Category Archives: Tools and Techniques

Portraits in the Wild, James Gurney

Portraits in the Wild, James Gurney
As I have pointed out in previous reviews, painter, illustrator and writer James Gurney has in recent years been bringing us a wealth of instructional material in the form of books, videos and his always informative and fascinating blog, Gurney Journey.

Not only has he contributed significantly to the canon of contemporary art instruction (as well as highlighting classics from 19th century sources like the books of Harold Speed and Solomon J. Solomon), Gurney has a keen sense of finding areas of artistic endeavor that have not been traditionally well covered — mediums like gouache and casein, subjects like painting fantasy art from life and advanced topics of color and light.

His latest instructional video takes on the rarely mentioned but important concept of painting Portraits in the Wild. While it may seem to be a specialized approach, in that sketching people on location is more common than creating paintings of people on location, the subject has broader applications than are evident at first glance.

One of the challenges of plein air painting is capturing fleeting effects of light, and in the process, deciding how to handle the changes that can occur over even a single painting session of an hour or two. Frequenty a painter is left to make a crucial decision between painting the “remembered” initial impression of a scene — often what the artist found appealing in the first place — and the scene observed later in the process, as the light has changed.

Painting portraits and figures on location compresses and highlights this kind of artistic decision making to an even greater degree, and the skills involved can be used to advantage in any painting or drawing situation that requires quick observation and compositional decisions about changing conditions or moving subjects.

In his customary casual and friendly delivery, Gurney takes you with him in Portraits in the Wild as he paints subjects while listening to bits of their life experiences, composes complex compositions of figures by utilizing parts of multiple changing figures to construct composites, and delves into portraiture of subjects who are not deliberately posing. In the process, he demonstrates techniques in casein, gouache, watercolor, oil and color pencils.

He also encourages you to be unafraid to drastically change a painting in progress, particularly when using an opaque painting medium — in itself a valuable gem of artistic liberation for those of us who too often become attached to unsuccessful starts.

Portraits in the Wild is 66 minutes long and is available for $14.95 as a digital download from Gumroad, Selify and Cubebrush and as a DVD from and Amazon for $24.50 (more details on this Gurney Journey post).

On YouTube there is a trailer and two other video excerpts here and here that give you the flavor of the presentation. You can find additional material by doing a search for “Portraits in the Wild” on Gurney Journey.

I find that Gurney’s instructional videos are often multi-leveled — conveying information about painting and the artistic process in ways both overt and subtle. What is on the surface a specific challenge of painting people on location carries insights into materials, techniques and artistic decision making that is applicable to a much broader range of subjects.


Leonardo da Vinci’s Drawing Materials

Leonardo da Vinci's Drawing Materials
Leonardo da Vinci’s Drawing Materials is a short (5 minute) video in which a conservator from the Royal Collection Trust describes and demonstrates some of the drawing materials available to Leonardo and other Renaissance artists.

It was produced in conjunction with the exhibit “Leonardo da Vinci: Ten Drawings from the Royal Collection” that is on view at the Royal Collection Trust until 24 April 2016, and then travels to several other venues in the UK.


James Gurney’s Fantasy in the Wild

James Gurney's Fantasy in the Wild
In his “In the Wild” series of instructional painting videos, painter, illustrator, writer and instructor James Gurney has previously given us Watercolor in the Wild and Gouache in the Wild (links to my reviews), delving into the use of those mediums on location.

He has followed up with an interesting variation, Fantasy in the Wild: Painting Concept Art on Location (link is to description, preview video and download order form on Gumroad).

I will point out before going further that this video would be of interest to plein air painters and those interested in the mediums of casein and gouache — as well as concept painters and illustrators — so you may want to read through even if concept art is not your thing.

For those who are familiar with concept art, you’re probably aware that there are any number of concept art tutorials available, on the web, downloadable for a fee, and for sale on DVD.

This one, to my knowledge, is unique. The majority of concept art tutorials deal with digital painting in Photoshop, Corel Painter and similar digital art programs. Those few that deal with traditional media still take a similar tack of making up scenes out of whole cloth, or at most, using photographs for reference.

Gurney here is taking the approach of using location painting both as inspiration and reference for fantasy painting, going into the field with casein, gouache and watercolor in search of settings and subjects for fantastic realism.

Starting with an overview of previously painted plein air subjects in the small town of Rhinebeck, NY — comparing the finished paintings to their original subjects — he shows how artistic decisions about changing the reality of the scene lead logically into the notion of taking the scene as raw material for something imaginative the artist creates.

The first painting demonstration is of a street scene, into which the fictional incident of a mysteriously floating car is introduced. Gurney goes through the use of a model as an addition to the location painting reference, matching lighting, position and scale to achieve a composite image. In the process, we follow him as he paints the plein air aspect of the painting, then applies his own variation in lighting as well as the invented addition of the floating car.

James Gurney's Fantasy in the Wild
The other set of paintings involve a giant robot set into a typical franchise-strewn stretch of highway in another fantastical incident. Here, Gurney looks to construction machinery as the source of his imaginary robot, giving the machine a sense of solidity and realism that would be difficult to accomplish without the visual information gleaned from the real world machines.

He augments this with a quickly constructed maquette, allowing him to more accurately visualize lighting for his imaginary giant robot to match the scene.

In the process we again get to follow Gurney as he paints plein air location studies, in this case of construction machinery, in addition to the finished location background for his larger composition. These demos, as well as that of the first painting, include instruction in the nature and handling of casein, notably using the opaque and quick drying nature of the medium to advantage in painting out and replacing elements of the composition.

While in continuity with his other “In the Wild” instructional videos, Fantasy in the Wild is also a continuation of themes Gurney began exploring with in his 2009 book, Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn’t Exist (link to my review).

If you enjoyed that book, you will likely find the video appealing, and vice-versa. Also, like all of Gurney’s instructional books and videos, there is a wealth of related supplementary material on his blog, Gurney Journey, accessible by search or by the subject tags in the left column.

To me, the approach taken in Fantasy in the Wild — and the general theme of taking inspiration and reference from the study of the real world as raw material for imagined scenes — reveals an appealing undercurrent relevant to plein air painting: the implied freedom of not feeling limited to reproducing the scene being painted, but instead taking nature as a source for painting whatever the artist wishes.

Too often, beginning location painters can feel restrained to be rigidly faithful to the scene in front of them rather than to their own artistic decisions.

At the other end of the spectrum, those learning illustration and concept art may feel that everything has to be “made up” out of thin air, when in fact, artists throughout history have been using nature as a treasure trove of source material for imagined realities, whether Classical, Romantic or fantastic.

In that light, Fantasy in the Wild is actually a more classic and general guide to painting than might be assumed from the title.


Online art supply as a resource for pigment information

Online art supply as a pigment info resource
This is not a review or endorsement of any online art supplier; I think all of the well known ones are probably fine, and each has their plusses and minuses.

This is about a resource that a particular art supplier, Dick Blick, offers as part of their online catalog. When browsing for paints — whether oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pastels or other — the Blick site offers the ability to drill down into information about the pigments used in various paint colors.

The pigments in some paints are fairly straightforward. When you buy a tube of Chromium Oxide Green, you can reasonably expect the primary pigment to be oxide of chromium. The metal cadmium (cadmium sulfide or cadmium-zinc sulfide) is likewise the expected pigment in Cadmium Yellow.

The constitution of other paint colors is often less clear. True Naples Yellow, for example, was classically made with lead, and only a few select paint makers offer a genuine Naples Yellow (an example would be Vasari Colors). Most paint manufacturers feel at liberty to call a paint “Naples Yellow” that is made with any number of other more contemporary pigments.

By the same token, a color like “Paynes Grey”, though it has historic formulas, is a blend open to a variety of modern interpretations. So-called “Permanent Alizarin Crimson” is never actually that, but a formulation of other colors (that should more properly be called “Alizarin Crimson Hue”), the recipe for which is different from brand to brand.

So those like myself who are often curious about the constitution of various paint colors are left to wonder about what pigments are in a given paint. Sometimes the manufacturers will give that information on their websites, but it’s scattered and inconsistent.

This is where I find the resources for individual paint colors on the Blick website useful.

When you browse the Blick website for any given paint type and manufacturer — for example, Winsor and Newton Watercolors — you’re presented with a list of small color swatches and names. What’s not made obvious is that the item number in the left column (though oddly, not the paint name itself) is linked to a detail page for that particular paint color.

This is further divided by tabs into a general description with a small photographic paint swatch, a “Color Swatch” tab with a larger swatch — usually with tints or dilutions of the paint, and a “Pigment Info” tab.

In the latter, Blick has provided a list of the pigments used to make up that particular color, as well as a descriptive background on those pigments, their chemical composition, transparency, lightfastness, toxicity, history and alternate nomenclature.

Caveat: I have to assume that Blick has collected this information from the manufacturers, but I have no way to determine how accurate or consistent it may be. I offer it as something interesting and possibly useful for those who are interested to know what’s in a given paint.

Also, this only includes information on those manufacturers who deal with the large art materials suppliers, and doesn’t include independents like Vasari Colors, Robert Doak, RGH and Blue Ridge Oil Paints, but it can give you a general picture of the variety of pigments in given colors.

In the images above, I’ve used some well-known manufacturers of watercolor to provide an illustration of the variety of pigments in their formulations for the same color name.


More artists’ studios

Artists studios: Tom Kidd, Andrew
Like many artists, I enjoy seeing how other artists arrange and use their studios and work spaces. This is partly out of curiosity and partly with an eye to possibly useful ideas.

Here are a couple more sources for photos of artists’ studios, in this case mostly illustrators, concept artists and comics artists. One is an article on Muddy Colors and the other a Tumblr blog called art workspace. In both cases, the images are linked to larger ones in which you can see more detail.

As always, the range of environments and approaches is fascinating, and it’s particularly interesting to see the artist’s working space when you’re familiar with their work.

I’ve selected example images here for the studios of some artists I have previously featured on Lines and Colors, and provided links to my articles below.

(Images above, studios of: Tom Kidd, Andrew “Android” Jones, Yuko Shimizu, Michael Whelan, Paolo Rivera, Jean-Baptiste Monge, Tran Nguyen, Shawn Barber, James Gurney, Iain McCaig, Eric Fortune, Donato Giancola, Chris Buzelli, Drew Struzan)

[Via John Gallagher]


Patrick Connors

Patrick Connors, landscape, still life, figures, perspective drawing course
Philadelphia based artist Patrick Connors Studied at the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

To my eye, the influence of the legacy Thomas Eakins left to the Academy — and to the city of Philadelphia — is visible in Connors’ similar fascination with the the play of light on the Schuylkill river, its banks, bridges and other landmarks.

Connors has taken the river and its bridges as his subjects multiple times, in different seasons, weather and time of day, and his strongly textural portrayals are evocative of the river’s moods.

On Connors’ website, you will find examples of these subjects — both in plein air and studio pieces — as well as still life, portrait and figurative works. You will also find a number of works from a painting and drawing program he taught in Rome over the course of several summers under the auspices of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art.

In all of his work, there is a key element of light and dark — chiaroscuro in portraits and still life, sun and shadow in his landscapes. Also consistently evident is Connors’ adherence to the fundamental elements of the classical tradition, particularly anatomy and perspective.

I had the pleasure of meeting Connors at the preview for the Strawberry Mansion Mural Project here in Philadelphia in 2013, in which he was working with Bucks County artist Dot Bunn to recreate the kind of murals the historic mansion’s original owner might have commissioned in the 18th century.

I found that he and I had studied at the Academy around the same time, and though we didn’t know one another then, we had a mutual admiration for many of the instructors that were teaching and lecturing there at the time, including Arthur DeCosta, Oliver Grimley, Franklin Shores and Robert Beverly Hale.

Connors has gone on to teach in his own right. He teaches courses in Studio Anatomy, Cast Drawing and Head Structure in the Certificate/BFA programs at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and is also part of the Academy’s new Illustration program. He also teaches at the Graduate School of the New York Academy of Art. He has been invited to lecture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Drexel School of Medicine.

Connors’ work will be part of the Naked in New Hope exhibition of figure painting and drawing at the Sidetracks Art Gallery in New Hope, Bucks County from September 12 to October 31, 2015.

He will be conducting a plein air workshop at the Red Stone Farm Studio in Bucks County in October, and a drawing workshop at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in conjunction with the upcoming exhibit: The Wrath of the Gods. (Presumably updates will be added to his website’s Workshops page.)

Connors has also recently codified his many years of experience in working with and teaching linear perspective into an online course offered through Craftsy: Essential Linear Perspective Techniques. The course consists of 7 video lessons, reference material and online interaction with Connors, and as of this writing is currently being offered at a promotional rate of $15 instead of $35.