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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. Book Review: "Graphic LA" by Robh Ruppel

At CTN Animation Expo I bought a copy of Robh Ruppel's new art book Graphic L.A., and want to share it with you.

Robh is one of those rare artists whose work spans imaginative and observational painting. He has worked as a designer for video games and films, and has taught at Art Center. He has also been a leader in digital plein-air painting.

While the book contains some landscapes, the bulk of the images are urban scenes. What I like most about his work is his ability to find beauty in commonplace scenes.

The book includes a mix of finished paintings, thumbnail sketches and step-by-step sequences. The sketches are in tone, most often in marker, while the colored finished paintings appear to be all digital.  

The sense of color and light in many of the painting is extremely evocative. 

Accompanying the images are helpful chunks of advice, such as "Reduce, refine, interpret." 
Before he commences a painting, he always explores the possibilities of the subject in two or three tones. "Good value design," he says, "is the clear simple arrangement of a few tones."

He says, "Searching out the composition should take as long as rendering the image. Ultimately, the staging is what tells the story."

The book is 144 pages, about 8x8 inches.
Book: Graphic L.A. by Robh Ruppel

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2. Cast Shadow in the Foreground


I painted a watercolor demo during a daylong visit to Favilli Studio, a multidisciplinary design group in South Pasadena. 

I walked down to the Arroyo with a group of designers and chose this view toward the York Avenue Bridge. I wanted to paint the forms—arch bridge, trees, and embankment—as realistically as I could.


But the light was overcast the whole time, so I decided to invent some light and shadow effects. 

I figured that I could make the planes of the retaining wall much more clear if I cast a foliage shadow across it, with the dappled spots of light following the vertical, horizontal, and diagonal planes.


The cast shadow serves two purposes. It invites the viewer to move from the dappled foreground shadow, where they seem to be standing, into the brightly lit middle ground, where Jeanette is standing.

The foliage shadow also helps to define the plane changes as the ground slants up and over the embankment wall.

Shadows can be a powerful tool for expressing plane changes, as Arthur Guptill demonstrates in this plate from Color in Sketching and Rendering (1935).
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Previous posts:
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Learn more methods in my video  Watercolor in the Wild

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3. Beloved Friends


Here are two gouache portraits I painted while waiting for supper.


Our beloved art-teacher friends David Starrett and Sam Clayberger mentored us 35 years ago when Jeanette and I were were just sketching companions.

When we're with old pals like these, the years disappear, and we live in a moment that I wish could last forever.

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4. Grayed CMY Experiment


Here's a color experiment that I tried a couple of days ago.

I set up for an outdoor gouache painting in Laguna Beach, California. I limited the colors to intense versions of cyan, yellow, and magenta, plus white.

I picked the most highly saturated or high-chroma versions of them that I had: Holbein Prussian blue [PB 27] (I could have used phthalo blue if I had brought it), Winsor and Newton lemon yellow (I could also have used Cadmium Yellow Light), and Holbein Carmine red (Naphthol), plus Caran d'Ache white.

Using these ingredients, I tried to paint a grayed-down painting out of them. I didn't want to allow any bright colors in the final image.


What a fun and strange feeling that was, like trying to drive a racing car in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Just touch the accelerator and it wants to blast off. Each of those colors has so much firepower, but I had to put on the brakes at every stage by restraining each color by using the other two as a complement.

No matter how hard I tried to achieve quiet, neutral colors, one of those strong colors wanted to dominate.

This challenge is the reverse of starting with a limited palette of pigments and trying to stretch those colors to be as pure as possible, such as in the painting above, which used a limited palette of weak colors: raw sienna, Venetian red, cobalt blue, and titanium white.

For more about limited palette experiments, see previous post on Limited Palettes.

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5. At the Sarasota Chalk Festival


Last weekend at the Sarasota Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida, the theme was Extinct and Endangered Animals, and I was honored that two of the artists chose images from Dinotopia to recreate as gigantic street paintings. 

Jennifer Chaparro, photo by Craig Houdeshell

Jennifer says, "The finished piece is 12’ x 12’. The white base is just kid’s washable tempera paint, to help the paint stick, with soft pastel chalks on top. I use four kinds of chalk. Your basic Koss pastels, plus Eternity Chalk, and Richeson Street Stix Pastels, and Mount Vision Pastels. The surface was not the best. It was rough and gritty, and I ripped through quite a few gloves and sponges."

Lori Escalera painted "Small Wonder." She says it was surprisingly cold and windy with a lot of distractions, but she stuck with it and did a beautiful job.

Here's the original painting from Dinotopia: The World Beneath, which is only about 14 inches square. The painting itself was exhibited in Florida at the Norton Museum of Art in 2010.
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Thanks, Lori and Jennifer!

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6. Dinotopia Podcast, Episode 2

It's Tuesday, time for the new episode of the Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time serial podcast. To listen, follow the link to the SoundCloud file.



The adventure continues as Arthur and Will adjust to a world where humans and dinosaurs live as equals.

In the hatchery, kids help the hatchlings connect with their parent dinosaur.

Copro carters are a part of a proud profession, connoisseurs of the finest fertilizer.

When ZBS adapted Dinotopia to audio, they added to what was in the books by creating a fun banter between these characters.


...and then they meet up a disgruntled Dinotopian named Lee Crabb.

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.

Episode 3 arrives one week from today— Tuesday, November 25. Each 10-minute episode will only be live online for one week, and then it will disappear. So tell your friends, and be sure to check in to this blog each week. That way you'll be able to hear the whole production for free.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour Dinotopia podcast right now and hear all twelve episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out Dinotopia at ZBS Foundation website for the MP3 download.

Here's the link to the SoundCloud file (which will disappear after a week).

You can also order the original book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. It's the ultimate holiday gift for the imaginative person in your life. (US orders only for the book, please).

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7. Your DIY Pochade Easel Designs


Last month after sharing my own lightweight sketch easel design, I put out a call to all you Do-It-Yourselfers to share your home-built sketch easels, and you came through with some extraordinary innovations.

I promised to pick my favorite entry, but I couldn’t narrow the field down to one, so I picked seven. Each of the following submissions will win an official GurneyJourney “Department of Art” patch.

I’ll also award a D of A patch to the best FB share of this blog post.

Bryan Coombes
Bryan Coombes says: “I’m in the Vancouver BC area, been painting for about 5 years in oil and acrylic. I LOVE painting and now- thanks to you, I love painting in watercolour. I’m looking forward to trying out casein next."


Here’s Bryan Coombes’ design fully deployed.


Bryan improves my design in various ways, including by having a place to attach the pencil sharpener, and a pencil- or brush-holding groove on the front. Good point about the silicone for attaching stuff to the plastic cups. The rest of the notes speak for themselves.




ERC
ERC sent me photos of two ideas that he and his friends came up with.


The first is a folding drawing horse. It looks like a big wooden briefcase — with storage inside — but it folds out to a stable and sturdy drawing bench that you can take to any sketch group.


ERC’s second design rolls on skateboard wheels like a modern suitcase. Or you can carry it like a backpack to a painting location. Then the legs fold out to a wide tripod stance, holding any size canvas and a double-wide palette.

Jason Peck
Jason says, “Here is my most recent lightweight watercolor palette. I had a friend cut and drill the wood pieces for me." 

"All I had to do was glue it all together, and stain it. It measures 9X10 inches, and weighs less than one pound. I’m still using the old hinges that you used on your first pochade rig, but I will be swapping them for the Southco adjustable torque hinges soon.”


“This palette is lightweight and easy to pack and carry, but I have one more idea for an even lighter palette. I’m thinking of making one from old clipboards. My plan is to polyurethane the clipboards to waterproof them.”

Steve


Steve says: "My casein mixing tray that I already had happens to be made out of aluminum, so magnets will have to be replaced with Velcro, not my favorite choice. Maybe I'll glue sheet metal strips on the bottom."


"I've found the easel kind of evolves as you go along. Because of the tension hinge thickness I couldn't get it to fold completely flat, so I came up with the water cup hole/piano hinge/spacer idea."

Randall Cogburn
Randall Cogburn of Texas uses his lightweight sketch easel for various media.


Here it is in oil mode.


He has also adapted it for use with gouache. “This is the first time I used gouache and loving it,” he says.


 


Nancy Vance made this easel from an old checkerboard. The boxlike interior, once used for holding the game pieces, forms a tray to keep brushes and cups from falling off.

It stays open as far as you want it to with a length of chain looped over a cup hook. If you want to paint on the right side of the book, you could mount the chain on the left side of the box.

Jeff Allen

Jeff Allen says, “I made this box for a trip to Hawaii. It was designed to fit into a USPS "if it fits it ships" box." 

"That way I could ship all my painting equipment to the post office in Kauai where I could pick it up when I arrived. At the time it was $7.00 per box for shipping to Hawaii! It was constructed in oak with a standard thread for a tripod and saw a lot of use in Hawaii. It will hold 6 x 8 to 12 x 16 panels. The pallete is removable for cleaning.”
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Thanks to everyone who entered, and sorry I couldn’t include all of them. I'm glad we can keep this all open-source to benefit the entire maker community.

To the seven winners, please email me your mailing address with the subject line "ART PATCH," and I'll send an embroidered "DEPARTMENT OF ART" patch out to you.

Links
My original Lightweight Sketch Easel.
Earlier post on Your DIY Watercolor Easels.
More info on my easels and watercolor materials

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8. Painting the Outer Space Men

On Friday I visited toy inventor Mel Birnkrant and painted some of his "Outer Space Men" action figures in gouache. 

Gouache is an ideal medium for such a study because of its opacity and high tinting strength. You can also draw over the dry, matte surface with watercolor pencils or a white gel pen.


Today we'll be flying to Los Angeles to speak at art schools, theme park design firms, and animation studios, before spending next weekend at the CTN Animation Expo in Burbank.
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Mel Birnkrant 
Outer Space Men website -- Read Mel's story of inventing some of the world's first action figures.
The Return of the O.S.M. -- Mel tells how he brought the figures back into production.
Mel Birnkrant's website, with other inventions and his incredible cartoon character collection.
Art Supplies
Watercolor sketchbook
Watercolor pencils
Gouache
Travel brush set
White gel pen
Tutorial Video: Watercolor in the Wild
Download at Gumroad (Credit card customers)
Download at Sellfy (Paypal customers)
DVD (72 minutes, Region 1 encoded, with slide show)

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9. High School Students' "Magical Sketchbook" Drawings

By Dan, Millburn High School
Kathleen Harte- Gilsenan, teacher at the Millburn High School in New Jersey says: "My students are following your blog this year and last week their weekly sketchbook assignment was inspired by the magical sketchbook video you posted."

By Audrey, Millburn High School
"Each student watched the video and then choose a photo of their own and altered the reality of the photo by adding a sketch of something from observation."

Thanks, Kathleen, and great job, Audrey, Dan, and the rest of the students.
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Previous post on the magical sketchbook.


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10. World Record Chalk Art Painting

Yesterday, a group of chalk artists completed a world record chalk painting of themselves being eaten by a giant shark coming up through the pavement.



Unisaurrr says: "It is over 23,000 square feet, took 40 artists about a week to complete it. It's located at the Venice Municipal Airport and I have no idea how much chalk it took. They used a combination of chalk pastels, tempera paint, and liquid chalk. The liquids are used to get solid base colors that are then chalked on top of for details."

The massive effort was a kickoff to the Sarasota Chalk Festival in Venice, Florida. This weekend the event will get rolling with its "Extinct and Endangered Animals" theme, and two of the top artists will be doing different Dinotopia paintings. More reports to come!
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Thanks, Lori. Via Reddit

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11. Reflected light in shadow

This oil painting by Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942) shows the Water Gate at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893.

Here is a good example of the color of shadows, something that cameras can't capture as well as the human eye.

The sources of light in shadow are very distinct: blue sky, orange ground, and white architecture, and there are white planes facing in all directions.

The direct sunlight is coming from behind and to the right, making the illuminated surfaces a bright white.

There are two main sources of light in the shadow: warm light bouncing up from the ground, and blue skylight from above.


At letter (A), left, the upfacing shadow planes on the roof are receiving mostly blue sky light.

(B) and (C) are down-facing planes. The light is mostly warm-colored bounced light from the ground.

The far side of the arch (D) is getting very strong reflected illumination from the brightly lit opposite side of the arch, as well as apparently some greenish light from the water in the canal (not visible in this view) passing beneath the gate. 

At (E), the columns are a little bit lighter than other parallel vertical surfaces. They're projecting outward, receiving quite a lot of light from all directions, both warm and cool. 

It's possible that the columns appear bit lighter because they're a slightly lighter local color. According to an old description, the facades were made of "staff," a mixture of plaster, jute fibers, and horsehair, painted in cream and gold.

The "White City" was torn down less than a year after it was built. 
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The topic of light in shadow is covered in my book Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter, which U.S. customers can purchase signed from our web store.
Color and Light is also available from Amazon. It's the ultimate gift for the artist in your life.

The Curran painting is a recent acquisition of Godel Fine Art. Godel will be represented at The American Art Fair, November 16th – 19th at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street, New York. There's another scan of the image at Skinner Auction, where it sold recently.


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12. Josep Tapiró Baró's Watercolor Portraits


Josep Tapiró Baró (1836 - 1913) was a Spanish painter known for his watercolor portraits of indigenous North-African people. (He is also known as José Tapiró Baró)


His paintings push the limits of closely observed portraits in watercolor.

Up close, the textures are layered and the brushwork is varied, giving an iridescent sheen to surfaces like the skin and the shells, and a dry softness to the hair and fabric.

Here's a Berber bride, painted in 1896. The original is in Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya - MNAC, Barcelona. I don't know how long such a portrait would take, but the reserves of patience of both the artist and the model boggles the mind. Google Cultural Institute has a file of this image that can be scaled way up to see the smaller details. 

He was a friend of the painter Marià Fortuny, and once saved him from drowning. 

Apart from their technical virtuosity and artistic quality, his paintings are sensitive human portraits, capturing the quiet dignity of his subjects.


Tapiró was one of the first Spanish artists to live in Tangier, Morocco. He settled there in 1876 until his death in 1913, and witnessed great changes as the colonial powers exerted their influence on local cultural traditions.


The National Museum of Cataluna had an exhibition of his work last summer.

If you liked this post, you'll also enjoy Eugène Burnand's World War I Portraits

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13. Dinotopia Podcast, Episode 1

Every Tuesday for the next three months here on GurneyJourney I'll be sharing a new episode of an audio presentation of Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time. To listen, click the orange play button below, or follow the link to the SoundCloud file. 



This acoustic adventure by the ZBS Foundation uses a full cast of actors, sound effects, and an original music track by composer Tim Clark to bring the world of humans and dinosaurs to life before your ears.

When I wrote and illustrated the book, it seemed like a silent movie on the book page. But this production opens the gates of the imagination, complete with tambourines, trumpets, rumbles, hoots, roars and laughter.

The adventure begins with the shipwreck of Arthur and Will Denison on the shores of a mysterious island in 1862...

...and their arrival at a strange egg hatchery, where they meet humans who seem entirely comfortable with living among the saurian giants.

The Podcast Series
Episode 2 arrives one week from today— Tuesday, November 18. Tell your friends, and be sure to come back each week. That way you'll be able to hear the whole production for free.

But each 10-minute episode will only remain available online for one week, after which it will disappear like a mirage.

If you'd like to purchase the full two-hour Dinotopia podcast right now and hear all 12 episodes back to back in a feature-length production, check out Dinotopia at ZBS Foundation website. The show is available as either as an MP3 download.

Here's the link to the SoundCloud file (which vaporizes November 18).

You can also order the original book from my web store and I'll sign it for you. It's the ultimate holiday gift for the imaginative person in your life. (US orders only for the book, please).

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14. Rendering Big Hero 6

The new animated film Big Hero 6 uses a new rendering system developed at Disney Animation Studios that simulates the effect of light on surfaces with much more subtlety and nuance than in previous CGI animated films.

The rendering system, called Hyperion, manages the huge computational volume required for ray tracing. In a ray-traced image, the graphics system tracks the behavior of light rays that interact with various kinds of surfaces before passing through the picture plane. 

Any given light ray may bounce as many as 10 times, creating all sorts of secondary shadows, reflected light, or subsurface scattering. The inflatable robot character called Baymax is a perfect proof-of-concept for the rendering system because of all the internal scattering inside the vinyl skin.


Although the designers could have used this system for a photo-real image, they were very conscious of keeping to the stylized character of the animated world. 

The film is set in an alternate universe of "San Fransokyo." It not only had to combine design elements of east and west, but also had to be extremely detailed and layered to allow for some fly-through sequences. 

The geometry was connected to an actual street grid of San Francisco, and the assets can be reused for future films and games.


Both the rendering software and the architectural generator put immense demands on the Disney supercomputers. Tech supervisor Andy Hendrickson said "This movie is more computationally complex than our last three movies combined."


In this video, Norm from Tested interviews Mr. Hendrickson about the techniques and challenges. (link to video).

Book: The Art of Big Hero 6
Ray tracing on Wikipedia
All images ©Disney 2014

Speaking of animation, I'll be a speaker at CTN Animation Expo at Burbank in less than two weeks, giving presentations about Color and Light and Imaginative Realism. Hope to meet you there.

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15. Art of the World at our Fingertips

Drinking in a Zorn in New York
I recently ran across the following quote:

"Modern means of communication and modern methods of reproduction have brought the ends of the earth together and placed the art of all times and countries at the disposal of every artist. The quantity of painting produced has been enormous; the number of individual artists of some distinction has been remarkable; and the succession of 'movements' and revolutions, each rapidly extending its influence over the civilized world, has been most puzzling."

This sounds like it could have been describing our modern world, but it was from a book of essays about art by Kenyon Cox in 1905.

Kenyon Cox was responding to the rise of magazines like Harpers and Century and The Studio that reproduced the best work coming out of Europe and the rest of the world, and he would have been seeing the first color reproductions of that artwork, which must have been a revelation to artists who were hitherto limited to seeing the original work locally or via poor black and white engravings.

What would he think of the art culture of the internet, where thousands of images by artists of all times and styles are available at the touch of a button?

Cox argued that art before his time was more traditional, nationalistic, and homogenous. The new art resulting from the jumble of influences he regarded as more individual, international, and chaotic.

Is all this mixing of artistic DNA a good thing? What effect does the easy availability of images have on your work? Has it made learning easier or harder? Have you noticed trends in the art scene that have developed as a consequence of the universality availability of art online?
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Quote is from Essays on Art: Old Masters and New by Kenyon Cox, 1905, 1908
Wikipedia on Kenyon Cox (1856-1919)


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16. "How to Video Your Art" Part 1: Camera Guide


In the upcoming 100th issue of International Artist magazine, I've written the first of a series of articles about how to shoot your own art tutorial videos. In this blog post, I'd like to excerpt a bit from that article and supplement it with more information and links.


Painting in Wyoming with separate camera tripod
First, you might ask: Why shoot your own videos? Why not use a separate crew?

Five reasons:
1. You’ll know the best moments to capture.

2. You’ll let the camera have the best view.

3. You’ll control the edit.

4. If it’s for sale, you’ll keep the revenues.

5. Last but not least, if your painting is a fail, you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself in front of a film crew. You can just press delete.

If you're not keen on multi-tasking, you might enlist the help of a friend or a spouse. For example, Laurel Holmes, the wife of Marc Taro Holmes, who I profiled yesterday, just wrote a great blog post about tips for coverage when shooting still photos of sketchers.

My wife Jeanette can't always help me because she's busy painting too and doesn't like to bother with tech too much. So I've got to make it work as a single operator. Learning how to shoot and edit isn’t as hard as it might seem. Once you get used to it, it’s just part of the process, as easy and automatic as laying out your palette.

Setup for shooting a sequence in my upcoming casein video.
For the same price that it would cost to hire a professional crew for a couple of days, you can buy all the gear you’ll need. Modern entry-level consumer cameras and software give you better results than top-of-the line professional equipment from five years ago.

Once you learn to use the gear, your videos will be much better than a pro crew can ever hope to create anyway. The best they can achieve is to peer obliquely over your shoulder and ask you to explain what you’re doing while you paint.

I find it hard to speak coherently while I’m painting without skipping a key point, repeating myself, or simply misspeaking. I’d much rather concentrate on the painting and then record a voiceover after the edit (more on audio in a future post).

What kind of cameras work best for art videos?
Modern cameras record directly to high definition digital files. Many basic consumer cameras costing between $200 and $700 have all the features you need. Storage is cheap, so you can shoot all you want, put it on an external hard drive, and delete what doesn’t work.

Below are the cameras I use for videos and stills of my artwork. I happen to use mostly Canon cameras, and I stick to one brand as much as possible to maintain a consistent user interface and comparable color rendering. But I'm not a camera reviewer, and I'm not paid to endorse any particular brand. The following are the ones I decided on after researching the field, and they've served me well. But you might find competitive models from Nikon, Sony, JVC, or other companies.


Clockwise from upper left: camcorder, single-lens reflex,
GoPro action camera, and point-and-shoot
Camcorder. 
I use a Canon VIXIA camcorder, which gives me the necessary manual controls, a fold-out LCD screen, and an input port for external audio. If you get one video camera, a camcorder is the most versatile.
Single-lens reflex. 
I use a Canon EOS Rebel SLR camera mainly for more artistic video shots, and it’s also my standard camera for shooting high quality stills. I use the standard kit zoom lens, plus a 50mm f1.8 prime lens when I want maximum bokeh. You can also shoot time lapse stills if you use an intervalometer.
Action Camera. 
I use a GoPro Hero3 Black  mainly for time lapse. Time lapse videos are compiled from a series of still images shot automatically at intervals with a timer. I have my GoPro set to start shooting stills at two second intervals whenever I turn it on. Later, I combine those stills into a video clip using a program called Time Lapse Assembler. The GoPro has a deep-focus lens and an excellent sensor. It also has the advantage of being small, so it doesn’t obstruct my view of the painting. (More about time lapse technique in a future post.)
Point-and-shoot / pocket camera. 
I carry a Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 pocket camera in a belt holster when I’m in the field. I rely on it for shooting stills and for getting extra video coverage when it’s not convenient to bring out the other cameras. This camera, like a few others in its class, can shoot 1080p HD video, with a good image stabilizer that can turn shaky handheld shots into smooth usable footage. Smart phones are getting smarter, and can match many of these functions, but a good pocket camera will have better lenses and sensors and more useful controls. Many manufacturers are discontinuing the category because of dropping sales, so it's wise to pick one up before they become extinct.

Manual controls and why you need them
1. Focus lock. A camera set to automatic focus will keep refocusing on your hand, rather than on the painting surface, so a manual control setting is necessary to ensure a stable focus.

2. Manual exposure. If you start your painting or drawing on a white surface, the exposure needs to be raised to keep the shot from coming out neutral gray. Also, when shooting video, you don’t want the exposure to keep shifting when your hand moves in front of the camera.

3. Custom white balance. This manual setting is especially important if you’re working within a gamut of colors that’s dominant in one particular color, such as yellow. Automatic white balance neutralizes the color cast, so it’s best to have a camera that lets you control the setting. However, if you’re doing long shots outdoors on a cloudy day, both the white balance and the exposure levels will change when a cloud passes over, so you may need to rely on the automatic controls under those conditions.

Read more in the print edition of International Artist magazine, Issue 100
Visit my YouTube channel
Trailer for "Watercolor in the Wild"

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17. Book Review: The Urban Sketcher

Marc Taro Holmes has written and illustrated an instructional book called The Urban Sketcher: Techniques for Seeing and Drawing on Location.

The book builds on Holmes' experience drawing and painting in ink and watercolor. His sketching travels have taken him all around the world, most recently to an international gathering in Paraty, Brazil.

Marc is based in Montreal. He writes the Citizen Sketcher blog and contributes to the popular group blog Urban Sketchers.






Marc Taro Holmes, Havana Necropolis, 10 x 14 inches.
Urban Sketchers is a grass-roots movement with the following manifesto:

1. We draw on location, indoors or out, capturing what we see from direct observation. 

2. Our drawings tell the story of our surroundings, the places we live and where we travel. 

3.Our drawings are a record of time and place.

4. We are truthful to the scenes we witness.

5. We use any kind of media and cherish our individual styles. 

6. We support each other and draw together. 

7. We share our drawings online. 

8. We show the world, one drawing at a time.

The new book offers practical approaches to manifesting those principles. The text addresses the reader in an informal, encouraging tone designed to inspire everyone from beginners to advanced sketchers.

Each chapter shows a series of step-by-step demos, beginning with simple motifs like statues, cafe still life scenes, or museum objects, and ending with more challenging problems, such as complicated street scenes with moving figures.

In the first part of the book, Marc demonstrates pencil and pen techniques, allowing the line to move freely in and out of the form in a relaxed handling.

In some exercises he emphasizes line alone, and in others, he encourages the reader to spot areas of blacks, or define shadow shapes.


Marc Taro Holmes, Lisbon, Jeronimos Interior, 15x20 inches
Several of his step-by-step demos present the "Three-Pass" approach. In watercolor, those passes are:

1. Overall light wash, called the "tea" wash, covering the whole surface with a varying color that's more or less the local color of the object.

2. Next pass with more pigment, called the "milk" wash, defining forms and shadow shapes.

3. Final pass with thicker or stickier pigment, called the "honey" pass, adding accents and smaller details and adjusting edges.

The book ends with a gallery of about a dozen full color paintings, some reproduced large across a double page spread, so it feels like looking through pages of a sketchbook.
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Details: Publisher / North Light Books. Softcover, 144 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, retail $26.99. 

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18. Crowdsourced Curating

William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) Bohémienne 1890,
deaccessioned by the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts despite popular protests.
Should art museums allow ordinary people — people like you and me — decide what goes up on their walls?

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, some museums have tried the idea. This winter Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History will put on a show called "Everybody's Ocean," which will combine the work of established artists with images and videos contributed by local residents. The Frye museum in Seattle has allowed people to choose the images for an entire exhibition, and the Chicago Museum of History has even allowed people to decide on the theme for an upcoming exhibition.

There are several ways of bringing the public into a curatorial role:

  • 1. The museum curator can choose 50 works and use an online poll to narrow the list to 30.
  • 2. Let the public choose a favorite painting from the collection and feature it.
  • 3. Choose a theme and let the public vote on pieces from the collection, and open part of the show to works lent by—or created by—museum patrons.
  • 4. When deaccessioning artwork, put the decision to a vote.

Alma Tadema's Spring. One of the most
popular paintings at the Getty Museum
in LA, but for many years consigned to
the gift shop. 
Most of these ideas have already been tried, most often to great success. The Santa Cruz museum increased its foot traffic, donations, publicity reach, mailing list, and overall budget.

But not all curators like the idea, and some have quit in protest when proposals have been raised in planning meetings. According to the WSJ article:
"Helen Molesworth, the newly arrived chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, balked at the idea. 'You’re left with 10 paintings that may or may not make sense together, or may or may not be interesting together, or may or may not teach anything about the history of art—it’s not the stuff of knowledge or scholarship,' Ms. Molesworth said. When museum crowdsourcing is raised privately among curators, she said, the subject prompts a reaction of 'silent dismay.'"
I can imagine some reasonable arguments against the idea. There's the "echo chamber effect": The public might tend to choose the same popular warhorses over and over, while lesser known but deserving artists might continue to be overlooked. And it takes a dedicated professional curator to do the research and legwork necessary to put together a comprehensive show that breaks new scholarly ground.

This issue cuts to the heart of the basic functions of the art museum: collecting and preserving artwork, presenting artwork in a meaningful context, encouraging the community to make art, and recognizing the work of living artists.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Are there any favorite paintings in your local art museum that are consigned to the basement? Are there kinds of art that you wish your museum would feature? What advice would you give to professional curators about how to better engage the public?

Read the article in WSJ: "Everybody's an Art Curator"

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19. Night Creatures


Here's a gouache painting I did over 30 years ago when I was putting together a portfolio of science fiction samples. It has never been published before.


I imagine encountering these night creatures in a dark bar. I accidentally offend them by asking an innocent question about their feeding tentacles. I apologize, and they return to their drinks, the veins on their temples throbbing for a while.

That's my little treat for you on Halloween!

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20. Going Beyond the Facts

Blog reader Haden asks: "Everyone is familiar with the rule - the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form. But I've seen a lot of paintings when an object with a dark local value is pretty dark even though it's in the light." 



Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), "Sad Inheritance"



















Haden continues: "Take for instance the Sorolla (painting above). The coat and the kids flesh are very different local values. According to that rule, the coat in the light should be lighter than the shadows on the kids (reflected light would be lightening their shadow sides a touch). But still the coat in the light is almost black, shouldn't it be a mid-grey?"

"If the answer is paint it as you see it, then it's not really a rule, is it? Isn't it more just a general guideline for scenes with objects similar in local value? "

Reply: Haden, you are very observant to notice that the Sorolla painting breaks the rule. I believe you are right. If this scene were actually staged outdoors in front of the sea with real people, the monk's cloak would be much lighter in the sunlight and the sea would be lighter and bluer. 

I found an alternate scan of the image which I would suppose is closer to the original, but even in this scan, the values of the cloak and the sea are still very dark.

The best answer I can give is that rules are made to be broken. The rule should be understood first, and then ignored whenever the story demands. Here, because the form of the monk is not as important as those of the children, a simple dark shape suffices. 

This is what Andrew Wyeth and other artists describe as "going beyond the facts." The painting "Sad Inheritance" is about the frailty of the human condition, the triumph of the spirit, and the gift of compassion. These are all fairly sober themes, calling for a sober palette of color and value. 


Sorolla tells a very different story in this painting of children running along the beach. It communicates pure exuberance and energy. Like the other painting, the figures are front-lit, with the sea behind them. But (assuming these scans are accurate) here the blue colors are stronger, and the foam is purer white, creating a more carefree mood. 

Sorolla's first sketch for "Sad Inheritance"
This is why it's so important to allow a composition to grow in the imagination or the memory before facing facts, regardless of whether those facts come from observation or photography. 
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21. Weaving warm and cool threads throughout the picture

Hans Heysen (1884-1968) was an Australian painter who was born in Germany. He achieved a luminous, colorful effect with a very simple warm-cool palette.


In the watercolor painting "Midsummer Morning" 1908, his color range is restricted to blues and yellow/orange colors. You could achieve this effect with just ultramarine and raw sienna, and maybe a raw umber for darks. 

The warm-against-cool is orchestrated throughout the image as a whole, but also in its microcosm of small planes. In these details of the image, note how the far forest is held to an atmospheric light, cool value, with the nearer tree trunks edge lit and receiving warm reflected light. 

In the shadow side of the sheep in the sunlight, the top planes receive blue skylight, while the bottom planes receive warm reflected light. The bellies of the sheep in shadow receive much less of that bouncing warm light, so they're darker. 
These effects are most striking when looking toward the light, whether in watercolor (above), or oil (below).

Hans Heysen, Droving Into the Light, 1914-21, oil on canvas, 121.9 (h) x 152.4 (w) cm

Heysen himself said, "Keeping the trees solid in the morning light was the difficult thing, I think it was something I was striving for all my life really. The subtlety of the tree combined with the beauty; the bulk, the solidity of the tree, and the character of its growth. And the movement, that’s something we mustn’t forget … I had my special trees, and they altered their appearance—the time of the year and the angle of the sun made all the difference. You could paint a tree one day and get all its various facets. And the next day it would be a different tree."
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More about Heysen at the website of the National Gallery of Australia

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22. Dan Gurney Receives 2014 Edison-Ford Medal


My cousin Dan Gurney was recently honored with the 2014 Edison-Ford Medal for Innovation. They produced this tribute film about his lifetime of achievement as a race car driver, engineer, builder, and team owner. (Link to video)


In accepting the award, he said, “This is truly an amazing, humbling award. It is a great legacy to be part of this award – the names Edison and Ford say it all. Because of them, so many things we do today are easy and possible. They were pioneers, they made the USA a great place.” Afterward, he was interviewed on stage by Charlie Rose.

Article on Racer.com: Why Dan Gurney won the Edson-Ford Medal
Watch the video series: Dan Gurney, All-American Racer

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23. Painting Big, Painting Small


On the internet, images have no scale; they only have resolution. But in public exhibitions, size matters. Artists who want their original paintings to stand out in a gallery or museum show know that you can grab a viewer's attention if you paint really big or really small.

Charles Bell, Gum Ball No. 2. 1973. Oil on canvas, 60 x 78 inches
As the Photorealists realized, large scale can lend importance to an otherwise insignificant object.

But a tiny painting can rivet the attention of gallery-goers, too.

Meissonier, Young Man Writing, 1852, oil on panel, 23 x 16 cm (9x6 inches)
One painter who was known for his gemlike paintings was Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891), who was jokingly called the "King of Lilliput." Small as they were, his paintings were immensely popular in the 19th century, and commanded the highest prices of all the artists of his time.

In his 1914 biography, Frederic Cooper noted that the small size of Meissonier's pictures forces the viewer to draw closer. Their miniature size, he says, is perfectly suited to the genre subjects, which are intimate stories of single characters.

Meissonier, A Poet, 22 x 16 cm

Meissonier himself said, "The smaller the scale of one's picture, the more boldly the relief must be brought out. The larger the scale, the more it must be softened and diminished. This is an absolutely indispensable rule. A life-size figure treated like one of my small ones would be unendurable."

Meissonier was influenced by the craftsmanship of the Dutch masters. But rather than painting the people and costumes of his own times, in his early work, he most often portrayed gentlemen of the century before his own.

Meissonier, detail of Soldier Playing Theorbo, 1865, Metropolitan Museum
His paintings on close inspection reveal a variety of brush handling. The detail above is about two inches across, about half of a business card. Although the background was scrubbed in with a relatively large brush, he must have used a very fine brush for the strings of the instrument and the small folds of the gathered sleeve. See the full image in high res here.

Have you been impressed by extremely large or small originals? Say so in the comments.
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Wikipedia on Jean-Louis Ernest Meissonier
Book about Meissonier and Manet: Ross King - The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism

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24. A Portrait of Whistler

Portrait painters have often observed that the more faithful the likeness, the more the subject will hate it.

Sir John Lavery, who knew James Abbott McNeill Whistler well said that Giovanni Boldini's portrait of him was a speaking likeness.

But Whistler didn't think so. He said: "Well, they tell me it is very like me, but, thank God, I am not like it."

Lavery painted a word portrait of Whistler:

"When he got in front of the [mirror] to brush his hair he behaved exactly like a woman settling her permanent wave, placing individual locks, moistened to keep their form, in their allotted places so that they did not interfere with the gray wisp of which he was so proud that stood out of the damp shiny curls on his forehead. His eyebrows were thick and black, his eyes sharp as needles, while a sensitive nose and mouth with prominent chin made up his features."

"He had beautiful hands, though somewhat claw-like, especially when he would clutch one by the arm to drive home a point. A low, turn-down collar with a narrow black-ribbon bow adorned his wrinkled neck, and his general appearance was that of a small alert ringmaster, whip in hand. I can never remember seeing him, even in the country, in anything other than what are known as court slippers, causing him to be very careful where he stepped out of doors."

From The Life of a Painter by John Lavery

The painting is in the Brooklyn Museum, but is not currently on view. Artist: Giovanni Boldini, Italian, 1842-1931 Oil on canvas, 1897, 67 1/4 x 37 1/4 in.

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25. Aug(de)mented Reality 2


Marty Cooper, who goes by the name "Hombre McSteez," animates in plein air, using felt-tipped markers, whiteout, transparency cels, and an iPhone. He calls the result "Aug(de)mented Reality." Here's the latest.


Mythbuster co-creator Adam Savage invited Marty Cooper to his workshop for a behind-the-scenes video, in which they actually create one of the segments in one day. (Link to video)

Here's the original video, which has racked up more than four million views.

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