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Creator of "Dinotopia"! This daily weblog by James Gurney is for illustrators, comic artists, plein-air painters, sketchers, animators, art students, and writers.
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1. Walter Launt Palmer Exhibition in Albany, NY



American impressionist Walter Launt Palmer (1854–1932) was known for three themes: snowy forests, Venetian lagoons, and opulent interiors. To all three of those subjects he brought an evocative feeling for light and color.


An exhibition of Walter Launt Palmer at New York State's Albany Institute of History and Art features all three of those themes. The show just opened and it will be up through August 16.


The museum has one of the largest holdings of his work, and they'll be showing oil and watercolor paintings, pastels, and drawings, as well as letters and photographs. 


When he was just 24 years old, Palmer studied landscape painting with Frederic Church. He shared a studio with Church in New York City from 1878-1881.  


Walter Launt Palmer made many trips to Europe. He met John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, John Henry Twachtman, Robert Frederick Blum, and probably a lot of other guys with three names. 


After seeing the young Sargent's sketchbooks, Palmer wrote home, "He is but 17 and has done a lot of work, very little in oil." 


Palmer was the one who recommended that Sargent should study with Carolus Duran. Palmer was so impressed with the younger painter's bold and vigorous style that he tried a similar approach himself for a while. 


Palmer's winter scenes were constructed with a combination of outdoor studies, photographs, and memory.

Online resources
Exhibition: "Walter Launt Palmer: Painting the Moment" at Albany Institute of History and Art through August 16. (Note, not all of the paintings in this post are in the show.)

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2. Remembering John Renbourn



John Renbourn, the eclectic guitarist who co-founded Pentangle, died at his home in Scotland on Thursday. I sketched him during a concert that he gave with Robin Williamson in 1995 in a little country church at Copake Falls, New York.

Remembrance on National Public Radio

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3. Portrait of Inventor Dominic Wilcox


(Link from YouTube) Dominic Wilcox is an artist, designer, and inventor who builds working prototypes of delightfully bizarre concepts, such a stained-glass driverless car, GPS shoes that guide you where you want to go, and a hearing device that reverses right and left inputs.

Dominic Wilcox's Binaudios for magnifying faraway urban sounds

This video introduces us to his thought process, and we get to meet his parents. Mr. Wilcox wrote a book called Variations on Normal illustrated with his comic sketches. Here's his website.
(Thanks, Bryn)


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4. Chuck Jones Exhibit in Texas


The Fort Worth Museum of Science is currently presenting an exhibition of the animation art of Warner Brothers director Chuck Jones.

"Chuck Jones brought to animation an unparalleled talent for comic invention and a flair for creating animated characters with distinctive and often wildly eccentric personalities. Jones perfected the quintessentially suave and wisecracking Bugs Bunny, the perpetually exasperated Daffy Duck, the hapless but optimistic Elmer Fudd, and created the incurably romantic Pepé Le Pew, and the eternal antagonists Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner."
Chuck Jones said, "Eschew the ordinary, disdain the commonplace. If you have a single-minded need for something, let it be the unusual, the esoteric, the bizarre, the unexpected."

"What's Up, Doc?: The Animation Art of Chuck Jones" through April 26 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science in Texas. After that, it will continue at the EMP Museum, Seattle, WA; the Minnesota History Center, in St. Paul, MN, and the Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntville, AL.

















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5. Announcing the Friday Book Club




Most of what I know about painting and art history I learned from old books, and every once in a while I like to reread them, because learning is a lifelong process.

That led to an idea. What if we created a free forum on the blog where we could all compare notes about a favorite book?

What book to start with? It could be a biography, an art history book, or an art instruction book.

And it should be broken up into chapters. We're all busy, so we can read and discuss just one chapter a week. I'd like to suggest we begin with Harold Speed's "The Practice and Science of Drawing."



Harold Speed (1872-1957) was Royal-Academy trained portrait painter. His teaching method focuses on solid principles that have stood the test of time. Check out some of his drawings and paintings at the National Gallery website.



Like Solomon J. Solomon and some of the other great teacher/practitioners of his day, Speed expresses an insightful respect for the old masters. One thing I like about his concept of "mass drawing" is that it offers the student a natural transition between drawing and painting.

Harold Speed, Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon
The Practice and Science of Drawing is easy for everyone to acquire, and it's available in many different forms. It is available as an inexpensive softcover edition, which I recommend so that you can jot notes in the margins. You can also get a free Kindle edition. Or you can read it online in a free Archive.org edition.

This isn't going to be a workshop. I'm not the teacher, nor will I be comprehensively summarizing the points of the chapters. I'll just share my basic take-away from each reading, and I may show an example of how those thoughts affect — or have affected—my own practice. I'm expecting to learn from you and from the discussion. I will try to answer a few questions, but I'm hoping that members of the forum can help shoulder some of the Q and A.

We'll discuss a new chapter every Friday. Let's get started a week from today with the Preface and the Introduction. That's your assignment, and mine, too. Those who have time can do practice exercises related to each chapter as we move through the book.

If someone wants to set up a Facebook or Pinterest group for posting artwork, that would be great, and I'll link to it. I may stop by for a quick visit, but I'll probably focus most of my attention and comments on the blog so that the forum and discussion will be archived and searchable.

Let me know in the comments what you all think of the idea.

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6. High-tech glasses may help remedy color blindness


The normal perception of color depends on having distinct sets of color receptors, including green cones and red cones, each of which has a peak sensitivity to a slightly different wavelength of light.

Simulated cause and effect of color blindness—Images courtesy EnChroma
When their signals are interpreted by the brain, they allow red and green colors to be easily distinguishable.

The photo on the left represents normal color vision, and the one on the right simulates the way things look to people with red-green color blindness. The charts shows how the gap between the green cones and red cones are narrowed in people with red-green color blindness.
Normal and Deuteranoptic vision, courtesy Color-Blindness.com

Another way to think of it is that for people with color blindness, the red and green signals are making noise on the same channel. It's like having two radio signals going at the same time. You can't make out what they're saying on either station, and red and green end up being mixed up. People with color blindness have the necessary healthy receptors. The only problem is that they're too close to each other.


To address this problem, engineers at EnChroma developed special filters which fine-tune the light going to each of those closely nested receptors. The result is a genuine experience of red, green, purple, and pink colors where they weren't visible before.


The promotional video (link to YouTube) shows the emotional effect of color-blind people trying on the glasses and seeing colors for the first time.

Because there are many kinds of color blindness, EnChroma is careful not to claim that this is a universal cure, but it appears to provide a helpful boost for many deutans. EnChroma/Valspar offers a free online color blindness test to see if they might be suitable.

Reviewers on Amazon say that the glasses sometimes take a while to get used to, and that you have to learn the names for unfamiliar colors. There are also concerns about the build quality and brittleness of the lenses.

Read EnChroma's more in-depth explanation 
Color blindness test

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7. Suggested Donation Interview

James Gurney, Jay Braun, Tony Curanaj, and Edward Minoff

Tony Curanaj, sketched by Jeanette during interview

Earlier this month, Jeanette and I visited Grand Central Atelier in Long Island City, New York.

Tony Curanaj and Edward Minoff, two instructors there, are also the hosts of "Suggested Donation," an art talk podcast, and they interviewed me as well.

We got the tour of the GCA's new teaching space. They just moved into a spacious industrial building, filled with casts and sculptures and figure paintings.

Building on their success in the Water Street Atelier and Grand Central Academy, they have built a community of artists dedicated to upholding classical traditions.
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Grand Central Atelier
Suggested Donation podcast interview with James Gurney

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8. Aug(de)Mented Reality, Part 3

Hombre McSteez, also known as Marty Cooper, strikes again with a new compilation of madcap plein-air animations (Link to YouTube).



Cooper creates the films by shooting a series of stills with his iPhone. He draws the cartoon creatures with paint pens and a Sharpie on many sheets of transparency film held up in front of real scenes.

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9. World Beneath Podcast, Episode 8

It's Tuesday, time for Episode 8 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. Here's the link to the MP3 file on Soundcloud, or you can click the play button below:



Will Denison prepares his skybax for a dangerous mission into the Rainy Basin. 

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 9 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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10. Five Tips from Carl Evers

Carl G. Evers (1907-2000) specialized in painting ships and boats at sea.


He painted some of the most convincing water effects since Montague Dawson and Frederick Waugh. He primarily worked with watercolor and gouache.



Evers was born in Germany. He studied art in London at the Slade School, and worked as an illustrator in Sweden and then in the USA. In two rare articles, he offered some valuable picture-making secrets.


1. "I see the painting complete in my mind before I put pencil to paper. If I couldn't see the picture in my mind, I couldn't draw it!"



2. "If the painting is for a client, I first offer a thumbnail sketch for approval. I then redraw it half the size of the final composition to work out the perspective and all the details to full size."



3. "I make a complete pencil drawing, including the design of the waves and the details of the ship. Even the sky shading is indicated. I finally trace it down on the watercolor board for completion."



4. "The camera is a valuable research tool for me and is by no means a competitor. Painting permits portrayal of the essence of an event or scene without the distracting details invariably caught by the camera."



5. "The water surface cannot be copied from photos since the composition, as always, is my own, and waves and reflections must be designed to fit the pattern."

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Resources
• The quotes are from American Artist magazine, July, 1977 and an old Walter Foster book "How to Paint from Your Color Slides and Photographs (#64)" 1965. [There are only two page spreads on Evers in this book]
• The best book to get on Carl Evers is Marine Paintings of Carl G. Evers, published by Ballantine. It's cheap and full of great reproductions.
• Web sources: Today's Inspiration, Leif Peng's Flickr Set, and the J. Russell Jinishian Gallery, which is a source for original art.

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11. Using a Sketchbook Easel Vertically


The lightweight sketch easel works well vertically, too. I used it a few days ago on a painting trip into the winter forest for a study of an old dead pine tree.



The easel attaches to a quick release plate on the tripod. I clipped the watercolor sketchbook to the plywood backboard and painted across the gutter. The palette panel could be set up on either side.

The air was just above freezing, so I was able to use casein colors. Most of this is painted with a half-inch flat travel brush. I did this field study as reference for a studio painting, which I've been documenting for an upcoming instructional video.

Previously:
Lightweight sketch easel
Water media materials

Suggested parts:
Tee Nut
Southco adjustable friction hinge
Nalgene 2-Ounce Jar
1/4 x 1/16 inch Neodymium Magnets
Tung oil
Tripods: Vista Explorer 60-Inch or Velbon Sherpa 200 Tripod

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12. Diner Wisdom


"I don't pay much attention to the weather. I just wake up and deal with what happens."

.
1. Quick pencil lay-in and overall warm wash.
2. Knock in a few areas of browns and blues.
3. Darker accents and definition with the 1/2 inch flat brush.
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Previously: Diner Counter

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13. How to get squirrels to dance


I figured out a way to get the squirrels in my backyard to dance, and I'll show you how. They climb up on a platform painted like a disco dance floor, and reach inside a stuffed animal head to get some delicious organic peanut butter.



While they're reaching for the treat, they do some incredible breakdancing moves. Here's the link to a video showing some highlights.

I shot the clips from inside my house about four feet away. I didn't speed up the moves at the end. They just kept getting more and more excited about the peanut butter.


The head is a "Happy Bee" plush (4-inch diameter) from a dollar store. I used a glue gun to add the pompom nose, the google eyes, the smiley mouth, and the buck teeth. I made a stiff lining for the head using a plastic ball that I also found at the dollar store. I cut a 3-inch opening in the ball, big enough for the squirrels to move in and out with plenty of clearance.

The bottom of the head is suspended 8.5 inches above the platform from two metal picture-frame wires that keep it facing the camera.

I learned to use metal wire the hard way, because first I used monofilament fishline, and the little thieves nipped off my first head and ran away with it.

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14. RIP Walt Reed, Historian of Illustration

I'm sad to hear that Walt Reed, renowned historian of American illustration, died early this morning.

Walt Reed, painted by James Gurney in 2009
An artist himself, Walt studied at Pratt Institute and worked for a time as a freelance illustrator. Walt served on the faculty of the correspondence course called the Famous Artists School, working closely with mid-20th century masters such as Norman Rockwell, Robert Fawcett, and Al Dorne. 

Genial, good natured, and enthusiastic, he almost singlehandedly pioneered illustration history as a field of research, and he legitimized original illustration artwork as a category for collectors. 

He cultivated relationships with working professionals, and he helped to revive the reputations of nearly forgotten illustrators such as J.C. Coll. He wrote the classic survey of illustration history The Illustrator in America, 1900-1960's

I discovered The Illustrator in America when I was just nine years old, and it awakened my interest in illustration as a profession. In 2009 I had the privilege of painting his portrait from life at the Society of Illustrators.

In 1974 he founded the Illustration House, one of the first galleries in America to specialize in original illustration art. If you were lucky enough to visit Illustration House, he would let you hold an original J. C. Leyendecker or Tom Lovell in your hands.

Walt Reed advised the New Britain Museum in Connecticut as they built the Sanford Low collection, one of the finest museum collections of illustration art. He wrote two later editions of his illustration history book, including Illustrator in America, 1860-2000, which still stands as the best illustrated survey of the history of the field.

He also wrote The Figure: The Classic Approach to Drawing and Construction, Harold von Schmidt Draws and Paints the Old West, The Magic Pen of Joseph Clement Coll, and Harvey Dunn: Illustrator and Painter of the Pioneer West.

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15. The Dandy: Count Robert de Montesquiou

Count Robert de Montesquiou (1855-1921) was a French aesthete, poet, and art collector. 


He was spiffy dresser. At a concert of music by von Weber, he showed up with a mauve suit and a cluster of pale violets held at his neck in place of a necktie, saying, "One should always listen to von Weber in mauve.”

Giovanni Boldini, Portrait of Robert de Montesquiou
He was at the center of a group of artists and actors that included  Sarah Bernhardt, Gustave Moreau, Gabriel Fauré and James McNeill Whistler. 

Montesquiou as caricatured by Sem aka Georges Goursat
If you wanted to be successful in the art world of Paris in the 1890s, you had to know him. If he didn't like you or your art, he could destroy your reputation.

Carolus-Duran, Portrait of de Montesquiou as a traveler
According to Cornelia Otis Skinner on Dandyism.net, he "had a constantly shifting set of mannerisms. At the beginning of any conversation, he’d remove one glove and start a series of gesticulations, now raising his hands towards the sky, now lowering them to touch the tip of one perfectly shod toe, now waving them as though conducting an orchestra. His conversation was hardly conversation at all but long monologues filled with exotic anecdotes, mysterious allusions and obscure classical quotations, all told with a rich vocabulary 'at the end of which,' according to Léon Daudet, 'the count would burst into the shrill laughter of an hysterical woman, then suddenly, as though seized with remorse, he’d clap his hand over his mouth and bark until his inexplicable glee was controlled… as though he were coming out of laughing gas.'"
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16. Dinotopia: World Beneath Podcast #7

It's time for Episode 7 of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. Here's the link to the MP3 file on Soundcloud, or you can click the play button below:



While explorer Arthur Denison is leading an expedition to the ancient caverns beneath the island of Dinotopia, while his son Will is above ground learning to fly on a skybax.

Will's adventures take place in the pod village of Bonabba.


In this flying scene, note the speed blur effect in the clouds in the lower right.

The acting troupe presents a puppet show called "Little Simon and the Tyrannosaur."

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 8 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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17. Interactive Sketchbook Results


A few weeks ago, I announced the Interactive Sketchbook Contest here on GurneyJourney, and we received dozens of entries. The challenge was to show a drawing interacting with the real world, either using a drawing on paper or transparent film, but it all had to be done without digital manipulation. 

It was really hard to narrow the list down to 10 semifinalists, but here they are.

Tobias Gembalski


Keenan Gaybba


Leigh Ann Gagnon


Samantha Pancer


Alicia Goode


Neeraj Menon


Elena Pavlova


Emmanuel Laverde


Phil Lohmeyer


Melissa Sisk

Please vote for your three favorites in the poll at left (you can vote for more than one). The top three vote-getters will receive official "Department of Art" embroidered patches. 

Thanks to all who entered. See the full bunch of entries, including all the Honorable Mentions on my Facebook page.

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18. A House on Main Street


Houses that have survived northern winters are like old sailing ships that have crossed the ocean. They're leaky and battered, with the paint barely holding on.

Saugerties Main Street, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I painted this Victorian house while sitting in my car in a parking lot behind a diner. It was too cold and windy to set up my gouache easel outside. 

The eye level is just beneath the picture so that I could focus on the roofline. The palette is limited to white, black, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow deep, and ultramarine in order to emphasize contrasts in color temperature. I used the warmest colors for the down-facing planes, such as the corbel brackets and the arched window tops.


When I arrived, the sunlight was still illuminating the front planes of the structure, but I knew the light effect would change as the front surface fell entirely into shadow within 15 minutes. So I had to hurry to capture the lighting, especially that sliver of light on the arched gable.
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Art Supplies
Watercolor sketchbook
Gouache
Travel brush set

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19. Caricatures of Artists Painting


An artist at work is always a fun subject for caricature. Here are a couple of my favorites.

This one shows J.M.W. Turner on Varnishing Day, before the Royal Academy opens its doors to the public. He's a pot-bellied imp with a long-handled mop for a paintbrush. The pail of paint is marked "Yellow." 

Frank Millet sketched (probably from memory) how John Singer Sargent looked when he painted "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose." 

His friend Edmund Gosse described how he looked: "Instantly, he took up his place at a distance from the canvas, and at a certain notation of the light ran forward over the lawn with the action of a wag-tail, planting at the same time, rapid dabs of paint on the picture, and then retiring again, only, with equal suddenness, to repeat the wag-tail action."


Here's a photo of Sargent. The painting took him many consecutive evenings. He set up the canvas vertically in front of the flower garden, where the children posed with their paper lanterns.  
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Portraits fellow artists on GurneyJourney

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20. Guide Cells and Color Vision


Scientists have announced an important discovery about how structures in the retina shape color vision.


The study concentrates on the Muller cells, which occupy a narrow space in front of the eyes' photoreceptors. 

It has always been a mystery what goes on in that layer, and why the rods and cones are at the back of the vertebrate retina, and not in the front. 

The study leader is Dr. Erez Ribak from the Israel Institute of Technology. He has demonstrated that the Muller cells act as light guides, selectively sorting the light as it passes back to the photo-sensitive layer.  

The image at left is a 3D scan showing the vertical Muller cells in red standing above the rods-and-cone layer in blue.






Images courtesy BBC News
According to the BBC report, the Muller cells "funnel crucial red and green light into cone cells....Meanwhile, they leave 85% of blue light to spill over and reach nearby rod cells, which specialize in those wavelengths and give us the mostly black-and-white vision that gets us by in dim conditions."

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21. Sunken Entrance to the World Beneath

A flock of ammonoids drifts toward shipwrecks of galleons. In the right, the submersible cruises toward the entrance to the World Beneath.

In keeping with the authenticity of the creatures of Dinotopia, several of the animals that Arthur Denison notates in his sketchbook are actual fossils from the Devonian Burgess Shale. The animal on the right is a eurypterid, also known as a sea scorpion, an extinct form that sometimes grew larger than a man. This is the New York State fossil.

"Doorway to Mystery" from Dinotopia: The World Beneath, oil on board.
"At the top of the steps was massive, ancient door...." For this painting I stayed within the narrow color gamut of this entire sequence, and contrasted the blue ambient light with a greenish upwash lighting on the side columns and warm light on the doorway.

Yes, it's Podcast Tuesday! Here's the newest episode of the serialized audio dramatization of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. 



You can listen to the episode with the play button above or by following this link to SoundCloud.

The Podcast Series
This acoustic adventure was produced by Tom Lopez, mastermind of the ZBS Foundation, with an original music track by composer Tim Clark.

The Christian Science Monitor called this production "A dazzling soundscape that does full justice to Gurney’s wondrous lost world… perfect family listening.”

Episode 7 arrives in a week. Each short episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour World Beneath podcast right now and hear all fifteen episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out The World Beneath at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download. It's also available as a CD.

The Book
You can also order the original printed book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. (It ships via Media Mail within 24 hours of your order. US orders only for the book, please). The book is also available from Amazon in a 20th Anniversary Edition with lots of extras.

The Museum Exhibition is now on view
Many of these paintings are now on view at the Dinotopia exhibition at the Stamford Art Museum and Nature Center through May 25.

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22. Hopeful Corgi


At my friend James Warhola's house in Long Island City, I sketched his Welsh corgi named Maya. 

She wondered why I was giving her so much attention, and whether I might feed her a bit of spaghetti or garlic bread. 

She only held this pose for about 30 seconds. After she moved on, I tried to remember the initial position. I continued the sketch for about 15 minutes as she moved around the kitchen.



The drawing is in a Pentalic watercolor sketchbook. I used Caran D'ache Supracolor water-soluble colored pencils, blended with a Niji water brush. I always carry a tube of white gouache with me, and used it for highlights in the eyes and touch-ups along the muzzle.

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23. Sketching the 1956 Protests in Montgomery, Alabama

In March of 1956, Harvey Dinnerstein and his friend Burton Silverman traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to sketch the civil rights movement that was happening in the African-American community.

Rev. M.L. King, by Burton Silverman, 1956
The two 28-year-old artists were witnesses to the protest events in which Dr. Martin Luther King rose to national prominence. 

Drawings from the Montgomery Protests by Harvey Dinnerstein and Burton Silverman, 1956
They produced over 90 drawings directly from life, in bus stations, courtrooms, churches and people's homes. 

They were fully aware they were covering pivotal historical events, but they tried to capture universal human emotions, rather than making political statements.  

Drawing by Harvey Dinnerstein
Silverman says, "We were incredibly moved by black gentleness and humanity. And our drawing skill was put to a rigorous test: to convey the dignity and strength of the blacks and get it all down in the rush of ongoing events. This meant trying to remain 'distant' enough to make an effective piece of art without losing contact with the intense feelings being generated at the moment of creation."

Monroe Street Market by Harvey Dinnerstein
They acted both as participants and observers. Silverman drew furiously in the midst of the most intense church rallies, while "swaying and chanting to the marvelous Gospel music."

The drawings were published in newspapers, magazines, and print portfolios. Some were given to museums. In 2004 the Delaware Art Museum presented 38 of the drawings in the exhibition "Glorious Dignity: 45 Drawings of the Montgomery Bus Boycott," followed by a 50th anniversary exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Art.
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The quotes are from Painting Peopleby Burt Silverman.
Burton Silverman's website
Harvey Dinnerstein on Wikipedia

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24. The Ice is Breaking Up

The ice is breaking up on the Hudson River.


Hudson Ice, Gouache, 5 x 8 inches, 1.5 hours 
Blocks of ice the size of houses drift slowly in the current. They grind against each other or pull apart. 

Something below the surface groans and shudders. A huge slab rises from beneath and breaks the surface like the back of a whale.
 
Rhinecliff, New York, March 11, 2015. 50 degrees Fahrenheit
Submerged ice is a deep green color that cameras can't capture. In my painting I place the horizon above the top of the page. I want to fill the entire field of view with this alien, abstract world of elemental forces. It's as strange and new to me as a view of another planet.

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25. Inattentional Blindness


This car ad (visible here on YouTube) is less about the car than it is about visual perception. The ad shows four buildings on a street in West London. Over the course of a minute, the screen momentarily blinks to black 13 times. After each blink, elements of the scene change.

Here's what the scene looks like at the beginning of the ad....

....and here's what it looks like at the end. 

Every single window, awning, and roofline has transformed, and even the building colors alter from the start to the finish. There's even a chimp on the roof in the upper left. About the only things that remain the same are the blue car and the bit of foliage in the upper right.

How do they get away with so many major alterations without most people noticing? They use the magician's art of misdirection as the announcer talks about the car. Then, when the voiceover suggests we look for changes, we naturally look for things that we expect to change, such as parked cars. But we aren't expecting the windows to switch. 

Even when we watch it the second time knowing what's going to happen, the differences are difficult to notice, because those short black-frame transitions are just long enough to interfere with the persistence of vision. It's hard to remember how things looked just a second ago when we don't know what we're supposed to focus on. 


This phenomenon, called "inattentional blindness," or "perceptual blindness" was made famous by a video showing people in white and black shirts passing a basketball. As the viewer is distracted by the task of counting how many times the white-shirted players pass the ball, a person in a gorilla suit walks through the scene unnoticed by more than 50 percent of the viewers. 

The problem of inattentional blindness affects the performance of police officers looking for one suspected crime and missing another crime happening in plain sight. It also affects the awareness of drivers distracted by their cellphones. 

What we see—and what we don't see—has a lot to do with what our minds are focused on, and what we're looking for. 
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