Category Archives: Book Reviews

James Gurney’s Living Sketchbook app

James Gurney's Living Sketchbook app
One of the most fascinating ways to see into the mind of an artist is to have the opportunity to look through their sketchbooks. This is not often possible; sketchbooks are frequently personal, full of unfinished thoughts and experiments and seldom volunteered for display by the artists themselves.

When the opportunity does arise, it’s a treat, as well as being instructive for fellow artists in a manner similar to watching an accomplished artist work.

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting author, illustrator and plein air painter James Gurney on a few occasions, and I’ve had an opportunity to briefly look through a couple of his sketchbooks.

Gurney’s sketchbooks are filled with location sketches from his extensive travels, as well as his day-to-day activities in his home town. He is an inveterate sketcher in watercolor and gouache, and he records what he sees, whether a classically beautiful scene in the mountains, of the view out the window of the waiting room for a tire service center, painted while waiting to have tires changed. He is so accomplished that even his most impromptu location sketches are lively and beautifully rendered.

I found myself wishing that I could spend more time looking through his sketchbooks at leisure, and thought that they would make good subjects for publication of some kind, perhaps offered as PDFs if not printed books.

I was recently pleased to find out that Gurney has apparently been thinking along the same lines, only much in advance of what I was thinking, when I received a review copy of a new app for iOS and Android that Gurney has developed in cooperation with his son, Dan Gurney.

The Living Sketchbook is an app that provides a virtual sketchbook experience. Not only does it allow the viewer to go through the pages of a sketchbook, but also includes audio, and sometimes video, commentary by the artist about the pieces, as well as giving access to additional information about the painting, subject and materials. It’s the next best thing to going through a sketchbook while standing there with the artist as he comments on it for you.

I’ve done some iOS app development myself, as well as creating numerous web interfaces in my role as a website designer, and I will give the app a big thumbs up for the accommodating the most important factor in an interface like this — presenting the material in an easy to use manner and then getting out of the way while you enjoy. It’s hard to overstate how many apps, websites, games, gadgets and desktop applications get that wrong.

At the moment, The Living Sketchbook ships with one sketchbook included, this one is called “Boyhood Home”. Gurney names his sketchbooks, and enjoys creating fun hand painted typography for their covers.

The app allows you to simply thumb through the images as if through a physical sketchbook, and at will pinch to zoom into the image. Unlike some poorly designed interfaces for viewing images (I’m looking at you, Instagram), Gurney’s app allows the zoomed image to stay at full size when you let go, and programming by Dan has even provided some subtle touches of physics in the reaction of the scroll as you nudge the image around in the window.

You can also access a row of thumbnails at any point as well as bring up an overlay of information about the painting.

The Living Sketchbook is $4.99 and is available for iOS and Android. You can find links to the app for both platforms in this article on Gurney’s blog.

There is a trailer and teaser for the app on YouTube, that give a better idea of how the app functions, and Erwin (Cherngzhi) Lian, who knows a few things about sketchbooks, has a more extensive review on his blog.

It may be restricted to relatively current versions of the operating systems, so if the respective app stores don’t allow you to purchase it, that may be the factor. I couldn’t view the app on my older iPad 3 (Retina), because it’s too old to run the required version of the OS, but I could view it fine on my newer iPhone 6.

So bear in mind the the screen captures used for my exmaple images above are from an iPhone, and the app will view quite differently and more effectively on a tablet.

I was actually surprised, though, at how effective it is to view zoomable images of the paintings on the relatively small iPhone screen. I can easily see popping an app like this open for inspiration while taking a break when out location painting.

I’m already looking forward to the release of the next sketchbook.

[Addendum: For those interested in the process, Dan Gurney has posted on his blog an article on Building the Living Sketchbook App.]

 
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101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925

101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925
Discovering art that you love by artists whose work is new to you can be a little like meeting a person to whom you’re romantically attracted — there’s an initial rush of infatuation that is so pleasurable the feeling can be addictive.

Growing up in northern Delaware (in a house a few hundred yards from the home of O.C. Darley), I developed an early appreciation for some of the great illustrators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries — notably Howard Pyle, N.C. Wyeth and other artists of the Brandywine School.

But when I started to expand my exploration of the amazing work produced in that era, and discovered the work of other American and European illustrators active at the same time, I became so dazzled and entranced that I started searching out any books I could find on these amazing artists. Each new discovery was jolt of artistic pleasure.

As I haunted used bookstores and university libraries, looking to discover more artists from this astonishingly fertile period of great illustration — rightfully known as the “Golden Age of Illustration” — I occasionally came across books that were motherloads of treasure in this respect, compendiums of artists from the era with reproductions of their work, books that were a pleasure in themselves and as well as a gateway to more discovery.

There have been several books of that sort over the years, and I’m happy to have some of them, but I’ve often had to hunt and pay more than I would like to get them. Overviews of great illustrators tend to be released and then go out of print quickly, leaving the searcher looking longingly at overpriced rare book listings.

I was delighted, then, to recently receive a review copy of a new book from Dover Publications that is exactly such a treasure.

101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925 is not a rerelease but a brand new book in the grand tradition of overviews of great illustrators, and it is one of the best of the lot.

Author Jeff A. Menges has done a superb job of choosing a fantastic array of artists, providing representative and dazzling examples of their work and presenting them with succinct, erudite commentary that introduces you to each artist and puts them in the context of their time. Every illustrator has at least two pages devoted to images of their work, in some cases four.

I addition to including favorites like Howard Pyle and N.C Wyeth, the book features a who’s who of Golden Age illustrators — Walter Crane, Edmund Dulac, Maxfield Parrish, Arthur Rackham, James Montgomery Flagg, Harvey Dunn, Charles Dana Gibson, Charles R. Knight, Edward Penfield, Frederic Remington, J. Allen St. John, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Violet Oakley, Alphonse Mucha, Jessie Wilcox Smith, J.C Leyendecker, Edwin Austin Abbey, Franklin Booth, Joseph Clement Coll and… well, I’m going to run out of room before I run out of fantastic illustrators to list.

Each article can leave you torn between reading on to the next great illustrator, or rushing out to look for more work by the fantastic artist you just discovered (or rediscovered).

This is a “gateway” book if there ever was one, a path to discovery and a beautiful joy in itself. If you have any feeling for Golden Age illustration, you will “fall in love” several times over in the course of going through its profusely illustrated pages.

Dover has done an amazing job of delivering an effective and pleasing book design and high production values that showcase over 500 images of beautiful illustration, both color and pen and ink, in a 250+ page volume — and somehow kept the price to $35.00 (not a typo — thirty five). [Note: If Dover’s ad is still running in the right column as you read this, you can use the code at the bottom of the ad to get an extra 25% off on this book along with other Dover fine art books.]

The Dover website gives more detailed information about the book, though it doesn’t offer a preview; the Amazon listing has a preview of some of the pages.

I’ll make the usual disclaimers and point out that Dover is an advertiser on Lines and Colors, and provided a free review copy, but if they hadn’t, and I found this in a book store, I would have bought it the instant I saw it and gleefully run home with it tucked under my arm like the treasure it is.

 
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Lisa Ericson

Lisa Ericson, Mouserflies acrylic paintings, mice with butterfly wings
Portland, Oregon based painter Lisa Ericson draws on her background in illustration and graphic design to give her compositions a strong graphic punch, often setting high-value and high chroma subjects against deep black backgrounds.

The work currently showcased on her website highlights two particular themes involving juxtaposed hybrid animals — fish crossed with corals and/or anemones, and mice or other small rodents with the wings of butterflies, a series of which she calls “Mouserflies“.

There is at least one other animal hybrid, that suggests the possibility of previous series, but I don’t know if that’s the case.

The images on her site are linked to nice large versions that allow you to see her precise, but fluid and naturalistic rendering style. Ericson works primarily in acrylic on wood panel.

She also does children’s book illustration, and the site highlights a few titles, in particular those like Dill & Bizzy: An Odd Duck and a Strange BirdJa and Dill & Bizzy: Opposite Day (Amazon links) in which she illustrates stories by her sister, writer Nora Ericson.

In my customary search when writing about an artist, I came across a News page on her site that is not linked from the main menu. I don’t know if this is an oversight, of if it has been intentionally de-linked.

There is also a section for limited edition prints.

[Via beinArt Gallery]

 
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Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings

Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings
Though I had seen a few reproductions of his work in books, I first really took notice of German artist Adolph Menzel quite a few years ago, when I encountered some of his original drawings in shows of 19th century master drawings at the Morgan Library in New York and the National Gallery in D.C.

Even amid drawings by the likes of Ingres and Degas, I found Menzel’s drawings compelling. There is a kind power in his drawings that comes from honest, direct observation, and the artist’s intention to unflinchingly study and understand what is before him. In this respect (though not particularly in style or execution), Menzel’s drawings remind me of Rembrandt’s clear, economical observations of the streets, people and landscapes in his immediate surroundings.

Menzel quickly went onto my list of favorites, a position that has been solidified in recent years as I’ve become more fascinated with gouache, a medium of which Menzel was a master.

I quickly found that books on Menzel were far too rare and difficult to find — an unfortunate state that persists to this day — which is why I was delighted to receive a review copy of a new book, Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings, co-edited by Christian Schlierkamp and the indefatigable James Gurney, who also contributed the introduction and the selection of the images.

The book is nicely balanced between showcasing Menzel’s too rarely seen drawings, and 32 color plates of both drawings in color and his gouache paintings. The latter include a wonderful selection of images of his paintings for The Festival of the White Rose, a set in which he rendered not only detailed scenes of the events, but set them in intricate trompe l’oeil frames — all painted in gouache.

The book also includes a selection of Menzel’s etchings. All are presented in a 116 page volume from Dover Books. This volume continues their line of high-quality art books presented at remarkably reasonable prices, in this case, $27.95 USD.

The book will not be released to bookstores or online sources until August 17, 2016; but is currently available direct from James Gurney’s website, signed by Gurney (orders within the US only).

Like most of Gurney’s books and videos, this one is augmented by posts on Gurney’s website; to date, one on Menzel’s technique, his use of photography, Menzel the Sketcher and his philosophy of drawing everything. There are also older posts on Menzel, not directly related to the book. I would not be surprised if additional posts are added at some point.

Menzel’s studies, sketches, finished drawings and gouache paintings are both a visual treat and a valuable source of study for artists. Menzel drew incessantly and took whatever was around him as his subjects.

Adolph Menzel’s drawings are a prime example of an artist’s devotion to drawing as a tool, craft, art and source of understanding and inspiration. His beautiful gouache pantings are a testament to that devotion as a source for richly realized finished works. Adolph Menzel: Drawings and Paintings provides a valuable showcase for both.

For those unfamiliar with Menzel’s work, the book is a terrific introduction, particularly because of the emphasis on his brilliant drawings. For those like myself who are already admirers of Menzel, the volume is a long overdue treat.

 
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Imagery from the Bird’s Home: The Art of Bill Carman

Imagery from the Bird's Home: The Art of Bill Carman
There are certain contemporary artists in the field of fantastic art whose work I find a continual delight. Notable among them is Bill Carman, who I have written about previously here on Lines and Colors.

All too often, I find artists in contemporary fantasy, concept and fantastic art (as well as in “Pop Surrealism”) who just seem to be trying too hard — they give a sense of struggling to be weird, or surreal or shocking enough to get noticed.

Carman’s work is essentially the opposite of this: it feels effortlessly imaginative, as simply a natural expression of the artist’s mind.

Carman impresses me as one of those artists who is able to connect his unconscious imagination directly to his drawing and painting hand, and then get out of the way. (In this respect he reminds me of Jean, “Moebius” Giraud, though very different in style and execution.)

I was delighted, then, to receive a review copy of Bill Carman’s new book, Imagery from the Bird’s Home: The Art of Bill Carman.

For some reason, I was surprised when I opened the package, in that I wasn’t expecting the volume to be quite so large, deluxe and beautifully produced. I should know better, of course, because it’s published by Flesk Publications, a small publisher who has earned my admiration again and again for their superb volumes and great choice of artists.

Imagery from the Bird’s Home is big (9 1/2 x 11 inches), thick (192 pages) and packed from cover to cover with Carman’s delightful and beautifully rendered stream-of-consciousness imaginings. You’ll find repeated themes like glasses, lenses, birds (of course), cephalopods, dogs, and various other animals and characters, as well as subjects from pop culture.

Carman works in acrylic on a number of different surfaces, as well as in digital and other traditional mediums. His approach ranges from loosely sketched to highly rendered and intricately detailed — frequently offering much to look at in a single image. The book includes sketches, both random and preparatory for other works, as well as some alternate versions and progress sequences.

Imagery from the Bird’s Home can be ordered directly from Flesk Publications (which I believe to be more beneficial both for the artist and for a terrific small publisher), but if that’s not convenient, you can also order from Amazon.

You can find more images, and a video flip-through of the book on Parka Blogs.

You can see more of Bill Carman’s wok on his website and blog.

There is a brief video interview related to the book on the Flesk Publications site, and a more general interview with the artist on WOW x WOW.

 
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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 Kunaki.com 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.

 
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