Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bright Window Views

When we look out of a window, our eyes instantly adjust from the darkness of the room to the bright view outside. So if we want to simulate the scene as we subjectively perceive it, it's perfectly natural to paint both the interior and exterior areas in a full range of values.

Here's a detail of the painting "Artist's Bedroom in Ritterstrasse" by Adolf Menzel. The rendering of the buildings looks as it might if the artist were painting the scene outside as a separate landscape.

But in reality, the interior of a room that's not artificially illuminated is vastly darker than the scene outdoors. It's often true that the darkest dark in the scene outside is lighter than the lightest light inside. 

Photographers know that if you expose for the room, the brightness of the scene outside the window exceeds the capacity of the film or sensor, so it burns out to white, or is "clipped." So with a single exposure, the best you can hope for is a compromise exposure, which makes the room look a little too dark and the window view a little too light.

Modern high-dynamic-range (HDR) photography allows you to combine different exposures to make a single photograph, which comes closer to our natural perception.

But for painters, the problem is usually the reverse. We tend to unconsciously even out the exposures and paint everything in middle values. I find it helps to keep in mind the true relationships. That means painting the room darker than it appears to the eye, and the scene outside brighter than it appears.

Hotel room photo by Steve 
HDR Photo by Jim Kimmons

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Pinky and Stinky

I’d like to introduce the two piglets that live on the farm near us. We call them Pinky and Stinky. Pinky is the light colored one, and Stinky is all black. 

They live in a stall downstairs in the barn. We say hello to them each morning. Yesterday as we arrived, three chipmunks ran out of their stall. Who knows what they were doing in there.

Pinky and Stinky rooted around in the wood chips, stuck their noses in the hinge-flap feeder, and then flopped down and went to sleep. They stayed still long enough for a ten-minute portrait.

While we sketched, the barn swallows flitted and squeaked just above our heads. Once in a while, Turk and Princess, the Belgian draft horses, clunked a hoof on their stall floor above us. 

I wondered if the horses remembered pulling the red wagon in the parade on Monday. That's Princess in the middle, with Sofie and Abby on the outside.

As I finished up, Pinky’s legs started wiggling wildly in a dream. Both piglets woke up, looking startled, nervous, and curious all at once. 

Arthur Rackham in ImagineFX

The next issue of ImagineFX magazine (Issue 84) is all about fairy tales. It includes a special feature on Arthur Rackham, with appreciations by Charles Vess, Tom Bagshaw, Brian Froud, and John Howe. 

The article says: “As the world around Arthur Rackham became mechanized, he made ancient legends seem real to his Victorian and Edwardian contemporaries.” 

John Howe says: "It’s almost as if the soot from the mines and factories has dusted the brilliance of a past inherited from Celtic times, hinted at by Shakespeare, set into folklore by the Elizabethans, rendered quaint and dainty by the Victorians, and finally left behind by the modern world. Arthur affords us a last glimpse, tinted with just a little of the wildness that the Victorians had discarded.”

Rackham will also be included in the museum survey of fantastic art opening this weekend in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I'll be there Saturday and Sunday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sketching through the Keyhole

Daniel Niklaus Chodowiecki (1726 – 1801) was a Polish-German artist who became the head of the Berlin Academy of Art.

He drew devotedly from life. In his autobiography, he said that he would sketch ordinary people without asking permission, “doing everything as clandestinely as possible.”

(Left: Soldier’s wife begging)
He continued, “For if a woman (and sometimes also a man) knows that one is trying to draw her, she wants to present herself favorably and ruins everything; her posture becomes forced.

I didn’t let it bother me if people ran off when I was only half done, for I had gained so much! What wonderful groups with light and shadow I sometimes entered in to my pocketbook, with every advantage that Nature has over all the vaunted ideals if left to herself...”

“I drew standing, walking, riding on horseback; through the keyhole, I sketched girls in bed in the most lovely positions left entirely to themselves.”

Quoted from the book Menzel's Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin

Wikipedia on Daniel Niklaus Chodowiecki 
Previously: Caught Looking 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Steve Mumford's Baghdad Journal

Most of the observers in war are writers, photographers, or videographers, but there have been a few artists on the front lines of combat in recent years, and one of them is Steve Mumford.

He says he is not a "war junky," but rather an artist first and foremost, like Winslow Homer, whose war art was just a part of his overall output.

Steve studied at the Boston Museum school, where the emphasis was on abstract expressionism, but later discovered his main interest was in telling stories.

Many of his paintings are done on location, but he also works in the studio from photos and from his quicker sketches done on the spot. These are typically drawn in sepia line and wash.
Mumford's "Baghdad Journal" on Artnet
ABC News report on Mumford
Book: Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Radiolab podcast on Color

The science podcast Radiolab has released a new program on the subject of color vision. It starts by examining the basic question of whether color exists as a physical fact in the world outside us, or whether it is a creation of our senses.

And it spotlights the mantis shrimp, one of many organisms that see a far wider range of color than we humans do.

The program uses choirs, music, and sound effects to translate visual ideas into colorful audio effects.

Radiolab podcast on color
Wikipedia on Mantis shrimp

Easter Island statues had bodies

Archaeologists at the Easter Island Statue Project are digging down below the famous heads and shoulders of the moai. It turns out that the bodies extend far down below.

Thanks, AndyWales

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A couple of animal cartoons

Here are two examples of animal cartoons. The first is by T. S. Sullivant (1854-1926). Mrs. Hippo says, "Hurry, Hippy, we're late now." He replies, "I just have to take a quick shave, darling — be right with you in about forty-five minutes." 

Sullivant revels in the big, goofy, rounded forms, contrasting them with the skimpy plumbing, the small bottle, and the little cigar perched on the rim of the bathtub.

This drawing, "The Daw in Peacock's Feathers" is by Valentin Serov (1865-1911). He was better known as a portrait painter, but he drew a number of animal caricatures to illustrate Krylov's Fables. He shows the imposter and the reaction of the peacocks with simple gestures that are true to the actual animals, but say volumes about us humans, too. As with all good caricature, it's not just about the lines and shapes, it's really about the attitude.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Colonel Sanders resembles Confucius

Kentucky Fried Chicken has opened more than 3,000 branches in China, and now the restaurant chain is more profitable in China than in the USA. One theory for KFC's boffo success: Colonel Sanders resembles Confucius.

More chicken lore in this month's Smithsonian magazine: How the Chicken Conquered the World, by Jerry Adler and Andrew Lawler 

ImagineFX article on Dino Maquettes

The new issue of ImagineFX magazine should still be on the newsstands in the USA. It contains my workshop on painting realistic dinosaurs. 

The article follows the case history of two paintings that I did for Scientific American magazine, and details the thinking behind all the steps, from research and thumbnails, to building reference maquettes, to the final painting.
ImagineFX  (Issue 83, June, 2012)
Video trailer: How I Paint Dinosaurs (full video still in production)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New breakthroughs in computer graphics

SIGGRAPH is the annual convention where professionals in the field of computer graphics unveil new technologies, which are often the result of the collaboration of artists, physicists, and programmers.

(Video link) This video roundup shows some of the developments that will be introduced at this year's convention.

The technologies will help artists in the CGI animation and gaming fields to create ever more naturalistic effects by automating complex behaviors of fluids, particles, and flexible materials. It also shows how some of the computer's AI skills can be brought to bear on object recognition and the generation of novel forms.

Painting in Series

The new issue of International Artist magazine includes my latest masterclass on serial painting. 

I use the term "serial painting" to refer to plein-air painting where several images are created one after another, connecting them through time or space.

One approach is to make a set of closely related studies one after another, like frames from a film or comic book. I learned this from architectural illustrator Dan Church, who paints a set of small watercolors out of the window of a moving car. It helps to work really small if you're working this fast.

The other kind of serial painting involves painting multiple plein-air studies of the same subject under different lighting conditions. This is one of the best ways to become aware of the effects of different lighting conditions.
International Artist

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Distorted face illusion

(Video Link) The rapidly changing faces in this video stimulate your brain to morph them into aliens. As you play the video, defocus your brain and stare only at the "+" in the middle.

The images are all undistorted photos of familiar Hollywood actors. Apparently our visual brain rapidly and automatically tries to resolve the two different faces so that they fit together into a single whole. In so doing, strange exaggerations take place that look like extreme caricatures.

I haven't read a scientist's analysis of this effect, but my own hunch is that the brain is trying to reconcile the right and left visual field of each eye, as well as the images coming stereoscopically from the right and left eye. You can prove this by watching the progression with one eye closed. It still works.

It also strikes me that rather than leveling the differences between the two faces, the brain exaggerates the differences. I wonder, too, if our brain's facial recognition software functions differently on the peripheral retina compared to the way it works around the center of focus. Part of the effect may come from the afterimage of one set of faces switching to another set. Maybe someone who studies this can clear it up for us.

If this effect doesn't work for you, don't worry. Everybody's eyes and brains are different.
Via BoingBoing

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The portrait Andrew never painted

Andrew Wyeth's father, N.C. Wyeth died in an accident just as young Andy was establishing himself as an artist. As Andrew (1917-2009) recalls in this rare interview, filmed at the time of his 80th birthday, he never got around to painting a portrait of his dad, even though N.C. was a very important figure in his life.

(Video link) "I made drawings of him, but nothing important, and I think that was a great tragedy of my life when he was killed, that I hadn't done it. It changed my whole outlook on portraiture for me personally. When you know something, and feel it, and have a love for it, my God, do it. Don't let it go by."

Andrew Wyeth on Wikipedia
Thanks, Paul

Monday, May 21, 2012

Spectrum Expedition

I just completed this little video about the long journey to attend Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, which ended yesterday.

(Video Link) The whole experience seems like a dream now that I'm sitting in a hotel room along the highway, waking up and heading home.
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live
Book: Spectrum: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
Announcement of Spectrum 19 award winners.

Credits: Music by Kevin MacLeod, Images and artists in the video include: Phil Hale Jon Foster (poster), Arnie Fenner, Jeff Preston, Paul Tobin, Greg Manchess, Thomas Kuebler (full-size figure sculpts), Tim Bruckner, J.B. Monge, Paul Bonner, Mike Mignola, Donato Giancola, Brom, Omar Rayyan, Michael Whelan, Vanessa Lemen, G. Manchess, Bruce Mitchell, Bobby Chiu (diving).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sert's Maquette Tableaus

Josep Maria Sert (1874-1945) was a Catalan muralist whose epic works grace the walls of the League of Nations in Geneva and the Waldorf Astoria and Rockefeller Center in New York.

Many of his compositions teem with artistic groupings of larger-than-life figures.

To gather information, he posed human models, but he also constructed elaborate tableaus of small mannikins or maquettes. These little groupings gave him scope to try things that might be impossible with real humans.

He used rods to hold them in position. He dressed some in little costumes to figure out the clothes.

Mannikins only give a rough approximation of a real figure, but they're often a helpful starting point. Sert started drawing and refining right over the photographs. The grid helps him transfer the pose accurately to any scale.

For scenes of storms at sea, he sculpted waves from clay, and placed model boats into them.

Josep Maria Sert  (He also goes by the Spanish name José María Sert y Badía)
Thanks to Jim Vadeboncoeur for telling me about this guy!

Book: José Maria Sert : La rencontre de l'extravagance et de la démesure
Related GJ posts:
Lay Figures
Scaling up with a grid

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Booth at Spectrum Live

After breakfast yesterday, Jeanette and I explored downtown Kansas City, which is full of architectural gems, like the Mainstreet Theater. 

There was a red crane lifting a worker way up to the top to change a light bulb on the sign.

Then I edid a demo. I forgot to photograph his, but I can tell you, he was a hard act to follow. I did a half-hour portrait of an imaginary gentleman named Mr. Galumph, using watercolor and watercolor pencil. I'll be doing another demo at 11:00 today (Booth #1003), and Mr. Monge will do another at 1:00.

My new lecture on Worldbuilding will be in Room G at 4:00 today.

I can't even begin to express how exciting it is to meet so many artists whose work I've admired for years. And they're all really cool people, really approachable.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Smokey the Rabbit

You may have heard of Smokey the Bear, but this is Smokey the Rabbit.

I was able to buy new sketching supplies here in Kansas City, so I'll be doing my first demo here at Spectrum Live today at 4:00. It' won't be a big deal, but I thought I could show a few interesting ways of using water soluble pencils and brush pens.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Farm kids in Ohio

Our expedition across Ohio continued yesterday along small farm roads. We watched white-bearded farmers bringing in the hay with draft horses, then we stopped at a rural bakery for a loaf of bread.

When I sketched a pair of pygmy goats, the children came out to watch me draw and to look through my sketchbook.

All the siblings were home that day because they are recovering from whooping cough. They speak a dialect of German and only learn English when they get to school.

One setback: I lost my belt pouch and sketchbook with pencils, water brushes, and drawing materials somewhere in Ohio or Indiana. Meanwhile I'll buy new materials in Kansas City so that I can still do demos at the convention.
Addendum: It showed up! People are good. Thanks, Larry.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Westward Expedition

We have begun our westward journey toward the center of the American continent.
Our conveyance is a steam driven horseless carriage, a Gurney, of course. 

Strange mooring posts for dirigibles.

Taming wild beasts in the forests of Pennsylvania.

The heavens opened and poured rain upon us.
These are still frames from a motion picture we are filming. Today we traverse the small nation of Ohio. Our goal: Spectrum Fantastic Art Live.
Goldsworthy Gurney's Steam Carriages 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spectrum Live this weekend

If you live anywhere near the middle of the USA, please come on out to Kansas City, Missouri this weekend, May 18-20 for Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, a huge festival of fantasy and science fiction artwork.

I will have several original paintings exhibited for sale, along with drawings, signed art prints, portfolios, and prints, and other goodies.

This is a great chance to talk informally with all of the artists, get them to sign your books or sketchbooks, or just look at lots of imaginative artwork. The entry fee is very low, only $20 for a day. Hope to see you there if you can make it. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Missing Lecomte

I have a question for the Group Mind. Does anyone know what became of this painting? 

What I know so far is that it was painted by the French orientalist Jean-Jules-Antoine Lecomte du Nouÿ and was exhibited at the Salon of 1872.

The title of the painting is "Les Porteurs de Mauvaises Nouvelles," translated as “Bearers of Ill Tidings.” It has also been called ""The Slaying of the Unpropitious Messengers." 

The scene is set in Egypt at night. It is based on an episode from Le Roman de la momie by Théophile Gautier. A 1908 gallery guide from the Musée du Luxembourg describes the scene this way: "This Pharoah, defiant of fate, has slain the messengers of misfortune; his autocratic mind cannot acknowledge failure of his plans. His hopes are all fixed on the distant horizon towards which he looks so intently."

I wonder if the original is lost or in a private collection, because it doesn't seem to show up on the internet in anything but old reproductions. 

Craig Elliott has pointed out that Frank Frazetta was inspired by one of the fallen figures when he painted "Conan the Destroyer."

Frazetta would have learned about such academic painters from his friend Roy Krenkel, who was an ardent collector at a time when such reproductions were hard to find. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Polish chicks

The farmer Lenny stopped his mower to tell us that there's something new in the incubator: brand new Polish chicks.

I have seen full grown Polish chickens before at the county fair. They've got the big bouffant crown and the v-shaped comb, making them look like rock stars. The chick versions have just a fuzzy blob up top, like a cotton ball stuck on top of their heads.
Wikipedia on Polish chickens

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weird deep sea creatures

(Video link) Here's a weird sea creature caught on video by a remotely operated undersea vehicle.

(Video link) This deep-sea squid was videotaped by one of Shell Oil's deep sea robotic rovers in the Perdido Area of Alaminos Canyon, at 7800 ft. depth.

(Video link) Then there's the "vampire squid" (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), a living fossil which can turn itself inside out to avoid predators. 

(Video link) This video shows a variety of deep ocean creatures with some remarkable uses of light for attracting or confusing prey. Most all of these are new to science, as 95% of the deep ocean is yet to be explored.

More at TED-Ed's "Deep Ocean Mysteries and Wonders"

Thomas Kegler's new landscape painting video

(Video link) Thomas Kegler’s new hour-long video is called Painting En Plein Air: Resolving the Landscape. It follows a two day painting session on location at the edge of a hardwood forest. The subject is an ancient maple tree, screened in by a younger forest. Kegler uses oil paint according to traditional principles that he has studied from the work of Hudson River School masters such as Asher B. Durand and Frederic Church. 

With the help of Black Horse Videography, the instructional video uses a variety of over-the-shoulder camera angles and artistic focus pulls with a low key musical background. The voiceover by Kegler is thoughtfully composed, leading the viewer through the whole process, from choice of motif, composition, color mixing, value organization, brushwork, and glazing. The instruction is suited to intermediate or advanced students who wish to perfect their craft to achieve a a painterly but accurate transcript of Nature.
Thomas Kegler landscape painting video

Friday, May 11, 2012

'World of Dinosaurs' Skirt

Bethany has come up with a nifty skirt tutorial using fabric based on my World of Dinosaurs postage stamp artwork:

"I wanted to make a skirt out of it in the past but kept hesitating because I couldn't see myself wearing dinosaurs around town. But now I'm more awesome."

Bethany's "World of Dinosaurs" skirt tutorial
James Gurney: The World of Dinosaurs

Langweil's model of Prague

(Video link) Antonín Langweil began as a painter of miniature portraits. Then, starting in 1826, he began his big project: a detailed model of the city of Prague. 

He measured each building and then drew the elevations on stiff paper. 

Then the paper could be folded and attached together. This is a good way to make reference maquettes, too.

Langweil's Prague is scaled at 1:480, and includes not only an accurate portrait of each building, but also tiny details such as signs and sundials.

The model is a valuable document for historians of the city because it shows how things looked before 20th century modernization efforts.