Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Kickstarting the "Perfect Sketchbook"


Cherngzhi Lian is Kickstarting a campaign to produce what he calls the "perfect sketchbook," which he worked out after trying pretty much every sketchbook on the market. His ideal book is hardback, pocket-sized and landscape format, with 100% cotton paper and a grayscale on the endpapers for judging the values in the scene. 

Restaurant Patron

I was impressed with the striking silhouette of a restaurant patron who was sitting about ten feet away from me. She had cornrows that ended in long braids, big silver earrings, and red horn-rimmed glasses.

I opened up my watercolor set and quickly laid down some washes starting with the blue highlight color of her skin. I worked as quickly and discretely as I could. I was a little nervous about the possible reaction from her and her boyfriend if she were to notice I was painting her. I tried to remind myself to wipe the look of intense concentration off my face and wear a pleasant smile instead.


Sure enough, when I glanced up she was looking at me and clearly wondering what I was doing. I showed her my sketchbook and told her I'm trying to get practice painting people in watercolor. She and her boyfriend loved it, and only wanted to take a photo to put on her Facebook page.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Train an Animator

In 1935, Walt Disney wrote an eight page memo to art teacher Don Graham outlining his ideas for how to train an animator.

Rico Lebrun works with Eric Larson as he draws a live deer in preparation for Bambi from Eye-Likey
It's a snapshot of what Disney was thinking about the art of animation during those formative years just before Snow White and Pinocchio, and it offers some ideas that might inspire current art teachers. Here are some exerpts:

"I have often wondered why, in your life drawing class, you don't have your men look at the model and draw a caricature of the model, rather than an actual sketch. But instruct them to draw the caricature in good form, basing it on the actual model."

"In [drawing the model] lifting, for example - or other actions - we should drive at the fundamentals of the animation, and at the same time, incorporate the caricature. When someone is lifting a heavy weight, what do you feel? Do you feel that something is liable to crack at any minute and drop down? Do you feel that because of the pressure he's got, he's going to blow up, that his face is going to turn purple, that his eyes are going to bulge out of their sockets?"

Disney observed that young animators often dwelled on the individual parts of the body that they were animating instead of the expression of the overall pose. To better understand expressive poses, he suggested setting up a translucent screen with the model behind the screen, seen only by the shadow silhouette cast by a spotlight behind, which was in fact an old parlor game.

He goes on to suggest ideas for teaching about the components of facial expression, staging, music, dialog, and the understanding of what drives the movement of the figure. "The driving force behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character - or all three. Therefore the mind is the pilot."


In this video, Disney talks about how his in-studio training program went beyond the static poses that were taught in typical art schools by focusing on the flow of movement, action, and reaction. (link to video).

Walt's interest in an in-house studio was initially inspired by animator Art Babbit, who brought his fellow artists to his home to do figure drawing. Here's more about Art Babbit's role in animation education at Disney in the 1930s.

Artist Rico Lebrun was brought into the program later in the 1930s, primarily to help with Bambi. Read about his Disney art classes here.

Further reading
Online:
Full text of Disney's letter to Don Graham
Books:
The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston
Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures
The Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams (great book by Roger Rabbit's animation supervisor, who learned a lot from Art Babbitt and other classic animators).

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Art of Copying

Ilya Repin's portrait of Stasov

Photo of the copying room at the Da Fen Oil Painting Village in Buji, Longgang, Shenzhen, China,
which employs over 5,000 artists.
Blog reader Bob Walsh asked what I thought of the business of art copying.

Hi, Bob,
It's an interesting problem, though not a new one, except perhaps in the scale of the enterprises. I like to come at the issue from a lot of different angles:


Copying a master's work was and still is one of the best ways to learn. Here are some of the copies I did when I was teaching myself to paint. They include postcard-sized copies Rockwell, Bouguereau, Waterhouse, Moran, Cornwell, and even that same Repin painting of Stasov.

Many art students do copies at the same size of the original, matching it as closely as they can. Not surprisingly, the market for historical paintings is filled not only with forgeries but also with copies made as legitimate learning exercises, though they should be labeled as such to avoid confusion. 

"Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros," both by Bouguereau 

Many academic artists made replica copies of their own works and didn't consider anything wrong with having multiple originals. For example, Bouguereau painted more than one original oil painting of "Young Girl Defending Herself from Eros."

From a philosophical perspective, all images are real in a way and unreal in a way, too— and all copies are varying degrees of "faithful," "mechanical," "genuine," whether they're made by humans or machines, or some combination.

From the customer's point of view, as long as you know what you're buying, I suppose no one is hurt by copies. As long as some people merely want a hand-painted image to hang on their walls and they don't really care about who painted it, a market will rise to meet that demand, just as there has always been a market for reproduction antiques. 

From the creator's point of view, some artists regard copies as flattering and some as potentially infringing. That mainly depends on whether it's for sale and whether the attribution is genuine. American crafts artists have long been fighting Chinese knockoffs that undercut their market by matching their work exactly but for a much lower price. NPR did a report about New England crafts people fighting such a lawsuit.


Sometimes a copy can sell for more than the original, such as Glenn Brown's copy of a Chris Foss spaceship painting, which sold for 5.7 million dollars, while Foss's painting sold for only a few hundred. The legal and moral argument in that case is whether the recontextualization—the larger size, the new title — legitimized the work as a transformative new work. Whether such a high profile copy diminishes or enhances the work of the "real" original is a matter that's open for some debate.

Bob Dylan's "Opium," (2009) next to a photograph by Léon Busy, taken in Vietnam in 1915/ Left: Gagosian Gallery / Right: © Musée Albert Kahn, courtesy HuffPost
Other high profile artists have gotten in hot water for copying. Singer-turned-painter Bob Dylan received some adverse publicity a while ago when his "Asia Series" of paintings at the Gagosian gallery, which purported to be taken from his direct experience of his travels, turned out to be copies of historical, and sometimes copyrighted photographs.

Copying has its place in art, especially as a learning exercise. But originality and authenticity can be a rare commodities, even among so-called creative geniuses. The best thing is to be open and honest with what you're doing, and give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Trost Richards Plein Air Watercolors

The Brooklyn Museum has a good collection of sketchbooks and watercolors by William Trost Richards which give insight into his practice of painting studies on location.

 William Trost Richards (1833-1905) "Landscape with Tree"
This partly finished study is 10 x 14 inches. (25.4 x 35.6 cm) on smooth beige paper. It's mostly and transparent watercolor with some opaque touches in gouache. He used gouache for the thin twigs on the far left, but he carefully painted around the illuminated leaves in the center of the picture. 

In this case, his initial steps don't include a very detailed pencil drawing. The unfinished area of the fence shows a few light washes and some locator lines painted with a brush in watercolor.
William Trost Richards, American, 1833-1905, Rhode Island Coast: Conanicut Island ca. 1880
This study is the same size, carried through to finish. It uses a similar method: painting large shapes rather loosely (but accurately) with larger brushes, and then subdividing those masses into smaller textures and details.

Although this method requires large reserves of patience and concentration, I don't think it would necessarily take too long; I believe a painting like this could be done in an afternoon or perhaps two consecutive sessions.

Computer Time

I painted this watercolor study of my wife Jeanette doing computer time. Normally, of course, the computer gives off a blue light, but this light is from a lamp shining on the warm-colored wall in front of her.