Friday, November 30, 2018

Repin Paints Tolstoy at his Writing Table

Ilya Repin painted this portrait of Leo Tolstoy in the act of writing.

It's the unadorned space of a working farmer. There's a spade at the right, a wood-cutting saw and a scythe hanging on the back wall. The light streams in from the window. Instead of a fancy writing desk and chair, it's just a stool and a table. 

The message of the portrait is that Tolstoy (despite his aristocratic background) is really a hard-working writer who lived simply and close to the soil. 

Evidently, Repin did not find this composition readymade. He had to create it.

An earlier study, probably from life, lacks the door at the left and the window at the right. A big chest of drawers attracts a lot of attention on the far right.

This is the essence of composition. It's not just about where to place elements to make a pleasing arrangement. It's more about what to include and what to leave out; it's about how to attract the viewer's attention and thereby to engage their mind, in order to communicate the message you want to convey.
Book: Ilya Repin
Previous Posts on Repin

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Picture This" Comedy

"Picture This" is a form of live comedy where a stand-up comedian on stage is paired with a cartoonist offstage who draws quick sketches on a tablet. The drawings are projected in real time on a big screen behind the performer.

The comedians don't know what the cartoonist is going to draw, and the cartoonist doesn't know what kind of spin the comedian will give their drawing.

Cartoonists in this show include Mike Mayfield, and comedians include Brandon Vaughan. (Link to video)

In a lot of Picture This performances, the humor is pretty raunchy, but in this show at the Kennedy Center, it's more or less PG-13.
Picture This website

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Using HB and 2B Graphite Pencils

Jim McMahon asks:
What kind of pencil did you use for the sketches shown on the You Tube video: Dan Gurney Accordion Player, Age 7? I really admire the spontaneity and energy of these drawings.

Thanks, Jim. I usually use two pencils, an HB and a 2B or 4B. I use the medium pencil (HB) to start out the sketch, and I continue using the HB for the lighter tones. I switch to the softer pencil for the darker tones and the blacks. 

In practice, I keep the two pencils in my left hand, along with a kneaded eraser. In this drawing the boys were very active, moving around a lot, so I had to work decisively if I wanted to get anything down.

Dylan Foley and Dan Gurney / Irish Music of the Hudson Valley
Amazon Music

Portraits in the Wild / Painting People in Real Settings
DVD from manufacturer
DVD from Amazon

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hidden inside a Bruegel

Vienna is marking the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel with an exhibition of 87 of his works. 

One of the paintings, entitled  “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent,” shows a busy city scene that contrasts the secular and religious life, with the inn on one side and the church on the other.

According to the New York Times, researchers using X-ray photography to peel back the layers of the painting have discovered that the image was sanitized at some point: macabre or provocative details have been painted over to make the image more innocuous. 

At an earlier stage of the painting, a cross on a long-handled peel was replaced with a pair of fish (above). In another part of the painting, a corpse in a cart was obscured with a drape, and a dead body on the ground was removed.
"[Bruegel] showed us a comic, violent, and sometimes ugly universe of common folk at a time that the Spanish Inquisition was sweeping Europe in the 16th century. On his death bed, Bruegel advised his wife to burn his drawings, for fear “that they were too caustic or derisory, either because he was sorry” or because she might get in trouble with the authorities, according to a 1604 biography by Karel van Mander. Was he afraid of retribution because his drawings were too subversive?"
Read more:
New York Times: Peeling Back the Paint to Discover Bruegel’s Secrets
The exhibition "Bruegel" will be up at the Kunsthistorisches Museum through January 13, 2019.
Book: Pieter Bruegel: The Complete Works
"The Battle Between Carnival and Lent" on Wikipedia

Monday, November 26, 2018

Lovell's Leatherneck Illustrations

When he was a sergeant in Marines, Tom Lovell was stationed in the barracks in Washington, where he "fought the war at his easel" for the official publication Leatherneck

The technique for these grisaille illustrations was transparent watercolor wash rather than his usual oil paint (which he used for covers). In the picture above, there are a few small touches of gouache, such as in the initials at upper left and the wisps of smoke. 

Due to the low pay and need to produce a lot of pictures, Lovell often had to work without models, and had "to learn to draw from the mirror or do without. It was an ideal way to learn composition."

Lovell said that this technique "reproduced well on the poor stock and depended little on a middle tone; the picture story had to be told with the greatest economy of means and at a small scale. It was a question of boiling down and closing in on the subject."

"You had to learn to make your pictures with the greatest economy of means, to tell your story simply." That served him well later in his professional career as an illustrator for the "slick" popular magazines, for which he used oil paints in full color.  
Quotes: from North Light and Persimmon Hill magazines.
Previous Posts on Tom Lovell
Thanks, Jim Pinkoski

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Two Courtroom Artists Share Their Story

Elizabeth Williams, Faisal Shahzad, The "Times Square Bomber"
Sentencing, Manhattan Federal Court, October, 2010
Elizabeth Williams and Christine Cornell are courtroom sketch artists who have covered many famous trials. At the moment they happen to be sketching the El Chapo trial.

With cameras not allowed in the courtroom, their drawings provide the only window into the events of the trial. Vice News video spotlights their work (Link to YouTube).
Previous posts on Courtroom Sketch Artists

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Book Review: "Fundamentals of Composition"

Preliminary studies by Ilya Repin, from the book Fundamentals of Composition
It's difficult to learn about the teachings of the Russian Academy because not much information is available in English.

Sketches and finished paintings by Peter Paul
Rubens, Karl Bryullov, and Aleksander Deyneka
Fortunately, a few years ago, Vladimir Mogilevtsev, a professor at the Russian Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg, released two books: Fundamentals of Drawing and Fundamentals of Painting, which I've reviewed on the blog

Now the third book in his series, Fundamentals of Composition, is also available in English.

Rather than thinking of composition in purely aesthetic terms, he starts with an emphasis on the concept or story that drives the picture. 

In this respect, Mr. Mogilevtsev's approach is similar to Howard Pyle, who always focused on the concept that powered the picture and made sure the design supported that idea.

The book covers basic principles, such as variety, shape, silhouette, edges, unity, rhythm, color, and texture. But his coverage of these familiar ideas is fresh and original, and he provides lots of examples. 

He avoids laying down rules or laws, because one generation of artists breaks the rules of the previous generation. All of the basic principles are universal enough to have remained in place despite the changing styles through history.

Ilya Repin, Jesus Raising Jairus's Daughter
Most of the examples used in the book are from old masters, such as Michelangelo and Rembrandt, as well as 19th century Russians, such as Valentin Serov and Ilya Repin. 

Repin's painting of Jesus raising Jairus's daughter's is analyzed in terms of the hierarchy of details. 

Instead of trying to reveal a hidden grid of geometric relationships, this approach breaks up the picture into interest areas to show what's most important in it. The shapes are mapped out like a puzzle and numbered according to their importance.    

Alexander Ivanov, studies for The Appearance of
Christ Before the People,
The second half of the book presents a wealth of examples of unpublished preliminary sketches and studies by Russian painters such as Surikov, Repin, Serov, and Ivanov (above). Alexander Ivanov produced hundreds of exquisite studies over a 20 year period in preparation for his painting of The Appearance of Christ Before the People.

As with the other books by publisher 4Art, the production is high quality. The book is hardcover, 9.25 x 13.5 inches, 88 pages, printed throughout in color on chrome-coat paper.

Books in the Fundamentals of Art series:
Fundamentals of Composition (English Edition
Fundamentals of Drawing (English Edition)
Fundamentals of Painting (English Edition)

Related books:
Anatomy of Human Figure: The Guide for Artists (Tan cover, below left, Russian Language)

Academic Drawings and Sketches (Blue cover, below right, Russian Language)

Previous blog posts: 
• Russian Books on Academic Drawing and Painting
• Best How-To Art Books 
Survival Guide for Art Students

Friday, November 23, 2018

Edward Carfagno's Drawings for Ben-Hur

Edward Carfagno produced detailed drawings to help design the sets and plan the shots for William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959). 

The studio printed copies of the drawings in a booklet that was 8 x 21 inches, laid out in the widescreen format to match the film.

The booklet was taken out to the sets and the locations where it could be studied by the production team.

The red rectangle shows the final position of the camera as it zooms into this scene of ancient Rome. 

Some of the sketches translated fairly closely to stills from the film. Edward Carfagno won an Academy Award for his art direction on Ben-Hur.
Book: The Story of the Making of Ben-Hur
Online: The Wizard of MGM
NYT Obituary for Edward Carfagno
Auction record for booklet

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Tony Sarg and the Thanksgiving Day Balloons

Felix the Cat Balloon, 1927 (image: Macy’s via Smithsonian)
Puppeteer and illustrator Tony Sarg played an important role in introducing the character balloons in New York City's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
"His father was an artist, his grandfather a wood-carver, and his grandmother was a painter who gave the young Sarg a collection of mechanical toys that may have inspired the imagination of the burgeoning designer. But it wasn’t until he saw a performance by famed puppeteer Thomas Holden, who essentially invented the marionette, that Sarg found his calling. He began experimenting with puppet designs and stagings around 1917, eventually earning renown for his particularly sophisticated puppet shows that included performances of Faust and Don Quixote."
Read the rest at Smithsonian online
Previous posts on Tony Sarg

Brush Set

Scott asks: "Could you please recommend a set of watercolor / casein brushes?"

Answer: The Richeson travel brush set is one that I use all the time. For less than $40 you get seven useful brushes in a stiff folding case with a snap closer.

The set has an assortment of short-handled flat and round synthetics which are 5.5 inches long from tip to tip. The brushes are held in with an elastic strip sewn into the black cloth case.

If you're painting in a sketchbook, you can hang the brush set from the left page, which makes them easy to reach. When the brushes wear out, you can replace them with other brushes that you can saw down to length.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Zaryanko's Extreme Realism

Sergey Zaryanko 1818-1870, View of the Fieldmarshal's Hall in the Winter Palace,
Oil on canvas, 81 x 109 cm, c. 1836
Russian artist Sergey Zaryanko strove to paint exactly what was in front of him, with no compromises.

But by the middle of the 19th century, as photography became more familiar, critics objected to the extreme realism of his portraits and interior scenes, calling them “the frigid daguerreotyping of reality.”

Portrait of Prince Nikolai Yusupov, 1868
As a more painterly interpretation of realism came into favor, Zaryanko painted less, and focused more on teaching.

What do you think?
• Should a work of art assert itself as a painted surface as well as a window to nature?
• Can a painting be illusionistic without appearing photographic?
Tretyakov Gallery Magazine
Sergey Zaryanko on Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Elin Danielson-Gambogi

Elin Danielson-Gambogi (1861-1919) was a realist painter from Finland.

When she was still a pre-teen, her father faced financial ruin and he committed suicide. By age 15, she entered the Finnish Academy in Helsinki.

She went to Paris to study at the Académie Colarossi, and was inspired by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage to capture the daily life of rural people. She traveled to Italy to paint and study.

Having grown up in a land where sun is scarce, she reveled in the beauty and warmth of sunlight.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Two-Sided Paintings on Transparent Paper

Caspar David Friedrich, Mountainous River Landscape (Night Version)
Caspar David Friedrich (German 1774-1840) experimented with painting landscapes on translucent paper that could be lit up from behind. 
"In 1830 Friedrich was commissioned by Alexander, the heir to the Russian throne, to produce four transparent pictures. Executed on transparent paper and lit from behind in a dark room, the pictures would be viewed as an ensemble to the accompaniment of music. In 1835 the four transparent pictures were dispatched to St Petersburg together with the equipment needed to display them - unfortunately, they are now lost. In Kassel, however, a similar example survives, a Mountainous River Landscape painted on both sides of a single piece of transparent paper. When correctly lit, one side reveals itself to be a version of the composition seen in daylight, while the other side portrays the same scene at night."
Caspar David Friedrich, Mountainous River Landscape (Day Version)
Here's the day version. Presumably, one of them is flopped.
Via: Web Gallery of Art
Caspar David Friedrich on Wikipedia

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Camera Gear for Art Videos

After reading an earlier post called How to Video Your Art, Part 1: Camera Guide, blog reader Heather asked "I was just wondering if you had any new tech to film your videos or if you are still using the same [gear]?"

Heather, the most important new tech is the Canon M6 camera. This camera is now my main workhorse for art videos.

I use my other three cameras for secondary angles or for additional coverage (the GoPro, the Canon PowerShot Elph, and the Canon Vixia camcorder).

One of the features of the M6 that's helpful for art videos is the time lapse function. The way it works is that a built-in intervalometer silently captures one frame per second and automatically compiles the individual frames into a video file.

Because it's a mirrorless camera, it's a smaller profile and lighter weight than a regular single-lens-reflex camera. It also captures video at High Definition 1080p at either 30 frames per second or 60fps. It's also a good camera for shooting high-res stills of artwork.

Related blog posts
Video Downloads and Apps
"Living Sketchbook" app for Android
"Living Sketchbook" app for Apple iPhones and iPads
DVDs from the manufacturer Kunaki

Other photo gear
The GoPro is compact, so you can see past it when you're painting
Canon M6 mirrorless camera is excellent for time lapse, video, and stills.
Shutter release timers (or intervalometer)
An external hard drive helps because video files are so big