Sunday, July 23, 2017

Animal Painting from Life -- 7 Tips

I make a lot of super-short videos that are only 15-60 seconds long. I think that's too short to put on YouTube individually, so I packaged some of them up a group of them and tied them together with a theme.

So here are seven of my top tips for drawing and painting live animals.

(Link to YouTube).

Note the new title sequence, shot recently in a grassy field near here. I like the way the grass stems disguise the wires.
Answers to your questions about sketching animals from life

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Aposematism is a special coloration designed to scare off potential predators. It also includes other kinds of warning signals such as foul odors or attention-getting sounds.

Lowland streaked tenrec
It's effectively the opposite of camouflage. Instead of blending into the background, the aposematic color scheme reminds predators to stay away to avoid getting stung or poisoned, thus saving both animals from potential harm.

Poison dart frog
Young predators sometimes make the mistake of attacking one of these conspicuous species. If the attacker survives the experience, it learns to avoid them in the future. The system of defense therefore works best against predators who are able to learn.

The coral snake (above) is poisonous, but the harmless milk snake (below) mimics its coloration and derives a benefit.

Aposematic colors in insects are often red, yellow, orange, and black, colors that are can be seen by birds, lizards, and primates, their chief predators. The skunk uses black and white, because that pattern is most noticeable to mammalian predators.
Aposematism on Wikipedia

Friday, July 21, 2017

Guest Post by Jeanette

Hi, blog readers and fellow artists. I'm Jim's wife Jeanette, the lady in the background of the videos. A few of you have asked to see what I'm up to, so here's a look into my recent sketchbooks. 

Remember the scene of the house in the Catskills?  What attracts me is that dark ridge of land brooding over the house. I also want to show the garage next to the house, because the owner keeps going back and forth to deal with his classic cars.

I usually prefer vertical compositions, so most of my sketchbooks are set up that way. I'm working in watercolor in a Stilman and Birn Beta Softcover Watercolor Sketchbook 5.5 x 8.5". 
I paint the Vanderbilt Garden on two peaceful mornings, standing under a shady pergola covered with grapevines and surrounded with ferns

The only interruptions are inchworms falling on my hat. Two sessions are really great to have for finishing a sketch, if the weather stays consistent. Seeing it with fresh eyes helps me to repair the inevitable mistakes.

This house undergoing renovation is lots of fun to paint, and luckily I have two sessions again. I like the contrast between the pile of heavy rocks and the delicate scaffolding. There's a bright red clump of hollyhocks bravely blooming amidst the chaos.

The last two paintings are done in The Perfect Sketchbook, produced by Erwin Lian in Singapore. The 7"x 10.25" hardbound book has Fabriano watercolor paper, which has a "softer" surface than my other watercolor sketchbooks and an ivory color to the paper.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Marker Sketch of Fritz

Fritz is an autonomous, sentient drone called a "hoverhead" based on the design of a ceratopsian, from Dinotopia: First Flight (1999). Note that his trim is dented and he's missing the chrome ring around his right eye.

For those of you who like to paint old, dented things, the "Dead Vehicle Challenge" is going strong with lots of great entries already. Deadline is the end of the month. Check it out on the Facebook event page.
Get a copy of the expanded edition Dinotopia: First Flight  which has a behind-the-scenes supplement for no extra charge.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mort Drucker: "No Shortcuts"

Illustrators Quarterly is a UK magazine that focuses on historical and contemporary illustration worldwide, kind of a European equivalent of Illustration magazine here.

The current issue spotlights Mort Drucker (born 1929), the movie satirist who worked for Mad Magazine for more than 50 years.

Correction: Ray Walston as Poopdeck Pappy
Robin Williams as Popeye by Mort Drucker
Drucker's movie satires had to capture the look of all the stars from various angles and in various expressions. Even more remarkably, he had to recall the faces from memory, because in the years before the Internet, it was virtually impossible to find movie stills, especially of a movie that was in the theaters.

The article includes about 50 large images of Drucker's work, mostly reproduced from the original, so that you can see the pasted-up text as if it is on the page in front of you.

The article is written by David Apatoff, author of the popular blog Illustration Art. David is a close friend of Drucker and was with him recently at the Society of Illustrators in New York, where Drucker received a coveted Hall of Fame award.

Drucker was self taught in art: "School didn't do much for me," he recalls. "I had no schooling. I didn't know the first thing about drawing and had to learn it all by myself."

He continues: "I wanted to be as good as I could possibly be. No shortcuts. If you had a problem with something, attack it. Like hands, for instance.... Some artists drew hands in pockets or behind their backs and you knew those artists didn't want to have any part of drawing hands. But I always thought that if something's difficult, don't hide, don't run away from it. Learn to master it. That was my philosophy. And so I'd draw hands as if my life depended on it. If you can't draw hands don't look at how somebody else draws hands, study your own hand, do things so that you personally get to know and appreciate hands."
You can get this issue of Illustrator's Quarterly at Bud's Art Books.
Books on Drucker: MAD's Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker: Five Decades of His Finest Works
Familiar Faces: The Art of Mort Drucker
David Apatoff is also the author if the recent book The Life and Art of Bernie Fuchs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Claus's Grainy Luminism

Emile Claus (1849-1924) conveyed a brilliant sense of light through fine textures of broken color, giving the painting a grainy look.  (Click image to see uncropped composition)

Art historians classify Claus in the category of Belgian luminism, a movement with sources in impressionism and pointillism. 

Some of Claus's paintings resemble those of Claude Monet, who was one of heroes. The color of the bridge is made up of many different component strokes. 

Instead of doing this with tiny brushstrokes (which can get a mechanical look) you can get this effect by dry-brushing one color over a different a contrasting dry layer of color, which works especially well in casein. 

30+ year old Ektachrome movie film. Film by Justin Cary
The look reminds me of analog film, especially when the subject is backlit. This is a frame from a home movie recently shot on old film stock. The textures are full of grain, and the sky burns out the edges of the silhouettes.

The grainy, jumping quality resemble the way our eyes see, too, as the receptors in our retina fire unequally over time.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Antonio Mancini's Graticola

Antonio Mancini (1852-1930), whom Sargent called “the best living painter,” used a unique grid system for sight-size painting.

Mancini's system has been called the "graticola" or the "raster." It involved a network of strings stretched across a frame between the artist and the model, and a corresponding set of strings, exactly the same size, stretched directly on top of the painting itself.

The system was adapted from processes described by old masters such as Dürer and Leonardo.

By looking through the grid of strings, and then painting what he saw in each of the spaces between the strings, he could match painted reality to observed reality. 

The system required that the sitter remain exactly in the same position, and that Mancini always observe the model through one eye from a specific point in three-dimensional space. 

According to a witness in 1893, "He always works at a distance from his canvas, always returning to sit at precisely the same little spot that he carefully marked on the floor." 

He observed the painting and the model together, then advanced quickly and attacked the canvas to correct a small spot and make it match the values of subject. 

Many of the paintings bear the imprint of the grid. Presumably there would be a point in the process where you would lift the frame off the painting and blend together the patches to get rid of the lines. 

But reportedly Mancini liked leaving a hint of the squares because it endowed the paintings with a sense of objectivity and scientific accuracy.

Even though Mancini's paint technique can often be loose and gestural, there's a sense of objective realism hovering behind it. 

Mancini was a proponent of the Verismo movement, an Italian response to the striving for Realism in France.

Mancini was passionate about his use of the tool, saying “the advantages I derive from it are unlimited.” 

I've selected samples that show the influence of the grid, but to be fair, many of his other paintings don't show the evidence of the process.

In addition to the horizontal and vertical strings, he also used diagonal grid lines. Sitters reported that he added strings to the grid during the painting process. 

Presumably the diagonal strings helped him locate individual squares and they also gave additional bounding lines to compare to the form.

For all the precision and objectivity of his method, Mancini was in extreme emotional states during the process of painting: "at one moment he is grieved to his soul, then he is singing happily- then livid and wild- every square of tone shows what you get out of him- every little square he paints is another little piece of his sanity lost- it won’t be long before he runs out. I hope that I’m mistaken in this, but… the great genius that leads to madness tosses and turns in his head incessantly."
Online Resources
Mancini's Graticola by Matthew Innis (more on sources of quotes)
Juan Ramirez did a Kickstarter project to reconstruct the graticola
Carolyn Anderson's blog "Fractals, Chaos, and Mancini's Graticola"
Antonio Mancini on Lines and Colors
Wikipedia article on Mancini
Thanks to Darren Rousar for telling me about the graticola.
Exhibition Catalog: Antonio Mancini: Nineteenth-Century Italian Master (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

10 Years of Blogging

Today marks ten years of GurneyJourney. My first post was July 16, 2007, and I've done a daily post since then.

I started my blog “GurneyJourney” in July of 2007 at the suggestion of my publisher. The idea was to do a visual journal of the book tour for "Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara." It quickly expanded to become a daily summary about whatever I was learning about. The reason I like to blog is that it gives me a chance to explore ideas, to share discoveries, to think out loud, and to learn things from you, the reader. Thanks to all of you that are part of the GJ community, both the regular and occasional commentators, and those who only just read without commenting, which is OK, too.

I've tried to follow these seven goals:
1. Brevity. (Omit needless words).
2. Simplicity (One basic idea per post).
3. Variety (Funny stories, obscure videos, geeky factoids and useful studio tips).
4. Commercial free (No popups, ads, or sponsored content).
5. Information over opinions (I'm better as an explainer than a detractor).
6. Credit (Try to identify and link to stuff that's not mine).
7. Show, don't tell (Let the practice drive the theory).

The main way I've supported the blog and paid my staff is with links to Amazon. The way it works is that whenever you make a purchase through one of my links, Amazon sends me a few cents on the dollar from the sale. I like that system because it doesn't cost the shopper anything extra. So if you shop Amazon, just start your session through a sponsored link. You don't have to buy art books or art supplies for me to receive the percentage. It works for anything, as long as you enter through my link and while the tab is open you can buy your almond butter or dog bed or whatever.

Writing Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara in 2007
I didn't expect that blogging would lead to so many other things. The books “Imaginative Realism” and “Color and Light” grew directly out of blog posts, and since then I've released ten feature-length instructional videos and over 200 free YouTube videos. I made those books and videos to translate the ideas from the blog into a more comprehensive form. There are more books and videos coming and lots more ideas for the blog in coming weeks and months, so stay tuned.
"GurneyJourney at 10" on Lines and Colors
Remember, the "Dead Vehicle Challenge" is July 31. And if you spend time at Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, please check out my channels, as I often post different things there.
Previously: Meet the GurneyJourney Staff

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Art Talk Tape: Work and the Freelance Lifestyle

In the 1980s I was part of a group of friends called "The Golden Palm Tape Network" who shared conversations about art via cassette tapes that we would mail to each other. Here's a sample of a vintage "podcast" on the topic of work and the freelancer. (Link to podcast on YouTube)

Contributors include fellow fantasy- and comic artists James Warhola (Uncle Andy's), Paul Chadwick (Concrete) (at 29:45), and Tom Kidd (Gnemo).
Previous podcast: "Academic Chatter: Gerome, Repin, and Shishkin"
More about the GP Tape Network

Song "Caterpillar Man" is by Carl Trent

Friday, July 14, 2017

Early Sketching Stools

This tripod easel and these stools are typical of what plein-air artists would use in the 1890s. 

The legs of the easel were made from sliding sections that closed down to about 31 inches when not in use. A metal clamp at the top held onto the canvas so that it wouldn't blow over.

The folding stools had either canvas or perforated wood seats. 

Cartoon "Stymied" by Punch cartoonist and Winnie the Pooh illustrator E.H. Shepherd.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

International Artist article on the Sketch Easel

The new issue of International Artist magazine (#116/August/Sept. 2017) has a feature on how to make a sketch easel. Pick up a copy or order online.

Don't miss the previous GurneyJourney posts: "Your DIY Pochade Easel Designs" and "Sketch Easel Materials."
Be part of the maker community. Get yourself a copy of "How to Make a Sketch Easel".

The 1080p HD download is available now for just $14.95 from Gumroad.

The DVD version is available for $24.50, and it includes a slide show. The DVD is also available on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Finding it in the paint

The house is across Route 81 from the churchyard. Jeanette and I set up our easels next to the gravestones and we start painting.

I try to get the overall measurements as close as I can while I'm still in the pencil stage, but most of the discovery happens in the paint. I like gouache because it lets me clean up edges and fix things as I go.

(Link to video) The whole session takes an hour and a half. By then the sun is down, the mosquitoes are up, and the ghosts are stirring.

Previous posts: Gouache Materials List
Experiments with a Limited Palette
My library of HD tutorial downloads
My tutorials on DVD (credit cards)
My tutorials on DVD (Paypal)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

View out the Manure Door

The barn is a bank barn, built into a sloping hillside. The upper floor is accessible at ground level to horses and wagons on the east side. You enter the bottom level on the downhill side. 

If you sit on the main floor and face west, you look out past the duckling pen and the brooding box to a balcony over the manure pile.

In the afternoon the light streams in. That's where Handsome, the barn cat, likes to sit.

It was that simple value arrangement that attracted me. The light shape consists of the open door and the polygon of light on the floor. There's a railing at the lower left sticking out into the light, and the light just catches some of the brooms and the edge of the brooding box. (Link to video)

Monday, July 10, 2017

Jamie's Wyeth's Box

Jamie Wyeth painting in Maine, 1994. Photo by David Alan Harvey
Painting outside is a public spectacle. People like to stop and watch and chat, which can be OK most of the time. But what do you do when you want to screen out those distractions? Jamie Wyeth has a novel solution, according to Daniel Grant:
'Perhaps winning the prize for oddest looking is Jamie Wyeth who kneels inside a four-foot high, seven-foot long three-sided wooden bait box when he goes outside to paint on Monhegan Island, Maine. (He puts a heater in during cold weather.) “My box is mainly for privacy,” he said, noting that “I find it extremely bothersome when people talk to me while I’m painting. If I don’t say anything to them when they ask a question, or if I tell them I don’t like to talk while I’m working, then I feel terrible that I’ve been rude. Inside the box, people see that I clearly don’t want to talk, and they eventually scurry away.'
Related posts:
Top Ten Ways to Deal with Curious Spectators 
The Problem of Curious Spectators
'Can I Borrow Your Paintbrush?'
Your Experiences with Spectators

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Boldini's French Plein-Airs

I'm wondering how Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931) painted these pictures of dynamic street life. I assume they're painted from observation and not from photos. 

If I was tackling such a subject. I would rough in the composition on location. In another session I would have the model pose on a patio or sidewalk, then go back and finish up the background on the spot.

Same with this one. You could do it in sections. A groom could hold the harnessed horses in the same lighting as the background scene.

It's possible that this scene came readymade, but it's also possible he painted the house and trees of the river scene, and then grabbed the steamboats, rowboats, and ducks in other places and added them to the half finished painting.

I love the way Boldini is so playful and daring in his paint application. He appears to be using a variety of brushes: big ones, small ones, new ones, and old ones.

Sometimes students want their set of brushes to be all new and fresh, but experienced painters also cherish their worn, splayed brushes.

 This painting of a riverside laundry appears to be a plein-air study.

This related work is also small (13 x 20 inches), but it might have been completed in the studio using plein air sketches as reference notes. I'm just guessing here, and if anyone knows more about this, please share in the comments.

If indeed Boldini composited elements in these paintings, he would have started with the idea in sketch stage, and then built the picture from elements he found. It's like what Ansel Adams said about camera work: "You don't take a photograph, you make it."
Book about the exhibit of Boldini's French Landscapes: Giovanni Boldini in Impressionist Paris (Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute)