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


Michael Dooney said...

Whenever I see original illustrations that are 75-100 years old that have that tan background but painted in BW, I wonder if what we are really seeing is the acid in the paper turning it brown over the years and the artist was actually working on white paper. We could just thinking he was taking advantage of the tan background for another tone but the random white touch ups make me think that he was matching the white of the paper otherwise, why not mix a tan shade for corrections?

Bevan said...

The use of such limited palettes never ceases to amaze me. As a beginner I sort of feel like I did myself an injustice by starting with all the colors that came in my box set. I just kept trying to mix endless varieties of colors without really appreciating the importance of tone. After about a year I found myself reducing to one to three colors and that really helped me develop much better tones and strength in my paintings. I feel like my paintings are more successful more often now. Posts like this, and your video, help me feel like I am on the right path to becoming a better painter by building up to more color in a slow and schooled manner.

Dan Woodward said...

This is such wonderful commentary and explanation. I have learned so much from your videos but to have this kind of support and extra context is invaluable. Thank you James!

Paul Sullivan said...

James—this is a magnificent post. It's an excellent explanation of the power of limited color. I grew up studing magazine illustrations painted for two color reproduction. When I started professionally, there was still a lot of two color work. This is just the sort of education—and re-education—we all need. Limited color is the best way to get your values where thaey should be. It's also a great way to establish mood in a picture.—Thanks!

scottT said...

I suspect a little blue mixed in a couple of those, but what is really fascinating to me is that concept of "induced color" (that James talks about in his "Color In Practice" video) which seems to be happening even in these monochromatic paintings. The cool grays of the opaque passages and accents look especially bluish juxtaposed with the warm gray transparent washes and the warm ground--much more so than they would in isolation. It really gives a surprisingly wide range of temperatures considering the limited means.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

What an incredible talent! Such a loss at 33! These illustrations are miraculous.

David Apatoff said...

These are lovely paintings! Marold's brushwork is quite impressive; I'd never heard of him before, thanks for the introduction. The big risk in letting the warm surface of the board show through the paint as a middle tone is that those boards often darken with time and create havoc with the values intended by the artist. These examples seem in pretty good shape, but I've seen many (by Keller and others) where natural tanning or an acidic backing upsets what would otherwise have been a masterfully delicate balance.

CerverGirl said...

Thank you for the wonderful post—such magnificent works. Very inspiring and such talented accomplishments for his brief life.

Vladimir Venkov said...

Never heard of this painter before. Thank you James!

MacDieter said...

Your posts most times convince me to google the artists.
In the wiki I found that he was the John Wick of painters: A man of focus, commitment, sheer will. His last painting "Bitva Lipan" or "Battle of Lipany" was 36 feet (11 meters) high and 311 feet (95 meters) long. He died a short time after finishing it.

But what amazes me most: How t f do you find the time to dig up all the amazing things you feed us within a daily manner?????

James Gurney said...

MacDieter, Yes, Marold's battle mural could be a blog post all on its own. I love doing each morning's blog post. I write it along with my first cup of coffee while Jeanette makes breakfast. Sometimes it seems that the number of worthy but little-known artists seems almost infinite.

James Gurney said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruth Squitieri said...

Wonderful post, as always.
"Most of these originals were used by an engraver to create a woodblock print, so speed and efficiency were paramount." How do engravers use something like that which relies so heavily on gradients and values and turn it into a woodblock print?

Unknown said...

Very impressive artwork for studying. I know from my school years only Marold's the biggest painting in whole Czech Republic (The Battle of Lipany). But his black and white paintings are very helpful mainly for understanding the depth.

If I could recommend another Czech artist to you sir, Zdeněk Burian (1905-1981) was an amazing illustrator. His speciality was prehistoric life and also gouache technique. :-)

LyndyColleen said...

This looks like a technique I would like to try. Thank you for showing us this artist"s fine work. Do you know if there is colored paper that will work with watercolor?

Unknown said...

Wonderful post. The technique of a brown/gray background is widely used in digital sketching/painting. It is a great technique to use for students because one literally paints 'shadows' (in black) and 'lights' (in white). This makes painting light a lot easier to understand than having to 'leave out the highlights'. Most digital paintings and tutorials of Aaron Blaise show this technique. Anyway, this is a great post with wonderful paintings. Tnx :)

James Gurney said...

LyndyColleen, Most any acid-free paper will work with gouache as long as it can handle water without wrinkling. You can try heavyweight colored paper or board. There are several kinds of unbleached sketchbooks that are designated for all media in the arts and crafts stores.

Dixon Leavitt said...

Thank you for bringing this artist to my attention. He had such a mastery of design, form and brush. Wonderful.

Unknown said...

Love the painting of what I think is a suicidal man considering jumping out the window, being blocked by his guardian angel.

Am insured by art with a spiritual theme.

Thank you for sharing so freely!

Gratefully yours,


James Gurney said...

Monica, I hadn't noticed the story about the man at the window, but I think you're right!

Unknown said...

Love this post, and introduction to the artist. I try not to think in what ifs, but the paintings that could have come after his 33rd year! Thanks for sharing.