Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The End of Landscape Painting?

Computer specialists have developed software that turns simple outline drawings into photo-real images.

Segmentation map (left) and computer rendering (right) by Gaugan
NVIDIA, which developed the technique, says that "the tool is like a smart paintbrush, converting segmentation maps into lifelike images."

(Link to YouTube) This video shows the GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) software in action as someone draws shapes for sky, water, and trees, and the computer fills them in with textures.

Seeing this video, an artist friend of mine asked "Is this the end of landscape painting?"

I don't think so. There are more people painting traditional landscapes than ever. 

These computer tools may threaten certain jobs, such as those who create textures for game environments. But they'll open up other jobs and creative opportunities.

But my friend's question raises a point. Image makers who rely exclusively on these tools may find that they erode the foundation of knowledge and experience that they need to create convincing landscapes.

With technology like this, the only thing the human has to deliver is the segmentation map, and the machine-learning algorithm does the rest. The technology changes our role from artist into art director. Judging from the video, they're indecisive art directors at that.

It may not bring about the end of landscape painting—because there will always be those of us who use physical paint, but it opens up new possibilities for the computer graphics field.
Previously: Morphing Celebrities

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Are Sunrise and Sunset Colors Different?

A listener to the BBC podcast The Naked Scientists asks: ""Can you tell from a painting, or a photo, whether it's sunrise or sunset?"

My answer: No, there's nothing fundamentally different about the light effects at sunset or sunrise, and there's no way to tell which you're looking at from the light and color effects alone.

The cause of those light effects are the same. Sunlight travels through more atmosphere as the rays approach the horizontal. Passing through more air scatters out more blue wavelengths from the light rays, making the light that remains appear increasingly orange or red. As the sun passes below the horizon, beneath the curvature of the earth, it may briefly illuminate the bottoms of the clouds. Of course this effect happens both at sunrise and at sunset when colors are at their richest.

A single photo or a painting can tell you something about the position of the sun and about the height and distribution of cloud layers. And some art historians have argued that paintings of sunsets after the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 reveal colors that were more pronounced worldwide. But it can't tell you whether it's morning or evening.

If there are differences between sunrise and sunset, they're qualitative and subjective. In some environments, humidity and dust may be stirred up at the end of the day because of evaporation and turbulence, and these effects can increase the saturation of the colors. But you wouldn't be able to guess that from a single image. Emotional subjectivity also plays a part in our human perception of sunsets and sunrises as we experience them in time. While a sunset builds gradually to a dramatic crescendo before quickly transitioning to twilight, a sunrise starts off with a blast of color and, as Wordsworth says, the "vision splendid" fades "into the light of common day."
M. Minnaert, author of the book "The Nature of Light and Color in the Open Air," addressed this topic and here's how he puts it: "Are there any differences between dawn and dusk? If any they are so small that it is not possible to mention any really typical differences. One important thing, however, is that the eye is completely rested in the morning and sees the light-intensity increase continuously, so that it is more sensitive to dawn phenomena than to dusk phenomena. The latter have generally a greater richness of colour on account of the greater humidity of the air, and because the air is a little more turbulent, and contains more particles of dust than in the morning." (page 280, paragraph 193)

Listen to the Q and A on The Naked Scientists Podcast: Can you tell if it's sunrise or sunset?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Painting Method: Start with Patches, Finish with Details

(Link to video) Jeanette and I stop in the wine country of California to paint with our friend Christopher Evans.


I'm using a method where I start with a simple patchwork of color and then add details with fine brushes and dry brush techniques.

I'm using a limited palette of watercolor and gouache.
1. Titanium white (gouache)
2. Cadmium yellow (gouache)
3: Yellow ochre (watercolor)
4. Transparent red oxide (watercolor)
5. Pyrrol red (watercolor) 
6. Cobalt blue hue (gouache)
4. Prussian blue (gouache)

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Painting Animals as People

William Holbrook Beard School Rules
William Holbrook Beard (1824-1900) was an American artist who painted animals in human guises.

William Holbrook Beard, Making Game of the Hunter
He studied at the Dusseldorf school in Germany and moved to New York City in 1861, becoming a member of the National Academy of Design.

He had a studio at the famous Tenth Street Studios, so he would have rubbed shoulders with Homer, Church, and Bierstadt.

He often painted scenes where the human and animal roles were reversed, or where monkeys took on human roles, a common pictorial idea after the 1859 publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species. Beard's art was quite popular and often reproduced.

His painting of The Bear Dance is often used to illustrate the popular song "Waltzing with Bears."

The Power of Death
Looking at his work, I can't help but wonder about how artists are products of their times, and how times change. What ideas drove Beard's work? Why was it popular then and not so popular now? Which pictures that are being made now will fall out of favor in the future, and which will remain?

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Breaking the Footline

Artists have long resisted placing elements that are cropped by the footline, or the bottom edge, of a composition.

Painting by Thomas Frederick Mason
Even in busy, crowded scenes, such as this outdoor market, the footline is uninterrupted.

Stepan Kolesnikov
There's a lot going on in this encampment: a horse, a wagon, and three figures. but the footline is empty.

Jean Béraud
Like an actor walking up to the footlights of the stage, the male figure comes close to the line, but not past it.

Summer 1904 by Joaquín Sorolla
The advent of photography, with its weird accidental croppings, is usually credited with awakening artists to the possibilities of an interrupted footline. Edgar Degas is often credited with being a pioneer in cropping the bottom edge, and many other artists started doing it, such as Joaquín Sorolla.

I find it still takes conscious effort to crop figures or other elements by the footline, but it adds greatly to the effect of naturalism.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Do Sheep Recognize Faces?

Rosa Bonheur -- Sheep studies in oil

Scientists studying the brains of sheep are learning a lot about their abilities at face recognition:
1. As a social species, sheep recognize many other sheep individuals, and retain memories of those faces for years.
2. When they look at other sheep faces, sheep are aware of expressions of negative emotions such as stress or anxiety, and when given the choice, they prefer the calm face. They also prefer a calm human face.
3. They're particularly aware of ear position and amount of sclera (the whites of the eyes) visible, both of which are strong markers of emotion in sheep.
4. Unlike humans, sheep have special populations of brain cells tuned to recognizing horns and assessing their size, since horns are markers of gender and dominance.
Summary of findings in this paper: Behavioural and neurophysiological evidence for face identity and face emotion processing in animals
Andrew J Tate, Hanno Fischer, Andrea E Leigh, and Keith M Kendrick*

Thursday, July 25, 2019

'I Went to the Morgues'

The Illustrated Press has released a new book on Rafael De Soto, who painted colorful scenes of crime and murder for the popular magazines.  

As with other monographs in this series, this one begins with a biography. It tells of his origins in Puerto Rico and his journey to New York to break into the illustration market.

The images are made both from original art and rare tearsheets, and most of the book is devoted to large reproductions of the artwork.

De Soto said: "The experience that I had in the pulps was unbelievable because I had to paint the most gruesome things that anyone can think up to attract the attention of the public." 

"To paint those kinds of covers I needed to do a lot of reference work. I went to the morgues and they pulled out girls' bodies for me to study! I went to the autopsies! This was not in my nature at all, but that's what I painted and that is the kind of stuff people wanted to read about in those days. I am a man of peace, who would rather be painting chapels than making those things."

At one point a friend of his who was a priest visited him. Troubled by the images he was painting, the priest asked De Soto why he didn't paint beautiful things. "Nobody buys my paintings of beautiful things," he answered.

The Art of Rafael De Soto is written by pulp expert David Saunders and published by the Illustrated Press. It's 224 pages, 9x12 inches, hardcover with dust jacket and priced at $44.95
Previous books in the series on Coby WhitmoreTom Lovell, and Harry Anderson

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Assembly of Itinerants

The Russian realist artists known as the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers or Itinerants) assembled for this 1875 photo.

1st row from left: Konstantin Makovsky, Alexander Beggrov, Ammosov, Ivatchov, Ivan Shishkin,
Nikolay Nevrev, Volkov, Kirill Lemokh, Kiselyov, Nikolay Yaroshenko, Illarion Pryanishnikov , Ilya Repin.

2nd row from left: Vladimir Makovsky, Alexander Litovtchenko, Konstantin Savitsky, Ivan Kramskoi,
Masondrov, Bryullov, Vasily Surikov, Vasily Polenov. Photo by Michail Panov.
The Peredvizhniki rebelled against the artificial assignments of the Imperial Academy and applied their skills of realism to portray landscape scenes and naturalistic portrayals of common people. 

Konstantin Savitsky, Repairing the Railroad, 1874
They were Itinerants in the sense that their paintings were shown in traveling exhibitions around Russia where they were admired by a wider viewership. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Studies for Dagnan Bouveret's "Breton Women at Pardon"

Study and finish for Breton Women at a Pardon by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret.

"Study for Women at a Pardon, 1887. Black ink, pencil, charcoal. 
Sketch for the two women on conversation to the far right."

According to Wikipedia, "There are many known photographic studies and drawings both for the Breton series in general, and this work in particular. One photograph shows a grassy area in which the artist had a friend pose, another a view of the church seen here in the background, complete with the festival flags protruding from the lower spire."

Photograph of Dagnan at his easel while his wife
poses in Breton costume. Taken in 1886 
"Woman in Breton Costume Seated in a Meadow, c 1887,
an oil on canvas study for the central outward looking figure."

"1887 photographic study of the group, including the standing men"
Dagnan's easel on rails
Using photo reference

Monday, July 22, 2019

Painting an Airliner in Gouache

I've got an hour before boarding, time enough for a quick portrait of this Boeing 757. (Link to YouTube) Here are some questions from Instagram:

DZ asks: "How did you do that in one hour? Doesn’t the paint need to dry between layers?
I was in the sun, and the paint dried right away.

Joshua asks: "Can you reactivate dried gouache?
Yes, you can, but I prefer to get juicy gouache from the tube.

Connor asks: "Did you strap a camera to your head?"
Held a little point-and-shoot in my left hand.

James says: "I would love to hear some tips on how to travel with tube paint on your blog if you have time!"

James, I haven't had a problem with tubed gouache and watercolor as even the large white tube is just 2 ounces, under the TSA limits. Of course I keep them in the little plastic bag going through the checkpoint and I try to keep the number of tubes to six or seven. Be sure to call them "artists' colors" instead of "paint." 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

David Webb's book "Painting in Watercolor"

I'm pleased that David Webb included my little donut-jar painting in his instructional book on watercolor painting.

Watercolor is a subject that demands both practical information and guiding theory. Webb starts out with a thorough chapter on tools and materials, and then he shows a variety of techniques, such as gradated washes, wet on wet, wet on dry, and drybrush.

He demonstrates each of these techniques using step-by-step examples, and includes a few sidebars explaining troubleshooting solutions for problems that can happen, such as the paint smearing when the masking fluid is removed.

In the back of the book he invites well-known watercolorists such as Thomas Schaller, Jane Freeman, and John Lovett to explain their unique approaches in more detail.

Throughout the book, the text and captions are thoughtfully integrated with the visuals. Webb lists materials used in a given demo and gives helpful examples of each painting strategy.

The artwork is well photographed and the 256-page hardbound, 9x12-inch book is attractively designed and printed.

The emphasis is on a loose, colorful, and relaxed approach to the medium. Both the beginner and the experienced painter will find much inspiration and useful advice.

Painting in Watercolor: The Indispensable Guide

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Natural Science Exhibition in Binghamton

An exhibition of natural science art opens tomorrow in Binghamton, New York.

"Focus on Nature XV" will be on display at the Roberson Museum and Science Center. The show features 87 illustrations by 69 artists, including two oil paintings by me: Triceratops Hatchlings (above) and Repenomamus.

More info from the show:
A five-member jury of artists and scientists select the artwork for each exhibition based on the illustration’s scientific accuracy and uniqueness, educational value and artistic quality. Artists featured in the exhibition are from countries around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Unfortunately I won't be able to attend the artists' reception tonight, as I'm just returning today from a long trip. The show will be up through January 20, 2020.
Free exhibition catalog online the State Museum website
Press release about the opening 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Your Face as an Old Master Portrait

A new website lets you upload a photo of yourself and it will modify it to look like an old master painting.

This is not an example of style transfer that we've seen before on the blog. The AI erases smiles and changes lines, colors, and shapes, and it decides on which period art style to use. 

With this system, according to their website, "anyone is able to use GAN (Generative Adversarial Network) models to generate a new painting, where facial lines are completely redesigned. The model decides for itself which style to use for the portrait. Details of the face and background contribute to direct the model towards a style. In style transfer, there is usually a strong alteration of colors, but the features of the photo remain unchanged. AI Portraits Ars creates new forms, beyond altering the style of an existing photo."
See a gallery and try it out at AI Portraits
Article about the algorithm on Fast Company: AI Portraits
Thanks, Armand

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scene in Sebastopol

We’re in Sebastopol, CA and I painted this street scene in gouache. I captured lots of video. Later, when I get around to doing the edit, we can play that game where you can ask a question now and I’ll try to answer some of them in the voiceover.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Baths of Trajan by Haseltine

Baths of Trajan (Sette Sale, Villa Brancaccio, Rome),ca. 188215 x 22 inch gouache, watercolor, and charcoal on blue paper
William Stanley Haseltine's daughter, who donated this gouache painting to the Metropolitan Museum, described the villa as a favorite resort of the family and recalled joyful memories of her father sketching nearby ruins while the children played in the garden and the elders talked.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Stag Wagon Chased by Hounds

Lord Orford and His Stags, by Lionel Edwards
Lionel Edwards illustrated this scene taken from the life of the eccentric Earl of Orford. "One day he happened to be driving his team of four stags from his Norfolk country seat, Houghton Hall, to Newmarket, at the same time as the Essex Hounds were out. The hounds by misfortune picked up the scent of the deer as the Earl was nearing his destination, and promptly gave chase. Their 'cry' frightened the stags, who got out of control and galloped hell for leather into the town, and dashed through the gates of an inn into the courtyard. A potboy with great presence of mind banged the gates to, after them, thus cutting off the hounds."
From the book Royal Newmarket, illustrated by Lionel Edwards.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Morgan Hill, California

We're in the town of Morgan Hill, California for a nephew's wedding. It's a hot day, but I found a spot in the shade to paint this gouache streetscape. I'll make a video of the process later after I get back to my editing computer.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Smooth's Force Field

Waves around Smooth are caused by his panting. Each wavelet is a breath. Photo by Frankster.G

Friday, July 12, 2019

Feeding Time at the Barn

At feeding time, the horses gather around the barn waiting for their afternoon hay.

I draw their outline in colored pencil and then begin adding watercolor washes. (Link to video)

The top planes of the horse catch the blue of the sky.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

International Artist, August Issue

The next issue of International Artist Magazine will take a look at the oil painting techniques I used for my recent Tyrannosaurus paintings. 

Two of the original paintings will be on view in September in Cincinatti.
YouTube video: Oil Painting with Textural Effects
Check out the full tutorial video Unconventional Oil Techniques, which is full of practical art instruction for all levels. Review on Lines and Colors
Download at Gumroad:
Download at Sellfy:
DVD from manufacturer:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Phosphenes are apparent flashes of of light that appear without any light coming into the eye. They can occur when the eye is stimulated by mechanical pressure on the eyeball, with electrical stimulation of the visual cortex, or just by means of random firing of cells in the neural system.

Here's an explanation (Link to video), along with a way to demonstrate the blind spot illusion.

Phosphenes can be experienced by people who have been blind from birth when their brains are stimulated directly, or by people confined for long periods in darkness (where the effect is sometimes called "prisoner's cinema"), and by people experiencing hallucinogenic drugs.
Wikipedia on Phosphenes

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Getting Watercolor to Flow

Here's a little watercolor landscape of a dawn scene along a quiet stream.

The warm colors disperse into each other as the painting develops. Trees grow, reflections stretch down, and a bird appears. (Link to video)

The paints are watercolor and ink, and I'm using ox gall to aid dispersion. 

Monday, July 8, 2019

How do you develop imagination?

Lawrence Alma Tadema, A Kiss, 1891, 46 x 63 cm
Anthony asks:
I'd like to ask you, though you have plenty of information in Imaginative Realism on the subject, how one develops imagination. How have you stretched or enhanced your imagination? Or has it simply been there all along? What is the essence of that skill and how does one meet it? 

My answer:
It's a fundamental question, and there's no simple answer. I believe the imagination develops from several sources of practice or experience.

First, there's the inspiration you get from enjoying other people's art: reading books, going to museums, watching movies. To consolidate that inspiration, it helps to make copies, sketches, or notes, and think about them afterward.

The artwork of other artists serves your imagination best if it opens you up to appreciating previously unseen potential in the world around you. A pioneer in your field offers you a template for how you can begin to interpret the hazy ideas forming in your own mind.

Pages from the sketchbooks of movie director Guillermo del Toro
If you keep journals and sketchbooks of what you observe, keep another one for what you imagine. Draw designs for what you want to build. Try to capture your mental image of what you remember about an experience you've had.

Another way to develop the imagination is to harness your brain's natural image-making engine. Keep a dream log. See if you can accomplish lucid dreaming. Tap into your REM dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations, which are wonderfully non-directed, evanescent and hard to capture. Develop a meditation practice. I suppose you can also stimulate your imagination with psychedelic drugs, but I haven't explored that direction because I don't want to be seduced by the illusion that any of this comes for free, or in a pill. If you can develop techniques for encouraging your brain to generate images freely, you don't need drugs. As Salvador Dali reportedly once said, 'I don't do drugs. I AM drugs."

Albrecht Durer, Melencolia 1. Link takes you a
discussion of how Renaissance artists thought
about the sources of imagination and art.

Many artists that you may see on YouTube creating worlds from their imagination started out by developing a toolset of relatively standard techniques that you can learn and practice. Comic artists and storyboard artists in particular learn how to draw any situation from any angle. Learning the skills of imaginative figure drawing, perspective, and composition will reliably allow you to draw or paint a plausible image from your imagination, one that you can then take the next step of embodiment, by putting it though the process of sketches, studies, maquettes, models, and the rest.

In the comments, please share your thoughts on how you stimulate and develop your imagination.
Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Guillermo del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions
Oga Kazuo Animation Studio Ghibli Artworks 2 Japan Edition