Saturday, November 18, 2017

Doré's Caricatures of Communards

Gustave Doré (1831-1883) is best known for his illustrations of the Bible and Dante's Inferno, but he was also a caricaturist. 

In this 1871 sketch of a Communard prisoner, He emphasizes the wild hair and beard by downplaying the eyes and making them mere smudges.

He pushes the sweeping curve under the chin and the aquiline nose. 

This guy has dots for pupils and a triangular face.

After their failed uprising, many of the Communards were executed or exiled. Doré portrayed them as the pitiful souls that they must have been. The sketches were done under intense conditions: "In the evening, among his friends, to the repeated sound of the cannon at Mont-Valérian and the heights of Montretout, thundering incessantly against Paris; at the striking memory of those long processions of Communard prisoners brought back from Paris to the avenues of Versailles, at the sight of those wretches, their brutish faces contracted with hatred, rage and the suffering of a long march, under a burning sun he took pleasure … in making these sketches.

Dig Deeper
Book: The Dore Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy
Flickr set with more of these Gustave Doré caricatures
Images: from Versailles et Paris en 1871, which also includes magistrates and members of the National Assembly
Previously on GurneyJourney: The other side of Gustave Doré
Wikipedia on Communards and Doré
Thanks, John Holbo and Mme. Bruyére

Friday, November 17, 2017

Robot jumps and does backflips

The robot "Atlas" by Boston Dynamics has moved beyond walking to jumping and doing backflips. Atlas is 5'9" and weighs about 330 lbs. (Link to video on YouTube)

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Planning a Picture with a Large Group of Figures

Karen Robinson says: "I had just been looking at work by Wilhelm Gause. I was looking at the Vienna Ball one - and puzzling over how you would even begin to render a piece with multiple figures. Do you make a really detailed drawing, pick the focal person and kind of fan out from there? What if there isn’t really a focal person, the point being that there are LOADS of people..."

Wilhelm Gause, Hofball in Wien 
Karen, when you want to show a whole lot of figures in a scene, I think it's important to work out the design in black and white preliminary sketches first.

Wilhelm Gause (German, 1853–1916)
Hofball , 1897, grisaille on paper laid on cardboard
Size:69 x 46 cm. (27.2 x 18.1 in.
In the case of Gause's Vienna Ball scene, there appear to be a related work done on tone paper. I'm not sure whether it's a preliminary sketch, or how he proceeded, but I would guess that he sketched the figures loosely at first and then worked them out individually based on models in costume.

One of my favorite Viennese multi-figure scenes is this early one done by the Gustav Klimt and his brother, before Gustave went into the more abstract work.

"Friday at the French Artists' Salon" by Jules-Alexandre Grün (b.1868)
Thanks, Damian
Some of the best painters of crowd scenes conceive of the figures as part of larger tonal masses. If you do that in the early planning stages of the picture you'll avoid the tendency for a broken up or spotty effect.

Alphonse Mucha, one of the Slav Epics
You can get that right by keeping the sketch a little out of focus, and then you can begin to differentiate the individuals. You can see this done well in the work of Alphonse Mucha, Rembrandt, Joaquin Sorolla, Tom Lovell, F.R, Gruger and others.

If you put those names in the search box of this blog you'll find posts about their compositions and design process, or this link will aggregate all posts about composition.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dalí and Halsman capture a moment

"I have an idea for a photograph," Philippe Halsman said to Salvador Dalí. "In it, you, the easel, and the subject you are short everything—is in suspension."

Using invisible wires, Halsman suspended a chair, an easel, and a print of Dalí's painting Leda Atomica. Three assistants stood ready to toss their cats in the air. A fourth assistant held a big bucket of water.

Halsman counted to four. At "three" the assistants threw the water and the cats in the air, and at "four," Dalí jumped. Flash bulbs froze the action. Halsman quickly developed the film and announced that the composition was not perfect. 

They must try again.

They kept trying for 26 attempts, each time wiping the water off the floor, catching the cats, and drying them off with towels in the bathroom. 

But each time there was something wrong with the composition. This was 1948, long before the era of Photoshop. So, as Halman's daughter said, "Everything had to be done in one shot."

Five hours later, totally exhausted, Halsman declared they had a success, a photo he called Dalí Atomicus. The only thing added was the painting on the easel, which the artist painted on a small piece of paper that was pasted in.

The photo was published in Life and has made Time magazine's list of most influential photographs.

Recently, photographer Karl Taylor recreated the photo setup, sans cats (link to YouTube).

From the book: Halsman: Sight and Insight
Dalís Halsman's daughter recalling the photoshoot.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mrs. Basher versus Social Media

Mrs. Basher is fed up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, so she's going to let them all have it. (Link to video)

In the new end credit sequence, the three main characters in the Clementoons universe are Clement, Mrs. Basher, and mini-monster Sprocket. 

Each of them is represented by a set of a dozen or so different sculpts, and each sculpt has a specific range of movements.  

The style of action is inspired by video games. You might notice flashes of light with the zap rays (using mirrors), and little cloud puffs (using sculpted white blobs on wires) when Clement lands.

To get those little power-up gemstones moving, I turn beads on wires a fraction of a turn with each new exposure.

I puppeteer some of the poses with the camera set for a slow shutter speed to get motion blur in each frame of the fast action sequences. This gives the stop motion a different look and opens up a range of possibilities.

This kind of animation is fast to execute. You can animate about 10 seconds per hour, while in normal hand drawn or stop motion animation that much footage would take a week or two.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Peter Kotov

Peter Ivanovich Kotov (1889 - 1953) was a Russian artist who studied with Nicolai Fechin. 

This portrait of the chemist N.D. Zelinsky features the main subject in warm light, while the outer areas of the scene is cast in cooler, more subdued light. 

Kotov was also known for his paintings of industrial subjects. This 1931 oil painting of a blast furnace focuses the light on the base of the tower.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Do you see a cellphone in this 1860 painting?

The woman in this 1860 painting seems to be looking at a cellphone, but really she's holding a little prayer book.

The book is an important detail, since it may keep her on the narrow path of virtue.

Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, The Expected Ones, 1860
Once we get beyond that fun detail, look at how the painting is arranged tonally. The light is coming from behind, spilling out into the foreground path in a large, unified, triangular shape. To the left and right are well organized dark shadow masses.

The foliage masses create a circular window around the deep space view, and the foliage is lightened up as it goes back into greater distances.
More at Motherboard "Do We All See the Woman Holding an iPhone in This 1860 Painting?"

Massachusetts blocks the sale of Rockwell's Art

After a Superior Court gave the Berkshire Museum the go-ahead to sell off the treasures of its public collection, the Massachusetts Appeals Court has issued an injunction to temporarily halt the sale.
Thanks, Attorney General Maura Healey for honoring Norman Rockwell's wishes.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Arguments Pro and Con for Public Funding of the Arts

Mabel Dwight Backyard
Mabel Dwight was one of the artists commissioned by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal jobs initiative. As presented in the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, The New Deal art programs were a productive solution for supporting creative people during economically troubled times. 

During the depths of the Depression, these programs employed artists, writers, and photographers, while also giving Americans access to art and culture. Traveling puppet shows, dance troupes, and musical performances visited every corner of the country, while muralists decorated libraries and government buildings. Were it not for the New Deal photography, Dorothea Lange's iconic 1936 photograph of the migrant mother never would have existed.

Federal support of the arts in the 1930s was an economic and cultural stimulus, and it was used as a tool for propaganda during the Cold War.

But government support is not the only mechanism for supporting art, even during tough economic times. It's good to remind ourselves that in the 1930s, artist-illustrators like Norman Rockwell were producing some of their best work, supported directly by the people through the mechanism of magazine subscriptions. 

The Case of the Stuttering Pig, 1937 ©Warner Bros Animation 
The 1930s was also the most generative decade in the history of animation, where Fleischer, Disney, Warner Bros. and other studios were perfecting the art form of animation in the economic context—and the selective pressure—of movie ticket sales. 

While many of the WPA artists and muralists are now forgotten, we remember those whose work grew and flourished in a commercial setting.

Norman Rockwell created The Four Freedoms completely on his own initiative, and at first the Office of War Information refused them. It took the response in the Saturday Evening Post to get the government to recognize their value. 

Government agencies, unless they are remarkably enlightened, may lack the discernment to reward the worthy projects and to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

In a commercial marketplace, the public votes for the art it likes with its nickels. In a government subsidy program, appointed officials must decide on what is worthy of support. 

What role should the government play in supporting painters, sculptors and photographers? What goals should drive the process, and how should the funds be administered in a time when there are few shared artistic values? What should be the test of such programs....the quality of the art, or the benefit to society?

I can see both sides to the argument, and I'd love to hear what you think in the comments.
Read more award

Friday, November 10, 2017

Queen Catherine Statue Scrapped

Audrey Flack, now 86, had nearly finished working on a gigantic bronze statue of Queen Catherine for public display in Queens, New York. But protesters blocked the project, associating Catherine with the British slave trade. Sadly, the sculpture was ultimately stopped and the bronze casting melted down.
“I was crushed — it really just killed me,” said Ms. Flack, who said she had devoted nearly a decade of work to the statue, the most of any piece in her career.
“I researched her, and if she was a bad, evil person, I would not have done it,” she said of the queen. “She was a good human being.” Ms. Flack added, “She had dark Portuguese skin and was made fun of for that.”
Ms. Flack said she had visualized a prominent memorial to a strong woman in a city with very few female statues.
“I was told at the time that it would have been the largest public art statue made by a woman in the world,” she said, “and second only to the Statue of Liberty in height.”
Ms. Flack went on: “As a woman and an artist, I wanted a beautiful, intelligent female out there. Queens has the greatest ethnic diversity of any borough, and I wanted her to be a healing force bringing people together.”
Read the rest on the New York Times website

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Breaking Ranks

Alexandr Bubnov, Morning on Kulikov Field, Tretyakov, 106x198 in. 1943-7
Like other social realists of his era, Russian artist Alexandr Bubnov extolled feats of arms from Russian history. The painting shows "the ranged Russian forces just before the decisive clash with the Tatars: in their eagerness to get at the enemy, some of the Russian troops are breaking ranks."*

Howard Pyle The Nation Makers, 1903
The similarity to Howard Pyle's painting of the Revolutionary War is striking, though I assume it's unlikely that Bubnov would have seen it, so perhaps it's coincidence. Realistic history painting hung on longer in Russia than it did in the USA. 
* Quote above is from Social Realist Painting, Yale University Press, 1998.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Classic Chicago Cartoonists, 1931

Here's a little video with glimpses of the cartoonists of Chicago in 1931, who worked under the same roof in the Tribune building. (Link to video) 

The video, which was a promotional film for the Chicago Tribune newspaper, gives the sense of the impact the funnies (and newspapers generally) had on people during the Depression. 

A few of the artists are filmed drawing their characters, such as Andy Gump, Little Orphan Annie, and Gasoline Alley. Walt Disney appears with them as just one of the cartoonist guys, even though he didn't do the cartoons (Floyd Gottfredson did).

Many of those cartoons appear in the gang page above, from Mel Birnkrant's collection.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Meet Mrs. Basher

Here's a little teaser intro for Mrs. Basher, a new stop-motion superhero. (Link to YouTube video)

Technical notes: The lighting setup is a yellow gel in front of a soft box, with a cardboard snoot on the key light. Smoke is from a party fogger, and the camera (@60fps slowed by half) moves on a homemade radius dolly. Music by Kevin MacLeod.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Paint a Monument Results

A few weeks ago, I announced the "Paint a Monument Challenge," inviting you to sketch an outdoor sculpted statue or monument. Many of you faced challenging conditions — including 15 degree Fahrenheit temperatures with blobs of snow landing on the sketchbook!

You came up with some wonderful results. I loved reading not only about your plein-air experiences, but also about the fascinating stories behind the statues. It was really hard to choose the winners, but here we go:
Grand Prize Winner
A stylish and expressive solution that's in keeping with the subject.

"The subject matter is not exactly what you would call a monument in that it is not a single sculpture erected in a public space in order to commemorate an event or a person. Rather, it is one from a pair of statues sitting at the entrance of a famous shintō shrine in Kyoto, Kitano Tenman-gū. (As a side note, I was actually married in Kitano Tenman-gū.) Such pairs of statues, representing two semi-fantastic creatures, the shishi, or lion, and the koma-inu, or ‘Korean dog’, are found in every shrine throughout Japan, and are thought of as guardian protectors, usually situated at any threshold outside and inside the shrine." 

"What is striking with this particular pair is how ‘untraditional’ it is. Traditional lion and dog pairs are usually smaller than human-size, carved out of stone or wood, and retain a more traditional appearance. Here, both statues are made out of bronze; at a huge scale; and while the shishi is thought to have derived from actual lions, its traditional iconography was handed down from Chinese models, as an actual lion was never seen in Japan before the 19th century. Here, it seems that the traditional shishi was fused with western examples of lion monuments."

"My sketching tool is a yatate, a portable inkwell filled with sumi ink ground on an ink stone, and paired with a calligraphy-style brush that is kept in the handle. This tool was used as far back as the 15th century, but nowadays yatate are generally thought of as antiques more than anything else. They still offer one of the most compact sketching kits imaginable, and allow to safely carry an expensive brush that would normally not leave the house. This was only my second attempt at sketching using a yatate and I cannot say that I took advantage of the versatility and expressive potential of the Japanese brush and ink."
Breno Macedo
Superb handling of light and interesting color gradation between warm and cool. I like the way he bleached out the lights. I also admire the variety of the edge around the vignette.

"For my entry, I picked this statue in front of Trianon Park in São Paulo, Brazil. I walk by it almost everyday and there is always an appealing light striking it in the afternoon. My medium of choice was watercolors which I find the fastest to work with. I thought it would be interesting to work with the cool and warm shades, which is always a tricky thing to do because I wanted to avoid muddy colors (my previous attempt was a mess D: ). The hot pressed paper won't allow much margin for error so worked on those lights in a single layer, from the blue hues at the top."

"The challenge was a great excuse to paint this subject and it was a lot of fun. I look forward to the next ones!"
Silvana Rusan
Carefully observed forms and textures, with a sense of setting and time of year.

"For my monument painting challenge, I've picked a wooden totem sculpture outside the Richmond Art Centre in Richmond BC. I used gouache paints and synthetic brushes on 7x5" black 80lb acid free cover stock."

"I really enjoyed this painting, as it was interesting to notice how from top to bottom the tones of the wood became more cold, since the bottom of the sculpture is more exposed to moisture."
Susan Otten
What a sad story, and at the same time, what a tribute to the devotion of the parents. 
"Here is a painting I did of the George Blount Memorial. It is a headstone of a five year old boy that died falling from a second floor bannister in his parents hotel in 1876. His parents, a prominent family in Columbus, were devastated by the loss of their son and created this monument in his likeness."

"It is located in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio and "Georgie" has become a popular fixture in this park-like cemetery."
Rozene Janette
The watercolor and gouache technique gives you a good range of descriptive options for the bronze and marble. The bust seems to be a respectful tribute from one artist to another, and you've added to the chain.

"This memorial to the artist and architect Richard Morris Hunt was designed by the sculptor Daniel Chester French. It is installed in the wall of Central Park across from the Frick Museum on 5th Ave. and 70th St. Hunt designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I sketched it in watercolor with white gouache."

Diego Fishburn
This rendering captures the weight and power of the bronze.

"The stars aligned, with this challenge. I travel to Barcelona often for work and have always wanted to paint the lion statues around the Christopher Columbus monument. It has a constant flow of tourists, and on the day after Catalonia declared their independence, I only had this beautiful, sunny Saturday. Painted in Gouache with Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, a bit of Cad Yellow, and Titanium White."

"Incidentally, it was the video of the painting Mr. Gurney made a few years ago, of the horse and rider statue, that made me decide gouache was worth a try. Thank you James for your generosity and inspiration. Best spot was on the floor with a little shade from a light post. Luckily, I never got stepped on."

Honorable Mention: Video
I love the video and the art you did, as well as the story of the way your son joined you on the adventure.

(Link to YouTube)

Alexandre Magnin
"The statue I sketched for the challenge is called "The Secret" by an artist called John McKinnon. I chose this one because it is a statue I see almost every day going to the playground with my 2-year old son, he likes it a lot and he was excited to see it painted in my sketchbook :-) To make the challenge even more fun, I put together a short video (1'40") documenting the process: I used mostly watercolour in my Moleskine watercolour sketchbook (8.25"x5") and added a touch of gouache at the end to suggest a few leaves."
Be sure to see all the entries on the Paint a Monument Challenge page on Facebook. Thanks to all who entered.

Attention Winners (and Honorable Mention), please email me your mailing address (gurneyjourney at Gmail) so that I can send you a "Department of Art" patch, and let me know what video download you want. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Morphing Celebrities

In this video, a computer invents faces that look like celebrities. They're 100% artificial, created by extracting information from a huge database of real celebrity images. (Link to video)

The faces slowly morph from one individual to another, shifting from male to female, melting gradually from one ethnicity to another. The only thing that stays constant is the position of the eyes.

I get the feeling that I'm in the presence of an alien artistic mind with a bizarre liquid creativity. This non-human mind doesn't observe the boundaries between groups of people and sees every face as part of a shifting continuum.

Some faces almost look plausible, even though they're synthetic.

But there are in-between stages that look monstrous, bizarre, and sometimes beautiful. Textures become liquid or crusty like lava. The transitional images appear to be creative interpolations, rather than linear in-betweens.

The images are produced by an artificial-intelligence algorithm called a generative adversarial network (GAN).

One algorithm is optimized to generate images while another is fine-tuned to distinguish a plausibly real face from a fake one. The computer is trained using this "creator vs. critic" dynamic, starting with low resolution images, and adding detail and resolution in stages.

This kind of algorithm can also be applied to objects. If you start this video at 4:00, it shows computer-invented forms that morph into each other, but still stay within certain categories.  (YouTube)

For example, the synthetic images above are generated within the categories of horse, sofa, bus, church/outdoor, and bicycle.
Read the scientific paper
Publication: Progressive Growing of GANs for Improved Quality, Stability, and Variation 
Authors: Tero KarrasTimo AilaSamuli Laine, Jaakko Lehtinen (NVIDIA and Aalto University)
Previously on GJ
Text-to-image synthesis

Saturday, November 4, 2017

FDR Tour Guide

'Ranger Bob' Herberger took us on a tour of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home in Hyde Park, NY. 

As he did, I sketched him in his ranger uniform using watercolor pencils and a couple of water brushes.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Museum, and Home