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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. Strategies for Evoking Moonlight

"Khasra by Moonlight" is one of the original paintings in the exhibition "The Art of James Gurney"  in Philadelphia. 
Khasra by Moonlight by James Gurney, 12 x 18 inches, oil on board
To evoke the feeling of moonlight, I used the following six strategies, which I based on my own personal memories of observing moonlight, and my study of other artists whose nocturnes I really admire (especially Frederic Remington, Atkinson GrimshawJohn Stobart, and Frank Tenney Johnson):

1. Set up an overall temperature contrast between the orange torchlight and the cool blue-green moonlight.
2. Keep the chroma in the moonlight low--not too intense of a blue-green. Hint of blue in far distance.
3. Put a slight warm halo around the moon and edge-light the adjacent clouds.
4. Keep the key of the painting relatively high.
5. Suppress all detail in the shadows and put some texture and variety in the lights.
6. Introduce a gradual stepping back of value, lightening as it goes back to the far minaret.

Here's the quick (45 minute) maquette that I built for lighting reference. It didn't need to be beautiful at all, just any old blobs of modeling clay were all I needed.

I quickly discovered that I had to move the actual lighting position quite far to the left, much farther to the left than the position of the moon in the painting.

After taking a digital photo of the maquette, in Photoshop I shifted the key toward blue-green, and I desaturated it slightly. The photo shows a lot of reflected light in the shadows, which I largely ignored. I would have played up that reflected light had I wanted to evoke daylight effects, where I might want to amplify the relatively weak reflected light.
"The Art of James Gurney" at the Richard Hess Museum at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia will be on view through November 16, and I will do a public presentation on October 29.
"Khasra by Moonlight" was first published in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara
There's a discussion of architectural maquettes in my print book Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist and an exploration of moonlight in Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter

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2. Changing Face of Malta

In 1876, Edward Caruana Dingli was born into a family of artists in Valetta, Malta. He studied at the British Academy in Rome and returned to Malta to paint the folk life of his native land. 

Wayside Orange Seller by Edw. Caruana Dingli

One of his paintings that found its way to innumerable postcards and prints shows a happy Maltese girl resting beside the road with a basket of oranges.

Debbie Caruana Dingli

Debbie Caruana Dingli has carried on the family tradition of painting local human stories, but the stories have changed.

As far back as 2008, she decided to include portrayals of migrants and refugees in her gallery exhibitions. "I was keen on the subject from a human perspective. Immigration is a subject where I feel many have lost their sense of humanity due to the antagonism they feel towards this pressing issue...."

She continues, "The other day, my son Bruce mentioned that we spend all our life hearing about how we're supposed to love our neighbour and give them the cloak off our back, and now we're finally being put to the test," she said.

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3. E.H. Shepard's WWI Illustrations

Starting October 9, the House of Illustration in London will present an exhibition of the World War I reportorial art of E.H. Shepard.
"Best known for his drawings for Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows, as well as his regular work for Punch magazine, E.H. Shepard also produced a substantial body of work while serving as an officer in the Royal Artillery in the First World War. This exhibition is the first to explore Shepard’s illustrations drawn in the trenches on the Western Front and in Italy, and will include over a hundred original artworks - many never seen before - including technical drawings, personal sketches and unpublished correspondence. The exhibition will accompany the publication of Shepard’s War, to be published by Michael O'Mara Books on 1 October."
The House of Illustration is at 2 Granary Square, King's Cross London N1C 4BH
Thanks, Bob H.

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4. Levka Gambo of Dinotopia

This painting is from my 1992 book Dinotopia, A Land Apart from Time.  Will and Sylvia visit Levka Gambo in his Tibetan-inspired hideaway at the top of the Forbidden Mountains.

The technique is a thin, transparent wash of oil over illustration board that has been sealed with acrylic matte medium. To dramatize this scene, I set up a light source behind Levka to silhouette him against the background.
Dinotopia, A Land Apart from Time: 20th Anniversary Edition

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5. "Secondaries" as Primaries

In yesterday's post about charting limited palettes, I mentioned that the colors you choose for your palette don’t have to be blue, red, and yellow.

Autochrome by Louis Lumière"Madeleine, Suzanne et Andrée à travers les vignes"
You can use what we think of as "secondaries,"orange, green, and violet—as primaries and come up with very interesting color schemes. The Autochrome process, an early form of color photography, did just that.
Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud ( French, 1866 - 1951); Le Phonographe;
Autochrome, circa 1912 courtesy the 
Photography Museum
Autochromes used grains of potato starch dyed red-orange, green, and blue-violet.

Through a magnifier (below), the individual colored grains are visible (left courtesy PhotographyMuseum.com, right courtesy Univ Delaware).

I'm not sure how accurate the color in these examples are. The one on the left looks Photoshopped to pump the colors, and the one on the right looks yellowed. But you get the idea.

Yellows are mixed from orange and green, similar to the way they're mixed from red and green in computer screens and theater lights. Yellows are the are the hard color to achieve this way, because they come out weak and low value, so they have to be tinted up with white, and at best they'll be sort of beige.

But the experience of building a color scheme where the colors we think of as "primaries" have to be mixed from "secondaries" is a strange exercise that will rewire your color brain.

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6. Limited Palette Tests

I just finished writing an article called "Extreme Limited Palettes" for International Artist magazine and I want to preview one small part of it for you.

The article will include these four color charts. Each one is created with only three colors of gouache, plus white.

On the left are the colors straight out of the tube, and on the right are tinted mixtures. The secondary mixtures appear as rectangles along the side of each triangle. Each chart gives a sense of the full available gamut, so you can see at a glance what's possible with a given set of colors.

Here's another way to set up the charts using hexagons to represent the color wheel, with tints in the center. These are done with oil.

The colors you choose for your limited palette don’t have to be blue, red, and yellow, or even cyan, magenta, and yellow. As long as they’re differentiated, the painting will seem to have a full universe of colors.

Before you start a given painting, you can refer to a chart like this to decide which limited palette would suit the subject you want to paint. These charts would be a big help if you're thinking of joining in with the Graveyard Painting Challenge for October.

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7. Ink and Scratchboard Technique

Here's an unusual technique that's effective for a backlit subject with edge lighting. It uses white scratchboard, a chalk-coated drawing surface that allows you to scratch through to white with a sharp knife or a scraper tool.

Typical Houses in Orange County, CA. James Gurney, ink on scratchboard, 4 x 6 inches

Here's the sequence:
1. Choose a backlit subject. Outline subject carefully in pencil to map out the placement of elements.

2. Block in the large gray areas with waterproof drawing ink and a large flat brush, covering the entire area from the roofline to the ground. This tone goes down quickly and can't be fussed with or changed. It's OK to paint past the lines in the sky because you can cut back to white easily.

3. Add in small black shapes and lines with a brush or pen.

4. When that's dry, cut the edge lighting back to white with the scraper tool.

Being able to cut clean, thin, white lines could be ideal for night subjects or for scribing white letters or neon on a sign, or for defining telephone wires, animal whiskers, highlights and things like that.

Scratchboard can be a bit expensive and hard to find these days, so I'm currently developing a way that I can prepare a surface with inexpensive materials and get the same results. More on that in a future post.

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8. Approaching Strangers for a Portrait

Visual journalist Richard Johnson wanted to do portraits of the homeless in Washington, DC, but it took a while to figure out how to approach them.

As he describes in an article for the Washington Post, at first he sketched them from a distance without asking. Then he approached them and asked permission, but he was usually rebuffed. They just wanted to be left alone. He offered them money, but that didn't work either. 

Eventually he made a connection with the organization and newspaper, Street Sense, and he found people there who would let him draw their portraits and hear their very individual stories. 

His sketches include written notes alongside the portrait drawings. He says, "drawing and listening at the same time was a not entirely new challenge for me – I recently covered the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber." 

Once people began to open up, he realized that drawing was a trust-building exercise. He says, "Something about the quiet process of studying and drawing I think allows even the naturally wary to gradually let their guard down and open up." 

But it was often an intense encounter, and "staring right into their eyes is one of the hardest things I think for an artist to do. There is a whole world of pain in there." 

Brandon Stanton is the photographer who created the wildly popular "Humans of New York" blog, which documents the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. He has successfully approached thousands of strangers on the streets of New York, Iran, and other places, and has elicited not only their permission to photograph them—and even their young children — but also has documented some of the most personal and challenging stories.

In his talk at the University College Dublin, Ireland, he demonstrates the approach he uses to begin a conversation that most often leads to a successful encounter. (Link to video) Bottom line: be small and unthreatening, show them your work, don't ask for too much at first, and be willing to listen.

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9. Eye Movements While Drawing

A new study published in Science Direct examines what happens with our eye movements when we're drawing.

The act of looking back and forth from the subject to the drawing involves the coordination of perceptual, cognitive, and muscular skills. You have to see a shape, then remember it briefly, and finally translate your understanding of it into hand movements.

The main focus of this study is how the saccadic eye movements of an artist engaged in the task of drawing differ from the eye movements of a person who is free-viewing a subject without such a task in mind.

It turns out that the kind of looking we do while drawing is quite different from normal free-viewing. 1. The saccadic leaps are slower
2. The eyes tend to follow contours more
3. They move in saccades of shorter distance
4. And they fixate longer on individual details, rather than skipping around the whole scene.

No huge surprise there, I suppose, especially if you give someone a task of copying a curving line.

The authors note that not many scientists have studied the specialized kind of visual perception that artists bring to the act of drawing and painting. I would be interested to see additional studies that ask subjects to solve a drawing problem that involves more comparative observation, rather than contour-following, such as accurately copying the slopes of a quadrilateral, or drawing two circles, one twice the diameter of the other.

I would also be interested to see someone examine how artists use peripheral vision, squinting, blurring of the visual field, seeking alignments, and other specialized skills to shift attention from small details to the "big picture." These are skills that beginning artists take a while to master.

Later in the article, the authors note that there has been a lot of debate about what drives saccadic eye movements, not only in a specialized task like drawing, but in normal viewing. Are our eye movements passively driven by features in the scene, or are they actively controlled by the conscious attention? I would suspect that it's a combination of the two, and that artists in the act of drawing are much more on the "active control" end of the spectrum.
Visuomotor characterization of eye movements in a drawing task by Ruben Coen-Cagli, Paolo Coraggio, Paolo Napoletano, Odelia Schwartz, Mario Ferraro, and Giuseppe Boccignone.

I'd like to thank the authors for making their study available for free, and I'd also like to thank Paul Foxton for sharing it with me.

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10. Lone Rooster

Over the years the chickens and guinea fowl population on the farm has ebbed and flowed as they fall victim to raccoons, foxes, and hawks. At the moment there's just one fine looking rooster. He's a bit lonely, but every ounce is fiery Microraptor. I'll sketch him one of these days if I can find him in a quiet moment.
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11. Graveyard Challenge (in case you missed it)

John Singer Sargent, Graveyard in the Tyrol, 1914
In case you missed the announcement, I'm inviting everyone to paint a graveyard on location in a limited palette of colors. Here's the original blog post with all the details.

It's free to enter, and you can post your entries on the Facebook event page (where works are already appearing), and you can also informally share your work on Twitter or Instagram at the hashtag #graveyardpaintingchallenge.

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12. Interactive Music Visualizer

Panoramical is a music visualizer that creates moving images tied to a music track. Here's the trailer.

But it's also a game that lets users customize various parameters of experience, resulting in something that resembles electronic lucid dreaming, or interactive hallucinogenic synesthesia.

It was created by Argentine DJ, visualist, and programmer Fernando Ramallo and Proteus co-creator David Kanaga.
Via BoingBoing
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13. "Gouache in the Wild" reviewed on USK

"Citizen Sketcher," Marc Holmes of the Urban Sketchers blog reviewed "Gouache in the Wild," and here's an excerpt:

"The take away here is Gurney’s passion for the potential of this under-utilized medium. He is here to demonstrate how gouache can offer you all the advantages of opaque painting in oils or acrylics, but in a fast drying, clean and portable, water-soluble media that is highly suited to working on location, sketch-booking and the small studies which many painters enjoy on location."

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14. Stop-Motion Honda Ad

Animator PES created this ad for Honda using stop-motion paper animation techniques. There are all sorts of clever ways of turning 2D into 3D. (Link to video on YouTube)

The behind-the-scenes video shows how computers were used to previs the shots and work out the perspective angles, but the final animation was shot in camera with multiple sets of hands manipulating the paper in ingenious ways. (Link to YouTube)

Via BoingBoing

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15. Interview with Cell Phone City

Not sure why Cell Phone City wanted to ask me about my art (I told them I don't even have a smart phone, and I don't live in a city), but here's the interview anyway. Thanks, Christopher!

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16. Mental Floss Article on Paleoart

The news magazine Mental Floss just posted an article about bringing dinosaurs back to life, tracing the journey from fossils to oil paintings.
"How Paleoartists Recreate and Illustrate Dinosaurs" by Gabe Rivin
Order the 40-minute full-length tutorial video "Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art" at Gumroad (credit cards) or Sellfy (Paypal).

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17. Shishkin and Photography

Ivan Shishkin, Woodland. 1889. Oil on canvas. 39 1-2 x 29 in. Date 1889
Although he was a devoted and prolific outdoor painter, Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin was also a big fan of photography, according to an article in the Russian archives.

He encouraged his students to work from photos, especially in the depths of winter, for example, when painting outdoors was impractical. Shishkin wrote in one of his letters:
"... Let me give you one major piece of advice, that underlies all of my painting secrets and techniques, and that advice is — photography. It is a mediator between the artist and nature and one of the most strict mentors you'll ever have. And if you understand the intelligent way of using it, you'll learn much faster and improve your weak points. You'll learn how to paint clouds, water, trees — everything. You'll better understand atmospheric effects and linear perspective and so on..."
Shishkin enlarged details with a magnifying glass, and he also used a projector. When he came to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1897, he specifically mentioned the need for a "magic lantern" type projection device to aid in student learning, not only for enlarging photos, but for presenting drawings at a larger scale. 

Shishkin's enthusiasm for modern tools like photography is not surprising during an era of technological innovation, and in an age of positivism, which placed a value on verifiable facts.

Portrait of Shishkin by Ivan Kramskoi
But he never regarded photography as a substitute for direct observation. Shishkin was known as a devoted and prolific outdoor painter. His friend and traveling companion Ivan Kramskoi marveled at his productivity: "He paints two or three studies a day and completely finishes each of them."
Shishkin wrote: "In the case of art - be it art, architecture, such practice is of the greatest importance. It alone allows the artist to appreciate the substance of the raw material which nature presents. Therefore, the study of nature is necessary for any artist, but especially for the landscape."
In observing nature, he was able to overcome the dead accuracy of the details. Although photographs were used widely by artists during his time, Shishkin was conscious of not mindlessly copying. He told his students that the way an artist uses a photo will reveal the artist with talent, because "a mediocre artist will slavishly copy all the unnecessary detail from photos, but a man with a flair will take only what he needs."

Shishkin knew as much about individual plant forms as did the professional botanists of his day. He said, "I love the original character of every tree, every bush, and every blade of grass, and as a loving son who values ​​each wrinkle on the face of his mother."

Shishkin said, "Work every day as if it is your daily duty. There's no need to wait for inspiration! Inspiration is the work itself!"
Thanks to Samir Rakhmanov for the link and the help with translation.
Previously on GJ: Using Photo Reference

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18. October Graveyard Challenge

We had such an enthusiastic response to our last Outdoor Market Challenge that many of you asked for another opportunity.

Leverington Cemetery by William Trost Richards

I hesitate to call it a "contest" because there's no entry fee and the spirit is more about cooperation, community, and camaraderie than competition. We're all at different levels of skill and experience, but we're all out there braving the elements and trying out new painting ideas.

The October Challenge
The challenge is to paint a graveyard on location with a limited palette.

West Clare Graveyard, Kilnaboy, Ireland, by James Gurney oil 8x10 inches
What kinds of subjects are OK?
Any cemetery, graveyard, churchyard, burial vault, crypt, tomb, columbarium, or other place for the repose of human remains. In keeping with the spirit of autumn and Halloween, I'm hoping your painting can somehow (through composition, color, lighting, or time of day) convey feelings about mortality, loss, transformation, horror, or abiding love.

Highgate Cemetery by Gleb Goloubetski
On Location
It must be painted on location and it must be a new painting done for this challenge. In addition to a scan of the final painting, your entry must include a photo of your painting in progress in front of the motif.

All traditional painting media are acceptable, such as: oil, watercolor, casein, gouache, Acryla-gouache, acrylic, and/or water-soluble colored pencils. No dry media or digital.

Burial Vault by James Gurney, 5 x 8 inches, watercolor and colored pencil
The Limited Palette
The palette must include just three colors of your choice plus white. The reason for the limited palette is to keep your painting harmonious. You can also use even fewer colors or just work in monochrome.

Here are some suggestions, giving equal time to different companies: 
Holbein gouache: ViridianCadmium red deep, and Yellow ochre plus white
M. Graham gouache: Ultramarine blueCadmium yellow deep, and Burnt umber plus white
Winsor and Newton gouache: Perylene maroonCadmium yellowCobalt blue plus white
Richeson casein: Cobalt blueLight redGolden ochre, and white
Feel free to come up with your own, you don't have to follow these suggestions.

Stone Church Graveyard by James Gurney, watercolor
It's free to enter. You can enter as soon as you finish the piece, but no later than the deadline: Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at midnight New York time. Winners will be announced on Halloween, Saturday, October 31. 

What and How to Enter
Just shoot two image files: 1. Your finished painting and 2. A photo of the painting in progress on the easel in front of the subject. Your face doesn't have to be in the photo unless you want to.

Upload the images to this Facebook Event page (This way I don't have to deal with email, and you get to present your images your way). If you don't have a Facebook account, please ask a friend with an account to help you. Please include in the FB post the list of the three colors you chose (plus white), and if you want, a word about your inspiration or design strategy, or an anecdote about your painting experience. 

I'll pick one Grand Prize and five Finalists. All six entries will be published on GurneyJourney, and all six will receive an exclusive "Department of Art" embroidered patch. In addition, the Grand Prize winner receives a video (DVD or download) of their choice. Everybody who participates will have their work on the Facebook page, too.
Own the 72-minute feature "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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19. Painting a Potter

At our figure sketch group we want to paint a person doing a real action, rather than holding an artificial pose.

Sarah the Potter, oil on canvas, 9x12 inches, 5 hours
So we ask Sarah to bring her pottery supplies and to do her normal work.

We agree on a base pose that she can return to from time to time. We talk to her during the pose, so she's not holding totally still. 

1. I draw with the brush on gesso-primed canvas mounted on a Masonite panel. I begin the quick block-in with casein. Casein is a good underpainting medium.  

Right away I'm looking for the big shapes of tone, in this case her light face and figure against the simple dark background.

2. I begin to overpaint with oil on the face, hair, and background. Eventually, about 95 percent of the surface will be covered with oil paint. The oil paint achieves deeper values than the casein because of its glossiness.

I have three cups: Gamsol for thinner, Liquin, and a slow-drying medium (equal parts stand oil, damar varnish, and turpentine). 

3. I simplify the tones in the arm and shoulder and torso, painting them with very little value variation and using color temperature to turn the form instead. 

Consequently, the front plane of her shoulder has a slightly cooler cast. 

The key light is a warm incandescent. I introduce the window into the composition to motivate the cool edge (or "rim") light.

Her hair melts into the simple tones of the background. On the left, I paint the window mullions and other background details out of focus. 

In contrast to those empty shapes, I revel in the sharp accents and clutter of the worktable.

Studio host Garin Baker paints next to me. He'll be leading a painting workshop with Max Ginsburg and Christopher Pugliese this October in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Here's the link for more info.

Fun times and great camaraderie! Top row: Amber and John; Sarah, Kev FerraraGarin Baker and Jeanette, Not shown, Janet, John Varriano, and Mary Mugele Sealfon.

Previously: Motivated Light

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20. Market Square and Maquette

"Market Square" and the archway maquette I built for lighting reference are both now on view at "The Art of James Gurney" exhibit at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia through November 16.

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21. Tacit Knowledge

Blog reader Paul VonZimmerman told me he has been thinking about the concept of tacit knowledge and how it relates to art instruction. He asks, "What are your thoughts on this as someone who has created a variety of instructional material?"

First, a definition: Tacit knowledge is the kind of knowing that is hard to put into words, such as kneading bread dough. The opposite is explicit knowledge, which can be easily transmitted verbally, such as the names and placement of colors on the color wheel

Even an expert practitioner may not be able to consciously explain their tacit knowledge. Therefore it may be difficult for them to pass it on to the student through writing, lecturing, or diagrams.

A lot of people use the example of riding a bicycle. People who master the skill often don't know why they turn the handlebars right or left to balance and turn; they just "get" it. By extension, riding a unicycle is a lot like bicycle riding, but in addition you have to apply pressure on the pedals to balance in forward/backward dimension.

In the case of art instruction, I agree that there are topics that can be transmitted more easily through writing or explanation. Those topics, such as perspective, principles of lighting, theories of color, and strategies of composition, can be taught naturally in a book or a classroom setting. They lend themselves to being analyzed and explained in words and therefore they're suited to transmitting reading or watching a lecture. I focused more on those topics in my books Color and Light and Imaginative Realism.

Learning to paint involves a lot of motor skills that many practitioners find hard to explain. These skills include color mixing, paint application and stretching a canvas. These topics apply naturally to workshops or videos where you can watch someone doing the action, hear them explain why they're doing it, and then practice it yourself until it starts to become automatic.

One reason I love producing instructional videos is that I can film the whole process as I create a painting, and then after the edit, I can verbalize my thinking at each stage. I have done live demos where I explain what I'm doing in real time, but unless I'm demonstrating the same skill over and over, I feel I sometimes have to compromise either the explanation or the painting.

To answer your question, Paul, I don't really like the idea of dividing knowledge into fixed categories of explicit or tacit. The problem with the theory of tacit knowledge as I understand it is the presumption that some skills can't be verbalized. I believe any skill can be explained, especially if it is broken down into steps. Moreover, it must be verbalized, especially at the beginning, if the teacher is really doing their job.

I learned to ride a unicycle by reading a book. I didn't have a teacher and I didn't know anyone else who rode one. The book broke down the process into a series of steps that I could master one by one until I "had it."

When it came to learning art, I never had a formal painting teacher, nor did I watch any art videos when I was first learning. Until I was in college I didn't know any other artists. I learned everything on my own through reading and practice starting in elementary school, so I'm a great believer in the power of the written word.

Rather than conceiving of the universe of learning as divided into two groups of knowledge, tacit and explicit, I think it's more useful to look at learning—especially "motor" or muscle-based learning—as a process of internalization. New studies of the brain have shown how conscious knowledge is gradually made automatic as the neural pathways shift from the outer cerebral cortex to deeper networks in the brain. The theory of motor learning is a rich subject, but let's save it for another post.

In the comments, I would love to hear from art teachers about how you teach various kinds of art knowledge, and from students about what what kinds of teaching has helped you the most in learning to draw and paint.

Tacit knowledge (link to Wikipedia)
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22. Plein-Air Concept Art

Here's a tease frame from one of the videos I'm working on called "Fantasy in the Wild."

One of the segments will show how I create a concept painting of a giant robot from start to finish on location at construction sites and fast food alleys. This is the maquette, made of construction foam.

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23. Austin Briggs on Sketch to Finish

American illustrator Austin Briggs (1908-1973) says: "When working out an idea for an illustration, it is essential to keep in mind the shape of the finished painting at all times. Otherwise you are likely to develop a composition that simply won't fit the picture space."

"If you become too fond of an unworkable idea you may find it hard to start over on a new approach. The sketch above was sone quite spontaneously for a [Saturday Evening] Post cover. A momentary pose of the group suggested the compositional pattern—sort of a hammock design with the body suspended, so to speak, between the supporting figures at left and right."

"I sketched the idea with great satisfaction, thinking I had the answer to the picture problem." 

"When it came to working out the rough, however, I soon realized that this idea could not be made to conform to space requirements. It was very difficult for me to get this approach out of my head and find a design that would work. If I had kept the shape of the picture in mind from the start, I would have discarded this idea before I became too attached to it."
From Austin Briggs' Master Course from the Famous Artists Course, 1952
Austin Briggs on Wikipedia
Thanks, Matt Dicke

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24. The McCollough Effect

Note: I'm going to postpone the next book club until the first week of November 
because I've got a lot of traveling coming up in October. 

Optical illusions that produce colored afterimages are fairly common, but there's afterimage phenomenon that's so long-lasting that I won't show the induction image directly on the blog.

It's called the McCollough Effect, and it's basically a pattern of black, red, and green bars. Staring at them for more than a few minutes can lead to afterimages that strangely last for days. Ten minutes of looking at it can affect your vision for 24 hours.

In this video (Link to YouTube video), Tom Scott introduces the phenomenon. The video is safe to watch because the exposure to the image is too brief to cause induction.

On this MoviePilot website you can read an informal description about how it works. Here's a more scholarly presentation. If you want to try it, you can follow instructions on the MoviePilot page or on this flash video presentation

But—warning—please only try it if you're willing to experience the colored afterimages for hours, days, or even weeks.

I haven't tried it because I'm in the middle of a painting right now. If you decide to give it a try, please share your experience in the comments. I wonder if red-green colorblind people would see any effect. I'm told that the effect can be reversed by gazing at the original induction image, rotated 90º counterclockwise for half of the time that you spent looking during the initial induction.
MoviePilot website to see the image
Flash video presentation on a Boston University site that induces the illusion.
Via Design Taxi "This Image Can ‘Break Your Brain’, Change The Way Your Mind Works
McCollough Effect on Scholarpedia -- For scholarly analysis of the phenomenon.

Note: I'm going to delay the next GJ book club about Harold Speed's book on painting until the first week of November because I've got a lot of traveling coming up in October.

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25. Eye tracking the stairway illusion

When I painted this Dinotopia image I wanted to do my own spin on the famous "infinite stairway" optical illusion invented by Lionel Penrose and M.C. Escher.

If you walk around the stairs clockwise, you proceed infinitely downstairs, and if you walk counterclockwise, you go upstairs forever without gaining in altitude.

"Scholar's Stairway," Oil on board, 12 x18 inches.
The way I painted it, the illusion is fairly subtle, and I wondered if other people even noticed the illusion, and if so, whether their eyes moved systematically around the stairs.

To find out, I asked vision scientist Greg Edwards, president of Eyetools, Inc., to run some eye tracking tests using this image as the subject.

Dr. Edwards had fifteen subjects look at my pictures on a computer screen for fifteen seconds each while a sensor tracked their eye movements in real time. Below is the eye track of one subject's experience. The colored line shows the pathway of the eyes, beginning randomly at the green circle. The numbers in the black squares show where they eye traveled at each second of the fifteen second session. 

One can’t know for sure without a follow-up interview, but evidently this particular observer didn’t notice the optical illusion.

The second image shows the "heatmap," which aggregates data from all fifteen observers. The red and orange blobs are the areas of the image received nearly 100% of people's attention. The rider on the brachiosaur took attention away from the central illusion. The dark blue and black areas received almost no attention. 

What can we conclude from the heatmap image? Viewers definitely looked at the figures, wherever I placed them. Beyond that, we can't say much because we didn't design a very thorough experiment. I would love to work with a larger sample size and to gather followup interview data, and ideally collect simultaneous fMRI data set to see if we could correlate cognitive behavior with eye movement. That way we could understand better what happens when people "get" the illusion. If there's any vision scientist who has the equipment and wants to try an experiment like this, please contact me.

This original painting is in the "Art of James Gurney" exhibition at UARTS museum in Philadelphia through November 16.
Previous posts about my stairway painting:
Credit to Mr. Penrose
Using a Perspective Grid

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