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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. Harold Speed on Modern Art, Part 2

Today we'll take a look at the second half of Harold Speed's chapter on Modern Art from his 1924 art instruction book Oil Painting Techniques and Materials.

I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by comments of my own. If you want to add a comment, please use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

1. The "extreme impressionist movement" was the product of an age of scientific discovery.
Since we often think of Impressionism as a nostalgic style, it's easy to forget that it was founded on new scientific theories of light and vision. Speed is receptive to the gains that impressionism brought to painting, particularly in the freshening of the palette.

Childe Hassam - Une averse
2. "Aspects of nature that had been hopelessly unpaintable on the old formulas were found to lend themselves to expressions in colour."
The Impressionists were revolutionary not only to their approach to color and painting, but also to their subject choices, painting contemporary life at unusual times of day or atmospheric conditions.

3. "...it did not lead art very far and had no possibilities of development."
There had to be a "but" in there. Speed sees the development into Post-Impressionism and Cubism as a consequence of the inevitable dead end of the "extreme impressionist movement."

4. Cutting with the art of the past
He argues that a flaw of the extreme impressionist position was to "entirely cut with the art of the past." We see that attitude of dispensing with the art of the past even today in many academics, curators, and art historians. For example, at Bard College near us, they built a big art museum, but they only show work of the 20th century, and all of their traditional realist paintings are either put in storage or relegated to a private, locked building that the public is not allowed to enter.

Had he lived into the 1960s, Speed would have been shocked to see the fervor for dumping the past as art schools gleefully pushed their plaster cast collections out of second-floor windows to crash in pieces on the ground. Speed is arguing quite correctly that the extreme end of any ideological or religious movement can get destructive. He says, "There is something of Puritan austerity, a love of destroying pleasing things, and a dislike of seeing things going on too comfortably, in many of these modern movements....and a secret pride in being misunderstood, and if possible, persecuted."

"La Mont Sainte Victoire" by Paul Cezanne
5. "There is something about Cezanne, something about his uncompromising attitude toward all the softer graces of expression, and his love of uncouth directness, that makes him particularly attractive to a very large body of young painters." 
It is remarkable what a huge shadow Cezanne cast over painters in the 20th century. If you look at 1950s American Artist magazine, you can see realist painters trying to absorb Cezanne into their way of seeing. He was rapturously elevated all the time in our art-school composition classes. Speed says: "He was deeply concerned with the third dimension in painting." I don't personally see that—maybe I never "got" Cezanne. His work has always struck me as rather concerned with flatness, and full of deliberate distortions.

6. Art, like religion, holds that these emotional perceptions put us in touch with things transcending the material world...and open up a correspondence with the world of ultimate realities.
This is an important value of art that was often overlooked in the era Speed was talking about, and is still often overlooked today, as many people are concerned with painterly surface and natural appearances. Speed seems to be acknowledging that the modern movement (meaning primarily Impressionism) was sound and valid at its core, but that the extremists were distorting the value of it by forgetting spiritual values, good design, and subtlety.

Painting by Thomas Moran
7. In modern "ism" movements, the aesthetic approach is to openly flout every other artistic consideration, and to limit the statement to a single principle.
To me, this was the problem with the abstract painting movement. I love the beauty of abstraction, but the abstract artists weren't the best at it. I always thought that the best abstract painters were realists like Thomas Moran or Andrew Wyeth, perhaps because they were accountable to nature. As Speed puts it: "Abstract ideas "gain their full significance in painting and sculpture only when associated with the representation of nature. Unassociated with anything but themselves, such abstract lines, tones, or colours become mere geometrical diagrams."

Most abstract-only painters have had a clumsy sense of color and design. Other abstract artists, it must be admitted, found their way to this way of painting because it doesn't require the drawing skills of realist painting.

Some abstract artists were sincerely trying to find in the visual arts some equivalent to the pure expression of music, but for reasons I'll have to cover in another post, visual art and auditory art are fundamentally different, making the goal of "painting aspiring to the condition of music" an impossible goal. Or at least that the goal of achieving pure abstraction in the visual arts is reached most perfectly by music visualizer programs, wallpaper, or motel art (not to disparage any of those forms—they all have their purpose).

8. "I am inclined to believe that every age has the art it deserves."
Maybe so, but I think we deserve better. Given that the Internet has created a level playing field where young artists can immediately find their way to the work they love, there's no reason that our age can't be the breeding ground of great work in every field of art. Speed here talks about a theme he developed earlier in the chapter, associating the art that is ascendant in any age with the cultural values that circulate around it.

9. "There are formulas at the basis of all good artistic design."
...but he says the life of the art is not in the formula. Art escapes the formula.

10. "There is no modern art any more than there is any modern truth. There is just Art and Truth. There is good and bad art, as there is truth and untruth."
Speed says that when you have to put an adjective in front of a kind of art, such as "Futurist Art" or "Post Impressionist Art" it marks it as second rate.

Speed concludes with some interesting points:

"The vigor and directness of expression one finds in good primitive art may be the thing we need in these days, but the scrapping of all traditions of fine painting and going back to a crude primitive means of expression is not the only way of reinculcating it.... The true advance in art is along the middle lines, in tune with a tradition of natural truth."

"What is original is only what is true, a newly perceived truth."

Next week: Chapter 3, The technique of painting.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," and there's also a Kindle edition.

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2. SCAD Atlanta makes Scroobius Pips

On this Thanksgiving day, I'd like to give thanks to all the dedicated teachers out there who give their time to inspiring students in art schools. One of those teachers is SCAD Atlanta instructor Rick LovellOn his blog, he says:

"Two classes worked on the Scroobious Pip project this fall quarter. The project was inspired by two different things; James Gurney's video demo called "How I Paint Dinosaurs", and a silly poem by Edward Lear called "The Scroobious Pip," a nonsense story about an animal that is a little of everything."

Scroobius Pip maquette by Sally Geng
"The students created their version of the Scroobious Pip in polymer clay; it begins with a wire armature, is bulked out with aluminum foil, is covered in Super Sculpey, sculpted, baked and finally painted."

Scroobius Pip illustration by Sally Geng
"The maquette is lit and photographed and is used as a model for a finished illustration that tells a bit of a story about each Pip."

Scroobius Pips on the SCAD Illustration blog

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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3. Warm vs. Cold

With the thermometer dropping, it's getting a little chilly to paint outdoors.
In this little 4x4 inch gouache study I was thinking about warm vs. cold in terms of color temperature, too. The fading warm sunlight only partially melts into the icebergs of the buildings. 

I'm using three colors plus white here: Prussian blue, burnt sienna, and cadmium yellow.

On a different topic, blog reader Jim Douglas asked:
"After following your creative habits for years now I've gleaned you often make a sketch study of a subject then move on to a new subject to make a fresh start. New sketchbook page, new subject. Sketches, especially ones as excellent as yours, can certainly stand on their own as works of art, but do you ever have the urge to develop a sketch and produce a larger scale work based on it? I've only known you to develop sketches into a larger piece of artwork as part of a commission, and I'm curious to know if you ever follow that rhythm when making art for yourself." 

Jim, thanks for the compliment and question. As you say, my sketchbooks are very much an end in themselves, a way of seeing and sharing the world. I'm not doing those paintings to sell, and am making a living in other ways. The benefit of keeping the paintings bound together in sequence in a sketchbook offsets the limitation of not being able to frame them individually on the wall. 

At the same time my sketchbook paintings (maybe I should call them "studies" rather than "sketches") are valuable to me as a means to at least three other goals. One, of course is video production. The instructional documentaries are one of my primary creative outlets at the moment and an important source of income. I'm also looking into ways of publishing those sketchbooks both digitally and physically. And, of course, I do use my sketchbooks as reference when doing studio work. 

And finally, it's funny you should ask about larger scale works, because I just completed two larger separate paintings that will be the subject of the next video. I haven't really shared those images on the blog yet. They're both concept art pieces created entirely on location. Compared to the little sketchbook pages, 11x14" and 12x16" seemed huge. The new video is in voiceover and final edit and will be released in a few weeks.

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4. Portrait of a Theorbo Player

It's not every day that you get to paint a theorbo, which is sort of a lute on steroids.

When I heard that theorbo specialist Simon Martyn-Ellis would be playing in Poughkeepsie, I made sure to get a seat in the front row.
I used watercolor pencils to outline the shapes. I painted the black areas with two water brushes, one filled with water and the other filled with dark gray water-soluble ink. I had all those tools ready in the left hand before the concert started so I wouldn't have to reach in my bag or move too much.

During intermission I painted the background and the skin tones with gouache and did the lettering with a fountain pen, then spent the second half of the concert finishing the details. 

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5. Renaissance Recorder / The Third Panel

My wife Jeanette joined a Renaissance band. She got her old recorders out of a closet and is putting new corks in the joints.

For me, that will mean the chance to paint the musicians when they practice. This one is in gouache.

Thirty five years ago, she played in a group called "The Third Panel." The name jokingly refers to the right hand section of a triptych called Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.

The painting shows a musician's hell. Some of the tortured souls are shown crucified on the harp and lute, and a choir sings from a musical score written on a pair of buttocks.

According to Wikipedia, "Musical instruments often carried erotic connotations in works of art of the period, and lust was referred to in moralizing sources as the "music of the flesh". There has also been the view that Bosch's use of music here might be a rebuke against traveling minstrels, often thought of as purveyors of bawdy song and verse."

Here's a sample of some Renaissance music played by masterfully by the Praetorius Consort. (Link to YouTube)
Wikipedia: Garden of Earthly Delights
GurneyJourney YouTube channel
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6. Transparents and Opaques in Mixtures

The folks at Vasari put together this video showing what happens to cadmium yellow lemon (opaque) and Indian yellow (transparent) when you mix them with reds and whites. The factor of transparency greatly affects the value and chroma of the mixtures (Link to YouTube).

If you want to make such tests yourself, you can use a palette knife on glass with a black backing, or you can mix them in the form of a chart in a canvas paper pad.
Vasari oil colors
Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

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7. Computers are learning to caption photos

For decades, one of the apparently insurmountable challenges in artificial intelligence was getting a machine to see.

 Caption:  “A person riding a motorcycle on a dirt road.”  Source: Io9
In order to approach the human capabilities of vision, a computer must be able to distinguish objects from their surroundings in a wide range of environments, even if those objects are partially obscured or shadowed, or turned in weird angles.

On top of that, a computer must be able to sort out the salient features of that object and identify what it is—what category it belongs to. Even more difficult is the ability to explain the relationship between objects—what's going on. Finally, in order to create a caption for an image, the computer also needs to be able to translate its understanding into natural sounding language.

 Caption: “Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven.” Source: Io9
Can computers do it? They already have. The caption on the images above was generated a year ago by a computer, not by a human. The human caption for the picture above was “Three different types of pizza on top of a stove.”

The human's answer is better because he or she recognized that there were three different kinds of pizza, and that the pizzas were resting on a stove, not a "stove top oven."

At this stage, computers don't always get the captions right, and it's fascinating to see how they get it wrong. For example, the computer mistakenly believed the child in the knitted hat was blowing bubbles.

The problem all along with developing computer vision was that programmers were trying to solve it top-down by telling the computer what it needed to do. Part of the solution has been a bottom-up approach using deep learning to allow the computer to rapidly improve its performance.

Google has been at the forefront of this research, and here's a link to one of their research papers about how they're getting their computers to auto-caption photos. The process involves not only their object-recognition capability, which they've already had for a few years, but also a syntactic ability that's closely related to their language translation software.

Computer vision presents us with some immediate potential benefits: artificial systems will be able to help blind people, assist in manufacturing, and drive us around safely in cars.

But artificial intelligence in its darker potential manifestations presents an existential threat to humans, outlined in a current article "The Doomsday Invention" in the New Yorker, and in this TED talk (link to YouTube)
Computer vision on Wikipedia

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8. Harold Speed on Modern Art, Part 1

We continue the Friday Book Club with Chapter 2, "Modern Art" in Harold Speed's 1924 art instruction book The Science and Practice of Oil Painting.

Let's take Roberto's suggestion of breaking this chapter into two parts, so we'll stop at page 20. I'll present Speed's main points in boldface type either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by comments of my own. If you want to add a comment, you can use the numbered points to refer to the relevant section of the chapter.

1. "A considerable body of artists have deliberately set aside fine craftsmanship in order to express themselves more freely...there has been such a fashion for the crude methods of savages and primitive peoples."

Speed's racist comments, coming at the beginning of his book, have probably turned off a lot of readers to the useful material that comes later in his treatise on painting. That's unfortunate. But let's take a look at his views one by one and see whether there's anything that makes sense to us today.

England after World War 1 was seeing its empire rapidly eroding. Because of widespread press and travel, the doors were thrown open to an awareness of non-European cultures and art.

Andre Derain, The Dance, 1905-6
At the same time, Modern Art, which was primarily a European phenomenon, presented a direct threat to an artist with academic skills. The fact that Speed invokes "savages" and "primitive peoples" and he shows illustrations of African carvings is not altogether surprising since some of the European Moderns around Speed were called "fauvists" (which means wild animals). He was writing not long after the scandalous premieres of such works as The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, which deliberately evoked primordial rituals of non-European cultures.
Ivory Coast, Spirit Spouse.
Wood, Ht: 18."
Baule ethnic group,
early 20th Century.

I think most everyone nowadays would recognize that the art from non-European cultures—whether African or Pacific-Ocean or Native American — presents no threat whatsoever to traditional European academic painting. On the contrary, personally I find them hugely inspiring because of their language of abstraction.

In my mind non-Western art occupies a completely different category than Modern art does, despite the fact that many Modern artists used it as a jumping-off point. One can copy the outward style of any type of art, and that's totally fine. But if an artist doesn't know much about the culture or mind that produced that "exotic" art, it will be different from the original article.

Speed admits that some 19th century painters became overly concerned with naturalism, which he says led to "enfeeblement," so he has left the door open a bit to recognizing the value of Modernism.

Speed then proposes some sociological reasons for the rise of modernism:

2. Mass culture sets the dominant cultural note of the modern age
Speed suggests that there's a dominant cultural note in every age, such as that set by aristocratic patrons in the 18th century, and realism in the 20th century when middle-class values were in the ascendancy.

In other words, the power that buys the art shapes the art.

He then chalks up the trends of what he sees as crudeness in art to the rise of the power of the middle and lower classes. He says, "a great deal of the unrest and fretful violence that is disturbing the traditions of culture in all directions is due to the coming of this new cruder element into the cultural feast."

This argument strikes me not only as elitist, but wrong. If anything, it has been the cultural elite—especially academics, critics, and investors—that have promoted and supported Modernism.

Modernism has never been terribly popular in a widespread way among the lower and middle classes, compared to the art in comic books and magazines. What has truly captured the imagination of all socioeconomic classes in the West, from poor to rich, has been the "other" modern art movements found in comics, animation, and illustration.

3. "Now nobody waits until he has developed his mind before expressing an opinion."
What would he think of the Internet?

4. "The greatest works of art have been produced by small communities, such as existed in Athens and the independent states of Italy in the Renaissance." 
Interesting point, and perhaps it has a grain of truth to it, but I'm not sure that's always true. I believe art of great quality can appear anywhere, including in commercialized mass culture.

5. "It is only those whose work shouts at you, who have much chance of any immediate notice."
Speed equates bright colors with swearing and other inflated forms of language. He raises an interesting question for our time: Can art with quiet, sober virtues find an audience in our own age of ubiquity and image overload?

Speed observes that as Modernism began to emerge, artists were interested in the exotic. He says, "Whistler, Aubrey Beardsley, Conder, and the exquisite decadent art of the fin de siècle was the fashionable note. This has been followed by the craze for Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, and Picasso."

He predicted that people would grow bored with such novelties. But history has proven otherwise, at least in the realm of the auction market and the museums. What may have surprised Speed were he to visit us today is how polymorphous the art world is. Whatever stuff you like, you'll find someone doing it.

6. "anaemic people painted life-size drinking the blood of freshly killed bullocks"
Speed makes reference to a specific painting at the (French?) Salon. Anyone know what painting he's referring to?

7. "I am not at all sure that the columns of literature it has produced, are not of much greater value than the works of which they are supposed to treat."
This is reminiscent of the point of Tom Wolfe's book The Painted Word, which argued that modern paintings serve primarily as illustrations of ideas that have their real life in print, and that the cart is driving the horse.

Tip to young artists: give critics and historians something to write about. 

8. Quotes from Roger Fry on page 16 and 17.
Roger Fry was an interesting character in all this, a promoter of Post-Impressionism and a detractor of Sargent. Rather than try to explain him further, here's the Wikipedia page on him.

9. "The great influence the Press has on modern life has brought into existence a new variety of artist, one who ministers to the demands of art critics."
There were publications cropping up everywhere in Speed's day which acted as tastemakers and gatekeepers. With those publications, Speed argues, comes a professional class of art critics who never existed before. He suggests that "the art-critics have strengthened their position recently by the control they have been able to exercise upon the purchasing departments of our public galleries."

Food for discussion:
a) There are still art critics in newspapers and magazines, but do they have the cultural influence they once did?
b) Has social media made art critics irrelevant?
c) What kind of artworks or artists are being fostered by the proliferation of forums like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Blogger?

10. "Good craftsmanship is a healthier soil for art to grow in than fine theories about aesthetics."
This is a fascinating point, that art is the finest flower growing on a base of craftsmanship running through all of a culture's production. Can there be fine painting without a corresponding value placed on fine furniture and architecture and wallpaper and typography? This idea is reminiscent of William Morris, who believed that all things in a person's world should be conceived artistically.

We'll cover the second half, starting at "Technical Influences," next week.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition that I know of, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," and there's also a Kindle edition.

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9. The Blot Drawings of Alexander Cozens

Eighteenth century British landscape painter Alexander Cozens promoted a novel technique for generating compositions. He called them "blot drawings" and their purpose was to unlock the imagination by suggesting random shapes and forms.

Cozens described a blot as a "production of chance with a small degree of design." 

It wasn't a completely new idea. Chinese artists had used similar methods for centuries, and Leonardo da Vinci had suggested in his notebooks that artists might find ideas for compositions in wood grain or stains on the wall.

Cozens' student Henry Angelo, recalled that he:
"dashed out upon several pieces of paper a series of accidental smudges and blots in black, brown, and grey, which being floated on, he impressed again upon other paper, and by the exercise of his fertile imagination, and a certain degree of ingenious coaxing, converted into romantic rocks, woods, towers, steeples, cottages, rivers, fields, and waterfalls. Blue and grey blots formed the mountains, clouds, and skies'. An improvement on this plan was to splash the bottoms of earthenware plates with these blots, and to stamp impressions therefrom on sheets of damped paper."

Cozens published a description of the method in his pamphlet: "A New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape" (1785-6). 

Cozens' ideas later inspired the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists to develop techniques such as automatism, where freely-created abstract designs were generated by random or unconscious processes.

Wikipedia on Alexander Cozens

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10. Rockwell Visits a Country Editor

One of the paintings in tomorrow's auction of American Art at Christie's is "Norman Rockwell Visits a Country Editor."

Norman Rockwell Visits a Country Editor, 1946, oil, 33 x 63 in.
It was published in Saturday Evening Post in 1946, one of a series of portrayals of American life that Rockwell did for the magazine in the guise of artist/reporter. 

The mural-like painting commemorates Rockwell's visit to the Monroe County Appeal, a small-town newspaper in Paris, Missouri. Rockwell took photos of the setting and then assembled the composition back in his studio.

He donated the painting to the National Press Club, which is now putting it up for sale. It is estimated between $10 and 15 million, though it will probably exceed the estimate. The proceeds will benefit the National Press Club and the National Press Club Journalism Institute.
Norman Rockwell Visits a Country Editor at Christie's
Thanks, Matthew Innis

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11. Harvey Dunn at the NRM

An exhibition of the work of Golden Age illustrator Harvey Dunn has opened at the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

Dunn grew up on a South Dakota farm and studied with Howard Pyle. He became an artist reporter in World War I, and then spent the balance of his career as an influential story illustrator and teacher.

The exhibition includes work from throughout his career, as well as paintings by some of his noteworthy students such as Dean Cornwell, Henry C. Pitz, Mead Schaeffer, Harold von Schmidt, Frank Street, Saul Tepper, John Clymer, Lyman Anderson, and James E. Allen. There will also be public talks by experts on Dunn.

They'll be showing the little film I put together using footage by Frank Reilly. (Link to Video)

Dunn said, “We think of art as sort of a flimsy thing,” he said, “but do you realize that the only thing left from ancient times is the art… The Greek statues that are armless and nameless are just as beautiful today as they were the day the unknown sculptor laid down his hammer and chisel and said, ‘Oh, hell, I can’t do it!'”
The exhibition will be up through March 13.
NRM presents: Harvey Dunn and His Students

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12. Sidebar to Close

Sidebar, the podcast with lively interviews of comic artists and illustrators, will be shutting down. 
"As announced on our final show (#337), all the Sidebar back episodes — including the ones previously archived in our store — are available for free download over the next three weeks. After early December, no more. We will be shutting this blog down along with all other hosting sites."
You can still hear 2010 my interview for free.
Many thanks to Dwight, Swain, and Adrian for all the great interviews you've done over the years, and thanks, Eric, for letting me know.

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13. The Orchestra Now's "Sight and Sound" Program

Last night I attended an orchestral concert at Bard College conducted by James Bagwell. I did these sketches during the concert to try to capture Mr. Bagwell's movements.

James Bagwell, Conductor of "The Orchestra Now" (TŌN) at Bard College
The players are part of an innovative training orchestra called "The Orchestra Now" (TŌN). One of the goals of this organization is to explore new ways to engage with the audience.

For example, many of the players came out into the lobby during intermission to talk with concert-goers about the music. We talked with bassoonist Wade Coufal, who has taken his music into children's hospitals (Here's his essay about the experience).

Another vision of the orchestra's founders is to connect music with art.

In a program called "Sight and Sound" on December 6th at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, curators will talk about Louis-Léopold Boilly's painting "The Public Viewing David’s Coronation at the Louvre," accompanied by a performance of Beethoven's Eroica symphony.

They'll also be doing free concerts throughout the New York City boroughs.
Official website of The Orchestra Now
The sketch is done with watercolor pencils and water brushes in a 5x8 inch sketchbook.

Previously on GurneyJourney:
James Bagwell Conducts
Maestro Bagwell
James Bagwell at a Rehearsal

Previous posts on concert sketching:
The "Flash-Glance" Method
Gouache portrait of an Irish whistle player
Sketching a vocal concert  
Violinist in ink wash
Horn Player
Mirko Listening
Club Passim Gig
Shapewelding Sketching 
The Cello and the Pencil
Mass in C
Handel's Messiah

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14. Bix Puppet Prototype

Here is a one-of-a-kind prototype of a Bix puppet. It was made by Hasbro for a proposed line of Dinotopia toys that was stalled when the Hollywood film went into turnaround in 1997.

The front half of Bix emerges through a piece of black cloth behind an arched door. Her skin is molded in flexible latex or silicon over a skeletal framework.

The operator is able to control the movement of her mouth, the tilt of her head, and the movement of the eye ridges by means of a set of levers in the back.

You can watch a brief video of the prototype's movement on my Public Facebook or my Instagram page.

In previous blog posts you can see other prototypes from the Hasbro presentation, including action figures, a skybax toy, a Sylvia doll, and a strutter model.

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15. Jezebel Waiting for the Barn

Late in the afternoon the donkeys wait to be let into the barn. I sit up on the fence, because otherwise Jezebel will put her head in my lap to get attention.

At 43 years old, Jezebel is the oldest jenny. She has her own stall in the barn because she is on a special diet. 
Donkeys' proportions are different from those of horses: large head and ears, small hindquarters, big long belly, and small hooves. They also have a black marking called a "cross" running perpendicular to the back and down along the withers.

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16. Harold Speed on Painting: Preface and Intro

Let's resume the GJ Book Club with Harold Speed's 1924 classic The Science and Practice of Oil Painting, which continues where his previous book, The Practice and Science of Drawing left off.

I'll present his points in bold either verbatim or paraphrased, followed by comments of my own.

1. "Painting is drawing (form expression) with the added complication of tone and color."
One of Speed's great contributions as a teacher is to narrow the gulf in students' minds between drawing and painting. As he says, the key is to break down the problem into easy stages and to take one thing at a time. In his previous book, he talked a lot about "mass drawing," by which he meant seeing form in terms of tone. The jump from charcoal to monochromatic oil isn't that great. His book is a good lifeline for those who have been frustrated by all the variables of a full-color painting.

J. S. Sargent, portrait of Charles Stuart Forbes
2. The impressionist movement has required a reformulation of the course of study in art schools because of the new vision that the movement has given us.
From the standpoint of British art schools in the early 20th century, this impressionist way of seeing would have been regarded "Continental" or "beastly French" as Sargent joked. Eventually the British painters adopted the ideas of broken color and direct painting, but there were many in the Royal Academy who resisted it.

3. There are two modes of teaching: hard drilling on technical methods or leaving the student to figure out a technique on his own.
Some of the great teachers have come from both camps. Frank Reilly was more of the former, while Howard Pyle was more of the latter. But, Howard Pyle had the luxury of incoming students who had already been drilled on academic methods. The problem with the first method, Speed suggests, is that the student can get lost in technical issues and lose sight of their unique expressive potential. Later in the introduction Speed suggests that any art school should nurture the natural impulses of each individual student while providing the technical tools.

4. Every work of art starts with a nebulous idea.
This is true for me, and my thumbnail process is so important to work through. The buzzword for this process these days is "iteration." A lot of people seeing a finished painting assume the artist just sits down and renders out an idea fully formed.

5. "The best definition of a genius I have seen, is that he is described as the man most under the influence of these mental uprushes from the subconscious."
I know what he means, but I think the statement could be misleading. So many great geniuses like Michelangelo define genius as "eternal patience," or "the infinite capacity for taking pains" or "90% perspiration." Those uprushes from the subconscious only arrive, in my experience, in the context of steadfast effort. Patience, steadfastness, hard work, and an insatiable dissatisfaction. Who else but Sargent would have the intense application to wipe out a portrait again and again after 15-20 false starts.

6. Conscious / unconscious
Speed talks a lot about the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious. I love the idea that we should study consciously and paint intuitively. His preoccupation with the unconscious was very much of his time, as Henry James and other psychologists were building on what Freud had posited about the workings of the creative mind.

More recently, neuroscientists have explained the process by which skills are internalized. Beginners focus consciously on each skill, and then gradually, through practice, the neural pathways migrate into deeper subcortical regions of the brain.

7. Practical / intuitive
In the later part of the introduction, he sets up for the analytical approach that he'll use in his course of study, without neglecting the value of intuition and elusive rhythms that are harder to dissect. He wisely chooses to avoid the mysteries of the origins of creativity and to stick with more practical and rational matters.

At the end of the chapter, he decries the loss of drawing as a commonplace skill practiced by non-artists, perhaps a consequence of mystifying the process and undermining the value of traditional skills.

He ends with a great quote: "It is only those you cannot discourage who are worth encouraging."

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In its original edition, the book is called "The Science and Practice of Oil Painting." Unfortunately it's not available in a free edition that I know of, but there's an inexpensive print edition that Dover publishes under a different title "Oil Painting Techniques and Materials," and there's also a Kindle edition.
Previously on GJ
Speed's drawing book: Chapter 1: Preface and Introduction

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17. Dinotopia in Philadelphia through Monday

The Philadelphia Inquirer recommends the Dinotopia art exhibition as one of the best things to do with families.
"It’s nice to think that if the dinosaurs had survived that comet (or meteor, or earthquake, or visit from the Rigelian Empire, or whatever did them in) and continued to coexist with us, we’d be pals. That’s part of the appeal of “Dinotopia,” artist and author James Gurney’s delightful series about a 19th-century explorer visiting an island where gentle humans and smart dinos share an idyllic life. The other appealing aspect is Gurney’s gorgeous, detailed paintings for the books."
The exhibit ends Monday. Check it out 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 and Monday, Nov. 16 at the University of Arts von Hess Illustration Gallery, Anderson Hall 717 (333 S. Broad St.).
Thank you, Michael Harrington at the Philadelphia Inquirer

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18. Fishing Boat in Pencil

I like switching from paint to pencil when I'm sketching on location. It's easy to overlook the fun of pencil and be lured into paint. But pencil, even in its elemental simplicity, lends itself to painterly effects, too.

I'm interested in all the rigging, but I'm also trying to convey the blinding light in the bay. I partially erase the lines that cross those hot reflections in the water, and I add a softening sfumato or enveloping tone, smudged with my thumb, to the area where the hull meets the water.

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19. Why Limit Your Palette?

The new issue of International Artist magazine (#106, December/January) has a four-page feature that I wrote on extreme limited palettes—palettes that have four or fewer colors plus white.

One rhetorical question I pose is: Why limit your palette?
1. Paintings from limited palettes are automatically harmonious, but they’re very often eye-catching and memorable too. 
2. Old masters used limited palettes by default because they just couldn’t get the range of pigments we have now. Using older, quieter colors can give a much wanted mellowness. 
3. A limited palette forces you out of color-mixing habits. If you don’t have that standard “grass green” color, you’ll have to mix it from scratch, and you’re more likely to get the right green that way. 
4. Limited palettes are compact, portable, and sufficient for almost any subject. In fact you can paint almost anything in nature with just four or five colors.

In case you missed it, here's a recent video showing a painting made with just two colors plus white (Link to YouTube video):

International Artist magazine has been successfully using the cross-media strategy of printing QR codes next to paintings for which there is an accompanying YouTube video.
Previously on GJ: Limited Palettes 
"Gouache in the Wild"
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at Kunaki.com (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50

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20. Painting Mermaids at MICA

Patrick O'Brien, a professor of Illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), discovered that there wasn't enough interest in his class called “Oil Painting for Illustrators.” So he redesigned the class, calling it “Creature Creation Workshop,” and the class filled up right away.


They started by painting from dinosaur maquettes to get used to visualizing a creature in a setting with believable light. 

Then they moved on to mermaids. The students looked at how mermaids have been portrayed in art history, and then did lots of sketches from their imagination.

They brought in a female model to hold a mermaid-like pose (for the upper half at least).

Patrick O'Brien bought some fish at the market so the students could do empirical research on the mermaid's lower half.

They put it all together, with lots of drawings and studies to fit the mermaid into the environment they imagined.

They did their final paintings in oil. Not many students get a such a rare chance to paint fantasy creatures based on real-life inspiration. 

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21. Six-Word Story Challenge

According to legend, Ernest Hemingway once accepted a challenge to tell a story using just six words. He wrote: "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn." 

For the next GurneyJourney challenge, I invite you to invent a six word story and combine it with a drawing or painting. 

Chance meeting. Awkward silence. The weather.
In just six carefully-chosen words, you can introduce characters and add the hint of backstory, foreshadowing, surprise, mystery, revelation, or resolution. The illustration can give context to your story or expand it in a new direction. You'll know if it works if fireworks go off in your head.

Here are a few more six-word stories that Jeanette and I came up with:

He dug until he fell through.
"Let's see what we ran over."
"Why are they selling my stuff?"
"Oops. It was a bearing wall."
"One gallon and a can, please."

1. Free to enter. Deadline is midnight, December 31.
2. The story must be original and the words must be hand-lettered within the image.
3. The image may be created with any handmade medium, such as pencil, pen, marker, watercolor, oil or gouache.
4. The image can be created either from observation or imagination.
5. You can collaborate with a writer, but enter it under one of your names.
6. Upload your entry to this special Facebook event page. If you don't have a Facebook account, ask a friend to use theirs.
7. If you want, you can also also upload to Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #sixwordstorychallenge
8. You can write your story in a language other than English, but please give the best translation you can (the translation doesn't have to be exactly six words).
9. Submit only one example. If you have submitted one and then come up with a better one later, delete all but your best.
10. I'll pick my five favorites. Each of the five winners gets a free video download, a Department of Art patch, and the work posted on GurneyJourney.
There's a book of examples called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
There's also a website SixWordStories.net 
The urban legend of the Hemingway story.

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22. Spectrum 22: Contemporary Fantastic Art

Spectrum 22 has just arrived in the mailbox and in the bookstores. Each year, Spectrum gathers together a broad array of imaginative realism—or "contemporary fantastic art"into a large hardbound book.

The subjects include fantasy, science fiction, comics, paleo-art, concept art, and sculpture. A professional jury selects the work. There's a healthy balance between digital and hand-made artwork. I'm thrilled that a couple of my dinosaur-science paintings are part of this edition.

The Call for Entries has just been announced for the next one, Spectrum 23. The deadline is January 25, 2016. Even though the competition is challenging, I recommend entering because the visibility is good, the entry costs are reasonable, and it's good company to be in.

The judges for Spectrum 23 will include some of the top imaginative creators in the field, including David Palumbo, Cynthia Sheppard, Kirk Thatcher, Charlie Wen, and Terryl Whitlatch.

EVENT NOTICE. There will be a Spectrum 22 book signing in San Francisco on November 13th with over twenty artists at the Academy of Art University at 79 New Montgomery in San Francisco, California from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M.
Spectrum 22: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art (Amazon link) is hardbound, 9 x 12 inches, 304 pages.
Spectrum website
Call for Entries info

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23. Organist

When he was about seven, my son did a sketch of me as human on the top half, fused to a drawing table on the bottom half, as if the table and I were joined into one larger organism. 

I took that as a cue to break out of the studio once in a while and play with the kids. 

I'm thinking about my son's sketch when I do this little painting of an organist. I want to dissolve the boundaries between the figure and the organ until they blend together. 

The parts of the scene I want to keep crisp and sharp are the forehead, the necktie and the sheet music. Everything else is sacrificed to be darker and softer.

Since this is water media, and since I'm painting during a church service, these wet-into-wet washes are a little tricky. Can't be shuffling through the metal pencil box. I have to hold the clear and the black water brushes in the left hand, along with a three watercolor pencils: russet, bright red, and black, and switch them back and forth quickly while the page stays wet.

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24. Tonal Study in Pencil

It doesn't take very long to do a preliminary tonal study, but the time spent pays big dividends. Here's a small pencil sketch that I did in preparation for a painting in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara

For example, the tonal study helped me plan the dark area behind the light feathered dinosaur in the lower right, and it helped me work out the chiaroscuro of the bearded farmer.

Once I get into the details of the painting, I'm making decisions at a more micro level. Without that tonal study, it's hard to see the big picture. 

The original pencil tonal study appears in The Art of James Gurney exhibit at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia through November 16.
More about various kinds of preliminary drawings in my book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

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25. Menzel and Glazing

Adolph Menzel The Balcony Room, oil, 1845
Adolph Menzel was painting from life in oil many years before the Impressionists. His friend Paul Meyerheim described his way of working: “Especially in the time where the whole world was painting out of that brown soup, it was Menzel's characteristic to put every tone correctly mixed and thickly into the right place."

Adolph Menzel, The Studio Wall
Meyerheim continues: "He never performed the method of glazing. He always painted differently than his contemporaries and as a result the world wasn't familiar with his technique."

"He compared glazing or similar transitions with transparent colors to the use of the pedal on the piano, stating that a good pianist can play everything as if he was using the pedal. Yet as a matter of fact everything has to be played on the keys themselves without the tones getting blurred.”
Thanks to Christian Schlierkamp and Christoph Heuer for help with the translation.
From Paul Meyerheim

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