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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. Gérôme on Truth, Illustration, and Photography

Late in his life, academic painter and teacher Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) wrote a statement of his beliefs about art.

"The fact is that truth is the one thing truly good and beautiful; and, to render it effectively, the surest means are those of mathematical accuracy. Nature alone is audacious above anything human; she alone is original and picturesque. It is, then, to her that we must become attached if we wish to interest and enthuse the spectator."

Illustration by Howard Pyle
"The art of illustration has made progress. It is more documentary, but none the less artistic. From this point of view the Americans excel. They have learned how to make use of the document and to make it serve their purpose. In this, instantaneous photography has been of inestimable assistance…. From all this one must conclude that our sense of sight is not as well developed as that of the Greeks or of the Japanese, and that it is not one of our gifts to observe with sufficient attention the various aspects of nature when in rapid motion."

Jean-Léon Gérôme - Diogenes, 1860, Walters Art Gallery
"When one is young and inexperienced one prefers the art of sentiment, and has even the false idea that too much study, too much truth, take away from work its light and its movement. When one has grown old in the harness, when one has worked for many years, observed well, compared well, ideas change. The artist should be a poet in conception, a determined, honest, and sincere workman in the execution. One must put into his work an artistic probity, and, above all, work, work. But there can be no serious and durable work if it is not based upon reason and mathematical accuracy.—if, in a word, art is not allied to science."
"True Gods and False in Art," by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Harpers Magazine, 1903, Vol. CVI.-No 633.— 47

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2. "Color and Light" in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean

We just received copies the new Chinese hardback edition of "Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter" (upper left) from the Eurasian Publishing Group / Solutions Publishing.

There's also a Chinese softcover edition and a Japanese and Korean edition.
The little dinosaur on the cover is Mei long, from China's Liaoning province.

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3. Color Photography from 1913

In its informal pose and rich color, this photograph looks like it was shot in 1973, but actually it was taken in 1913. 

It used the Autochrome process, developed in 1903 by the Lumière brothers, using glass plates covered with potato starch. Motoring pioneer Mervyn O’Gorman took the photo, with his daughter Christina posing. The lack of era-specific costume details adds to the sense of timelessness.
This and seven other photos of Christina at Bored Panda

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4. Exhibit Review: Benjamin-Constant in Montreal

"Marvels and Mirages" is more than an exhibition about Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), and it's more than a show about Orientalism. It's a loving embrace of the broader themes of exoticism and storytelling and an ambitious revival of a lost world of picture-making.

Benjamin-Constant Self Portrait, gouache
The exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Art, curated by museum director Nathalie Bondil, is the first major retrospective of Benjamin-Constant in recent times. It borrows from over 60 private and public lenders, including many regional museums in France. Several paintings were restored and reframed for the show. 

Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant, The Pink Flamingo, 1876
The exhibit designers made an effort to evoke the mystery of the Near East. As you ascend the stairs into the show, Moroccan music plays softly and light filters down, influenced by shadows cast by latticework-patterned gobos.

Several glass cases show drawings, engravings, and prints. The show is divided into various themes: The Studio, the Salon, the Alhambra, Tangier, and Colonial Diplomacy. It takes some time to absorb all the captions, because there's so much exposition: political events, timelines, historical contexts, and biographical details. Woven throughout the writing are some great lines, such as "between a mirage of seduction and the veiled realities of a colonial republic." 

Unfortunately—and this has nothing to do with the curation of the exhibit—there are reasons why Benjamin-Constant is not an "artist's artist." He doesn't have the psychological penetration of Repin; nor the sensitivity to color of Gerome; nor the archaeological conviction of Alma Tadema; nor the brush fluency of Sargent; nor the exquisite surfaces of Vibert or Meissonier. Some of Benjamin-Constant's paintings are frankly out of perspective, a fault that is usually hard to find among academic painters. He'll often spend a great deal of effort with background patterns without really working out the faces or the human story. Some of the paintings are huge, which magnifies their problems even more.

Unlike many other academic and Juste-Milieu painters of his time, Benjamin-Constant failed to embrace the innovations of plein-air painting. He called Impressionists "daubers" and their work "the oculist's art." That's too bad, because he would have benefited by incorporating the lessons learned from thoughtful plein-air study. For example, in the painting above, Benjamin-Constant uses a blackish dark for the farthest arch, when it really should be lifted up in value because of the intervening illuminated atmosphere. 

Fortunately the show includes some of Benjamin-Constant's contemporaries. One of the standouts is the watercolor portrait by Josep Tapiro y Baro, whom I have spotlighted in a previous post. 

There's also a rare chance to see some history paintings by Jean Paul Laurens. In "The Late Empire: Honorius," he shows the young emperor outmatched by his position. It's a magnificent example of subtle storytelling.

There were also several Henry Regnaults, including this watercolor (detail), which is a riot of cool reds and blue-greens over solid figure drawing. The show includes some fine examples by Gerome, Fortuny, Jose Villegas y Cordero. 

But I wish the curator had included some other notable Orientalists, such as Rudolph Ernst, Frederick Bridgman, Gustave Bauernfeind, Vasily Vereshchagin, Hermann Corrodi, Leopold Carl Muller, William Logsdail, Frederick Leighton, Edwin Lord Weeks, and Ludwig Deutsch. Even though they weren't French Orientalists, their work would have raised the overall quality level of the artwork in the show.

In all, though, the museum is to be commended for rediscovering an artist who has been largely overlooked, and putting his work in context. I hope they will give a similar treatment to other neglected French artists, especially Jules Bastien-Lepage. Like the Waterhouse exhibit from a few years ago, this one provides quite a stimulus for artists. If you want to see it, it's only up until the end of the month.

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5. GJ Book Club, Chapter 8—Line Drawing: Practical

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 8, "The Study of Drawing," from Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.

This is one of the core chapters of the book, with many good illustrations. Rather than try to comprehensively summarize the content, I'll just call out a few key points to provide a memory jogger and a discussion starter.

1. Appearances must be reduced to terms of a flat surface.
In many modern academic ateliers, one proceeds from a 2D shape analysis in an early stage, to a 3D construction stage later. Seeing the forms in front of you as flat shapes can be a challenge, and Speed offers various methods for doing so, including......

2. Method for creating a drawing grid: cardboard with cutout hole, and black thread held in with sealing wax.
Over the years I have experimented with various forms of this grid, including one with black threads woven across. By the way, sealing wax is a sticky wax people would melt and then stamp with a tool for sealing letters. You could use hot glue for the same purpose. 

I've found a more useful grid is a set of lines drawn with an indelible marker on a piece of acrylic or plexiglass sheet. In order to get accurate measurements, the observer must maintain a constant distance and position relative to the grid. Holding it at arm's length is one way, but there are others. Maybe in a future post or video I'll show some other methods.

3. The drawing grid or frame should be held between the eye and the object to be drawn in a perfectly vertical position.
This needs a bit of clarification. Rather than being held in a "perfectly vertical position," the grid or viewfinder should be held perpendicular to the line of sight, which is a different thing in the case of an upshot or downshot. Holding the grid vertically in such an up or down angled view would negate the normal convergent effect of vertical lines. In fact, in photography, "tilt-shift" lenses are sometimes used to artificially hold the lens vertically to negate the normal perspective of verticals.

4. It is never advisable to compare other than vertical and horizontal measurements.
A corollary to this is the importance of being able to judge a true vertical, often aided by a plumb line.

5. Three principles of construction.
A. Block out shape by analyzing into straight lines (Figure X, above)
B. Breaking down the shapes of curves.  (Figure Y).
C. Vertical and side measurements. (Figure Z).
These three basic geometric methods, used in conjunction with each other, are used in the demo of the figure block-in below.

6. Method for blocking in a figure, with the prime vertical drawn through the armpit.
He also says, "Train yourself to draw between limits decided upon at the start." This is so important for placing figures accurately in multi-figure work. Some other methods, such as building outward from the center, will not serve as well for producing figures that must fit within strict limits.

7. In the case of foreshortenings, the eye, unaided by this blocking out, is always apt to be led astray.
This is so true, and in the case of foreshortenened lengths that I try to always remember to make measurements.

8. In blocking-in, observe the shape of the background as much as the object.
In many modern books, this advice is put in terms of judging "negative shapes."

9. Lines bounding one side of a form must be observed in relation to the lines bounding the other.
He continues, "The drawing of the two sides should be carried on simultaneously so that one may constantly compare them." 

10. In line drawing, shading should only be used to aid the expression of form.
Even though this drawing has some tone, Speed uses it to show the way parallel lines can express form and textures like hair.
11. Diagram of a cone (seen from above) next to a window at left.
Speed proceeds to go into some detail about the theory of what we would regard highlights, terminators, core shadows, and cast shadows. But he's not primarily concerned with accurately producing a tonal analysis of form. That will come later in "mass drawing." He is still thinking in terms of a drawing conceived primarily in linear terms. That's why he suggests using the soft frontal lighting of an open window at the observer's back.

12. You seldom see any shadows in Holbein's drawings; he seems to have put his sitters near a wide window, close against which he worked.

13. Lines of shading drawn across the forms suggest softness, lines drawn in curves fullness of form, lines drawn down the forms hardness, and lines crossing in all directions so that only a mystery of tone results, atmosphere. 
In his book Creative Illustration, Andrew Loomis recapitulates these same points, not only for drawing, but also painting techniques.

14. In the method of line drawing we are trying to explain (the method employed for most of the drawings by the author in this book) the lines of shading are made parallel in a direction that comes easy to the hand, unless some quality in the form suggests their following other directions. 
15. Don't burden a line drawing with heavy half tones and shadows; keep them light. 
He says, "The beauty that is the particular province of line drawing is the beauty of contours, and this is marred by heavy light and shade." 

16. Analysis of forms of the eye, the eyebrow, and the eyelashes.
There are many good pieces of advice in the text.
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

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6. Urban Sketchers, Montreal

Yesterday we painted in Montreal's Chinatown with the Urban Sketchers group.

We met at Place Sun-Yat-Sen, facing the East Gate. I used gouache, dramatizing the lighting a little to spotlight just part of the face of the main building.

There were four of us painting next to each in one small cluster, and it was fun swapping sketching stories with each other and chatting with the people who were passing by. 

The photo is by Urban Sketcher correspondent Shari Blaukopf. Have a look at her painting on her daily sketchblog.

Afterward, we had a congenial supper together. Clockwise from left: Blue, Elise, Marc Holmes, his wife Laurel, Shari Blaukopf, Jeanette, Ubisoft art director Raphael Lacoste, and Chantalle.

Since we were all sketching at the table, we attracted the attention of a couple of very observant girls at the table next to us, so I invited them over to try out some water-soluble colored pencils and to watch a little demo on how to make something look 3D.

P.S. Yes, we saw the Benjamin-Constant exhibition! I'll post about it on Saturday.
Urban Sketchers Montreal will meet this Sunday. Anyone is welcome to join them, and here's information about their meet-up. 
Shari Blaukopf's sketch blog

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7. Painting a Pelican at the Pember

Yesterday we stopped at the Pember Museum of Natural History, a collection of old natural history specimens that is still displayed in Victorian-style glass cases.

The small museum is in Granville, New York, near the border with Vermont. They have about 10,000 taxidermy birds, mammals, and insects, as well as birds' eggs, nests, and minerals. 

I painted the American white pelican in watercolor and gouache. The colors were white, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna. 

The specimen has the large growths on the top of the beak that occur temporarily during breeding season, which gave me ideas for pterosaurs.

I recommend the museum to artists who want to sketch. Nearly everything is on display. They welcome artists, and they even provide comfortable wood chairs. 

Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote about the wonder of the 19th century cabinets of curiosity, and the different assumptions they present about imparting natural history knowledge:
"The display of organisms in these museums rests upon concepts strikingly different from modern practice, but fully consonant with Victorian concerns: Today we tend to exhibit one or two key specimens, surrounded by an odd mixture of extraneous glitz and useful explanation, all in an effort to teach (if the intent be maximally honorable) or simply to dazzle (nothing wrong with that either). The Victorians, who viewed their museums as microcosms for national goals of territorial expansion and faith in progress fueled by increasing knowledge, tried to stuff every last specimen into their gloriously crowded cabinets — in order to show the full range of global diversity. . . . You can put one beetle in a cabinet (usually an enlarged model, and not a real specimen), surround it with fancy computer graphics and pushbutton wwhatzits, and then state that no other group maintains such diversity. Or you can fill the same cabinet with real beetles from each of a thousand different species — all of differing colors, shapes, and sizes — and then state that you have tried to display each kind in the country."
Pember Museum, Granville, New York.
More about the white pelican on Wikipedia

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8. Rare Video of Illustrator Arthur William Brown

Here's a rare archival sound film from 1949, showing Golden-Age illustrator Arthur William Brown (1881-1966) as he tells the story of his career and the principles behind his pictures. (Link to YouTube)

He says: "I think I was one of the first to realize the advantages of the camera, whether to get natural attitudes, telling expressions, and quick accidental poses that a model couldn't hold long enough for an artist to get on paper. Today, with a few exceptions, every illustrator uses the camera in some way. We don't copy the photograph. We use it as a guide."

"If I were giving advice, I would say, be sincere in your work. If you admire the work of a great illustrator, learn from him, but don't imitate. You won't last long if you do. If you admire the work of a great illustrator, learn from him, but don't imitate. You won't last long if you do. And if you really want to be popular, make your girls beautiful. Then you can't miss."

Sorry the quality isn't any better. I added subtitles to make it a little clearer. It has been duplicated a few times, and I'm not sure if the original film even exists. 

The footage was shot by Frank Reilly, part of his "Artists at Work" series. According to Reilly himself, the purpose of the film "is to impress upon us the accomplishments of those among us now and to perpetuate their memory for the inspiration of those who are to follow." Thanks to Mr. Reilly, and to the individuals and institutions who have preserved his legacy. If anyone knows where the original motion picture film copies are, please let me know.

If you like this, you might also like the ones on Dean Cornwell and Harvey Dunn
Wikipedia on Arthur William Brown

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9. Tone Paper Studies

I drew this study from a live model in charcoal and white chalk on brown wrapping paper. It was made in preparation for a National Geographic illustration. 

I drew the study instead of taking a photo because it's faster. In 20 minutes I had all the essential information I needed. Getting a pre-digital photo printed out would have required driving to the one-hour-photo place at the mall or shooting a Polaroid (which I never used). 

Here's a detail of the figure in the final painting, along with other figures that were also based on charcoal studies from models. The model for the guy working the lever on the ground is ski instructor Mike Rogan, back when he was still in high school.

Iron smelting at ancient Populonia, from The Etruscans, National Geographic
Tone paper studies are one of the oldest of old-school methods, and it's still one of my favorite ways to develop reference for multi-figure work, not only because it's efficient, but because it allows me to immediately begin selecting significant details and making a statement. 

Previously: Doing a mirror study for Kushite King
More old-school methods in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist

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10. H. Septimus Power's Horse Paintings

Septimus Power, The End of the Day
H. Septimus Power (1877-1951) was a New-Zealand-born Australian artist who was always fascinated with horses.

H. Septimus Power, Horse Cart, Watercolor
He got an early job painting animal heads on butchers' delivery vans, and later worked for a veterinarian. 

He studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and then moved to London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy. Arthur Streeton said of him: "One is impressed first by a tremendous display of colour and a dauntless feeling of optimism … He displays remarkable knowledge and vigour in his paintings of animals."

H. Septimus Power, Bringing Up the Guns
In World War I he worked as a war artist, specializing in scenes with horses. The biplane is almost a ghost in the distance.

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11. Yakovlev's Citroën Expeditions

 Alexander Yakovlev (1887-1938) Mirza Dolik
One of the works in the upcoming Sotheby's auction of Russian pictures is this portrait by Alexander Yakovlev.

Portrait of Mirza Dolik (detail) 
The drawing is 20 x 14 inches, and it was drawn outdoors from life in 1931 using sanguine and pastel on paper. 

Alexander Yakovlev (also spelled Alexandre Iacovleff or Jacovleff) did the drawing as the official sketch artist of a motorized expedition across Asia.

The vehicle was a Citroën with a half-track in back. It drove across regions of the Asian continent that had no roads and very little petrol. Along the way the motor caravan overcame incredible obstacles, including warriors, mountain passes, and raging rivers.

Yakovlev was born and trained in Russia at the Imperial Academy of Arts under Kardovsky, and he lived later in France and America.

He was involved with two Citroën expeditions through Asia. The team traveled through Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China. He also went on an expedition through Africa, crossing the Sahara to Equatorial Africa.

His portraits bear the intensity of the encounters between cultures unfamiliar with each other. In many regions, his lifelike portraits provoked awe, and the people seeing such drawings being made regarded him as a form of conjurer.

Alexander Yakovlev Salek Ibn Mohamed 

sanguine and pastel on paper 29x21.5 in.

According to Sotheby's: "The clothes of the present sitter suggest that Salek Ibn Mahomed was a Baghdadi Kurd, a people whose proud and dignified air Yakovlev found very attractive and markedly different to the rather more simple appearance of the Kurdish nomads in the north. ‘If I hadn’t known that the Baghdadi Kurds who came to pose for me were just porters handling supplies for the expedition’ Yakovlev wrote, ‘I could easily have mistaken them for descendants of the princes of One Thousand and One Nights’"

Read More
Alexandre Jacovleff / Alexandre Yevgenievich Jacovleff on  Wikipedia
Sothebys "Russian Pictures," June 2 at Sothebys London
Exhibition catalog with essay
Read a French website about portfolios of these portraits.
Tate Gallery has one of his works
Book: Great Adventures With National Geographic: Exploring Land, Sea, and Sky
Print articles:
"From the Mediteranean to the Yellow Sea by Motor," by Maynard Owen Williams, National Geographic, November 1932 
"Through the Deserts and Jungles of Africa by Motor: Caterpillar Cars Make 15,000-Mile Trip from Algeria to Madagascar in Nine Months," by Georges-Marie Haardt, National Geographic, June 1926.
Related Posts on GJ:
Josep Tapiro's Ethnographic Portraits
Eugene Burnand's World War I Portraits

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12. GJ Book Club, Chapter 7: "The Study of Drawing"

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 7, "The Study of Drawing," from Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.
I look forward to your thoughts, and I enjoyed the discussion last week.

1. Line drawing vs. mass drawing
In this short chapter, Speed hammers home his thesis about how there are two basic approaches: line drawing and mass drawing. This distinction is so important to the book so far, that I tried to see if I could diagram how clusters of ideas group with each point of view:

Line Drawing————Mass Drawing

2. Squareness may be looked for in the drawing

In general, I agree with Speed, who captions this diagram with the point that "flatness gives strength to the forms." I've always thought of this in term of how planes and straight lines give vigor to form. Also, using straight line segments is a useful drawing method as an early step for achieving accuracy.

But the diagram confuses me a little bit. I can see that he is interpreting the Rubens drawing in terms of short, straight line segments, but someone could also interpret it in terms of round lines and bulging forms. So why is he looking for "squareness" in this drawing?

3. The student should study simultaneously from these two points of view....And the qualities of each point of view should be studied separately.
In other words, you can't just do a line drawing and hope the tone will work out later. These are two fundamentally different ways of seeing and the student should pursue them as a different set of challenges.

He points out that students, before they get to painting, should have some elementary tone exercises under their belts. Form expression with tone requires some comfort with the elements of tonal language that Speed is talking about in the book so far.

I hope I'm not missing any big points in this small chapter, and I look forward to your comments about it.

The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page  (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)

Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

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13. Nearly-Notan Gouache with Yellow Underpainting

I ask Jeanette if she wants me to help her in the supermarket, and she says, "Really, I'd rather not. Why don't you go do a sketch?" I know what she means. I'm always distracting her with other topics while she's thinking about food.

Behind the VW Dealership, gouache, 5 x 8 inches
I've got 45 minutes and two tubes of gouache, white and black. That's OK, because I'm in a film-noir mood today. I walk over to the edge of the supermarket parking lot and there is a white van parked behind the VW dealership. I like the way it's halfway in the light.

The sketchbook page is already primed with a bright yellow acryla gouache underpainting. I did that to cover up a flubbed diner sketch (can you see the outline of a ketchup bottle just to the left of the van?). 

Over that dry priming, I draw some perspective guidelines with watercolor pencil. The "acryla" part of acryla gouache seals the surface against later wet layers of regular gouache, so the yellow won't pick up with what comes next. 

I like the bright yellow because it forces me to use opaques, and it makes me paint across edges. I lay down the big masses of near-white and near-black tones, using a flat half-inch brush, with no attempt at detail yet.

I'm interpreting the scene as a "Nearly-Notan" statement. By that I mean two families of tone: "very-dark-plus-black" for what is in shadow, and very-light-plus-white" for what is in direct sun.

I can allow myself a little definition within each of those principalities, but I want to avoid middle tones. There should be a deep valley in the middle of Histogramland.

I move to smaller brushes for details. A guy comes out on break and sits to the left of the van to check his cellphone. The sun goes behind clouds for the whole rest of the session, so I have to remember the lighting.

Jeanette has finished the grocery shopping. I've got to wrap. I use black watercolor pencil for the wires. 

I'm nearly done, but I want to add a little more glare to the sky. I add a little white artist's chalk in the area adjoining the sky and rub it in with a soft cotton cloth. If you scroll back up to the top, you can see the subtle glare effect with the chalk.

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14. Shishkin Landscape

The landscapes of Ivan Shishkin (Russian, 1832-1898) are notable for their truth to nature. He knew a lot about botany and painted outdoors on a regular basis. This autumn landscape in oil is about 16 x 26 inches.

 A detail suggests three things to my eye.

1. The sky must have been dry or nearly dry from a previous session, rather than painted all wet together. If it was previously painted, it then have been "oiled out" with a very thin layer of painting medium to make it receptive.

2. He must have had a wide variety of brushes, and switched between them as he built up the foliage and branch textures. A big old, splayed brush, dabbed against the canvas, could have provided the foliage textures.

3. The branches are painted with a very thin round brush, and some of the lighter branches in the lower right of this detail seem to be scraped out of the wet paint with a knife or a brush.

4. The foreground leaf masses are laid on quite thickly. The full effect is loose and direct, but not "brushy"that is, it doesn't look like a collection of brushstrokes.
The Shishkin painting is Lot #1 in an upcoming Sotheby's sale of Russian pictures in London on June 2.

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15. Dinotopia: The World Beneath—Final Episode

The time has come for the final episode of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can hear the episode at this Soundcloud link, or by pressing the play button below.

The dramatic conclusion with biomorphic walkers and apex predatory dinosaurs is brought to life through audio alone, which has more imaginative power than movies — though it's done on a budget.

Will and Arthur Denison, from Dinotopia: The World Beneath

This audio adventure was produced by ZBS Productions. Producer Tom Lopez and composer Tim Clark created many layers of sound to make Dinotopia come alive to the ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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16. The Backgrounds of "Ghost in the Shell"

The animated film "Ghost in the Shell" was released in 1995, and the backgrounds were produced with physical paint.

Observer K Huitula described the technical process: "They were painted with about 30 different colors of bottled poster color [a liquid form of gouache, also known as tempera]. On wet paper, first the basic color surfaces and tones are painted with a bigger brush, after which you move on to smaller details little by little."

"The straight lines are painted with a brush, taking support from a ruler and a stick gliding on its groove.

Here's an example of such a grooved-ruler device in action (thanks, Todd Bowlin)

"A paintbrush [airbrush?] is used only very seldom to achieve some certain effects, still most of the painting is done with a traditional brush. Hair-dryers are also used for drying the painting when needed."

"While not working on a precise project, all the free time is used for making painting exercises, taking advantage of the studio library consisting of various books on nature and photography. Also different variations are being done from the same painting, varying the colors and the impression of lighting."

Ghost in the Shell was based on a manga by Masamune Shirow. The film was produced by the company Production I.G., and the crew of about 200 people was directed by Mamoru Oshii. The backgrounds were the work of Hiromasa Ogura and his team. 

The original film cost 5 million dollars to make. For the upcoming Hollywood live action remake, the fee for actress Scarlett Johannson alone is said to be 10 million.
Thanks, K Huitula!

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17. Rodriguez interviews Del Toro

(Link to video) Movie director Robert Rodriguez has been conducting a series of online interviews with fellow directors. Whether you're a movie fan, a budding filmmaker, or a painter, the interviews are fascinating, because they come from inside the business and the art form.

The chat with Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim) takes place beneath a wall of Frank Frazetta originals that Rodriguez has on display in his Austin, Texas-based "Troublemaker Studios."

The interview is fascinating for a number of reasons. For one thing, both directors have a deep-seated love of fantasy art. They talk about working with scripts, actors, studios, and visual effects, and the universal issue of how to hold onto your personal vision despite the pressure to do something else.

Be sure to watch the versions that are full-frame; some YouTube versions of these interviews are annoyingly formatted.
The Director's Chair: Interview with Guillermo Del Toro
Rodriguez has also interviewed Quentin Tarantino and Francis Ford Coppola

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18. Lens Flare and Light Spill

The upcoming issue of International Artist magazine includes an article that I wrote about lens flare, light spill, and color coronas. These phenomena are familiar from photography, but similar effects occur in the human eye, and they can be very effective in painting.  

Knowing how to recognize them, why they occur, and how to paint them gives you another tool for expressing light and atmosphere.

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19. The Meissonier / Mackay Affair

A scandal about a displeased portrait client damaged the career of the most famous painter of his day, Ernest Meissonier (French 1815-1891), and ended with the portrait thrown onto a fire.

Ernest Meissonier, Self Portrait
Despite his celebrity and the vast sums paid for his work, Meissonier had painted few images of women, and few portrait likenesses. This commission came in the last decade of his life and at the pinnacle of his international success.

The sitter was Mrs. J. W. Mackay, of California. After seeing the portrait nearly finished, she rejected it, and at first her husband refused to pay for it. The price was vast for 1884, estimated between ten and twenty-five thousand dollars. Meissonier responded by vowing to keep the painting and he put it on exhibition, where the public would be the judge. 

In his view he had simply painted a picture that was too accurate. In her view he had made her look coarse, and made up like a painted doll.

"It seems that after Meissonier had painted the portrait, Mrs. Mackay criticised it a little and wanted it just a little more finished. It was not finished then when she went into the country, and she wrote him she would come up anytime he wanted to finish it."

"He never said a word, but finished the hands from a model of a big, coarse woman with ugly hands, and made the cheeks and lips powdered and painted frightfully, and left the neck yellow, just because he was so angry that she should dare to criticise such a great master as himself."

"Now Mrs. Mackay thought, with good reason I think, that she ought to have been the model to her own portrait, and that she could ask at least for a faint resemblance, especially as she would have to pay $15,000 for the picture."

"Without informing Mrs. Mackay as to his intentions or asking her consent, he simply sent the picture to the exhibition, where her friends saw it and told her of it. She wrote and asked for the picture, and at the close of the exhibition it was sent to her, with a bill."

"Mr. Mackay was so provoked that he wanted to make a fuss about it, but his friends persuaded him to pay it and say nothing more about it. This he did, and threw the picture in the fire. But on the same day Mr. Mackay left for America the papers: came out with the story, abusing Mrs. Mackay, and the French artists are to meet and have an indignation meeting that a canvas immortalized by Meissonier should be burned by a vulgar American."

The debate about who was in the right was taken up in all the papers on both sides of the Atlantic. An early writer about the incident said that "Meissonier, by the haughtiness of his manner, his artistic independence, and, most of all, by his unpardonable success, had been sowing dragons teeth for half a century. And now armed enemies sprang up, and sided with the woman from California. They made it an international episode: less excuses have involved nations in war in days agone....The tide of Meissonier's prosperity began to ebb: prospective buyers kept away; those who had given commissions canceled them."


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20. On-the-Spot Humorous Illustration

I like trying out new ideas when I'm drawing on location. One approach that I tried many years ago is the on-the-spot character study.

For this one, I was sitting in a barber shop while a customer was getting a haircut. 

I told them what I was doing, and they didn't pay much attention to me after that. I used whatever elements of the scene helped to support the story, such as those odd head forms mounted on the barber chairs. 

The customer didn't have a mop of hair and beard like that. I kind of made that up, and I exaggerated the barber, too. But I used real details from the scene, like the comb in the barber's back pocket.

I drew the picture with a brush and India ink over a pencil underdrawing, about 11 x 14 inches. I was inspired by the caricature illustration of Al Dorne, Norman Rockwell, and Mort Drucker. 

Further reading
I intended this sketch for The Artist's Guide to Sketching, but it never made it into the book. A book that inspired this thinking is Humorous Illustration by Nick Meglin. Also, check out the more recent books: MAD's Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Works and Albert Dorne: Master Illustrator

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21. Dinotopia / World Beneath Podcast, Episode 14

Close your eyes, open your imagination, and travel to Dinotopia. It's time for Episode 14 of Dinotopia: The World Beneath. You can listen to the track by clicking on the play button below, or by following the direct link to SoundCloud.

The explorers find the treasure of the lost city of Poseidos.

Who are the king and queen of the World Beneath?

This audio re-creation was produced by ZBS Productions. Audio producer Tom Lopez and composer Tim Clark created many layers of sound to make Dinotopia come alive to the ears.

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

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

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

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

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

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22. Proko's Skelly App

Stan Prokopenko and his team have just released a new app called "Skelly." 

It's named after the virtual skeleton character from Prokopenko's anatomy instruction videos on YouTube

The Skelly app lets you put the human skeleton into any pose and to see it from any angle. Tapping on a joint brings up a spherical overlay with directional arrows that let you drag the joint in the desired plane of movement.

It’s a useful tool for art students or professionals wondering what the skeleton is really doing beneath a life pose or for anyone wanting to visualize a pose from scratch. 

The interface is intuitive and easy to use without sacrificing any of the nuances of the human body’s complex range of movement. 

I tried it on my iPad, which is big enough to really see all the small bones, but it will also work on other mobile devices.

A control in the lower left of the screen lets you switch between a detailed skeleton model and a more simplified blocky skeleton, which Proko calls "RoboSkelly." Two other controls change the background and the light source.

Proko made this promo trailer with his characteristic wit and sense of fun.

I recommend the Skelly app for animators, storyboarders, comic artists, illustrators, and figure painters.

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23. Last Portrait of Turk

Turk, the gentle giant of a draft horse, died this week. I painted one last portrait of him and made a video tribute (Link to YouTube).

He had been losing weight, even on a special rich diet, and one rear leg was so lame that he was almost unable to get up from the ground. He was around 28-30 years old.

Portrait of the Belgian draft horse Turk, gouache, 5 x 8 inches.
I stood by his stall and painted him in gouache. The challenge was that he didn't hold still, and even faced the wrong way most of the time.

Paintings of Turk
Clockwise from upper left: Brush pen and watercolor pencils; Oil on panel; Watercolor and gouache; and Casein.

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24. Speed Chapter 6: "Academic and Conventional"

On the GJ Book Club, we're studying Chapter 6, "The Academic and Conventional" in Harold Speed's 1917 classic The Practice and Science of Drawing.

The following numbered paragraphs cite key points in italics, followed by a brief remark of my own. If you would like to respond to a specific point, please precede your comment by the corresponding number.
In this chapter, Speed is searching for the "real matter of art" that raises it above correct, accurate, but lifeless drawing.

1. "dull lifeless, highly finished work, imperfectly perfect" 
Speed later speaks about the mistake many art schools made by limiting themselves to "training students mechanically to observe and portray the thing set before them to copy." This is a familiar criticism that we hear today about students coming out of modern-day atelier training.

2. "freer system of the French schools"

Drawing by Harold Speed
Speed says that in many English schools, except for the Royal Academy, "artists were seldom employed in teaching." At the R.A., a distinguished visiting academician would preside for a month at a time. That method led to some puzzlement among students who wanted a definite system.

3. "These accurate, painstaking school studies are very necessary as a training for the eye in observing accurately."
I'm glad he said this, because too often one hears complaints about academic drawing from those who can't do it, and too often, "artistic" styles are used to justify art that is not disciplined.

3. "Dither"
Speed says, "It is difficult to explain what is wrong with an academic drawing, and what is the difference between it and a fine drawing." He introduces the concept of "dither," a Scotch word meaning the looseness or play of machine parts that allows an engine to move. In art it would mean the search for variety and the quality of "a live, individual consciousness."

4. The fact is: it is only the academic that can be taught.
I don't think Howard Pyle would agree with this. Pyle had students like N.C. Wyeth enter his summer school for illustration, and he taught them how to see with the mind's eye, and how to make their compositions more forceful. Most of Pyle's students had already had Beaux-Arts style cast drawing and figure drawing experience, but he showed that non-academic skills (such as storytelling skills) can indeed be taught.

5. A drawing is not necessarily academic because it is thorough, but only because it is dead.
Important distinction. Tightness or comprehensiveness isn't necessarily bad. Two people can each work methodically on a drawing for weeks, and one can be artistic, and the other not.

6. Madame Tussaud's Waxworks
Speed invokes the wax museum figures to criticize work that is overly realistic without selectivity and expression. The same sort of criticism has been addressed recently to certain CGI animated films or visual effects that have too much realism. Speed says that even if one departs from naturalism and delves into more abstracted forms, the artwork must be sincerely felt by the artist for them to have any emotional effect. That's a problem faced by artists who unquestioningly adopt the Disney or manga cartoon character formulas.

7. The struggling and fretting after originality that one sees in modern art is certainly an evidence of vitality, but one is inclined to doubt whether anything really original was ever done in so forced a way.
As true now as it was a hundred years ago.

8. Every beautiful work of art is a new creation, the result of particular circumstances in the life of the artist and the time of its production, that have never existed before and will never recur again.
This is a good reminder to all of us who admire past styles. We can learn from Rembrandt or Velazquez, but we can't see fully into the heart of those artists because our worlds are so different. The risk is that all we'll absorb from them is the external features of style, the very thing we're trying to transcend. Any work that we create should respond to the unique features of our own time and our own individual chemistry. By this argument, all work is contemporary and all work has the power to surprise its viewers.

Graphite drawing by Adolph Menzel
9. It is through these materials that he has to find expression.
Speed uses the example of the treatment of hair by sculptors. He says that artists should be fully engaged with the materials they are using, whether it is stone or bronze or oil, graphite or charcoal. An experienced artist knows the range of possibilities of the medium they're using, and selects the aspects of nature that can be translated into that material with the tools at hand. The drawing above by Menzel is a great example, one that transcends the conventional, is full of life, and is perfectly suited to the materials he was using.
P.S. While composing this post, I accidentally deleted the previous book club post: Chapter 5: Mass Drawing. Oops, sorry! Did anyone save a copy or is it cached somewhere?
The Practice and Science of Drawing is available in various formats:
1. Inexpensive softcover edition from Dover, (by far the majority of you are reading it in this format)
2. Fully illustrated and formatted for Kindle.
3. Free online Archive.org edition.
4. Project Gutenberg version
Articles on Harold Speed in the Studio Magazine The Studio, Volume 15, "The Work of Harold Speed" by A. L. Baldry. (XV. No. 69. — December, 1898.) page 151.
and The Windsor Magazine, Volume 25, "The Art of Mr. Harold Speed" by Austin Chester, page 335. (thanks, अर्जुन)
GJ Book Club Facebook page (Thanks, Keita Hopkinson)
Pinterest (Thanks, Carolyn Kasper)
Original blog post Announcing the GJ Book Club

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25. Vibert's Gouaches

One of the masters of gouache painting was the French academician Jehan Georges Vibert (1840-1902). All the paintings in this post are in watercolor / gouache.

Jehan Georges Vibert The Ant and the Grasshopper, 1875
Vibert had a special gift for storytelling. Here he interprets the classic folktale of the wanton "grasshopper" falling on hard times and asking for a handout from the industrious "ant." Notice the heavily laden pack animals, the broken shoe of the troubadour, and the dismissive gesture of the monk.

Jehan Georges Vibert Peeping Roofers
Roofers pause from their work to peep inside a building. The figures are carefully studied from models who were probably real roofers.

Jehan Georges Vibert Spanish Saddlemaker
He traveled to Spain and took inspiration for many of his paintings from there. The careful drawing is reminiscent of Meissonier or Gérôme.

Jehan Georges Vibert Cardinal Reading a Letter
Vibert is best known for his gently mocking paintings of cardinals. This one seems to be reading a love letter; the one below is reading some baudy bit from Rabelais.

Jehan Georges Vibert Reading Rabelais
It is deliciously ironic that one of the largest collections of his work was given by the Maytag heiress to a seminary (the St. John Vianney seminary in Florida).

Jehan Georges Vibert On the Ramparts
Vibert was equally comfortable with historical and costume pictures. As a playwright and dramatist, he had access to a large supply of costumes. I'm not sure exactly what period this depicts, but I'm guessing 17th century Holland, around the time of the Tulip Wars?

Jehan Georges Vibert Trial of Pierrot
The Art Institute of Chicago owns this painting of "The Trial of Pierrot," but it's not on display. The original gouache is about 18 x 24 inches. He also painted it in oil. The painting is based on a farce about spurned lovers, and Vibert peoples it with characters from the commedia dell'arte. 

The paint appears to be fairly thin and transparent in the outer areas, but built up in opaques in the faces.

Jehan Georges Vibert
Vibert also had a love of the fantastic and bizarre. Note the pet tarantula and the rider of the bat-winged creature.

Jehan Georges Vibert At the Breakfast Table
Wikipedia on Jehan Georges Vibert
Article on Vibert in the Aldine
There's a double page spread of Vibert's Gulliver in my book: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist
Previous Post: Vibert's Cardinals

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