The Artist’s Magazine – Imaginative Realism

The Artists magazine March-April 2022- Imaginativ Realism
The Artists magazine March-April 2022- Imaginativ Realism

The March/April issue of The Artists Magazine is devoted to imaginative painting and magical realism. The cover and lead article feature the beautiful painting by James Gurney shown in the images above, and a step-through of his process in creating it.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this particular painting in person, and it’s a strikingly beautiful example of Gurney at his best in combining the styles of the Victorian painters with modern fantasy subjects. (Imagine if you will, Lawrence Alma-Tadema painting dinosaurs!)

This is a very good issue of a good magazine. Unfortunately, the Artists Network website, for reasons that elude me, is not very effective in promoting the physical magazine. (They don’t clearly associate the cover with a list of contents and excerpts specific to that issue, and from there link to the ordering page.)

If you’re fortunate enough to have a bookstore in your area that carries a relatively wide array of magazines, you may still be able to find a copy.

You can order a physical copy here, and a digital copy here.

You can also access Gurney’s article, complete with images, online if you’re willing to give them your email address. You can link to the article from this page, and once on this page, enter your email address and you’ll have immediate access to the article.

The entire issue (and the magazine in general), are worthwhile.

James Gurney was a particularly appropriate artist to tap for this issue, given that he’s the author of an excellent book devoted to the subject: Imaginative Realism: How to Paint what Doesn’t Exist (Lines and Colors review here).

 
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A few paintings from the forest of Fontainebleau

Painting of the Forest of Fontainebleau,
Paintings of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Alphonse Asselbergs, Christian Zacho, Francois Auguste Ortmans, Claude Monet, George Charles Aid, Gustave Courbet, Gustave Dore, Peter Burnit, Theodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Wikimedia Commons, with its wonderful, clunky mishmash of art images — superb high quality high resolution images from the best sources next to low resolution low quality and off color images from questionable sources — has some equally eccentric systems of categorization, which results in the delightful ability to browse through a category like “Paintings of forests“, and highly specific subcategories like “Paintings of forêt de Fontainebleau” (the forest of Fountainebleau).

The forest of Fontainebleau is an area of still relatively wild forest and rock formations about 35 miles (60 km) southeast of Paris. It attracted the first wave of painters known to paint en plein air in significant numbers.

Initially it was Corot, and then other painters who were similarly interested in painting directly from nature, and who would collectively come to be known as the Barbizon School, named for the nearby town that was their base. Later they were joined by the early French Impressionists, who were highly influenced by the Barbizon painters.

The images above were all selected from the single Wikimedia Commons page for paintings from the forest of Fountainebleau — on which you will find more examples, as well as links to higher resolution images, and even links to subcategories of that category.

(Images above: Abbot Handerson Thayer, Alphonse Asselbergs, Christian Zacho, François Auguste Ortmans, Claude Monet, George Charles Aid, Gustave Courbet, Gustave Doré, Peter Burnit, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot)

 
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Values in Monet’s Impression, Sunrise

Values in Monet's Impression Sunrise
Values in Monet's Impression Sunrise

Originally exhibited in the April 1874 exhibit of the Societe’ Anonyme des Artistes, Peintires, Sculpters, Graveurs, Etc. (Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, etc.), now referred to as the First Impressionist Exhibition, this painting by Claude Monet appeared with the title: Impression, Sunrise.

The name was picked up by unsympathetic critics and used derisively to label the group “Impressionists”. The name stuck, and the Impressionists picked it up and ran with it.

The painting is, as Monet has suggests in his title, an impression, or quick representation, of a fleeting effect.

As part of their effort to portray the effects of light and atmosphere, the Impressionist painters, and Monet especially, were fascinated with new theories of color that were being investigated at the time. Perhaps one of the most important of these ideas was the concept of simultaneous contrast, as presented by French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul in his book The Principles of Color Harmony and Contrast.

But simultaneous contrast was only one of the visual tools the Impressionist painters were adding to their methods of conveying the effects of light.

In more recent times, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard, Dr. Margaret Livingstone, noticed that if you reduce an image of Impression: Sunrise to grayscale — so that we see only value (luminance) — the sun almost disappears, save for the edges of the scant few brushstrokes with which it was painted.

She went on to point out this gave the painting a particular quality.

Our brain processes visual information in two different parts of our visual cortex, old and new. The older one senses light in a relatively primitive way — shared with other mammals, — in which it detects only luminance, but not color. The other, more evolutionarily recent area of the visual cortex — that we share only with other primates — sees color.

So, to one part of our brain, Monet’s sun, and the bright orange areas in the water and sky, are almost invisible. To the other, more sophisticated part, the sun is very much visible. In addition, against the muted blue of the background clouds, the effective brightness of the orange areas is accentuated by simultaneous contrast.

 
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Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,
Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,

I received review copy of Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, a new instructional video from painter, illustrator, writer and teacher James Gurney.

The concepts behind making gradations of color in visual art can seem as though they should be simple, until you find yourself trying to paint something like different bands of color on a coffee mug as they round the form into shadow, and you suddenly realize you’re in uncharted territory.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney takes on the concepts behind achieving gradual transitions in color.

Gradient, is a term that has come into popular use from its prevalence in digital art; it is used here used as a collective term for gradations, gradated washes, and other gradual tone or color changes.

Gurney uses methodical studio demonstrations to set out the concepts and techniques of working with these kind of color transitions, and then shows real world application of them in sequences of on location painting, adding a dimension of understanding that would be difficult to convey in studio demos alone.

Interestingly, Gurney leaves in what otherwise might be outtakes, demonstrating some of the real world problems painters encounter, such as sudden drenching rain, or coming up against the limitations of an experimental technique, like painting in gouache over water soluble printing ink.

He has also interspersed recorded questions from viewers of his other videos or readers of his blog, in which they ask about concepts that relate to the demo or painting that Gurney is working with.

One of the key points he makes is the degree to which our perception of a color is influenced by the surrounding colors. He brings this home in the last segment, in which he demonstrates how to paint one of those optical illusions that show two squares in a checkerboard pattern on a cylinder that look completely different in context, but, when isolated are shown to be the same color and value. It’s one thing to see one of these optical demonstrations, it’s another level of insight to paint one yourself.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney has once again demonstrated his ability to take complex or confusing concepts, reduce them to their essential components and lay out a path to understanding with clarity and ease.

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion is available for download or streaming through Gumroad, and is also available as a DVD. Both are 10% off Saturday and Sunday, September 11th and 12th, 2021.

 
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Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid
Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Johannes Vermeer, the remarkable 17th century painter from the city of Delft in the Netherlands, is revered for his transcendent portrayals of the effects of light and atmosphere in domestic scenes.

He is best known for his series of compositions in which people, predominantly young women, are seen engaged in simple activities in front of a window — always to the viewer’s left. These make up the majority of Vermeer’s oeuvre, and consist of many variations on the theme.

The painting known as Girl Reading a Letter at a Window, which has been a centerpiece of the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden for over 250 years, is recognized as the first of these.

It has been known since 1979, when an X-ray analysis was made of the painting, that Vermeer had placed a painting within a painting of a large portrayal of Cupid on the wall behind the figure. It was assumed that Vermeer had thought better of his compositional choice and painted over the image of the painting.

However, a restoration was undertaken in May of 2017, in which it was determined by materials analysis that the overpainting of the blank wall had, in fact, been added by another hand after the time of Vermeer’s death.

Given that knowledge, the conservators began to remove the third-hand paint-over, including painted over extensions of the composition at the edges of the canvas, which Vermeer had left blank, perhaps in anticipation of mounting the work in a particular frame.

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has now unveiled the restoration, which will be the center of a new exhibition, Johannes Vermeer. On Reflection, that will be on display from 10/9/2021 to 2/1/2022.

The restoration reveals the detailed, large scale painting of Cupid, similar to the painting within a painting of Vermeer’s later work, Lady Standing at a Virginal.

This page on the website of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister goes into the restoration of the painting at a time when the process was about half way completed.

The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has not yet released a high resolution image of the restored painting, so I’m including images of the pre-restoration version — that are available in high resolution on the Google Art Project and Wikipedia — in which you can see a shadowy pentimento of the covered painting.

You can see the pre-restoration version in context, both by date and in size comparison to Vermeer’s other works in this fascinating comparison on the fantastic Essential Vermeer website. (See my post on Essential Vermeer.)

[Via Colossal and Kottke, thanks to Erlc Lee Smith for the suggestion]

 
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Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney

Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney
Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette L. Gurney

If, like me, you’ve watched many of James Gurney’s excellent short videos on YouTube, you have undoubtedly seen Jeanette Gurney, James Gurney’s wife, playing a supporting role, often accompanying him on sketching trips and sketching in the background while he sketches or paints.

Occasionally, we would get a look at her line and watercolor drawings, which I have always enjoyed, but usually only glimpses.
With the release of a recent video on YouTube titled Sketches in Line and Wash by Jeanette Gurney, we finally get a more extended look at Jeanette Gurney’s line and watercolor drawings.

Line and watercolor has been gaining in popularity in recent years as a favored medium among urban sketchers; Jeanette Gurney has been working this way for some time. It is a fascinating combination of mediums, with many of the eye pleasing characteristics of both drawing and painting. These characteristics are evident in the variety of approaches to line and wash featured in this video.

The video itself appears to be a recording of a livestream conducted with a New Jersey high school. In the first third or so both Jeanette and James field questions from the students and Jeanette discusses her materials and basic techniques. There is a list of materials links when you open the “Show More” link on the YouTube page.

About 12 minutes in, we see more of her line and wash sketches, in which her line application varies from pencil to marker to pen and even ballpoint. Her favored subject is architecture, and her sketches are of a fascinating variety of buildings.

She has a light touch with her lines — contrasted with occasionally bold marker lines — and an often free application of watercolor, giving her drawngs the feeling of a loose, casual sketch, though it’s obvious that there is a solid foundation of draftsmanship underneath.

This is one of those delightful videos that makes you want to grab your sketchbook and head out the door.

 
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