Saturday, November 30, 2019

Menzel's Paintings on Paper

Adolph Menzel, Senior Privy Councillor Knerk,
portrait study for the painting The Coronation of Wilhelm I in Königsberg, 1863/1865,
watercolour and gouache over a preparatory sketch on vellum paper
Adolph Menzel (1815–1905) is currently featured in a Berlin exhibition about his paintings on paper.

According to the Kupferstichkabinett, the museum that's hosting the show, Menzel "is known as a painter of large works on canvas, and as the creator of countless studies in pencil. But it was first as a painter of works on paper that he began to employ the full palette of his artistic gifts of expression, creating colourful works ranging from experimental portrait studies through to elaborately composed paintings."

Adolph Menzel "Diploma for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Heckmann Factory", 1869
The museum "possesses the largest collection of works on paper by this German artist, comprising more than 6,000 works – is rediscovering Menzel as a painter of works on paper with a major solo exhibition. The show will feature around 100 works in watercolour, pastels and gouache from the museum’s own holdings, along with a number of key loans. Together, they offer the first comprehensive survey of Menzel’s painterly works on paper."

(Link to YouTube)

"The majority of the works shown in the exhibition are standalone works, however there are also a number of preparatory studies for famous paintings."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Seeing the Big Shapes, Painting the Details

It's an overcast October day in Rhinecliff, New York and I want to paint this street scene in gouache.

(Link to YouTube) Even with a straightforward scene like this, I have to remember to think about the big shapes and not get lost in the details, or as they say in the Tao Te Ching, the 10,000 things.

One way to see the simple tones of a scene is to photograph the scene and put a photo of the scene through a Photoshop filter, such as Filter / Artistic / Cutout or the Poster Shine app.

I use the following pigments of watercolor and gouache in tubes:

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Heatmaps Show Where We're Looking

Eyetracking heatmaps appear as red and yellow blobs where viewers spend the most time looking.
Norman Rockwell's Freedom from Want, courtesy Dan Hill
According to Dan Hill, "If there's a face involved, as much as seventy percent or more of all the gaze activity goes to the face(s) present."

Hill notes that in the painting American Gothic by Grant Wood, even the pitchfork and the man's hand don't compete with the faces. 

We use faces to form our impression of people, Hill says. "We're always looking for clues about their social status, their mood and overall personality."

Images from the book "First Blush: People's Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art" by Dan Hill

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Warren Baumgartner in Illustration Magazine

The new issue of Illustration Magazine (Issue 66) has a feature on Warren Baumgartner (1894-1963).

Writer David Saunders says: "The artist preferred to work in watercolor. He would start by drawing a careful composition in pencil, and then tie together all of the masses into an abstract shape."

"He would then refine the work from large shapes down to smaller details, carefully adjusting his design before starting to paint."

"He was not satisfied with flashy techniques, and avoided obviously textured passages, vagaries of form, or jarring notes of unrelated color."

The new issue also features Paul Shipper and George Gross. Each article has dozens of high quality reproductions taken from original art and tearsheets. You can preview the issue online at the Illustration website.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Priming for a Gouache Painting

Sarah Noda says: You stated that you primed the paper with casein and that it could be primed with acrylic. If you primed with acrylic then wouldn't that prevent the paper from absorbing the watercolor?

Sarah, yes, you want the priming to be a receptive surface for the gouache. If it dries too thick and glossy, the gouache will bead up. The acrylic I was suggesting is Holbein's Acryla Gouache, which dries with a matte surface, as does casein.

Whatever priming you use, it should be a thin layer, thin enough so that the texture of the paper still shows through. You could use watercolor for the priming, but the idea of Acryla Gouache or casein is that it should dry with a flat, even tone and be impervious to reactivation.  As with any unconventional technique, experiment first on a scrap.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Cartoons of Bernard Partridge

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin check up on the state of the world.
Bernard Partridge (English, 1861-1945) was a book illustrator and a cartoonist for the humor magazine Punch.
His illustrations were admired by Adolph Menzel. Many of his cartoons dealt with themes of war and peace during the era of the Great Wars.
Bernard Partridge on Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Question about Digital Techniques

Jacob asks: "Do you see the use of digital illustration today as a hindrance or an advancement in the art industry today?" 
The short answer is that if it's good art it's an advancement. If it's bad art, it's a hindrance.

But you're asking about the tools, right? Computers give us new tools for making images and graphics. They make some techniques nearly obsolete. I grew up with T-squares, tracing paper, press type, paste-up, Art-O-Graph projectors, marker comps, waxers, stat cameras, and Rubylith color separations.

Map making in 1961 used many analog processes that are largely forgotten now. Via British Pathé

Some of those methods are gone and I don't miss them. But others have wonderful qualities that, in my opinion, can't be improved upon by digital methods. I still use tracing paper and I love hand lettering. For the kind of illustration and plein-air artwork that I do, the old-school methods are much more direct and efficient and satisfying. I also like the sense of agency and capacity that using them gives me.

The tools used by Bill Watterson on Calvin and Hobbes
Having digital techniques available doesn't stop more traditionally-minded artists like me from creating things with the older tools if we prefer to use them or if we get preferable results that way. I have even been reviving and updating some Renaissance methods of drawing that have been forgotten for centuries. One can argue that the community-building effect of the internet has brought about a revival in traditional hand skills, such as hand lettering and sign painting.

Digital technologies do more than streamline workflows; they encourage the creation of entirely new art forms and aesthetics. In terms of the economics, it helps people in the industry produce more artwork more efficiently. But in the world of art efficiency isn't everything. The work needs to be aesthetically pleasing, so each creator must choose the tools that achieve that goal. Art schools have to decide if it's worth teaching the foundational skills that these technologies replace. Individual artists have to decide what they want to spend their time doing and what kinds of images they want to create.

I'm no expert about digital tools for illustration, but my impression is that Photoshop has remained a useful toolset for creating 2D artwork for an amazingly long time. It's getting more expensive to use with Adobe's subscription rates. As certain fields move into the 3D space, individual artists find themselves in a technological arms race against better funded studios that can afford the more expensive software and assets that get measurably better results. And as artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques become more and more powerful, they will usurp much of the direct image-making altogether. The result will be to allow anyone with the right software to create any image in any style and to make the job of illustration more like that of an art director.

So, overall, I see digital tools as a benefit to the field of illustration and animation, even though I personally don't use the computer very much for creating images. I use the computer more for documenting and distributing my work.

What's most exciting to me right now is the synergy between digital and hand-crafted techniques. Where the computer has been paired with the hand skills of painting, drawing, sculpting, and puppeteering, there's an exciting creative energy that has brought about entirely new forms of expression.

There are all sorts of cross collaborations between hand-made and computer-generated that have emerged in the movie world, from Boxtrolls to Klaus, to Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. 

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Short Film about the Resilience of Nature

Acclaimed naturalist David Attenborough presents this optimistic short film about the individuality of spiders, the resilience of nature, and the ubiquity of mortality. (Link to YouTube)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Choosing Something to Paint

Ogden Pleissner (1905-1983), Old Maid's Lane
Good advice from Arthur Guptill:

"Don't spend all day hunting for something to paint. Too many students search and search for the perfect ready-made picture just waiting to be transferred to paper. While a truly outstanding painting often shows unusual subject matter, or, at least, a fresh mood or aspect of it, some of the greatest masterpieces ever painted picture the simple everyday things known to all.

"But you are not entirely limited by your subject. We have repeatedly emphasized that it is your prerogative as a painter to take as many liberties with subject matter as you wish, and in this way translate the mere hint of a picture into something of worth. If your subject is too complex, you can simplify it; if too large, you can shrink it or omit part of it. You will be wise, though, to limit your early attempts to relatively small subjects. Too many elements are bound to prove confusing."

From Watercolor Step-By-Step, by Arthur Guptill

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Is College Necessary for a Freelance Career?

A visit to an art school. I'm wearing a T-shirt from San Jose State's
Shrunkenheadman Club
Jacob asks:"Do you think a college education is necessary to become a successful freelance artist?"

If you want to be freelance artist, no one is going to ask you for a diploma. So the answer is no, you don't have to go to to college or art school if you want to make it as a freelancer. You might then ask: What do you need to learn, and how can you learn it?

Anyone who wants to make a living from their art needs two things: impressive samples and good business skills. One way or another, someone has to pay you for what you create, and that means you have to create artwork that art buyers will want to pay you money for, and you have to create a business, with all that entails.

What school can help you develop those skills? To decide that, you should visualize where you want to be in a few years, and choose a school accordingly. Look at the curriculum they're offering (both required and elective), the portfolios of both the teachers and the students. Have lunch in the cafeteria and sit in on a class or two. Consider the cost and the opportunity cost. Then when you get to your school of choice, be sure to get the most out of it by really applying yourself.

Can you develop the skills you need on your own? Obviously there are a lot of online resources that weren't available 20 or 30 years ago. But that course depends even more on you and on your significant other. If you decide to teach yourself or to follow an unconventional study plan, you have to discipline yourself to practice and improve. Regardless of which path you choose, it will help to make friends with other artists and build your network through conventions or associations. Building a network of peers is one of the key benefits of going to an art school.

A final thought: When you said "college education," I first assumed you meant a broad education in science, history, and literature. That's certainly not necessary for a freelance career, but it helps make you a fuller person. A good liberal arts education can broaden your awareness of the world and help you to think and to write more clearly. A degree in science is especially helpful if you want to pursue scientific illustration. A broader education isn't directly necessary to the success of a freelance career, but it expands a person's mind in ways that's often difficult to do on your own.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Oblique Effect

Our visual systems are equipped with special cells in the visual cortex whose job is to detect vertically aligned edges, bars, and lines.

There are other simple cells that detect horizontal edges. And there's a third group of cells that detect diagonal ones.

Ivan Shishkin
According to Dr. Peter Hills, PhD., "Humans have more cells for horizontal and vertical bars than for oblique lines. Cats have cells for all orientations. So, humans find detecting horizontal and vertical lines easier than those of other angles. In other words, they have greater visual acuity for horizontal and vertical lines."

Our relative deficiency at judging diagonal angles compared to verticals and horizontals is known as the oblique effect. According to Wikipedia, "People are very good at detecting whether a picture is hung vertically, but are two- to fourfold worse for a 45-degree oblique contour, even when a comparison is available."

Another remarkable fact is that the relative number of these cells depends on the visual environment that we grow up in. People raised in forests have more vertical cells than people raised on the plains.
Quotes from Cognitive Psychology For Dummies
Wikipedia on The Oblique Effect.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Corpus Christi Procession by Ramon Casas

With startling photographic clarity, Ramon Casas paints a historic moment.
Ramon Casas (1866-1932), "The Corpus Christi Procession
Leaving the Church of Santa Maria," (Barcelona, 115.5 x 196 cm).
The scene takes place in 1896, just before an anarchist attacked the procession with a bomb, killing twelve people and spreading panic in the city.

Here's a detail of the painting, showing the individual character of each the figures and the soft edges at the base of the figures.
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia)
Thanks, Sascha Karschner

Monday, November 18, 2019

Is It OK to Mix Water Media?"

Pure transparent watercolor is wonderful, but it’s healthy to experiment with mixed media too.

This is a clip from my YouTube video "Pastel on Gouache for Glowing Light Effects"

Previous post: What's the difference between gouache and watercolor?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Removing Underwater Atmospherics

Engineer and oceanographer Derya Akkaynak has developed an algorithm called Sea-Thru that removes the blue-green atmospherics of underwater photographs and renders them in "true" colors.
Photos courtesy Scientific American
The app is more than an overall hue shift, however. It uses distance data and removes a variety of aqueous atmospheric effects to show the colors of coral reefs as they would appear in air.

Scientific American says: "Sea-thru's image analysis factors in the physics of light absorption and scattering in the atmosphere, compared with that in the ocean, where the particles that light interacts with are much larger. Then the program effectively reverses image distortion from water pixel by pixel, restoring lost colors. One caveat is that the process requires distance information to work. Akkaynak takes numerous photographs of the same scene from various angles, which Sea-thru uses to estimate the distance between the camera and objects in the scene—and, in turn, the water's light-attenuating impact."
Sea-thru Brings Clarity to Underwater Photos
Link to YouTube

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Artistic Integrity and Commercial Art

S. H. R. Rjjal asks: "Mr. Gurney, what's your take on artistic integrity and commercial art? The original Harry Potter illustrator for instance does not own a single one of her work."
Adolph Menzel, "The signal for war was thus given to Europe."
Engraver: Unzelmann, Friedrich Ludwig (Source)
Book: Die Werke Friedrichs des Großen, vol. 2
Author: Volz, Gustav Berthold
Publisher:Berlin: Reimar Hobbing, 1913
Dear S.H.R,
Commissioned work doesn't have to be commercial. Just because you're paid to draw something doesn't mean you have to cynically crank it out. If you're going to do work on commission, it might as well include your personal inspiration and your highest standards.

The same is true with gallery art, which is potentially more commercial than illustration. There's always a temptation to produce work only because we know it will sell, though we may have drifted away from the authentic original inspiration.

If you do illustration work, you typically get to keep your originals. It's wise to keep at least some of your best examples. If you work hard on them, you'll be proud of them and they might be worth a lot more in the future.

An excerpt of my introduction to the book on Adolph Menzel (German, 1815-1905) addresses this point: As a commercial printer, Menzel threw himself into the task of producing decorative illustration work, such as menus, letterheads, greeting cards, and invitations. Anyone else might have written off such jobs as menial. For Menzel, to produce anything less than a sincere effort would be to “throw one’s cake in the water.” He told admiring students that it was essential to do justice to every assignment, and to accept everything as a genuine artistic challenge. “You will then cease at once to consider anything unworthy of your powers,” he said.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Painting Snow Scenes in Gouache

The new December/January issue of International Artist Magazine has an article that I wrote on painting snow scenes outdoors. I painted most of these small pictures on days when it was above 50 degrees Fahrenheit and there was no danger of the paint freezing. 

I haven’t had much luck using water media when the temperature goes below freezing. I have tried using vodka or whisky in place of the water, and I've tried putting hand warmers under the palette, but those methods haven’t worked for me. Once the paint freezes in a brush, it's game over.

But in the Hudson Valley of New York State, there are many days in the winter when there’s snow on the ground, but the temperature is above freezing. If I want to paint when it’s colder, I sketch from inside a car—or switch to oil paint.
International Artist magazine

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sketchbook of a WWII Soldier

Victor Lundy (1923-) kept a sketchbook of his experiences in World War II.

Victor Lundy. En-route to Europe. Promenade Deck. (September 2, 1944)
His early sketches show the journey to the war zone. On his way to being deployed in Europe, the 21 year old artist wrote: "And you know, we were far from even thinking of combat. They didn’t tell us. We didn’t know what was going to happen, once we landed. …—you know, the day it happens they tell you.”

“Pat” (T/Sgt. Patenaude) zeroing in with the 60 mm
mortars in front of the 3rd platoon. (November 1, 1944)
Trained as an architect, he expected to serve in the rebuilding of Europe. But he was assigned to the infantry and went to the front lines, where he was wounded. Through it all, he documented air raids and crap games, and he sketched dead and wounded soldiers.

Victor Lundy, Rec. hall, intelligence school
Lundy, now 92, has had a prolific career as an architect. He donated his sketchbooks to the Library of Congress, where they've been scanned and put online.
Victor Lundy Archive at Library of Congress
More about Lundy at MyModernMet
Victor Lundy on Wikipedia 
Thanks, Jason Waselenko

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Getting an Oil Change, So Let's Paint

It's a few degrees above freezing, so while they give my car an oil change, I'll paint a streetscape in gouache and watercolor.
If I had remembered, I would have brought chemical hand warmers and fingerless gloves. (Link to YouTube video

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Painting While Facing the Light

How can you capture light in a painting while facing toward the light? I've got a new video that you can watch here or on YouTube.


The technique uses watercolor, gouache, and pastel over a casein priming to capture the feeling of objects against a bright sky. I also discuss whether it ‘breaks the rules’ to combine gouache, watercolor and other mixed media.
Should Watercolors Be Purely Transparent?
Contre Jour Lighting
Light Spill

Monday, November 11, 2019

Fortuny Watercolor Study

Mariano Fortuny's father and mother had died by the time he was 12, so he was raised by his grandfather, a craftsman who showed the boy how to make wax figurines. He took his grandson on the road from town to town, presenting the figures they sculpted.

Watercolor study by Mariano (or Marià) Fortuny (1838-1874)
Young Mariano showed early promise in drawing and painting. In Paris, he studied with was inspired by Ernest Meissonier and Jean Leon Gérôme, both of whom made careful studies from costumed models with watercolor.

Fortuny died young, but his influence was felt by many younger artists, who carried on his tradition of traveling and adventuring, painting people in exotic costumes.

Please see the additional biographical detail provided by Ramon in the comments.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Most Museum-Goers Spend Just 10 Seconds Per Painting

In his new book First Blush: People's Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art, Dan Hill examines how we look at artwork, using an experimental approach that combines eye tracking with facial coding.
Image Courtesy Dan Hill, Sensory Logic

Facial coding involves the careful tracking of minute facial expressions that animate the face of a viewer while reacting to a stimulus. As we process images through our brains, the information passes through an emotional filter before we can rationalize what we're seeing.

Hill uses a market-research approach to analyzing our response to art. In a controlled experimental setting, he invites viewers to respond to a variety of famous paintings and photographs. The book is an informally written summary of his experimental results.

Image Courtesy Dan Hill, Sensory Logic
He makes some observations that should interest curators and us museum-goers. First, viewers have short attention spans. The best chance to hook someone's attention is in the first three seconds. After that there's a dramatic fall-off that never really bounces back.

Hill says: "an art work's window of opportunity for creating an emotional connection is typically super brief." After spending many hours in many different museums carefully watching how people interact with the art on the walls, he concludes that the average viewing time per painting in an art museum is about 10 seconds: "Most often, you're likely to look at an artwork for four seconds before taking five seconds to read the plaque (i.e., "tombstone") describing the work's title, the artist's name, and so forth. Then if still interested, you'll glance back at the artwork for another second, before moving on. The vast majority of museum viewers, he observes, read at most twenty words of the museum caption before their attention falters.
On Amazon: First Blush: People's Intuitive Reactions to Famous Art

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Eisaku Wada's Fuji Studies

While looking into Japan's tradition of European-influenced Yōga painting I ran across the work of Eisaku Wada (1874-1959).

He did a lot of plein air studies of Mount Fuji, which were evidently painted on location. 

Eisaku Wada was chosen by the Ministry of Education to study in France.

He also learned from Kuroda Seiki, who had studied in Paris.

He returned to Japan and became a professor of Tokyo University of Arts.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Yōga Painting

Old Woman (1908) Wada Eisaku
At various stages of Japan's history, artists have been interested in trying out European approaches to shading, perspective, and color.

Flower basket of Takahashi, 1879
After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, the Western style became known as Yōga painting, distinguished from Nihonga painting, which is a more traditional Japanese approach.

Shoemaker by Harada Naojiro (1863-1899)
According to The Art Story, "These new techniques introduced the employment of perspective, a push toward oil painting, lithography, pastels, watercolors, sketching, and the practice of plein air painting, and the incorporation of decidedly Western motifs and subjects."
Yōga painting on Wikipedia (in German)
Previous post on Nihonga painting