Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Gericault's Prelims for 'Raft of the Medusa'


Gericault's famous painting Raft of the Medusa is a complex composition, with a lot of figures in dramatic poses. How did he get there?

His early sketches show the seed of the idea, with the figures in the group going in and out of shadow. 

Another sketch shows the stricken mariner's making a more direct appeal to the rescuers.

Jean Louis Théodore Géricault (1791–1824), Study for The Raft of the Medusa (1819), 
oil on canvas, 36 x 48 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. 

As he brought the idea along to a painted sketch stage he worked out some of the key figures, such as the man caring for the dead or dying figure in the lower left.

Each figure needed careful study from models, and the ensemble had to work as a whole and parts.

Finally, this drawing appears to be a record of the finished painting, made after the fact.
Read more online about the story the painting illustrates and how he developed the composition.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Two Interpretations of Night

The deep darkness of a moonless night has to be painted from memory.

Here are two such interpretations, the first a scene in Warsaw in 1892, by Polish artist Józef Pankiewicz, with dim lamplight and a horse-drawn carriage coming or going in the center left.

 This one by Isaac Levitan is very dark too, with the tree masses painted very softly and full of mystery. 

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Using Milk as a Fixative

I've heard of using bread as an eraser, but this one was new to me: using skim milk as a fixative for charcoal drawings. 

Apparently Van Gogh did it, and the milk solution can be applied either with a brush or a spray. There are also recipes for using gelatin, hairspray, shellac, PVA glue or acrylic matte medium.

The main reasons for trying these alternatives are to reduce cost, to lessen fumes, to help the environment, or just to experiment. If you aren't worried about such issues, you can just go ahead and buy some commercial spray fixative.

As with any experimental technique, always test various mixtures and formulas first on a scrap.

Using Skim Milk as a Drawing Fixative 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

The Mona Lisa Sprinkler Incident

When the Mona Lisa was borrowed by the USA in 1963, and made its way under heavy protection to Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But there it almost met a catastrophe. According to The Art Newspaper Art Newspaper, on February 7, "a sprinkler malfunctioned, splashing water on the Mona Lisa for several hours."

When curator (and later director) Thomas Hoving arrived at the museum early one morning, "he rushed to the secure storeroom where the painting was locked up at night."

“I dashed to the [storeroom] to study my gorgeous acquisition, only to find that Murray Pease, the head of the conservation studio, and his assistant Kate Lefferts, [and] the officials from the Louvre in charge of the Leonardo portrait were rushing around with towels,” writes Dr Hoving.

“No one ever discovered why, but some time during the night one of the fire sprinklers in the ceiling broke its glass ampoule and the masterpiece of painting had been…rained upon,” he adds.

Guards monitoring the Mona Lisa on a black-and-white monitor outside the storeroom could not see the water on their grainy screen.

“The Mona Lisa, according to the Louvre official, was okay…He told me that the thick glass covering it had acted like an effective…raincoat. The rainstorm was never mentioned to the outside world.” \

Henry Gentle, a London based private picture restorer, said damage to the painting could have been serious if it had not been protected by glass. “The paint could have swelled off [the panel] and become unstable. It really would have depended on the painting itself, whether it was protected by a strong varnish or not, and how long the water was dribbling on the surface.”

Read the full story; How the Mona Lisa almost came to a watery end at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Friday, February 24, 2023

Observing How Sargent Painted

When Margaret Chanler was in London in 1893 with her sister Elizabeth, Margaret persuaded John Singer Sargent to paint her sister's portrait. 

Portrait of Elizabeth by John Singer Sargent, 1893

"It was his custom," said Margaret, "to admit callers, so that the sitting should not become too rigid. I was asked to keep the talk moving with those who came. I suggested that Mr. Kipling ought to fill the vacant poet laureate’s post. 'What an unpleasant American idea!' Mr. Sargent walked backwards to the wall of his studio, his brush held very high, then returned to the canvas. Lively conversation much amused but never distracted him. When the portrait was finished (he had painted the head in only twice), I overheard him: 'Miss Chanler, I have painted you la penserosa, I should like to begin all over again, and paint you l’allegra.'" According to Sargent, she had "the face of the Madonna and the eyes of a child."

This firsthand account confirms two observations about Sargent's working method:
1. He kept his models engaged and talking, not holding dead-still as is the custom now.
2. He used a form of the sight-size method, frequently backing up from the painting with the brush held aloft, presumably for evaluating slopes or measuring segments.

From Margaret Chanler Aldrich's memoir Family VistaAvailable on Archive.org

Previously: Talking Models, Speaking Likeness, Setting Up a Sight-Size Portrait

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Long Hours and Hard Labor: Recollections of Sorolla

"It has been said that Sorolla worked hurriedly, that he got tired or bored before he concluded or finished a work. This is not true. He painted two portraits of me: one indoors and another in his garden. For each one of them he took more than a month, in sessions of three hours a day. Yet, both paintings seem to have been made rapidly, with fortunate suddenness. The multitudinous quantity of his work must be attributed to his tireless laboriousness."

Self portrait by Joaquin Sorolla, 1904.

"He worked from the early hours of the day until twelve at night, in his studio, in the open air, with artificial light. At the same time that he was painting my portrait he had many others inn hand, and when he interposed an interval without a model, he made studies and sketches, or he painted landscapes, charming landscapes. For him the practice of art was a vital function, like breathing. If he had to stop painting, it was as if he were being asphyxiated."

Recollection of Pérez de Ayala in Quoted from the book  Joaquin Sorolla by Blanca Pons Sorolla , p. 318

Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Lavery's Portrait Fiasco

Irish painter Sir John Lavery lamented in his memoirs that it is impossible to both capture a true likeness of a portrait subject and also please that subject.

The problem is compounded by the fact that most portraits are not commissioned by the subject, but rather by a relative or spouse, and their feelings must be taken into account, too. 

He recalls one time when "A Lady Somebody wanted a semi-state portrait to hang beside the Gainsborough and Romney in the ancestral hall of her husband, who was to know nothing until the work was complete." 

(Portraits are by John Lavery but not the one referred to in this story)

"The day at last arrived and with it the husband. Planting himself in front of the picture with both hands resting on a gold-headed cane, he maintained an ominous silence while his eyes roamed over the canvas."

"At last, raising a hand, covering the figure, and concentrating on the head, he spoke. 'I pass the forehead and the eyes. I move my hand downwards: the nose the mouth the chin, them also I pass. I move my hand yet lower: what is this flat-chested modernity that I see? Where is the snowy amplitude of Her Ladyship? No, Sir John Lavery, that does not represent my wife.'"

"Her Ladyship stood by his chair almost in tears, saying, 'I will not have an eighth of an inch added.' I had tried to please both and, of course, had failed."

"Later, I wrote to His Lordship that I felt he was justified in his criticism, and that if he was still in the same mind I would, with his permission, cancel the commission, and that he should take back the very expensive and highly carved frame he had ordered. He accepted."

He painted another portrait over the canvas.

Quoted from The Life of a Painter by Sir John Lavery.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Black Fish Tavern Water Ride

The rapids ride takes you churning past a half-sunk submersible and sunken galleons. Then you drop down into a hidden entry into The World Beneath. At the far end you rise into light and visit the golden realm of Waterfall City. Singers serenade you right before you float into the firing line of the water cannon.
Then spend some time at the Black Fish Tavern, where you can interact with dinosaurs, joke with pirates, or check out the burlesque dancers and outrageous jazz bands entertain you while you tuck into a platter of comfort food from the deep blue sea.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Paul Antonio & Copperplate Lettering

Paul Antonio has worked with the Worshipful Society of Scriveners in London. One of his jobs was to hand-letter the laws of the land on vellum.

He also has lettered millions of envelopes for royal events.

He talks about the challenges of the job in the Calligraphy Podcast, where he tells his amazing personal story, growing up in Trinidad in the 1970s, when it wasn't easy to find out information about lettering. 

In 2018 he wrote an excellent book on Copperplate lettering.

You can see his studio in this video tour

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Rendering a Shiny White Cup

In his book, Color in Sketching and Rendering, Arthur Guptill says this white porcelain cup presents an ideal subject for studying the effects of light and shadow, because of it combines curved and flat surfaces.

"It is interesting to study the gradual changes in the lighting from Plane 1, which, facing the light directly, was practically white, to Plane 4, relatively much darker. Plane 5 was about the same in value as 2, receiving approximately as much light. Objects like this, showing a succession of planes, teach us that surfaces deepen in tone proportionately as they receive less light. Rounded objects often show this too." 

"This object differed from our previous ones in the quality of surface, for it was glazed. At the point market 'lightest light' it mirrored a miniature a miniature image of the window far brighter that white paper could express. Many minor reflections were evident, too some of which we have shown. You must look for such reflections when drawing smooth objects. While it is neither possible nor necessary to represent every slight variation in tone, the general character must be expressed."
from Color in Sketching and Rendering by Arthur Guptill

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Nick Eggenhofer (1897-1985)

Nick Eggenhofer was born in a small town near Munich and found his way to America before World War I broke out. 

By watching movies, he developed a love of cowboys and Indians (or "Der Trapper und die Indianer" "Trappers and Indians" as they called them in German). 

He enjoyed drawing from a young age and soon found work doing  illustration, starting with pen-and-ink drawings.

He worked in a variety of media, including gouache (above), oil, and watercolor.

Eggenhofer's work is featured in the latest issue of Illustration magazine #79. The article includes over 75 pictures by him in black and white and color. The issue also includes a feature on Clyde Caldwell (born 1948), plus a listing of New and Notable books and Exhibition and Events.

Friday, February 17, 2023

What to Do If You Fail

"I wonder how many artists make the most of their failures by learning from them? Very few. The picture which is a failure is thrown away in disgust. The wise artist will keep it, cherish it, regard it as a lesson on how not to do certain things. He will examine it, analyze it, and will not be happy until he knows exactly what has caused the failure. When he he discovered this, he takes care to avoid a repetition of the fault."

Self portrait is by Ernest Meissonier

Quoted from The Artist Magazine, August, 1932 (Thanks, James W.)

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Painting & Paddling with the Pup

I deploy the gouache easel beside Rondout Creek and open to a page primed with blue acryla-gouache. 

Most of the afternoon colors are warm gray over that. Inevitably the blue pops through here and there, activating the warm colors. 

Here's the video, which includes Smooth digging in the soft bank and a little kayak excursion.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Edward Gosling, Armless Artist

Edward Gosling of Manchester, England, overcame the misfortune of losing both his arms when he was a boy. 
At the age of 15, he produced this Christmas card design, holding the pen with his feet.

According to an article in a 1936, "Losing his arms in an accident, he taught himself to paint, holding the brushes between his toes, and has just had an animal study in oils accepted for exhibition at the Burlington Galleries, London."

He went on to have  distinguished career, with paintings accepted by the Royal Academy. this one is called "A Welcome Rest". It appeared in a June, 1936 issue of The Artist's Magazine.

Thanks, James!

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Stock Broker's Signals

A 1912 art-instructional booklet says these drawings of hands were "taken from an article illustrating stock-brokers' signals. The artist in this case has not attempted to obtain graceful hands, by any means, but simply expressive ones. This has been obtained largely by drawing them in an anatomical manner, paying particular attention to the bony structure. The knuckles show out very strongly, which puts on one side all possibility of softness or grace, and makes them hard and angular. but, at the same time, very strong and vigorous."

From "Instruction Paper on Strength, Expression and Grace in Hands, Limbs, Etc." published by the School of Applied Art, Battle Creek, Michigan. 

Thanks, James!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Aerial View of Paris

Victor Navlet (French 1819-1886) painted this gigantic overview of Paris in 1855 based on observations from a hot air balloon. The painting is about 12 feet high.

The details are so fine and carefully worked out that you can see windows on the individual houses.

It's at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Abandoned Warehouse

Late-day sun sneaks under a foreboding sky to dramatize this abandoned warehouse, sketched in pencil on smooth paper. 

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Best Books for Self-Teaching Drawing and Painting

Concept artist Alexander Forssberg says: "I've learned everything I know about making art from studying photographs and real life, and reading these books."

Thanks for mentioning my books, Alexander. I also recommend the other books, and they were all key to my growth. A few notes:

Andrew Loomis was a leading mid-20th century illustrator based in Chicago. He analyzes faces and hands in useful ways using a pencil and paintbrush. Text is encouraging and practical. 

Graceful drawings and helpful information that you can put to use. For picture-making and composition, I also recommend Loomis's classic book Creative Illustration.

Constructive Anatomy by George Bridgman
Bridgman was a famous teacher from the Art Students League in New York, and both Norman Rockwell and Frank Frazetta also credited him as a big influence.

The Human Machine by George Bridgman
Chunky, dynamic approach to analyzing the figure as a system of levers and pulleys overcoming gravity. 

The book was originally based on posts from this blog from 2007-9, where I was downloading everything I know about color and light, which aren't usually talked about together.

Most art instruction books examine how to capture what you see, but here I present all the old-school methods for developing fantasy, science fiction, and historical scenes.

Alla Prima II by Richard Schmid
An influential teacher from recent years who analyzed the process of painting in a unique way. It's a little pricey, so let's hope someone republishes it. 

Alexander Forssberg is on Twitter & Artstation

Friday, February 10, 2023

Trash Talking

I catch the Gurney brothers trash talking while playing Rocket League:

 "Remember that time I destroyed you one-on-one?"

"If we trade who gets Foamer and who gets Boomer, it'll be devastation."

"So...are you blue?"
"Get in, thank you very much."
"If only you had an AI teammate to help you score some goals."
"Oh, I thought I was going to blow you up."
"So the front of the goal is solid."
"Hey, the camera messed me up."
"I bet you're kicking yourself for kicking it in your own goal."

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Why I'd Be A Poor Guest on a Movie Podcast

A really nice guy sent me an email and said he wanted me to be a guest on his podcast, which was about obscure old movies. I had to decline, and here's what I said:

"Thanks! Love your show, but I would be a big disappointment to your audience, because I'm no good at talking about movies.

When I was coming up as the youngest kid of a family of five kids, my Dad was too cost-conscious to take all of us out to movies. I remember one time we talked him into making an exception. All of us piled into our yellow truck and went to a movie theater to see Mary Poppins. But they had just raised the price to 35 cents per person, and that was too much for him. "THIRTY FIVE CENTS EACH!!!? NO WAY!" He said as we got back in the car. And we went home without seeing the movie.  

Instead I found a radio station that played old radio shows like Suspense and Escape and The Bickersons. No one my age had ever heard of those shows, which made it feel like I lived in my own universe. After I left for college I never bought a TV. All the media references of people my age are lost on me.

Instead I did stuff like stand in the backyard, shoot an arrow straight up in the sky, watch it turn around, and step out of the way when it came back down."

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Space Beacon

Space Beacon, gouache, 6 x 8 inches. 

A space fantasy can be an opportunity for experimenting with color. 

The idea here is to shift the axis of the triad away from the usual yellow/red/blue and base it instead on orange-brown, yellow-green, and red-violet. From Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

Books are on their way

If you ordered a book from our web store over the weekend, it’s on its way to you in today's mail.

Each book is signed and personalized with a little dinosaur doodle.


Sunday, February 5, 2023

Passenger Portrait

Here's a watercolor portrait done live on the train.

flandelacasa asks: "Did he see it?" No, I was ready to show him but he took off when we got to the station.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Keeping it balanced

 My career as a professional fashion model was short but well balanced.

Charles Bargue Plates Reprinted

Making copies of Charles Bargue plates have become a standard part of academic practice in the ateliers, but it can be hard to find high quality reproductions of the original lithographs.

Fortunately a dedicated team of artists and technicians has reprinted many of the best plates, including this one of Faustina, using a painstaking process that included careful photography from the original Bargue set and printing on a historic press using a heavyweight light gray stock.

According to the creators, this plate represents "a horse's head, from the east pediment of the Parthenon showing the miraculous birth of the goddess Athena. This figure was carved like an isolated horse's head, pulling the chariot of the goddess Selene during the night."

"It captures the very essence of the stress felt by the animal. The ear is flattened back, the jaw gaping, the nostril flared and the eye bulging."

Available from our store, Bargue Horse Print, lithographed plate on gray-blue tinted art paper, 350 g, ideal for charcoal copying.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Venice Beach

Venice Beach, plein-air oil, 9x 12 inches.

I had fun with this one putting most of the detail way up in the upper right, and letting the rest be open spaces.