Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Grand Central Academy

Most people think of drawing as a form of personal expression, a mark of individual style. But before the twentieth century, drawing was regarded more as a basic way to understand the world, a path of knowledge that was unavailable to the casual observer. If you could draw, the world’s secrets would open to you.

According to art historian Barbara Anderman, “Seventeenth-century French art theorists…conceived of drawing as the means by which the intellect could apprehend reality, before the imagination could render it with expression.”

This sense of drawing as a path to a special kind of knowledge infuses the Grand Central Academy in New York City. The drawing is by Ariel Zabloski.

The art school is on the sixth floor of an 1880s building, which it shares with the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America (ICA & CA). The Grand Central Academy and its forerunner, the Water Street Atelier, were both founded by Jacob Collins. Above, Spencer Brainard copies a plate from the Charles Bargue Drawing course.

According to its website, the school “was created by professional, exhibiting artists to offer classical training to serious students.”

The GCA includes an impressive roster of teachers, such as Travis Schlaht and Edward Minoff. One of Mr. Collins’s students was Juliette Aristides, who wrote the Classical Painting Atelier.

Students at the Grand Central Academy begin by copying line drawings and plaster casts. The casts of Renaissance and antique sculpture come from the 200-cast collection of the ICA & CA, who acquired them from the Metropolitan Museum.

On one wall is a set of cubby holes with plaster noses, ears, and eyes that you can check out and study. Tacked up on the wall are various drawings and paintings by students and masters alike.

Angela Cunningham was in the process of painting this amazing oil copy of a polychromed head. The light over each work area is shielded so that it doesn’t spill over into the adjacent space. The windows are blacked out, giving the studios the feeling of a secret laboratory.

To supplement the classes in observational work, the GCA offers special courses in anatomy, sculpture, perspective and art history.

But the foundation of everything at the GCA is close observation. “I believe in a late introduction of anatomy,” Mr. Collins told me, explaining that he didn’t want any system of analysis to get in the way of pure seeing.

The school has set a high ambition: “to offer a public place for the revival of the classical art tradition; to foster and support a community of artists in pursuit of aesthetic refinement, a high level of skill and beauty.”
Grand Central Academy, link.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Imaginative Realism

I’ve been waiting to tell you the good news: This September Andrews McMeel Publishing will be releasing a book that I have written based on this blog.

I was waiting to tell you until the cover was finalized. It just came in! Here’s what the book looks like. The book is called Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist. It’s a big book: 224 pages, 400 illustrations. Andrews McMeel will be doing a beautiful job of production, and they are keeping the price down to $24.99.

This is the main project I’ve been working on during the last year. The material comes from my art school lectures and also from this blog. The reason I wrote the book—and this blog—is that there’s a lot of information that I think is crucial to imaginative picturemaking but I’ve never been able to find it in how-to art books.

Adapting material from a blog into a book turned out to be a much, much bigger job than I first imagined. They’re two different animals, though I tried to keep some of the blog’s informal and practical tone.

A lot of the material in the book has never before been published and hasn’t even been seen on this blog.

The spark for doing the book grew out of a discussion on this very blog a year ago last February, where you all shared profound insights about what you liked in an art book. I have learned so much from you all, and I hope you’ll see that reflected in the book.

I’ll tell you more about Imaginative Realism in future posts.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Growing Princess

The Belgian filly named Princess is getting bigger and stronger day by day. I bring my sketchbook on the morning walk and try to do a sketch each day.
She's in constant motion, so I find I have to try to observe her so that I internalize her form, choose a pose, and then draw her from memory. She has a very slender muzzle and undeveloped chewing muscles in her cheeks. I love the curly brown mane and the fuzzy topknot.

The sketches are done with water-soluble colored pencils.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Theory of Sacrifices

One idea at the core of nineteenth century painting is known as the Theory of Sacrifices. A poetic quality, it was believed, comes from the sacrifice of needless detail.

As one writer put it: “Nature instills sentiments in the spectator through the selective sacrifice of details in order to improve the overall effect.”

Jules Breton said: “Painters without experience often weaken the effect they wish to produce by a prodigality which multiplies uselessly the figures and accessories of a picture. It will not be long before they learn that, the greater the conciseness and simplicity with which a thought is interpreted, the more it gains in expressive force.”

Image: "Song of the Lark" by Jules Breton.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Real Lee Crabb

The guy who modeled for Lee Crabb, the sneaky malcontent in Dinotopia, is an old friend named David Starrett. He is pretty craggy, but he’s a lot more handsome than the character I turned him into. He is the son of the famous western character actor Charles Starrett.

Dave Starrett has taught art for many years at various art schools in Los Angeles. Jeanette and I knew him mainly as a sketching and an art museum buddy.

He would pick us up in his old VW camper van, which he called the Foxmobile. We’d go over to the Huntington Library to look at paintings. He pulled all these mirrors and flashlights and viewscopes out of his pocket until the guards put us on a close watch.

While standing in front of a painting, he would make up stories about the artist: “Gainsborough lost an arm in a sword fight and had to switch to painting with his other arm…Renoir did this entire painting while standing in six inches of coconut milk in a bathtub.” Museum goers would tag along to hear the juicy tidbits.

That was before the days of those gawdawful preprogrammed audio guides, which turn museum-goers into mindless zombies.

Then we’d go out painting in the gardens out back. Sometimes a flock of foreign tourists would come by and ask him, “Are you an artist?”

“No, I’m a plumber,” he’d snap back. “Just finished putting in a commode.”

Friday, April 24, 2009

Concert Sketching

I'm always a little nervous to haul out my sketching gear during a highbrow concert, like this a capella madrigal event at Vassar College. You don't want to be scratching away on a big charcoal pad, or knocking over jugs of water in some lady's lap.

So I recommend this technique, which is super-quiet and low key. You just get two brushpens, one with brown or gray and the other with black. Do a quick pencil layin, and just draw the figures as shapes rather than lines.
The fountain pen ink in the waterbrushes goes on silently. It works nicely with the all-black costumes they wear at classical concerts. And when they turn the house lights way down low you can still see what you're doing. These figures are only about two inches tall, and in the low light I could hardly see what I was doing.

No matter how carefully I hold onto the stuff in my left hand I always manage to drop a pencil under someone's seat.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

U of T Biomedical Communication

The University of Toronto offers a graduate study program for people who love art and also have a background in biology, physiology, anatomy, or nursing.

Nick Woolridge showed Jeanette and me the large collection of medical illustrations by various artists, including original drawings by the German medical illustrator Max Brödel from the venerable Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy (1943).

The 32 students in the Biomedical Communications program learn the time-honored technique of carbon dust on clay-coated board. They also master 2D digital techniques and 3D animation.

Graduates of the program work for animation studios, book publishers, pharmaceutical companies, and documentary producers. “This is art as applied to medicine,” Mr. Woolridge said.

The two-year Master of Science graduate program in Biomedical Communication is part of the U of T’s Institute of Medical Science and is only one of five accredited programs of its kind in North American and the only one in Canada.

The five members of full-time faculty works closely with experts in the University of Toronto's medical school, giving the students a chance to have their work reviewed and critiqued by specialists like surgeons, pathologists, and immunologists.

During the tour we visited Grant’s Anatomy Museum, which houses the original dissections made for J.B. Grant’s An Atlas of Anatomy (1943). Obviously I couldn’t take photographs there, but the collection includes dozens of partially-dissected and cross-sectioned human cadavers preserved in clear fluid, each illuminated from above within a darkened room. The atmosphere in the room was hushed and focused, and students were drawing from the exhibits.

Students also have access to the operating rooms of nine of Toronto’s teaching hospitals where they can observe and sketch during surgery. Surgeons-in-training need the work of artists to clarify forms that cameras can’t see.
Website for UofT’s Biomedical Communications, link.
Teaching facilities, link.
Thanks, Nick and Gordon!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Meatball, the Squirrel

Every afternoon, my friends put a pile of sunflower seeds on their kitchen windowsill. Three different squirrels come to gorge. The one they call Meatball was just two feet away from me as he dined, and allowed me to sketch his portrait.

Meatball has beautiful little fingers, and he grabs the seeds one by one in his fists.

At my house I don’t leave out food for the squirrels, at least not intentionally. But they get into my bird feeder anyway.

They’re not the stupid rodents I first thought them to be. They can beat almost any bird feeder baffle that I can devise for them.

Have a look at the Kung Fu Squirrel on YouTube.

I wish I could understand the squirrel mind better. I feel a basic sympathy for a dog’s or a bird’s mental state and thought process.

But I have no idea what the squirrel is thinking. They seem to be driven by a mysterious combination of determination and paranoia...and now and then a fierce Killer Instinct.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sotheby's 19th Century Preview

The rain and wind joined forces during our visit to New York City yesterday. As my umbrella turned inside out, I looked a bit like this watercolor by Maurice Leloir.

We got to Sotheby's auction house, which is currently hosting a preview exhibition of approximately 120 lots of 19th century European painting, including "A Bashi-Basouk and His Dog" by Jean-Léon Gérôme, (1824 - 1904).

There was also a large Jules Breton, called "Washerwomen of the Breton Coast" estimated to fetch between $400,000 and $600,000. Bouguereau, Waterhouse, Godward, Sanchez-Perrier, and Monsted are also well represented on the upcoming April 24 auction.

If you like the kind of art on this blog, I recommend checking out Sotheby's previews, where you can see the kind of paintings that museums often don't feature.

More about the 19th C. auction at ArtDaily, link.
Event details and browse catalog at Sotheby', link.
The Leloir is not in the auction, but the other two paintings are.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Recognizing Faces

Whenever I walk through an airport far from home, I’m struck by all the strange faces. Endless new variations of features and head shapes present themselves. I know with certainty that I never have seen any of them before.

Where does that certainty come from? How do I separate familiar faces from strange ones?

Like everyone else I probably have a few thousand faces filed away in my memory banks. There are the people I see regularly in my daily rounds. And then there are the famous people from the movies or in the magazines. I rarely see those famous people in real life, but I still recognize them at a glance from a blurry photo or from a caricature.

I can recognize all these thousands of faces at any angle, in any lighting, and with any facial expression. I unconsciously adjust my mental image of each face as each person grows older, grows a mustache, or gets a new haircut.

If I don’t see a teenager for a few years, I often don’t recognize them at all. They become, for a moment, strangers. That experience is jarring for me, and it must be a strange experience for the teenagers, too.

As we glance at the faces of people walking on a busy sidewalk in our hometown, we automatically check each face to see whether the person is an acquaintance or a stranger. Our behavior changes accordingly. We greet those we know and pass over the rest.

Aside from categorizing people according to gender, the division of people into the two sets of acquaintances and strangers must be one of the deepest unconscious tasks of visual perception.

Jules Breton once observed of his beloved Paris:
“It is a singular fact that when I am in Paris I fancy I recognize the faces of those I meet in the streets. I do not experience this feeling in any other city. This is because Paris reunites the various types one has seen elsewhere, and which strike one like old acquaintances, made one does not remember where.”

Image courtesy: link.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Solomon J. Solomon

The most popular painting in yesterday’s Samson and Delilah poll was Solomon Solomon (60 votes), the artist who was so nice they named him twice.

I was impressed with all your comments about that painting and the others. The next highest vote-getter was the Matthias Stom (39 votes). The best known old masters: Rubens (13), Van Dyck 2 (11), and Rembrandt (6) were far behind, but as some of you pointed out, I overlooked an important Rembrandt, "The Blinding of Samson," link.

So who is this guy Solomon Solomon, and why are there are no books on him?

Well, the good news is that there’s a book by him, and it’s one of the best books on classical painting. It’s got the rather clunky title: “The Practice of Oil Painting and of Drawing As Associated With It.”

What’s even better, Solomon’s manual on oil painting is available for a free download here. To give you an idea of the content, here’s a plate showing “A Method of Painting for Grisaille Preparation or for Direct Colour.”

1. The outline brushed in.
2. The middle tones.
3. Higher lights and shadows added while wet.
4. The whole brushed together, broadened, and completed with a full brush.

Here's what Wikipedia says about him:

Solomon's painting was grounded in his influence from his teacher Alexandre Cabanel, but was also influenced by Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Solomon painted mainly portraits to earn a living, but also painted dramatic, theatrical scenes from mythology and the bible on large canvasses. These scenes include some of his more popular paintings. One of Solomon's most popular works was Samson (1887), depicting a scene from the biblical story of Samson and Delilah.[3] This painting was praised for its use of multiple male nudes in active poses.[4] Samson is one of few Solomon paintings on regular display, at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.[3] Some other Solomon paintings that have received significant attention include Ajax and Cassandra and The Birth of Love (1896).

More on Solomon Solomon at Wikipedia, link.
Seven images by SJS at ARC: link.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Samson and Delilah

The artists of the past were masters of visual storytelling. But which one is your favorite when it comes to Samson and Delilah?

In the famous story from Judges 16, Samson lets his wife Delilah know the secret of his God-given strength. If anyone cuts off his hair, he will lose his power. Delilah leaks the secret to Samson’s enemies, the Philistines. As Samson sleeps, Delilah—or one of her servants—cuts his seven locks. The Philistines arrive to bind him and put out his eyes.

Let’s look at how six different artists interpret the tragic tale.

Anthony Van Dyck shows Samson sleeping heavily on his wife’s fine dress as her servant closes in with the scissors. (Van Dyck 1)

Van Dyck’s alternate version shows Samson wakened to the reality of his betrayal as the cords of the Philistines tighten round him. (Van Dyck 2)

Matthias Stom gives Delilah the scissors. His picture is a psychological study, with a low hidden light source adding to the mystery and intrigue.

Court displays Samson awake. His muscle-bound body is parallel to the picture plane. Each of his antagonists grasps him at a different point. He himself reaches back to find his hair has been cut off.

Rembrandt shows Delilah with Samson asleep in her lap. She turns back to the man with the shears, who is spotlit behind her.

Peter Paul Rubens painting gives emphasis to the heavily muscled back and arm of Samson draped across Delilah as her servant delicately does his deed.

Solomon Solomon creates a volcano of energy by uniting three figures into a single shape. Delilah waves the lock of hair with cruel glee as Samson writhes against his captors.
UPDATE: I conducted a blog poll to see which was the readers' favorite and the winner was Solomon Solomon with 60 votes. The next highest vote-getter was the Matthias Stom (39 votes). The best known old masters: Rubens (13), Van Dyck 2 (11), and Rembrandt (6) were far behind, but as some of you pointed out, I overlooked an important Rembrandt, "The Blinding of Samson," link.

Friday, April 17, 2009


It was a crazy idea. Why not put a flip book into a paperback novel?

After I designed the cover for a science fiction book Quozl by Alan Dean Foster (1989, Berkley Books), I proposed including an animated sequence inside the pages of the book.

The story was about long-eared aliens called quozls that come to Earth and end up starring in a Saturday morning cartoon. It seemed a perfect reason to try out the flip book idea.

I did 100 pen and ink drawings for the animated sequence. It starts out with a spacecraft landing. The hatch open and a quozl climbs out. It walks over to a skateboard, steps onto it, does a flip, and ends up sitting on the skateboard.

The press technicians worked hard to keep the pages lined up so that the animation didn’t jump around too much.

If the idea didn’t become more widespread, perhaps it was just because it was just too much work and too much cost.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Old Peg Leg

On Tuesday I went into Kingston, New York, to renew my driver's license. Afterward I stopped to do a watercolor-pencil sketch of J. Massey Rhind's sculpture of "Old Peg Leg" Peter Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant the last director-general of New Holland. He lost his leg in 1644 and replaced it with a wooden peg stuck full of silver nails.

In a previous GJ post on bronze weathering, I showed an oil study of Rhind's sculpture of Governor Clinton.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Art By Committee: Tookah

The 15th of the month is the day for a group sketch game called "Art by Committee." I share an excerpt from a science fiction story and you visualize it.

This month's quote was:
“Behind the bar, polishing four glasses at the same time with his blue tentacles, was the Tookah. Two of his three eyes didn’t bother to look up, but it was the third one, the upper eye, the sleepy one that appears bored by everything but never misses anything. That one sleepily looked over at me and then blinked and opened wide.”

This time I didn’t use a quote from a science fiction novel. Instead, the excerpt is from a radio play called “The Tookah's Tales” by Tom Lopez of ZBS Foundation.

Your solutions were, as always, a delightful surprise. We all had the challenge of figuring out how to clean out four bar glasses with four tentacles.

Mark Heng

Mei-Yi Chun

Daniel Zhang

Andy Wales

Rob Hummer

Marisa Bryan

Roberta Baird

Michael Geissler



Jeremy HughesLink to Blog.

Arthur Keegan

And the one that Jeanette and I did.

The next quote for May is: “The harper began to sing. His deep voice was fine and sweet, eloquently expressing his intent. He sang of the bitterness of defeat and the gut-wrenching carnage of war. He sang of boys…”

Have fun! Please scale your JPG to 300 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 in all its glory and learn more about your other work. Please have your entries in by the 12th of May. I'll post the results May 15.
If you like bizarre science fiction audio adventures, check out "The Tookah's Tales" by ZBS link.

Tom Lopez adapted Dinotopia to the world of audio: link.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seneca College

Imagine an art school where they bring a tiger to pose as a model.

Or they let you draw outdoors from an armored knight on a draft horse.

Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario offers a certificate program in art fundamentals that covers drawing, illustration, design, color theory, photography and art history. Students can then follow degree programs in a wide range of art specialties, including animation, game art, and 3D digital animation.

Taught by working professional artists, the program is designed to give aspiring artists the tools they need to communicate visually.
One of Seneca’s instructors is Werner Zimmermann, who teaches life drawing. In his blog "Man4Art" he shares some of his off-the-cuff sketches, like this one of a dog and a cat on scrap paper.

He gives his students a deep understanding of anatomy by having them sculpt the muscle sets layer by layer from modeling clay.

After I gave my presentation, program coordinator Phillip Woolf posed for a quick portrait demonstration. Later, he explained his philosophies of art education.

“My teaching is an epic battle against shape and outline,” he said. He wants his students to get away from seeing the obvious outer facts of the model, but rather to explore “gesture, massing, and bulking of form,”….to “see structurally and draw structurally.”

Toronto is a competitive environment for art schools as well as being one of the major arts capitals of North America, with a host of leading animation studios.

Seneca has earned one of the finest reputations for the education it delivers to the motivated student. As Mr. Woolf said, “our graduates have all the techniques to take them on their own journey.”

Seneca's Art Fundamentals Program, link.
Seneca's Visual Arts Program, link.
More on building anatomy in clay, link. Thanks, Larry!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Deleted Scene from Dinotopia

Once in a while a picture idea goes all the way from the storyboard to the finished illustration before you realize it’s a dud.

Here’s a deleted scene from Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time (1992). Norah, the matriarch of Treetown is supposed to be having a conversation with a dinosaur.

There are a lot of problems with this picture. Both Norah and the dinosaur are talking at the same time. They don’t seem to exist in the same light or space. You can tell that I was looking at a snapshot of a model (Betty Ballantine) for the person, and I let the photo snuff out my imagination.

I didn’t have a clear idea of two characters driven by a real, emotional situation. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to say; I was just pushing paint around. When that happens, be merciless. Put the picture aside, or stick it on the Gallery Flambeau.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

En Loge Competition

Drawing plaster casts and nude models from observation was only a part of the French academic art curriculum in the 19th century.

The ultimate goal for most students, and the surest way to fame, was to win the Prix de Rome competition. If you won this contest, you were sent to Rome at government expense to study the old masters.

But winning it required a combination of memory and imagination.

To enter the Prix de Rome competition, you had to qualify by winning the concours d’esquisse, where students composed a painted sketch based on a theme provided by the professors. If you made it this far, you had already been sifted out of a large bunch of aspirants.

Then you went on to a captive sketch competition called the the concours de dessin, or ‘en loges,’ (the loge was an area of cubicles, illustrated above.)

The finalists were ranked and then sequestered into the little stalls. They were all assigned the same surprise theme, usually from Greek or Roman history, mythology, or the Bible.

They were given twelve hours to complete an outline drawing. They could not leave their cubicles, nor could they talk to anyone. (I assume they were given some bread, water, and a chamber pot.)

In 1876, the assignment was a scene from the Iliad: “Priam pleading for the body of his son Hector from Achilles.” The drawing below was submitted by Jules Bastien-Lepage.

When they finished the session, the professor signed and stamped their entry. The supervising professor in 1876 was W.A. Bouguereau, who won the contest himself with "Zenobia Discovered by Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes" (below) in 1850.

Then the students each were given 72 days to complete their paintings, using the full benefit of models, costumes, and props. But they could not deviate in any significant way from their sketches.

The paintings were then publicly exhibited and received the full scrutiny of critics, fellow students, professors, and the public. Joseph Wencker was criticized for changing the pose of the head of Achilles, but he won anyway.

Dagnan-Bouveret took second place.

Success in this competition required the ability to draw figures and compositions from memory and imagination. It also required a familiarity with hundreds of possible stories from the standard myths and biblical texts.

Most ateliers offered some form of imaginative sketch practice, and, according to A. Boime, “the results often reflected a verve and expression lacking in the other studies.”

For this post I drew information and images from three books that I've mentioned before: "The Studios of Paris" by John Milner, "The Academy and French Painting in the 19th Century" by Albert Boime, and "Against the Modern" by Gabriel Weisberg.

The painting at the top is by W.A. Bouguereau, "The Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs" from 1852 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, link.
Added later: Gallery of Prix de Rome subjects and images, Link. (Thanks, Saskia)

Book on Grand Prix de Rome, (Thanks, Darren) link.
Wikipedia on Prix de Rome, link.