Monthly Archives: November 2009

Giovanni Boldini

Giovanni Boldini
Giovanni Boldini was an Italian painter and printmaker, renowned for his fluid, sweeping portraits of society women. He is frequently associated with John Singer Sargent, sharing some of his dramatic, facile brushwork as well as his international lifestyle, living and working in Paris and London for much of his career.

Sargent and Boldini knew one another and moved in the same circles. Boldini took over a studio on Boulevard Berthier in Paris from Sargent when he moved to another. Boldini was also friends with Courbet, Manet and Degas, and apparently knew Whistler, at least well enough to paint his portrait.

Boldini encountered the Italian painters known as the Macchiaoli (also here), who were Italian precursors to Impressionism, in his early years in Florence. He infused their revolutionary ideas, along with those of the French Impressionists, into his academically strong portrait style and became, along with Sargent, one of the premiere portrait painters of his age.

Though most well known for his portraits, Boldini first came to my attention with a quietly striking landscape in the Philadelphia Museum of Art titled Highway of Combes-la-Ville (image above, center, with detail below, zoomable version here), which I think is absolutely beautiful.

The painting is an example of the kind of painterly realism that I particularly love, appearing almost photographic from a few feet away, but showing itself to be a gem of loose, painterly notation on close inspection. (Note: the close-up shown here is not available from any of the sources I list below, it’s from my own photo of the painting. See my post On taking photographs in museums.)

Boldini’s portrait style, in which the fluid lines of the sitters and their flowing garments are frequently cast against boldly unfinished (and strikingly modern) swaths of brushstrokes, earned him the nickname “Master of Swish”.

If you take the time to dig deeper into the online resources like Giovanni Boldini: The Complete Works (an inaccurate title, but still a useful resource), and Ciudad de la pintura, you will find a few examples of his refined and painterly landscapes as well.

There is a museum devoted to Boldini in his birthplace of Ferrara, Italy. It has co-organized an exhibit of the artist’s work, Giovanni Boldini in Impressionist Paris, that is at the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrera until January 10, 2010 (which also currently has an exhibit on Chardin, see my post on Chardin), and then travels to The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, from February 14 to April 25, 2010.

[Exhibit listing via Art Knowledge News]

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist

Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist,  James Gurney
There are hundreds of art instruction books out there, with a wide range of topics, approaches and degrees of value, but Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist by renowned painter, illustrator and Dinotopia artist James Gurney, is exceptional in several ways.

Before I go too far, I’ll point out that although this is essentially an instructional book, it also works well simply as an art book; and fans of fantastic art in general, and Gurney’s work in particular, will quickly find it a “must-have”. (See my previous posts on James Gurney, also here and here. As a side note, Gurney is part of the Enchantment Artist’s Symposium and Exhibition at the University of Hartford’s Joseloff Gallery, 6 November 2009 to 17 January 2010.)

First, this book is unusual because of its topic. Most art instruction books concern themselves with drawing and painting aspects of the real world, and this is certainly the most fundamental and important factor in representational art. But for those in working in areas that demand the creation of images of things that do not exist, whether of real but extinct animals, scenes form the historic past or visionary imaginings of undiscovered worlds, the challenge is to take those fundamentals of drawing and painting from life and extend them into the realm of the imagined.

This is increasingly important for contemporary illustrators, movie and gaming concept artists, animators and comic book artists. Figures, faces, animals, creatures, scenes and entire worlds need to be conjured from the the artist’s imagination and made visually manifest.

James GurneyGurney tackles the skills needed in this kind of art head-on. He goes through an extensive array of topics, from generating ideas to initial sketches to models and maquettes, through materials, mediums, techniques, perspective, composition and finishing. In the process he covers elements like imagined architecture and landscapes, vehicles, dinosaurs, history painting, characters, creatures and aliens. The topics are arranged in short, but densely informative two-page topics and sub-topics, lavishly illustrated with Gurney’s own work and occasional nods to the masters.

Steeped in the traditions of classic representational art and the firm artistic foundations of 19th Century academic art in particular, Gurney starts from his interest in those traditions and opens with a brief look at the history and origins of imaginative art, with an acknowledgement of the value of studying the work of artists that have defined the field.

The topics are at once wide ranging and surprisingly consistent. I say that because of the other, perhaps most important, stand out characteristic of this book, its rather unique origin.

There are several approaches to the creation of art instruction books. We can eliminate those that are mediocre or downright terrible and concentrate only on books we would consider valuable.

Among these there are books that are proposed by editors in publishing houses, and fulfilled in a perfunctory, but capable manner by artists and writers chosen for the task. There are books that are proposed by the artists themselves in an effort to leverage their knowledge into financial stability beyond its application in their own work. There are books that are created from the artist’s inclination to take on the role of a teacher.

Rarest of all, there are art instruction books that are born out of the artist’s sheer enthusiasm for what they have learned and the desire to share it with any who are inclined to benefit from that knowledge. Imaginative Realism is one of those rare gems.

The contents of this book didn’t originate as a book project, but were gleaned from posts to Gurney’s superb blog, Gurney Journey, in which they have been offered up for free over the course of the last few years.

Over the extent of it’s run, Gurney’s blog has evolved from chronicling a book tour into a personal journey of artistic exploration and discovery; in the course of which Gurney has shared his insights into painting, composition, color, light and a variety of keen observations about the nature of creating art. As you can imagine, in the course of writing Lines and Colors I have occasion to visit hundreds and hundreds of artists’ web sites and blogs. Gurney Journey is one of the exceptional few that I return to on an almost daily basis.

The book started as an idea in a blog post, and further posts followed it’s creation and eventual publication. In this one, Gurney explains his intention in creating the book.

The resulting book is beautiful. It’s printed in a nicely oversize format on heavy stock, with printing values that make the hundreds of illustrations jump off the pages. The reproduction standards follow in the tradition of the superb reproductions and excellent printing evident in Gurney’s popular Dinotopia books (particularly the most recent one, Journey to Chandara), and his refined use of color is vibrantly present.

james Gurney
I also haven’t seen many art instruction books as information dense as this one. Not that the book feels visually cramped in any way, the book design is clear and elegant, but every one of its 200+ pages can be mined for nuggets of art technique gold. This is likely due to the origin of the book in blog posts collected over a long time, rather than a book project that had to be filled out from its inception. Instead of having to put together enough material to create a substantial book, Gurney probably had a job sifting through that wealth of material and deciding what to leave out.

Gurney even goes the extra mile and gives an insightful overview of art careers based on the techniques he outlines in the book, including paperback covers, film design, storyboards, concept art, video game design, toy design and even theme park design.

The one glaring omission is comics, perhaps because it’s an art form in which Gurney doesn’t personally work, and, though he pays plenty of attention to drawing, his emphasis is on painting. I do work in comics, however, so I’ll take in on myself to point out that virtually all of the concepts in the book can be applied to the creation of comics in addition to the other areas mentioned.

The last way in which Imaginative Realism is different from most other art instruction books is the feeling it carries of a start-to-finish labor of love; from its origin in the artist’s enthusiasm for the subject, to the fulfillment from a lifetime of experience, observation and work, to it’s refined finish, crafted like one of Gurney’s own paintings. It is instructive not only in how to draw and paint from the imagination, but in how to create an outstanding art instruction book.

In short, an absolute treat.

“Gifted Artist”

Gifted Artist charity auction:
Gifted Artist” is a charity art show and auction to benefit the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital in Loma Linda, California.

The event will be held on Saturday December 19th from 5 to 10pm at the CCAA Museum of Art in Rancho Cucamonga.

The auction features work by a long list of concept artists, character designers and illustrators from the film and gaming fields, as well as children’s book illustrators and other artists.

There is a blog devoted to the event that shows some of the art that will be up for auction, and will be adding more as the event approaches.

The list of participating artists includes a number of artists that I have featured on Lines and Colors. Here are some links to my posts: Alina Chau, Bill Perkins, Chris Appelhans, Iain McCaig, James Paick, Justin Gerard, Khang Le, Mike Hernandez, Peter de Séve, Robh Ruppel and Shaun Tan.

The Gifted Artist blog lists all of the artists, with links to their web sites or blogs in the sidebar. There are also posts of a flyer (front and back) that gives more details about the auction and event.

(Images above: Erik D. Martin, Uwe Heidschoetter, Pascal Campion, Martin Hsu)

25th World Wide SketchCrawl

24th World Wide SketchCrawl: Gary Amaro, 4ojos, Guillaume Bonamy, Natsumi TsuchidaWhile I’m on the subjects of sketching and anniversaries (see my previous post about Urban Sketchers), this Saturday marks the 5th anniversary of the World Wide SketchCrawl.

SketchCrawl is a drawing marathon, originally conceived by Pixar storyboard artist Enrico Casarosa, and modeled as a pubcrawl, but with art materials. Artists gather in groups in various cities around the world and move from location to location within their respective cities, drawing what’s around them.

The results are often posted in blogs, Flickr groups and in the SketchCrawl forums.

This Saturday, November 21st, 2009, is the 25th World Wide SketchCrawl. You can look through the forum posts to see if anyone is organizing a SketchCrawl near you. Anyone can participate, at any level of sketching experience, including complete novice, and you can sketch with the group for a much or as little time that day as you choose.

Here are the guidelines for participation.

Prior to the event, the forum posts are about the locations and times of the events in various cities. After the event, look for the posts labeled “Results” to see comments about the event, photos and sketches from the day.

(Images above, from SketchCrawl 24, September, 2009: Gary Amaro, San Francisco, CA; “4ojos“, Ribafrecha, Spain; Guillaume Bonamy, Natsumi Tsuchida, Tokyo, Japan.)

James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”

James Tissot: The Life of Christ
As I mentioned in an earlier post, French painter James Tissot, known for his radiant images of turn of the century high society in Paris and London, devoted much of his later work to religious themes.

He created an ambitious series of 350 watercolors depicting the life of Christ, for which he prepared by traveling to the Middle East to study the architecture, landscape, costume, customs and history of the region. Where most artists of his time would take great liberties in their interpretation of the settings for Biblical events, Tissot endeavored to find and portray the era with as much historical accuracy as he could bring to bear.

At the urging of John Singer Sargent, the series was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in 1900. The museum (which is a terrific and underrated museum, whose star is unfairly eclipsed by more famous museums in nearby Manhattan) has mounted an exhibit of 124 watercolors selected from the set. Entitled James Tissot: “The Life of Christ”, the exhibit runs through January 17, 2010.

There are a few exhibition highlights on the site, as well as a multimedia sketchbook (which is unfortunately hampered by one of those cutesie-clever page-flip widgets). A catalog from the exhibition is available.

[Via Art Knowledge News]

Urban Sketchers turns 1

Urban Sketchers: Matt Jones, Thomas Thorspecken, Benedetta Dossi, Gerard Michel, Stephen Gardner
Urban Sketchers, a terrific group sketchblog that I wrote about previously here and here, celebrated its first year anniversary this month.

Urban Sketchers is devoted to drawing on location in urban environments, and it has come a long way in the year since it was established by Gabi Campanario, an illustrator and journalist based in Seattle, Washington.

The blog now boasts a long list of invited corespondents from numerous cities and countries around the world, with a delightfully broad range of styles, mediums and approaches. Their first anniversary press release has the stats.

With its wide base of contributors, Urban Sketchers is updated often, making frequent visits rewarding. There is always something new and interesting.

You can browse by artist, listed in the left sidebar by name and home base location, or by subject tags on the right sidebar.

If you want to just flip through the entries in reverse chronological order, look for the small “Older Posts” link at the bottom of the center column.

Going forward, the group plans to formalize as a nonprofit organization, raise money for scholarships and grants, publish a book and organize international meetings; all in support of promoting location drawing, and enabling others to “See the world, one drawing at a time”.

(Images above: Matt Jones, Thomas Thorspecken, Benedetta Dossi, Gérard Michel, Stephen Gardner)