Sunday, April 30, 2023

Broken Van

What happened to this van? 

Something tore a gash in the passenger side door, dug a crease into the side doors, broke the antenna, knocked off the bumper and bent all the panels.

As I sketch in ballpoint pen, pencil, gray marker, and calligraphy pen, I ask myself: Why am I attracted to things that are broken, damaged, abandoned, and decayed?

I suppose it's because all broken things tell a story.

In this case, the van was too damaged to fix, so they left it behind the gas station. The van once belonged to the "Villa Florist," according to the name painted in Copperplate letters on the side. Was it driving out to deliver a bouquet when the accident happened? What did it run into, or what ran into it? Whatever collided with seems to have been lifted up during the impact because the gash starts low and goes high in the middle. Whose fault was it? Did the driver lose his or her job?

Saturday, April 29, 2023

How Fluorescent Colors Work

Conventional color pigments absorb visible light energy and convert it into visible wavelengths of light. So a white light can bounce back to you after interacting with a red sweater, and you'll see the light coming into your eye as red. 

Fluorescent—or "neon"—colors do that, too, but they have an additional trick. Fluorescent colors also absorb and convert ultraviolet rays, which are invisible, and convert them into visible light. Fluorescence shifts energy in the incident illumination from shorter wavelengths to longer (such as blue to yellow) and thus can make the fluorescent color appear brighter (more saturated or lighter in luminance) than it could possibly be by reflection alone. The absorbed energy excites electrons in the pigment molecules to a higher energy level, which then relax back to their ground state by emitting light at a longer wavelength than that absorbed, resulting in a visible glow

As a result, your eye perceives a far more saturated color or a tone that's higher in tone relative to the white paper they're drawn or painted on.

Ultraviolet light is usually present in outdoor light, whether direct sunlight or overcast. Without a source of short-wavelength light (like a black light), the fluorescent pigments won't stand out. As soon as you add an ultraviolet light source, the fluorescent pigments will appear to glow, while conventional colors remain dull and hardly visible. If a subject is lit only by ultraviolet light and no visible wavelengths, fluorescent colors will appear to glow magically in the dark. 

Friday, April 28, 2023


Solarization, also known as the Sabatier effect, is a photographic technique that involves partially reversing the image tones of a photographic print or film during the developing process, resulting in a dramatic and surreal effect. 

The process involves exposing the photographic material to light during the development phase, which causes the highlights to become darker and the shadows to become lighter. This creates a line of inversion along the edge of areas of contrast, creating a glowing outline or halo effect. The result is a stylized image that appears to be partially negative and partially positive. 

Sabatier Effect courtesy Felt Magnet

The name "solarization" comes from the technique's original use of sunlight exposure during the reversal stage of development. The technique has been used by various artists and photographers over the years, including Man Ray, Lee Miller, and Jerry Uelsmann. 

Today, solarization can be achieved both in the darkroom and digitally through image manipulation software. In the darkroom, solarization can be achieved by exposing the photographic paper to light during the development phase, while in digital image manipulation, the effect can be created through software filters that can invert the tones of the photograph.

Solarization on Wikipedia
More on photo styles from Twitter user Anonymouse

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Leroy Nieman's Femlin

Leroy Nieman (1921-2012) was an American artist who loved glamor and celebrity. He portrayed the worlds of sports and jazz using bright colors and splashy paint strokes and distributed them as serigraphs. 

He also created a popular black-and-white female character for Playboy Magazine called Femlin. 

According to the Franklin Bowles Gallery, "Neiman envisioned her as being 12" tall, so in most of the illustrations she's in that scale. She's depicted as being mischievous, and as her name suggests, she's a female gremlin. Starting in 1957, every issue of Playboy had two black and white Femlins; she was usually on the jokes page behind the centerfold."
Decoder Ring podcast about Leroy Nieman's career, The Artist Who Was Both Loved and Disdained

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Asperitas Clouds

From below, asperitas clouds appear like upside-down ocean waves, undulating and cresting and best seen at sunset when they're lit from below. 

The term "asperitas" and the classification is a rare new addition for the official cloud atlas. Here's the official definition of Asperitas clouds:

"Well-defined, wave-like structures in the underside of the cloud; more chaotic and with less horizontal organization than the variety undulates. Asperitas is characterized by localized waves in the cloud base, either smooth or dappled with smaller features, sometimes descending into sharp points, as if viewing a roughened sea surface from below. Varying levels of illumination and thickness of the cloud can lead to dramatic visual effects. Occurs mostly with Stratocumulus and Altocumulus."

Monday, April 24, 2023

Art Books on YouTube

Recently, Luiz Celestino produced a video explaining a way to teach yourself about color using Color and Light: a Guide for the Realist Painter as a textbook:

Thanks, Luiz! And thanks to YouTuber Vonnart for recommending my book Color and Light in his roundup of favorite art books.

As he goes through 30 of his favorite art books, he shares helpful tips on how to manage detail vs. empty areas and how to design flowing fabric. 

My Top Favorite Art Books and Reference Books as an Artist!

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Gibson Girl at Her Painting

"She goes into colors," says the caption of this pen-and-ink drawing by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944).

What a challenge for this young woman, dealing with all these suitors and critics, while remaining attractive, poised, and confident. 

Oh, and also she wants to produce a good painting without ruining her white dress.

That spirit of the capable, independent woman is one of the things that made Gibson's images so popular.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Émile Bayard

Émile Bayard (1837-1891) was a prolific French artist who created illustrations for novels, magazines, and newspapers.

He is best known for his depiction of Cosette from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, which was used in marketing the Broadway musical.

He illustrated Jules Verne's novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Verne was so impressed with Bayard's preliminary sketches for the book that he rewrote certain sections of the story to better match the illustrations. He also illustrated Verne's "From the Earth to the Moon," an early work of science fiction.

Bayard was a tireless researcher, digging through libraries and costume collections to get the right detail. He  once insisted on building a scale model of an ancient city in order to accurately depict it in a book illustration.

Nevertheless he was a fast worker. According to a frequently cited anecdote, he once completed a series of illustrations for a book in just 48 hours, working non-stop without sleeping.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Children's Book Art in Massachusetts

Garth Williams (1912-1996) Cover Study, Crayon and ink on paper, From: I Like Everything

The Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield is hosting an exhibition of children's book illustration that includes over 140 original works, including art by Beatrix Potter, Garth Williams, Maurice Sendak, and Dr. Seuss.

The show has a number of gouache originals created for the Little Golden Books series. 

Feodor Rojankovsky (1891-1970), The Nursemaid, 1949,
Gouache on board From: Big Elephant by Kathryn Jackson

When he was interviewed about how he got started, Feodor Rojanskovky recalled a moment in his childhood when, "I was taken to the zoo and saw the most marvelous creatures on earth...and while my admiration was running high, I was given a set of crayons."

There are many other illustrators represented, including Rosemary Wells, Richard Scarry, Chris Van Allsburg, Hilary Knight, David Shannon, and Dennis Nolan. Some of the characters of literature represented include Babar, Eloise, Madeline, the Cat in the Hat and Dick & Jane. 

The exhibition "Childhood Classics" will be on view through April 30, 2023 at the Berkshire Museum, which is located in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Interacting with my Privately-Trained Chatbot

A few days ago, I asked you to pose some questions to the Virtual James Gurney, a chatbot that we trained on all my blog posts, videos, books, and interviews.

Ruben (@rgramosart on Twitter) asked the question about getting digital art to look painterly. Hmmm, Real James Gurney here. I think the virtual me knows more about digital painting techniques than I do. Maybe that's because he lives inside a computer.

Matt A.A. Smith ( @smithmattsmith on Instagram) asked a fun question about painting dinosaurs from life. I'm fascinated how large language models navigate truth, satire, fiction, and comedy. We humans play all sorts of pretend games with each other, and I love the way the chatbot seemed to address the fact that we're just having fun here. A wittier chatbot would have observed that birds are really dinosaurs, and that I've sketched chickens, turkeys, and emus from life. 

Moézyo de Lima ( @moezyo on IG) asked his questions in Portuguese, and it gave the answer in the same language. This is a capability of the model I wasn't expecting.

@myphonetookthis asked the kind of questions that could be answered in many individual ways by different artists. The privately trained chatbot answers just in the way I would, with words quoted or closely adapted from my published writing.

@clarewashere asked a question that was a little tongue-in-cheek, and the chatbot gave her a sincere answer, if a little simplistic.

If you want to play with the chatbot in a different way, you can ask it to take on an attitude or a character, such as a pretentious blowhard or a film noir gangster, and it will oblige.

Be sure to bookmark the URL, which is currently listed on the Linktree if you click on my name.

For the five folks that I chose as winners, please email me your mailing address (it's on the left edge of my blog), and I'll send you a signed poster.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

'Why I Would Rather Be an Illustrator'

When he was asked whether he ever had the desire, as have had so many illustrators, to go in for what is known as 'straight painting,' Dean Cornwell replied: 

"It is love of romance that makes Americans the greatest readers of fiction, and producers of the greatest number of films. That is one reason why I would rather be an illustrator than do so-called straight painting. I appeal to this spirit in thousands of people, whereas if I painted a picture and showed in an exhibition, and if it were lucky enough to be bought, only a few people would see it." 

 "Dean Cornwell: Factor in a New Art" article by Helen Appleton Read in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1924, from Fulton History.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Almond Shaped Eyes

The idea for the 'Art by Committee' sketchbook happened when I was working on a lot of paperback covers. I had a habit of snipping out odd lines from science fiction manuscripts that struck me as fun prompts for sketching games, such as: 

"One man, whose eyes were more almond-shaped than those of the others..."

So I taped these snippets into a large sketchbook. Whenever I was hanging out in a diner with fellow illustrators, we would sketch a solution to one of these out-of-context excerpts while waiting for our meal. It was very spontaneous and fun, and after a while we had a whole sketchbook full of these illustrations.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Edward Troye's Horse Paintings

Edward Troye (1808-1874) was a Swiss-American painter who specialized in animal subjects, particularly horses. He was born in Geneva, Switzerland and studied art in Munich, Germany, before immigrating to the United States in 1831. 

Settling on ranches, first in Kentucky and later in Alabama, Troye focused primarily on commissioned portraits of racehorses and their owners. His portraits were often noted for their accuracy, grace, and attention to detail.

Troye's most well-known works include depictions of famous American thoroughbreds, their owners, and their Jockeys. 

Throughout his career, Troye worked closely with many of the leading figures in American racing, and his paintings helped to establish a visual record of the early history of American horse racing. 

Troye died in 1874, and his paintings were mostly forgotten until 1912, when people started connecting one painting with another until over 300 were found.
Edward Troye on Wikipedia

Friday, April 14, 2023

'How Did You Get Started?'

Arthur Denison helps a young Giganotosaurus with a stuck foot, 
oil illustration from Dinotopia: The World Beneath.

An editor of Ranger Rick Magazine asked: "Were you crazy about dinosaurs as a kid and did you read every book in the library? Or how did you get interested in this realm?

Me: When I was about six, I saw dinosaur skeletons in a museum, but no one really explained to me that dinosaurs were real animals. I somehow thought that dinosaurs were skeletons. When I learned that people dug these bones out of the ground, I went out in my front yard and started digging with my Tonka trucks. No one could convince me that I wouldn’t find them. I was also interested in archaeology, based on my perusal of old copies of National Geographic that occupied a shelf outside my bedroom door.

Ranger Rick: Did you take lots of art classes as a kid? And then did you go to art school or what's your educational background in the art field?

Me: I had a couple of encouraging art teachers, but most of what I learned was on my own. I set up a copy stand in my bedroom and made animated films in high school. I sketched the family dog and my parents, especially when they were asleep in front of the TV. In college I majored in archaeology, not art. After graduating college, I did go to art school for a short time. I quickly learned that they weren’t teaching what I wanted to learn: things like caricature, animal anatomy, architectural drawing, and storytelling illustration. My heroes were artists who died before I was born, so I searched for copies of old art instruction books from before 1920 or so, and that’s where I developed my way of making pictures.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Try Out My New Chatbot

We trained a chatbot to answer your art questions. 

Try out the beta version at this link.
Share screenshots of your interaction, using the hashtag #virtualJG and I’ll send signed posters to my five faves.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Should an Art Student Develop a Style?

Drawing by Otto Eggers

Arthur Guptill, an author of several books on drawing, advised that a student should not try too hard to arrive at an arbitrary style of his or her own too early. 

"If he is content, instead, to do his work as well as he knows how, searching for truth in drawing and an honest interpretation of nature's values, studying all the while other drawings in order to benefit by the experience gained by other men, and seeking always for the best way to meet the requirements of the problem at hand, he will unconsciously develop a method or style expressive of his own individual self."

Arthur Guptill, page 78 in Sketching and Rendering in Pencil, 1922 

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

How Birds See Each Other

Many birds and insects have receptors for colors that we humans can't see. 

Starlings, for example, can see colors in reflected ultraviolet light that are beyond our human capacity. On the left is how starlings look to humans. On the right is how starlings may look to each other. 

Image credit: Klaus Schmitt 
According to Neringa Utaraitė: "Birds are tetrachromats, [so] they see four colors: UV, blue, green, and red, whereas we are trichromats and can only see three colors: blue, green, red. Bear in mind, that the magenta UV “color” shown here has been chosen to make it visible for us humans, it is a “false color”, as per definition UV light has no color."

Thanks, Massimo via Bored Panda

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Rilke's Panther Poem

Animal artists at the Jardin des Plantes, Paris. From the magazine "L'Illustration", 7 August 1902.
Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "The Panther" describes the plight of a big cat living in the cage of a zoo:

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold
anything else. It seems to him there are
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.

Only at times, the curtain of the pupils
lifts, quietly--. An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

- English translation by Stephen Mitchell

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Why Do You Paint Small?

Amerolusk asks: "Do you ever feel restricted by the small size of the travel sketchbook you use for these paintings? Do you feel working this small prevents you from being able to translate these techniques onto a larger canvas?" 

I do like to paint large too, but I'm in love with the small size. It's definitely an advantage when I'm hiking in the wilderness or improvising in tight spaces, such as museums, concert halls, or restaurants. The horizontal format translates well to my YouTube videos.

I am inspired by the tiny gouache paintings of Adolph Menzel and William Trost Richards, and the gemlike oil paintings of Ernest Meissonier and Charles Bargue. They put more information in a tiny miniature than most artists put on a large canvas. When you see those images in print or online, the size of the original doesn't matter. The only metric that matters is resolution.

It's like the difference between a Swiss watch and a grandfather clock. Both tell time. But one is intended to regulate the hearth and home, and the other is optimized for the mountain trail, the opera house, and the moonlit rooftop.

Friday, April 7, 2023

'Plein-Air Painting' vs. 'Outdoor Sketching'

According to Google NGram Viewer, the term "plein-air painting" has increased in its frequency in print, but the activity was much more commonly known as "outdoor sketching" a century ago. 

The term peaks around 1930.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Why I Love Zoom Calls

I love Zoom calls because they give me captive subjects for portraits.

This was a meeting of the Advisory Board of the Portrait Society of America. I used casein to paint these little thumbnail doodles of portrait painter Michael Shane Neal....

....and Executive Director Christine Egnoski. 

I'll be at the Art of the Portrait Conference in Washington, DC this May, and recommend you check it out if you're curious.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

'I Deal With What Happens'

Starting with a pencil lay-in and a ghost wash, I proceed to add forms and details.

While I sketch I listen to what people are saying. A random quote falls out of the air onto my page. That quote pretty much sums up Tom's worldview. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Bix Maquette

This maquette of the Protoceratops named Bix in Dinotopia was sculpted by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. The sculpt is about 36 inches long, cast in resin from a clay original. 

It has wonderfully expressive glass eyes. 

The Henson sculptors created it as a proof of concept for how they would develop the character in animatronic form, and the original has appeared in several museum exhibitions.


Monday, April 3, 2023

Hotspot Priming

The hotspot priming helps for a naturalistic gouache painting like this mountain stream, which has a light effect area that I want to emphasize. 

Even though the priming gets almost entirely covered over by the end, it serves as a reminder throughout the painting process to downplay the surrounding areas and keep the attention on the focal point.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Orientalism Meets Western Art

Henry Farny, Mesa Village, 15 x 9.4 inches, gouache, 1891.

The Denver Art Museum is presenting an exhibition called "Near East to Far West" which pairs French Orientalist painting with the art of the American West.

The curators describe the combination in this way: "In Near East to Far West, visitors will be encouraged to compare the visual and historical aspects of French Orientalism and artworks of the American West and reflect on the impact of these representations into the present....The styles, motifs, and meanings of both French Orientalism and western American art reflect fears, desires, and curiosities about "unknown" lands during the process of colonization."

This exhibition Near East to Far West is on view in Denver from March 5, 2023, through May 29, 2023.