Thursday, October 18, 2018

Art is a record of selective attention

Painting in Rawlins, Wyoming Watch the video on YouTube
Every painting is a window to another world. More than that, it’s a record of the artist’s awareness of that world. It’s a document of reality as filtered through one person's consciousness.

This way of looking at drawing or painting is based on the "filtering" or "gating" models of perception that have arisen in neurobiology in recent years. You might think of it as a modern way of expressing Emile Zola's 1866 idea that "art is a corner of nature seen through a temperament."

Sensory gating theory proposes that we screen out the majority of information that surrounds us at any given time. The classic case is a cocktail party, where you focus on the conversation, while your brain discards the bulk of other sensory information. That other information is mere noise that might otherwise distract you from the signal.

Another famous example of perceptual gating is the "Gorilla Experiment." In this demonstration, the observer is asked to count the number of times a ball is passed back and forth. While you concentrate on that task, other things happen that you might not even notice.

In our normal daily life this gating is achieved for the most part automatically. But attention can be distributed consciously and selectively, especially with practice. As artists, we learn to control the perceptual filters that we use, and we deploy them at will. Essentially, this is exactly what we're trained to do whenever we paint or draw.

For example, at the beginning of making a picture, we gate our perception to notice only the perspective, the proportions, the relative measurements, and the slopes of the lines. During these early stages, we ignore such things as colors or edges or textures. As the painting progresses, we shift our attention to notice other aspects of the scene, shifting back and forth between noticing big shapes and small details. A classic beginner's mistake is to paint the eyelashes or buttons at the very start.

Ernest Meissonier, An Artist Showing His Work
In the midst of this process of filtering attention, we also enlist our emotions, because art-making isn't just a technical trick. We may have some personal connection to the subject. We might be looking for what pose is characteristic. Something might strike us as funny about it. Or the subject might impress us as scary or unsettling. Consciously or not, those emotions will drive choices of what elements we allow to pass through the filter, and what elements get filtered out.

Whether the results are realistic or distorted, they strike viewers as "artistic" because we identify with the very human filters that the art has passed through. Art engages us in a kinship with each other because it allows us to pass through the doors of perception from one human soul to another. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Nature Drawing with John Muir Laws

When you're drawing plants or animals, there are two major issues you have deal with: the mechanics of how to draw, and the understanding of what you're drawing.

It's rare for an instructional book to offer a thoughtful approach to both of these areas, but The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling does it.

Artist and naturalist John Muir Laws breaks down the subject with a different sub-topic on each page, taking a fresh, comprehensive look at sketching and journaling from nature.

He discusses how to focus your attention, how to think visually, and techniques you can use with pens, graphite, watercolor and gouache.

Whether you're an artist who wants to understand nature better or a naturalist who wants to draw, you can benefit from the structural insights into flowers, birds, and mammals that Laws offers.

For example, he analyzes the symmetry of flowers and identifies the parts of mushrooms. It's all well illustrated with diagrams and step-by-step stages.  

After you read the book, you'll have a much deeper appreciation of the skeleton, the muscle groups, and the fur / feather patterns on a variety of species. 

Laws has a special awareness of body posture and attitude, and how to sequence your drawing to capture it accurately. For the field observer, he is practical about what you can reasonably observe with your eyes and record from memory. 

The emphasis of the book is on drawing from direct observation. If there's a shortcoming of the book, it's that he doesn't really adequately cover the pros, cons, and practical benefits that photography can provide.  

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling is 300 pages, softcover, with illustrations on every page. It lists for $35, but you can get a copy for $24.00 on Amazon. If you're specifically interested in birds, I'd also recommend The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, which is a shorter volume that stays with just that subject. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Painting an Alley in Rawlins, Wyoming

In Rawlins, Wyoming, I paint a view of the alley. The wind is pretty strong, so I have a few tips on how to deal with it. (Video on YouTube) (Location Google Streetview)

Note the pattern of parallel light and dark patches in the dirt road. I carried that pattern from the light into the shadow. Carrying a parallel color relationship like that from light to shadow makes the shadows more convincing.
PDF of Gouache Materials List
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
Travel brush set
Water-soluble colored pencil
Water cup
Canon PowerShot Elph (point-and-shoot)
Canon M6
Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Floral Art of Raymond Booth

Raymond Booth (1929-2015) was a botanical artist who created meticulously realistic images of flowers.

He grew up in England, studying at the Leeds College of Art. His technique documents the shapes, textures and structures of the individual leaves and petals.

Booth's images typically show layers of detail, not only the foreground flowers, but the textures and details of the ground beyond. Most botanical paintings show the specimen against a simple white background. 

Booth was also an expert horticulturalist, raising exotic and unusual flowers in his own garden. 

He was an intensely private man. Not even his wife or his parents were allowed into his painting room.

His magnum opus was the elephant-folio sized hardback book about the flowers of Japan called Japonica Magnifica, which includes 85 paintings, plus graphite drawings.

Another gorgeous production is the oversize book Raymond Booth: An Artist's Garden.

Learn more about Booth's art and life at:
Fine Arts Society
Botanical Arts

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Book on Zorn's Etchings Arrives in a Month

A month from now, Dover Publishing will release a book on the etchings of Anders Zorn (1860-1920), for which I wrote an introductory essay. 

It's 128 pages, softcover, 8.2 x 10.9 inches. You can pre-order now on Amazon: Anders Zorn: 101 Etchings, edited by James Gurney

Saturday, October 13, 2018

René Gruau's Elegant Simplicity

René Gruau (1909-2004) simplified his designs to the point of elegance.

His father was an Italian count and his mother a French aristocrat. When they split up, he went with his mother to Paris, where he became a leading illustrator for haute-couture fashion designers such as Christian Dior. 

In the high fashion world, outfits are made by hand specifically for the measurements and even the stance of a given model. 

As early as the 1930s, magazines started using photography to represent fashions, so artists needed to come up with a distinctive look that photos couldn't compete with.

His artwork defined both the fashions themselves and the imagery used to market them.
René Gruau on Wikipedia

Friday, October 12, 2018

American Masters Show Tonight

The Catskills plein-air painting “Old Mill Falls” is on exhibit now at the American Masters show in New York City through October 26.

I’ll be there for the gala tonight, October 12. I'm honored to share the walls with a group of first-rate painters, such as Joseph McGurl, Christopher Blossom, Sherrie McGraw, Garin Baker, Don Demers, Adrienne Stein, and Quang Ho. 

Flight Past the Falls, 20 x 24," oil on canvas mounted to board
I'll also be offering an important Dinotopia painting "Flight Past the Falls," which appeared in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.

The American Masters Show is at the Salmagundi Club in NYC. Those wishing to have the first opportunity to purchase artworks must purchase either a ticket to attend the Gala & Sale or an absentee ballot. The show will be up through October 26.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What colors can horses see?

Horses don't see colors the same way humans do. Like other non-primate mammals, they can distinguish yellow and blue, but they can't tell the difference between red and green. 

"A study has shown the orange framework on the right-hand fence is actually seen as
a shade of green by horses as in the left image." Image courtesy BBC and BHA.
Red or orange colors, commonly used for jumps, blend into the background from a horse's point of view. When takeoff boards are painted white and the hurdles are made a bright yellow, scientists at the University of Exeter discovered that the horse will jump farther. 

As a consequence, the British Horseracing Authority is revising the standard colors that it uses for the obstacles and frameworks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Greenwich Alley

In Greenwich, Connecticut we stand up to sketch an alley with two parked cars. I like the way the alley goes down into shadow and then back into light in the distance.

The casein underpainting color gives me cool borders and a warm center patch of light, and you can see the glow of that priming peeking through the final sketch. 

Thanks to everyone who came to the talk last night at the Bruce Museum, and to everyone at the Museum who hosted us.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lecture tonight in Connecticut

With Daniel Ksepka, Curator of Science at the Bruce Museum,
and expert on Pelagornis, which I illustrated for Scientific American
Thanks to everyone who attended the sold-out workshop last night at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut. Tonight at 7:00pm I'll be back to give an illustrated lecture called "How I Paint Dinosaurs: Art, Science, and Imagination."

Come at 6:30 for the reception, and stay afterward for the book signing. Reservations required.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Haddon Sundblom Book Review

A new monograph on the art of Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976) is now available.

Sundblom was dominant in the field of advertising illustration, expressing the exuberance and confidence of mid-20th-century American society.

The 224-page hardback monograph continues the splendid series from the Illustrated Press spotlighting notable American illustrators.

Born of Swedish immigrants, Sundblom's cheerful, colorful oil paintings were influenced by Anders Zorn and John Singer Sargent. He was a famously fast painter, producing complete illustrations alla prima.

He is best known for his portrayals of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola, basing the character described in Clement Moore's original poem, but making the character more human-sized and rosy-cheeked. His neighbor posed for many years, and later the artist used his own face as reference.

In addition to his advertising art, Sundblom made significant contributions in the field of dramatic story illustrations. He also influenced a generation of other illustrators in the Chicago area. His circle of friends, colleagues, and students included Harry Anderson, Andrew Loomis, and Gil Elvgren.

The book has a brief biography and 300 illustrations taken from both original art and tear sheets.

224 pages, 9x12 inches, hardcover with dust jacket. $44.95 (U.S.)
Haddon Sundblom on Wikipedia
You can get The Art of Haddon Sundblom at Amazon
The standard edition also available at the publisher's website
You can preview the book online here
Another book: Dream of Santa: Haddon Sundblom's Advertising Paintings for Christmas, 1932-1964
Magazine: IIllustration Magazine with features on Haddon Sundblom, James Avati, and Jack Faragasso

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Salmagundi Club Show Opens Tomorrow

This Dinotopia painting will be on view at the American Masters exhibit starting tomorrow October 8, 2018 at the Salmagundi Club in New York City. (link to FB vid)

"Flight Past the Falls" 20x24 inches, oil on canvas over board.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Boldini's portrait of Sem

Giovanni Boldini, portrait of the caricaturist "Sem" (Georges Goursat, 1863–1934)
In 1876 Boldini visited Holland, where he studied paintings by Frans Hals. Afterward he developed a style that featured boldly slashing brushstrokes and subjects in informal, offhand poses. A 1933 article in Time magazine called him "The Master of Swish."

Artists were always painting and sketching each other when they got together. Sem caricatured his friend Boldini in return.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Making a Hollow-Mask Illusion

The "Hollow-Mask Illusion" involves tricking the viewer into thinking a negative form is positive.

Creating this effect involved:
1) Making a negative mold from the face of the original sculpt (which is by Jake Hebbert). I used Magic Sculpt for this.
2) attaching that to a positive sculpt of the base
3) Lighting everything in the scene - except the hollow face - with a light from the upper right. I used a gobo on a wire to block light on the hollow face.
4) Lighting only the hollow face with light from the lower left, using an oval mask to shield everything else.

A computer generated version of this is called the "Rotating Mask Illusion."

You can make your own interactive version of this out of paper. 
Magic Sculpt

Thursday, October 4, 2018

12 Principles of Animation

YouTuber Kaptain Kristian lays out the 12 principles of animation, as formulated by Disney veterans Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. Their book, The Illusion of Life, is a valuable collection of wisdom about design, layout, storytelling, and animation. (Link to YouTube)

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Painting a Lobster Wharf

Here's the last painting from our trip to Maine: a painting of a wharf at New Harbor.

Lobster Wharf, 5 x 8 inches, gouache
The air is foggy, which is good, because it means that the light won't change too much, and I can paint for three or more hours.

Lobster boats come up periodically to offload their catch, as you'll see in this video (link to YouTube).

Four steps in painting Lobster Wharf: 1) Watercolor pencil, 2) Overall
wash and darks, 3) Far distances, (chowder break) and 4) Opaque detailing. 
Here's an overview of the steps in the painting.
PDF of Gouache Materials List
Pentalic watercolor sketchbook
Travel brush set
Water-soluble colored pencil
Water cup
Canon PowerShot Elph (point-and-shoot)
Canon M6
Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist
Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Art Student's Questions

An art student named Ross asked to interview me on a few topics to help him write an artist statement.

How did you get started?
I grew up in a creative family, but they were engineers more than artists, and I didn’t take art classes because no one seemed intense enough about it. I wanted to figure it out for myself and I went to the library to dig up the way they did things decades earlier. All through my youth, I never got to watch anyone else drawing or painting from life (somehow I even missed the TV show artists). Once I arrived at art school and started meeting other artists, I was completely captivated with how other people made a picture. I was fascinated with how they moved their hand and brush, but more than that, I wanted to learn what they were thinking as they worked. I believe that drawing and painting are an intensely magical act, like a form of conjuring. What I’m trying to do with my art, books, and videos is to try to explore the source of that magic.

What do you expect from your audience? 
Social media has put us in contact with people who follow our work. I think that's a good thing overall, but I'm not sure. That contact is certainly very stimulating for someone of my generation who was accustomed to singing in the dark. We can't help but recognize that our followers support us both emotionally and financially. No question, the internet has forever changed the art business by making us accountable to our audience. 

Should a professional artist learn about business?
Yes, if you're going to be independent, you've got to know something about business: marketing, contracts, accounting, publicity, graphic design, and video production. In this age of the creator-producer, it’s important to know about distribution, and sales. If art schools don’t offer this, you can pick it up on your own. I’m always trying to learn new things about how to make what I love to do pay for my living. That said, I try to keep business considerations or audience considerations from driving what I do or how I do it. I just want to have fun doing the very best quality work I can. I’m glad that the internet lets me share what I produce and what I learn with others. I have faith that enough people will support me to keep me doing it.

What artists influence you?
The artists who influence me the most are the ones who combine observational work with their personal imagination. Sketching from life definitely builds my visual vocabulary, which helps when I’m trying to conjure a fantasy world from thin air. I often dig into my sketchbooks for poses, rock formations, trees, landscape effects, or other details. That’s one of the reasons I like to draw everything. As Adolph Menzel put it: “alles Zeichnen ist nützlich, und alles zeichnen auch" (“All drawing is useful, and to draw everything as well.”)

Which artists inspire you?
Continuing from the last answer—there are the usual favorites: Golden-Age American illustrators such as Norman Rockwell, Tom Lovell, John Berkey, plus a lot of the Academic painters of the 19th century. I also love the painters who combined academicism with impressionism, such as Sargent, Sorolla, Krøyer, Repin, and others. There are also the landscapists such as William Trost Richards, Ivan Shishkin, and Peder Mork Mønsted. I also admire cartoonists and animators, such as Winsor McCay, Milt Kahl, so this list could go on forever: I love them for their process and philosophy as much as their style. None of them took shortcuts. I think the best advice for a student is to forget about style. Try to learn from the real world with close observation and humility. Make master copies from time to time, and go to museums, but put truth to nature first. And don’t model your work after any living artist, illustrator or animator. Ignore current trends, or your work will look like everyone else's. If you must study the work of other artists, pick ones from the past, and look at many different ones, not just one.

How do you use color to speak to your audience? 
Just about any subject needs to be simplified if it is going to communicate an emotion forcefully to the viewer. That's true of tone, line, detail, light, and color. Your color schemes start to communicate emotions when you leave colors out of the color scheme. That's the basic approach of gamut masking, which is especially important in color scripting in animation and comics.
John Berkey fan site
Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture
Tom Lovell—Illustrator
Previous Post Series: Gamut Masking Method

Monday, October 1, 2018

Francesco Paolo Michetti's Use of Photography

The use of photography was a big turning point for for Francesco Paolo Michetti (Italian 1851-1929). 

With photography, "I stole from nature more than a secret," as Michetti put it, so much so that it gave me "a new vision of art and life."

Michetti made excursions to villages around Naples specifically to acquire photographic reference, capturing countless human types on film: from peasants to priests, children and women with their innumerable expressions, from laughter to tears, from joy to melancholy.

A trove of photos by Michetti and his artist friends came to light in 1966, discovered in a former convent-turned-studio. Many of the photos document village festivals or daily life "in the wild" in rural Italy. 

Other photos by Michetti show models in the controlled conditions of the studio. He shot not only still photographs, but also stereoscopic images, and a film (now lost) 

For Michetti, the archive of photos provided a sense of authenticity and naturalness that he was not able to achieve any other way.
Online Articles: Francesco Paolo Michetti: Photography as an Aid in Painting