Sunday, April 15, 2012

Everett Raymond Kinstler portrait demo

Yesterday I traveled to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to watch how a master paints an oil portrait. The three-hour event was offered in connection with the exhibition: “Everett Raymond Kinstler: Pulps to Portraits.”

Although I had a seat up front, I couldn’t see much of the canvas, so instead I sketched Mr. Kinstler from the back. Wearing his blue smock, he held his big wooden palette, with the easel and model directly beyond him. 

When he signed my little sketch later, he wrote, with characteristic humor and modesty, “Jim: You’ve captured my best angle.”

As he proceeded to lay in the light and shadow shapes on the blue-gray toned canvas, he regaled the audience with hilarious stories about his encounters with famous subjects such as Katherine Hepburn, Theodore Geisel, and Eric Sloane. 

Mr. Kinstler’s model, Lila Berle, posed under a high spotlight set for a three-quarter “Rembrandt short” scheme with a second light flooding the ceiling to provide a fill light for the model and a working light for the artist. Mr. Kinstler, a student of Frank Vincent Dumond, and a close friend of James Montgomery Flagg, emphasized the importance of finding the distinctive characteristics of the model, rather than flattering her according to some ideal type.

He explained that he was only really showing how he started a portrait, and didn’t try to finish it in such a short time. Instead, he took a few photos and will finish it up in the studio.

As he turned to speak to the audience, I did my best to sketch him with my watercolor pencils, sitting just a few feet from him. 

Mr. Kinstler is 86 years old and has been painting professionally for nearly 70 years. He has painted seven presidents from life, probably a record for any American portrait painter. He exemplifies curiosity, hard work, and a respect for history. He is a champion of three guiding principles: imagination, feeling, and means of communication.

The paintings in the galleries showed all those qualities in abundance, from the adventurous pen-and-ink work for the pulp magazines, to the romantic book jacket cover art, to the life-size portraits. One thing I admire about Mr. Kinstler is how he embraces every aspect of his career, and he explains how the pulp and comic work informed him as a portrait painter.

Seeing the work all together (or reading about it in the excellent catalog) also makes the point that whether you call it illustration or fine art, it's all Art. The presence of the originals is quite stunning; reproductions in books or on the internet really don’t do them justice. 

His painting of Christopher Plummer as Prospero, painted just last year, shows that he’s still at the top of his game. The museum exhibit will be on view through May 28. 

Kinstler's classic instructional book: Painting Portraits
Exhibition Catalog: Everett Raymond Kinstler: From Pulps to Portraits 
Thanks to Stephanie, Melinda, Martin, Jeremy, George, and Laurie


Cole said...

Hey James, not to detract from Kinstler, but when will you be travelling to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts to demonstrate how a master sketches a watercolour portrait?

James Gurney said...

That's nice of you, Cole, but I was definitely a kitten in a cage with a lion.

Since you asked, I will in fact be lecturing at the Norman Rockwell Museum on July 12 on the topic of Howard Pyle's compositions. No demo, but if you come, you're welcome to come up and talk sketching techniques. Also, I'm in the early stages of putting together a DVD on sketching with watercolor pencils.

Novice Naturalist said...

I'm so glad to hear you are doing the DVD on sketching with watercolor pencils. I'll be in front of the line for that one! Love your face on portrait of Mr. Kinstler here--

Janet Oliver said...

I, too, am looking forward to that demo DVD. I've just started working with watercolor pencils, and so far, I love them.

Anonymous said...

Any comments on the recent death of your friend and colleague Thomas Kinkade?

Anonymous said...

@April 15, 2012 11:29 AM
ain't polite to ask> i am sure if J wanted to say something he would have already. Perhaps it is a private matter.

a DVD on sketching with watercolor pencils.
Looking forward to it!

James Gurney said...

Anon -- It's OK, I don't mind your asking. I first met Thomas Kinkade in 1976, when he was assigned as my freshman college roommate at UC Berkeley. I knew him best before he became the Painter of Light, when we worked together on the movie Fire and Ice and the book The Artist's Guide to Sketching in the late '70s and early '80s. 

I have many stories, sketches, and photos from those adventures, that I'll probably share in a few months. Of course, I'm sad he died so young, and my thoughts are with his family.

Cole said...

Thank you so much for the invitation James, I hope I can make it to one of your lectures or seminars some day. It would be great if you visited Australia.
The DVD sounds very promising.

Bob Cosgrove said...

I was seated well towards the back, but enjoyed every minute of it. This is the second occasion I've had the opportunity to hear Kinstler speak in person, and he is enormously entertaining. The show at the Rockwell is wonderful, and among the things that struck me about the originals was Kinstler's use of color. Take the "tan" trench coat on the painting used for the exhibition catalog. It's a symphony of tans, blues, oranges, greens and violets, all masterfully subordinated to the total effect. And look at the colors on the slivers of "outside" poking through the window slats. I could just go on and on.

Kimberly M Zamlich said...

What an experience this must have been for you, Mr. Gurney. You have so much class; I'm just so impressed that not only are you one of my very favorite contemporary story telling artists, but you have a lot of compassion and respect for others. You are such a great role model of conduct in this art community. You encourage artists to respect and treat each other well just by your mindful actions.

erlson said...

I'll be waiting for that DVD.

Anonymous said...

Hello James,

>I'm in the early stages of putting >together a DVD on sketching with >watercolor pencils.

I'd buy it today if pre-orders were available! :-)

Could you PLEASE consider making downloadable purchases available on a web site? It certainly would be great to have immediate delivery via downloads. Other art instruction videos are available via download.




Tom Hart said...

Hoorah for the forthcoming Gurney DVD. One of many to come, I hope!

Kinstler's painting of Plummer as Prospero is downright stunning. You say that his paintings "in person" are even more impressive than the reproductions, so I can only imagine seeing the original of this one.

laurie norton moffatt said...

Thanks for the great blog post, James. It was wonderful to see you at the Museum yesterday and I love the sketches you did of Ray. It was like watching a miracle to see Lila's form emerge, like a mirage, on the canvas. I was so busy trying to photograph her that I could not see all the brush stroke techniques Ray was using. I'm glad we have it on video, and I look forward to your video coming out too.

Anonymous said...

Oh Snap! I'm totally excited about the DVD. Count me in!

Alberto said...

Hi Jim,

Congratulations for your blog.

You wrote that Mr. Everett Raymond Kinstler “explained that he was only really showing how he started a portrait, and didn’t try to finish it in such a short time. Instead, he took a few photos and will finish it up in the studio”.

Here you can see the finished portrait.

Best regards from Spain.

Alberto F-Arias