Paint Schoodic

Join us on the American Eagle in June or in Acadia National Park in August. Click here for more information.

Friday, January 31, 2014

How to scale up a small sketch to a large painting

A large canvas transferred from a 9X12 sketch.
When working on a very large canvas in a normal-size room, I start with a smaller sketch (either in oil or graphite) and scale it up. There just isn’t enough space to stand back far enough to draw directly on the canvas.

I realize many artists are math-phobic, but there are times when an eensy-weensie bit of arithmetic can save  you a lot of work. I'll try to make this painless.

The first step is to work out whether the aspect ratio of the sketch is the same as the canvas. This is the proportional relationship between height and width.

Usually I grid in Photoshop because it's faster and I can just delete the lines with a keystroke. But you can grid just as well with a pencil on your sketch.
Sometimes this is very obvious, such as a 9X12 sketch being the same aspect ratio as an 18X24 canvas. But sometimes, you're starting with a peculiar little sketch drawn on the back of an envelope or something. You can use a trick you learned back in elementary school.

Remember learning that ½ was the same as 2/4? We want to force our sketch into a similar equivalent ratio with our canvas.

Let’s assume that you’ve cropped your sketch to be 8” across, and you want to know how tall your crop should be to match your canvas.

Write out the ratios of height to width as above.
To make them equivalent, you cross-multiply the two fixed numbers, and divide by the other fixed number, as below:

Use your common sense here. If it doesn't look like they should be equal, you probably made a mistake. And you can work from a known height as easily as from a known width; it doesn't matter if the variable is on the top or the bottom, the principle is the same.

The next step is to grid both the canvas and sketch. You could spend a lot of time calculating the distances, but I prefer to just divide it in quarters in each direction. I use a t-square and charcoal, and I’m not crazy about the lines being perfect; I adjust constantly as I go.

This was gridded in eighths instead of quarters because I wanted to be sure I got the water in the bottom right in the correct spot. But usually, I just divide the canvas in quarters in each direction.
The last step is to transfer the little drawing, square by square to the larger canvas. I generally do this with loose paint, in raw umber. It’s time-consuming, but with big paintings it saves a lot of work in the long run.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Three painters, three problems

Carol T's Adirondack Lake, not yet finished. I suggested she put the two of us in her canoe.
I discourage my students from working from photos, but last Saturday three of them had compelling reasons to do so.

Carol T. can draw and paint with almost perfect fidelity. She is so accurate that her drafting skills can become a liability. In the summer, the constant vagaries of plein air protect her from obsessing about details, but when she works from a photo, she can become so focused that she overrides her own emotional response.

Christine, on the other hand, is working on portrait of two men talking on a porch. Christine’s drawing skills are as strong as Carol’s but tend toward the emotive side. In this painting, she felt a strong (and natural) impulse to pull the figures closer together than they really are. But the beauty of her idea was in part in the careful distance the figures kept from each other.

Brad had taken the perfect reference photo—of a fox in his backyard. It would have been a shame to not paint it.

The solution to each of their problems was different.

Brad's fox painting, also unfinished.
To Carol, I recommended carefully studying her reference photos and then putting them aside while she drew. She did several iterations in this way. By looking at her sketches without the ‘noise’ of her reference photo, we were able to determine that she was placing her horizon in the exact spot it would appear in a snapshot. Moving the horizon meant moving her tree masses and boat, but the end result promises to be gratifying.

In Christine’s case, gridding the figures was the only way to get them correctly spaced on the canvas. This required quite a few cropping drafts and some invention, since her photograph didn’t match the proportion of her canvas. But in the end, her drawing had the impact she intended, and I look forward to seeing it interpreted in paint.

The fox before Photoshop. The only change necessary was to bring that tree on the right in so the photo could be cropped to the same aspect ratio as the canvas. 
For Brad, the easiest solution was to circumvent a sketch altogether. It took only a few minutes to make the necessary changes in Photoshop.

Brad's fox after Photoshop. Sapling gone, tree moved to the left.
I generally grid from a sketch, not a photo. But every once in a while, there's a good reason to grid directly from a photo.

Tomorrow: how to grid.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The rest is just details

Underpainting by little ol' me.
I’m now five weeks out from surgery and would expect I’d feel a little more spiffy than I do. On a good day I can now sit at my easel for an hour at a time. Yesterday I spent that hour limning out the darks in a large (36X48) painting; today I spent it setting in the snow whites.

If this phase works, it would be hard to wreck it. If this phase doesn’t work, there’s no salvaging it.

Halfway through. I like this look, personally.
From here, I’ll set this aside and spend the next two days doing the same underpainting for my next painting, and on and on until all the drafts are finished.

Those flowers are definitely worth painting!
 Of course, I still can’t muscle my easel around. Luckily, Sandy is “resting” between iterations of her master’s thesis, so she is available. To amuse herself between my countless requests, she’s painting the lovely flowers my husband brought me this weekend.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I paint

Love and Deceit, Zhostovo papier-mache tole tray painted by Sergei Fillipov
Fine art is what you have left when you’ve removed all practical application from an art form. The quality of the work has nothing to do with it. Thus an exquisitely painted tole tray like the above is considered a fine craft item, whereas a mediocre landscape is a fine art item.

I can inhabit the practical sphere, but I tend to focus on the intangible. That is why I’m a fine artist. I’m a painter because that’s the talent God has given me.

Several of my friends sent me this piece on why Christians should create.

The Servant, by Carol L. Douglas. Not all nudes are meant to be provocative, of course.
There are, believe it or not, many Christians who are opposed to Christian art. I’ve heard it all, and at times their criticism has stopped me from working: nudes are bad (obscene). Representations of God are bad (graven images). Painting is a waste of time. You could be doing more important work. (By this last they mean, of course, fine crafts.)

In many ways, fine artists are more like preachers than they are like craftspeople. They structure their life and work around an internal reality that is invisible to outsiders. Nobody asks preachers why they spend time describing the Kingdom of God through words, but a lot of people question why artists think they should do it through images.

Storm clouds, by Carol L. Douglas. Landscape not only celebrates creation, it can be a profound metaphor for our spiritual life.

The bottom line is that this is the talent God has given me. Painting and teaching painting (and, yes, writing about painting) are almost the only things I do well.

Martin Luther said, “Love God and do as you please.” When he told me that, Rev. John Nicholson added that Colossians 3:23 says: “whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.”

To me, that’s pretty much the last word on the subject.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The artist in winter

I asked four of my summer workshop students how they’re coping with this unusually cold winter, and what they’re working on.

SUE LEO

"My typography class all semester long thought the angry feminist featured in the movie Helvetica was absurd, as she blamed all the wars and strife in life on this typeface. There are actually hate sites for this font. This woman became a running joke all semester in class and the phrase 'what the Helvetica' became a saying. In our last class this week, somehow inspiration struck us," wrote Sue Leo.

I am currently teaching graphic design, motion graphics and web design at Roberts Wesleyan College as well as managing the Davison Gallery. I recently developed an Art Educators Exhibition at the Gallery to showcase artwork by art educator working in K-12 settings. The goal is for this show to become an annual event. We attracted a wide variety of work and had an opening reception last Friday. The show is up in the Davison Gallery until February 14th. Happily the event was a success for our school and also for the teachers who participated.

LOREN BROWN

Loren Brown working on an abstraction.
For my sixtieth birthday my wife suggested that I take a course with Carol Douglas in the Adirondacks. Having no art training since the age of six, I balked while secretly edging closer to working on my bucket list. Carol’s encouragement and patience fostered a no fear environment for an introduction to “seeing” in a new way.  Experiencing light and color in my familiar, natural scenery and  reflecting that through the medium was at once a technical challenge and a great thrill.

 I have been rambling through efforts in watercolor, acrylic, oil and tempera all lacking much discipline, but much delight. One of my greatest joys was sharing several classes with my youngest daughter who has much talent and has not been actively painting for many years. Carol encouraged her to try oils and in her first attempt created a frame-worthy seascape which she gave to me.

The sheer joy of moments spent contemplating beautiful landscapes, composing a setting to share with fellow students and indeed the internal process of creating art is sublime and wonderful. I spend a lot of time just observing nature in its dance through the seasons, watching the light play an unfolding beauty and majesty. I have asked Carol to endure several more attempts at training me this year in coastal Maine settings. I look forward to the opportunity.

NANCY WOOGEN

Sky oil painting by Nancy Woogen
There are such fond memories I have of my workshop with Carol this past summer in Maine. The surroundings were beautiful but so was our amazing instructor in many ways. Her encouragement and expertise greatly inspired me. I always take a few things away from each workshop. In Carol’s workshop I took more than a few.

Since taking Carol’s workshop, I have been on a roll for sure with my oil painting. I do my watercolors, acrylics and pastels still, but I seem to thrive on oils.

After a glorious and colorful autumn season of plein air painting in oils, I am on a roll with my sky oil painting series in my studio.

Prearranging and premixing tints and shades on my pallet as taught by Carol, I take my pallet box from freezer to studio and paint my heart out. This has made my oil painting more accessible and allowed me more freedom in utilizing colors.

PAMELA CASPER

Nest tornado by Pamela Casper
Winter is a good reason to work inside my studio in Manhattan without having to justify why I am not outside painting.  Over the years I have developed an approach to working indoors which internalizes my outdoor observations of nature and mixes them with my imagination and the worries and concerns I have about the future of the planet.

The first work which employed this approach, in water color on paper, began with the “Tornado series.” This utilized the leitmotif of a tornado as a central formal element. The themes riffed on the metaphor of the tornado as life force, both positive and negative, within the natural world. The subjects went from the disappearance of the bees, fracking and global warming to the natural cycles of death and rebirth.

Recently my work has branched out to include sculptures made of found materials such as barbed wire. Inspired from one of my ‘Nest Tornado’ paintings, I focused on the circular form of the nest and its meaning as a place of life and nurture which is instinctively created by the animal or bird.  I began to wonder what would happen if a species would continue to create nests even if they no longer found wood and grass.  I surmised that yes they would; but the species would not necessarily thrive.  These sculptures are more a warning to safe guard and protect our natural resources.  A bleak outlook; perhaps, that is the effect of winter on the artist.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Ladies of Spain

Portrait of Elizabeth of Valois by Sofonisba Anguissola.
Elizabeth of Valois (1545 to 1568) was the eldest daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine de Medici. She was described as timid but close to her formidable mother.

Elisabeth was married by proxy to Phillip II of Spain at age 14, as part of the peace treaty that ended the Habsburg–Valois War. Phillip II was more than twice her age and already had been married twice.

The Departure of Elisabeth of France for Spain, after 1858 by Eugène Isabey, shows the young Elisabeth, dressed like a widow, swooning as she leaves for Spain. But this painting is perhaps less about Elizabeth's reality than about 19th century European sword-rattling.
One can imagine how thrilled this young girl was to be handed off as war booty.  But it turns out that Phillip II wasn’t a bad husband.  He was apparently charmed by his bride and within a short period of time had given up his mistress. His sensitivity can be seen in his choices of ladies-in-waiting. These included the aristocrat Ana de Mendoza and the painter Sofonisba Anguissola.

Unattributed portrait of Ana de Mendoza, Princess of Éboli, showing her very rakish eye-patch.
Ana de Mendoza was distinguished by her intelligence and her eye-patch; legend says she lost her eye to an épée. She herself had been married at the age of 12 (but did not bear her husband children until she was eighteen). She lived in Elizabeth of Valois’ household until the young queen’s death in childbirth. 

Her later career gives some hint of her character. After bearing her husband ten children, she entered a convent upon his death. Three years later she returned to public life, getting herself involved in treason. She died after thirteen years of imprisonment.

Unlike many women painters, Sofonisba Anguissola was not the daughter of an artist; in fact, she was from a noble family. Her father encouraged his daughters to cultivate their talents. Four of them became painters and one a writer. At age twenty-two (and unmarried) Anguissola went to Rome, where she met Michelangelo, with whom she studied informally for several years.  

Self-portrait at the easel, 1556, by Sofonisba Anguissola.
By age 26, Anguissola was established as a painter. In Milan, she painted the Duke of Alba, who in turn recommended her to Philip II. He invited her to join the Spanish Court.

Elizabeth of Valois was herself an interested amateur portraiturist, and part of Anguissola’s remit was to teach her painting. After Elizabeth’s death, Phillip II paid Anguissola a dowry of twelve thousand pounds upon her marriage to Don Francisco de Moncada. The couple settled in Palermo, where Don Francisco died in 1579.

Portrait of Massimiliano Stampa, 1557, by Sofonisba Anguissola.
At the age of forty-seven, Anguissola met and married the considerably younger captain of the ship on which she was traveling (Orazio Lomellino). Her amassed fortune allowed her to paint, teach, and mentor other artists through her long and exceptional life.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Sleep-Deprived Artist

Gail Kellogg Hope is an artist, clothing designer, and the mother of a new young son. I asked her to write about the trials of temporarily misplacing her career in favor of motherhood.

1170 Huntarian Psalter. Want to know how she’s getting stuff done? She tied the little bugger in his crib, that’s how. He’s not crying, so she must have drugged him. I’m a spinner who rarely gets to spin these days.  It’s so rare I write about it on Facebook when it happens.
The sleep-deprived mommy haze isn’t enough fun and I can totally type with one hand. Two hours later the child is asleep in his crib, I have tea in my cup and may (possibly) be able to string a paragraph or five together.

Creative people have a hard time not being creative. I’m not sure why, but we just have to be making something all the time. When I had to go on light duty and bed rest with this pregnancy, I thought I’d go insane not doing anything. 

For fun, I build solar dehydrators and travel to Maine to dye yarn with friends on my vacations, “What beach? You mean you want me to put down the power tools, sit down and relax?  Why?”

Behold, the cuteness!  The source of all lost attention spans!
So I found a project that did not tax my very limited physical capabilities. This turned out to be making knock-offs of medieval illuminated manuscripts. These are loose illustrations in watercolor/gouache, ink and gold paint. While they can get elaborate, they are not difficult. They are nice doodles that fulfill the creative need.

As a bonus, I get to look at the crazy drawings done by bored monks and nuns known as marginalia. These are the fart jokes, battle-of-the-sexes and political commentary of the times. They’re a look into the daily lives of real people. Lemme tell ya, the classic penis joke is classic, and I’d like to see the serious historian remain serious after that. “It is the rabbit!” is much older than you thought. Take that, Monty Python!

Rainbow-color cloth book with fun textures, which didn't cut it as a creative outlet, but you can read about it here.
Anyway, fast forward to today, and I’m a happy breastfeeding mommy-bed play mat.  If I’m not nursing the kid I’m holding the sleeping baby. Do not move or he will wake up. Or, I’m attending to my son’s very important developmental needs: “Stack the block, knock it down!  Tigger Rattle!  ABCDEFG. Look, John Robert, Yellow! Yay!” Or trying to figure out how to make the crying stop.

While this is all very fun, that creative need is just not being met by making the kid a rainbow color cloth book with fun textures, which I did after managing to mommy-ninja him into The Dreaded Swing for a nap, pee, eat and somehow get up to the sewing room.

I call this The Puking Dragon.
So, back to the doodles: things that can easily be put away and picked up much later, fiddled with one-handed, and that don’t mean all that much in case of puke. 

I’m so not a Pinterest Mommy. I’m lucky if I get a shower, three square meals and brush my teeth in the same day. I haven’t plucked my eyebrows in a month but I managed to nix the whiskers a few days ago. But the kid is clean, dry & fed by golly, and if we all have to wear mismatching socks, so be it.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Crazy for art

Did Inge see herself as the serving girl in the upper window of Andrea del Sarto’s Last Supper in Florence?
The wonderful thing about reading on a Kindle is how easy it is look up things you’re not familiar with. Yesterday, I stumbled across hyperkulturemia.

Stendhal's syndrome or hyperkulturemia is a psychosomatic illness that causes fainting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, confusion and hallucinations when one is exposed to either particularly beautiful art or art in large quantities.

If I were going to have a mental breakdown in front of a Florentine painting, it might be The Last Judgement, by Fra Angelico, since it has better parts for women.
The French author Henri-Marie Beyle, a/k/a Stendhal, described it thus: “I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty... I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations... Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call 'nerves.' Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”

As crazy as this sounds, an Italian psychiatrist working in the 1970s, Graziella Magherini, described more than a hundred cases of it happening in Florence.

Nah, it would be at the statue of Dante Alighieri at the Uffizi. The Divine Comedy gets me where I live.
Magherini outlined the case of one Inge, who arrived in Florence as a visitor. Her trip was her first in many years, her marriage was dismal, and she felt guilty for leaving her ailing father. These combined with culture shock conspired to give her an overwhelming sense of paranoia on her arrival. She visited a cathedral and was drawn to a Last Supper, whereupon she had palpitations and saw flashes of lights. In her mind, she transposed herself into the painting as one of Christ’s servants. The delusion was not transitory; she was admitted to hospital for observation.

Talk about being moved by art.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Louis Comfort Tiffany need not apply

Pastoral window in Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago, IL, installed 1917. Too bad Tiffany was an artisan, not an artist, right? Luckily for him, he could have bought his way into SoHo several times over.
Only a Philistine could doubt that New York is the center of the art world, but I have to admit there are times it gets on my nerves. For example, this piece by Sharon Otterman in yesterday’s New York Times talks about the process of certifying artists for purposes of snaffling up desirable real estate in SoHo.

Only New York State would be daft enough to have legislation defining what an artist is: “a person who is regularly engaged in the fine arts, such as painting and sculpture, or in the performing or creative arts.” Only the City of New York would be arrogant enough to tighten that up to disqualify actors or jewelers. But assigning two visual artists to rule on who is or is not an artist strains rational thinking.  They have rejected people who did not “demonstrate sufficient depth and development over the 20 years since the awarding of his degree,” or lacked a “substantial element of independent esthetic judgment and self-directed work.”

In the 1970s, when New York City was in a rut, there were a lot of vacant buildings in SoHo. The upper floors of many of these buildings had been built as industrial lofts, with large, unobstructed spaces. These attracted artists, who liked the high ceilings, the big windows, and the low rent. Of course they were not zoned as living space, but since the city was broke, everyone pretty much ignored this

In 1971, the Zoning Resolution was amended to permit joint living-working quarters for artists. As with all these trends, non-artists were quick to see the benefits. Therein lies the rub.

Oddly enough, Tiffany could paint, too. Here is his Market Day Outside the Walls of Tangiers, Morocco, 1873
There are several absurdities here. The first is that the current price of this real estate pretty much rules out most practicing artists. Jon Bon Jovi recently listed his flat at 158 Mercer Street for $42 million. No painter I know can afford that.

The second is that the law is so broadly flouted that it's meaningless. “A single triplex loft at 141 Prince Street, for example, has been owned in the past decade by the media magnate Rupert Murdoch; the design mogul Elie Tahari; and Ted Waitt, a co-founder of Gateway computers,” wrote Otterman.

Joseph Christian Leyendecker was one of the early 20th century’s finest illustrators. I can’t see this getting him permission to buy in SoHo.
The third is that there is tremendous overlap between fine art and fine craft. Louis Comfort Tiffany was trained as a painter, but rapidly became interested in interior design and glassmaking. It is absurd to think he’s not a fine artist as well as a craftsman.

And lastly—and most telling—is that the contemporaries, including collectors and other artists, are almost never right in their assessments of emerging art and artists. The real artists of the 21st century are undoubtedly in Queens or the Bronx, or in in Providence or Beijing. The denizens of SoHo wouldn’t know them if they tripped over them.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The trouble with Hortense

See what I mean about her paint handling?
Hortense* has been my painting student since the very beginning. I haven’t taught in my own studio since last spring, so when she came to class on Saturday, I had a fresh perspective about her painting.

She handles paint as well as I do, and she draws beautifully. Given a plein air or still life assignment, she can draw several iterations, come up with an arresting composition, lay down a brilliant underpainting, and finish it with lovely highlights, all in the time it takes most students to crank out a decent sketch.

She hates when I tell her this, since she thinks it’s empty flattery, but it’s absolutely true.

A three-hour still life by the same student.
However, at hour 2.5, Hortense frequently self-destructs. She decides she hates some aspect of the painting, start mushing the paint back and forth to correct a problem that isn’t there, and in the space of the last half hour of the class will push her work backwards to the level she imagined was there in the first place. I find it as frustrating as she does, because I think she could be a great painter if she could just get past this.

I reject the notion that you can “overwork” a painting. That’s a modern conceit that leads to many half-baked paintings. You simply must battle through whatever phase is hanging you up. However, I’m starting to think that Hortense’s problem isn’t a painting problem at all, but a conceptual one, that maybe she needs to be imbuing her paintings with some of the Big Ideas that drive her.

Any suggestions, my fellow painters?

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!
---------------------
*If you’re gonna give someone an alias, it may as well be an entertaining one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Nothing new under the sun

Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man was based on book III of De Architectura. Vitruvius said the human figure was the principal source of proportion for the classical orders of architecture.
The art of hydraulic cement was lost after the fall of the Roman Empire and not rediscovered until 1756, but if people had just read their Vitruvius, the recipes were in there all along.

Sandy Quang (who is writing her Master’s thesis) prefers her Vitruvius aloud so I’ve listened to quite a bit of his De architectura in recent months. He’s such a lucid writer that I have no trouble following it while driving. What’s amazing is how much of what he describes hasn’t changed in almost 2100 years.

1521 edition of De architectura, translated and illustrated by Cesare Cesariano
Very little is known about Vitruvius’ life. He was born about 80–70 BC and died sometime after 15 BC. He was some kind of praefect, but whether that was in the army or civilian life is not clear. He was mentioned by Pliny the Elder and Frontinus, but even his cognomen (surname) and first names are uncertain.

What an amazing mind Vitruvius had! He not only wrote; he practiced his craft. As an army engineer he specialized in the construction of ballista and artillery. He described the building methods of foreign tribes throughout the Roman Empire, from which it can be inferred that his service was broad. And somehow, he had the time to write this ten-volume treatise on architecture, which is the only surviving classical text on the subject.

Triumph of Neptune standing on a chariot pulled by two ichthyocentaurs, Barthos and Aphrosthird century AD. It was built as per Vitruvius’ instructions, and if you were inclined to make one today, you’d use essentially the same technique. (The fundamental absurdity of ichthyocentaurs is not an architecture question, so Vitruvius would have had no advice about whether or not to include them.)

Ancient Roman architects had a broader remit than our modern equivalents, being responsible for engineering, urban planning, materials, HVAC, acoustics, plumbing, and a whole host of other sub-specialties. De Architectura attempts to break down this massive field and describe it in simple, comprehensible terms.

Sandy has read to me from the books on materials and pavements and decorative plasterwork (which relate to her particular interest in Roman mosaics). Having done my share of construction and plastering, I’m pretty familiar with how we use those materials today. Other than adjustments for climate, it’s shocking how little has changed.

An ancient Roman concrete vault in Rome, from the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, c. 312 AD. Can we possibly improve on concrete structures that lasted two millennia?
We don’t seem to produce such brilliant generalists in the modern era. I wonder why that is? You can read De architectura here.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Animated books from antiquity

Fore-edge painting of Diana sitting with a handmaid by a lake, c. 1817, Boston Public Library. You can see a video of the book here.
Yesterday, my friend John Nicholson sent me this lovely link to gifs of fore-edge painting of books.“I am truly amazed by the love lavished on books before the paperback epidemic,” he wrote.

That made me smile, because my only experience with fore-edge painting was defacing the paperback texts we were issued in high school. Being a perennially bad student, I amused myself with a crude kind of fore-edge animation where you could make an animal or man run across the pages. This took no skill whatsoever, but it was tedious, so it helped to have someone droning on in the background.

Martin Frost was a contemporary British fore-edge painter. You can see his gallery here.
Gifs and videos are, paradoxically, the best way to experience fore-edge painting if you're not lucky enough to hold the book in your hands. These books were intended to be interactive.

There are early examples of fore-edge painting that date back as early as the 10th century, but these were simple designs meant to identify books. As daft as it seems, it appears that readers shelved their books with the spine facing in, so the fore-edge painting served the same purpose as spine lettering today. Anyone who ever wrote their name along the fore-edge of a textbook to prevent it being stolen understands the principle. By the 14th century, these spine paintings had formalized into heraldic designs. The sixteenth-century engraver Cesare Vecellio (a cousin of Titian) is credited with raising the level of fore-edge paintings to fine art.

Watership Down, special limited edition of 250 copies. This fore-edge painting was one of ten done in 1976 by Don Noble, from online catalogue by Abe Books.
Until this time, fore-edge paintings were direct: they were painted on the flat bound edge of a book, intended to be seen when the book was closed. In the 17th century, an English bookbinder, Samuel Mearne, developed the hidden fore-edge painting. The flat surface is gilt; a painting is produced on the very closest edges of the page, so that when the book is fanned, the picture appears. The English raised this book form to its greatest height toward the end of the 18th century, but fore-edge painting is an art-form that is alive and well in the current age. Among these are the occasional animated fore-edged painting; the high-brow cousin of my high school game.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Out on a limb

Rye Fields, 1878, Ivan Shishkin
Yesterday, a reader wrote in response to my Winslow Homer post, “I find rocks difficult, too, and trees. Trees are my nemesis.” Made me smile because I was drawing a combination of rocks and trees at the time.

I will soon show you a cute parlor trick that will simplify drawing trees. But until then, approach them the same way you do the human body, as a sinuous torso with expressive, outstretched limbs.

After the Rain: Etude of the Forest, 1881, Ivan Shishkin
Although my trick will simplify getting the overall shapes right, there is no substitute for careful observation. The Russian Peredvizhniki painter Ivan Shishkin, like many of his fellow-countrymen, specialized in trees, and he seemed to draw them as frequently as paint them. That meticulous attention to drawing studies is something he shared with America’s great artist of trees, Andrew Wyeth.

Drawing of oaks by Ivan Shishkin, 1857
My goal in this sketch was not to perfectly realize a real-world tree, but to devise a pattern of branches for a painting of a tree fallen across a river that has created a logjam. This has been the most difficult sketch to date, since I did two radically different layouts for it and have waffled between them.

My sketch of a tree fallen across a river. The root ball needs to be bigger, but I will fix that in the painting.
 I’ve done eight sketches since the beginning of January, of which six are usable. I have two others completed earlier. On Monday, I will paint again for the first time since my surgery. I can’t wait.


Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Lure of the Sea

Sunlight on the Coast, 1890, Winslow Homer
I have been pushing myself to do a little more each day since my surgery, and yesterday I hit the wall—a persistent stitch in my side put paid to doing any more work. But at least I finished one sketch of a breaking wave.

Whenever I consider painting surf, I start by thinking about Winslow Homer’s great Maine paintings.  Homer knew the value of a diagonal in a painting, and he used it repeatedly, always to great effect.
Rochesterians know The Artist's Studio in an Afternoon Fog, 1894, by Winslow Homer, because it is owned by the Memorial Art Gallery. I was pleased as punch to see it have pride of place in the Portland Museum of Art’s Weatherbeaten show.
WinslowHomer is providing inspiration of another sort to me these days. I’ve been debating whether I’m capable of picking up sticks and starting again in Maine at my advanced age. Yet Homer was almost 50 when he moved permanently to Prouts Neck, ME.

It was here he produced his most famous maritime paintings. These paintings established his reputation “as the most original and one of the strongest of American painters.” (New York Evening Post) He could never have made that great push had he not chosen to live a hermit-like existence in Maine.

It's so easy to weaken the diagonal in a sketch, and I did so here. Will fix it on the next permutation.
One bit of advice of his I’ve never been able to fathom was this: “Leave rocks for your old age—they're easy.” I’ve never found it to be true, especially the scrambling-over-rocks part.

The rocks in my sketch are from my imagination, but the reference photo of the boys was taken in S. Gippsland, Australia, during a picnic with my cousin and his boys.

A tidal pool on the Southern Ocean, off the coast of S. Gippsland. The sea is a universally beautiful thing.
In photos, the Southern Ocean off Victoria and the North Atlantic off Maine can look very similar, filled as they are with tidal pools, vast rock formations, and myriad shellfish. In life, they are very different. The Southern Ocean is warm, aquamarine, and has fairy penguins. The North Atlantic is cold, grey, and full of gulls. But both are magical.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!