Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Yoshida Tōshi's Cherry Blossoms

How many birds do you see in this picture?

Cherry Blossoms by Yoshida Tōshi, 1951 Courtesy Masterpieces of Japan

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Casein Questions on Open Time and Varnishing

Rollo Q asks: "I have a couple of questions about the casein. Roughly how long do you find the paint is wet (moveable rather than liftable) on the surface. Obviously I realise this must depend on climate and surface and paint thickness etc, but I've seen people call it fast drying and its hard to tell what that means (I paint in flashe vinyl which is notably slower than acrylics but faster by far than oils. Open time is 30 - 60 mins for flashe I'd guess). Also do you use an acrylic varnish? Or a resin?"

James Gurney answers: You're right, time it takes for a freshly painted area to dry to the touch depends on the temperature, humidity, wind, paint thickness and wetness, absorbency of the ground, and even the type of pigment. Cadmiums are slower drying than umbers, for example, and titanium white dries relatively fast. This pigment variable is especially noticeable on the paint blobs squeezed out on the palette. 

So how long does it take for a passage to dry? On a nice day an average paint stroke starts to set up in anywhere from a few minutes to ten minutes or so. While it's still wet you can blend all you want, but once it's dry to the touch, a stroke can go down over it without much fear of previous layers lifting or reactivating, unless the new stroke is really wet or there's a lot of scrubbing. 

Paint that is newly dry presents a relatively closed surface, meaning that, unlike gouache, it resists reactivation. The strength of the paint's glue-like binder is not as strong as acrylic, which has a powerful bond which sticks hard to your palette and wreaks havoc on your brushes. Because of that weaker binder, casein techniques involving thick, textural impasto should only be painted on a rigid surface such as a panel or illustration board. 

With casein, paint that feels dry from evaporation isn't fully cured yet. The milk protein molecules keep bonding, which can take anywhere from overnight to a couple weeks. Curing time can be accelerated by putting the painting in a sunny, dry, and warm (but not too hot) location. 

After it's dried and cured you can decide whether or not you want to varnish it. Like gouache, casein is meant to dry matte, and that can look good in a light, high-key painting. I almost never varnish sketchbook paintings. Paintings with a matte surface certainly photograph well, and the digital version of a painting can be adjusted in Photoshop to give it the full range of values. The manufacturers suggest buffing the surface of a dry painting using an old T-shirt to add some semi-gloss luster to the surface.

The main reason I varnish some of my casein paintings is to deepen the darks in an overall dark painting or to protect a painting that I want to frame without glass. Dark-keyed paintings look better varnished, and sometimes varnish is needed to unify the surface sheen of the painting. You can varnish casein just as you would varnish an oil painting. The advantage of casein compared with oil for plein-air painters is that you can varnish it the same day, rather than waiting weeks or months for the paint to dry. 

I've tried various brush-on varnishes, but I've been using a non-yellowing spray gloss varnish, which works well, but acrylic gloss varnish should work well, too. 

For the varnish to work with one or two coats, the substrate beneath the paint needs to be relatively non absorbent, such as a hardwood panel or gesso-primed canvas mounted to board. I've been painting on acrylic primed canvas panels, which respond well to varnish. If the painting consists of thin casein washes on soft watercolor paper, the surface will absorb the varnish, and it will take a lot of coats before you start to get a glossy surface. After it's varnished, a casein painting can be framed without glass just like an oil.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Poppies in Casein

 Poppies, painted in casein, will be one of six paintings I’ll have in a botanical art show and sale.

It’s one of six paintings I'll have at Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, NY at a botanical art show opening Monday through October 30, 2023.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Painting the Stonecrop Conservatory in Casein

In this new video on YouTube I use casein paint for a plein-air study of the conservatory at Stonecrop Gardens. 

As I demonstrate my drawing and painting process, I explain the advantages of casein compared to oils, gouache, and acrylic. 
For information about availability of original art, contact Karen Stein at this email address: 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Skybax Toy Prototypes

Would giant pterosaurs with saddles make cool toys? I did these marker sketches to explore some of the possibilities.

This one-of-a-kind toy prototype was made by Hasbro in 1997, part of a proposal for a line of Dinotopia toys. The skybax is fully posable, with flapping wings, gripping foot claws, and a removable saddle for the Will Denison action figure.

Here's a larger prototype with some plush, soft, and fuzzy elements.

As it often happens with toy ideas, this one never got off the ground. The toy line was tied to a movie at Columbia Pictures that went far into development but never got green-lit.

There was a Jurassic Park toy with a remarkable similarity. It's possible that the JP toy came first and that they modded it out for the Dinotopia presentation.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Painting Fantasy on Location

What struck me about the exterior of the Jules Verne Museum was the way the historic building sits on the brow of a steep cliff, with a statue of St. Anne atop a long flight of stairs.

So I painted this 7 x 9-inch sketch on location, trying to imagine it separated from gravity on its own journey to another world.

I worked on a separate piece of hot press watercolor paper, using fairly traditional watercolor. After laying in the broad masses of the sky, rock, and architecture, I further defined the details and textures using water-soluble colored pencils. This is a fairly fast way to sketch; the whole painting was finished on location in two and a half hours, but it would have taken me far longer to do the same thing in the studio.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Artistic License

I was practicing art without a license—until I got this.

This Artistic License was made by Rick Allen of Duluth, a master wood engraver and hand printer. Each license has a unique number and makes three passes through the press, one for each color.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Spinosaurus Restorations, Step by Step

In this YouTube video, I demonstrate step-by-step process of painting two restorations of the dinosaur Spinosaurus under the direction of Dr. Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago.

Dr. Sereno's scientific paper, called "Spinosaurus is Not an Aquatic Dinosaur," set out to refute claims by other researchers that Spinosaurus was a fast attack hunter underwater. Sereno's team developed a CT-based skeletal restoration of Spinosaurus and examined its hydrodynamic properties. They found that the digital model of Spinosaurus performed very poorly in water, supporting the alternative "semi-aquatic hypothesis." In an interview, Sereno said, "I don't think it was a good swimmer nor capable of full submergence behavior."

Coauthors include Donald M. Henderson, Daniel Vidal, Frank E. Fish, Stephanie L. Baumgart, Tyler M. Keillor, Kiersten K. Formoso, Nathan Myrhvold, and Lauren L. Conroy. 


Friday, September 8, 2023

Weeds or Wildflowers?

Studying the exquisite geometry of wildflowers (mullein, milkweed, and goldenrod) brings to mind the 1911 poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.


A weed is but an unloved flower!
Go dig, and prune, and guide, and wait,
Until it learns its high estate,
And glorifies some bower.
A weed is but an unloved flower!

All sin is virtue unevolved,
Release the angel from the clod--
Go love thy brother up to God.
Behold each problem solved.
All sin is virtue unevolved.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Fidelia's Backgrounds

 Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923) started her career using oil paint, but then switched over to watercolor and gouache. Her chromolithograph prints made her the most popular woman artist of her era.

What I've been looking at is how she set up her backgrounds to allow the viewer to focus on the foreground botanical detail. Here there's a very simple but subtle gradient that gets lighter and warmer toward the bottom.

Although she loved painting botanical studies, she rarely painted her subjects against a white background. Generally she used either toned paper or paper that had been pre-toned by her with a watercolor wash.

A simple blue-to-amber gradient suggests sky-to-high-grass.

Sometimes she gives a little more information in those backgrounds, suggesting here the arching forms of wheat stalks. 

According to Katherine Manthorne, author of an excellent new biography on Bridges, "She telescopes the space, painting the background in soft focus so that it appears an indeterminate distance away, while the plant forms in the foreground seem to jump off the page."

She may have gotten the idea from the influential English critic John Ruskin, who wrote: "If we look at any foreground object so as to receive a distinct impression of it, the distance and middle distance becomes all disorder and mystery. And therefore, if in any painting our foreground is anything, our distance must be nothing and vice versa."
Read more:
Ruskin quote from Modern Painters, quoted in The New Path
Wikipedia on Fidelia Bridges
Monograph Fidelia Bridges: Nature into Art by Katherine Manthorne

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Colossal Character Challenge

What: An art event where artists drawing or painting on location imagine a giant character visiting Pasadena. The character can come from animation, movies, video games, or comics. The interaction between the character and Pasadena can be anything from playful to apocalyptic.

When: October 27, 10:00-noon.

Who: Twelve invited professional concept artists wearing orange caps will lead the event. These mentors who are here because of Lightbox Expo will either demo or help other artists or both. Any additional artist can join the fun and sketch their concept. Participating artists don't have to be part of Lightbox Expo. They can be any age or any level of skill or experience. Kids are welcome and encouraged. Each participant receives an official sticker or button. Members of the general public can just come to see art being made.

Where: All around downtown Pasadena, but centered around the City Hall.

Why: To celebrate imagination mixed with observation and to see Pasadena in a new, fun way.

Online: Other artists participating online will be sketching colossal characters in their town or city. Their work will appear in a Facebook group page called "Colossal Characters Challenge." Deadline for that group is November 1.

There will be another Facebook group for artists working digitally, in CGI, animation, or A.I.

Monday, September 4, 2023

ESP Show

I did this sketch from life of a street performer named Glenn Gazin. He did a mind-reading act in Central Park in New York City, back around 1980.
He perfected his act and used it in the nightclub he owned called "The Dive" on West 29th Street. The Dive hosted comedy acts, techno-pop, one-act plays, and horror movies.

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Call It Mixed Media?

Some call this mixed media because it combines watercolor, gouache, colored pencils and fountain pens. 

I don't think of it that way. To me it's all about one thing: putting pigment on paper.

At  each stage of the sketch, the pigment goes down whichever way is most efficient. Some touches are wet, broad, and blurry, and some are dry, sharp and dry. 

Call it drawing and painting if you want, but to me it's just laying down pigment. 

What I was focused on was the sunlight setting just to the left of the alley. 

Saturday, September 2, 2023

'Draw What You See...'

When I was in junior high school, my older brother Dan gave me a piece of advice that hit me like a thunderbolt: “Draw what you see, not what you think you see.”

I had been drawing the symbols for the eyes and nose and not really paying attention to the way they actually appeared. This began a sort of obsession for me. I wanted to draw things as accurately as I could, trying to make my eyes work like a camera.

When I was 13 years old, I set up this arrangement——a rocking chair, a broken umbrella, and a couple of boots——and drew it all with a Rapidograph pen from observation. I wanted to enter it in a student art show along with some other drawings for $10 each, which seemed like a lot of money to me. But my bro convinced me to hold off selling it because I might want to have it someday as a milestone of my progress. Thanks, Dan.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Inside Ebulon

What happens inside the mysterious stone monuments of Ebulon? 

They're hollowed out inside, with a library, kitchen, and privy. 

It's the headquarters of the skybax riders who practice air jousting, an ancient sport where challengers try to knock each other out of their pterosaur saddle. Loser parachutes to the ground.

Of course to paint such a thing, I had to imagine it first, which means a bit of ham-acting.

It's all part of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. The Dover edition contains a 30 page afterword that digs into the sketches, maquettes, and reference photos. Signed copies at the link in bio.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Monday, August 28, 2023

What a Sketch Easel Should Do

A sketch easel should achieve the following ten goals:

1. Allow you to stand or sit, and to back up from the work.
2. Free up your non-painting hand.
3. Position the artwork close to your line of sight, and the palette close to the artwork.
4. Allow easy adjustments of height, slope, and angle.
5. Fit into a compact bag, large purse, or backpack.
6. Be super strong and light in weight (mine weighs just 12 ounces)
7. Set up and take down quickly.
8. Include a diffuser to soften the direct sunlight.
9. Resist being blown over by the wind.
10. Be easy to build from readily available materials.

The problem with traditional easels is that they are too heavy or cumbersome to be of much use for small works. Modern pochade easels that fit on camera tripods are an improvement. But, still, most of the ones on the market are more massive, complicated, or expensive than they need to be.

My homemade sketch easel fits on a standard camera tripod, which allows me to control the height and slope of the upper panel, where the painting surface is held to the panel by spring clamps. The lower panel is for the water cup and palette, which hold on by magnets. My palette is usually either a metal watercolor box or the steel lid of a colored pencil box, spray painted white.

A set of portable brushes hangs over the left hand page. The white surface above the painting is a ripstop nylon diffuser designed to shield just the painting and the palette. To reduce wind exposure, it’s no bigger than it needs to be.

More at the Facebook group called "Sketch Easel Builders,” linked in bio.

Gumroad tutorial: How to Make a Sketch Easel.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Susie Barstow Exhibit and Lecture

 "I will overcome every barrier to success." said American landscape painter Susie Barstow (1836-1923).

Barstow typically walked over 10 miles a day, and when she got to the end of her walk, she did a sketch or a study. She worked in many different media, including pencil, watercolor, and oil. 

There is currently an exhibit of her works at the Thomas Cole Historic Site in Catskill, New York, and there will be a free lecture in Albany on October 8, 2023 by Professor of Art History Nancy Siegel, who has done extensive research into her archives. The exhibit will continue to the New Britain Museum and the Woodson Museum.


Exhibition: Women Reframe American Landscape: Susie Barstow & Her Circle/ Contemporary Practices through October 29 of this year.


Friday, August 25, 2023

Goethe's Color Chart

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's "Theory of Colours" (Zur Farbenlehre) is a book that presents his views on the nature of colors and how they are perceived by humans

This chart is based on his personal observations and theories about color vision. In his book, Goethe proposed a different approach to color than the objective scientific principles of Sir Isaac Newton. According to Goethe, color arises from the interaction between light and darkness. He believed that darkness is not the absence of light but its rival or counterpart. He categorized colors into two main groups: blue and yellow. Goethe considered blue to be a lightening of black and yellow to be a darkening of white. All other colors, including green, red, and magenta, were grouped between these two opposing colors. Goethe's color chart is not focused on the scientific analysis of color, but rather on the psychological, moral, and spiritual aspects of color perception. His ideas about color pairings, particularly the opposition of blue and yellow, have influenced modern theories of color vision, such as the opponent process theory, which states that our perception of color arises from interactions between pairs of color receptors. 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Inside a Parisian Architecture School

The Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts included ateliers for Architecture as well as painting. Photos of the interiors of those schools reveal some of the spirit and style of the school, and the kind of work they did.

Most of the work was done on big flat tables lit by high windows or skylights. Each student's work was accomplished on individual drawing boards propped up on books or boxes, with T-squares and triangles to give them horizontal and vertical lines.

Mustaches seem to be universal in the Atelier Pascal. The walls and ceilings are festooned with medallions, sketches of the fluting on a column, and a crude drawing. There's a shallow ceramic dish that might have been used for watercolor washes.

Because of the spirit of eclecticism during this era, these architects would have possessed plenty of drawing skills, and could draw from memory any architectural style, such as Gothic, Romanesque, or any of the classical orders. They also had skills at figure drawing, and presumably the hanging rings would have be for a model to do a long pose with upraised arms.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Antarctic Strawberry Feather Star,


Newly discovered deep in the southern oceans, the Antarctic Strawberry Feather Star, is a large creature with 20 arms.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Painting Trinity Church

In a new video on YouTube I paint Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island, and consider how the human eye interprets reality differently than the camera does.

Friday, August 18, 2023

John Constable and the Field Mouse

One day, John Constable (English, 1776-1837) was painting outside in the landscape when a field mouse crawled into his pocket.

He was so focused on his work that he didn't notice the mouse at first. As he continued to paint, the mouse began to nibble on a piece of cheese that Constable had in his pocket.

Eventually, Constable felt the mouse moving around in his pocket and realized what had happened.
He gently removed it and placed it back in the field where it belonged.

Later he painted a picture of a mouse with a piece of cheese, which is now in the collection of the British Museum.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Stobart's Overview of Painting Methods

In this hour-long YouTube tutorial, veteran realist artist John Stobart (1929-2023) shares his basic painting tips.


He covers the following topics:
• Basic geometric forms.
• Linear perspective
• Stretching and priming a canvas
• Importance of skies
• Brushwork and aerial perspective 
You can paint almost any natural subject with Stobart's small set of primary colors: French ultramarine, Winsor red, cadmium yellow light, burnt sienna, permanent green light, and titanium white. 

In this video and other "Worldscape" videos on his YouTube channel, his manner is forthright, confident, and resolute: "One must keep soldiering on irrespective of the discomfort." 

Stobart is best known for his large paintings of maritime history, but he was also an inspiring leader in the revival of plein-air methods. He said: "My purpose is to trigger your enthusiasm, to make you realize that you never achieve anything unless you yourself are triggered, motivated, inspired, convinced about what you want to do."

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Portrait of Robert Bakker

I did this portrait of paleontologist Robert Bakker to illustrate an article in a science magazine using oil wash over pencil.

Bakker has been a proponent of the hypothesis that dinosaurs were warm-blooded, smart, fast, and adaptable. He published a 1968 paper on dinosaur endothermy and wrote the book, The Dinosaur Heresies in 1986, which helped establish a scientific rationale for both Jurassic Park and Dinotopia.