Saturday, October 31, 2020

Von Schmidt's Ideas about Epic and Incident

American illustrator Harold von Schmidt (1893-1982) said: "I have found that most good illustrations deal with epic subjects—life, death, growth, conflict, peace, contentment, flight, fear, anger, repose, or movement — rather than incidents in which pictures say: 'They swim,' 'He kisses her,' 'He talks to her,' 'They ride.'"

"Great pictures can be made from the epic themes, but the incidents, which may make good vignettes, are much more difficult to handle in a manner in which they will exist as art away from the story."

The idea of the epic versus the incident derives ultimately from Von Schmidt's teacher Harvey Dunn, and his 'grandteacher,' Howard Pyle.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Brushstroke Tips

The painting knife in #5 refers to oil painters. In #6, I'm talking about the opposite pointed end of the brush. The purpose of these tips is to help us get us to #10—to guide our imaginations beyond the surface of the painting so we can live inside it. 

Good brush technique happens when you convey the most information with the least effort. But we don't want technique to be the subject. It's easy to make a painting look like paint; the viewer's awareness of the surface is a given. Painterly execution should invite the viewer beyond the brushstrokes.


Previously: "Ten Tips for Better Brushstrokes"

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Hunters and Gatherers

The glare of the afternoon sun burns a vertical path through the parking lot, connecting the infinite with the ordinary. Shopping carts roll by with their metallic rattle. Loading their catch of food into their wagons, these descendants of hunters and gatherers don't look up at the sky or speak to each other.
Watch the new video on YouTube.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Painting a Backlit Parked Car in Casein

I painted this casein study while Jeanette was in the market, so I had about 45 minutes.

I took a gamble on the car staying parked, and lost the gamble twice, but kept going anyway.

(Link to video)
Over an underpainting color of Cadmium Orange casein, I used Cobalt Blue, Venetian RedIvory Black, and Titanium White and focused on a simple warm/cool 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Sunny Still Life Challenge Results

Thanks to everyone who entered the "Sunny Still Life Challenge" on our Facebook group "Color in Practice." Entries were posted from all around the world, with both experienced painters and some people who haven't painted a still life or used a limited palette before.  

You tried some bold experiments and achieved some excellent results. You've all inspired me to try some of the
 triadic combinations and subjects. It was hard to choose one Grand Prize and Five Finalists. Here they are:

Grand Prize Winner

Zoungy Kligge says: "The gourd on the left is Trái bầu in my mother's native Vietnamese, also known as a bottle gourd. It seems like only yesterday we were displaying last year's harvest. I guess the pandemic sped up time." 

"Between those memories, the sentiment of my family who grew and arranged these things, and the quickly setting sun, my mind, as I painted, was focused very much on the fleeting nature of life."

James here: Those feelings and memories seem woven into your artistic choices, and they're somehow embedded in the final painting. I like your choice of color triad [Holbein permanent yellow (PY1), alizaron crimson (PR83), and ultramarine deep (PB29), plus DaVinci titanium white (PW6)]. It brings out an attractive array of autumn colors, with vivid oranges and those cool reds and the blues in the cast shadow of the long-necked gourd.


Catherine Cervas Heaton "Bocce Set in Sun," 5" x 8."  By the time I figured out what I was going to paint, after two other subjects failed, I had one sunny day--and finished today indoors because the shadows were getting long outdoors. Lemon Yellow, Hooker's Green, Permanent Rose, Titanium White."

James here: I'm impressed with the variety between the texture of that wire box.and the lines incised in the reflective balls. You've demonstrated how a painting can look complete without using a basic color like blue. 

Catherine, I can tell from the reflected light on your painting that you were wearing a red shirt when you took the photo. You probably already know this, but a red shirt can wreak havoc on color choices for the outdoor painter on a sunny day. I try to remember to wear a dark, neutral shirt when I paint outside, especially when facing toward the sun.

Hilary Killam—"I gathered up my gourds and set up a still life in the park on a recent sunny day before it started getting too chilly. This was painted in mid/late afternoon sun, so the shadows are a little long. My triad consisted of cadmium yellow, venetian red and phthalo blue, plus titanium white."

It's not every day you get to say "I gathered up my gourds!" I think it's so impressive that you gathered your subject and set them up in a park. Very brave of you. 

She continues: "I knew I needed a vibrant orange for the pumpkins, so I chose cad yellow for its intensity, and I thought phthalo would be able to produce a good teal color for the box. I just love those little squiggly stems on the pumpkins! This one is 6x6 inches in gouache on watercolour paper."

I love those colors, which give you that beautiful teal tint and powerful orange colors. Who needs violet? The gamut is working for you. Good separation of light values from shadow values.

Eryn Pimentel "I used a triad of lemon yellow, carmine, and turquoise blue gouache. I used my son’s old bath toys before we get rid of them, and tried to keep this cool to fit the feel of the cool bath tile."

I like the way that most of the area in the picture is in the range of blue, green, and dull yellow, leaving other colors out. But there's that red smokestack on the little tugboat that provides a contrast. This reminds me of an important point about color schemes in general: You can have three or more colors in a picture, but those colors don't have to be equally distributed. You can reserve an accent for just one small area of the picture, and it can have lots of impact that way. 

Jenny Hansell"Working on a sunny still life (from a photo of flowers on my windowsill) using the triad of cadmium yellow, permanent alizarin and Prussian blue. It’s really hard! I’ve never tried to paint flowers before - in fact it’s my first still life in about 35 years. Maybe I should have started with a banana and an apple!"

Jenny, you captured the darkness of shadows and the vibrancy of the transmitted light coming through those petals. The effect of light is quite striking, and there's often a dramatic lighting ratio when you're looking at a subject in a sunny window, because the fill light only comes from the much-darker ambient light in the room. 

I wonder how your experience would have been different if you painted from direct observation, aided by a comparison with the photos. Now that you've climbed this mountain, you're ready for the next one.

Yoko Matsuoka

"There were so many hairy caterpillars out that day, and I'm allergic. It made it quite an adventure. Colors used are Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine, Alizarin Crimson."

It's good to see an informal vignetted approach. One little tip: When you're working with a set of a dozen or so pan watercolors and you want to limit your palette, one thing you can do is to make a cardboard mask with cutouts for the set of colors you want to use. That way you won't forget and reach for another color. 

Sorry I couldn't include everyone, but you can see them all by going to the Facebook Group: Color in Practice and using the hashtag #sunnystilllife. Be sure to join the free group and share your own feedback and encouragement.

Each finalist receives a "Department of Art" patch and a free tutorial download. Please email me with your mailing address, and I'll get those to you.
Facebook Group: Color in Practice.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Can Reënactors Match a Battle Painting?

Anton von Werner (German, 1843-1915) painted this battle scene.

A group of reënactors tried to match the painting pose for pose as closely as possible.
Anton von Werner on Wikipedia
Winners of the Sunny Still Life Challenge will post tomorrow.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Voter Line

Yesterday the line for early voting went on for two blocks. The line moved very slowly because poll workers had to disinfect the stations between each voter. 

Still, from the point of view of people-sketching, I could only capture only an impression of each person. I used watercolor with a brush, no pen or pencil. I think I got the spacing wrong—folks were spaced apart responsibly. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Return of Spitting Image

Political satire has a vibrant tradition in Britain, and one of the most dynamic recent programs was a puppet show in the 1990s called Spitting Image

From the point of view of puppeteering, the characters are caricatures come to life, with a tremendous range of hand, mouth, and eye movements. The scripts and performances are crisp, over-the-top, and rude.

Spitting Image has returned with all new episodes lampooning the current crop of politicians, including Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Prince Charles, and Meghan & Harry. 


New Season of Spitting Image, Episode 4


Thursday, October 22, 2020

Waldmuller Study

Tree Studies from Rome by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1846

Thanks to everyone who entered the Sunny Still Life Challenge. I'm going through the results now and am impressed with what you've all done. Results will be announced on the 27th.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Rose O'Neill: Kewpies and Monsters

Rose O'Neill (1874-1944) was an illustrator, cartoonist, and writer who created hundreds of drawings of cute babies and young animals, and she invented the Kewpies. 

She called them "Kewpies," a term she invented as a variation on "cupids." 

They became immensely popular as illustrations, paper dolls, and then actual dolls

O'Neill became famous and rich, living a rather eccentric life and sponsoring a variety of artists to live in her grand house. 

She read widely from literature and mythology; she imbibed the work of William Blake and Gustave Doré and she studied with the sculptor Rodin, and was acquainted with Elihu Vedder, and Kahil Gibran. All that exposure inspired her to produce a series of charcoal drawings of monsters, which she described as "a different kind of fun."

For the most part, they were not horrific or cruel monsters but rather androgynous, sensuous creatures who lived lives of passion outside of the strictures of religion and civilization. 

Her friends urged her to publish these works, and finally she shared them with the world but didn't want to intellectualize them. According to 41 Masters of American Illustration, "these things were made for the maker's own delight, and are given to the public only under pressure of people who think it should be done, so the maker feels that she should not be put to the trouble of justifying her whimsies."


Toy collector Mel Birnkrant's Kewpie collection and bio

Rose O'Neill on Wikipedia

The Story of Rose O'Neill: An Autobiography

Kewpies and Beyond

Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

My Taboret Top

Here's my taboret setup for oil painting.

1. The tube colors are squeezed out on the floating bar at left, but I don't use them straight from the tube.
2. Instead I pre-mix value "strings" of five colors and only draw from those colors . That way I stay inside the gamut (triangle in color wheel, above)
3. I use Liquin for a medium, which speed drying, plus mineral spirits, but I may do away with the latter for health reasons.
4. The brush wash tank is a peanut butter jar with a little plastic cup dropped in the lid, with holes drilled into the bottom of the cup.
5. The whole thing sets on a rolling cabinet. In the top drawer are pencils, lots of pencils.
6. A take-out container with a slot cut through the lid holds paint scrapings, discarded on hazardous material days.
7. Old cotton T-shirts make great paint rags. A wiggly wire holds the handles up a little.
8. Paint mixing area tips up on hinges. The polyethylene-coated mixing paper is hidden behind the left edge. I tear off old mixtures as I pull the paper through.
9. Brushes: Nylon flats, long bristle filberts, and watercolor rounds are my favorites.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


The giant ovoid heads have toothy grins, but they have no eyes. 

However, I wasn't primarily interested in the forms of the monsters when I did this little on-site painting. (Watch the YouTube video)


It's mainly a study of mise-en-scène. The term comes from the world of theater and film, and it means literally 'putting on a stage.' Informal workspaces like this one are an ideal place to find interesting examples of mise-en-scène because of the elements are placed without aesthetic intention. 

Mise-en-scène is a crucial element of picture making. Traditional theory defines to include many aspects that a director, production designer, or cinematographer would deal with, such as point of view, framing, cropping, placement of props and characters, lighting, and color. In film, it also includes how elements move throughout the shot, and even frame rate and lens choices. 

Such a broad definition waters down the meaning for me. When I think of the term in relation to painting, I usually think more narrowly of the original sense of how elements are arranged in relation to the viewer. Are there foreground elements? Are some things cropped off the edge? Are they neat or messy? 

Here's a video that explores the topic from the point of view of film. (Link to video)


Wikipedia on mise-en-scène

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Painting in the Wild Things Workshop

In October, 2019, giant 'Wild-Thing' puppets participated in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. 

 (Link to YouTube video)

They were created from simple materials in a barn in the Hudson Valley, and that's where I set up my easel to paint the workshop where the Wild Things were created.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Spectrum 27 Flip-Through

This year's edition of Spectrum presents a juried selection of contemporary fantasy art, including dragons, warriors, monsters, trolls, angels, and dinosaurs. 

This YouTube video takes you through all 304 pages in less than a minute. 

Spectrum includes fantasy and science-fiction artwork in several categories, including book, comics, film, horror, illustration, sculpture, conceptual art, fine art and video game genres. 

Chris Dunn, illustration from Wind in the Willows 
 9x12 inches, watercolor and gouache.

While most artists create their art with digital media, there are plenty of examples painted in watercolor, gouache, and oil. The book contains 350 works by over 220 diverse artists, including Tommy Arnold, Wylie Beckert, Rovina Cai, Dan dos Santos, Jesper Ejsing, Cory Godbey, Iain McCaig, Daniel Zrom, Tran Nguyen, Greg Ruth, Cynthia Sheppard, Yuko Shimizu, Claudya Schmidt, Terryl Whitlatch, and me. 
The book releases November 10, but you can pre-order at this link: Spectrum 27: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art
If you like fantasy art, you'll also enjoy the new book Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Atmosphere in Pencil Drawings

Frederick L. Griggs was known for his etchings of architecture, but he was a notable pencil sketcher too.

Hitchin Church from the South-East by F. L. Griggs

In his book "The Art of Drawing in Lead Pencil," Jaspar Salway praised his technique of suggesting distance and atmosphere. Salway suggests that the artist needs to have a plan in advance for lightening the values as you go back in space, rather than relying on erasing or "wiping out."

He says: "No process of wiping out at a later stage will give the quality here needed. It is desirable when working to 'hold tight' to the mental impression of the effect, and to visualize sunlight, haze, shadow and so on, as it was associated with each feature in reality."

"Here we see a masterly drawing by F. L. Griggs in which a sense of light pervades the whole aspect. There is obviously no process of 'wiping out' in this successful work."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Making Brushes

It's surprising how many deft hand skills it takes to produce a paintbrush. (Link to video)

(Link to video) This video shows some of the steps.

(Link to Part 2) The manual dexterity and expertise explains why brushes cost as much as they do.

Previously: How to Clean Out a Brush

Article on Brushes on The Artist's Road website

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Skybax Rider Print


Will Denison flies on his Quetzalcoatlus high above the city of Sauropolis. 

Signed copies of the art print "Skybax Rider" are now available in the Dinotopia Store

Monday, October 12, 2020

When Parents Oppose Your Choice to Be an Artist

Many young people have faced opposition from their parents when they've decided to be artists or musicians, but not many had it as bad as Hector Berlioz (French composer, 1803-1869).

When he was still a teenager, he started training in Paris for the medical profession. But he realized that he loved music too much to follow that path, and told his parents so.

"My parents called upon me to choose some other profession, since I did not choose to be a doctor. I replied that my sole desire was to be a musician, and that I could not believe they would refuse to let me return and pursue my career at Paris." 

The young man "fell into a sullen silence, but father eventually relented and agreed to let him go, saying 'You shall go to Paris and study music; but only for a time. If after several trials you fail, you will, I am sure, acknowledge that I have done what was right, and you will choose some other career. You know what I think of second-rate poets; second-rate artists are no better, and it would be a deep and lasting sorrow to me to see you numbered among the useless members of society." 

Portrait of Berlioz in 1855 by Richard Lauchert

His mother became angry when she found out his father had allowed him to pursue music.

"She was convinced that, in adopting music as a career (at that time music and the theatre were inseparably connected in the minds of Frenchmen), I was pursuing a path which leads to discredit in this world and damnation in the next."

She said "'Your father has been weak enough to allow you to return to Paris, and to encourage your wild, wicked plans; but I will not have this guilt on my soul, and, once for all, I forbid your departure." 

When she kneeled before him and begged him not to go, he insisted "'Well, then, go," she said. "'Go and wallow in the filth of Paris, sully your name, and kill your father and me with sorrow and shame! I will not re-enter the house till you have left it. You are my son no longer. I curse you!"

Berlioz later reflected that he could never forget that "painful, unnatural, horrible scene," and it solidified his resolve to overcome many obstacles later.
Book: The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz
Wikipedia: Hector Berlioz

Sunday, October 11, 2020

With Bierstadt on a Painting Expedition

In 1859, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) organized a painting expedition in the high country of the Rocky Mountains. He sought out the help of William Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, a "mountain tramp" who knew his way around. 

Byers recalled how the artist "said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. His enthusiasm was badly dampened, but the moment he caught the view, fatigue and hunger were forgotten. He said nothing, but his face was a picture of intense life and excitement. Taking in the view for a moment, he slid off his mule, glanced quickly to see where the jack was that carried his paint outfit, walked sideways to it and began fumbling at the lash-ropes, all the time keeping his eyes on the scene up the valley."

Byers waited patiently for Bierstadt to finish the color sketch, which the artist thought had taken fifteen minutes. Byers said: "You were at work forty-five minutes by the watch!"

The artist produced one sketch after another, each time exceeding his estimate of how long it would take.

“Wait twenty minutes while I sketch this storm.” They waited, but twenty minutes flew by, and he was still at work. Thirty, forty, and fifty minutes, and then an hour was gone, and the artist, absorbed in his work, was earnestly engaged in transferring the natural sublimity before him to paper. At the end of an hour and a half the artist completed his sketch."

According to Eleanor Harvey in her book The Painted Sketch

"'It was claimed that the artist’s recording “every detail of so wide a view in time—sketches, each limited to twenty minutes, and each noting the time of day, and consequent relative position of the sun, is one of the secrets of M. Bierstadt’s success.' He also developed a reputation early in his career as a prolific artist in the field, evidenced by the weight of his accumulated materials.”


Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West 

The Painted Sketch: American Impressions From Nature, 1830-1880 by Eleanor Harvey