Saturday, September 25, 2021

Joe Baer as Mark Twain

Last night, actor and writer Joe Baer performed "Tales of Mark Twain" in Rhinecliff, NY. I painted an impromptu portrait of him from the audience using sepia gouache. 


I set up my palette in advance with sepia colors because I anticipated it would be too dark to make out any hues. It was pretty dark.


Baer, a local writer, actor, and lighting designer created the show from Twain's own writings. The show is enhanced by projected slides evoking the writer's historical milieu, which gives context to Twain's trenchant observations about the human condition. 

Baer wore the classic white suit and wild hair. He gave a thoughtful, witty, and lively performance. He didn't stay long in the chair, or in any single pose, so I had to rely on memory as much as observation. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Bix Meets a T. Rex


Bix, the Protoceratops, knows what to say to distract an attacking tyrannosaur.
Oil over pencil on illustration board, about 13 x 14 inches. 
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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Starting with a Brayer Gradient


This little plein-air landscape begins with a sky gradient laid down with a brayer.

I prime the page first in the studio with that blue sky tone and then paint the clouds over it. I demonstrate the process for this painting—including getting pounded by a rainstorm—in my new Gumroad tutorial "Gradients."

Tiffanie Mang says: “James Gurney's video workshop about gradients was the most concise, comprehensive, engaging and informative video I have ever seen about different ways of blending with a variety of techniques and mediums, from watercolor, gouache, casein and acrylic! I loved how his video was interspersed with foundational exercises to clearly demonstrate the fundamentals of the technique. James would then show how he applied the technique in a real life demo with very real life weather scenarios! Watching him tackle the paintings from start to finish was so fascinating and mesmerizing. As a gouache teacher who has mentored many students in gouache, the top question I always get is how to blend colors better, as gouache can be quite tricky since it dries so fast! I can confidently say James' video covers everything you need to know. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is beginner or advanced because it contains such valuable information not just about gradients, but about easel set up, brushes, values, color mixing, and problem solving that every painter should know how to apply in their paintings!”

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dark on Dark, Light on Light

Part of what gives a painting impact is a simple tonal design. You can create the design with a simple light shape and a simple dark shape, almost like a yin-yang symbol. 

Fingal's Cave by J.M.W Turner

The boundaries of the shapes don't have to match up with the boundaries of the forms. So, for example, in this painting, Turner doesn't put his strongest contrasts on the top edge of the cliff. He makes it light against a light sky and loses it in mist. The ship is a dark shape embedded in a dark background. 

As Howard Pyle put it: "Put your white against white, middle tones against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want your center of interest." In the case of the Turner, he doesn't really spotlight any center of interest: it's all veiled and hidden.

Bob Ross was only half right when he said: "Put light against light - you have nothing. Put dark against dark - you have nothing. It's the contrast of light and dark that each give the other one meaning." 

He's right that tonal contrasts can give meaning and draw attention, but at the same time I believe you need to think just as hard about downplaying areas, putting dark things in shadow, grouping light areas together.

Otherwise, if you put strong contrasts all through the picture, there's a risk you'll get a chaotic, non-cohesive result. 

So I would suggest to go ahead and dramatize or spotlight a key focal area, but look for other places where you can downplay or obscure an edge.

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Previous posts: 

The Windmill Principle

Shapewelding

Monday, September 20, 2021

Harvesting Coal

In 1894, Russian artist Nikolay Kasatkin painted this picture of poor women and children gathering chunks of coal in a worked-out coal mine.


According to the Virtual Russian Museum, the painting describes: "one of the gloomy paradoxes of the industrial revolution in Russia. While their fathers and husbands are mining for anthracite underground, the women and children attempt to make ends meet by scouring the site of an old mine for scraps of coal. The expressiveness of the depicted scene — resolved as an everyday, repetitive action — is increased by the slag heaps, gaping potholes and lifeless landscape."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Artists Painting Airplanes

Artists were painting airplanes this weekend at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. 

 

I dropped by to visit the American Society of Aviation Artists who were set up at the aerodrome for a plein-air painting session around a World War 1 biplane. 


I used watercolor and gouache to sketch Don Meadows, one of the ASAA members. He was standing at his easel with a Fokker D VII behind. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Skybax Academy

Skybax Academy, oil, 4 x 8 inches. 

Skybax Academy is one of the skill-building centers for young pterosaur pilots in Dinotopia.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Do Some People Have Bigger Visual Brains?


The size of the visual part of the brain varies a great deal from person to person. According to neuroscientist Jeff Hawkins:

"Region V1, the primary visual region, can be twice as big in some people as in others. V1 is the same thickness for everyone, but the area, and hence the number of [cortical] columns can vary. A person with a relatively small V1 and a person with a relatively large V1 both have normal vision and neither person is aware of the difference. There is a difference, however; a person with a large V1 has higher acuity, meaning they can see smaller things. This might be useful if you were a watchmaker, for example. If we generalize from this, then increasing the size of some regions of the neocortex can make a modest difference, but it doesn't give you a superpower."

From:  A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins

Image from Wikipedia

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Nikolai Astrup at the Clark

There are three days left for the exhibition Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway at the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.


Nikolai Astrup (Norwegian, 1880-1928), Rainy Atmosphere beneath the Trees at JĂžlster Parsonage,
before 1908. Oil on canvas, 35 1/16 x 43 5/16 in. (89 x 110 cm).
Savings Bank Foundation DNB / KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes, Bergen

The Clark's website says: "Astrup’s oeuvre is notable for its intense, colorful palette, and the magical realism of his remarkable landscapes. Paintings and woodcuts from all periods of his career are presented in the exhibition, including multiple impressions of print compositions that reveal how Astrup modified the mood and meaning of these works through changes in color and the addition or deletion of motifs, often using multiple blocks to create his complex prints.
 

"Astrup’s work responded to, and helped shape, Norway’s emerging national identity. He created a distinctive visual language that expands on the intentions and achievements of composer Edvard Grieg (1843–1907) and playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) in Norwegian music and literature, respectively."
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The show Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway is up through September 19.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Statue of Ogthar

 

'Then they saw it: dazzling and glowing, the fruit of a thousand royal workshops, a small sea of riches adorning the feet of a gigantic statue of Ogthar.'
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From Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Ferns in Overcast Light

These densely crowded fern fronds on an overcast day are a good motif for studying soft gradients of light and shadow in nature. 


The local color was fairly uniform on the frond surface. As a result, the changes in value were the result of:

1. Variations in the angle of the surface in relation to the sky
2. The degree to which they were overshadowed or occluded by fronds above them.

If you want to try this exercise, head outside on an overcast day and look for a similar grouping of leaves, ferns, or something else, such as laundry on the line. Analyze what causes the changes in tone, and paint the gradients with whatever technique you want to explore—such as in-brush, stipple, or transparent watercolor gradients.

I used watercolor and gouache (Lemon yellow, Sap green, Titanium white, Cobalt blue, Light red, Quinacridone violet, Permanent green pale over a variegated priming in casein), but you could do this exercise in acrylic, Acryla Gouache, casein, or oil.
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Monday, September 13, 2021

Using Depth of Field in Painting

What attracted me about this view of the marina at Cold Spring, NY was the “keyhole view” down the ramp to the water.


I also liked the opportunity to suggest depth on the Z-axis by selecting where to put detail. The fine details of railings and wires are only in the middle ground. The front of the vehicle on the right is painted a little out of focus.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Square A and Square B are the Same Paint Color

The square marked "A" is painted with the same gray paint as the square marked "B."


On the YouTube video below, I show you how to paint this optical illusion 

The demonstration shows how our visual systems unconsciously and automatically interpret the raw data that our eyes receive. 

We can't interpret raw information. Instead, our estimation of tones and colors are relative, based on context cues. 

 

Looking at an illusion is one thing, but painting one is another. As Charley Parker said in his review of my new Gradients video: "The concepts behind making gradations of color in visual art can seem as though they should be simple, until you find yourself trying to paint something like different bands of color on a coffee mug as they round the form into shadow, and you suddenly realize you’re in uncharted territory."

You can watch this study being painted in the new Gradients video. You can download or stream the entire Gradients video at Gumroad. It's also available as a DVD

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Painting an Alleyway in Gouache

This YouTube video is a sample of my new Gumroad tutorial "Gradients." 


Angela Sung, VisDev & Art Direction, says: “I never knew gradients could be accomplished simply and never thought that you could use so many methods to accomplish them. I cannot wait to try out these techniques and experiment with my future landscapes! But first, let's paint a checked cylinder.”

Friday, September 10, 2021

Gradients Video Released Today

 Today is the release of Gradients: Color, Form, Illusion. Here's a sample YouTube Premiere.



You can download or stream the video at Gumroad. It's also available as a DVD

Here's what people are saying:  

“In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney has once again demonstrated his ability to take complex or confusing concepts, reduce them to their essential components and lay out a path to understanding with clarity and ease.”  Charley Parker, Lines and Colors blog 


“The thing about painting is that everything gradates. Recognizing this, James Gurney devotes an hour to this essential and too often overlooked skill, outlining several approaches to creating seamless transitions in water-based media with some helpful hacks from his illustrator’s bag of tricks. An absolutely great and informative video on a hugely important subject for all painters.” —Edward Minoff, Artist and Professor, Grand Central Academy


“In this video, artist James Gurney takes the mystery out of painting gradients, a necessary skill in the painters and illustrators toolbox. Mr. Gurney simplifies the process of painted color gradients by breaking things down into a series of short studio exercises that you can do at home, using a variety of paint mediums and suggested tools.” —Veronica Lawlor, Artist and Teacher


“Each demo is chock full of tips on how to think about light, color and human perception. This is a must have video for anyone interested in color, form, and the illusion of depth in a painting.” —Todd Casey, Author of The Art of Still Life


“Like a magician stepping through how a magic trick is performed, James steps through his demos of gradients and their practical application in his paintings, unveiling the secrets behind the magic of the effect.” Chuck Grieb, Illustrator and Professor of Animation, Art School at Cal State Fullerton


This new video from Jim gives an easy-to-watch and very conversational approach with eye-opening ways to approach painting.” Roger Bansemer, Painting and Travel with Roger and Sarah Bansemer


“James Gurney's video workshop about gradients was the most concise, comprehensive, engaging and informative video I have ever seen about different ways of blending with a variety of techniques and mediums, from watercolor, gouache, casein and acrylic!” —Tiffanie Mang, Artist and designer 


“I never knew gradients could be accomplished simply and never thought that you could use so many methods to accomplish them. I cannot wait to try out these techniques and experiment with my future landscapes! But first, let's paint a checked cylinder.” —Angela Sung, VisDev & Art Direction


“No matter your skill level as a painter, you’ll always learn something new in every James Gurney video. “Gradients” does not disappoint. Gurney follows each up-close studio study with a more complex on-location sketch that illustrates how he puts each gradient into practice. And as always, every tidbit of information is delivered with intelligence, warmth, and a sprinkling of humour.” —Shari Blaukopf


“As James Gurney says in his new video Gradients: Color, Form, Illusion, "flat is easy to paint, but gradients are everywhere. As artists we need every way we can to create them.” And the best way to learn all about those options is through this excellent video. —Darren R. Rousar, Sightsize.com


“James Gurney is a one-person art school. I can honestly say that I learned more from Gurney than I did in art school. His practical tips and tricks about methods and materials, and about color and light, are perfect nuggets of wisdom. The wealth of information he provides has helped me immensely over the years in my art practice and in my teaching. With this new video Gurney provides useful real-world information to help anyone improve their artistic skills and their powers of observation.” Patrick O’Brien, Professor of Art, MICA


“Jim talks you through the wisdom of gradations, shows you everything he talks about, offers generous demos, and creates a pleasant meditation on how light and color change through a painting. You’ll enjoy it!” Marshall Vandruff

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Brothers Klimt

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), known for his semi-abstract paintings, began in a realist mode, painting theatrical curtains and murals. 

He formed a company with his younger brother Ernst, who worked diligently on this complex painting of street theater. 

Hanswurst on the fair stage by Ernst and Gustav Klimt,
1884-92, 450 x 100 cm Burgtheater, Vienna

It features a stock comic character called Hanswurst on the stage pointing to his forehead as the crowd looks on.

Ernst and Gustav Klimt, 1884-92.

Ernst died in 1892 of an inflammation of the pericardium, leaving the painting unfinished, so Gustav finished it, adding a few more figures. 
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Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Brushed Gradient in a Dinotopia Painting


The sky in this Dinotopia painting has a brushed gradient shifting from cool colors at the top to warm colors at the bottom. The brightness of light on the dinosaur also diminishes toward the base.

Edward Minoff, Artist and Professor at Grand Central Academy, says: “The thing about painting is that everything gradates. Recognizing this, James Gurney devotes an hour to this essential and too often overlooked skill, outlining several approaches to creating seamless transitions in water-based media with some helpful hacks from his illustrator’s bag of tricks. As always, he develops from simple studio exercises into complex field studies, answering questions along the way which give his video the feel of attending a workshop. The video has something for all levels from novice to expert. A brief art history tour though light as a compositional device in landscape paintings is so insightful that I actually whispered “wow, this is amazing” to myself while watching. An absolutely great and informative video on a hugely important subject for all painters.
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My upcoming video tutorial "GRADIENTS," comes out on Gumroad this Friday, and there will be a free YouTube preview on Friday at 11am Pacific Time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Layers in an animation background painting


There's a big gradient in the sky and small gradients in the far ruins, all accomplished with an airbrush. 


Those color changes are barely visible behind the upper layers of this traditional animation background painting. 


Top layers include tissue paper (or frosted acetate), characters on acetate cels, and a foreground wall with hanging branches and flowers.

Gradients are a key ingredient in any painting, adding dimension, depth and atmosphere. I'll share recipes and strategies in my upcoming video GRADIENTS, which materializes on Friday, 10 September. 


Shari Blaukopf continues: "'Gradients' does not disappoint. Gurney follows each up-close studio study with a more complex on-location sketch that illustrates how he puts each gradient into practice. And as always, every tidbit of information is delivered with intelligence, warmth, and a sprinkling of humour.”

Angela Sung says: "I never knew gradients could be accomplished simply and never thought that you could use so many methods to accomplish them! My favorite method is definitely the 'in-brush gradient.' I cannot wait to try out these techniques and experiment with my future landscapes! But first, let's paint a checked cylinder."

Monday, September 6, 2021

Are there "right-brained" and "left-brained" artists?

Many artists are familiar with the method of drawing instruction based on the lateralization of the brain into right and left hemispheres. The method was inspired by scientific studies from the 1970s which proposed that the right and left sides of the brain employ different styles of information processing. The left side (which controls the right side of the body) tends to specialize in language, certainty, categorization and fragmentary parts, while the right hemisphere tends to regard the world in a more holistic and metaphorical manner.

Researchers have learned a lot since then, and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated more clearly what parts of the brain are activated with certain tasks. While there is some truth to the claims of lateralized functions, and while the method can be useful for many beginning artists, some of the more extreme claims aren’t supported by evidence.

For example, some argue that certain individuals are “right-brained” and others are “left-brained,” or that one hemisphere exclusively handles a given task. 

Neuroimaging studies show that in a normal brain, the two hemispheres are deeply interconnected, and they work together to solve most drawing or painting tasks, whether it’s analyzing shapes, measuring proportions, or representing contours.
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This is a sample excerpt from my new article in International Artist Magazine called "What Brain Science Teaches Us About Painting, Part 2"

You can learn more about the recent science of lateralization in the book by Ian McGilchrist called The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World


Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Fun Starts Friday Sept. 10

The fun begins on Friday 10 September at 11am PT / 2pm ET with a free YouTube premiere about lighting in landscape, and the release of my next Gumroad tutorial on GRADIENTS. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Painting Secrets from Fitz and Van


Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman, also known as Fitz and Van, were a team of advertising illustrators whose paintings of new car models were so successful that their car ads changed the fortunes of major car companies in the 1950s and '60s. 


When Fitz started as a car illustrator, the standard illustration produced by his competitors showed the car against a white background. 

But over the years the mood and setting became extremely important to create the aspirational mood for the upwardly mobile middle class of the postwar era.

Fitz painted the cars and Van painted the backgrounds. The settings evoked an upscale lifestyle of travel and leisure. At one point one of the agency art directors suggested painting the car in a suburban driveway with laundry on the line. Fitz knew that what interested potential customers was a ticket to the "good life," with romantic possibilities, affluent leisure, and no kids.


They demanded and received huge sums for their work. In the late '50s they received from Pontiac about $5,000, at a time when the average annual U.S. household income was about $5,500.  

They were rare among advertising illustrators in that they were allowed to sign their work with the initials "AF VK." They also had complete creative control over the car colors and elements of the scene. Fitz had direct contact with the senior management of the car companies, which allowed him to go circumvent the usual approval chain of the ad agencies. 


Fitz and Van lived about 40 minutes away from each other in Connecticut. On a typical job, they hired messengers bring the painting back and forth from studio to studio. Van painted the background on illustration board, while the car was painted on a photostat of the comprehensive drawing and rubber cemented onto it so that you could hardly see the join. The interactive reflections came last. 


Most of the smooth transitions in the car were were achieved with a brush in gouache. The rare instances when they used an airbrush included the edge of a windshield or a highlight on a chrome bumper. They called those highlights "skinkles," but they tried not to use too many of them. "Skinkles don't make a car look shiny," Fitz said. "Reflections do." 


Fitz would start with photos of the car which were taken in Detroit from prototypes on giant turntables so that they wouldn't have to move the camera. The design of the new car models was so secret that the car makers had their own photographers and labs to take the pictures. 

To achieve the car's wide, low stance, they stretched the actual car's dimensions. Fitz sliced the photos into vertical sections and spread out the slices horizontally. They also moved the wheels outward in the wheel wells and lowered the ground clearance of the car, which placed the wheels higher in the wheel wells.


They preferred to show the car in a stationary position rather than on the road moving. They made an exception to show the car driving with a "strobing" background, suggesting a photographic effect at night. The agency loved the look and wanted more, but Fitz and Van decided to go back to their proven idea of the casually idled car in the upscale setting. One cardinal rule was never to have anyone looking at or admiring the car. 


The settings were based on a huge collection of slides they compiled from their travels. Since the car never actually appeared in the setting, Fitz had to invent how the reflections would look on the mirror-like hood of the car. A given background sets up opportunities for the reflections, not only on the hood of the car, but also on the down-facing planes of the chrome bumper, which picks up the color of the ground.


It was always a challenge to achieve the maximum glossiness of the paint job. Getting a white car to look shiny was the hardest challenge because you're already starting at white. They found it worked best to park the car in shadow, and that's what they did for the 1968 Bonneville. To make sure it was clear that the car's surface color appeared white, they had just a couple spots of dappled light on the front.


These observations come from the new book by Rob Keil called Art Fitzpatrick & Van Kaufman: Masters of the Art of Automobile Advertising. Keil assembled the book over more than a decade of exhaustive research, which included meeting and talking with the the artists and their descendants. The book is full of technical insights and biographical details and gorgeous reproductions, mostly taken from the rare original paintings that have survived. 

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Friday, September 3, 2021

GRADIENTS launches in one week


A week from today I'll be premiering the first of three free 15 minute YouTube videos and releasing my next Gumroad feature “GRADIENTS: Color, Form, Illusion.”
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Mark your calendar the premieres and have your questions ready for the chats.

"How to Light a Landscape" premieres on YouTube Friday September 10 at 11am Pacific time / 2:00pm Eastern / 11:30pm Mumbai time. 

"Painting an Alleyway in Gouache" will be Saturday 11am Pacific time / 2:00 Eastern time 

"How to Paint an Optical Illusion" will be Sunday 11am Pacific time) 2:00 Eastern time 
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LightboxExpo.com is an online convention that will be a hub for lots of artist presentations and virtual gatherings. If you sign up (it's cheap to join) you get access to a bunch of great artists and presentations.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Thomas Kelly in Action


Thomas Kelly is a Professor of Music at Harvard University. I sketched him while he gave a lecture, and I tried to freeze in my mind some of his characteristic expressions.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Should You Interrupt Long Straight Lines?


In his 1916 book Cartoons and Caricatures, Zim advises: “Avoid long straight or curved lines without some object breaking into them. They are inartistic and disturbing to the eye."

"Draw in your background as though you were arranging a stage setting, putting the various pieces of furniture in such positions as to break up the monotony of blank space and long lines. Frequently a good play falls flat owing to poor arrangement of objects on the stage.”

Read more:
From Cartoons and Caricatures or Making the World Laugh, by Zim, 1916, page 29.
Book in Print: The Lost Art of Zim: Cartoons and Caricatures