James Gurney: Flower Painting in the Wild

James Gurney Flower Painting in the Wild
Flower Painting in the Wild is the latest full length (hour-long) instructional video from author, illustrator and plein air painter James Gurney.

As Gurney points out in the introduction, the approach to painting flowers he takes here is different than the usual flower arrangement in a vase common to still life or the traditional garden subjects found in landscape painting, in that it focuses on individual flowers, or small groups, in the natural environment of botanical gardens or as wildflowers along a stream.

Gurney focuses on what he terms at one point as “portraits” of living flowers in their natural setting, with four major sections, each following the process of a painting from start to finish.

He is painting here in casein and gouache, two underutilized painting mediums of which Gurney has long been an advocate, and there is discussion of their strengths and limitations, as well as plenty of demonstrations of technique. Most of the techniques would be applicable in other mediums in which you can work both opaquely and transparently, like acrylic or oil.

Like many of Gurney’s instructional videos, and particularly those in the recent “…in the Wild” series devoted to painting on location, there is considerably more to Flower Painting in the Wild than the title might suggest.

Throughout the course of the video, you’ll find lots of close-ups of brush loading and handling and paint application, as well as insights into painting plant forms, handling greens, controlling value ranges, simplifying complex backgrounds, painting shapes by both subtraction and addition and many more topics of general interest to painters.

He even gives a demonstration of the age old but infrequently taught method of using a grid sighting system to accurately transfer outlines and key points of a scene to the paper or canvas.

Flowers are a great subject for tackling one of the most daunting challenges artists face: complexity. Gurney devotes a good deal of attention to the process of simplifying complex subjects, and picking out the essentials needed to represent detail without trying to paint every petal and leaf. These same techniques can be applied to other complex subjects.

Gurney produces and films his own videos, and he has gotten adept at delivering a relaxed but polished instructional presentation at a lower cost point than most professional level art instruction videos.

He is sensitive to what makes a video like this useful to the viewer, with lots of cuts from the painting to the subject and back again, augmented by split-screen comparisons of them side-by-side, which I particularly like.

He also devotes attention to the palette and color mixing, a glaring omission from many how-to painting videos.

I’m not always fond of the use of time-lapse in painting instruction videos, because it can make it difficult to tell how the paint was actually applied, but here Gurney uses compressed time sequences to advantage by preceding them with normal-time sequences of painting the same passage, giving them context in terms of actual paint application.

The commentary throughout is dense with information on technique and the choices and decisions made in the selection of subjects, medium and painting approach.

Flower Painting in the Wild is a valuable resource not just on painting flowers, but on painting plants and landscape in general (the last segment, though it concentrates on wild roses, is essentially a full landscape), as well as a continuation of his instruction on using gouache and casein. It is also the kind of art instruction video that will reveal more on repeated viewing and study.

Also, perhaps in response to the experiences of painting in beautiful environments like botanical gardens, this video seems to have more of a poetic quality than Gurney’s previous efforts, with attention given to the cinematography of the subject flowers and even a philosophical quote from Victorian artist and critic John Ruskin.

Flower Painting in the Wild is currently available as a digital download (roughly 3GB) for $14.50 USD from Sellfy or Gumroad or Cubebrush, or as a DVD for $24.50 from Kunaki (the manufacturer) or Amazon. (I chose a digital download from Gumroad for my review copy.)

There is a trailer on YouTube, along with a ten minute sample, and more information on Gurney’s blog, Gurney Journey.

As always with James Gurney’s instructional videos, there is a wealth of supplementary information on his blog, which you can access with a search for “Flower Painting in the Wild“.

 
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James Gurney’s How to Make a Sketch Easel

James Gurney's How to Make a Sketch Easel
As I will point out in an article soon to follow this one about DIY pochade boxes, there are a lot of blog posts and videos out there that offer do-it-yourself instructions for making outdoor painting kits, from simple watercolor kits in a bag to complex pochade boxes with drawers and panel carriers.

Unfortunately, most of them, however well intentioned, suffer from poor, spotty or incomplete instructions. In the case of YouTube videos, they are often shaky, handheld clips with low production values and little or no editing. There are a few exceptions, but not many.

At the other end of the spectrum we have James Gurney, who has been creating a series of instructional videos with high production values and an eye to teaching in a manner that is well thought out and pays attention to detail.

Though not free like most of the YouTube videos, these are very modestly priced as digital downloads, and well worth it in terms of actual usability.

Gurney is not only a painter, illustrator, videographer and writer, he is an inveterate maker and inventor, constantly searching for better, more clever ways to do things related to painting and illustration.

Gurney’s latest video is How to Make a Sketch Easel, and he provided me with a review copy. (I chose the digital download version; there is also a DVD version with an additional slide show.)

A sketch easel, as opposed to the more common pochade box, French easel or field easel, is a portable painting platform that mounts to a photographic tripod and is primarily associated with sketching and painting on location with water media rather than with oil.

Instead of a recessed palette surface for oils, the provision is usually for holding a plastic or metal watercolor tray. The easel back is designed to lay relatively flat and is suited for holding a sketchbook or watercolor block rather than a plein air oil painting panel.

Here, Gurney has given instructions for creating his own painting setup, one that he has refined over time and that you may be familiar with if you have seen his “Painting on in the Wild” videos, or are a visitor to his always excellent blog, Gurney Journey.

In this hour long video, Gurney gives detailed specifics of how to replicate his portable sketch easel, from materials list, to layout of the wood, to cutting and finishing the pieces, making inserts for hinges and tripod mounting hardware, as well as his method of quickly mounting and dismounting a metal painting tray and water cup with embedded magnets.

He also details creating sun diffusers — both a small one mounted directly over the easel, and a large one held on a separate tripod (he even builds one out of a tree branch and a sheet).

At the end of the video, he shows his finished sketch easel in action in some location painting clips.

These plans and instructions are very specific to Gurney’s particular setup and way of painting in the field, and are best suited to someone comfortable with DIY projects and hand tools.

However, they can also serve as a springboard for other ideas and designs, and Gurney has several posts on his blog featuring some of the variations of related designs created by readers: “Your Sketch Easel Designs”, “Your DIY Pochade Easel Designs.”, and “Your DIY Watercolor Pochades”. (Gurney is in the earlier posts referring to any tripod-mounted easel as a “pochade easel”.)

The HD digital download of the video is $14.95 and includes a link to a PDF parts list. The DVD version is $24.50 and includes an additional slide show. There is also a materials list on Gurney’s blog.

[Addendum 6/27/2017: Another round of readers’ New Easel Builds has been added to the Gurney Journey blog. That’s one of the great things about Gurney’s books and videos, he keeps adding depth to them with subsequent blog articles.]

 
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Nestor Redondo

Nestor Redondo, comics art and pen and ink illustration
In the 1970’s the scope of style in American mainstream comic book art was suddenly expanded by the “Phillipine Invasion”, the advent of a number of highly skilled Filipino comics artists establishing themselves with the American comic book publishers.

These artists, already established in the Philippines’ active comic book market, owed as much to the influence of Golden Age pen and ink illustration and early 20th century American newspaper comics as they did to the contemporary comic book styles of the time, and they had a distinct impact on the styles of many American artists.

Many of them became well known, like Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, Tony DeZuniga, Rudy Nebres, Francisco Reyes and Alex Niño, among others.

My favorite from this group of artists — and one of my favorite comic book artists in general — was Nestor Redondo.

Redondo first came to my attention when he was drawing short stories for DC Comics’ anthology horror titles like House of Mystery. He then did a knock-out run on six issues of Rima, The Jungle Girl, bringing to the title a flair reminiscent of the 1930’s newspaper adventure strip Jungle Jim by the great Alex Raymond.

Redondo really knocked my socks off, though, by doing the impossible — following up on Bernie Wrightson’s landmark run on the first ten issues of Swamp Thing; not only maintaining the extraordinary standard Wrightson had set, but bringing his own sensibility to the series and hitting it out of the park for thirteen more issues.

In addition to his numerous projects for the Philippine comics market and several other projects for the American publishers, Redondo also brought his solid but fluid inking style to collaborations with other artists, notably on one of my favorite lost gems of 1980’s comics, Doug Moench’s Aztec Ace.

I’ve long thought Redondo’s comics work and pen and ink illustration worthy of a collection, and though it has been a long time coming, we finally have one courtesy of the always remarkable Auad Publishing, who also published a collection of the work of Alex Niño (unfortunately, sold out). Auad was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of the new book on Redondo’s work.

The Art of Nestor Redondo (images above, top, with details, and bottom three rows) collects a variety of the artist’s comics art, ink drawings, splash pages, sketches and pencil drawings in an inexpensive, but high quality, 80 page black and white volume.

It’s paperback with nicely stiff card covers and high quality paper; and the printing is beautifully sharp and crisp, showing the details in Redondo’s ink drawings to best advantage. Most of the art was scanned from the original drawings.

The book is available directly from Auad for $24 USD. If you click on the cover in the listing on the Auad site, you will get a pop-up preview gallery of images from the book. Auad is a small publisher, and most of their past titles are sold out. If you want a copy of this one, you should probably order it sooner rather than later.

For those who aren’t familiar with Nestor Redondo, it’s a nice introduction to his style and abilities; for those who are already fans of Redondo, it is, of course, a must-have.

For me, the primary appeal of Nestor Redondo’s style is in his solid draftsmanship, the careful balance between areas of detailed hatching and open white space, and the key element of strategic openness in his line work. Unlike many artists who try too hard to lavish detail on their ink drawings, Redondo knew how to leave his outlines open in just the right places to let his figures breathe.

 
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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 Willcox 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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