Jan Lievens

Jan Leivens
Our picture of art history, including the relative importance we assign to individual artists, is always changing; and a good thing too, as inaccuracies and jaded opinions often need to be corrected.

This is the aim of an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, called Jan Lievens: A dutch Master Rediscovered.

Lievens was a friend, rival and studio-mate of Rembrandt, and despite acclaim and popularity in his own time, has for many years been lost in chiaroscuro darkness of that master’s considerably voluminous shadow.

The exhibition seeks to correct this and bring Lievens, whose talent in many areas rivaled or even surpassed Rembrandt’s own, into the light he so adeptly painted.

You will see in Lievens many of the same subjects, influences, techniques and approaches as Rembrandt, as in the costumed portrait above (more detail here); and scholars are in dispute about which of the artists, who shared models, materials and studio space for a time and may have even collaborated on each other’s works, originated what methods and practices.

Even their approach to graphics, and their skill with the process, were comparable.

There are differences as well, of course, and the two artists diverged in style and approach as they got older and went their separate ways.

It’s interesting to compare Leiven’s self-portrait (above, bottom left, larger version here) and his portrait of his friend Rembrandt (above, bottom-right, larger image here) with the slightly elder (by one year) artist’s own self-portrait from about a year earlier. Either Rembrandt was harsh in his own self-image, or Leivens was adept at artistic flattery; I suspect the truth is a little of both.

Jan Lievens: A dutch Master Rediscovered is on view at the National Gallery until January 11. 2009. It then moves to the Milwaukee Art Museum from February 7 to April 26, 2009, and then to the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam from May 17 to August 19, 2009.

The National Gallery has an interactive feature about the exhibition. You can also download the exhibition brochure (PDF 3.2 mb), and an excerpt from the exhibition catalog (PDF 478k). The catalog itself is available from the Museum Shop or from traditional sources like Amazon.

The Wall Street Journal also has a slideshow and review of the exhibition.

The tides of art history haven’t been as kind to Leivens as to his compatriot, but perhaps this is the beginning of a resurgence of interest in an unjustly sidelined Dutch Master.

Addendum:The show will be at the Milwaukee Art Museum from February 7 to April 26, 2009.


Reza Dolatabadi

Reza Dolatabadi - KhodaReza Dolatabadi studied at Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, from which he is graduating with a Bachelor in Animation and Media Art.

As a student project, Dolatabadi spent two years creating over 6000 individual paintings as frames for a five minute hand-painted animation called Khoda.

The film is a wordless story that is described as a psychological thriller, directed and art directed by Dolatabadi, written by Dolatabadi and Mark Szalos Farkas, with animation by Adam Thompson and music by Hamed Mafakheri.

Dolatabadi also has a web site on which you can see that film, and others, as well as his concept art and sketches.

He also maintains a blog, largely focused at the moment on the reception and accolades that Khoda is receiving, including Winner of the Best Animation Canary Wharf Film Festival (London) Aug, 2008, Award Nominee, Bacup Film Festival (Rossendale) Oct, 2008, Official selection for the “Best Short Film Program” at Waterford Film Festival (Ireland) November 2008 and selections for several other film and animation festivals.

[Via Digg]


Jonathan Janson

Jonathan Janson
Occasionally artists will become particularly fascinated with the work of one of their predecessors, and study the work of that artist in depth. Such is the case with Jonathan Janson, and artist originally from (if I’m not mistaken) Seattle, now living and working in Rome.

Janson has a deep and abiding interest in the work of Johannes Vermeer, one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures in the history of art. The result of that fascination is twofold.

One happy result is that Janson has gifted us with Essential Vermeer, an astonishingly extensive and beautifully crafted web resource on Vermeer and his work, that is the high mark for any web resource devoted to a single artist (see my previous post on Essential Vermeer). The only close second, in fact, is Janson’s other, somewhat similar, site: Rembrant van Rijn: Life and Work (see my previous post about the site under its old title, Rembrandt: life paintings etchings drawings and self portraits).

In addition, Janson has created an extensive sub-site devoted specifically to the study of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and has recently started a blog called Flying Fox, focused on Vermeer, exhibitions and loans of his works as well as other related topics. (The name Flying Fox is from an inn in Delft that was likely central to Vermeer’s world.)

I liken Janson’s Vermeer and Rembrandt sites to the 21st Century equivalent of artist monographs, but bringing to bear the advantages of web technology to extend the lines of information deep into the resources of the web.

Another difference between these sites and traditional monographs is that monographs on artists are usually written by art historians, who study art from a certain perspective, but rarely the perspective of a working artist. The advantages of the latter viewpoint are particularly evident in Janson’s study of Vermeer’s Painting Techinque.

Janson not only brings the perspective of a painter to his writing and research on Vermeer, but moves the knowledge in the other direction, to the second result of his fascination with that artist, in the way it has transformed and informed his own painting.

Many of Janson’s recent works are in-depth and in-practice explorations of Vermeer’s techniques, some of which he has codified in a book, How to Paint Your Own Vermeer: Recapturing materials and Methods of a Seventeenth-Century Master.

Janson’s own explorations of Vermeer’s approach even extend to humorous recasting of some of Vermeer’s famous compositions into his own modern counterparts, a practice that can be simultaneously hilarious and poetic, as in his Girl Playing a Guitar, in which a purple Stratocaster takes the place of Vermeer’s more demure instruments in Woman with a Lute and The Guitar Player.

You can see the same humorous but beautifully painted approach in Janson’s adaptation of Vermeer’s composition from A Lady Writing (see my post on A Vermeer Comes to California), as Young Girl Writing an Email (image above, larger version here), in which Vermeer’s elegant box (perhaps a music box?) has been replaced with a boom box and his quill and inkwell with a laptop. Janson has retained the pearls on the table, and, of course, that wonderful earring.

Vermeer can be surprisingly painterly at times, belying the apparent “realism” of his paintings, and can also be remarkably “soft”, despite the perception he gives of intricate sharp detail. Also, perhaps because of his use of a camera obscura, Vermeer seems in general preoccupied with matters of focus, both in terms of degrees of visual sharpness and compositionally. Janson explores both of these aspects of Vermeer’s work in his own compositions, the soft edges and painterly touches being particularly evident in Girl Writing an Email (details above).

On Janson’s site you can see other examples of his Vermeer inspired interiors as well as his contemplative Seattle landscapes and watercolors.

There is currently a show of Janson’s work at Galleria dell’Incisione in Brescia, Italy until January 30, 2009.

Janson’s fascination with Vermeer has put him on a path of exploration that reaches into the past and future at the same time, in the process throwing a contemporary light on the master’s approach, and giving us a unique perspective from an artist who has done his best to look at a great painter from the “inside”, while revealing his own sensibilities and unique artistic vision.


Doug Chiang (update)

Doug Chiang - Mechanika
Doug Chiang is best known in concept art circles as the design director for Star Wars I and II, for which he also did some terrific concept art. Some of it is featured in the books The Art of Star Wars, Episode I – The Phantom Menace and The Art of Star Wars, Episode II – Attack of the Clones.

Chiang’s career actually started as a stop-motion animator for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. From there he moved into commercials, then to concept art and art direction for Rhythm and Hues and Industrial Light and Magic, and then to Lucasfilm.

At the time I wrote about him in 2005, he had produced his first book, Robota, co-written with Orson Scott Card, a sort of proto-movie/game that was never fully developed.

His web site, Doug Chiang Studio, is a left over from that time, not having been updated since late 2005, but it still has artwork on display from that project.

He then went on to found Ice Blink, a studio that brought together some of the best names in film concept art, including Marc Gabbana, Bill Mather, Mark Sullivan, Josh Viers, Dermot Power and others. Ice Blink ceased production in 2007, but the site still has galleries for the artists.

Chiang has since become part of ImageMovers Digital, a production company headed by Robert Zemeckis, whose first release will be A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey, due in November of 2009.

In the meanwhile, Chiang has a new book out, Mechanika: Creating the Art of Science Fiction with Doug Chiang.

You can find a nice review and overview of the book on Parka Blogs (see my recent article on Parka Blogs).

Rather than a portfolio, it’s a how-to book with tutorials on various aspects of sci-fi themed art, emphasizing Chiang’s specialties in robots, vehicles and spacecraft.


Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil

Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil
As much as I like wooden pencils, when drawing with graphite my favorite tool is a leadholder, sometimes called a drafting pencil or clutch pencil; basically a mechanical holder for a nice big shaft of 2mm graphite that can be sharpened or pointed in a variety of ways. Many comic book artists and illustrators swear by them, as I pointed out in my post about The Drafting Pencil Museum.

Leadholders are usually used in conjunction with a separate leadpointer, though, which makes them less than ideal for carrying around when sketching. Likewise wooden pencils need to be frequently sharpened.

The solution for sketching, then, is a mechanical pencil, which holds a much thinner “lead”, usually .5 or .3mm, and keeps a reasonably consistent point without sharpening.

“Reasonably consistent point”, though, is a lukewarm assessment and hardly ideal. The problem with a mechanical pencil is that the lead wears down on one side, becoming a flattened chisel shape instead of a sharp point. While chisel points are often nice when intentionally used for special effects in pencil drawing, they’re not what you want most of the time.

Artists who use mechanical pencils frequently learn to turn them in their hand while drawing to keep the sharp side of the point down, but it’s distracting and basically a PITA, and I often just put up with the less desirable flattened point and the clunkier line it produces.

Not any more.

Enter the Uni-ball Kuru Toga Pencil, a cleverly different mechanical pencil from Mistubishi Pencil.

Kuru Toga means “auto-rotate pencil”, and the device actually contains a small geared mechanism that automatically rotates the lead each time it is pressed against the paper.

The result is s beautiful, consistently fine line that is a joy to sketch with. I picked up a .3mm model and it has immediately become my favorite sketching pencil.

The pencil does have some minuses, it’s not retractable, making it less convenient for sticking in a shirt pocket, the eraser is tiny and not very useable, and there is no under-the-eraser wire for pushing old lead bits out of the shaft. These are small quibbles, particularly in light of the Kuru Toga’s unexpectedly reasonable price of about $7 U.S.

Unfortunately, they seem to be in short supply at the moment, probably because there are several mentions of the Kuru Toga circulating on the web, like the mention on LifeHacker, and reviews on Pens and Pencils, Dave’s Mechanical Pencils and Trendhunter.

The latter has a short video (also on YouTube) that shows how the pencil’s transparent lower barrel allows you to actually see the clutch mechanism turning as you hit the point against the paper.

I found the Kuru Toga where I often find cool stuff, on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, in a review by Jonathan Cope.

Most articles point to JetPens as the mail order source, though I found mine on J Stationery (.3mm and .5mm).

Sorry to tell you about it while it’s out of stock from both suppliers, but I figure better now than when it’s come back into stock and gone out again.

If you’re interested you’ll just have to watch for it and stay sharp.


2008 Best Art Book Lists

2008 Best Art Book Lists
To go along with my previous post about 2008 Best Graphic Novel Lists, here’s a list of lists from various corners for art, design and photography books for 2008:

About.com: Best 10 Art Books of 2008

New York Times: 2008 Holiday Gift Guide, The Best Art Architecture and Design Books (if it asks for a login, try BugMeNot)

SFGate: Art and Photography Books

Times Online: The Times Christmas Books 2008: Art

Times Online: The Sunday TImes books of the year: Art

Chicago Tribune: Beautiful art books published in 2008

Artforum: Books: Best of 2008

Time Out London: Best Christmas gift books 2008: Art

Booklist Online: Top 10: The Arts

[Image above: Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, Painter in a Savage Land: The Strange Saga of the First European Artist in North America, Chagall: A Biography, Artists and Their Studios, Colour (Documents of Contemporary Art), Let’s See: Writings on Art from The New Yorker]