Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Slap On The Derrière

When Napoleon III visited the Salon of 1853, he did not like Gustave Courbet's painting "Bathers." So he walked up to the 8-foot-tall canvas and slapped the posterior of the figure with his riding crop.

Courbet, The Bathers, 1853
The issue was not that she was nude, nor was it the size of her posterior, which appeared proletarian to many observers.

The painting outraged the Emperor "because, nude and proletarian, she was masquerading as a nymph."

In his book Art and Photography, Aaron Scharf argues, "Almost always, Courbet's nudes assume attitudes derived from antique conventions; though they are never garnished with the obvious archaeology of his Neo-Classical contemporaries, their settings are no less traditional. The degradation of the Ideal was guaranteed by coupling it with the real: with vulgar photographic realism."
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Gustave Courbet on Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

New Portrait Book from Nathan Fowkes

Many of us have been following Nathan Fowkes on the internet, both for his landscape gouache studies and his portrait studies.

Yesterday I received a copy of his new book "How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal," and it's every bit as beautifully produced as I hoped it would be.

I had the honor of writing the foreword to the book, and here's what I wrote:

This book presents a welcome opportunity to study Nathan's dazzling charcoal portraits in beautiful detail.

Nathan’s portraits overflow with virtuosity. Sweeping, energetic strokes dance across the page, as if animated by a master conjurer. The lighting is so brilliant that it seems to shine brighter than the paper. Shadows are soft and mysterious, concealing more than they reveal.

The student or fellow artist looking for the precise recipe will rejoice, for Nathan generously lists all the tools he uses and all the procedures he follows. There are plenty of step-by-step sequences showing how the drawings develop, and those process images are beautifully shot and printed.



If the book stopped there, it would still be a valuable contribution to a shelf of portrait drawing books. But it goes far beyond style and surface. Nathan delves deeply into the thought and planning that lies behind his drawings.


Beneath the painterly strokes lies a firm armature of line drawing, using an adaptation of the method taught by Frank Reilly (1906-1967), an instructor at the Art Students League. Having that diagrammatic foundation gives the drawings the structure that holds them together. The basic plan is: 1) a simple construction drawing, 2) simple masses of value to describe big forms, and 3) design hard and soft edges.

Nathan explains his principles of construction, lighting, planes, and edges. His insights are like gold: “I’m much more able to render complexity when I look for the simplest shapes first.” A recurring theme is that drawing is not a literal representation, but rather an interpretation of what we see.

Although he is specific about his methods and principles, he is not dogmatic about them. He invites the reader to question. He doesn’t want students to copy his outward style. Instead he encourages his reader to try out his way of drawing, and if they wish, to apply it to their own work.


Nathan shows compassion for his subjects. They are not nameless models, but rather human beings. He is not just documenting someone’s physiognomy, but rather creating probing studies of character. He tells the story of one of his models, Clark, who had a successful career as an actor until several tragic setbacks changed the course of his life. Nathan’s drawings of Clark express both the dignity and resilience of the man.

This book will become a cherished classic of portrait drawing, and I can only hope that we’ll see more books in the future that take a similar look at Nathan’s observational painting and imaginative work.
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How to Draw Portraits in Charcoal
Nathan Fowkes website
Nathan's gouache landscapes on Instagram

Monday, December 5, 2016

Richard Johnson's Migrant Portraits


Richard Johnson has served as a war correspondent, urban sketcher, and newspaper illustrator. Now he has turned his attention to portraits and stories from the migrant experience. In a project sponsored by McKinsey&Company, he documented many of them with his sketchbook. He says:
"These are a few of my live sketches of migrants from last week in Rome and Berlin. I spent time and listened to migration stories from people who have moved their worlds for a vast array of reasons....Migrants were drawn live, wherever we happened to meet, in parks in Rome, migrant rescue centers in Berlin, or pleasant Toronto homes.... I get paid to draw pictures of real life. There should be more of us doing it. Making people look. These are my favorites."
See the gallery: People on the move: Migrant voices
Richard's website News Illustrator

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Golden Age Illustration Exhibit on Long Island

Clockwise from U.L.: Norman Rockwell, Dean Cornwell,
Maxfield Parrish, Tom Lovell
Coming up December 10, 2016 is an exhibition of Golden Age American illustration called "Norman Rockwell and Friends: American Illustrations from the Mort Künstler Collection." The exhibit, in Huntington, NY, is borrowed from the collection of illustrator Mort Künstler.

Mr. Künstler's collection is featured in an article in the new issue (#54) of Illustration Magazine.

The magazine also takes a look at the science fiction illustrations of Frank R. Paul (1884-1963) in a profile written by David Saunders. The final feature examines the pioneering illustration work by the Waud brothers, who produced illustrations of the Civil War.

The exhibition is at the Heckscher Museum in Huntington, New York on Long Island, and it will be on view through March 5, 2017.

Previously: The Action Art of Mort Künstler.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Broken Aspen



When we set up to paint, we didn't know we were standing in the middle of the moose's salad bar. Luckily they left us alone. If you're getting this post by email, you may need to follow this YouTube link to see the video.


I'm focusing on a single broken aspen, selecting the central area for a lot of careful detail, and letting the detail module broaden on the outside edges.

Let me take a question from Philip Ackermann on my Instagram page:
"I was always wondering... is there any problem with the colors becoming dull/sinking in or darkening upon drying? Let us take a value scale from 0-10. Zero is glossy black oil paint. Relative to that - where is the darkest achievable value with casein on that scale? I hope this does not seem like a foolish concern, but it really bugs me when painting with acrylics."

Phillip, that's not a foolish concern at all. I've found that with gouache or casein, the darkest darks will never be as deep as is possible in oil, where you can use glazes and varnishes and keep a shiny surface.

You can varnish casein with a brush-on or spray-on varnish like Krylon Crystal Clear and get the darks back, but I think the paint lends itself to an aesthetic that's different from the tenebrism of Caravaggio and many oil painters.

Casein seems to favor a lighter approach, with the beauty in the variety of color in the lights. Here are a few tips:
1. Try to push your values into a light group (8-9 by your scale) and a dark group (1-2).
2. Avoid middle tones. That's where the dullness comes from. Also avoid pure white and pure black.
3. Always try to get color character in your darks. Make them definitely cool or warm, and alternate the colors within the dark group.
4. To practice getting the values right, work in grisaille or very limited warm/cool palettes.

Learn more with these links
Previous blog post: My Favorite Gouache Masters
Wikipedia page on how an aspen forest is one giant organism
Our painting companion is Carl Bork
Krylon Crystal Clear
Casein Explorer's Set
Gumroad video: Casein Painting in the Wild
Watch my casein video

Friday, December 2, 2016

Natural history illustration exhibit opens in Jamestown



An exhibition of natural history illustration called Focus on Nature will open tomorrow at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, NY. 

"Since its inception in 1990, the New York State Museum’s Focus on Nature exhibit series has reflected the standards, materials, and skills of contemporary natural history illustrators. It promotes awareness of a genre of art that requires scientifically accurate illustrations such as those used in textbooks, research journals and publications, interpretive nature centers, and nature guide books. Focus on Nature XIV will feature over 60 works in a variety of mediums representing artists from a diverse geographic range. These works represent a marriage of pleasure and practicality – wherein the artist’s keen observations and sensory interpretations of their subjects are exquisitely rendered."
Two paintings of my paintings will be in the show, the images of tyrannosaurs that I did for Scientific American. There will be an opening reception on December 9, but I won't be able to attend. The show will be on view through April 9, 2017.