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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Richard Schmid 1934-2021

Richard Schmid
Richard Schmid

I was saddened to learn of the death on Sunday of American artist Richard Schmid, one of the finest and most influential realist artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

His paintings are veritable textbooks of color and value relationships, texture, brush handling, and the subtle power of edges in painting. Schmid was not only a formidable painter, but a hugely influential teacher; you can see his influence in the work of his students, their students and even those who have just known his work from afar.

Fortunately, Schmid has left a legacy of teaching materials — treasure troves of painting knowledge that are available to the rest of us. His book Alla Prima II: Everything I know About Painting – and More is the single best book on the art of painting of which I am aware. I learn something new every time I go through it. I have also found his instructional videos — particularly those on landscape painting — of great value. (Most outstanding for me is the second in his landscape series: June.)

If you are not well acquainted with his work, the official Richard Schmid website is a great place to start. You will find examples of his work not only in the Portfolio, but in the sections on Available Art, Lithographs and Books and Videos. (In the Books section, on the pages for the individual titles, look below the image of the cover for the “Preview This Item” tab.)

Unfortunately, the official website pulls up short of showing his work to best advantage in large images. For that, you may need to use a Bing or Google image search, with the parameters set to “Large” or “Extra Large” (see my recent article on image search). In this way you can view larger images of his work that have been reproduced by auction houses.

As much as I admire Schmid’s work as a portraitist and still life painter, it is his landscapes that have long captured my attention. Subtle, atmospheric and evocative, his landscapes are masterful examples of the power of suggestion in painting, convincing your eye that there is more there than is actually delineated. The published collection, The Landscapes is a visual treat, beautifully printed and at a marvelously large size (see my review here).

I haven’t yet gotten a copy of the new still life book, but I can’t imagine it is anything less than superb.

In all cases, I strongly recommend purchasing his books and videos direct from the official website. Not only will the proceeds go more directly to his family, but the materials are actually less expensive there than through third party sites like Amazon.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: John Sell Cotman graphite and wash drawing

East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy; John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash
East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy (details); John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash

East End of Saint Jacques at Dieppe, Normandy; John Sell Cotman; graphite and brown wash; roughly 12 x 9 inches (29 x 22 cm). LInk is to zoomable version on Google Art Project, downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons, original is in the Yale Center for British Art.

English painter, printmaker and illustrator John Sell Cotman, who was active in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was prolific and left a trove of drawings in addition to his paintings and graphics. Here, he confidently delineates the intricately decorative structure of a large Renaissance church with graphite, augmented with subtle washes.

The drawing exhibits both the substantial accuracy of a careful architectural drawing, and the liveliness of a more casual sketch.

In part, this is likely due to the loosely free rendering of the roof of the lower structure, but I think it’s also due to an approach I have also noticed in the wonderful architectural drawings of Canaletto.

In both cases, lines that over their course are ruler straight, are along the way wavering and often lightly broken. It’s a wonderful technique.

 
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TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, James Gurney

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, art instruction video by James Gurney

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, art instruction video by James Gurney

In his latest instructional video, TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, painter James Gurney explores three-color palettes and gives a good introduction to the basic concepts of painting with limited palettes.

Though not specifically about triadic color schemes in the classic sense (in which the colors are evenly spaced around the color wheel), his exploration of palettes with three colors points out one of the strengths of this approach: a palette of three colors can mix a broad range of additional colors, and yet remain manageable when you’re trying to wrap your head around how to mix them. (Like many painters, Gurney chooses to regard white as not a color, and I think wisely so.)

TRIADS is a follow up to Gurney’s previous video, Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements (link is to my review), and serves as second in a planned series. Here, he is painting with gouache, transparent watercolor and casein, but the principles are applicable to other mediums.

Initially painting with a palette of three colors similar to the cyan, magenta and yellow colors used in printing inks to produce a wide range of colors, he starts with a demo painting of brightly colored still life subjects in sunlight. The initially chosen palette creates a broad gamut (range of colors), but like any limited palette, has areas of weakness.

Gurney supplements the demo painting with the creation of a “triad test”, a simple diamond shaped set of test patches of the colors in the palette, and mixtures of the colors as well as tints (the color plus white) and mixtures of the tints.

He then moves on to a different set of “primaries”, richer in the colors that are weak in the previous palette, creates another “triad test” and goes back into the same demo painting, pointing out how the two palettes differ in areas of strength.

He goes on with other demos and studio exercises to explore various three color combinations — some unusual, using secondaries in place of primaries — as well as the creation of grays and low chroma colors from high chroma palettes, making swatches of test colors as he goes. He goes through about ten demo paintings in the course of the video, some quite briefly, others in more depth.

As is often the case with Gurney’s videos, I find myself learning from aspects of the visuals that aren’t specifically part of the video’s primary subject. At one point in the creation of grays from triads of colors, he makes a couple of grays in transparent watercolor by layering three transparent layers of pure color, one over another, letting them mix optically rather than mixing on the palette. I found the resulting grayed tones particularly rich with subtle variations of color, and came away eager to experiment with that aspect of applying paint.

You’ll find other off-topic but valuable painting techniques in the creation of the demos, such as the way he uses large brushes in areas where a less experienced painter might be reaching for smaller ones, the creation of texture with split hair dry brush, using a mahl stick to steady the brush for drawing the lines like those of siding on a house, and his process of using interesting color variations as colored grounds before blocking in.

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors takes the seemingly simple concept of painting with three color palettes and through it opens a window into a range of concepts of value to students of painting.

The 90 minute video is available as a digital download through Gumroad or Sellfy for $17.98 and comes with a PDF study guide.

You can find previews of the video, along with supplementary information, on Gurney’s blog, Gurney Journey.

In addition, Gurney is promoting a just-for-fun Sunny Still Life “challenge” for those interested to paint a sunny still life with a triad palette and post their paintings online. The challenge deadline is October 20, 2020.

 
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Mastery by George Leonard (and its relevance to learning drawing and painting)

Mastery, George Leonard

I came across a recent post on James Gurney’s art blog, Gurney Journey in which a reader had asked “How do you force yourself to improve?“, and it prompted me to think about some of what I’ve learned on the subject of studying, practicing and improving, and a book that was instructive in informing my own practice.

I’ve found it extremely helpful to understand that learning a skill like drawing or painting does not progress in the way we often expect.

We tend to think dedicated practice and study will result in a simple upward curve of progress, even if it’s a shallow curve. However the development of a skill like drawing or painting (or a sport, martial art, musical instrument or any other skill that requires long term study and practice) proceeds more like a series of plateaus.

You can work and study and practice for a long time and think you are making no progress, until at some point you notice that you have done a drawing or painting that is better than you could have done before.

Frustratingly, it may be followed by a series of others that indicate an apparent drop back to your previous level, but eventually you find yourself working at that higher level consistently. You have arrived at another plateau — on which you will be until your constant study and practice pays off with another bump up.

Understanding this, adjusting your expectations and learning not to block your own progress, can be instrumental in your pursuit of mastery in any skill.

Mastery is the title of a book by George Leonard that mentions art not at all (as best I recall) but is of spot-on relevance because it is all about the process of mastering a skill.

I came across it in the early 90’s because I had read some of Leonard’s writing for Esquire. I found it interesting in that he based some of Mastery on his own experience in learning and teaching Aikido, a Japanese “soft-style” martial art that is practiced as much for self development as for self defense.

In my own life, I have three areas in which I’ve devoted time, energy and effort to learning a skill — out of enthusiasm rather than necessity — drawing and painting (considered as one skill set), playing guitar, and Ta’i Chi Chuan, a Chinese “soft-style” martial art, practiced as much for self development as for self defense.

I’ve found striking similarities in the relationship of study, practice and progress in the process of learning all three skill sets.

Leonard’s Mastery is specifically about this relationship, and I found it to be a lightbulb over the head kind of read, one that has stuck with me and helped form my approach to learning.

Leonard explains the plateau phenomenon much better than I can here. He describes several kinds of individuals who get in their own way in their attempts at mastery and lays out a simple and clear approach to clearing your own path of the most common self-imposed obstructions.

The book has a subtitle of “The keys to success and long term fulfillment”, that I suspect the author may not have been happy with; but book publicists who attempt to promote books to the widest audience possible often do a disservice to potential readers who might find the titles most of interest.

You’ll find Mastery listed under “self-help” books, and though that may not be completely inaccurate, it certainly misses the point. Every book in that category has to promise to “change you life”. While I doubt Mastery will do that, it might change the way you approach learning a skill.

Mastery is a short, succinct read, and I found it worthy of a place on the bookshelf next to my art instruction books.

 
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James Gurney’s Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

James Gurney's Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

Screen captures from James Gurney's Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

Anyone who has read my previous reviews of books and videos by James Gurney will not be surprised that I have high praise for his latest instructional video.

Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements is — quite obviously by its title — part of a multi-part tutorial. Whether it is to consist of two parts or more, I don’t know.

Gurney covers a fair bit of information in this video, starting from the ground up and breaking the complexities of painting in color into more easily digestible stages that logically build on one another.

Many artists’ instructional videos on color want to start out running and dazzle the student (i.e. prospective buyer) with promises of color mastery, but undeservedly breeze past these important stages, the most fundamental of which, of course, is black and white, or value.

Gurney starts there, with easily grasped exercises like comparing transparent and opaque methods of making value steps in the form of simple charts. He shows the effectiveness of these basic techniques in a painting of a storefront entirely in grays.

He then steps up to a simple grid of black and white on a light brown toned ground, and proceeds to paint a fully realized painting using the same method with only a few touches of a bright red.

Another painting works in black and white with a few touches of brown and blue, but over a brighter underpainting.

The video moves into transparent and opaque combinations, explores the fundamentals of complementary colors and finishes with a painting in a dramatically unusual combination of bright yellow green and complementary violet. There are additional, more briefly featured paintings and subjects along the way.

Gurney has an uncanny knack for what I think of as “teaching within teaching”. In the process of covering basics, he touches on more complex concepts like like chroma, alternative color wheels, color temperature and color gamuts — not in depth, but in a context that allows a basic understanding and prepares the student for more a extensive explanation later. He lets you absorb these secondary concepts almost unconsciously as you follow his main thread.

There is a discussion of materials, and in the process of showing Gurney painting, the video also captures his brushwork, the choice of brush size and shape, dry brush effects and more.

Gurney is working here primarily in watercolor and gouache, but the principles would carry over into other mediums as well.

Throughout, he encourages you to participate, talks about how to practice and delves into the concept of failure as an important part of the learning process. Gurney’s instructional videos are approaching the structure of a virtual class, a learn at your own speed session with a highly experienced teacher.

The video is accompanied by a PDF “Learning Supplement” that covers materials, outlines exercises and includes a lot of resource links. There is also, as always, more material relevant to the video on Gurney’s blog, Gurney Journey.

There is a trailer for the video on Gurney Journey, was well as on YouTube.

Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements is $17.99 for a digital download on Gumroad that includes the Learning Supplement PDF.

Gurney has also started a Facebook group, Color in Practice, for students to discuss the video and related topics among themselves.

If you are interested in pursuing some of these concepts — and much more — in greater depth, a terrific resource to accompany this, and any subsequent videos on the subject, is Gurney’s superb book, Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters (see my review here).

 
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