Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Bit About Blending, Tiling, and Scrubbing

-By Vanessa Lemen

Some notes and tips inspired by observations made while teaching oil painting

I've noticed a lot of times when students' paintings become muddy-looking that it not only has to do with accurate (or inaccurate) color mixing and observation, but it has a lot to do with application as well. In classes, we go over observation of color, the mixing of pigment, and application of paint to the surface. Lately, it's come up that though students may be spending quite a great deal of time and effort to get the colors correct according to what they're observing in the set-up, they're still getting muddy paintings at the end of a 3-hour alla prima session.

I'd like to note that the term “muddy” is a relative term. Mixing colors in order to get browns or grays is definitely a way to work, and you can achieve an endless number of colors by mixing to indicate the subtlety of differences in hue and temperature. Those browns and grays aren't necessarily mud. The term “muddy” usually applies to a lack of color, or dullness – which can be relative to other colors that are adjacent to one another on a surface, or as an overall appearance on the surface – which a lot of times occurs from over-blending or scrubbing.

There can be many reasons for the tendency to over-blend - not only can it be due to a possible lack of experience, but it can also have to do with prior experience in painting. For example, students who are new to oil painting but have experience painting with acrylics have developed different routines in order to get the results they're intending. Because acrylics dry faster, those with acrylic painting experience that are new to using oils tend to blend as they go out of habit of working a certain way with the faster drying medium to achieve a certain look before the paint dries. Also, the time one has available to paint has much to do with approach or temperament. But the main purpose of this info and handout below is to demonstrate a few things about blending, tiling, and scrubbing in oil – and hopefully it can be useful no matter what your experience or temperament may be.

In alla prima painting, or wet-into-wet painting, there are many ways to approach the application part of the painting process, but knowing ahead of time what will happen and what your tendencies are can play a big part and help tremendously in the process. For example, if you intend to scrub or blend on the surface as you go, it would be good to know that often times the colors will dull in intensity by doing so, so it it would be best to start with a bit more chroma to account for the dulling when scrubbing or blending the colors on the surface. Or.. if you intend to paint in more of a tiling method, and blend only the edges between the tiles, then it would be best to spend the time mixing the colors on the palette first to have a solid gradient of color and value available to tap into as you paint. These are just a couple of examples.

I thought it might be helpful to share some info I've put together in a handout for this purpose here as well. I've made it a downloadable image, so that if you're interested, you can save it in your files to refer to. This handout demonstrates these aspects using a small still life set-up and observing the colors from life, but these points can be applied to other aspects of painting such as figure, portrait, landscape, and even abstract painting. I will try to post up more of these types of handouts in future posts. Happy painting!

click this image to view larger and/or download

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Real/Unreal

Greg Ruth

"The poet might know what he wanted to write, but he will never know what he wrote". 

 Alejandro Innaritu opens up "A World Unseen" with the above quote which hit me at the perfect time as this also posted above image was released to the public at the same time, to great fanfare and to my own great confusion. By every trackable measure, this piece for FREEDOM IS SPACE FOR THE SPIRIT written by Glen Hirshberg is to date the most popular and well received piece I have created for, which is surprising and funny because unlike most of my process with Irene where I commit to and execute a faulty version of the final piece before having a eureka! moment that leads me to the good, I was ready to throw this one out right away and only sent it to her as an apology before getting it right. I was sure I had repeated my usual pattern, and missed the nail with the hammer but wiser from erring, knew where to strike next. I emailed it to her, and began composing it's better alternative and then she write back with "I love it! It's perfect- send it over and we're done!". Any sane person would be thrilled having dodged the bullet of doing a whole other piece just to get back to this point, (something I have done numerous times, sadly), would have invoiced and turned it in and gone on to the next thing. That's the job and that's what you are supposed to do with the job. Of course being an un-sane person, I did none of this and instead despite even my own wife calling me out for being a neurotic freak-idiot, continued to struggle with what to do. There was something wrong. The piece didn't seem right, but I couldn't articulate why.

There's a lie in this someplace, but who's the liar? Part of me assumes it's everyone else who loves the piece, but I think in truth, the lie comes from the dream where the piece was first birthed. We've all lost a piece of art in-utero due to a spill of paint, or computer crash or leaving the sketchbook in the back of a taxi speeding away forever, and in our mind's that un-birthed potential becomes, almost as a response to it never getting made, the best thing we have ever done or ever will do. We covet the idea of it moreso because of the tragedy of its not becoming. I have had the occasion twice where the prodigal son returns or is recovered and you know what? the idea wasn't nearly as awesome as I thought it was. The mind lies to the body as to the importance of the plans it wants the body to execute. Maybe this is essential to getting it done- that we need to trick ourselves into believing this thing we came up with, regardless of outside affirmation, is brilliant and needs to get done, in order for us to do it. It is the lie agreed upon by all our better angels that gives us permission to bring it to life and show it to others. And that's fine, but the necessary component of that is to then forget all of that once you've begun working on the piece, or likely better yet... the moment it heads to its completion.

There is a truth to working that follows the old anthropologist warning that "The thing observed is changed by being seen" paradox. The process of our wrestling an idea to the ground, bounding it  with pencil, paint or whatever to the earth so we can now hold the idea, touch and smell and show to others the idea, changes it completely. When you're doing it right you've let go of the presupposed path of the work for the reality the work now travels through. There doesn't have to be a revelation, it should be gradual to the degree you don't even notice it changing. And when done, you either have forgotten the life before the piece, much as you forget where you were before being born into this world , or you've retroactively changed that originating locus to match the final reality you live in. You change it by seeing it. 

Certainty is the death-place of ideas and invention and yet too much doubt can strangle invention or at least its completion. We dance between them dangerously when we try to bring a project to completion, as we must. As we should. As artists it is important to learn to accept the gratitude of others even if we doubt we deserve it and to honor that enthusiasm by thanking them for it. If we're really smart we'll pay attention to it and think and understand why and what they are responding to and what we do not see. The thing we end up with at the end is likely always to be a stranger to us in some form, and maybe that is as it should be. Art is by my definition of it, or creative dreams shared with others. Art requires the sharing and showing for it to reach that point of divorce from our creative source. Maybe the change it undergoes by it being seen by others is essential to its being. Like our kids we raise, our art is not our own and we are merely caretakers of it until its ready to become part of other people's lives.

So despite it all I look at this piece above and I still don't get it. It's behind a glass wall, silent and now officially not mine to understand or claim anymore. The idea came out on paper and went out into the world before I got to know it by wrestling with it, and so remains in many ways, a stranger to me. As much as I continue to get such kind and insightful and supportive comments about it, especially those that call it the best piece I have yet done, I am unable to understand it. I don't think we ever really know what's going to hit or not, and even hit worthy ideas never quite register or find their moment. That part isn't up to us. So I can only be appreciative of the affection for this above piece while shrugging as to why, and hope that somehow I get to be lucky enough to screw up like this again.

As I hold the now completed INDEH in my hands, in galley form mind you, I feel the same disconnect and disappointment. The excitement from our team at Hachette for it, even Ethan Hawke's unending adoration of it, the enthusiasm from giants of the subject like Sherman Alexie, Larry McMurtry and Joseph Boyden hardly make a dent in the way that I see it myself- as a work far from the heaven it was supposed to come from. A fallen angel, not one taking off in flight. If there is a victory from this mania it is the manner and shape of the thought that follows it. We're beginning our marketing tour of the book where I will have to accept the enthusiasm of others openly and defend it as an achievement despite the expected criticism. Maybe like the idea becoming real by practice, this faking it will allow me to make it. In any case, whether it does or does not, there's always the next thing... and maybe I'll have figured it out by then and finally get it right. I suspect if I promise myself this at the end of every project, it will always be true.

It all conspires against being comfortable with one's work, and to me that is essential for a living artist. The moment you begin to relax and be comfortable with what you're doing, your art begins to die. It is a thing made alive by our questioning it. Being a little afraid is a key indicator that you are at least doing this part right, but that doesn't mean to reject the comforting encouragement of others, because that can be what keeps the fear from turning into stultifying terror. Which prevents you working, and if there's any lesson from this experience, it's that it's all about working.
If you're interested, here's the Doc I was referring to that sparked this post. Even if you've not yet seen the Revenant, this is something to see and gather from:

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Studio Tour

-with Donato

The Studio   2016      captions are repeated in text below

My wife and I were house hunting nearly 20 years ago when I walked up the spiral iron stairway to this studio for the first time. The wide (by Brooklyn standards) room, an existing slop sink, and bank of north facing windows were all planned out by a previous owner who was a graphic designer in the 70's. I knew this was a place I could call home, and have happily lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn ever since.

The studio occupies the entire top floor of our brownstone, broken into three rooms, with the painting studio on display here. I have adorned the rooms with bounties from Brooklyn, from beautiful 100 year old oak flat-files and storage units which used to house library card catalogs and documents from long ago closed legal offices, to antique pulleys and wood working tools. The history emanating from these objects is a reminder to me that time is pressing on all of us and to do today what you dream of for tomorrow.

As a traditional painter, I prefer to work under natural daylight given the subtleties I seek while mixing colors, but more importantly daytime is the largest block of uninterrupted moments I have to work while my children are at school! A stream of National Public Radio talk tends to share airtime with my love of classic music, rock, and modern minimalist composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich.

When painting and drawing, I love to immerse myself in the world I am attempting to realize, to become absorbed in those moments of creation. My environment has evolved to insulate me from the never ending ‘noise’ that can plague our modern lifestyle. The computers, scanner, and printers all remain in another room-the digital studio- apart from the painting studio, not by any conscious choice, but has evolved this way through the daily needs as I worked year after year.

Did an email come in? What Facebook news is happening in the world right now? Was that my iphone vibrating for message gratification? Not to say I do not scurry periodically from room to room during the day, but when I wish, I can easily change pace and move from one environment to another. I believe this is one of the keys to a prolific output, finding great pleasure in the task before me and avoiding distractions which fracture my train of thought.

A closer look at the studio...

This Stormtrooper helmet has perched on the easel-pike in my studio for the past 20 plus years. A reminder to any visiting Imperial Troops they are not welcome!

I custom built this studio cart with discarded lumber (AKA trash) from the streets of Brooklyn traded from some local Jawas. A nice oak table top with tiered shelves and attached containers keeps my painting supplies organized and all within arms reach. Still looking for the right studio droids though…

A bank of north facing windows keeps the third floor studio evenly lit throughout the day. I love to be distracted by passing clouds, peek into the backyard on a snowy winter’s afternoon, and keep an eye out for Imperial AT-AT walkers on the horizon.

A pair of color-corrected fluorescent light fixtures supply balanced illumination on those long dark winter days and into the night for rushed commissions. These are custom modified by Wookies with Corellian hyperspectra oscillators and attached using heavyduty photography mounting hardware. They also function as great tape holders!

Swords are kept nearby in case the call-to-arms is sounded to defend against invading Viking or Imperial hoards (I also have a lightsaber!) I find the weight of real steel in the hands makes for more convincing references from my models and keeps difficult clients at bay.

My library is still a go to place for concepts, visual referencing, and reflection. A rare book loaded with difficult to find images is worth its weight in gold to me!

A fire extinguisher is at the entrance to my studio. It is the cheapest form of insurance you will ever buy. Get one now!

One of my great finds on the streets of Brooklyn, a baby bird skeleton, desiccated and whole. The poor guy likely fell out of its nest in the Spring one year. Strange how a sad death can hold such wonder, but that’s what we do as artists, make stories out of moments most people would just pass by.

A board of concepts hangs nearby waiting to be executed or merged into existing commissions. These are thumbnails copied out of my sketchbooks and posted here as seeds of future works. We all know how great ideas can get buried deep within sketchbooks that we fill year after year. I take my favorites from the dark and nurture them with a little sunlight.

To the left of my chair, within arms reach, is the drafting cart. Loaded with scores of pencils and drawing implements, I am never for want of the right tool quickly acquired. The shelves below hold various other rulers, templates, guides, and materials.

Another wonderful find from the streets of New York was this Pay phone, wired to ring in and call out without paying a dime! This is a constant reminder to keep my eyes open while going about our everyday life. The world is full of amazements, we only need to stop a moment and ponder to find the beauty in nearly everything.
Now, if only I could get this to call long distance…

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Thinking Like An "Eye"

-By Jesper Ejsing

Clear silhouette, contrast and details around the face, rest is toned down almost fading down to flat shapes.

I wrote an article previously about focal point. In the article I compared the painting with a water surface. You drop a stone on the most important part of the painting and the ripple it makes, is guidelines. The further out from the center the less contrast, value, detail level and so on, you need. What I meant is you take away stuff, so that the stuff left behind has the more impact. It is like a nice dish; too many flavors and it all falls apart and you do not know what you are eating.
Yesterday I was sketching an orc for fun. In the process I used the blur tool to even strokes out since I did not want to waste time rendering. But; as I did so I was reminded why the focal point is so important. The human eye works like a camera lense. It can only focus on one thing at a time. So if you equally render every detail of a panting with the same sharpness or detail, you kind of ruin the illusion. I always wanted my artwork to be small windows into another world. In copying the "eye" effect I add to the illusion, that the image is real. If I dont mimic the "lens effect" my painting looks flat, more like a symbolic representation. I am not saying at all that my fantasy paintings looks like reality. But in using this focal rendering idea I add credibility to an unbeliveable universe. And, it makes people look where I want them to and notice what is important in my pictures.

To me it has always been a matter of clarity and readability. What ever you can do to simplify makes the image read better. You; as an illustrator, are telling small stories, but in order for the audience to be able to read them, your images needs to have as little confusion as posssible. 

The eye/lens effect

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thinking On Paper

-By Dan dos Santos

I happened across this wonderful excerpt from a 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' episode the other day, and I found it's sentiment to be really charming and surprisingly insightful as well.

Although the lesson he is trying to teach is ultimately about the importance of creating something, there is another remarkably astute observation within it...

"Now, I wouldn't have made that if I'd just thought about it."

I often times find myself laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking about what I'm going to paint. In fact, I was doing this just yesterday thinking about a painting I am going to do for an upcoming gallery show curated by Lauren Panepinto. Although I may come up with a good idea or two, it never compares to the ideas I get when I actually put pencil to paper, and let my thinking happen on the page.

When I am actually drawing, and not just thinking about drawing, I stumble across much more interesting concepts. I use that word, 'stumble', very deliberately, as it often seems to me that the best ideas are accidental and I just happen to be witness to them.

These sort of accidents don't happen the same way when you just think about your work. Drawing out your ideas, good or bad, helps you think of them in a more visual manner instead of just a cerebral/narrative one. I found myself making new connections between visual concepts that seem so obvious in retrospect, yet eluded me when they dwelled only in my head. I see the repetition of shapes more, edges matter more, an empty space feels more tangible, and what I choose NOT to draw becomes just as important as what I choose to include.

The process of physically drawing something engages not only your mind, but your eyes and your hands as well. It seems to me that all of this additional sensory input can't help but to inspire you better than just thought alone.

So I encourage you all, whether you work digitally or traditionally, the next time you are coming up with a concept, pick up a real pencil and do your thinking on the paper, not in your head.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gurney Gone Wild!

-By Arnie Fenner

It used to be that if you wanted some art instruction outside of art school you were pretty much limited to some Andrew Loomis or John Gnagey books, but now it seems like there are an infinite number of classes, books, workshops, and other educational opportunities available for artists these days. Of course, not everybody can afford to attend a workshop, either in person or online, but most anyone can find a few bucks to spend for a how-to video. Plus there's something to be said for setting your own schedule, going at your own pace, and repeating as many times as you need.

Some of the best tutorial resources are available from James Gurney. No surprise. If you follow Jim's blog—Gurney Journey—you already know that he regularly offers a daily treasure trove of tips, insights, observations, and historical perspective that are invaluable all on their own. But his how-to videos are the next-step-beyond that all artists of all levels can benefit from.

He's just released Fantasy in the Wild and you can get a small taste by viewing his promo video that leads off this post; like his two previous releases (Gouache in the Wild and Watercolor in the Wild), it's informative, entertaining, and, above all useful. Watching Jim formulate his plans, tackle problems, and ultimately produce wonderful works en plein air is inspiring, while the joy—and innate curiosity—he takes in simply being an artist encourages others to join in and pick up a brush.

And if you want to learn how to paint dinosaurs from one of the world's preeminent paleo artists, you definitely shouldn't miss Jim's Tyrannosaurs: Behind the Art with James Gurney. As Iain McCaig says, "It's a humbling experience to watch any true Master perform. In James Gurney's case, he's so beguiling and unpretentious that it is nothing short of magic. One moment, a blank page, the next—presto! A living, breathing, feathered Tyrannosaur!"

Shoot, while you're looking, you may as well become a subscriber to Jim's Youtube Channel. He's always busy, always offering advice, and always worth your time. Happy watching—and learning!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

D Day

Above: Rick Berry, Don Ivan Punchatz, Tim Kirk, and Dave Stevens
provided the Call for Entries poster art for Spectrum 1.

In case you forgot, Monday—January 25—is the deadline to enter Spectrum 23.

Dan dos Santos has written about entering strategies, John Fleskes has posted some helpful tips about submitting, and I've written about awards and art competitions in general along with a number of other aspects of Spectrum through the years.

The reasons to enter Spectrum are many and the benefits for having work selected for inclusion in the annual can be significant. There's no prescreening, no pretension, and no agenda other than to highlight and celebrate the best works of the fantastic art field created in the previous year. Spectrum is the only f&sf art competition that brings the jury together in one place to review entries and cast their votes. The big deal, of course, is that more people see Spectrum than any other art annual being produced today; it's a proven valuable resource for art directors, publishers, and art buyers the world over. More eyes means more opportunities.

Above: John Berkey's Call for Entries poster for Spectrum 8.

Everything that Spectrum does has been geared directly toward giving back to the fantastic art community and growing the appreciation for the field and its creators as a whole. Exhibitions, lectures, scholarships, tutorial videos, and a fearless advocacy for artists' rights are all part of what Spectrum is.

Above: Rebecca Guay's Call for Entries poster for Spectrum 19.

Above: All of the past Spectrum covers: who will be chosen for the cover of #23?

Above: Claire Wendling's Call for Entries poster for Spectrum 23.

Though the east coast is socked in with a blizzard this weekend—and the west coast has been getting storms, too—John Fleskes has made it incredibly easy to enter digitally from the comfort of your studio. To take part (or learn more) it's as easy as hitting this link—and John and his intrepid crew will be on hand all weekend and throughout the day Monday to answer questions and solve problems (the contact info is at the bottom of the web page).

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Rubens the Giant

I had the great pleasure tonight to go and listen to Micah Christensen speak about Peter Paul Rubens for a very fast hour.  I love when an expert is also a gifted speaker and presenter.  I left feeling inspired to do more in my own work and also with a greater appreciation for one of my favorite artists.

I had a different post planned, but after being inspired tonight, I decided to share some of the hi-res images I have collected of Rubens work with some comments.  Be sure to click on the images, some are really quite large.

Starting with a stunner.  Look at the remarkable fabric and rendering of the collar.  I love the graceful flow of the red fabric that frames her head and then merges into the form of her dress.

Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria
 Rubens style is interesting and compelling.  His paintings are full of details and richness, but the brushwork, the shapes he used to describe the forms are often economic to the point of being minimalistic.

Portrait of a Bearded Man
Just look at this detail from the painting above.  The eyes are painting with great economy.  It takes amazing skill and understanding of form to do this.

Portrait of Thomas Howard
 It is interesting to see some of the scriptural paintings done in this era where they are intentionally anachronistic in dress and setting.  The women in their satins and what looks like pillars based upon Bernini's Baldacchino in the background.  I think it was Rubens intent to make the stories of the past more relatable.  Caravaggio did the same, dressing soldiers in armor of the Renaissance.
The Judgement of Solomon
 The anatomy study below is very interesting.  I almost wonder if the exaggeration of the forms, muscles, tendons and bones, was a way of driving home his understanding of anatomy, almost like bolding text or highlighting a passage.  I would think that in so clearly delineating each element, you would develop a clear memory of the shape and placement.  I am going to give it a try in my studies to see how I respond.

Micah Christensen had some wonderful insights into this painting.  Rubens had just remarried after the death of his first wife.  His new bride, show in the lower left with cupid pushing her into view, Helena Forment, is being lead by Rubens.  The painting, The Garden of Love, is filled with family and symbols meant to provide welcome and assurance to the new member of the family.  Quite the wedding gift from the groom.  Micah also pointed out the great little putti in the center top tumbling forward.  He is beautifully rendered, light from the torch reflecting and illuminating his head and shoulders as he gazes upon the scene below.  

The Garden of Love
 Rubens ran a large workshop where artists and assistants helped him complete the often monumental commissions given to him.  He would start the day, typically at 4:00 a.m. and do painted sketches on oak panels that would then be handed off to those in his studio to execute under his direction.  The piece below is a remarkable example of such a sketch.  He would sometimes do as many as half a dozen of these in a day.
The Triumph of Henry IV

Few artists have captured flesh the way Rubens did.  Even in the digital image, it is rich and tangible.

Adam and Eve

The complexity of the forms and figures in the painting below is inspiring.  I love the old man at the top gripping the drape in his teeth so he can use his hand to hold Christ's arm.

The Decent from the Cross
I like how the figures seem to surface in and out of the darkness in this piece.  The head of the old winged figure in the background (Zeus?) with the sickle is amazing.  Also, notice the little owl peeking out at Hercules feet.  It sits, representing wisdom on the side of Virtue who is clad in armor.  On the other leg clings cupid, wrapping his leg in the cloth of Vice.  Hercules seems to be leaning towards Virtue, but looking longingly at Vice.  The severed head in the corner is a nice touch too.
The Choice of Hercules

Self Portrait of Peter Paul Rubens

The Fall of Phaeton
 The painting below reminds me of the wonderful 4 rivers fountain by Bernini in Rome.  It is neat to explore the picture and see the different images associated with the continents.
The Four Continents
 Below is a study for The Martyrdom of Saint Livinus.  It is an amazing sketch.  The movement and dynamics of it are epic in nature.  Also, notice the guy with the tongs feeding the tongue of poor St. Livinus to a dog!

The Martyrdom of St. Livinus - study
And here is the final painting.

Another tragic painting, but amazing and wonderful as work of art.

Massacre of the Innocents

The Artist and His First Wife, Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower
 Be sure to click on the painting below to see it close up and look at the efficient brushwork.

This was another painting that Micah talked about.  It is a remarkable painting.  Spend some time looking over the details.  He described this painting as a diplomatic piece.  Rubens was used throughout his career as a diplomatic kind of chess piece, sent to other courts to paint treasures for ambitious neighbors.  In this case, Rubens painted Minerva Protects Pax from War as a gift to Charles I.  In this case War is represented by Charles himself on the right hand side, his shield being pressed upon by Minerva.  She holds him back because he is about to swing his sword, but the children in the foreground on the right are his own.  They are being taken in, fed and given the breast, riches and entertainment by the three women as well as the harvest from the satyr in the foreground.  Rubens was showing Charles what was at risk should be choose war over peace.  It is a wonderful background to the painting that adds depth and interest.

Minerva Protects Pax from War
 Nothing beats your hunger like some baby.  Next time, just eat Snickers bar Saturn.

Saturn Devouring His Son

Another great self-portrait of the giant himself.

Thank you for taking a look.  Here are some additional resources:

Google Art Project works by Rubens

Wikipedia on Rubens

National Gallery page

Rubens the Complete Works website

Free download of a collection of drawings from the Met (thank you Jurgen Steenhaut)

and some books that were recommended tonight:

This book focuses on how Rubens served as a diplomat through his art and reputation:

This one looks especially amazing, primarily about his oil sketches and studies:

I hope you enjoyed the read and maybe saw a few images you were not familiar with.

Howard Lyon