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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William Russell Flint

William Russell Flint, watercolors and illustrations
Originally from Scotland, William Russell Flint was an illustrator and watercolor painter who spent much of his career in London, and traveled and painted in France and Italy.

Flint’s illustrations of literary or mythological scenes, as well as Gilbert and Sullivan operas, have a nice quality of Golden Age illustration to them.

He is also noted for his numerous rather politely erotic watercolors of nude or semi-nude young women either posing or engaged in mundane activities, seemingly oblivious to being observed.

Most notable, however, are Flint’s more straightforward watercolors painted during his trips to France and Italy. These are often of architectural subjects, and at their best, have some of the color and clarity found in Sargent’s watercolors.

Among online resources for Flint’s work are a couple of long-established sources for signed and limited edition prints. sirwilliamrussellflintprints.co.uk appears to the the official source associated with the artist’s family, but russellflint.net has a number of zoomable or clickable images at higher resolution.

Wikipedia has a selection of Flint’s illustrations. There is a nice selection of illustrations, landscapes and other subjects on The Pictorial Arts blog (search links). There is also a post on Willaim Russell Flint’s watercolor technique, with a step-by-step description of his work on a specific painting.

There is a brief British Pathé video of Flint in his studio from 1956 (thanks to James Gurney for the tip).

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Watanabe Seitei ink and color on silk

Bird on Branch Watching Spider, Watanabe Seitei, ink and color on silk
Bird on Branch Watching Spider, Watanabe Seitei

Ink and color on silk; roughly 14 x 10 inches (36 x 26 cm); in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Use the Download or Enlarge links under the image on their site.

Even though the color in the image looks much like watercolor, when the materials listing for Japanese paintings on silk describe the paint component as simply “color” or “colors”, it usually indicates a paint using pigments similar to European or American watercolor paints, but with animal hide glue as a binder. This is a medium that would be called “distemper” in European painting, as opposed to gum arabic based watercolor and gouache.

The application of color in Seitei’s beautiful rendering is no less delicate and subtle that what could be achieved with watercolor, and the combination of that and his beautifully finessed application of ink is simply a marvel.

I was struck by how the leaves in the composition look so much like feathers, as well as the wonderful contrast between the detailed representation of the bird and spider, and the rough sumi-e approach given to the branches.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Hans Hoffmann watercolor and gouache hedgehog

A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), Hans Hoffmann,
A Hedgehog (Erinaceus roumanicus), Hans Hoffmann

Watercolor and gouache on vellum; roughly 8 x 12 inches ( 21 x 31 cm). In the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

16th century German artist Hans Hoffman was noted for his detailed paintings of animals and other natural forms. He was tremendously influenced by the watercolor and gouache nature studies of Albrecht Düer, and that influence is evident in this wonderful study of a hedgehog.

 
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Stephanie Bower

Stephanie Bower, urban sketcher, architectural watercolor illustration
Stephanie Bower is an architectural illustrator and avid urban sketcher based in Seattle.

Like a number of other architectural illustrators who are also sketchers or watercolor painters in their off hours, Bower’s location sketches have a wonderful combination of loose, gestural rendering over a solid framework of perspective and geometric forms.

I particularly admire her fearless handling of complex cityscape panoramas and large interiors, like cathedrals and churches. She has a deft touch with her application of watercolor, adding enough to give her compositions color and presence, but allowing the pencil drawing to remain a strong part of the finished piece.

Her website is devoted to her professional architectural rendering, of which you can see a couple of examples above, third and fourth from the bottom. Even though more formal than her sketches, her line and watercolor illustrations have a warmth and visual appeal that the CGI modeling renders that seem to be dominating the field these days lack.

Bower’s blog and Instagram account showcase her sketches, many of which are from travels in Europe and around the world.

Her sketches can also be found on the Urban Sketchers site (note links to multiple pages at bottom), where she is a correspondent. She also teaches workshops at Urban Sketchers events. There is a brief video introduction of Bower in that role on YouTube.

She is also the author of one of the books in the Urban Sketching Handbook Series: The Urban Sketching Handbook: Understanding Perspective.

In addition, Bower has two online courses available through Craftsy: “Perspective For Sketchers” and “The Essentials of Sketching Architecture“.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Jessie Willcox Smith mixed media illustration

Illustration from <em>A Child’s Garden of Verses, Jessie Willcox Smith”  /><br />
<a href=Illustration from A Child’s Garden of Verses, Jessie Willcox Smith

Philadelphia-born artist Jessie Willcox Smith studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and later with American illustration master Howard Pyle.

It was through Pyle’s classes that she encountered fellow students Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley, with whom she would become lifelong friends.

Like Shippen Green, Smith often worked in a multi-media approach that involved layers of charcoal drawing, fixative, watercolor and sometimes gouache and ink.

Her use of white paint is evident in this beautiful illustration from A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of her most prominent projects. The combination of drawn lines and color gives that wonderful effect of being both a drawing and a painting.

Smith’s evocative portrayals of the joys of childhood were also often a paean to motherhood.

There are contemporary editions of the book from which this is taken. Amazon has unfortunately mixed the reviews of editions from different publishers, some of which are negative, so it’s hard to determine which edition is problematic.

I would suggest this 2015 edition from Pook Press, which contains 12 color images of Smith’s illustrations in addition to her pen and ink spot illustrations: A Child’s Garden of Verses Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith (Amazon US).

For readers in the UK: A Child’s Garden of Verses Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, (Amazon UK).

 
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