Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Friday, December 19, 2008

Jonathan Janson

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:08 am

Jonathan Janson
Occasionally artists will become particularly fascinated with the work of one of their predecessors, and study the work of that artist in depth. Such is the case with Jonathan Janson, and artist originally from (if I’m not mistaken) Seattle, now living and working in Rome.

Janson has a deep and abiding interest in the work of Johannes Vermeer, one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in the history of art. The result of that fascination is twofold.

One happy result is that Janson has gifted us with Essential Vermeer, an astonishingly extensive and beautifully crafted web resource on Vermeer and his work, that is the high mark for any web resource devoted to a single artist (see my previous post on Essential Vermeer). The only close second, in fact, is Janson’s other, somewhat similar, site: Rembrant van Rijn: Life and Work (see my previous post about the site under its old title, Rembrandt: life paintings etchings drawings and self portraits).

In addition, Janson has created an extensive sub-site devoted specifically to the study of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and has recently started a blog called Flying Fox, focused on Vermeer, exhibitions and loans of his works as well as other related topics. (The name Flying Fox is from an inn in Delft that was likely central to Vermeer’s world.)

I liken Janson’s Vermeer and Rembrandt sites to the 21st Century equivalent of artist monographs, but bringing to bear the advantages of web technology to extend the lines of information deep into the resources of the web.

Another difference between these sites and traditional monographs is that monographs on artists are usually written by art historians, who study art from a certain perspective, but rarely the perspective of a working artist. The advantages of the latter viewpoint are particularly evident in Janson’s study of Vermeer’s Painting Techinque.

Janson not only brings the perspective of a painter to his writing and research on Vermeer, but moves the knowledge in the other direction, to the second result of his fascination with that artist, in the way it has transformed and informed his own painting.

Many of Janson’s recent works are in-depth and in-practice explorations of Vermeer’s techniques, some of which he has codified in a book, How to Paint Your Own Vermeer: Recapturing materials and Methods of a Seventeenth-Century Master.

Janson’s own explorations of Vermeer’s approach even extend to humorous recasting of some of Vermeer’s famous compositions into his own modern counterparts, a practice that can be simultaneously hilarious and poetic, as in his Girl Playing a Guitar, in which a purple Stratocaster takes the place of Vermeer’s more demure instruments in Woman with a Lute and The Guitar Player.

You can see the same humorous but beautifully painted approach in Janson’s adaptation of Vermeer’s composition from A Lady Writing (see my post on A Vermeer Comes to California), as Young Girl Writing an Email (image above, larger version here), in which Vermeer’s elegant box (perhaps a music box?) has been replaced with a boom box and his quill and inkwell with a laptop. Janson has retained the pearls on the table, and, of course, that wonderful earring.

Vermeer can be surprisingly painterly at times, belying the apparent “realism” of his paintings, and can also be remarkably “soft”, despite the perception he gives of intricate sharp detail. Also, perhaps because of his use of a camera obscura, Vermeer seems in general preoccupied with matters of focus, both in terms of degrees of visual sharpness and compositionally. Janson explores both of these aspects of Vermeer’s work in his own compositions, the soft edges and painterly touches being particularly evident in Girl Writing an Email (details above).

On Janson’s site you can see other examples of his Vermeer inspired interiors as well as his contemplative Seattle landscapes and watercolors.

There is currently a show of Janson’s work at Galleria dell’Incisione in Brescia, Italy until January 30, 2009.

Janson’s fascination with Vermeer has put him on a path of exploration that reaches into the past and future at the same time, in the process throwing a contemporary light on the master’s approach, and giving us a unique perspective from an artist who has done his best to look at a great painter from the “inside”, while revealing his own sensibilities and unique artistic vision.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Doug Chiang (update)

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:50 am

Doug Chiang - Mechanika
Doug Chiang is best known in concept art circles as the design director for Star Wars I and II, for which he also did some terrific concept art. Some of it is featured in the books The Art of Star Wars, Episode I – The Phantom Menace and The Art of Star Wars, Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

Chiang’s career actually started as a stop-motion animator for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. From there he moved into commercials, then to concept art and art direction for Rhythm and Hues and Industrial Light and Magic, and then to Lucasfilm.

At the time I wrote about him in 2005, he had produced his first book, Robota, co-written with Orson Scott Card, a sort of proto-movie/game that was never fully developed.

His web site, Doug Chiang Studio, is a left over from that time, not having been updated since late 2005, but it still has artwork on display from that project.

He then went on to found Ice Blink, a studio that brought together some of the best names in film concept art, including Marc Gabbana, Bill Mather, Mark Sullivan, Josh Viers, Dermot Power and others. Ice Blink ceased production in 2007, but the site still has galleries for the artists.

Chiang has since become part of ImageMovers Digital, a production company headed by Robert Zemeckis, whose first release will be A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey, due in November of 2009.

In the meanwhile, Chiang has a new book out, Mechanika: Creating the Art of Science Fiction with Doug Chiang.

You can find a nice review and overview of the book on Parka Blogs (see my recent article on Parka Blogs).

Rather than a portfolio, it’s a how-to book with tutorials on various aspects of sci-fi themed art, emphasizing Chiang’s specialties in robots, vehicles and spacecraft.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil

Posted by Charley Parker at 10:42 am

Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil
As much as I like wooden pencils, when drawing with graphite my favorite tool is a leadholder, sometimes called a drafting pencil or clutch pencil; basically a mechanical holder for a nice big shaft of 2mm graphite that can be sharpened or pointed in a variety of ways. Many comic book artists and illustrators swear by them, as I pointed out in my post about The Drafting Pencil Museum.

Leadholders are usually used in conjunction with a separate leadpointer, though, which makes them less than ideal for carrying around when sketching. Likewise wooden pencils need to be frequently sharpened.

The solution for sketching, then, is a mechanical pencil, which holds a much thinner “lead”, usually .5 or .3mm, and keeps a reasonably consistent point without sharpening.

“Reasonably consistent point”, though, is a lukewarm assessment and hardly ideal. The problem with a mechanical pencil is that the lead wears down on one side, becoming a flattened chisel shape instead of a sharp point. While chisel points are often nice when intentionally used for special effects in pencil drawing, they’re not what you want most of the time.

Artists who use mechanical pencils frequently learn to turn them in their hand while drawing to keep the sharp side of the point down, but it’s distracting and basically a PITA, and I often just put up with the less desirable flattened point and the clunkier line it produces.

Not any more.

Enter the Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil, a cleverly different mechanical pencil from Mistubishi Pencil.

Kuru Toga means “auto-rotate pencil”, and the device actually contains a small geared mechanism that automatically rotates the lead each time it is pressed against the paper.

The result is s beautiful, consistently fine line that is a joy to sketch with. I picked up a .3mm model and it has immediately become my favorite sketching pencil.

The pencil does have some minuses, it’s not retractable, making it less convenient for sticking in a shirt pocket, the eraser is tiny and not very useable, and there is no under-the-eraser wire for pushing old lead bits out of the shaft. These are small quibbles, particularly in light of the Kuru Toga’s unexpectedly reasonable price of about $7 U.S.

Unfortunately, they seem to be in short supply at the moment, probably because there are several mentions of the Kuru Toga circulating on the web, like the mention on LifeHacker, and reviews on Pens and Pencils, Dave’s Mechanical Pencils and Trendhunter.

The latter has a short video (also on YouTube) that shows how the pencil’s transparent lower barrel allows you to actually see the clutch mechanism turning as you hit the point against the paper.

I found the Kuru Toga where I often find cool stuff, on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, in a review by Jonathan Cope.

Most articles point to JetPens as the mail order source, though I found mine on J Stationery (.3mm and .5mm).

Sorry to tell you about it while it’s out of stock from both suppliers, but I figure better now than when it’s come back into stock and gone out again.

If you’re interested you’ll just have to watch for it and stay sharp.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 Best Art Book Lists

Posted by Charley Parker at 9:09 pm

2008 Best Art Book Lists
To go along with my previous post about 2008 Best Graphic Novel Lists, here’s a list of lists from various corners for art, design and photography books for 2008: Best 10 Art Books of 2008

New York Times: 2008 Holiday Gift Guide, The Best Art Architecture and Design Books (if it asks for a login, try BugMeNot)

SFGate: Art and Photography Books

Times Online: The Times Christmas Books 2008: Art

Times Online: The Sunday TImes books of the year: Art

Chicago Tribune: Beautiful art books published in 2008

Artforum: Books: Best of 2008

Time Out London: Best Christmas gift books 2008: Art

Booklist Online: Top 10: The Arts

[Image above: Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America, Chagall: A Biography, Artists and Their Studios, Colour (Documents of Contemporary Art), Let's See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker]

2008 Best Graphic Novel Lists

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:29 am

2008 Best Graphic Novel Lists
Ahhh…, it’s that time of year, the scramble through the barrage of “Buy this!” “Buy that!”, mall stuffing, parking lot screaming, credit card swinging, Scotch tape sticking, present buying madness; however tempered it may be this year by the ongoing Collapse of Western Civilization.

So, just as sure as the days shorten, lists appear, guiding us through the maze of what to buy and what was good this year.

In lieu of attempting a list myself, given the sorry state of my “yet to be read” book and comics stack, I give you a short list of lists; in this case lists of the year’s best graphic novels and comics related books as suggested by various sources.

Drawn!: Favourite Comics and Art Books of 2008 Part 1: Matt’s picks

Drawn!: Favourite Comics and Art Books of 2008 Part 2: John’s picks

io9: 10 Graphic Novels That Make Thrilling Gifts

New York Magazine: Top Ten Graphic Novels – The 2008 Culture Awards

Vanguard: Top 10 graphic novels and comics of 2008

NPR: Best Graphic Novels of 2008

NPR: Best Superhero Graphic Novels

Times Online: Christmas Books 2008: Graphic Novels

Booklist Online: Top 10 Graphic Novels: 2008

Comic Book Galaxy: ADD Blog Best of 2008

ALA: 2008 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Best Books of 2008: Comics & Graphic Novels

Publisher’s Weekly: Best Books of the Year (scroll down for Comics)

ICv2 – Amazon & PW’s 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2008 (above two lists compared)

(Images above: Coraline Graphic Novel, Sky Doll, Fables Covers, All-Star Superman Vol. 1, Tekkon Kinkreet Black & White, Alice in Sunderland)

Posted in: Comics   |   3 Comments »

Monday, December 15, 2008

American Impressionism from the Phillips Collection

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:55 pm

Childe Hassam - Washington Arch
Those who have been reading Lines and Colors for a while will know that I have a particular fondness for many of the late 19th, early 20th Century painters referred to as “American Impressionists”. (I put the phrase in quotes because I doubt the painters ever referred to themselves in those terms.)

The Phillips Collection is a museum collection in Washington, D.C. that has strengths in that time period in both modern and Impressionist works from Europe and America.

A selection of American Impressionist paintings from the collection has been arranged into a traveling exhibit, and is currently on view as the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.

The Oklahoma City Museum has an online feature that displays some of the paintings in the exhibit, with a voice over narration about the works and the artists.

The Phillips Collection site has a Timeline of American Art, and a list of American Art in the collection that you can view alphabetically with an image of each work.

In many cases, like Childe Hassam’s beautiful painting of Washington Arch, Spring (image above), there is a more extensive feature and a Zoomable version of the image (also see my post on Childe Hassam).

In addition to Hassam, the exhibit includes works by Theodore Robinson, John Henry Twatchman, Julian Alden Weir, Ernest Lawson, William Glackens, Helen Turner and Gifford Beal. I was pleased to see that some of the “Pennsylvania Impressionists” were included, like William Lathrop, John Folinsbee and Robert Spencer. There is also at least one piece by George Inness, though he was not an Impressionist painter.

American Impressionism from the Phillips Collection is on view at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art until January 18, 2009.

The exhibit will then travel to the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach Florida from March 13 to April 15, 2009; and the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe from June 5 to September 13, 2009.

There is a 192 page book accompanying the exhibit, American Impressionists: Painters of Light and the Modern Landscape by Susan Behrends Frank, though it doesn’t seem to be in stock from Amazon; it should be available at the exhibit in all of the locations.

[Via Art Knowledge News]

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Anamorphic Art

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:49 pm

Anamorphic Art - Andrea Pozzo, Istvan Orosz
An anamorphosis is an image that is distorted in such a way that it only assumes the proportions of recognizable forms when viewed from a certain angle, or by reflection in a curved surface.

The term comes from the Greek anamorphoun, to transform. Anamorphic images have a long history in art. The earliest examples in Western art are found in Leonardo’s notebooks, though anamorphic images may have been developed in Chinese art around the same time.

Anamorphic perspective was employed in the illusionistic painting of church vaults, like those of Andrea Pozzo (image above, top, large version here) and Andrea Mantegna, but it has most often appeared in art as a curiosity or entertainment; or been used for the creation of hidden or secret images, requiring a matching mirrored surface to reveal their true nature.

Anamorphic images can be of as much interest to scientists as they are to artists, as NewScientist reports in their mention of a recent seminar on technical aspects of anamorophic art at the London Knowledge Lab; and an event at the National Gallery in London called Curious Perspective: Anamophosis in Art.

The NewScientist article is accompanied by a slideshow of anamorphic images.

The event at the National Gallery in London centered on the wonderfully enigmatic painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger, which is in their permanent collection. I devoted a post to The Ambassadors in 2006.

One of the notable modern applications of artistic anamorphosis that is missing from the NewScientist article (and many other resources) is the use of anamorphic images in sidewalk art, as exemplified by the work of Julian Beever and Kurt Wenner.

You can also add to the list the illusionistic point-of-view dependent paintings of Felice Varini and the modern continuation of traditional anamorphic art by István Orosz (image above, bottom). I’ve gathered some other anamorphic art resources below.

[NewScientist article link via Digg]

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dan Dos Santos’ “Top 10 SF/F Art Websites of 2008″

Posted by Charley Parker at 11:04 am

Dan Dos Santos
As part of the SF Signal year end round up of The Best Genre-Related Books/Films/Shows Consumed in 2008, illustrator Dan Dos Santos has posted his Top 10 SF/F Art Websites of 2008, in which he was kind enough to list Lines and Colors (thanks, Dan).

The list includes some sites I’ve specifically written posts about, including Gorilla Artfare and the amazing site (with its SF/F art gallery); as well as many that I’ve linked to in the course of posts about various artists.

It prominently mentions the always fascinating Gurney Journey, which is where I found out about the list. (Gurney’s blog had gone way beyond its original premise and has become a combination of art travelogue, insightful looks at art history and one of the best art instructional sites on the web.)

Of course, Dos Santos’ list also gives me a great excuse to post more of his own terrific artwork (above). When visiting his site, don’t miss the Wallpapers section of his gallery, where you can see a few detail crops from his images in high enough resolution to see his brushwork (image above, bottom).

Posted in: Sc-fi and Fantasy   |   6 Comments »
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