Monday, November 30, 2020

Do You See the Face?

When you look at this shape, what do you see? 

An animal or a person in a costume, or just an abstract shape? 

If you flip the shape over, another reading emerges...... 

....and most people will see a face in profile looking to the left. 

This shape is called the Mooney Face, and it's used to test if special areas of the brain are activated for face recognition tasks. Indeed, the fusiform face area (FFA) lights up when you recognize the second diagram as a face. 

Previous post "Mooney Faces" shows additional examples

Research Gate

Sunday, November 29, 2020

John Wesley Jarvis, Portrait Factory

John Wesley Jarvis (1781-1839) was an American portrait painter who streamlined his process so that he could produce six portraits a week.

Self Portrait by John Wesley Jarvis

With studios based in New York and Baltimore, "he received six sitters a day at his painting room and limited each sitting to one hour. In that time he was able to do the face. Then the portrait was handed over to an assistant who painted in the background and the drapery," 

Quote is from a book called Hawkers and Walkers in Early America: Strolling Peddlers, Preachers, Lawyers, Doctors, Players, and Others, From the Beginning to the Civil War, 1927.

John Wesley Jarvis on Wikipedia

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Theatrical Backdrop

Theatrical backdrops were painted at a large scale to provide the atmosphere and setting behind the actors and props on the stage. Some were impressive works in their own right. 

This backdrop was painted by the Brückner Brothers Workshop for The Winter's Tale) in 1870. It is 7.4 x 12.8 meters (24.2 x 42 feet).

More examples at the Meininger Theatrical Museum 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Fan Ho's Bounded Light

One way to capture light is to surround it with darkness. 

The photographs of Fan Ho, who explored Hong Kong in the 1950s, often use this principle.

Within the area of light, the dark elements are lightened by backlit atmosphere. 

The light patch coheres as a single shape, with dark elements jutting into it.

The light enters the dark space and casts shadows from each of the forms.

The key figure appears backlit in the central region of light.  

If you follow around the outside border, it's almost all in deep shadow.

The charcoal fires and cigarette smoke made for bad air quality, but it was a gift to photographers.

When he introduces color into this scheme, it's a revelation.


Portrait of Hong Kong 念香港人的舊 

Magnum Contact Sheets  

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Birthday Pageant Reference

To gather the reference for "Birthday Pageant," I hired a costume maker to sew the dresses, arranged silk flowers in basket bouquets, and made paper and cloth flags. 

Photo for LIFE Magazine by Tobey Sanford

I recruited my wife, my sons, and some neighborhood girls, and we staged a procession in the backyard, with a borrowed foam dinosaur built by a guy at the hardware store. 

Birthday Pageant print is now available in our webstore.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Warm Snowscape by A.von Werner

Snowstorm in the Churchyard, Karlsruhe, 
19.7 x 39.1 cm (7.7 x 15.3 in) 

Anton von Werner (German 1843-1915) conveys the feeling of a windy, snowy day outside a church using pencil, watercolor, and gouache on warm-toned board. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Macaroni Style

I've always been interested in stepping outside contemporary preoccupations to look for historical antecedents or parallels.

In 18th century England, aristocratic young men who traveled to Europe often returned with a fancy foreign style and an affected way of speaking, dining, and wearing clothes. 

The Continental fashions of the day often included tall wigs, frilly cuffs, and colorful fabrics, which struck commentators as effeminate or foppish. 

This style came to be known pejoratively as "macaroni," the term based on the Italian pasta.

Oxford Magazine in 1770 made fun of macaroni style: "There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion."

Americans recognize the term from the song Yankee Doodle, which was originally sung by British soldiers during the Revolution to make fun of Americans. "Yankee Doodle went to town, A-Riding on a pony, Stuck a feather in his cap, And called it macaroni."

Wikipedia on Macaroni Style

Monday, November 23, 2020

Joe Bowler Visits Art School

When Joe Bowler (1928-2016) was just starting out as an illustrator he got a job as an apprentice for the legendary Cooper Studios in New York. 

Illustration by Joe Bowler

But he wanted to do more than just cut mats and wash out brushes for the master illustrators. He hoped to prove himself as a full-fledged artist. 

So he hung out in the bullpen to watch how master illustrators like Coby Whitmore produced their paintings. 

It was a revelation for Bowler to watch the way Coby Whitmore painted. Bowler said that Coby "would paint an illustration from beginning to end in about forty-five minutes, talking the whole time and I'd be watching every stroke, every mixture of paint just watching him work. Every color he put down on his palette, the way he applied the paint. That was my education really."

Illustration by Coby Whitmore

Still in his early twenties, Bowler was getting a practical education from the best painters in the business. 

But he  thought he should enroll in art school to get a better grounding. So he went to the Art Students League, where one of the main instructors was Frank Reilly.

(Frank Reilly conducting a class)

Bowler recalls: "I was going to night school at the Art Students League -- the Frank Reilly class in drawing I thought, well I guess I'll go sign up for his painting class too."

"In the middle of the first day of class, he started to tell everybody about the way to mix colors. He had this incredibly graduated value scale he was running down... and I finally put up my hand and said, 'That's not the way they do it.'"

"Reilly said, 'Oh, really?' and I said, 'Yeah, I'm working at the Cooper Studio.' And he said, 'Oh really? Well I guess you'd better just go and work there some more.' He literally kicked me outta the place."

Illustration by Joe Bowler

"Fifteen, twenty years later - the phone rings and it's Frank Reilly! He says. "Oh Joe, how are you? I'm just finishing up my book and putting the names of some of my more famous students in there...and I see your name is there, but I don't really remember too much about you."

Bowler said, "He asked me if he could use my name in his book and I said sure."
The new Illustration Magazine #70 has a feature on Joe Bowler written by Leif Peng, the basis for this anecdote.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Using a Yellow Underpainting

Starting with a yellow underpainting puts "fire in the belly" of a gray painting.

The yellow layer is made up of a thin layer of casein brushed on in advance of the plein-air session. 

The underpainting gets mostly covered up by opaque or semi-opaque paint, but it manages to peek through in a few places.

 This YouTube excerpt is from my new Gumroad tutorial "TRIADS

Art Materials 

Friday, November 20, 2020

"Geronimo" Music Video

Concept artist and illustrator Simon Stålenhag directed this mysterious music video called "Geronimo," sung by Nadia Nair. (Link to YouTube)

On a peninsula of a flooded stone quarry, a "sad metal bird man" approaches a piano, which is painted with some alien design. 

He begins playing the keyboard with his robotic hands, reading from strange musical notation.  

The music stirs creatures from the deep, who swim around the piano player. 
These storyboard designs show how closely the final video stays to the original vision.
Stålenhag is best known for the books that he wrote and illustrated: 
Tales From the Loop

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Are You a Super-Recognizer?

In this 10 minute podcast, cognitive psychologist Dr. James Dunn talks about "super recognizers." These individuals have an extraordinary ability to recognize individuals, even in cases where the encounter was very brief and many years earlier. 

Super recognizers are also adept at correctly identifying someone whose face may be partially disguised by a face mask or a hat or a new hairstyle. The ability is the opposite of prosopagnosia, the neurological condition better known as face blindness.

Dr. Dunn has developed a face recognition test to be able to find these super recognizers so that he can study them further at the University of New South Wales in Australia. At the website SuperRecognisers, there's a face recognition test that you can test your own ability. I got a 10 out of 14, which was OK, not bad, but not great.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Sunsets on Mars

On Mars, the colors of the sunset are reversed from what we're used to seeing on Earth. 

Sunset at Gusev Crater: The Sun sinks below the horizon, 
as captured by NASA's Spirit Mars rover in 2005.

On Earth, we're accustomed to blue skies and warm colors around the sunset. But on Mars, the sky is warm colored, and the thin atmosphere is tinged blue around the setting sun. 
According to NASA
"Just as colors are made more dramatic in sunsets on Earth, Martian sunsets would appear bluish to human observers watching from the red planet. Fine dust makes the blue near the Sun's part of the sky much more prominent, while normal daylight makes the Red Planet's familiar rusty dust color more prominent.

"The colors come from the fact that the very fine dust is the right size so that blue light penetrates the atmosphere slightly more efficiently," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a science team member of the Curiosity rover mission. "When the blue light scatters off the dust, it stays closer to the direction of the Sun than light of other colors does. The rest of the sky is yellow to orange, as yellow and red light scatter all over the sky instead of being absorbed or staying close to the Sun."

Monday, November 16, 2020

Can you mix gouache and casein?

Linda says:
"As a watercolorist ready to try some new media, I am still confused about the difference in the effects of gouache and casein. I like the idea of underpainting with casein, but do I have to use gouache on top or can I continue with watercolor?"

Linda, I've had pretty good experience with combining pretty much any water media, such as watercolor, gouache, tinted gesso, acrylic gouache, acrylic, or casein. 

You can mix them or layer in any way you want as long as the resulting paint layer maintains adhesion. So you can do an underpainting in watercolor and finish with thick casein. Or you can put down casein first and then put thin washes of gouache over it. 

Some manufacturers caution against mixing diverse mediums together (or even diverse brands together) while they're wet on your palette, but I haven't had any issues so far with doing that. So you can try using acrylic paint to tint white gesso, and you can use gouache colors with white casein on the same palette. However, there are a few cautions.

Caution #1 is that if you have a layer that ends up being glossy or impermeable, a thin layer applied on top of that when it's dry may not have very strong adhesion. In other words it might tend to bead up while you're applying it, and it might tend to rub off after it's dry. (Incidentally, both of those effects might be desirable in certain techniques. If it beads up it will dry in a really interesting pattern. And if you're worried about it rubbing off, you can seal down the whole surface with finish varnish.)

Caution #2 is that if you're painting on flexible paper, your paint application should be relatively thin to keep the paint from flaking or breaking off. The glue-like emulsion of casein is not very strong compared to, say, acrylic. When it dries, casein is kind of like chalk. So if you want to use casein for thick, textural impastos, you should use a stiff panel or board as your base layer.  

Caution #3 is that you should experiment on a scrap first to see what happens with various combinations. You don't want to be in the middle of an important painting when you're experimenting with mixed media.
"Casein Painting in the Wild"
HD Digital download or stream on Gumroad 
DVD at Kunaki (ships worldwide) or Amazon
Jack Richeson Casein The Shiva Series Underpainting with 37ml Tubes, Set of 6
M. Graham 1/2-Ounce Tube 5 Color Gouache Paint Primary Set