Tuesday, November 30, 2021

A Funny Face

Have you seen this painting of Ada Lovelace, the Victorian lady who helped invent the computer? Her eyes are kind of close together, but you get the idea. The image was created by a computer.

Image courtesy Daniel Russell @danielrussruss

Now look at the image again. Do you see a dog with a white nose? Ada's eyes become the nostrils.

I found that once I saw the dog, I couldn't go back to Ada Lovelace again.

Most humans see the Victorian lady first. What does Google reverse image search think it is? Mostly it think's it's a dog, but there are some ladies mixed in, too. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Pathway into the Glacier

Pathway into Nekron's glacier, a background painting from the Bakshi/Frazetta animated film Fire and Ice, cel-vinyl acrylic, 8 x 10.”

Sunday, November 28, 2021

ImagineFX Magazine Reviews "Gradients"

I'm honored that my video "Gradients" received an "Artist's Choice" ★★★★★ award from ImagineFX magazine. Here's the review:

"Meets the grade. James Gurney continues to make core art theory approachable, whether you're working traditionally or digitally.

"James Gurney manages to make complex theories easy to understand. His latest instructional video takes a simple idea — paint colour gradients — and shows how this can be applied to your art.

"The principles behind the process are applicable to watercolours, gouache, and acrylic, as demonstrated here, or even digital art. The beauty of James' practical demonstrations is that the ideas transcend the medium.

"The video is split into two stages: theory and practice. First we learn the principles with simple demonstrations, such as painting a graduated cylinder. Then we see James put knowledge into practice. He paints four plein-air scenes. Each one reveals how the previous principle can be used, literally, in the field.

"Which part of the video you get the most from will be determined by your ability and experience, but there's always something to learn, if you understand the principles on offer then sit back and watch a modern master eke out a landscape with thoughtful brush marks. He shows how simple use of the theories can pull and push light around a landscape, and how gradients can bring your art to life — contrasting shadows across and below a fern leaf — and make complex ideas simple.

"There are further degrees to the training video. We love how James answers viewers' questions as he paints. The artist's responses reveal more of his own personal approaches to plein air, and offer insights and tips to beginners, such as prepping multiple papers ahead of painting ready for any scene. Fundamentally, James' ability to make art approachable and theory universal is reason enough to watch."
"Gradients: Color, Form, Illusion" is available on DVD and Download / Streaming

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Your Questions about Plein-Air Painting in Oil

On Instagram, I posted about this plein-air still life in oil, and some of you had questions:

fefecru: "Can I ask you what umbrella is that? Anyone in particular you’ll recommend? 
A: It’s a Jullian umbrella, designed to clamp onto a French easel, but I keep it on a C-stand so that it doesn’t blow over and bring my painting into the wreckage."

agustin.poratti "How'd you build that camera trĂ­pod easel?"
A: That’s an Open Box M easel, which may not be made anymore, but there are others like it, and there's a Facebook group about building your own.

bencrastinate "Does painting with an easel help? Ive always painted my canvas flat on my desk. What are the benefits of painting on a vertical surface?"
A: I find it helps my speed and accuracy to have my painting set up perpendicular to my line of sight, and directly adjacent to, the same size as, and in the same light as my subject.

grinningink "Since you used oil here, wasn’t it still wet when you sold it that same day? Was there something to protect it when the customer took it?"
A: Yes, this was for a paint-out. I framed it and it was auctioned same day. I knew the owner, and after it was thoroughly dry I borrowed it back to varnish and photograph it.

thefrankryan "Is this palette approach inspired by Carolous Duran’s method?"
A: A lot of oil painters have used premixed colors. I was thinking mainly of Frank Reilly, but using an adapted version of his practice.

 "Please list the names of oil colors on the pallet, looks like three primaries and white." 
It’s the 5-color palette recommended by John Stobart in his book The Pleasures of Painting Outdoors: titanium white, cad yellow light, pyrrole red, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. You can paint almost anything with those five colors.

 "Would you also premix your colors when you paint with other mediums?"
In theory you could premix with water media, but the pools of color would tend to dry too fast.

Related previous posts: Painting Pumpkins 

Friday, November 26, 2021

Howard Brodie's Portraits

Joe DiMaggio by Howard Brodie, 12x16" 1936

Before he worked as a war reporter and a courtroom sketch artist, Howard Brodie (1915-2010) produced a lot of portraits in crayon of sports figures for the San Francisco Chronicle. 

Brodie drew from life whenever he could. According to Gene Byrnes, "He avoids any mechanical means of drawing, and says that when he is asked to use a photograph for factual reference he goes to considerable pains to avoid copying it."

Books: A Complete Guide to Drawing, Illustration, Cartooning, and Painting by Gene Byrnes

Drawing Fire: A Combat Artist at War : Pacific Europe Korea Indochina Vietnam

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Around the Feasting Table

Wishing you and the colorful characters in your life a happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Books are on their way


If you ordered a signed book today or yesterday, your package is on its way.

Signed books from my website

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

'Nature is Always New'


Ivan Shishkin, Flowers at the Fence, oil, 1880 Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve

Shishkin said: "Nature is always new and always ready to give an inexhaustible supply of her gifts, what we call life. What could be better than nature!"

Monday, November 22, 2021

Brock's Paris Sketchbook

C.E. Brock, pen & ink, 8" x 8" (215mm x 205mm), 1902

Charles E. Brock was an English illustrator who produced a series of illustrations for William Makepeace Thackeray's A Paris Sketchbook. 

The Paris Sketchbook was based on Thackeray's travels to France after the Revolution, and it contains the author's dry wit and insights about both French and English characters from the era. 

To do the illustrations, Brock needed authentic costumes and props from about 70 years earlier.

Brock was one of several brothers who worked together on illustrations. According to a bio on BookPalace,  "He and his brothers maintained a Cambridge studio filled with various curios, antiques, furniture, and a costume collection."

"They owned a large collection of Regency era costume prints and fashion plates, and had clothes specially made as examples for certain costumes. Using these, family members would model for each other."

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Feature Article on Peter Helck

Illustrator Peter Helck (1893-1988) is featured this month in an entire single issue of Illustration Magazine.

Photo by Alvis Upitis
Helck is best known for his paintings of the pioneers of auto racing.

But his career encompassed a lot of other categories, including historical reconstructions, story illustrations, industrial interiors, WWII battle scenes, and gallery landscapes.

Helck was one of the instructors from the Famous Artists School, and no one could match his ability to paint cars and trucks. 

Many of his exemplary preliminary drawings are included in the 112 page article. (The pictures in this post are typical of what's in the article, but not necessarily the same images.) 


Peter Helck, This is My Birthright

The article starts with 18 pages of illustrated biography, followed by 90 pages of pictures, mostly reproduced from original art or vintage tearsheets. 


Learn more: Visit Illustration Magazine's website to learn more about the special issue. Read my previous post about Peter Helck and check out Peter Helck's memoirs online. More on Helck's Wikipedia page.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Inside the Famous Artists School

The Famous Artists School, which was formed more than 70 years ago, was an early pioneer of remote learning. 

Some tantalizing glimpses of the correspondence course were featured in a half-hour TV program called "Operation Success." The Norman Rockwell Museum has posted the show on YouTube.

The school hired a team of professional instructors who in turn had studied with the master illustrators. It was the job of these F.A.S. instructors to read and respond to the student work and to keep their files up to date. 

The voiceover says that this instructor is creating a painted criticism, based on student efforts mailed to the school from thousands of miles away.

The instructor redraws the student's composition and paints a "better" version. The amount of care and labor that went into this process is impressive, and the company became very successful. 

But alas, it eventually fell victim to corruption and mismanagement, as David Apatoff recounts in his book on Al Dorne. 


• Here are my previous blog posts about the Famous Artists School and its instructors. 

• It's still possible to find vintage sets of the Famous Artists Course

• The Norman Rockwell Museum produced a single book about the history of the Famous Artists School. 

• The other great source of instruction about mid-20th century illustration is Creative Illustration by Andrew Loomis.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Using Traffic Cones for Street Painting

After yesterday’s YouTube video, Chelsea White asked: "Wait, you can do that?? You can just go to a library and politely ask to borrow a traffic cone? And just... put it somewhere that you want to reserve on the street? Why are we glossing over this?? Did everyone else here already know this? I didn’t know you could check out traffic cones!!"

Chelsea, here's what happened. The library had an outdoor table with an extension cord going to it for computer users. To make sure no one tripped on the cord, they marked it with two cones beside the sidewalk. I figured they wouldn't mind too much if I borrowed one for a while.

The maintenance guy eventually DID notice and asked me what I was doing. He was concerned about someone potentially tripping on the cord and suing the library, but I assured him I would take responsibility. He was a nice guy and liked art so he very reluctantly agreed as long as I took responsibility and put it back soon, which I did.

Without the cone keeping the space open, the painting would have been impossible and as soon as I returned the cone, a big van parked there and blocked the whole view.

Usually I travel with my own cones. You can get cones at Walmart or Amazon, and then you can make an official-looking stencil. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Painting Main Street at Port Jeff

This is the view looking across E. Main from the library in Port Jefferson, New York. 

I've already had one guy park in front of me, so I hold the parking space open with a traffic cone. 

I  love the shopfront with its big glass windows, awning, and the upstairs residence, all set against the cool grey-blue of the far building in shadow.

I use a limited palette to focus only on the warm/cool dynamic. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Review of Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels

Telling a story purely with illustrations is a challenge not unlike making a silent movie. There can be dramatic moments of action or conflict in a wordless graphic novel. Or the images can enshrine reflective and poetic moments.


But the connective tissue of a story, such as internal thoughts, sounds, or intentions can be challenging to convey. 

Wordless stories flourished in Europe and America in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, in part inspired by dramatic visuals of the silent movie era and expressionist art of the time.

In turn these works have inspired many contemporary comic artists, though the development of these wordless picture-stories is mostly independent of the pop-culture origins of modern comics. 

Many of the artists used the time consuming method of woodcuts for their illustrations, which allowed artists to produce small runs of books, which have been prized by collectors ever since. 

The best known member of this group was Lynd Ward (1905-1985), who produced several stories without words such as God's Man and Madman's Drum, but there were other artists who contributed to the genre such as Frans Masereel (1889-1972), Giacomo Patri (1898-1978), Erich Glas (1897-1973), and Laurence Hyde.

The works of all of those artists are featured in the new book Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels, selected and edited by George A. Walker, himself a woodcut artist and professor. 

The large trade paperback book consists of a separate image reproduced on each page, beautifully reproduced in black and white and occasionally a red-brown on good paper. 

Here's more information about Graphic Witness: Five Wordless Graphic Novels.  

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monster Eye

Eye (sans pupil) of an underwater monster, background art from the Bakshi / Frazetta animated film “Fire and Ice,” 1983, acrylic and airbrush. 

Here's the background painting in the context of the film (link to YouTube).

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Wyeth and More in Albany

There are four great exhibitions going on in Albany, and they're all in one museum: The Albany Institute of History and Art.

The first is The Wyeths: Three Generations: Works from the Bank of America Collection, which includes a couple dozen illustrations by N.C. Wyeth.

The show includes the cover and endpaper art of Rip Van Winkle, plus illustrations from The White Company and Drums.

 Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009), On the Edge, 2001, Tempera on panel, Bank of America Collection.

There's also a big selection of works by NC Wyeth's son Andrew, his daughter Henriette, and his grandson Jamie. Because these are in the Bank of America Collection, they're not often seen except in traveling exhibitions.

Another show that's on view at the museum is a single large room filled with their famous collection of Hudson River School paintings, hung salon-style. 

Another small but impressive show is Romancing the Rails: Train Travel in the 1920s and 1930s, which focuses on the advertising art that promoted rail travel in the USA.

And there's a show called Fashionable Frocks of the 1920s which presents dresses from the flapper era, extravagant and bejeweled and made for dancing. We tend to think of the '20s in black and white, but it was a time of subtle and impressive coloration.
The Albany Institute of History and Art also has a small collection of 19th century sculpture and a mummy. It's $10 for admission. The special exhibitions will be up for the remainder of the year.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Article on Gradients in International Artist #142

The new issue of International Artist Magazine features exercises and insights about painting smooth gradients, using watercolor washes, brayers, and stipple blends. 

John Ruskin observed in his landmark book Modern Painters (1843) that a gradient color has the same relationship to a flat color as a curved line has to a straight line. He noted that nature contains movement of color both on the large and the small scale, even down to the smallest brushstroke or pebble: “Nature will not have one line nor color, nor one portion nor atom of space without a change in it. There is not one of her shadows, tints, or lines that is not in a state of perpetual variation.”

Also included in the magazine are features on Brad Teare, Julia Albo, Natalia Karpman, Kristine Rapohina, Vanessa Rothe, and Anastasia Mily
You can get a copy from the publisher or get the video download

Friday, November 12, 2021

Mucha: 'Beauty is the Communication of Emotion'

Alphonse Mucha's ideas about beauty come across as strongly in his oil paintings as it does in his better known Art Nouveau posters.

In his lectures on art, he said: "The expression of beauty is by emotion. The person who can communicate his emotions to the souls of others is the artist."

"To communicate with the souls of man the artist must address himself to the senses of the body."

"This harmony between the suggestion of the artist and the senses is memory, the first condition of beauty."

The goal of the artist, Mucha said, is to communicate "the emotions of his own soul to the souls of others, even at the price of laborious work, and his greatest joy will be that of seeing other souls also vibrating with the happiness of his emotions."
Lectures on art: A supplement to The graphic work of Alphonse Mucha