Monday, April 26, 2010

Lovell’s Painting Advice

Between 1986 to 1995, I corresponded with veteran illustrator Tom Lovell (1909-1997), asking him some specific questions about his approach to composition and color.

For those of you who don’t know his work, Tom Lovell illustrated for the pulps and all the top magazines, and he did some legendary illustrations for National Geographic before he headed out west to paint western subjects.

He wrote back with helpful tips that I’d like to share with you over the next few days.


“A good general rule is that color obtains in the light. Areas lose richness as they move into shadow. Restated: shadows tend toward the complement.

Look for movement in color—warm to cool, light to dark. It is all around us: sky, earth, grass, walls, etc. Areas will go back in space if slight amounts of complement are added.

Use of heavy reds tend to flatten out the illusion of depth.”
Above: "Rendezvous with a Traitor", illustration from Colliers, oil, 21 x 16 inches. From Leif Peng’s Lovell tearsheet collection.
Previously on GJ: Color Obtains in the Light.

Tomorrow: Lovell on Flesh Tones and Design


armandcabrera said...

Lovell is one of my favorite illustrators, the stuff he did for Nat Geo is awesome. Great advice can't wait for more.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Armand. Everyone who likes GurneyJourney will love Armand's painting blog, "Art and Influence" which has a fascinating new post on how to handle green.

Dave said...

Lovell is one of the best and his Western work–––I remember seeing along time ago–––and in some ways his bush work, it's sureness, is a great deal like that of Sargents.

Unknown said...


Easily one of the best color theorist illustrators of old. I wished they'd collect his illustration work pre-civil war motif days.

Can't wait to read more, James.


Unknown said...

Exciting! Pulp fiction art has always looked fun to me, even though I was little in Lovell's later years =)

Here's a question, though: I want to head in the scientific illustration direction, but I'm really more comfortable drawing and in Photoshop than painting. Might this cause a problem?

Unknown said...

PS: while looking up Lovell, I found you too!

goat89 said...

Wow! Never knew him, but its open a whole new world! Thanks Mr Gurney!

Julia Lundman said...

Oh thank you for posting this series! I love Lovell as well.

One quote caught my eye because it demonstrates the vast differences between artists' handling of color:

'Use of heavy reds tend to flatten out the illusion of depth.'

I painted with Richard Schmid long ago in Chicago, where I observed his heavy use of Rembrandt brand Transparent Oxide Red...he uses it in shadows for many subjects from figures to landscapes to brilliant effect!