Monday, May 17, 2021

Erulo Eroli (1854-1916)


Erulo Eroli is an Italian painter whose preferred themes were religious subjects, historical reconstructions, and landscapes.

Erulo Eroli, The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian

He was born and trained in Rome, and he painted both in in watercolor and oil. He also sculpted in ceramics, creating fantasy figures and portrait busts. 

Valerio Mariani wrote in a retrospective catalog in 1925: "His compositions are most beautiful, executed rapidly in paint and charcoal, revealing a vigorous temperament."  

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Laura Knight's War Factory Painting

During World War II, leaders in Britain needed to recruit more women to work in the ordnance factories.

Dame Laura Knight, Ruby Loftus Screwing A Breech Ring

Laura Knight was commissioned to paint this large oil portrait of a young worker named Ruby Loftus, who is operating the lathe to make the breech-loading ring of a Bofors anti-aircraft gun.

Knight traveled to the factory to paint the portrait on location over a three day period.

The painting was commissioned by the War Artists Advisory Committee, a governmental organization tasked with documenting the people and events of the war in paintings and drawings. 

Knight's painting was very popular, and was featured in posters, newsreels, and exhibitions to help raise funds for the war effort.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Painting Challenge: Paint an Abandoned House

There's just a week left for the "Paint an Abandoned House" challenge. Here are the main points:

Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Abandoned House

• May 21 is the deadline
• 5 Prizewinners get a "Department of Art" patch and a free Gumroad download.
• It can also be an abandoned store, restaurant, farm or factory.
• Anyone can enter and it's free. Must be painted on location, or at least started on location. You can finish it from photos.
• All painting media accepted, such as oil, watercolor, acrylic, gouache, acryla-gouache, alkyd, pastels casein, or water-soluble colored pencils.
• Take a photo of the work in progress on location, and another photo of the finished painting.
• Please limit your palette of colors to three colors plus white, and tell us what colors you used.
• Winners will be announced on this page and on my blog on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. There's also a Facebook page called "Painting Challenge: Abandoned House. Check out the entries that have already come in.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Frank Short (1857-1945)

Frank Short, Ebb Tide, Putney Bridge, mezzotint, 1885

Frank Short (1857 - 1945) was a British printmaker and translator engraver.

He worked in the painstaking media of wood engraving, mezzotint and drypoint.

According to Wikipedia: "He was a keen student of the works of JMW Turner; and his etchings and mezzotints from Turner's Liber Studiorum (1885 seq.), examples of painstaking devotion and skill, were among his earliest successes, combining sympathetic study of the originals with a full knowledge of the resources of engraving and unwearied patience. Short received praise, constant advice and encouragement from John Ruskin." 

Short's Sussex: Prints and Sketches by Sir Frank Short RA (1857-1945)

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Impasto Painting in Casein

Can you draw with colored pencils on the surface of dry casein paint?

Well, sort of. Usually casein dries with a surface that doesn't take the colored pencil quite as well as watercolor or gouache does. Sometimes the pencil just skids over the surface. But this time it worked, and I used the black colored pencil to quickly note some detail in the horn, cheek, and eye. I was also able to use the fountain pen over the thin paint.

Note the thin, semi-transparent layers of blue, yellow, and green applied with a half inch flat brush in the upper left.

What about impastos in casein? Yum, I love paint texture! I set up the whole painting for these last light accents. Gotta be careful though.

I'm painting here in a watercolor sketchbook. Because the paper is quite flexible, heavy impastos in casein could crack off because thick passages are rather brittle, more like chalk than the durable plastic quality of acrylic. My impastos here are fairly low, still within the safe range for a watercolor paper support.

If you like to go really crazy with impastos, you should work on a panel, or pre-texture the impastos with acrylic modeling paste, which has more emulsion strength and flexibility than casein.

The handling of the casein can be very reminiscent of oil, more so than gouache. It flows off the brush like oil, but it dries in minutes instead of hours. For the oil painter like me looking for a water-based sketching medium that travels well, this fits the bill pretty well.
More about this delicious medium in my video Casein Painting in the Wild.


In many different unrelated animals, a dark facial stripe runs from the snout to the eye. 

Directly above the eyestripe is a bright white line called a supercilium, and above that is another dark line called a lateral crown stripe. 

Eyestripes serve as protective coloration in all these prey animals, disguising their eyes from predators.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Using Cast Shadows in Landscape Painting

Irish Bridge, 2002, 8 x 10, oil on panel

The setting sun illuminates a bridge with parallel bands of light and cast shadows that you have to pass through to enter the village in the distance.

Jacob van Ruisdael

When the shadows are cast by clouds, the transitions from light to shadow are more gradual.

It's an old device in landscape painting: foreground shadow; middle ground light; beyond that shadow; finally a far patch of light. 

Thomas Moran

You can place the patches of light to dramatize travelers in the middle ground or a featured landscape form in the distance. 
More about this in my book "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter" (Signed copies at the link.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Are Artists Right-Brained?

There's a lot of information online about the difference between the two hemispheres of the brain and what that means for artists.

Many commentators suggest that each of us is either a "left hemisphere person" or a "right hemisphere person," as if we think and act primarily with one dominant hemisphere. This idea originated from studies in the 1960s and '70s with patients whose two hemispheres had to be separated by cutting through the connecting nerve bundle called the corpus callosum.

The notion that has percolated through popular culture is that each half of the brain functions separately.

Recent studies reveal that the truth is actually more nuanced than that.

Iain McGilchrist, a psychologist who has investigated this topic, suggests that different hemispheres of the brain are actually engaged in similar cognitive tasks, but each half approaches that task in a different way.

The right half focuses more on the big picture, and the left hemisphere focuses more on the details. The right brain appreciates metaphor, poetry, humor, and music, while the left brain is more focused on the notes, the denotive facts, and the logical conclusions. 

Although they have somewhat different styles of information processing, the two hemispheres are both engaged as you navigate through most tasks, and they work together when you're creating a painting. 

In this YouTube video, which is illustrated by a whiteboard animation, Iain McGilchrist explains the lateralized brain, and how that affects our personal and cultural styles of thought. 


The art teacher most strongly associated with this line of scientific reasoning is Betty Edwards, who wrote Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and has updated it with a 4th Edition

Monday, May 10, 2021

Designing Book Covers

Lucas Schneider asks: 
What would you say is the most important thing to consider when painting book covers?

Think beyond the point-of-sale function of the image.

Sure, it's important to get the potential reader to pick up a copy in the bookstore or to click on the image online. That's the main concern of the publisher, the art director, and the sales force when they think about your cover. Of course it should stand out from the competition and it should accurately convey the spirit, style, and type of the book.

But that's just the start of how the reader will relate to the image. The cover image also has to offer something to the reader while they're reading the book and after they've finished it. 

In other words, it has to be a poster that invites them into the adventure, and it must sum up the experience of the book after they've read it. 

Plus, it's important to keep in mind that the image will live entirely independently of the book, as you share it without the type on social media and in your portfolio.

For example, I wanted the painting for Glory Lane to present the odd situation of some American kids encountering a whole planet full of aliens far weirder than they are. The image is loaded with details that go beyond that moment in the book, making it fun for the reader to explore later. 

You obviously don't want to give away the story, but it's essential to communicate the genre, the main characters, and at least one provocative situation. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mother and Daughter Reading

Although she never had children of her own, American illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith (1863-1935) painted some of the most enduring images of motherhood. 

She would invite her friends to bring their children over to visit, and she'd sketch them while they played. She preferred to look for authentic moments from unprofessional models, rather than posing professional actors.

Book: The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love

The Subject Was Children: The Art of Jessie Willcox Smith

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Why Cell Towers Keep Getting More Complex

This cell tower looms over our village hall and it keeps getting more complex as more carrier companies add their antennae to the central lattice-type tower.

The first company to set up there received the highest space, and newer carriers have added their equipment on triangular arrays farther down the structure. The antennas are the vertical segments. They both transmit and receive signals from your cell phone.

I liked the way the hot sun flare burned through the wires and antennas and set them on fire, coloristically speaking. 

See how the same cell tower looked 11 years ago in a previous post.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Two Paintings in Upcoming Exhibit in Massachusetts

Two of my paintings will be part of a big fantasy exhibition this summer at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

"Skeleton Pirate" and "Garden of Hope" will be featured among works by Arthur Rackham, Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, Joseph Clement Coll, N.C. Wyeth, and many contemporary illustrators.

The name of the exhibition is "Enchanted: A History of Fantasy Illustration.

"Fictional worlds of magic and adventure come to life through fantasy illustration. Myths, legends, fables, romance, and epic battles involving swords and sorcery occur in a world unfamiliar to us. Unlike science fiction, which is based on fact, fantasy presents an imaginative reality built on universal themes—heroes defeating fire-breathing dragons, angels and demons engaging in combat, and mythological tales of love and loss."

The exhibition opens to the public on June 12, 2021 and will be on view through October 31.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Look Development in "Mitchells Vs. Machines"

The new Netflix movie "The Mitchells vs The Machines" uses innovative techniques to create the contrast between humanistic world and the machine world. (Link to YouTube)

The team at Sony, which won the Oscar for the Spiderverse movie, developed new tools for this film, creating a look that was a notable departure from the unified style of a typical Pixar / Disney outing. 

This behind the scenes video features interviews with visual effects supervisor Michael Lasker, character designer Lindsey Olivares, director Mike Rianda, and producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. 

Fun With a Weird Gamut

That color scheme on the right is just flame red, brilliant purple and raw sienna, plus white. The purple serves as the blue. It pushes everything into a magical realm, especially if you put it next to a sketch made from other gamuts that contain blue-green or bright yellow.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Lebedev's Oil Study

Klavdy Lebedev (1852-1916) did this oil study from a costumed model as a preparation for a larger painting. 

I'm just guessing, but he probably did study on an oil-primed surface, and that he must have done a preliminary pencil drawing and laid in the tones fairly thinly. 

Lebedev was a member of the Itinerants, and a student of Perov. 

Martha the Mayoress. Destruction of Novgorod by Ivan
by Klavdy Lebedev. 1889. Tretyakov Gallery.

The Destruction of Novgorod was "an act of vengeance against the perceived treason of the local Orthodox church, the massacre quickly became possibly the most vicious in the brutal legacy of the oprichnina, with casualties in the tens of thousands and innumerable acts of extreme violent cruelty."

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

The Air Scorpion

The air scorpion is one of the biggest of the fleet of enforcer ships from Dinotopia's ancient Poseidos. 

The design is based on eurypterids, with mechanized prosomal appendages, skid plates, and podomeres that were equally dangerous while in flight or walking on land.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Chicken People in Poughkeepsie

Two weeks ago there was a DNA leak from the Agricultural Biotech Lab at Varist College. They tell me that the janitorial team in Building 14 was the first to grow the comb and wattles. Everyone thought it was an IG face filter at first. They tried to cover it up, then they tried surgery, but it made it worse. Now everyone in the CheapRight Market in Poughkeepsie has got the beak and wattles, and I'm starting to grow them, too.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Is There Too Much Art?

Think Reset asks: "I have a difficult question to ask. As I sometimes wonder [about] the meaning of life and so on. The question is; Is there already enough Art? Referring to how many amazing artists have come before, and how many there are alive now. Open Instagram and you’ll find an infinite amount of talented artist[s] of all types."
Daumier, An Artist in Front of His Canvas

You're right: there are a lot of talented artists out there now, and there always have been. Many of them are doing art that's skillfully executed and new and exciting and original, art that speaks to our times. 

Artists will always emerge to produce the art that people hunger for. It might appear in the form of a comic book, a movie, a painting, or an animated meme. The revolutions in social media and digital tools have lowered the barriers to creating art and have facilitated distribution to whatever group wants to consume it. Those forces have increased the volume of work. I don't know if the average quality is any better than in a world of gatekeepers but it's much easier for an artist to develop a following. 

Societies are energized by art. Art makes a big claim on our attention and it's a big part of our economy. In capitalist societies there will always be powerful marketing forces pushing art products that may or may not be very relevant or creative. Sometimes the great art of our time will come from these mainstream businesses, and sometimes it will come from the margins.

Is there too much art? Well, there's probably too much of the same art, art that is dull, unoriginal, or poorly executed. That stuff will fall away and be forgotten. But the world will always be hungry for the work of a person of vision. If you have something to express, learn your craft, aim high, and do your best.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

More Etruscan Sketches

The sketches you saw yesterday are just the tip of the iceberg. 

Most National Geographic illustration assignments go through a months-long exploratory process, going back and forth with the art director, editor, writer, and scientific consultants.

My job is to digest all the information and to explore lots of variations in visual terms. 

How can we incorporate the caption and text in the design? What tells the story most effectively? How can we communicate what's known and unknown? 

Many archaeologists don't want to veer too far into speculation. But on the other hand, we want the reader to be fully transported back to the heyday of this mysterious ancient culture.

In the case of this tomb, big sections of the wall mural were lost or damaged, and the contents of the tomb were missing, so we studied evidence from other tombs to guess what the full picture must have looked like.