision. Using a special camera apparatus and a photo-stitching technique, an array of photos taken from a single point of observation are seamlessly mapped across the surface of a sphere or cube surrounding the viewer.

The photo above is really just a flattened cylindrical panorama, because it's just as hard to convey a spherical panorama in one illustration as it is to show a map of the globe on a flat piece of paper.

Using a special plugin from QuickTime (resident on a Mac, and downloadable for other computers), you can control your direction of view, and in some cases, you can zoom closer to any given region of the picture.

A good place to start is the website “spherical panoramas” Link.
You can also find various images on “Fullscreen Quicktime Virtual Reality” Link.
Quicktime site: link.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Elvis didn't invent "cool."

“Sprezzatura” is a term coined by Baldassare Castiglione in 1528 in The Book of the Courtier. It describes the cool, confident attitude often expressed in the portraiture of the time. The classic example is Raphael’s portrait of Castiglione himself.

Illustrator Shirley Hughes, in her memoir A Life Drawing suggests that discoveries of serious-looking Roman busts during the Renaissance led to a taste for the "devil may care" look in portraiture.

The word is related to the Italian “sprezzante,” meaning contemptuous or scornful, used here in the sense of disdaining effort. The goal is a certain nonchalance or carelessness, as if one’s mastery arrived almost by accident, and certainly not through any struggle.

At various times in history, artists have tried to capture this particular attitude, both in the disposition of their subjects and in their handling of paint. Sargent accomplished it in his portrait of his teacher Carolus Duran.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Rearranging Art Books

Today I rearranged the art books in my home library.

Before this, I had the monographs segregated in separate sections, the way they do in bookstores and libraries. There was one section for illustrators and another for 19th Century European artists and another old masters and another for children’s book artists.

But I had a feeling that all of my artist heroes would have enjoyed each other’s company if they were sitting together in the same pub. So why not put the books together under one alphabetical listing? They're also much easier to find this way.

Now Hals is rubbing shoulders with Homer, Rockwell is sitting next to Sargent, and Shepard is consorting with Sorolla. I wish I could hear what they’re talking to each other about.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Humdrum Life

Kirsten, an art student in San Francisco, wrote to ask what life is really like as a freelance artist.

Well, Kirsten, not all of my time is spent at the easel. And not much of it is spent in limousines, private jets, or with butlers or masseuses. Here’s a little slice of ordinary life, starting with a slide down the driveway to the post office.

The little package in our mailbox arrived from the “Sweatshop Elves,” who are occasional commentators on this blog. Thanks, Elves!

They have perfected a mysterious culture-jamming craze using origami cranes. The little package contained 26 tiny cranes, which we’ll hide in plain sight during our future travels. Watch for them!