Arturo Ferrari

Arturo Ferrari, italian painter cityscapes
Arturo Ferrari was an Italian painter active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He spent much of his career painting the streets and buildings of Milan, focusing on the older parts of the city and rendering his subjects with a wonderfully blocky, painterly quality that recalls the pioneering work of the Macchiaioli painters.

Though there isn’t much of Ferrari’s work available on line, some of the images, particularly those on Wikimedia Commons, and this one on Google Art Project, have large versions or detail crops that let you see his fascinating approach.


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.]


Eye Candy for Today: Gaston La Touche’s Joyous Festival

The Joyous Festival, Gaston La Touche, 19th century French painting
The Joyous Festival, Gaston La Touche

Link is to a zoomable version on Google Art Project; downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; original is in the Dixon Gallery and Gardens (no images).

In his subject matter and intention, late 19th century French painter Gaston La Touche was more influenced by the Rococo style of the 18th century than by his Impressionist contemporaries, but here he shows the bright colors and free brushwork he adopted in his later career.

I also have to wonder — in his portrayal of the lanterns and the figures lit by them — if hadn’t seen Sargent’s beautiful and influential Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose.


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.


High resolution images of Vermeer’s paintings

High resolution images of Vermeer's paintings
Johannes Vermeer was either a remarkable 17th century Dutch painter or an enchanted sorcerer of light from beyond time and space — sometimes it’s hard to tell — but I find his work particularly entrancing among all painters.

His known existing oeuvre consists of only 36 paintings, each fascinating in their own way.

I have previously recommended the wonderful resource website, Essential Vermeer, maintained by Jonathan Janson, which is the go-to place on the web for information about Vermeer, his work, methods, context and historical background.

Though that site lists and shows all of the master’s paintings, including showing them at their relative sizes (which can sometimes be surprising), it does not itself host high-resolution images of the works; to do so would likely add prohibitive bandwidth costs to an already intense labor of love.

Instead, Janson devotes a page to resources for high-resolution images of Vermeer’s paintings, where possible on the websites of the museums in whose collections they reside. Some are in higher resolution than others, of course, but all let you see some of Vermeer’s extraordinary (and often surprisingly painterly) technique.

In addition, Josh Jones, writing for Open Culture, has assembled a more compact list.

If you have the chance to see Vermeer’s work in person, I highly recommend it. Essential Vermeer lists the paintings by geographic location and collection here.

There are, of course, numerous books on Vermeer. (One I particularly like for its details and context is Vermeer, by Pascal Bonafoux; it’s out of print but available used.)

Janson has a list and reviews of many others here. He has also published his own eBook, Looking Over Vermeer’s Shoulder: Seventeenth – Century Dutch Fine Painting Techniques and Studio Practices With Particular Focus On the Work of Johannes Vermeer, available from LuLu, which I have not yet had the chance to read.

Short of those options, these resources for high-resolution Vermeer images are a good way to view and enjoy some of the most remarkable paintings in the world.

[Topic suggestion courtesy of Eric Lee Smith]


Eye Candy for Today: Ingres graphite portrait of Mme. Lethière

Madame Alexandre Lethiere and Her Daughter Letizia, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, graphite portrait
Madame Alexandre Lethière and Her Daughter Letizia, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Graphite on paper, roughly 11×9 in (30×22 cm); in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Use the download or zoom icons under the image.

Another of Ingres’ marvelous pencil portraits in which the delicately attentive portrait is set off by his seemingly casual sketch of the figure and drapery.

I never tire of the effect these often create of responding to the subject of the portrait as a person — and simultaneously being reminded that it’s just lines on paper!