Thursday, April 30, 2020

Bonabba Art Print

Twilight in Bonabba, original in oil on canvas
At the end of a perfect day, the pod village of Bonabba is bathed in misty light.

The image appears in Dinotopia: The World Beneath. It's now available on my website as a signed, high quality art print, 19.5 x 14 inches.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

'Do you ever get frustrated?'

Miztrali says: "Have you ever had to deal with you being frustrated at your work? I’m struggling to create gouache art but I always seemed like failing. Do you have any advice?"

Yes, if you look closely at the beginning stages of this painting (left image) you can see from abandoned starts that I tried twice to paint Greg—wearing a hat—at his workstation. But had to rub out both of those starts because he didn't stay there long enough.

By that point I was definitely getting frustrated. I face these kinds of frustrations in the course of doing most paintings. I feel unequal to the task, out of my depth, off-balance and slightly out of control.

Sometimes these frustrations come from things I can't control, such as when a sleeping dog that I'm sketching wakes up and walks off. All I can do is prepare for those frustrations, and adapt to them when they happen.

Other times I get frustrated because of my own technical failing, where something I should be able to control doesn't work the way I wanted. Avoiding technical failings is the reason for doing technical experiments in the studio first. If you do that, you can eliminate those potential challenges. Many times my experiments don't work the way I want them to, and I have to go back and try again. By experimenting you can get used to your materials and know what your paints will do in different circumstances.

Whether they're caused by things you can control or not, frustrating setbacks are just part of the creative process, something to embrace and even enjoy in a weird way. You have to be like a squirrel trying to get to a bird feeder.
Watch the YouTube video of the painting of Greg at his workstation. The full tutorial "Color in Practice" is available at Gumroad as an HD download or lifetime streaming 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Luděk Marold: From Black and White to Color

Many of the illustrations by Luděk Marold (Czech 1865-1898) use black and white watercolor on a gray or tan board. That's a technique we're experimenting with, so let's see how he does it.

He uses the black transparently when painting the easel and the sculpture stand. He saves the opaque white for the window. The top planes of the dress are painted in semi-transparent white.

He uses white, black, and gray in varying degrees of opacity, letting the drawing show through in the figures. The warm tones of the board show up in all the leftover spaces.

Wonderful use of foreground elements.

Festive party scene, dark hats over light area, above that light lanterns against dark. The blank area in the lower part of the picture make the busy detail decipherable.

Classic male/ female discussion, but look at what he chooses to show and what he leaves to our imaginations.

The white is spotted selectively. The rest of the modeling is mostly done in transparent gray, but there seems to be a little white and black mixed to make the gray patch at the top, and maybe in her shawl.

This painting has a lot of "color" achieved just with black, white, gray, and the background tone.

The pure white is reserved for a few glints on his hair, shoulders, and paint box. A soft gray mixed from white and black on the portfolio at left gives it a bluish appearance.

Most of these originals were used by an engraver to create a woodblock print, so speed and efficiency were paramount. Creating light and dark tones in relation to a middle tone gave a feeling of completeness. 

Luděk Marold had a difficult and short life. He was born out of wedlock, fathered by an Army lieutenant who was killed soon after in the Austro-Prussian war. His mother died six years later. 

Marold entered the Academy in Prague at 16, but was later expelled. He connected better with the art schools in Munich and Paris, where he befriended Alphonse Mucha and started working as a poster artist and a magazine illustrator. 

His big project was a gigantic battle mural, but the stress of working on it, combined with rheumatic fever, brought him to his grave at age 33.

A somber-toned religious procession outdoors in the rain.

As he brings limited color into his paintings, they really come to life. This could have been painted with black, white, and burnt sienna, maybe a touch of blue.

Here are two women, one leaning forward, her chin resting on her hand.

Now easing more into full color, but you can see the roots of those simpler grisaille pictures.

And now full color in oil, the color feels rich and abundant but still relatively limited to iron reds, a blue, and ochres.
Wikipedia on Luděk Marold

Monday, April 27, 2020

Gouache Portrait Using the Zorn Palette

Here's a sample of the new video "Color in Practice" (Link to YouTube)

By adding a bright red and a couple of dull yellows to black and white, you can paint with the appearance of full color. 

Post cover by J.C. Leyendecker
That makes a small gamut of colors that was popular with the early illustrated magazines because they could print them with just two colors, black and red.

This palette of colors is often associated with Swedish painter Anders Zorn. Although Zorn often used a fuller palette that included blues and greens, he has become associated with this limited palette, which is well worth trying out. Zorn used vermilion for the red, but I'm substituting pyrrole red instead of the more toxic vermilion or cadmium.

For this location sketch, I paint the underpainting in advance in the studio with casein, but you could use acrylic-gouache, or gouache mixed with some acrylic matte medium for the underpainting. It’s a thin layer of raw sienna casein mixed with white. 

On location, I start by drawing the main perspective lines with a brush, showing the edge of the counter and the vertical column. I cover most of the underpainting with semi-opaque layers of gray mixed from white and black. I look for big gradations, which I apply with layers of black and white. 

I paint the computer first because it’s so important. But that means that in order to paint the objects behind it I have to paint them around it. Greg arrives at his workstation. I say, “You don’t have to hold still. I’ll just paint you while you’re working.” 

With gouache I can opaquely cover those background areas that I had already defined. I add the tiny final accents in bright red.
Previous post about the Zorn palette.
The full video is available at Gumroad as an HD download or lifetime streaming 
or at Sellfy.  

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What if my imagination lags behind my observation skills?

Photo courtesy Syn Studio and Concept Art Academy
Joe P. asks: 
"Hey James!
"I was reading through Imaginative Realism again a few days ago, and a question came up that I wanted to run by you. Its in reference to a comment you made about how when you were a student, you had a sketchbook that contained drawings from imagination and how it lagged so far behind your work from life and photos. This is something that I constantly struggle with, and it has me beating myself up and feeling like I will never make the slow jump from pure student to student/creative. 

"With my personal goals being illustration in the vein of the golden age illustrators as well as modern day imaginative realists as yourself, do you have any advice on making the jump from studies, to actually creating original work? Is it just a matter of doing it and accepting that your work is going to lag behind your studies greatly? Lately I feel like I have focused almost too much on my studies over the years, and although my eyes and hands are getting better.. my ability to create imaginative realism is almost non existent. 

"Do you have any tips on how to really start applying your academic studies to your end goals? I feel as though I am training to be a full on fine artist, and never really pivoting toward my true goal. Something tells me its just a matter of doing it, being terrible, fixing, and repeating. But I just have so much trouble making the jump from drawing a seated figure from life, to drawing some fantastic scene from my head."

Hi Joe,
Good question or questions. We all have seen videos of artists on the internet who are able to generate amazingly complete visions out of their heads. Behind that kind of virtuosity is considerable study and committing forms to memory.

For example, in this video, Kim Jung Gi explains what he's thinking about as he invents characters without reference. (Link you YouTube) Having a thorough understanding of perspective and anatomy is essential to this kind of drawing.

In contemporary ateliers, the emphasis is mainly on observational drawing and painting, but some of them are starting to offer imagination and memory training, such as Darren Rousar's book Memory Drawing: Perceptual Training and Recall. Most ateliers underestimate how important this skill set was for 19th century artists. Golden Age illustrators and painters spent a lot of time doing imaginative sketching games, cartoons, and doodles, such as Howard Pyle's weekly imaginative drawing sessions. Winning the Prix de Rome competition required that they could generate a convincing fantastic scene out of their heads.

The best place to find people who can teach this knowledge is in the field of comics and storyboarding, such as the classic books How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way or Framed Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers, and the books by Loomis, Bridgman, and the Famous Artists Course.

In my case, when I am faced with a blank piece of paper, I sometimes feel limited in what I can generate with no references if I compare myself to some of the virtuosos of impromptu drawing. My initial thumbnails are usually very rough and tentative. I'm also typically thinking about lighting and color, which requires visualization, too.

What happens for me is that the extremely rough thumbnail stage gets refined by degrees as I begin to bring on more reference. 

In the early stages of developing an idea, I might glance at art books by a few artists I admire, but I try to limit looking at other artists because I want the solution to be my own. I don't want it to look derivative of someone else's style. If I'm researching a dinosaur painting, I probably won't look at any paleo artists, but instead I might look at bird artists or landscape painters.

Or better yet, I might flip through books of wildlife photos if I'm doing a dinosaur painting. Then I might turn to my photo reference clip file, looking for ideas for backgrounds or lighting or color schemes. If I'm painting an exotic city scene, I have folders of photos of crowded marketplaces and street scenes, and lots of photos of architectural styles.

With that lateral inspiration, I do another round of thumbnails, perhaps this time in gouache at a slightly larger size, with multiple variations in color, lighting, and arrangement. Or I might build a rough maquette that opens up new possibilities, making the pose clearer or offering ideas for overlapping or lighting that I never would have dreamed up. After that journey of iteration after iteration, the final stage is ready. It might involve a photo shoot of a model in costume, or just a quick charcoal mirror study. But even as I bombard myself with all this reference, I find it's important to trust the sketches that I did purely out of my head, naïve as they might be, and to let them guide the process. 

All this iteration and reference gathering doesn't need to take as long as it sounds. It might take only three or four days, but what a difference it makes!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Tran-Opaque Test on Black Alternatives

Yesterday's question about alternatives to ivory black inspired me to try the 'tran-opaque' test on some of the options.
Gumroad tutorial: "Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements."

Friday, April 24, 2020

What is Ivory Black Made Of?

Sakthivel V  asks: "Can I use vegan alternative of ivory black?"

Yes, good topic. As you probably know, "ivory" black is no longer made from elephant ivory, but rather from charred cattle or pork bones. It's also called "bone char" in reference to what it's made of. They don't use bones from the skull or the spinal column to protect from Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

A few enterprising manufacturers have tried making ivory black from chunks of fossil tusks from extinct mammoths, which are surfacing in surprising numbers in Siberia and are being used legally. But I don't know if there's any difference from regular bone char.

If you want to stay away from animal products, you could use Mars black, which is made from iron, or lamp black, made from the imperfect combustion of oil, or jet black by Holbein. There are also the near-blacks known as neutral tint, which M. Graham makes from quinacridone violet and chlorinated copper, and Payne's gray, made from amorphous carbon and sodium aluminum silicate with sulphur.

They're all interesting pigments with different handling characteristics, and I recommend students try various blacks anyway to see how they behave in opaque and transparent mixtures.
More about painting in gouache black in "Color in Practice, Part 1." Full video available here

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Short Clips from "Color in Practice"

Here's a video clip from "Color in Practice." I'm painting the office of the auto repair shop, using warm and cool colors. (Link to video on Facebook)

In this painting of the parked limo I turn day into night with the stimulus of a spotlight underpainting. (link to video on FB)
Anthony Walsh, Founder of Syn Studio : Art School, says: "Colour in Practice is a superb instructional video. James' explanations are crystal clear and everything is beautifully demonstrated. For each colour palette, James shows you exactly how to build it and then shows you how to make great use of it in a step-by-step painting demo. James also provides handy painting tips as well as practical exercises that will make you a better artist. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to improve their painting skills."
Check out the full video out in my new video tutorial, Color in Practice, available any any of these outlets:
Gumroad (1080p HD video download with streaming option)
Sellfy (1080p HD video download) 
Cubebrush (1080p HD video download from concept art marketplace)

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Some Grisaille Illustrations

Painting in black and white (also known as grisaille) is a useful way for the beginner to enter the world of painting. Let's have a look at what some experienced illustrators did with grisaille. 

Search Results

Web results

Czech illustrator Zdeněk Burian, best known for his dinosaur reconstructions, was also a prolific illustrator of adventure stories. This whaling scene appears to have been created with considerable freedom and looseness. He puts detail where he wants it, and leaves it out where he doesn't want it. 

Howard Pyle paints a reading room, linking together all the white newspapers into a big shape that silhouettes the main figure. Simple, dark values surround that big white shape.

Frederic Remington used grisailles for a lot of magazine illustrations. This 1904 painting of a Manchurian bandit is painted in oil, 30 x 20¼ inches. The background is comprised of bands of gray and light tones that spotlight certain key features of the silhouette such as both ends of the rifle.

Arthur Ignatius Keller was known for his historical costume illustrations. He shows the wary passengers grouped together near and their stricken stagecoach as a flashy fellow makes his approach. The light sky behind all the heads makes it read immediately.

And finally, Winslow Homer, who was also a great colorist, did many paintings in monochrome. This canoeing scene creates vast spaces by placing elements toward the edge of the picture and allowing large shapes to be quiet and flat.
My new video tutorial "Color in Practice" starts out exploring how to paint in grisaille. Find out about the digital download at Gumroad.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Color in Practice Now Available

My new tutorial, "Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements" is now available. (Link to 1-minute trailer on YouTube)

Gary Geraths, Artist and Professor at Otis College of Art and Design, says:
“After 30 years of being in the trenches, teaching college students the theory and practice of landscape drawing and painting there is always the intimidation of them taking it into the real world and practicing it. Watching James walk us through the process really sands off the "sharp edges" of translating tone to color in plein-air painting and makes it thoroughly understandable. My students really watched and listened to the "down and dirty" realness of the practical knowledge in the video and it certainly help them in their own artwork. Having been painting for years I watched and learned a lot myself, amazed at the fluidity and simplicity of how James presented the step-by-step instruction and painted results. This is such a great learning tool and would be a great addition to any classroom.”

Color in Practice --69 minutes. Studio exercises and practical applications on location. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Color in Practice—Comments from the Experts

My new video "Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements" is now available on Gumroad and Sellfy.

 Here's what the reviewers are saying:


The digital video download is available at Gumroad and Sellfy

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sketching Buddies: Abbey and Parsons

E. A. Abbey Invitation for an exhibition of Abbey and Parsons
Edwin Austin Abbey was called the "Stage Coachman" at Harper's because of his love of old fashioned things.

A Tea House at Kamakura, by Alfred Parsons from Royal Academy collection
"Abbey and [Alfred] Parsons had walked to Philadelphia and back, taking two weeks for the trip, sketching on the way, stage-coaches, taverns, tall houses and old wooden bridges all pinned together—just these and nothing else, save Independence Hall."
From: Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Painters, Book 2 By Elbert Hubbard

Friday, April 17, 2020

Painting swatches in transparent and opaque paint

Sample of my new Gumroad Tutorial called "Color in Practice: Black, White, and Complements." Premieres this Monday at noon Eastern time.  Link to Facebook video

Roger Bansemer, Host of the PBS series "Painting and Travel with Roger and Sarah Bansemer” says: “Even as a veteran painter, I find Jim's videos instructional in ways that always bring fresh and revealing insight to the table in a way even a beginner can understand. His observations of ordinary subjects when it comes to light, form and color always reveal helpful aspects I had not considered before which I can then apply to my own work. This is non-intimidating instruction at its best.”

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Sketch Easel Ready to Go

Lightweight sketch easel, ready for anything. Search Facebook for the "Sketch Easel Builders" Group, where innovative makers share tips and ideas.

In this video, Will J. Bailey shows how to make a sketch easel using minimal tools. (Link to YouTube video)
Check out my Gumroad video "How to Make a Sketch Easel"

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Undercover Art Tools

In the May 2020 issue, Watercolor Artist Magazine will run a feature story on what I keep in my undercover art kit. Here's a linked list of my supplies.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

New video tutorial comes out Monday, April 20

On Monday April 20 I’ll be releasing a new tutorial video called “Color in Practice, Part 1: Black, White, and Complements.”

Painting in full color can be an intimidating experience for many students, or even for professionals who want to explore a new medium. There so many colors and brushes to choose from. And there are so many variables to consider, including hue, chroma, value, and wetness.

What I’ll do in this video workshop is start with a few basic, inexpensive materials and foundational ideas. I’ll demonstrate grisaille (black and white) painting in gouache. We’ll explore the variations you can get with the contrast between transparency and opacity.

Then I'll paint Greg at his workstation in a tire shop, demonstrating a single-accent scheme based on the Zorn palette (basically, black, white, red, and an iron-based yellow).

The painting developed spontaneously on location and it takes advantage of a raw-sienna colored underpainting.

And we'll examine the opportunities of a complementary relationship using just two colors: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna.

The video alternates between simple practical exercises that are well worth doing, regardless of your skill level, followed by paintings made on location that put the principles into action. I use gouache and watercolor, but the painting insights are universal and will benefit oil and acrylic painters as well. 

What this video does is to take the concepts from my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter and translate them into basic practical assignments.

The video is 70 minutes long. The download will be $17.99, and the DVD is $24.50, but there will be a launch day sale of 15% off on Monday, April 20.

Tia Kratter, Teacher and Art Director at Pixar and Disney said:
“As an art instructor, I am truly grateful for this approach. Here's why: so many people who want to learn how to use color start out by squeezing every tube of paint on their palettes and end up with a confusion of color. Your method of beginning simply with black and white, and showing that one can get so much variety with just two tubes of paint is excellent. I love how you move forward by slowly introducing new colors one-by-one. It makes the whole process seem so much less overwhelming. Thank you for your generosity of information!”