Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top Ten Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators

Yesterday's post about the challenges of curious spectators generated a lot of interest— 35 comments on the blog.....and on Facebook: 533 likes, 104 comments and 83 shares. Thanks for your input, everyone!

As promised:

James Gurney's Top 10 Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators 

10. Deflect questions by answering them in advance. There's the "Critic Be Gone Shirt," marketed by Guerilla Painter, which has a rather sarcastic tone.....
....and blog reader Christian shared this T-shirt design made by his friend Graeme Skinner for a friend Laura Young.

9. Place headphones on your head, so that you look zoned out, even if you're not listening to any music. Good way to overhear candid comments.

8. If you like to smoke, blow smoke out of cheap cigars. It keeps away mosquitos, too.
The only problem with these first three solutions is that you can miss out on the really rewarding encounters that can come from curious spectators. How do you make the experience work out better for both parties?

Let's remember that most spectators mean well. They're not as judgmental as we suppose them to be. They almost universally admire an artist who is courageous enough to bring their studio outside. Spectators often ask dumb things because they're shy and they don't know what to say to an artist.

If a person comes up and they seem unsure of what to ask, I usually have a stock line ready to help orient them, such as, "Hi, I'm working in casein, which is an old fashioned milk-based paint that people used before acrylic was invented."

In other countries, the language barrier often helps. When I sketched in China, people watched with quiet, respectful absorption, or they would just smile and make encouraging gestures. In my experience, Europeans tend to be really considerate and watch for a reasonably short time, and just saying a kind word or two.  In Ireland everyone is such a wonderful and witty talker that every encounter is great fun, so I love painting in public there.

In Africa, curious spectators have volunteered to be models. In Morocco, kids can't resist gathering very close and even blocking the view.

Most of the time when kids hang around, it makes sketching much more fun. If you bring an extra sketchpad to loan to a really interested kid, you might change a life. Long-time blog readers may remember the time I wore a steampunk outfit to Amish country, and everyone totally accepted me.

But being inviting and friendly doesn't always work, and sometimes I get annoyed, especially by questions that obsess over sales and careers and money and commerce, and all the things that stop the wings of inspiration from flapping., let's continue the list:

7. Let them know it's OK to take a quick look, and invite them to come back later. That gives them permission, but it lets them know implicitly that you may not want them to park too long next to you. If you're in the middle of a difficult passage, and can't talk, just briefly explain that you'd love to chat, but you can't right now because your speech centers aren't working. People get that.

6. Change the topic of discussion away from you, your proficiency, or the price of your painting. Ask the person something about the place you're in or the thing you're painting. For example: "Do you know who owns that old building?" Or: "How high did the floodwaters get here in the last storm?" This often leads to truly interesting encounters, and it lets them do the talking so you can concentrate. I've learned a lot about many of my motifs this way.

5. Before you go out painting, create a web page or blog post with common questions and answers, including information about your galleries or your books, or whatever, and generate a QR code so that they can read your answers on their cellphone. You can put up a sign that just says FAQ and the code, and it will be fun for them to read it on their cellphone.

4. Bring a friend or a spouse along who doesn't mind fielding the questions from the spectators. (Thanks, Mikey!)

Andrew Wyeth en plein Jeep
3. Choose a motif where you can back up to a wall or a rosebush so that no one can get behind you.
Or sit up high. Andrew Wyeth would sit on the hood of his car, with his feet on the bumper so that no one could watch from behind. (image courtesy Making a Mark/Squidoo).

2. Wear a uniform shirt and surround yourself with traffic cones, or crime scene tape or "caution" barricade tape. If there's more than one of you, and you're wearing uniforms, spectators are so bewildered, they don't know what to say. That's what our sketching group, the Hudson River Rats does—we disguise ourselves to look like some obscure municipal department. The "Department of Art" patches add to the official effect. (Thanks, Steve).

1. I mocked up this T-shirt design to suggest a final thought. The challenge of spectators is just one of the things that makes plein air painting so exhilirating. There's also wind, rain, bugs, animals, traffic, and changing light. Dealing with all these issues helps develop our concentration and gives us a sense of urgency that makes us do our best work.

Winston Churchill said about painting: "Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing, which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind. Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen."
Previously: Interview on Urban Sketchers

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Your experiences with curious spectators

On Facebook people shared many more stories about dealing with curious spectators while painting outdoors. It's a rich topic. Thanks, everybody!

Carl Larsson -- Plein Air Painter, Winter-Motif from Åsögatan, Stockholm, 1886

Phil Mamuyac
"He's a drawer!"

Anath Sheridan
"I can't draw a straight line" is another... Always want to say "well neither can I, do you SEE that horizon line?!"

Timothy Atkins
"What are you doing?"
"Playing tennis" is my usual half joking/half snide answer. After all, you never know who you are talking to!
I actually really enjoy interacting with people on the street, especially kids, but they have a tendency to turn up just when you're 3 seconds in to an important watercolor wash. And then all is lost.
I liken it to someone walking up to a DJ and ripping the needle of the record, only to ask "are you playing music?" and then you're left to find the exact spot on the record again.

Kathy Partridge
How long does it take you? Do you do sheeps? (Yes, "sheeps"!)

Arun VB
LOL ! "I can't draw a straight line" is very typical and usual question

Thomas Gieseke 
"My mom's an artist. She does macrame."

John Trotter 
HA! I did a fundraiser at Zoo Atlanta in June where a bunch of us worked plein air and the profits went to the zoo. A lot of the artists had never worked in such a public forum before and we got lots of stories. The camp groups and patrons were overwhelming but also very complimentary. (Although I did end up with a child mostly sitting in my lap at one point!)

Phil Moss 
'My sister's friend's brother's third cousin twice removed is studying art at university, you should meet him!' No, it's fine, really!

Sara Otterstätter 
Are those people Mennonites? And one particular story came to my mind:

I was at the local zoo, sketching the rhinocerosses - their anatomy is a nightmare - and in a short distance was an older lady with her grandson. She may have thought that it is better not to talk to me because I might be disturbed while fighting with the awkward rhinoceros-anatomy. So she talked with her grandson about me. But hell, in what way.

"Oh look how nice this lady draws! Does she not draw nicely?! Shall I pick you up that you can see how nicely the lady draws?!....." I really felt like I was merely an drawingmonkey at the zoo and wished she had talked to me instead of over my head. Maybe I should get a "Do not feed the Artist"-sign and put it next to me the next time I am at the zoo sketching.

Simon Schmidt
100% hit. Also the age distribution is nearly perfect. Usually there are a few more elderly people.

Eric Wilkerson 
My favorite is from a time I was painting with Garin down by the hudson. A man came up and said to him "If it comes out good I'll give you a hundred bucks for it".

Harmony Baudelaire Carrigan 
"I can't even draw a straight line" and "I can't even draw stick figures" are the two I always hear.

Laslo Iera 
a classic.

MeKenzie Martin 
That's exactly why I am afraid of painting in public. I'm deaf and that would definitely make an awkward situation where I would have to spend more energy on explaining the fact that I can't hear and have less energy for actual painting time. Awkward, I tell ya... but I guess it's also awkward in your world, having all people watch you painting and have those questions that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. Lol.

Andy Volpe ·
"Oh, can't you let my child/ren draw on the corner of your paper?! They're Master Artists themselves!". It's true, it takes a lot of energy and patience to work in front of the public…A…Lot. But for the most part comments and questions are fairly descent and genuinely curious. It's similar to reenacting/living history, and that "You're wearing wool?! Aren't you HOT in all of that?!" No, I'm pouring sweat because I'm cold….

Andy Volpe ·
I feel really bad for that Spanish artist trying to paint, I've never seen anything like that. It makes me wonder now if the Old Masters who painted outdoors scenes where there's only 2-3 people in the painting, had dozens of onlookers standing behind them that we don't see.

Jasper Patch "that looks good. What is it ?"
"are you painting that?"

Eran Fowler ·
I always get the stick figure comment. Usually accompanied with "I could never in a million years." Makes me wonder if they were too afraid to ever try.

Another case was the crazy dude at the bakery. I just put a link to my blog with the story. It was sort of really uncomfortable and one of the rare occasions where I refused to show my sketchbook:

Dougie Hoppes 
I love painting in public. It's where a lot of my sales comes from. I usually get the request: "Can I be in your painting?" I usually tell them "Sure... if you are willing to stand there for about 1/2 hour or more". I'm sure that, one day, someone will take me up on that!

Shenge Bana Gon Paja ·
Just smile

Ulrich Zeidler 
All the freakin' time

Destinie Janea Carbone 
Still trying to figure out what people mean when they say "Are you an artist?"

Barry Van Clief ·
Mostly people are friendly and pleasant, perhaps many of them would like to do art themselves. I've always thought plein air painting would be a good way to generate sales, if I were less shy and did it more often.

Joe Nazzaro 
'Did you do that freehand?'

Steve McInturff 
...yep...and ...when i set up at an art festival...i have my work on display...people like to ask ..'did you draw all these..?"..."..."...why yes i did"...."Dang!!'re good.."...the tell me about a relative who draws or paints..."they ain't as good as you, but they're pretty good".....and then they walk away....

Richard Smith
I know I love it. "I can't even draw a straight line"... "no you don't understand I can't draw, I've tried."
I always tell people "good, if it were a straight line it wouldn't be art."
And as for not being able to draw or paint, I usually just say " the only reason you 'can't' is because you simply 'don't'. I try to encourage people..."You could draw or paint as well or better if you'd practice as much. It's not a magical power...talent = desire + discipline".
The world can never have enough artists

Weston Hobdy ·
"I saw a TV program on Ansel Adams a few nights ago, but you.... you do these freehand, don't you?"

Tim Vedel ·
when you blast a wall at 3 am with a spray can people usually keep their mouths shut hahah

Karalyn Johnson 
Them, "I can't even draw a straight line!" Me, " Me either, that's why I use a ruler."

Greg Newbold "did you just start that today?" Yea, like an hour ago. "How much would you sell that for?" In the gallery, about $900. "Yea, right. Good luck with that." Thank you for watching.

Carlos Castañón ·
I had a guy stand behind me for some solid 45 minutes, claiming he "just loves the smell of turpentine".

Danielle Nicole De Shane I still get a crack out of the people asking, "Did you draw that?" While you're in the middle of drawing. My friend had responded with this shocked expression, "OH MY GOD, what's this!? I didn't draw this! How did this get here!? My hand has a mind of it's own!"

Shannon Beaumont
At the Munich zoo people ask "Did you make that yourself?"... I usually say to them "Nope, bought it on"

Jenny Wolfe First time I was plein air painting a lady stopped her truck in the middle of the dirt road, ran out, and asked "Can I have that? For free? My neighbors would adore that in my house!" Of course I said no, and told her her neighbors could adore it from where I'm painting. Some people.

Mervin LovesZbrush
I get lookers all the time at coffee shops. It turns up the pressure to perform lol

John Cullen
I don't mind curious spectators. If someone comes up to me and asks me 'did you draw that?' (while I'm in the middle of drawing something), I don't belittle them or talk down to them for doing so. They are merely showing curiosity in what you're doing.

Remember that it can be scary for people to approach and talk to complete strangers, so saying things such as 'did you draw that?' or 'I couldn't draw a straight line to save my life' are just easy ways for them to attempt to break the ice. It's the equivalent of starting a conversation with 'how about that weather?'

Yes, it can get a little annoying at times, but people mean absolutely no offense when they try talking to you. The amount of snide and stuck up comments here about such people truly disappoints me.

Patti Glynn Haarz
I am a magnet...that is one of the reasons I don't like plain air. However, I have always wanted to turn around quickly and say, "you can see me!!!" with a wild look in my eye or perhaps a tick.

David Cameron had most of those. I had a young lad say to me once,' wow did you draw that? do you know what, you should become a real artist'!!!

Eric Wolf
No, since I can't paint. But I do get similar comments when practicing archery or when reciting my poems to my girlfriend.

Chithra Mitra can add one more...." can u teach my 4 year old son,tony.......he paints exactly like u "!!! ...lols

Aline Schleger In art school (of all places) I was "in the zone" when I noticed some first years checking as I drew with pastels. I was shocked when turning around an hour after and still see them there (was wearing headphones). I blushed.

Lyn Lull oh yeah heard 'em all and more

Harvey McDowell "never show a fool a thing half finished"........

Cliff Cramp I got, "my 5 year old daughter is an artist too."

Mike Kloepfer 
Currently, 'Stick Figures' is tied with 'I can do that.'
My stock response: "I'll tell you a secret. My stick figures are terrible."

Angela Bell
lol I've had the stick figure comment so many times I've lost count. I also had neck-craners when I was sketching on a train, this lasses head almost fell off trying to see who on the train I was sketching whilst I tried my best to ignore her, then I realised after that she was holding a pose and looking to see if I was sketching her yet...I didn't.

Lyn Lull I took a workshop up in the White Mountains of NH last year. Trying to paint a waterfall and had a steady stream of tourists hiking by and saying many of those comments and many others like my friend, wife husband, cousin etc are artists too and they do this that or the other

Ricky Mujica 
"If I give you a photograph, can you draw it?"

Susan Fox 
"I wish I could do that."

Erik Pen ·
Spectators can be so distracting.

Patrick Hanenberger

Thijs Wessels ·
"Do you also have a real job?" When people ask me this I see it as a compliment

Tracy E Flynn 
you left out....
" my cousin is a natural artist, they never went to school for it "

Barb Cimity ·
Just proves art has a human connection for every person. We should cherish that.

Christopher Radko It's so rare to see ladies in dresses, these days....

Robert Paulmenn ·
i always think of myself as "public domain" when I'm on the street painting. I've had people purchase work on the spot, it's worth a little distraction from time to time.

Raven Amos 
Every. Time. Or "'What is it?' (I tell them) ''s cute' !"

Mike Kloepfer 
It's a strange phenomenon, and I've had quite a bit of experience with it.
The way I look at it, most people never have the opportunity to see art being created. So I try to be engaging as possible.
Plus, It's not like they broke down the door of my studio. I put myself out there in public, doing something interesting. Most people are genuinely curious, and that's natural. It's counterproductive to be offended when they engage.
To the vast majority, the art-making process is a mystery, and there is a lot of 'myth' surrounding artists. So you get a lot of interesting, unusual, and sometimes totally unexpected comments. Some are downright hilarious.
For me, it really depends on the person, how they present themselves (some people are nice, some are just rude,) and other factors, like my concentration level, noise, weather conditions, etc. And sometimes I'm just not in a talkative mood. I'm human.
I've noticed that I'm not as talkative right after I've eaten. That's Mikey's quiet, inside-my-head, art-making time. LOL
It reminds me of something Jeff Watts said. (Paraphrasing....) Talking while making art is a unique skill. Some people like it, some don't.

Johnny Morrow
If I had a quarter for every time I heard, "I can't even draw a stick figure!" Oh man

Graham Nightingale
Hold on! you forgot the other inspiring comments James!!
What's that supposed to be?
You should see the stuff my kid paints its way better than that!
Nobody ever made money doing this son, why don' you get a proper job!
etc etc.

Mike Kloepfer Yes, Johnny - I could buy a lot more art supplies! LOL

Mike Kloepfer 
Hey I have an idea... I'll read the blog post. LOL

Virgil Elliott
I appreciate the idea that people are interested in art and artists, so I don't mind the comments. A sale or commission might result from any new human contact. I'm able to concentrate while carrying on a conversation, so it doesn't interfere with painting. Maybe I'll pick up a new student; maybe someone will buy my book.

If I want to paint without people around, I know a wild place that's full of rattlesnakes. They never bother me, and I don't bother them.

Peter Hoss
One of my favorites, "my aunt is an artist".

Leslie Jordan 
That's funny. When I see an artist on the streets like that, I take a quick look and move on. I know they are in a creative zone and don't have time for interruptions, though if I saw you on the street, I would at the very least just say hi.

Andy Volpe
Leslie - Yeah, I try to just say a quick hello, take a quick peak and move on, knowing they're trying to work.

Andy Volpe
The one peeve I have is when I'm doing a demonstration (i.e. Printing) and trying to explain what it is I'm doing, and then someone decides they're going to cut in and explain it to someone else for me. "What are you doing?" I'm inking the plate "See? He's inking the plate!"

Tommy Scott 
That face says, "kill me now."

Johanna Westerman ·
One reason I avoid it. Of course you say, "You realize who I am, don't you?"(haha)

Mike Kloepfer Wow, that guy in the video could sure use some traffic cones. LOL
I've got a plen air outing this weekend (which I am VERY excited about) and this got me to thinking about it. A lot. And a lot of good ideas came out of that thinking.
I posted at length about the subject in the comments on the blog post.
(Mikey said... "Wow. That guy sure could use some traffic cones. LOL " etc.)

Susan Rankin-Pollard
^I like the part of your comment where you suggest a liason. i do this at comic cons where I'm drawing so that I can actually do the work I've got in front of me and take more commissions. Helps A Lot!

Susan Rankin-Pollard When I draw in public, I take stock of how I'm feeling ahead of time and that determines where and how I sit. If I'm not open to chatting, i'll have my back to a corner. Most people are really good about respecting personal space. Earbuds/headphones help too, but I'll always talk to kids. To kids it's magic that they're willing to try without immediately tearing themselves down with I can'ts.

Monarchs Die 
Why are you drawing this you should be drawing bla bla bla ... Coud you draw me? I have a school homework would draw things for me? Etc...

Mike Kloepfer Chithra Mitra 
Maybe her son Tony's last name is Pro. You never know... LOL

Mike Kloepfer Susan - I agree. I was having this discussion with a fellow artist this weekend. We understand that what we do is applied skill, but to the lay-person, it has the same effect as a magic act.

Mike Kloepfer I'll try to gauge my mood and my audience, and if it's right, I'll go for the funny. However, I try to calibrate my humor to be entertaining, not insulting. I try to give them the same consideration I would like to receive.
(I've gotten pretty accurate, but even so, there's times... )

Mike Kloepfer 
Geez, gang - there's some great stories and anecdotes here. Got so entertained, I almost forgot...
Time for me to get drawing!!!

Blanca Plata Ortega
What about this one: if I had money I will bay it from you! But I'm just a kid! LOL

Aline Schleger James, ever thought of putting a printed F.A.Q. somewhere near you? With pamplets pointing to your books,prints,etc?

Eric Bowman ·
Aren't you that guy who wrote Jurassic Park?

Reginald Atkins 
yep.. several times. since taking up digital art and working on a tablet.. less so, since it's not as easy to see the entire thing over my shoulder as I focus on a small detail.

Arthur Machabee 
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked "Did you draw that?" while I'm still drawing, I could buy a whole new set of art supplies (which I wouldn't mind having).

Ed Redgrove ·
Yep, all of them, also while lying in a park, had a grandmother drag her screeching kid towards me with "oh lets see what this man is drawing" a graphic sword fight was what... she did not appreciate it

Mike Kloepfer 
Okay, Mr. G - ya got me thinking. A LOT. LOL
So I started a post on my own blog. Feel free to check it out. More

J Wm Lonnee "You should do this for a job!"

Carolyn McCully Yes, it really put me off trying to paint outdoors, also got "Is that a paint by numbers", that did it for me.

Maurine Starkey 
My favorite is. did you trace that?

Ed Nickerson ·
How about : my friends daughter is an artist too, she won a ribbon for the art in her 3rd grade class last week.

Rebecca England ·
all the time!

Raphael Schnepf 
I've done some outdoor murals and mostly got good comments. My watercolor teacher in high school used to flick her wet brushes absently to shoo the onlookers.

Cameron Davis 
"I can't even draw a straight line!" Har har

Jessica Boehman 
I couldn't get this to load to the site, but this was my comment: "The worst spectator I ever had was a goose that beaked the paint off the corner of my painting."

Kern Afton 
Those and "My son/daughter is also an artist. You should be friends, you might learn something!" and "So I have this cool idea for a comic book... but I can't draw, so..."

Linda Binkley 
I once had a German tour group surround me in Paris. (I had to leave it freaked me out)

Patrick Waugh 
Usually kids. One time while erasing a kid said "I thought artists didn't use erasers."

Claudia Hackett
How about when you draw a person... "Who's that ?"

Len H. Nicholas
"are you a student"

Mike Kloepfer 
btw - Aline Schleger, a printed FAQ is brilliant! Have some fun with it.

Sandy Sherman 
Did you ever see that guy on t.v.?

Mike Kloepfer
Yes, all the freaking time. as well as "are you painting?".

Kimberly M Zamlich 
"If I give you a picture of my daughter...can you paint if for me and I can give it to her as a gift?"

Kimberly M Zamlich 
or..."Hey I'm writing a children's book..can you do the art? No, I don't have a publisher yet and no...I can't pay for it right away...but I can pay you with some of the profits..."

Kimberly M Zamlich 
"My five year old cousin can do the same thing..."

Kimberly M Zamlich 
"What's you're real job?"

Lee B. Smith 
Yes to all of these, except for the one about the five-year old.

Kara Williams
I love these people to be honest. It's just so cute, like they're amazed by what you're doing and just want to let you know.

Previously on GurneyJourney

Curious Spectators: Part 1 - The Problem

Yesterday's post about sketching strangers on subways led to a lively discussion about how best to manage the encounter between the artist and the unwitting model.
Here I am painting at the Platte Clove Community in Elka Park, New York.
Actually these folks were very respectful and asked smart, observant questions. 
Here's another dimension of this issue. If we as artists expect to have the right to look at strangers and draw them in the public sphere, we also have to yield to the right of people around us to watch us paint or draw. Like it or not, artists working in public become a form of entertainment that curious spectators feel entitled to watch.  Drawing or painting is a form of magic that no one can resist.

Anyone who has sketched outside have heard some of these same questions, and probably a lot more (Please tell me in the comments).

These questions unnerve a lot of would-be sketchers, who often feel that they're being judged, or they irritate painters who need to fully concentrate on a difficult step. It eventually wears me out if the comments are too repetitive or inane.

I've gotten plenty of weird comments. A landowner once shouted from his monster truck: "Makin' money off my tree?" A lawyer who owned a property said, "Don't fall into the water and drown. That would be actionable."

Another time I had to jettison a good spot because I realized it was the unloading zone for busload after busload of bored tourists.

Here's Spanish painter Antonio Lopez Garcia facing unusual odds in Puerta Del Sol.
See also 10 Tips for Dealing with the Problem of Curious Spectators

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The ethics of sketching on the subway

Daumier, Riders on an Omnibus, 1864

Chuck Klosterman, ethicist for the New York Times, ponders whether it's OK to sketch strangers on the subway. His basic point is that:

"If you’re in public, people are allowed to look at you. This can be creepy and annoying, but it’s not unethical. If the individual scrutinizing you starts sketching your face, you can say, “Don’t do that,” and the person should stop (out of normal human courtesy). But the act is not inherently unethical."

Here are a few excerpts from the many comments after the piece:
  • "I am amused in this day of pervasive smart phone cameras that someone is concerned with the "invasiveness" of a hand drawn sketch."
  • "It's always best to ask permission if the activity is obvious or intrusive."
  • "I am a stealth sketcher. The way I do it, although they know I am drawing, they can't tell who I am drawing. I draw them when they are distracted, sleeping, reading or on the telephone so they don't notice."
I believe it's helpful to consider what might be going on in the mind of of the person being sketched:

Why is the artist interested in drawing me? 
Should I hold still?
Will he make me look good? 
How long will it take? 
Will I get to see the sketch afterward? 
If I like it, can I put it on Facebook?
Are they going to try to sell it to me? 
How are they going to use it? 
(Young woman's perspective might be) Is he hitting on me?

If the person being sketched is preoccupied with their phone or their book and doesn't notice the artist, the artist is under no obligation to tell them they're being sketched, and doing so could make the person self-conscious. But once the subject and the artist lock eyes, all the questions start playing in the subject's head. 

The artist can alleviate all the anxieties by addressing the questions in a friendly opener, such as: 

"Hi, I'm just getting some practice sketching people, hope you don't mind. Keep doing what you're doing. I'll be done in five more minutes and I'll show you when I finish." 

If they look annoyed after that, I'd probably try someone else, but nine times out of ten, you will have erased their worries and perhaps made a friend. 

Sometimes you're sitting too far away to make such a friendly request, or you're dealing with a language barrier and in that case, I have held up the sketchbook to face them, smiled, and raised my eyebrows, and pointed from the sketch to them, which helps clear the air a bit. That gives them the opportunity to decline politely nonverbally, by waving a finger or frowning.

If you're in a waiting room where you might wish to do a portrait with a lot more commitment, rather than stealth sketching, it's best to get permission and set the terms at the outset. Then you can say something like, "Hey, are you going to be around here a while? I'm an artist traveling around here, and I'd love to sketch your portrait while we talk." Asking permission up front from parents is also a good idea if you're a man sketching children in public places.

Many times people line up, wanting to be drawn or painted. In this case, I was painting a street scene on a rainy day, and a father and daughter came up to look at the painting and chat for a bit. Before they walked on, I asked them, "After you cross the street and get to the blue sign, would you mind holding a walking pose for a minute or so?" They did so, very willingly, and then turned around afterward to give me a happy wave goodbye.
Previous GurneyJourney posts about making contact with people who noticed I was sketching them:
Logger in Supermarket
Tattooed Guy On the Train
Caught Sketching Girls in a Pizza Shop
 Read the whole New York Times article
Thanks, Patrick

Monday, July 28, 2014

Coming Soon: New Video on Watercolor

Two weeks from today I'll be releasing an art teaching video all about plein-air painting in water media called "Watercolor in the Wild."

The 72-minute HD video will cover all the nuts and bolts of materials, including watercolors, water brushes, and water-soluble colored pencils. I'll show a few basic tricks and techniques, and then I'll bring you along on six outdoor painting adventures, demonstrating both beginning and advanced techniques for urban sketching.

The six paintings include two architectural subjects, a figure in landscape, two animal drawings, and a spontaneous location portrait. Since you asked for videos that show the whole process from start to finish, I made sure to document all six paintings from the first pencil lines to the final touches, along with detailed, helpful commentary and plenty of closeup details.

If you're an experienced artist wanting to try more water media, or if you're a beginner interested in trying out watercolor or taking your art out "into the wild" for the first time, you'll find this video practical, inspiring, and entertaining.

Here's a photo from the episode where I paint Rosebud, a baby miniature horse. She took a 15-minute nap, and I did a painting while she slept. I documented the whole thing on video from start to finish in real time.

I worked hard to make this one of those art videos that you'll want to watch again and again, because it's both entertaining and informative.

The video will be available as an HD download and a DVD. The DVD will have the addition of a slide show of my plein-air watercolors.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cartoons about Modern Art

 For more than a century, cartoonists have loved to take aim at modern art.

This 1910 cartoon caricatures the paintings themselves. Around them, exhibition patrons express various forms of puzzlement and consternation. In the upper right, an American art student likes the color harmonies. At the bottom is a group of people laughing uproariously, with the line "From the pictures' point of view."

From Britain's humor magazine Punch: "Farmers! Protect your crops using 'Binks Patent Futurist Scarecrow'. Specially designed by an eminent Cubist. No bird has ever been known to go within three fields of it."

 "I just can't wait to see your work, old fellow." (Peter Arno, 1953)

A Renaissance painter comes up with the tomato soup idea long before Warhol.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Ghostly Gaze Illusion

Here's an optical illusion. This woman seems to be looking to our left when we see her up close, but she switches to looking to our right when we back up and look at the same face from across the room.

Here are two women with light gray eyes. They're looking more or less forward, right?

If you look at the same image files at a much smaller scale, the eyes of the two women seem to be looking at each other instead of looking forward. 

To create the faces, scientists rendered the eyes so that the sideways-looking eyes were rendered in the form of coarse, blurry detail, and the forward-looking eyes were rendered with fine detail. 

Back up enough and these ladies will all smile at you.

Our brains process fine and coarse detail in different ways, as was first made famous with the Albert Einstein / Marilyn Monroe hybrid image illusion. That's also why we need to back up from our portrait paintings while we're working on them. Otherwise we can unknowingly set up contradictory information streams at the level of fine and coarse detail. Every portrait painter has experienced eyes that seem to move or a smile that seems to change when the piece is viewed from farther back.

These gaze illusions have an eerie effect because it's so important to us humans to know which way another person is looking, and misreading gaze direction is a major issue for social interaction. That's also why it creeps us out to talk to someone up close who is wearing mirror shades.
The twin gaze illusion was created by Rob Jenkins of the University of Glasgow.
Hybrid images are a technique first published by Philippe Schyns & Aude Oliva in 1994.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Zorn's Self Confidence

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) painted this portrait of an executioner in Siebenbürgen (Transylvania) while he was on his honeymoon in 1885.

Just 25 years old, Zorn was brimming with self confidence. "I never spent much time thinking about others' art. I felt that if I wanted to become something, then I had to go after nature with all my interest and energy, seek what I loved about it, and desire to steal its secret and beauty. I was entitled to become as great as anyone else, and in that branch of art so commanded by me, watercolor painting, I considered myself to have already surpassed all predecessors and contemporaries."

He later translated the portrait into an etching, which is necessarily reversed.

The quote comes from Zorn's autobiographical notes, included in the recent book Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Magic Realism

Magic realism is a genre of art which endows otherworldly significance to ordinary things. The suggestion of death, the hint of history invading the present, or the sense of inanimate objects coming to life is woven into mundane reality.

Robert Vickrey 1926-2011

The movement goes back at least to the 1920s and originated in literature, with a special vitality in Spanish speaking countries. In painting, the movement was defined by the “Magic Realism” show of 1943 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The curators describe artists using "sharp focus and precise representation" to "make plausible and convincing their improbable, dreamlike and fantastic visions."
George Tooker, "Government Bureau," 1956
One of the ground rules to magic realism is that the dreamlike effect has to happen without any overtly fantastical elements, such as dragons, space ships, unicorns, or trolls—or even fantastical effects, such as glowing rays, levitation, or morphing.

"Spring" by Andrew Wyeth, 1978
Andrew Wyeth often combined familiar things from his world in strange ways, such as showing the aging Karl Kuerner lying in one of the last bits of snow on the field opposite his house to suggest the death and rebirth of spring.

Gary Ruddell, born 1951
Among contemporary artists, not everyone fits the description of "sharp focus and precise representation." Sometimes motion blurs and simple backgrounds convey the magic, as with the science-fiction-cover-artist turned gallery painter Gary Ruddell,  whose paintings often deal with points of decision, rites of passage, and the inability to communicate.

Among contemporary photographers, Gregory Crewdson stages off-kilter scenarios of ordinary people in everyday surroundings, but often in states of undress or with weird lighting that he carefully sets up in Hollywood-style shoots. It looks almost plausible, but strangely otherworldly.

In film, magic realism (or the more recent term "magical realism") might include Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, Jan Jakub Kolski's Venice,  and Alfonso Arau's Like Water for Chocolate.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kickstarting the "Perfect Sketchbook"

Cherngzhi Lian is Kickstarting a campaign to produce what he calls the "perfect sketchbook," which he worked out after trying pretty much every sketchbook on the market. His ideal book is hardback, pocket-sized and landscape format, with 100% cotton paper and a grayscale on the endpapers for judging the values in the scene. 

Restaurant Patron

I was impressed with the striking silhouette of a restaurant patron who was sitting about ten feet away from me. She had cornrows that ended in long braids, big silver earrings, and red horn-rimmed glasses.

I opened up my watercolor set and quickly laid down some washes starting with the blue highlight color of her skin. I worked as quickly and discretely as I could. I was a little nervous about the possible reaction from her and her boyfriend if she were to notice I was painting her. I tried to remind myself to wipe the look of intense concentration off my face and wear a pleasant smile instead.

Sure enough, when I glanced up she was looking at me and clearly wondering what I was doing. I showed her my sketchbook and told her I'm trying to get practice painting people in watercolor. She and her boyfriend loved it, and only wanted to take a photo to put on her Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Train an Animator

In 1935, Walt Disney wrote an eight page memo to art teacher Don Graham outlining his ideas for how to train an animator.

Rico Lebrun works with Eric Larson as he draws a live deer in preparation for Bambi from Eye-Likey
It's a snapshot of what Disney was thinking about the art of animation during those formative years just before Snow White and Pinocchio, and it offers some ideas that might inspire current art teachers. Here are some exerpts:

"I have often wondered why, in your life drawing class, you don't have your men look at the model and draw a caricature of the model, rather than an actual sketch. But instruct them to draw the caricature in good form, basing it on the actual model."

"In [drawing the model] lifting, for example - or other actions - we should drive at the fundamentals of the animation, and at the same time, incorporate the caricature. When someone is lifting a heavy weight, what do you feel? Do you feel that something is liable to crack at any minute and drop down? Do you feel that because of the pressure he's got, he's going to blow up, that his face is going to turn purple, that his eyes are going to bulge out of their sockets?"

Disney observed that young animators often dwelled on the individual parts of the body that they were animating instead of the expression of the overall pose. To better understand expressive poses, he suggested setting up a translucent screen with the model behind the screen, seen only by the shadow silhouette cast by a spotlight behind, which was in fact an old parlor game.

He goes on to suggest ideas for teaching about the components of facial expression, staging, music, dialog, and the understanding of what drives the movement of the figure. "The driving force behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character - or all three. Therefore the mind is the pilot."

In this video, Disney talks about how his in-studio training program went beyond the static poses that were taught in typical art schools by focusing on the flow of movement, action, and reaction. (link to video).

Walt's interest in an in-house studio was initially inspired by animator Art Babbit, who brought his fellow artists to his home to do figure drawing. Here's more about Art Babbit's role in animation education at Disney in the 1930s.

Artist Rico Lebrun was brought into the program later in the 1930s, primarily to help with Bambi. Read about his Disney art classes here.

Further reading
Full text of Disney's letter to Don Graham
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures
The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams (great book by Roger Rabbit's animation supervisor, who learned a lot from Art Babbitt and other classic animators).

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Art of Copying

Ilya Repin's portrait of Stasov

Photo of the copying room at the Da Fen Oil Painting Village in Buji, Longgang, Shenzhen, China,
which employs over 5,000 artists.
Blog reader Bob Walsh asked what I thought of the business of art copying.

Hi, Bob,
It's an interesting problem, though not a new one, except perhaps in the scale of the enterprises. I like to come at the issue from a lot of different angles:

Copying a master's work was and still is one of the best ways to learn. Here are some of the copies I did when I was teaching myself to paint. They include postcard-sized copies Rockwell, Bouguereau, Waterhouse, Moran, Cornwell, and even that same Repin painting of Stasov.

Many art students do copies at the same size of the original, matching it as closely as they can. Not surprisingly, the market for historical paintings is filled not only with forgeries but also with copies made as legitimate learning exercises, though they should be labeled as such to avoid confusion. 

"Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros," both by Bouguereau 

Many academic artists made replica copies of their own works and didn't consider anything wrong with having multiple originals. For example, Bouguereau painted more than one original oil painting of "Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros."

From a philosophical perspective, all images are real in a way and unreal in a way, too— and all copies are varying degrees of "faithful," "mechanical," "genuine," whether they're made by humans or machines, or some combination.

From the customer's point of view, as long as you know what you're buying, I suppose no one is hurt by copies. As long as some people merely want a hand-painted image to hang on their walls and they don't really care about who painted it, a market will rise to meet that demand, just as there has always been a market for reproduction antiques. 

From the creator's point of view, some artists regard copies as flattering and some as potentially infringing. That mainly depends on whether it's for sale and whether the attribution is genuine. American crafts artists have long been fighting Chinese knockoffs that undercut their market by matching their work exactly but for a much lower price. NPR did a report about New England crafts people fighting such a lawsuit.

Sometimes a copy can sell for more than the original, such as Glenn Brown's copy of a Chris Foss spaceship painting, which sold for 5.7 million dollars, while Foss's painting sold for only a few hundred. The legal and moral argument in that case is whether the recontextualization—the larger size, the new title — legitimized the work as a transformative new work. Whether such a high profile copy diminishes or enhances the work of the "real" original is a matter that's open for some debate.

Bob Dylan's "Opium," (2009) next to a photograph by Léon Busy, taken in Vietnam in 1915/ Left: Gagosian Gallery / Right: © Musée Albert Kahn, courtesy HuffPost
Other high profile artists have gotten in hot water for copying. Singer-turned-painter Bob Dylan received some adverse publicity a while ago when his "Asia Series" of paintings at the Gagosian gallery, which purported to be taken from his direct experience of his travels, turned out to be copies of historical, and sometimes copyrighted photographs.

Copying has its place in art, especially as a learning exercise. But originality and authenticity can be a rare commodities, even among so-called creative geniuses. The best thing is to be open and honest with what you're doing, and give credit where credit is due.