Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Techniques of Syd Mead (1933-2019)

Syd Mead, concept art for Blade Runner
Syd Mead, the gouache painter and "visual futurist" who inspired Blade Runner has died at age 86.

Blade Runner, Sebastian Vehicle Internal View
In addition to his concept work for movies such as Blade Runner, Tron, and 2010, Mead contributed designs to the automotive industry, cruise ship concepts, steel companies, and other industries.

There's a video on YouTube where he gives a peek into his picturemaking process, using pen, tracing paper, a bridge, French curves, gouache, big flat brushes, and other old-school methods. 

The gouache appears to be squeezed on a paper palette and put in cups for larger areas.  After his earliest work, he began using airbrush, and the airbrush gradations are evident in the sides of the blue spaceship and the highlight on the right side of it.

In this video he talks about preliminary sketches, value contrast, design, and procedure. "Cover the white of the board as quickly as possible and start to adjust from there."

Monday, December 30, 2019

Walter Langley's Watercolors

Walter Langley, "Old Fishwife."
Walter Langley (1852-1922) was one of the first members of the Newlyn School art colony of Cornwall, England.

Head study of the "Old Fishwife"
Langley also painted in oil, but many of his finest life studies were painted in watercolors from real people wearing their authentic costumes.

Walter Langley, "A Fisherman's Son," watercolor 1884
According to Penlee House Gallery: "Langley started his artistic career at the age of fifteen, when he was apprenticed to a Birmingham lithographer. At twenty-one, having completed his apprenticeship, he won a scholarship to South Kensington, where he studied design. Langley returned to Birmingham to continue as a lithographer, but spent his spare time painting and soon gave up lithography to concentrate on this aspect of his work. Although Langley was an accomplished painter in oils, he mainly painted in watercolour, often on a large scale. Using this demanding and difficult medium, he portrayed scenes of everyday life in a small fishing village, highlighting the hardships and tragedies that were commonplace during that period."

Walter Langley, "A Daydream," watercolor 1884

Book: Walter Langley and the Newlyn School

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sketching the Guantánamo Trials

When sketch artist Wendy MacNaughton traveled to Guantánamo Bay War Court to cover the 9/11 trials there, she faced some of the strictest rules imaginable.

Dilapidated hangar at Guantánamo, sketch by Wendy MacNaughton, published in The New York Times
She had to be approved by the Pentagon, as did all her art supplies, which had to be kept in Ziplock bags and sent through two security checks. She and all the other reporters had to sit well back from the event in a special gallery, behind triple pane glass. No photography was allowed, and she was not allowed to use opera glasses to see the faraway faces.

Two members of Mr. Mohammed’s defense team at the back of the court, chatting during a recess.
 sketch by Wendy MacNaughton, published in The New York Times

She said she was given a list of things she was not allowed to draw, which included: "guards and certain people in certain seats and/or locations; exits, cameras; papers, displays on computer screens; walls. And there was no redacting. If I slipped and drew any of these things, I wasn’t allowed to cover it up; they’d have to confiscate the drawing. While a redaction conceals the specifics of something, I was told, it also reveals that something classified exists in that location, which defeats the purpose. Instead, I was instructed to avoid drawing those things altogether, and to compose my drawing in such a way that a viewer couldn’t tell that I’d removed anything. Final rule: Under no circumstances was anyone inside the spectators’ gallery to make eye contact with, or otherwise acknowledge, anyone on the other side of the glass."

Every sketch—and even her paint rag—had to be inspected and stamped by an official, and some sketches were confiscated.

Janet Hamlin also sketched Gitmo and wrote a book about it called Sketching Guantanamo: 
Court Sketches of the Military Tribunals, 2006-2013

New York Times article, Drawing the Guantánamo Bay War Court

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Which Social Media?

Dave V. asks: "If you were an artist just reaching a point where you wanted to use social media to get your work in front of the public, and could only take time to post to 2-3 platforms, which would they be? Off the top of my head I’m guessing the blog, Facebook, and maybe Instagram, but I’d be interested to know your choices and the reasoning behind them."

I would put Instagram first for artists. Decide what aspects of your art life you want to share, and keep your feed focused on that main topic. I'd list YouTube second, but I would only recommend YouTube if you really enjoy making videos. Videos are time consuming to produce, and not everyone is set up to produce them on a regular basis. Followers offer a lot of feedback on those two platforms, and you can grow your following if you offer consistently interesting material.

If you like to write, I'd recommend blogging. Keeping a daily or weekly blog is a great way to think out loud and to share a two-way conversation with a group of peers. My books are based closely on writing I did for my blog. Blogs get less traffic than they once did, but don't worry about numbers. When it comes to comments, quality is more important than quantity. I think of Twitter and Facebook as a form of microblogging, a place to echo an excerpt of the material that I share on the blog.

Facebook is also great for creating groups. Our Sketch Easel Builders group is a lively place where almost 2,000 members exchange ideas on home-built easels.

Don't forget Pinterest, which is a good place to create a portfolio of your images. I've heard that ArtStation is good for concept artists, but I haven't dabbled in that platform. Bottom line is that whatever platform you use, make sure it's something you really enjoy and not some marketing obligation. It will only sustain your interest and attract followers if you're genuinely having fun with it.
Have a look at my 2016 post: Sharing Art on Social Media 

Friday, December 27, 2019

“Fire and Ice” Background

Here's an animation background that I painted in cel vinyl, the same paint used for painting the characters on the cels.

The idea was for the "subhuman" character to appear out of a layer of airbrushed mist and threaten princess Teegra in the foreground.

The background appeared in the 1983 animated feature “Fire and Ice,” co-produced by Ralph Bakshi and Frank Frazetta.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Optical Flow

When we look at the world, it's rarely the case that our head is held still and the scene in front of us remains static, too.

When we're driving a car, the scene flows outward from the vanishing point straight ahead of us. At the margins of our view, the movement is extreme, stretched, and blurry. 

This phenomenon is sometimes called "optical flow" by psychologists and computer graphics people who need to identify or render moving objects. 

Traffic systems can track the velocity and directional vectors of vehicles as they move normally in space, and they can detect abnormalities such as speeders or aggressive drivers. 

Image via Baldpunk
Often the whole scene is dynamically shifting, with our viewpoint changing to follow a moving person or object. Each part of that larger dynamic system has its own relative arc of action. 

I like to use the term "speed blur" to refer to the blurring of the background when the viewer is moving through space, and "motion blur" to refer to the blurring of a moving object relative to the viewer.

Comic artists, video game artists, and animators are all very familiar with these effects, but it's unusual for painters to try to capture them. There are exceptions, such as the wildlife painter Manfred Schatz.
Manfred Schatz on GurneyJourney

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas 2019

Little Nemo by Winsor McCay, 1905
All our warmest cheer to 'GurneyJourneyers' worldwide from me and Jeanette.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Abbey's Studies for the Coronation

In 1901, American expatriate Edwin Austin Abbey (1852-1911) received a commission to paint the coronation of King Edward VII at Westminster Hall.

Edwin Austin Abbey,  The Coronation of King Edward VII (1841-1910) c. 1902-7
Oil on canvas | 275.0 x 458.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)
John S. Sargent was offered the job but felt unequal to the task and declined, so the commission passed to his friend EA Abbey.

Edwin Austin Abbey: The Coronation of Edward VII,
study of Queen Alexandra's Dress, c.1902.
Abbey did a wealth of studies for the commission, including oil studies of Queen Alexandra's dress....

Study of Westminster Abbey and the Coronation Chair,
for The Coronation of King Edward VII
...and studies inside Westminster Abbey to understand the light and color of the space where the event took place.

According to the Royal Collections Trust:
"During preparations and rehearsals in Westminster Abbey the artist had been able to prepare sketches and fill in positions of the main participants of the ceremony. Later he reported: ‘it was fortunate I had been able to sketch at the rehearsals or I should have been in a great muddle’. However, due to the King’s ill-health the coronation had to be postponed and was re-scheduled for 9 August 1902. The artist’s viewpoint was a specially built box in the tomb of Edmund Lancaster in the north transept. Unfortunately, it was a dull day and Westminster Abbey appeared more than usually gloomy and dark."

Detail of E.A. Abbey's  Coronation of King Edward VII
"But despite this Abbey was profoundly impressed with what he saw: ‘It was a sight indeed. They had white satin dresses and long trains of crimson velvet and ermine capes – trains and their coronets in hands. They came by twos or threes and dozens, and were marvellous to behold. I never saw so many jewels in my life.’"
Read more online at the Royal Collections Trust

Monday, December 23, 2019

Painting in the Alaskan Wilderness Residency Program

The Alaskan artist residency program is looking for new candidates. Here's a word from the director, Barbara Lydon:

"Greetings! We’re pleased to announce that the Voices of the Wilderness Alaskan artist residency program will be offering twelve unique opportunities sponsored by the US Forest Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and National Park Service in the summer of 2020. Each residency differs by geographic location, modes of travel, length of time and stewardship projects. Participating hosts span the state--from the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska to Prince William Sound in central Alaska to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in the far north. Artists may kayak, motorboat, fly or hike while camping in remote areas, all the while partnered with a wilderness professional and engaged in projects that assist with resource management. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for twelve lucky artists (and maybe more, as some hosting areas may select more than one artist)."

"The deadline to apply is March 1, 2020. Feel free to contact me with any questions at barbara.lydon@usda.gov, and also check out our website "

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Overcoming a Discouraging Start

Mark asks: "How do you fix a painting that looks discouragingly bad halfway through?"

Sometimes a painting doesn’t come together right away. Even though I know I’m following the right steps, it starts looking pretty awful, and doubts set in. When that happens I try to push the painting through the “ugly stage” by sheer willpower. I usually trust the process, but if I feel I might be heading down the wrong path, I re-examine my goal and my strategy. Here are some tips that can bring me through the rough stages:
1. Concentrate on one small area, usually a face or a central detail, and get that right.
2. Get a fresh eye by looking at the painting in a mirror, or by turning it upside down.
3. Set the picture aside and work on something else for a while.
4. If there’s a fundamental flaw in the basic start, sponge it off and start again, no regrets.
This will be part of an article coming up in the next International Artist Magazine. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Top Nine of Instagram

Thanks for tapping that ❤️ button and sharing your thoughts on my Instagram channel in 2019. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Dual Axis Illusion

The "dual axis illusion" appears to turn on a horizontal axis, and then a vertical one, spinning in one direction and then another. (Link to YouTube).
Via BoingBoing

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Paradox Alley Cover

No problem! The driver had an ejection seat.

This painting was used on a cover for science fiction paperback “Paradox Alley” by John DeChancie. 

Previous post: Starrigger

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Guptill Explains Architectural Shadows

In this diagram from Watercolor Painting Step-By-Step, Arthur Guptill shares some insights about shadows.

He points out that shadows aren't just darker versions of the local colors, nor are they necessarily a bluer version of those colors. Rather there is often a shift in color within the shadow. 

In diagrams 6, 7, and 8, the planes that face downward tend to be warmer because of the color of the ground, and the vertical surfaces at the bottom margin of the shadow are more blue or violet because they are filled more with blue skylight. 

Diagram from Watercolor Painting Step-By-Step, Arthur Guptill 

Sandrine's Color and Light Review

Thanks to Sandrine for her review (Link to YouTube) of Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Artist.
The book is available signed from my webstore or from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Why Should I Mass Values?

After yesterday's postCa.Via.seattle asks: "WHY is value massing so important? I’ve read your entire blog, including everything about shape welding, read Arthur Wesley Dow’s book on notan studies, and have generally scoured the internet, so I know HOW to mass values, but still don’t have a deep understanding as to why it is so important and powerful. Can you possibly elaborate?"

Howard Pyle
Good question. The reason value massing is so important is that a simple tonal design has much more impact. You can tell at a glance what's going on, and it reads from across the room or when reduced to a tiny size.

The parts of the scene that are less important can be relegated to the light-on-light mass or the dark-on-dark mass. The parts that you want the viewer to notice are highly contrasting.
Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret
Here the wedding dress connects to the tablecloth and the female figures behind, while the people dressed in dark clothes join together to make a simple shape. 

Here's the YouTube video demonstrating value grouping. (Link to YouTube)
Previously: Shape Welding
Plein-Air Tip: Grouping Tonal Values
Books: Composition: Understanding Line, Notan and Color
Composition tips in: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Monday, December 16, 2019

Plein-Air Tip: Grouping Tonal Values

An essential composition strategy is to organize values or tones into a light group and a dark group.

In this plein-air painting of a house in Sebastopol, California, my main focus is to create a single unbroken mass of dark for the trees, which then connects to the shadowed parts of the structure and the garbage can.

In this 15 minute video (Link to YouTube) I demonstrate my approach, including a little about perspective, painting procedure, brushes, and compositional design. 

I'm using a limited palette that includes M. Graham watercolor in just four colors: yellow ochre and transparent red oxidetitanium white gouache and black gouache.
Related post: Shape Welding