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.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Painting Trinity Church

Yesterday I was painting Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island.

I got good video captures of the process, so I'll share that in a future post.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

View from Ocean Avenue

Today we painted a view from Ocean Avenue across Gooseneck Cove to Seafair (formerly 'Terre Mare'), the home of Jay Leno in in Newport, Rhode Island. 

It's one of the paintings I’ll offer at Mariner Gallery at the plein-air event 6:00-9:00 Sunday.

It's casein on panel. When it's varnished up and framed, it will look and feel just like an oil.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Wiggle Game

After a day outside plein-air painting, the artists of the Old Lyme group in Connecticut would gather in Florence Griswold's parlor and play the "Wiggle Game.

Wiggle drawings were produced in a drawing game where one artist would draw a series of disconnected curving arcs at random, then hand off the half finished drawing to another artist who had to incorporate those lines in a funny, irreverent, or satirical cartoon.

Such drawing games were common amusements in the evenings in art colonies and art schools at the turn of the 20th century. They are a good challenge for each artist's visual imagination, and a welcome change from painting and drawing what you see in front of you.

More examples at the Florence Griswold Museum website.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Choosing a Viewpoint for a Sea Battle

The moment when the USS Cumberland was attacked and sunk by the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia is well documented in journals, letters, and published accounts. They note the time of day, the weather, and detailed descriptions of the chaos and destruction. Marine archaeologists have even found a few remnants of the Cumberland on the seafloor in Hampton Roads, Virginia. 

My job as an illustrator for National Geographic was to choose the moment and the angle, so I did a series of postcard size oil paintings to show the naval historians John Quarstein and Colan Ratliff. The crucial moment, it seemed to me, was when both ships were firing on each other at close quarters.

But before I went into full production on the comprehensive sketch and the final painting, art director Christopher Klein suggested that I produce one more sketch showing a much closer view of the action.

The pivot gun crew suffered great losses and yet bravely fought on, with Morris calling out through his speaking trumpet that he refused to surrender or "strike the colors." 

Like all compositional decisions, this one would have been a tradeoff. Getting this close to the action brings the viewer closer to experiencing the psychology and the horror of battle. In actual fact the scene would have been even more grisly and bloody than what I've suggested. If this scene was all that the viewer saw, it wouldn’t be clear what was going on at the water level, where other human stories were unfolding.

We agreed to pull back the viewpoint back just far enough to see the lifeboat action, but a little closer than we had shown in those first sketches.

I'll be bringing the final painting and preliminary studies to the Mariner Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island on Sunday, August 13 at 5:00-8:30pm. Between now and then, I'll also do a couple plein-air paintings that will be part of a group plein-air event. Come on by and say hello!

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Event this Sunday at Mariner Gallery

The original oil painting "The Sinking of the Cumberland" will be exhibited this weekend at Mariner Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island.

The sinking happened at 3:37 p.m. on March 8, 1862 in Hampton Roads, Virginia, when the USS Cumberland fell victim to the CSS Virginia, which went on the next day to battle with the USS Monitor.

The Virginia, or Merrimac, as it was known before it was converted into the slope-slided ironclad, delivered its fatal blow to the Cumberland with its 1,500-pound iron ram.

The 30x40" painting was commissioned by National Geographic and it was previously on long-term loan to the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia, which displays many original relics from the famous Civil War battle.

Below is a slightly earlier state of the paintings, before I added more explosions, smoke and the US flag, all at the request of my historical consultants, John Quarstein and Colan Ratliff. Those details are added in paint, not digitally. 

The flag figures prominently in historical accounts, as Captain Morris valiantly refused to strike the colors of the doomed ship and let her sink with the colors flying.

I'll be in Newport this weekend with an invitational plein-air group. We'll be painting mostly nautical subjects. 

I hope you'll come to the reception at Mariner Gallery in Newport, Rhode Island on Sunday, August 13 at 5:00-8:30pm. See the paintings and say hello.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Fidelia Bridges Exhibit in Wisconsin

An exhibition now at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum portrays the life and career of botanical watercolorist Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923). 

The museum website says: "Despite inauspicious beginnings as an orphan growing up in Massachusetts, she became one of the preeminent women artists of her time and was the first woman member of the seminal American Watercolor Society. As an artist, she developed an elegant and exacting style, most often portraying birds and botanicals."
The exhibition Fidelia Bridges: The Artful Sketch will be at at the Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin through August 27, 2023, and admission is free.

Monday, August 7, 2023

Jeff Hein's Art Podcast

"Undraped" is a funny name for an art podcast, but "Unvarnished" was already taken. How about "Unframed," "Unleashed," or "Unhinged"?

Jeff said he wanted a sketch by me, so I sent him this one:

Thanks to Jeff Hein for inviting me and for your good questions. 

Sunday, August 6, 2023

Violin vs. Fiddle

Winifred Horan was trained at the Boston Conservatory, has played classical violin with the Boston Pops, and Irish fiddle with Cherish the Ladies and Solas.

So she's heard all the snappy answers to the question: "What's the difference between a violin and a fiddle?"

• When you are buying one, it’s a fiddle. When you are selling one, it’s a violin.
• It’s OK if you spill beer on your fiddle.
• It’s the nut who’s holding the bow.
• $125 per hour and a tuxedo.
• You can’t play a violin barefoot.
• A violin has strings, and a fiddle has strangs.• You’ll never find a violinist with a mullet.
• A violin sings, but a fiddle dances.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Paul Victor Mathey

Paul Victor Mathey (1844 —1929) once said: "Each time I paint I throw myself into the water in order to learn swimming." (The quote is also attributed to Edouard Manet.)

Felicien Rops in his workshop by Paul Mathey, c. 1888

He learned painting and engraving at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts of Paris in the workshops of painters Léon Cogniet, Isidore Pils and Alexis-Joseph Mazerolle.

Paul Mathey, Portrait of Ernest Ange Duez (1876)

He began to exhibit at the Salon de Paris in 1868 and became a versatile artist, earning an income from portrait painting while also painting landscapes, still lifes, and other subjects.


Thursday, August 3, 2023

Palace in the Clouds Maquette

Here's a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the maquette from the painting of the mountain citadel yesterday.

The maquette is made from mat board and foam core board for the buildings. The mountain landforms are made from plaster-impregnated burlap draped over chunks of styrofoam. The maquette has been exhibited in several museum exhibitions such as the Smithsonian and the Norton Museum of Art.
More about reference maquettes in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Sky Galleys

Sky galleys are pedal-powered blimps that resupply the high mountain settlements of Dinotopia.

In the pure silence above the Tentpole of the Sky you can hear them creaking and whirring as they approach from far away.

The pilots must plan their journeys, because they can get tossed about in storms. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

In The Studio

Here's a behind-the-scenes view of the studio as I was shooting with a camera flying backwards over a tabletop covered with sketchbooks with hand-painted titles.

The dolly tracks above are dollar-store broomsticks and the gear motor that drives it is made from a set of Lego Technics.