Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Pisarro's advice to an art student

Camille Pissarro offered the following advice to an art student around 1896. I encourage you to read it critically. I'll comment afterward.

"Look for the kind of nature that suits your temperament. The motif should be observed more for shape and color than for drawing. There is no need to tighten the form which can be obtained without that. Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression of the whole; it destroys all sensations."

Camille Pissarro
"Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing. In a mass, the greatest difficulty is not to give the contour in detail, but to paint what is within. Paint the essential character of' things, try to convey it by any means whatsoever, without bothering about technique."

Camille Pissarro
"When painting, make a choice of' subject, see what is lying at the right and at the left, then work on everything simultaneously. Don't work bit by bit, but paint everything at once by placing tones everywhere, with brush strokes of the right color and value, while noticing what is alongside. Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."

"The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything, while observing the reflections which the colours produce on their surroundings. Work at the same time upon sky, water, branches, ground, keeping everything going on an equal basis and unceasingly rework until you have got it."

"Cover the canvas at the first go, then work at it until you can see nothing more to add. Observe the aerial perspective well, from the foreground to the horizon, the reflections of sky on foliage. Don't be afraid of putting on colour, refine the work little by little. Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel. Paint generously and unhesitatingly, for it is best not to lose the first impression. Don't be timid in front of' nature: one must be bold, at the risk of being deceived and making mistakes. One must have only one master --- nature; she is the one always to be consulted."

My thoughts (and I want to hear yours)
The foregoing advice is one of the pivotal texts of Impressionist technique. It has echoed down to our times through various teachers. Whenever I've read Pissarro's advice, I've taken it with a grain of salt, especially when it was presented dogmatically. Here are some of my initial reactions:

1. To his credit, Pissarro talks about seeing as well as technique: "The eye should not be fixed on one point, but should take in everything..." Capturing an impression not just a matter of brushes and paints. It's at least as much a problem of learning to see. For example, learning to isolate and compare colors is essential to painting them convincingly, regardless of what brushes you use. Since Pissarro's time, we've learned a lot about how the human eye sees color, so it's possible to be more analytical about that.

2. When he says "Don't proceed according to rules and principles, but paint what you observe and feel," I would counter that knowing the rules and principles helps you observe and feel more accurately. Telling a student just to "paint what they observe" is useless advice unless you explain what to look for and why things look the way they do.

3. I never understood why the line "Precise drawing is dry and hampers the impression" was necessary. Is he just making an excuse because he can't draw well? Why can't I have both good drawing and accurate color? Artists who combined academic drawing skills and impressionist methods, such as Krøyer, Mønsted, Zorn, Sorolla, and Sargent could capture impressions without disregarding precise or accurate drawing.

John Singer Sargent
3b. However, it makes sense when he says "Do not define too closely the outlines of things; it is the brush stroke of the right value and colour which should produce the drawing." Painting students who have only drawn with line need to learn that paint strokes don't have to be linear; they can be any shape or texture, and for this kind of opaque painting, the value and color, (plus edge quality, opacity, etc)  have to be considered, too.

4. John Singer Sargent (above) sometimes painted in the "small touch-impressionism" way. A subject like the one above necessarily is made of small touches, well observed. Sargent is perhaps a closer ally to Monet than to Pissarro, but Monet didn't like to write about his method. 

5. Painting in "everything at once" rather than "bit by bit" is just one way of painting. It applies more to opaque oil painting, and less to watercolor or gouache, which can favor a more planned and organized approach. Oil can be painted in many ways: "window shading," area-by-area, systematically, or indirectly (as with Maxfield Parrish) and the results can be accurate and strong.

6. If Pissarro wants to capture an overall impression immediately, why does he say: "Use small brush strokes and try to put down your perceptions immediately."? Big brushes are much more efficient for capturing overall impressions rapidly. Students don't need encouragement to use small brushes. They need to be encouraged to use bigger ones, especially at the beginning. He does say to "paint generously and unhesitatingly" and I think he's right there: be willing to use lots of paint. By painting unhesitatingly, I think he means to develop your intuition, and that comes from a combination of practice and analysis.

7. Painting overall with brushstrokes of a given module makes it hard to achieve scale. If you want to make something look big, you need to alternate large shapes with tiny touches. Nature is not composed of bean-size blobs. I think the advice should be to use a variety of tools and to look for contrasts of scale within the subject. And to achieve depth, the advice might be to paint from background to foreground, not overall or 'everything at once.'

8. If you use the same tools or approach for every part of the scene (sky, water, buildings, etc), those areas will all look the same and they will all look like paint. In Pissarro's case, it leads to what contemporary critics called "woolliness," meaning it looks like the whole thing is rendered in counted cross stitch. No problem if you want your painting to have that look, but if you want your painting to hold the mirror up to Nature, it may not be the best advice.
I welcome your thoughts in the comments. What parts of Pissarro's advice are useful to you or your students? What parts don't make sense or seem wrong? 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Sketching with Patches of Tone

In this graphite pencil sketch, Charles Bargue (1825–83) uses well placed patches of tone rather than using only outlines to describe the form.

Charles Bargue, graphite, 8 x 5 3/16 inches, Metropolitan Museum
The patches are made out of short, parallel strokes, which create an impressionistic, painterly effect, even though he's working only in unblended pencil.

Charles Bargue helped create the Drawing Course used in many ateliers.
The method of sketching with patches of tonal values is also described in Sketching - from Square One to Trafalgar Square and Ernest Watson's The Art of Pencil Drawing.

Previous post: The El Dorado Page (Ernest Watson)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dan Gurney, 1931-2018

Very sad to know that race driver, car builder, team owner (and my cousin) Dan Gurney died today from complications of pneumonia. I'll miss his courage, tenacity, kindness, and humor.

African Warrior Fantasy

Imaro II: The Quest for Cush is a fantasy novel written by Charles Saunders, an expert in African folklore. I wanted Imaro to be a convincing warrior hero, so I located a tall, built model named Darrell, who was in training to play for the L.A. Lakers. That’s Mount Kenya in the distance.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Hobey Ford's Rod Puppets

In this video, master puppeteer Hobey Ford of North Carolina shows how he uses foam and wire to create lifelike movement. (Link to video)

Hobey Ford and his puppets. Image from Focus Newspapers

Thanks, Linda Crank.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Book on Edwin Georgi

A young woman is startled by a sound while raiding a jewelry box.

The artist is Edwin Georgi (1896-1964), the subject of the latest monograph on an American illustrator by The Illustrated Press.

Georgi was a pilot in WWI, but was shot down and injured. While recovering, he took up an interest in art. Mostly self-taught, he began his career doing paste-ups in an advertising agency. His early illustrations were muted and restrained.

His earliest illustrations were for advertising clients, portraying exotic women in elegant settings. As time went by his approach to color became more daring.

He is best known for a shimmering, golden backlighting, painted in a pointillist style. He often accentuated color effects by placing strong warm and cool accents near each other.

He was a bold experimenter with lighting ideas, and he painted in many media, including colored ink, watercolor, gouache, and oil. 

The book starts with a short bio, but the bulk of the pages are devoted to large reproductions of originals and tearsheets. 

The book is loaded with art, and includes a lot of preliminary studies rendered in pencil, ink, and gouache, sometimes with the art director's comments written in the margins. Many of the sketches are paired with the finished work, so you can study how the pictures developed.

The Art of Edwin Georgi is hardback 224 pages, 9" x 12" full color. The standard edition is $44.95, and there's also a collectable slipcased edition of 100.

Previous books in this series by The Illustrated Press are each limited to 1000 copies include Tom Lovell—Illustrator and The Art of Jon Whitcomb

Art Blogs Award 2017
If you like this blog, please nominate it and vote for me.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Frozen Hudson

The Hudson River was a sea of jagged ice yesterday.

(Link to video on Facebook) The temperature climbed briefly above freezing, allowing me to paint in gouache. I used a sketchbook page with a light blue-gray priming color in casein that I did the day before.

The underpainting color came close to the color of the snow layer on the ice. Where the chunks had an icy, specular surface, it picked up more of the golden light of the sky.

We're 100 miles north of New York City, and the river is tidal here. The vertical movement of the surface shatters the 12-inch-thick layer of ice along the shoreline, making it a jumble of angular shapes.

Check out my gouache board on Pinterest

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Many Values?

Matthieu asks: "I know that value grouping is a technique you often use when sketching. How many values do you usually prefer? I have been experimenting with four values lately (white, black, bright and dark). But that is so few it is a challenge in itself..."

Matthieu, for this exercise to be useful, the fewer values the better. As Howard Pyle said, "The fewer tones the simpler and better your pictures." As an exercise, try limiting it to two or three tones. You can do that by using markers or gouache, or by premixing pools of color in oil.

Dean Cornwell
Sometimes it helps to think of families of values: a light family (with some variation in the tones) and a dark family (very much darker than any in the light family, but still distinguishable from each other). 

Those big families of tone don't have to be close to white or black, by the way. The poetry of the Cornwell moonlight scene comes from handling those "whites" as a family of mid-range cool tones and saving the highest values for those sparkling windows.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it's not just how many values you have in your design, but how they're arranged. 
Travels of the Soul by Howard Pyle
In the painting above, Pyle has basically set up a light family and a dark family and has gradated between them.  The impact of the design comes from that powerful grouping of the lights together into a single mass and the grouping of darks into a mysterious shadow.

Pyle told his students: "Put your white against white, middle tones (groups) against grays, black against black, then black and white where you want the center of interest. This sounds simple, but it is difficult to do."

John Singer Sargent, Two Girls Fishing, 1912Cincinnati Art Museum
These ideas were in the air when Pyle and Cornwell were working. Many other leading artists, such as John Singer Sargent were always grouping tones in arresting and memorable ways. If you check out any of the posts linked below, you can see more examples.
Previous related posts:

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman

At age 22, J.C. Ryan lost both of his hands in a Dakota blizzard, leaving him with stumps for arms.

For several years he was sad and dejected, reduced to traveling with a novelty show. He tried writing by holding a pen with one of his feet, but that wasn't convenient.

So he tried pressing the pen between what was left of his arms.

He met Warner C. Brownfield, a master penman who taught him the movements he would need for roundhand writing: precise directional slants, sweeping curves, and heavier strokes achieved by sensitive changes of pressure.

The idea may have seemed hopeless at first, but Ryan stuck with it.

Brownfield observed: "The movement he uses is mainly body motion flowing out through both arms, though his left arm does most of the propelling. The resting of his arms and rolling on the muscles with precision gives him much the same control gotten by the best professional penmen through aid of the fingers."

He earned his living signing postcards, and was able to make as much as $30 per day. In 1917 he said, "I am doing the biggest business in my life... I am getting 35 cents per dozen cards, 50 cents with address, so that is a good price."

The Business Educator said, "Think of a man without hands, tying his shoes, buttoning his shirt and collar, putting on his tie and taking care of himself in every way without aid from others, to say nothing of mastering penmanship, going on the road as an enthusiastic card writer, doing well, taking care of his money, and best of all being happy and enjoying life—that is J. C. Ryan."

Brownfield said, "His life is an example of courage and should be an inspiration to those who have hands and don't train them." 
J. C. Ryan, The Handless Penman at Zanerian website

Monday, January 8, 2018

Should you paint landscapes from photos?

Laurent Guétal (French, 1841-1892) used a combination of photographs and plein-air studies to push his landscapes to a higher level.

Laurent Guétal, Lake Eychauda​​, oil,
182 × 262 cm (71.7 × 103.1 in)1886, Grenoble Museum
According to the Grenoble Museum, Guétal discovered a photograph of Lake Eychauda, ​​located in the French Alps. He went to the scene, at over 8200 feet in elevation, where he painted a plein-air study from the same point of view as the photo. Using the two sources of reference, he completed the painting in three weeks.

Laurent Guétal, The First Snow, oil, 1885
Other images by Guétal seem to be based on photos. Depending on your taste, the photographic influence either adds conviction and truth to the image or it makes it seem more mechanical.  

The plein air studies have all the verve and invention of anyone facing changing light with a paintbrush.

Laurent Guétal, The Bérarde en Oisans, 1882
The water in the foreground of this painting seems to match up with landscape painting conventions of the day, but I'm guessing he used photography to help with the far mountains.

To answer the rhetorical question in this post's title, I would say that photography can be a helpful supplement to—but not a substitute for—direct painting from nature. As Ivan Shiskin said:

"... Let me give you one major piece of advice, that underlies all of my painting secrets and techniques, and that advice is — photography. It is a mediator between the artist and nature and one of the most strict mentors you'll ever have. And if you understand the intelligent way of using it, you'll learn much faster and improve your weak points. You'll learn how to paint clouds, water, trees — everything. You'll better understand atmospheric effects and linear perspective and so on...----
Read the full post about Shishkin and Photography 
Other related posts: Zorn and Photography

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ginkgo and Dragonfly Endpapers

Here's some more pen and ink art for the endpapers of “Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara.” The dragonfly, ginkgoes, and horsetail ferns are from the time of dinosaurs.
Link to Speedball more samples of my pen art.
From Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, which you can get signed from my website.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Using Speedball's Dip Pens

I use dip pens when I create illustrations and lettering because they deliver a look that evokes the style of the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship, which lasted from about 1850 to 1925.

Some of the most reliable dip pen nibs are the Hunt 102 and the Speedball C-series of nibs, which I'm using here for a map of Chandara. Some of these pens have a heritage that goes back in an unbroken line for more than 100 years.

The manufacturer, The Speedball Company still makes nibs, penholders, and many art products in their factory in North Carolina. (Link to video tour of their factory)

They just redid their website, creating Pro Pages that spotlight letterers, illustrators, and printmakers who use their products. When they realized that I've used their products since I was a teenager, they asked to feature my work, too.

No money changes hands, but it’s a nice way for a group of artists to appreciate a the work of a company and for a company to appreciate the work of artists.
Speedball Pro Pages: Drawing and Lettering
Lecture about the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship
The map appears on the inside of the dust jacket of the hardcover edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, which you can get signed from my website.
Speedball textbook for pen & brush lettering

Friday, January 5, 2018

How to make your own promo video

Joe Sutphin is an Ohio-based illustrator who produced his own behind-the-scenes video.

(Link to Video on YouTube) I think he did a beautiful job with it, so I asked him: Can you tell me how the video came to be and how you produced it? Did you do it by yourself? How did you learn video? I believe his story might inspire GurneyJourney readers who are thinking of creating their own behind-the scenes videos, book trailers, or how-to tutorials.

Joe says: "This past year has been tough at times, financially speaking. In 2017, I didn’t land a single new book illustration job. I finished writing a kids novel, did sample art for it, and my agent submitted it to at least 15 editors who each passed on it. I finished 2 illustrated kids novels that were landed in 2016, and turned in sketches for a picture book, but that has been slow due to several editors coming and going on the project. I actually just got the final manuscript last week, and that's a book I landed 2 summers ago, just to show you how slow-paced the picture book world can move at times. This drought has caused me to really consider what things I can be doing on my own to help work come my way."

"All that said, I started getting requests for speaking engagements, which I realized I really enjoy doing. It's very fulfilling to speak with kids and adults and encourage them in what they do. So I spent a good month putting together a nice visual Keynote presentation all about my childhood as a kid who was really only good at drawing pictures, and how that led to a career as an illustrator. I treated it with the same care I would any project, knowing that I was building a product. My good friend Brannon McAllister recommended that I make a short introduction video on my website to help promote me speaking at schools and libraries and whatnot. Really just a way to get educators and librarians to understand the gist of what my visit would entail. I was just thinking, a shot of my head talking to the camera: 'Hi, I'm Joe Sutphin, blah blah blah, let me come speak at your school or library.' With clips of my studio life spliced in here and there. Nothing too fancy."

"My wife Gina was hard at work, making Christmas gifts on her lathe down in her shop, so I just started filming little clips of the scenery in my studio upstairs by myself, using my Samsung Galaxy 7 phone’s Pro Settings, which allowed me to give it that yellowy, overcast haze."

"After I had shot about 30 or 40 little clips of studio space, I dumped them into Dropbox and pulled them into iMovie on my MacBook, which I've actually never used before. I spent many hours as a teenager making movies with my buddies, and always editing them in creative ways, so I had some general sense of what to try. I started editing clips together, and quickly realized that I didn’t want to talk to the camera and try to sell my school visits anymore. The images I was seeing felt more intimate and special than that, and I’m honestly not very natural at trying to sell things. I’m far better at telling a story than selling an idea."

"So I started writing a little monologue, and when I write articles for RabbitRoom.com I tend to start with an idea in mind and just try to tell my story with an arc. A start, which usually involves some form of tension. A turn, where there is either light at the end of the tunnel, or sometimes its where things might seem to get heavier. Then a conclusion, which can be a thoughtful statement or even a question to cause the reader to think beyond what they read, and might lead them to comment on the article. So my monologue just flowed with the basic themes of my presentation, from a kid not fitting in, to finding his place due to his talents. Then I used a little stand I found and strapped my phone to it and started shooting little action shots with me in them to fit with some of the things in my dialogue. And each time I added more shots, I would read the dialogue back and see what might need to change with the pacing of it, and what other shots I might like to insert. It was really organic. The videos were all shot over a 2 day span, but no outdoor light was present, so the time of day didn’t matter."

"After I had edited all the video together, I sat down and paced my final dialog to what was on film, practiced it a few times, and then recorded the audio track on my old digital Korg recorder downstairs and a condenser mic I have. The hardest part was just trying to read the dialogue without sounding like I was reading, while keeping my eye on the video to be sure my pacing was just right. I was able to cut and move audio once I inserted it in iMovie though."

"Then I asked my friend Michael, who leads the band at our church, if he would have time to record a little guitar thing I've heard him play before. It's a song he wrote about a guy in the 1930’s, falling in love and going off to war. The lyrics weren’t important, but the music was stuck in my head and I was certain it was the right thing for the film. I was floored, moved to tears, when Michael sent the audio track to me a few days later, and how perfectly it fit the structure of the film. Getting more music like that would be the hardest part of repeating such a film. It really all fell together so amazingly for not knowing what I was getting into."
Visit Joe Sutphin's website

Light in Clouds feature in International Artist

The next issue of International Artist magazine (#119) features a six page article that I wrote about painting clouds.

It will soon be on newsstands, or you can subscribe at their website: International Artist magazine