Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cornelius Varley's Watercolors

Watercolor can convey a lot of information with simple means.

Cornelius Varley

This looks like a practice sheet to try different ways of capturing those wind-blown shapes. Each sort of tree has a different silhouette shape and leafy character. 

The studies in this post are by Cornelius Varley (1781–1873), who was a scientific instrument maker by profession. In 1845 he wrote a Treatise on Optical Drawing Instruments.

He painted in watercolor for the pure love of it, creating many of his studies on trips to Wales. This sky study from 1803, making him a very early plein-air practitioner. 

Imagine the thrill of painting directly from Nature with very little precedent or tradition. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Turner's Small Watercolor Kits

J.M.W. Turner's super-portable watercolor set consisted of a small set of cake colors in a leather pocket pouch.

He also had slightly larger sets with flasks. This is his paintbox, found in his studio after his death in 1851

(Tate Archive 7315.6)

To learn more about 19th century watercolor sets, check out the website or the Tate Archive

Thursday, October 14, 2021

How Sacrificing Detail Can Add Mood

In a new YouTube video I show how I painted this moody morning scene in gouache by sacrificing detail and emphasizing light effects.

My goal is to capture a fleeing light effect by using a warm priming color to achieve a "photographic" lens flare. Halfway through, I paint over the whole thing with a glaze to reduce detail. The glaze is risky because gouache reactivates when it's rewet, and to be honest, it's kind of a disaster for a while.

Here are some takeaway quotes about the theory of sacrifices: 

“Nature instills sentiments in the spectator through the selective sacrifice of details in order to improve the overall effect.” 
--The Theory and Practice of Water Colour Painting: Elucidated in a Series of Letters

“Painters without experience often weaken the effect they wish to produce by a prodigality which multiplies uselessly the figures and accessories of a picture. It will not be long before they learn that, the greater the conciseness and simplicity with which a thought is interpreted, the more it gains in expressive force.” 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Influential Landscape Painters

When the Artists Magazine asked "Who's a painter that changed the course of landscape painting?" the first name that popped into my mind first was Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898).

I said that I don’t know whether he changed the course of landscape painting outside of Russia, but he sure inspired me. He tackled one of the most difficult landscape subjects—the forest interior. 

The technical challenges include wildly fluctuating light levels and infinitely deep spatial layers of complex detail. Shishkin was an enthusiastic advocate of photography as a reference tool, but his paintings were anything but photographic or technical. He knew his botany and loved the wild lands. He managed to capture the deep mystery of the forest like no one else.

This Q and A is coming up in the November / December issue of The Artists Magazine.

Of course there are so many other great landscape painters who have affected the course of art history. Who would you choose and why?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Outline vs. Tonal Shapes In Face Recognition

 Which is more important for face recognition: outline or tonal shapes?

Jim Carrey (left) and Kevin Costner.

According to vision scientists Pawan Sinha et al, "Images which contain exclusively contour information are very difficult to recognize, suggesting that high-spatial frequency information, by itself, is not an adequate cue for human face recognition processes." 

By contrast, the tonal shapes, even if they're out of focus, are relatively easy to recognize. The experts say: 
"Unlike current machine-based systems, human observers are able to handle significant degradations in face images." Shown here are Michael Jordan, Woody Allen, Elvis Presley, and Jay Leno.

That's why it's good to blur your eyes when you're capturing a likeness.
Source: Face Recognition by Humans: Nineteen Results All Computer Vision Researchers Should Know About, Pawan Sinha, Benjamin Balas, Yuri Ostrovsky, and Richard Russell,

Monday, October 11, 2021

Tête d'expression

Tête d'expression was a traditional art-school exercise involving "a study of the face intended to evoke a particular state of mind: melancholy, for instance, obstinacy, shock, or boredom." (Source)

(Expression of the face, young suppliant girl)

It was also the name for a competition held at the French Academy

Greek statues expressed emotion mainly with the pose of the body, but the officials of the Academy didn't want to neglect the expressive potential of the head itself. The exercise was carried out not only with drawings and engravings, but also with sculpture.

De 35 Têtes D'expression by Louis Leopold Boilly

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Vermeer Restoration Reveals Hidden Cupid

A Vermeer painting has restored to reveal a hidden painting within a painting. 

Cupid was painted over by another hand after Vermeer's death. Restorers revealed the underlayer in stages, and exhibited the painting half-restored to share the process with the public.

According to Smithsonian, "A recent bout of laboratory testing confirmed that a long-hidden Cupid found in the top right-hand corner of the canvas was painted over not by the Dutch Golden Age artist, but an unknown party who acted decades after Vermeer’s death."

The presence of Cupid adds meaning to the image, suggesting the letter may address matters of love.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Arthur Denison and the Sunstone

Arthur Denison powers up a strutter with a sunstone. On Instagram, Bo Thornchester (iheartboeboe) asks: "Was Arthur's design based on a real-life person?"

Arthur is not based on a single person, but he's got a little of my dad in him, and a bit from early explorers that I've read about, such as Sven Hedin and Heinrich Harrar. But it's hard to hold those diverse people in mind, so to define the specific character, I sculpted his head as a small maquette.

From Dinotopia: The World Beneath.


Friday, October 8, 2021

Abstracted Realism

Some call it "deconstructed realism," while others call it "disrupted realism" or "abstracted realism." 

Alex Kanevsky

The artwork suggests that the power of chaos rivals the power of order, or that the will to destroy equals the will to create.

John Wentz 

The painting contains both randomness and illusionism, signal and noise. 

Who are the inspiring progenitors of this movement? Beyond the abstract painters such as Franz Kline and Richard Diebenkorn, several realist painters can be identified as stylistic influencers: Andrew WyethRichard SchmidAntonio López García, and Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter

Richter, a painter with remarkable range and versatility, became known for taking a realistically painted face and smearing the oil paint with a squeegee.

Johanna Bath still II, Oil on Canvas, 19.7 W x 23.6 H x 0.8 D in

Gerhard Richter's influence can be felt in artists who use the rubbed out look, such as Johanna Bath.

Mia Bergeron
Seeing a painting created this way leaves no doubt that it's a painting, and it may remind the viewer of the struggle of creation or the fickleness of illusion.

Adam by Greg Manchess

When painters efface the surface of a portrait, they typically leave the eyes in a carefully finished state, both because of the psychological importance of the eyes, and to show that they're capable of painting realistically. 

But not always. Sometimes artists deliberately disrupt the mouth, eyes, or head. 

Artist Zack Zdrale says in the book Disrupted Realism, "I've taken passages of traditionally rendered figures and smashed them, breaking the illusion of form in space. I want to show the paint doing things that only paint can do."

Michelle Kohler

Michelle Kohler says: "Most of my years spent studying were focused on portraiture, as expressed through realism. As an artistic discipline, it has been a constant throughout my life. But it was only after a fortuitous departure into abstract painting that I was able to playfully and courageously combine two disciplines. Deconstructed Realism is my expression of artistic independence and creativity as it pertains to the depth and complexity of human portraiture."

(Link to YouTube) Mia Bergeron says that her approach to painting grew out of a frustration with the academic approaches to realism.

The deconstructive approach includes not just figural work, but also landscapes and cityscapes. 

Other artists that you've suggested to check out in the comments: Julie T. Chapman, Patrick Kramer, Jenny Saville,

More info:

Book: Disrupted Realism: Paintings for a Distracted World

Thursday, October 7, 2021

How Netflix Creates Thumbnails

Netflix offers thousands of choices of shows to watch, but members make their choices based on a single image. Images drive the process. 

Netflix creates multiple images and tests them. Their research team has found that members will tend to click on the thumbnail that shows a the face of main character, especially if it shows a complex emotion.

For example, for the series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt above, the bottom right thumbnail was the "winner," meaning that it drove the most engagement.

Nick Nelson, Head of Product Creative for Netflix, says: "
"It's well known that humans are hardwired to respond to faces -- we have seen this to be consistent across all mediums. But it is important to note that faces with complex emotions outperform stoic or benign expressions -- seeing a range of emotions actually compels people to watch a story more. This is likely due to the fact that complex emotions convey a wealth of information to members regarding the tone or feel of the content, but it is interesting to see how much members actually respond this way in testing."
How does Netflix come up with a specific set of images that a given member will see? Here are some more takeaways:

• People usually spend less than 2 seconds on each image and 90 seconds overall.
• Instead of using the movie producers' marketing image, they come up with their own.
• Machine-learning algorithms decide which image to show you based on your viewing history.
• Each show has multiple thumbnails.
• Images shown for a give movie usually varies from one member to another. 

Watch the rest in this YouTube video: Why your Netflix thumbnails don’t look like mine

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Mario Caption Contest Winners

Here's a YouTube video showing how I painted that picture of Super Mario beyond the Hudson River. We had a "best caption" contest over on Instagram:

"Thirty-six years of mushrooms surely had its effect on good ol' Mario." —@siningnising (263+ likes) 
"Big leaks call for big plumbers." —@dougeeb -- (226+ likes)
"It’s a me, Climate Change." —@billclagett -- (171+ likes)

Congrats to Roberto, Doug, and Bill. Email me your mailing address and I'll send each of you a signed Color and Light poster.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Super Mario on the Hudson


Gouache painting of Super Mario on the far shore of the Hudson. I'm hosting a contest over on Instagram for the best comment, judged by the number of votes / likes.  Prize is a signed Color and Light poster.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Arrival of Schoolgirl to Blind Father

Vasily Perov (Russian, 1833 or 4-1882) painted Arrival of Schoolgirl to Blind Father in 1870. The painting is unfinished, and the unfinished parts give us insight into his picture-making process.

Vasily Perov, Arrival of Schoolgirl to Blind Father, 1870

Two figures in a doorway appear in the pencil line stage at the far left. Presumably the woman in the dress facing away from us is the girl's mother.

Is the man the husband, and is he holding a baby? If so, that would add a lot to the story of the schoolgirl returning to her father and it might explain her expression.

The young woman's hand is also in an unfinished state. It appears that Perov changed his mind about the hand after the first attempt to paint it, and he then removed the paint down to the canvas and redrew it, ready for repainting. 

Given that the pencil lines are stated simply without sketchiness, it's probable that he had a full size drawing on thin paper and that he transferred the drawing to the canvas with some sort of graphite coated paper.


Online: Vasily Perov on Wikipedia

Book: Vasily Perov: Paintings, Graphic Works

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Faldo Mustakka

Faldo Mustakka is a member of the dance troupe that visits Poseidos and introduces Gideon Altaire to the alliance with dinosaurs. He wears a costume honoring Ogthar, a legendary figure who is part human and part Triceratops. Faldo provides Gideon with the uniform of a Strutterworks guard in order to free the captive pterosaurs, as well as a conch shell to blow into in case he runs into danger.
From Dinotopia: First Flight.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Bridgeport Ferry

The ferry ride from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson takes an hour and 15 minutes, enough for a rapid impression in gouache.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Hokusai's Original Drawings

Original drawings by Hokusai (1760-1849) are rare, because most of them had to be destroyed in the process of making them into wood block prints.

This image shows the process of how they made prints by gluing the original drawings onto the block (far right), and cutting it away to make the relief block.

Fortunately there are a few surviving Hokusai drawings. He produced a collection of 103 hand-drawn works called The Great Picture Book of Everything. Those never-published drawings are normally kept in a precious box acquired recently the British Museum.

Virudhaka Struck by Lightning, by Hokusai, An illustration of the king 
Virudhaka from the series Banmotsu ehon daizen zu 

According to the British Museum, the set includes "wide-ranging subjects from depictions of religious, mythological, historical, and literary figures to animals, birds, flowers, and other natural phenomena, as well as landscapes. They are dominated by subjects that relate to ancient China and India, also Southeast and Central Asia. Many subjects found in the collection are not found in previous Hokusai works, including fascinating imaginings of the origin of human culture in ancient China."

The British Museum has released a YouTube video where curator Alfred Haft introduces the collection. The originals are now on view in a special exhibition in London through January 30, 2022.

Read more:
An illustrated catalog of Hokusai: The Great Picture Book of Everything by the British Museum will be published on Nov. 30.
Hokusai on Wikipedia