Monday, February 28, 2022

What Are You Looking At?

1. Painters look at nature.
2. People look at paintings that look at nature.

3. Guards look at people who look at paintings that look at nature.

4. Sketchers look at guards who look at people who look at paintings that look at nature.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Strategy for Combining Materials

Orling Dominguez of the Dominican Republic asks: "You have an interesting mixed media approach, open to any tool or technique you can combine. What are you thinking as you bring all these different materials together? Have you developed a step-by-step process to your choices, or is it more ‘by feel’? What makes something suited for one approach over another?

J.G.: Good question, Orling. In my sketching kit, I bring art supplies that are totally cross-compatible: a fountain pen, water-soluble colored pencils and graphite pencils, water brushes (one with water and a couple others with water-soluble colored inks), a small Schmincke watercolor pan set, and a few tubes of gouache. I also have an oil painting kit, but that's totally separate.

Basic thinking: there is no line between drawing and painting, and there are no “purist” rules. Anything goes as long as it’s conservationally sound. I do go by feel and I use whatever media or methods convey the most information or mood in the time available. And of course, I only bring out what is reasonable to use in a given situation, such as a concert hall, a subway, or a restaurant.

Choosing suitable materials and methods means matching the demands of the subject with the effects I’m likely to get from a given combination of materials. Testing in the studio is key to this non-traditional approach; that’s why I’ve been demonstrating testing and experimentation in my recent Gumroad videos.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Painting a Thunderhead

Over the two hour period of this painting, the scene rapidly changed from minute to minute. As soon as I had the shapes established, I had to paint the details from memory. But I can keep studying the scene for the overall color relationships.

Thunderheads, plein-air oil, 16 x 20 inch.

Brightest whites and sharpest details are reserved for the emerging billows at the top. Purer white colors of the closer clouds transition more toward warm pink or dull orange as the clouds go back in space. Light that has traveled farther has lost more of its cool wavelengths through scattering.

With these cumulus castellanus thunderheads, I look for the fractus shreds of old clouds sheared off by wind currents, dissolving back into the air, the other side of the cloud’s life cycle of growth and decay. They lack the compact density of the billowing clouds, and are never as white.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Dream Tenders

If you are an overnight guest in Chandara's Imperial Palace, you're greeted by a dream tender, a mysterious courtier dressed to match a feathered dinosaur. 

An hour before you go to sleep, your dream tender invites you to tour a gallery filled with various groupings of flowers, essential oils, and paintings.  

The idea is to choose the dreamscape you want to inhabit and to fill your senses with the aromas and images, tapping into the deeper core of your memory and emotion.

From Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Making the Commonplace Unusual

Roofline in the Catskills, watercolor and colored pencils.

"Anything that excites me for any reason, I will [sketch]; not searching for unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual." (Paraphrasing photographer Edward Weston)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Monstrous Transformation

A monstrous transformation is at the heart of one of Lucius Shepard's short stories in "The Ends of the Earth," published in Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, 1989.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Architecture of Trees

 The design of any plant has to respond to four main physical constraints: 

1) Plants have to capture sunlight and avoid shading their own leaves,

2) Plants have to support themselves structurally, 

3) Plants have to conduct water to their various tissues, and 

4) Plants must be able to reproduce effectively. (source)

Through a series of experiments with everything from wind tunnels to computer modeling, Dr. Karl Niklas has discovered that plants respond to these physical constraints with a series of mathematically predictable structures.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Behind the Scenes of the Iceboat Paintings

Iceboat MaryEllen, gouache. The 50/50 isopropyl/water dilution stayed liquid at 15° F/-12°C, but caused some sedimentation in foreground, which helped in this case.

Reactivation test: cad yellow / ultra blue, overpainted with water. 

Iceboat Vixen, gouache over casein from a photo.

Early stage in painting with light passages only. Darks came later.

Gouache colors, plus one tube of watercolor: 
Titanium White (M. Graham Gouache)
Yellow Ochre (Winsor Newton Designers Gouache)
Cerulean Blue (M. Graham Gouache)
Indian Red (Holbein Watercolor)
Ultramarine Blue (Royal Talens Gouache)
You can combine gouache and watercolor.

These are from the new Gumroad tutorial video "5 Problems with Gouache and How to Solve Them.

Thanks to all of you for contributing questions.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Erasers Leave an Oily Residue

Many erasers leave an oily residue, which can result in paint chipping from its backing surface.

Note how the gouache paint on this Coby Whitmore is chipping off the girl's hair and the background.

This YouTube video shows how erasers are made.

This is one of the topics I explore in this one-hour workshop on YouTube. It's a sample of the full 93 minute tutorial video available from Gumroad  and Sellfy

Friday, February 18, 2022

Experimenting with Gouache

Gouache presents at least five difficulties: it freezes, it dries fast, it reactivates, it looks chalky, and it shifts values when it dries. I face each of these challenges, answering viewer questions as I paint Hudson River iceboats and chart the properties of gouache, casein, and acrylic.

Here's a one-hour long workshop on YouTube. The full 93 minute tutorial is video available from:
Gumroad  and Sellfy . You can get a 20% off today only (use code "gogouache").

Thursday, February 17, 2022

YouTube Premiere Tomorrow at Noon

Tomorrow, Feb. 18, at noon EST on YouTube, I'll do a 1-hour demo with gouache and answer your questions about it.
Here's the link.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

YouTube Premiere Friday at Noon: "5 Problems with Gouache"

I'll be launching a YouTube premiere this Friday (Feb 18) at noon, New York time. The topic will be "5 Problems with Gouache, and How to Solve Them."

Gouache presents at least five difficulties: it freezes, it dries fast, it reactivates, it looks chalky, and it shifts values when it dries. I'll deal with each of these challenges and answer your questions and comments as I paint Hudson River iceboats on the frozen river.

Have your questions ready. It will be a lively chat.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Article in Artists Network

Just published: a free online article in Artists Network about my approach to imaginative painting.

The key is to "fill the bucket" with studies based on real life and three dimensional models.

The print magazine is now available, too.

Garden of Hope will be on view at the Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee starting on May 20, 2022.

Mucha: 'The Purpose of My Work'

Alphonse Mucha, Portrait of Madame Deschamps, 1903, pencil & white chalk on tan paper

Alphonse Mucha said: "The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become."

Monday, February 14, 2022

Attentional Spotlight

We bestow our visual attention very selectively, and that hierarchy of awareness is called the attentional (or foveal) spotlight. It's like exploring a pitch-black house at night with a narrow-beamed flashlight.

The fovea is the central spot of the retina, which is packed with photoreceptors, especially color receptors. In the peripheral retina there are fewer receptors, and they tend to be more responsive to tone and movement.

Robert Frederick Blum, Venetian Lacemakers, 1887, Cincinnati Museum

As I understand it, the attentional spotlight is more than just a structural feature of our photoreceptors. It also describes an aspect of our cognitive awareness of the world around us; some would say it's a central quality of consciousness itself. We focus our attention on elements of our world that match our conscious or unconscious search parameters, or distractions that pop up, competing for attention. 

Painters can capture the experience of the attentional spotlight, by helping the viewer know what's important, and downplaying the rest. It helps to darken, simplify, or blur areas that are less important. In the painting by Robert Blum, look at how much he downplays the peripheral areas in the foreground, and below the chairs, and keeps our attention within the circle of illuminated faces and hands.

Introduction to the attentional spotlight

Research Gate: Spotlight Model of Visual Attention 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Jamie Wyeth's Paintings on Cardboard

At various stages in his career, Jamie Wyeth has turned to gouache instead of oil, and he has painted on non-archival surfaces such as corrugated cardboard.

"Much to the dismay of conservators, many of the graphite, charcoal, and white-gouache drawings of Nureyev and Warhol were done on sheets of cardboard that, because of their high acid content, were apt to deteriorate quite rapidly. 'I knew it was a terrible material, but I really liked the color, thickness, and absorption of the cardboard,' Wyeth explains. 'Later I worked with Dieu Donné and Twinrocker to make archival papers that were similar in color, texture, and weight. Those are the papers I use now.'”

Quotes are from the Artist Network blog: Artists Network Blog

Image: Andy Warhol Drawing, Jamie Wyeth, 2018. Acrylic, gouache, watercolor and graphite on Crescent toned paperboard, 49.5 × 39.4 cm.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Light Pillars

Light pillars are optical phenomena where artificial lights appear to form vertical shafts above each source of light. 

They're caused by millions of flakes of ice floating between the observer and the source presenting reflective horizontal surfaces.

They're like an upside-down version a light source reflecting vertically on the surface of water. 

Pillars can form over natural light sources, such as the sun, where it's called a sun pillar.
Wikipedia on Light Pillar 
Previous post on Sun Pillar

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Skies of Josep Puigdengolas

Josep Puigdengolas Barella (1906-1987) was a Spanish/Catalonian landscape painter with some interesting ideas about skies.

A channel of blue sky bisects two groups of cumulus clouds. The blue of the sky gradates to a lighter value as it approaches the horizon.

Backlit clouds show light fringing all around, with crisper edges on the outside of the clouds and softer edges inside the cloud forms.

Small touches are relatively disconnected in the land forms but a bit more merged in the sky. A line of warm-colored clouds crosses a blue sky. The blue of the sky is spiced up with warm touches.

Simple flat colors show the bones of his thinking. Painting on a warm ground, he places a light cloud mass and a blue sky, but leaves a warm fringe all around. The washes of milky paint in the foreground let the warm ground shine through.

Since there's no Wikipedia page on Josep Puigdengolas, here's a little more, translated from Todo Coleccion: "He studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. He had his studio in Barcelona but lived for periods in Mallorca and Sardinia. In 1951 he was appointed Professor at the Superior School of Fine Arts of San Jorge in Barcelona."

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Sunbeams in a Forest

For sunbeams to appear in a forest, you need 1) a high, dense canopy punctured by a few openings, 2) air filled with dust, vapor, or smoke, and 3) an angle of view toward the sun.

Sunbeams influence pick out random elements of the scene to spotlight, and they lighten the values of everything beyond them.

Using traditional oil paint, this can be accomplished by scumbling a light, semi-opaque shape over the dry background where the beams appear. However, white pigment will reduce the chroma and make it chalky, so the color may need to be restored by glazing.

Alternately the colors can be achieved by careful premixing. In this painting, I premixed one string of colors for the areas inside the sunbeam, and a whole separate string for the colors of the darker unlit forest.
Previous post on Scumbling
The painting is from Dinotopia: The World Beneath, and you can get copies at my website.
There's more on atmospheric effects in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Coming Up In Artists Magazine

New issue of Artists Magazine takes a look at imaginative realism.

In includes a review of the Enchantment exhibition that will be at the Hunter Museum in Tennessee this spring and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Garden of Hope and Skeleton Pirate. 

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Torn Paper Vignette


I wanted to show the misty atmosphere of the setting without a full rectangular shaped composition, so I used a "torn paper vignette," cutting out a ragged piece of the background behind Will and his skybax.


Vignetting Strategies (3-Part Blog Series)

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Animal Fable Illustrations by E.M. Rachev

Evgenii (or Yevgeny) Rachev (1906-1997) was an illustrator best known for his images of animal fables from Russian folk tales.

Postcards based on Russian folk tales, 1960, E.M. Rachev.

He used animal characters to tell his stories, but of course the allegories were really about human foibles.

He said: "If my birds and animals help you to fathom that the story is actually about people it means that I reached the same effect as the folk tales did."

His wife Lidya Ivanovna Racheva collaborated with him by compiling stories, researching costumes, and writing texts.

His books are beloved in Russian and French editions, and there is at least one book of his folk tales available in English.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Brain Scanners that Recognize What You Have Looked At.

In recent years, brain imaging studies have been able to recognize what image a person is looking at purely from brain activity. This is possible because the image maps onto the visual cortex almost like a blurry projection.

But now scientists have gone a step further. Researchers studying patterns of brain activity can correctly identify what image you have seen in the past, or even what image you're imagining, based on brain activity.

The research examines how you remember — and imagine— pictures that you've actually seen. It turns out that similar mechanisms come into play when you imagine something compared to how you process the real thing. 

The scanning system is still in its infancy, but it portends the kind of mind-reading device described by science fiction authors. "It's what you would actually use if you were going to build a functional brain-reading device," said Jack Gallant, a neuroscientist from the University of California, Berkeley.

CNN: Brain scans reveal what you've seen

Brain Inspired Podcast: Thomas Naselaris | Seeing vs. Imagining

Friday, February 4, 2022

Snow Shadows and Frost Shadows

Sometimes nature presents visual situations that could easily be mistaken for something else. If you painted them, it would look like you made a mistake.

For example, here's a tree that fell across a rocky ridge. The root mass lifted up a 200 pound rock high into the air. Directly beneath is is a shadow with the same shape. But it's not a light shadow. It's a snow shadow, caused by snow falling through very still air. We're not used to seeing snow shadows. Our brains "want" to see it as a normal shadow.

This scene takes place on an ice-cold morning. The dew has frozen into hoarfrost, which coats the grass with blue-gray color. Where the warm sun shone, the frost disappeared. So the color of the shadow is not only the result of the difference of light, but also the difference of local color, which happens to change at the edge of shadow. If you painted it as it is, it would appear that you got it wrong.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Crowdsourcing Lights for Plein-Air Nocturnes

On Instagram, Paul T Levin asks: "James, you did a video about plein air nocturnes a while back where you talked about good lights but I can’t find it. What do you recommend if I may ask?"

I answer: I don't know to be honest, since everything is changing so fast in the LED space. Anybody have a suggestion for good book light or headlamp with adjustable light levels?

Cleve Page answers: "I got a Lumecube 2.0. It has adjustable light levels and there are attachments like barn doors or snap-on color filters. It's an excellent product. It also has 1/4-20 threads so you can add it to a separate structure. It's more pricey than a headlamp, but it's much more capable."

Fiona Fleming adds: "I just purchased a Vekkia 19 LED Music Stand Light with a nice substantial clip, and a flexible arm…the light alters to warm, medium or cool and can be directed right onto the surface. I haven’t road tested it on the easel at night yet, but I might tonight! It charges with a USB cable."

J. Owens says: "(There are) a few different headlamps for camping and I believe most have adjustable levels. Mine is a PTEC, (Princeton Tec) it has three levels along with a red light."

    Drew Baker I've mused about putting something using srtip LEDs from Waveformlighting. My thinking is a very high CRI source would be a better approach than something with tunable temperature and questionable CRI.

    Edgeprogear sells a light for their pochade boxes. It's essentially a Vidpro LED-230 on a gooseneck, with a bespoke mount for the Paintbook. (At least, that's what mine is.)

  • Brian Meyer I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get. The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.
    (photos from Brian Meyer)

    Vekkia clip-on book light.

  • The issue with most lights is the bulb is exposed, which is blinding if you have an audience, this light has it in a recess so all the light is directed towards the paper. Prior to this I was setting up a hood.

    Julie Bloch I got little clip on rechargeable LED lights that are tiny. I bought 2 for my plein-air backpack.

    Damian Kinsella I try to limit the light as much as possible so these do well to not give me so much light that I lose the sense of what I'm looking at. Eric Merrell brought up the idea of taping a piece of vellum over them and that diffuses the light a bit more and warms it up slightly as well (depending on the vellum). They don't work well with my Yarka rig, but for a Gurney-style flip easel they're practically perfect.
    The kit I purchased can run off the included 12-hour lithium batteries so this would allow painting on location far away from any other electrical source for an extended period of time.

    Although I haven't used them for an en plein air nocturne, I do plein air oils and am always looking for an efficient means of transporting my gear. I can envision these old bones including such a light in an excursion. The kit essentially could be doing triple-duty (copywork, studio painting, and night painting on location) if I decide to try a nocturne. Their use in conjunction with polarizing filters on the lights and camera lens makes a remarkable improvement when copying art. Because of such versatility, they may be worth consideration.

    I paint at night, at concerts, etc. Basically I have bought every light you can get.The ones I prefer now are rechargeable, which can last 2-3 hours.

    The last one I got is the best so far, its designed for musicians, its battery on bright lasts an entire session of 5 hours, and it goes from 4 to 3 on its power display, I have used it two sessions in a row without recharging.

    Good for extra light, like on your palette and paint mixing areas, or as a backup main light. Its also better light, good for when recording with a GoPro.

    Always plan on the batteries dying and have a spare.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

How Can I Learn Painting Without Art School?

Kausar Mehmood asks: Hi James, what do you recommend for a total beginner who has never held a brush before? Online course, a book which is self-pace learning? Who can't go to art school.

It's hard for me to say without knowing more about you and your circumstances. Here's my own experience. Although I went briefly to art school, I learned mainly from books and lots of practice and trial and error. 

Books, such as Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting and Creative Illustration are extremely valuable, especially for understanding the principles and the history behind what you're doing. 

But for the practice of painting itself, if I were learning today, I would probably watch a lot of YouTube and Gumroad videos. 

My way of learning new skills is to limit the variables and experiment in a playful way so that I can solve the problems one by one and try out new combinations. For painting, I recommend starting off with black and white first, then adding simple complementary schemes, then triads, etc. I would suggest alternating between oil paint and a water medium like gouache, with lots of pencil drawing too.

If you're more of a social learner, you might prefer to join a sketch group or take a class, or just hang out with artist friends who like to paint. Sorry, I can't evaluate virtual online courses because I haven't tried them.

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting  

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Arkhipov's People Paintings

Abram Efimovich Arkhipov (1862 – 1930, Абра́м Ефи́мович Архи́пов) was a Russian painter who combined observational painting with imagination to capture the lives of ordinary people.

He studied at the Moscow School of Painting and the Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. 

A. E. Arkhipov On the Volga (1899)

In 1888 he set out on a trip along the Volga River with fellow classmates, and they painted studies of the scenes and moods along the way. That's when he conceived his painting On the Volga (1899).

He visited wash-houses, where he set up his easel and painted the women at work. He loved the color red, and many of his paintings feature working women in red dresses. 

The critic Vladimir Stasov said of the painting Along the River Oka, "The whole picture is painted in sunlight, and this can be felt in every patch of light and shade, and in the overall wonderful impression; among the people on the barge, the four women—idle, tired despondent, sitting in silence on the bundles—are portrayed with magnificent realism."