Thursday, October 31, 2019

How to Start a Watercolor

How should you start a watercolor? There are many ways, but this time I start loose, knowing I can use gouache to make corrections and paint my white accents.

After a colored pencil lay-in, I lightly establish the local color, then the background tones, and finally I use white gouache to sharpen edges and paint the lighter values.

(Link to Video on YouTube) Here are the watercolor pigments I'm using:
Raw sienna
Lemon yellow
Cadmium red 
Transparent red oxide
Alizarin crimson
Anthraquinone blue
Titanium white (gouache)

Other ways to start a watercolor (YouTube links):
Detailed, transparent only
Urban streetscape with fountain pen
Watercolor and colored pencils

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

We See Emotional Content First

Richard Amsel, portrait of Merv
Griffin Mike Douglas for TV Guide
When we see something, we don't perceive it all at once. Because of the way the brain is set up for visual processing, we decode an image in stages. What hits us first is the emotional content of the scene, specifically the color impact and the expression of the face.

According to Eric Kandel, the Director of the Center of Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, "We perceive an object's color as much as 100 milliseconds before its form or motion. This difference in timing is analogous to the fact that we perceive the expression of a face before we perceive its identity. In both cases, our brain processes aspects of the image that relate to emotional perception more rapidly than aspects that relate to form, thus setting the emotional tone for the form—the object or the face—confronting us." (Source: The Age of Insight, page 345)

One hundred milliseconds (or 1/10 of a second) may seem like a trivially short amount of time, but if you're watching a video with fast editing, or if you're flipping through a picture book, that emotional response may dominate your experience.

The book that I quoted from explores the neural mechanisms that we use to perceive the world: how the conscious and unconscious parts of our brains interact in seeing, and how visual information is decoded in stages. He explains how there are separate neural pathways for processing information about different visual properties, such as motion, depth, color, and shape. The book pairs that scientific analysis with an art historian's view of the revolution in painting that was happening in Vienna starting in 1900.

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

CaptionBot Uses AI to Generate Captions

CaptionBot is a machine-learning algorithm developed by Microsoft which analyzes an image and generates a caption to go with it.

According to CaptionBot: "I think it's a man in a raft on the water."

The labels are generic and certainly not what a human would say. That's a kayak, not a raft.

It says: "I think it's a truck is parked in the grass." rather than a "SportChassis P4XL sport utility vehicle."

Here CaptionBot says: "I think it's a group of men playing a game of basketball." But fans know it's "Lebron James dunking on Jason Terry."

The AI will tell you when it's not sure.  It says: "I am not really confident, but I think it's a building in the rain."

You can try out CaptionBot for free. They say they don't upload or keep the images you give it.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Red Eye from Newark

Sunset at Newark airport. Our red-eye flight has boarded. Floodlights shine on the fuselages of the airliners.

The painting is just 2 x 3.5 inches, the size of a business card. I like that size for a quick color thumbnail study.

Some questions from Instagram:
sarahstergiotis I‘m wondering how much time you had to complete the painting before the plane took off?
I had about 20 minutes before pushback, when I had to fold up the tray table. I painted a little more on it later from memory.

annscottpaintings What the heck is that pen you are using? I want some!
It's a gel pen: Gelly Roll Sakura Number 10

hermiispainting Which colours do you use? How are they packed to manage them while travelling? I pulled out five colors. I keep them in a little sandwich bag inside my carry-on belt pouch.
1. Prussian blue (gouache)
2. Titanium white (gouache)
3. Yellow ochre (watercolor)
4. Pyrrol red (gouache)
5. Alizarin crimson (watercolor)

scottzan@jamesgurneyart What kind of brushes do you use for sketching?
These are synthetic round brushes—the Jack Richeson Series 7130 #8 and #4, which are part of a travel set that works for gouache, watercolor, and casein. I also sometimes use really cheap brushes from big-box craft stores.

nmsgwatercolors Would you mind saying what kind of paper are you using?
It's a Pentalic watercolor sketchbook, which has "European milled, 140 lb. (300 gsm) acid free paper" sized for watercolor.
There's a link-filled list of all of my sketching materials at this Google Doc.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Edwin John Alexander

Edwin John Alexander (1870-1926) was a Scottish artist who portrayed animals and plants in an elegant style that emphasized composition and subtle color. 

A Turlum Stag by Edwin John Alexander (1903)
Dundee Art Gallery and Museum, oil on canvas
As a boy he accompanied his father to North Africa, and spent four years living on a houseboat on the Nile.

Many of his paintings, such as these yellow daisies, were created with watercolor and gouache on tinted paper.

It appears that he often drew with a brush, defining forms with sparing touches and separating them with delicate, milky washes.

Alexander was inspired by Joseph Crawhall and by Japanese prints. 

Edwin John Alexander, wildflower, 1900,
watercolor, 20 x 10.5 cm. (7.9 x 4.1 in.)
There are online portfolios of Alexander's paintings on Artnet and on Athenaeum. He co-illustrated a book on Wild Flowers in 1912.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Comparative Searches about Art and Media

Google NGram Viewer is a free tool that lets you compare how many times a given term is mentioned in books. It's one way to gauge how public interest in a given subject has changed over time.
There have been a lot of books and articles about watercolor in the last 40 years. Below, the up-and-down bumps in the watercolor line reflect the seasonal cycles of popular interest in painting.

These graphs are just one indication of popularity, though. You can also search Google Trends, which compares search traffic over time, though the timescale of computer searches is short compared to the life of the published word.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Persian Book of Monsters

People who love monsters will enjoy these watercolor drawings from a treatise on spells and demons compiled by an Iranian soothsayer. According to the Public Domain Review:
"Most of the figures shown are far from ordinary or angelic. A blue man with claws, four horns, and a projecting red tongue is no less frightening for the fact that he’s wearing a candy-striped loincloth. In another image we see a moustachioed goat man with tuber-nose and polka dot skin maniacally concocting a less-than-appetising dish. One recurring (and worrying) theme is demons visiting sleepers in their beds, scenes involving such pleasant activities as tooth-pulling, eye-gouging, and — in one of the most engrossing illustrations — a bout of foot-licking (performed by a reptilian feline with a shark-toothed tail)."
"The wonderful images draw on Near Eastern demonological traditions that stretch back millennia — to the days when the rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud asserted it was a blessing demons were invisible, since, 'if the eye would be granted permission to see, no creature would be able to stand in the face of the demons that surround it.'"

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Ulpiano Checa

Father Time rides bareback on a fiery black horse through the stormy night. He wields his bloody scythe, and we wonder: Who will be his next harvest? 

Ulpiano Checa (Spanish, 1860-1916)  (63 x 94.6 in.)
Ulpiano Fernández-Checa y Sanz (1860-1916) was an Spanish painter, sculptor, and poster artist who studied in Madrid and who spent time in Paris and Algeria.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

French Naturalist Henri Biva

Henri Biva, c. 1905–06, Matin à Villeneuve (From Waters Edge),
oil on canvas, 151.1 x 125.1 cm.
Henri Biva (1848-1929) was a French landscape painter devoted to extreme naturalism and an accurate portrayal of light and detail.

He painted outdoors directly from nature, typically seated on a low stool with his canvas on a folding tripod easel.

Henri Biva, By the river, oil on canvas, 122 x 162 cm
His paintings often depict a very specific time of day, with tantalizing glimpses of far space through openings in the foliage.

Henri Biva, Forest in the spring, oil on canvas, 73 x 60 cm
Because Biva's paintings contain so much carefully observed information, it's likely they were painted over several consecutive sessions, not on a single day.

Henri Biva, The River
His truth to nature and devotion to detail is reminiscent of Ivan Shishkin, Peder Mork Mønsted, and William Trost Richards, all of whom have been discussed on this blog.
There's a collection of his work on The-Athenaeum

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Aisha's Questions

Art student Aisha Ling wanted to interview me for a class project, so I sent her all my previous interviews and asked her to come up with two questions I haven't been asked yet.

James Gurney writing "The Artist's Guide to Sketching," 1981, age 23
Have you ever faced criticism, and how do you deal with it?

Even before the age of social media, every artist or writer who has ever put their work out in the public has had to deal with both praise and criticism. If you don't receive either, it means no one cares about your work. The first book that I co-wrote, The Artist's Guide to Sketching, only got one published review and we received about five fan letters, and that was it. That was the only feedback, really, but that was normal back then for a book like that.

Now of course, in the age of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, comments come flooding in. It's best not to be too concerned about either praise or criticism. Being attached to praise can be as damaging as being obsessed with critical comments. 

I've been pretty lucky because I try to give out positive, constructive energy, and that's mostly what I get back. You can't please everyone, and that's OK. Sometimes criticism is a matter of taste: not everyone likes everything that any artist produces. But if professional reviewers or smart amateurs offer a thoughtful, valid critique given in good faith, I take the comments seriously and see if I can make my work better. It's rare that someone will point out a weakness in my work that I'm not already well familiar with. I'm my own severest critic. The person whose artistic judgment I seek out most often is my wife, who I can always count on for giving me honest feedback.

How do you overcome artist's or writer's block?

I've never had an issue with slumps or blocks, probably because my earliest work experiences (painting backgrounds for animated films) didn't allow for them. I had to produce 11 paintings per week or I'd be fired. The same was true with my freelance illustration work. There was a lot riding on me producing a good result on a deadline. Working on a schedule like that means you can't choke. If something isn't working well, you keep working it until it succeeds.

Some people complain that it's as hard to finish something as it is to start it. You often hear art mentors say that you have to quit working on a painting to avoid overworking it. But I think that's usually unhelpful advice. Too many paintings and book projects are abandoned too soon or undertaken without enough experimentation and planning. 

If there is any way to make a picture better, it's worth considering. Many projects bring you to a place where you want to abandon them, and that's the time to redouble your effort to make them better. Sometimes that means starting fresh or wiping down the canvas, or reshooting video. But you can't do that forever. It's good to have a deadline to work toward so that you're not stuck with an endlessly polished rock.
Thanks, Aisha!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Mr Smooth Tries to Look Casual

The famous dog head trick.

Here's my favorite version of the gag.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Dean Cornwell Painting to be Offered at Auction

Dean Cornwell's original oil painting for "The Fight at Minowa" will be sold at Heritage Auctions on November 1, 2019.

If you haven't seen it yet, here's a glimpse of Cornwell working on that very painting. (Link to YouTube)

The Fight at Minowa will be at Heritage Auction, November 1, along with a lot of American wildlife and western art, illustration, and landscape painting.

Spectrum 26 Flip Through

Spectrum is the annual book collection of contemporary fantastic art.  The 26th edition has arrived, and here's a flip-through. (Video on Facebook).

Spectrum is the "premier showcase for imaginative fantastic arts in the book, comics, film, horror, illustration, sculpture, conceptual art, fine art and videogame genres. With exceptional images by extraordinary creators, this elegant, full-color collection showcases an international cadre of creators working in every style and medium―both traditional and digital. It features more than 600 works by over 330 diverse visionaries, including Alex Alice, Brom, Rovina Cai, J.A.W. Cooper, Jesper Ejsing, Ki Gawki, Annie Stegg Gerard, Donato Giancola, James Gurney, Tyler Jacobson, Vanessa Lemen, Jeffrey Alan Love, Mark Newman, Victo Ngai, Greg Ruth and Yuko Shimizu."

Here's a link to preorder 

Saturday, October 19, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 5

(Continuing from Part 4)

These technological changes encouraged the growth of extravagant drawing-based alphabets, such as “Rustic” (above) and “Leaf Cipher-Letters.” Highly embellished initial capitals can be hand drawn with a pen or brush using inks of various colors or tinted shades. Some of the ornamental initial alphabets are presented with a variety of stylistic treatments, such as the “Ornamented French Script” or the “Ornamental Initials.”

“Old English” remains the standard for formal settings, such as diplomas, but it is difficult to execute well, especially if speed is required. It succeeds best with a steady rhythm and even spacing using a square cut nib. Sometimes good results can be achieved by executing all the vertical strokes first, followed by the diamond shaped feet. A pointed pen adds the finishing touches, sharpening the corners and serifs and completing the hairline strokes on the capitals and on the lower case “a” and “r.”

Two other forms of artistic writing, less familiar today, are engrossing and showcard writing. Engrossing was a particularly lavish type of decorative lettering used on resolutions, certificates, testimonials, memorials, and manifestos. The examples are by Patrick W. Costello (1866-1935), whose engrossing work was notable for being executed in limited tones of Payne’s gray or umber. Originals were as large as 22 x 28 inches, often illustrated with flags, portraits, flowers, or other pictorial devices. They reflect a culture that placed a premium on congratulatory or memorializing messages, usually presented publicly to formally recognize an individual achievement.

Bergling invited his colleague William H. Gordon to demonstrate show-card writing, a more casual advertising form. Painted signboards of the nineteenth century tended to use only upper case letters, but they were gradually replaced by signs made with both upper and lower case. The letters in Gordon’s alphabets are formed quickly and without much preliminary drawing, using specialized brushes with opaque water-based media. Practitioners in this field were called writers rather than letterers. Whether employing the brush or the pen, the student should start by thoroughly understanding the construction before attempting too much speed.

By the time Bergling’s books appeared, typewriters had already been standardized and were coming into common use for business communications. Fountain pens and then ballpoint pens became established by mid century. The Golden Age of Ornamental Penwork was disappearing. Hopefully with the aid of this treasury, a new generation of designers can rediscover artistic lettering and adapt it to contemporary uses.
Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
You can get a signed copy of Bergling's "Art Alphabets and Lettering" from my website store.
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.

Friday, October 18, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 4

(Continuing the series on J.M. Bergling's classic sourcebook Art Alphabets and Lettering)

The Roman alphabets are the oldest and most universal The Italian Renaissance capitals, which in turn derive from those carved into Trajan’s Column in Rome, deserve careful study, as they are the basis for many subsequent variations.

Note the circular outside shapes of the C, G, O, and Q; the narrowness of the S; the nearly midline crossbars on the E, F, and H; and the serifs, the small spurs or feet at the top and bottom of ascenders. Achieving the nuances of classic Roman capitals is difficult with single stroke construction using a lettering brush or a broad pen, but some of the examples an attractive alphabet that can be constructed rapidly with a broad pen or flat tipped brush.

Most traditional alphabets have a consistent distribution of thick and thin lines. Typically, letterforms are drawn with greater thickness on the vertical ascender, compared to the horizontal crossbar, a byproduct of pen technique. Novel effects can be achieved by using a constant thickness throughout the letter or by reversing the normal relationship of thick and thin lines, .

Being “modern” or “artistic” or “up to date” became an obsession in Bergling’s day. He revels in eccentric departures from the staid rhythms of traditional alphabets. He includes Art Nouveau features, such as curving ascenders, curlicue serifs, or crossbars placed high or low.

Thanks to his experience weaving letterforms into monograms, Bergling was especially adept at interlocking ascenders and descenders. Some of these ideas were revived by underground comic artists in the 1960s, such as R. Crumb, who took a strong interest in both the music and the phonograph sleeve design of Bergling’s era.

Printing technology was rapidly changing at the threshold of the twentieth century. Photoengraving and photolithography allowed lettering to be printed directly from the original penwork. This opened up a range of possible effects, and liberated graphic design from the relatively labored and mechanical look of set type and hand engraving. The photomechanical processes also made reproduction possible at a size smaller than the original.
Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
You can get a signed copy of Bergling's "Art Alphabets and Lettering" from my website store.
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship, Part 3

Lettering project inspired by the Bergling book
For most of us, hand lettering is reserved for sentimental or ceremonial occasions, such as this announcement that I made for my son's graduation party.

(Continued from Part 2) But in the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship, which lasted between about 1875-1915, every business person was expected to convey their integrity and confidence by means of their pen skills, culminating in a confidant, flourished signature. To achieve this kind of writing, penmanship instructors stressed the importance of good posture.
Correct and incorrect writing position
First the pen artist must take the proper position, either standing at a podium lectern or seated in a straight chair with both feet flat on the floor, the back held straight. The pen is held, not in the tight grip of most beginners, but rather in a relaxed hold, the arm resting lightly on the table on the large muscle below the elbow.

“Whole arm” or “off hand” capitals, with their elaborate looping flourishes, are made without penciling the letterforms in advance. Their flowing grace requires a great deal of practice. They are formed with broad movements of the arm, swinging easily from the shoulder. Fingers, wrist, and arm cooperate to create fluid movements. Each part of the flourish uses a smooth continuous stroke. By contrast, small letters should be rhythmically created with controlled finger movements.

Ideally these scripts should be executed on a smooth cotton rag paper over lightly ruled guidelines drawn with a hard pencil. The slant of the letters should be absolutely uniform. The slant can be ruled lightly with an adjustable triangle set to a fixed slope and resting on a T-square or parallel rule.

Most scripts require a slant of between 52 and 54 degrees from horizontal, or the 3/4 angle diagrammed below. An oblique pen holder angles the nib to the right, allowing a better wrist position.

In settings where script writing needs to be larger and more precisely considered, it can be constructed by drawing the letters first in outline, and then filling them in with a brush or pen. In general it is a good idea for the student to begin constructing letters larger and at a slow speed. With improving skill, the execution typically becomes smaller in scale and more rapid. It is advisable to try for accuracy and quality first, and then for speed.

The pen-based script alphabets, with their German and French variants, derive from the models produced by engravers in the eighteenth century, requiring the artist to incise a series of fine lines into a copper plate with a sharpened steel tool called a burin. This copperplate engraver’s alphabet can also be constructed with the flexible steel pen nib. Each weighted or “shaded” stroke broadens on the pulling downstroke. Whichever tool is used, this thick-and-thin copperplate style is slow to execute, making it more suitable for headings and superscriptions than for everyday handwriting.

Bergling includes broad pen alphabets familiar to modern calligraphers, such as “Blackstone,”  “Mixed Roman Text,” and the single-stroke Roman and Italic alphabets. Informal round-tipped alphabets can be achieved with a Speedball “Style B” pen nib.

Series on J.M. Bergling and the Golden Age of Penmanship
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
You can get a signed copy of Bergling from my website store (with your name nicely lettered if you want. Send me an email after you order it explaining how you'd like the dedication.)
Here's where you can get the Dover book on Amazon. You can also still find a vintage copy on Amazon.
(Part 4 of this series tomorrow.)