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“.


Eye Candy for Today: Emil Carlsen Still life with roses and mandolin

Still life with roses and mandolin, Emil Carlsen
Still life with roses and mandolin, Emil Carlsen

Another beautiful still life by turn of the century Danish-American master Emil Carlsen.

This is from the Emil Carlsen Archives, larger image here.

The Emil Carlsen Archives is a terrific resource, but I haven’t figured out their thinking in terms of image display. If you click on an image, you are provided with a larger one in a pop-up, but the size of that image is apparently limited by the resolution of your screen, with no option to zoom. I found the larger image file on their server by using Google Image Search.


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).


Charles Conder

Charles Conder
Born in England, Charles Conder spent a significant part of his career in Australia, where he became integral to the Heidelberg School of Australian art, becoming friends with notable figures like Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts, and sharing a studio with the latter.

Conder spent the latter part of his career in Europe, where he lived mostliy in England, but moved in Paris circles with artists like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and painted in the countryside around Dieppe, where he became friends with Norwegian landscape painter Frits Thaulow.

If you look through images of Conder’s work on the web, you’ll find a lot of his more decorative work, with silk paintings and decorative fans, featuring stylized figures and what appear to be theatrical settings. I have to say I’m not fond of these, but his landscapes, by contrast, can be quite wonderful.

I’ve obviously featured examples of his work that I like here.


Edmund Blair Leighton (update)

Edmund Blair Leighton
When I first highlighted Victorian painter Edmund Blair Leighton back in 2006, resources for images of his paintings on the web were pretty thin. Since then, some new images sources have made it much more rewarding to view his work.

Leighton’s two main themes were of romanticized medieval subjects — knights in armor, chivalry, elegant royal ladies and their attendant environments — and contemporary Victorian subjects of courtship, marriage and romantic intrigue.

Leighton’s paintings almost always had a narrative element, a story either overt or implied, and he rendered them with a combination of exacting draftsmanship and muted atmospheric color punctuated with higher chroma passages.

(Edmund Blair Leighton should be distinguished from Frederick Lord Leighton, no relation, also a Victorian painter I’ve featured previously.)


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.