Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,
Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion,

I received review copy of Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, a new instructional video from painter, illustrator, writer and teacher James Gurney.

The concepts behind making gradations of color in visual art can seem as though they should be simple, until you find yourself trying to paint something like different bands of color on a coffee mug as they round the form into shadow, and you suddenly realize you’re in uncharted territory.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney takes on the concepts behind achieving gradual transitions in color.

Gradient, is a term that has come into popular use from its prevalence in digital art; it is used here used as a collective term for gradations, gradated washes, and other gradual tone or color changes.

Gurney uses methodical studio demonstrations to set out the concepts and techniques of working with these kind of color transitions, and then shows real world application of them in sequences of on location painting, adding a dimension of understanding that would be difficult to convey in studio demos alone.

Interestingly, Gurney leaves in what otherwise might be outtakes, demonstrating some of the real world problems painters encounter, such as sudden drenching rain, or coming up against the limitations of an experimental technique, like painting in gouache over water soluble printing ink.

He has also interspersed recorded questions from viewers of his other videos or readers of his blog, in which they ask about concepts that relate to the demo or painting that Gurney is working with.

One of the key points he makes is the degree to which our perception of a color is influenced by the surrounding colors. He brings this home in the last segment, in which he demonstrates how to paint one of those optical illusions that show two squares in a checkerboard pattern on a cylinder that look completely different in context, but, when isolated are shown to be the same color and value. It’s one thing to see one of these optical demonstrations, it’s another level of insight to paint one yourself.

In Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion, Gurney has once again demonstrated his ability to take complex or confusing concepts, reduce them to their essential components and lay out a path to understanding with clarity and ease.

Gradients: Color, Form and Illusion is available for download or streaming through Gumroad, and is also available as a DVD. Both are 10% off Saturday and Sunday, September 11th and 12th, 2021.

 
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Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid
Vermeer restoration unveiled with revealed Cupid

Johannes Vermeer, the remarkable 17th century painter from the city of Delft in the Netherlands, is revered for his transcendent portrayals of the effects of light and atmosphere in domestic scenes.

He is best known for his series of compositions in which people, predominantly young women, are seen engaged in simple activities in front of a window — always to the viewer’s left. These make up the majority of Vermeer’s oeuvre, and consist of many variations on the theme.

The painting known as Girl Reading a Letter at a Window, which has been a centerpiece of the collection of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden for over 250 years, is recognized as the first of these.

It has been known since 1979, when an X-ray analysis was made of the painting, that Vermeer had placed a painting within a painting of a large portrayal of Cupid on the wall behind the figure. It was assumed that Vermeer had thought better of his compositional choice and painted over the image of the painting.

However, a restoration was undertaken in May of 2017, in which it was determined by materials analysis that the overpainting of the blank wall had, in fact, been added by another hand after the time of Vermeer’s death.

Given that knowledge, the conservators began to remove the third-hand paint-over, including painted over extensions of the composition at the edges of the canvas, which Vermeer had left blank, perhaps in anticipation of mounting the work in a particular frame.

Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has now unveiled the restoration, which will be the center of a new exhibition, Johannes Vermeer. On Reflection, that will be on display from 10/9/2021 to 2/1/2022.

The restoration reveals the detailed, large scale painting of Cupid, similar to the painting within a painting of Vermeer’s later work, Lady Standing at a Virginal.

This page on the website of the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister goes into the restoration of the painting at a time when the process was about half way completed.

The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister has not yet released a high resolution image of the restored painting, so I’m including images of the pre-restoration version — that are available in high resolution on the Google Art Project and Wikipedia — in which you can see a shadowy pentimento of the covered painting.

You can see the pre-restoration version in context, both by date and in size comparison to Vermeer’s other works in this fascinating comparison on the fantastic Essential Vermeer website. (See my post on Essential Vermeer.)

[Via Colossal and Kottke, thanks to Erlc Lee Smith for the suggestion]

 
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Not the Usual Van Goghs #4

Not the Usual Van Gogh's
Not the Usual Van Gogh's

In making decisions about what images they will show, art directors, publishers, reproduction print makers, and even museums, will often limit themselves to the most popular images in an artist’s oeuvre, particularly when dealing with very popular artists.

This leads to a condition I think of as the “Greatest Hits” syndrome; publishers don’t want to gamble on a possibly more interesting selection, and I suppose, understandably so. They’re simply weighing it as a financial decision, not an artistic one.

However, for those interested in art books and related items, the impression given is that the artists in question produced many fewer works than they actually did. As I’ve pointed out in three previous posts, this is certainly true in the case of Vincent van Gogh.

Here is another round of reproductions of lesser known works of Van Gogh, created over the short but astonishingly prolific 10 years or so that he painted.

In my past articles, I’ve linked to various sources of extensive listings of paintings by Van Gogh. In this case, I’ll point to Wikimedia Commons, which has a chronological list of all his known paintings (excluding watercolors and including a few questionable attributions), as a source of more “not the usual Van Goghs”.

 
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Bing image search vs. Google, Yahoo & Tin Eye

Bing image search interface

As you might imagine, in the course of writing Lines and Colors I do a fair bit of searching out art images on the web — whenever possible searching for the largest examples of images of artwork that I can find.

One of the ways I do this is to use the “image search” features of the major search engines. Unfortunately, Google Image Search, which used to be the standard, has been diminished in its usefulness, as Google, perhaps nervous about copyright issues, has gotten namby pamby about searching for large images and taken away the ability to search for images in extra large or custom, viewer chosen sizes.

I have of late switched the majority of my art image searching to another search engine.

Bing Image Search

OK, I hear you snickering (Bing, really? BING?). Yes, Bing, Microsoft’s seldom used (but actually decent) competitor to Google’s overwhelming dominance of the search arena.

While Google hamstrings its image search, Bing offers a full featured image search, that not only allows you to search for extra large images, but offers a few features Google’s version never did.

Unlike Google’s typically spare opening page, Bing Image Search is crowded with suggested images of pop stars, cute animals and a bunch of other pop culture garbage you’re sure to be fascinated by. (I think if you’re logged into a Microsoft account, it may remember your own recent searches.) The simple search field is at the top.

In the initial search term result (images above, with detail crop; I’ve searched for “Dutch landscape painting”), click on “Filter” to the right, and in the sub-navigation that drops down, click on “Image Size” at the left. You’ll have a choice for Small, Medium and Large, as with Google, but in addition you can choose “Extra Large”, or enter custom size parameters in the provided fields. I often search for 2000 x 2000 pixels. (The little icon in the right side of the search bar is for “search by image”.)

The filtered page will show large images with the size displayed over them. If you click on the hamburger menu at the upper right, you’ll have the option to display information from the page under the images.

Clicking on an image gives a close up. In the column to the right, the first two entries are ads, the third is the link to the originating age for the image, Under that are buttons for “Visit site”, “Pages” and Image sizes”, and below that similar images (related, but not the images in question) and related searches.

Clicking “Pages” produces a list of pages that display version of that image.

Clicking “Image sizes” organizes the image sources by the size of the image (largest is not always best as some may be watermarked or less accessible than others, you can also have multiple choices for the same size image).

The little icon in the search field at the top of the page (that I assume is supposed to be a camera) opens a Visual Search box. It offers you the option to upload an image, or enter a link to one, and search for other, hopefully larger, versions of that same image. It also allows you to search for a page with additional information about an image you’re trying to identify.

Google Image Search

Google image search interface

The Google Image Search initial returns on a search is similar to Bing’s. A link for “Tools” on the right drops down a sub-navigation from which you can choose “Image Size” on the left, with choices only for Small, Medium and Large as well as “All”.

The filtered returns show page location under them, image size is not available.

Google image search interface

Clicking on an image shows a preview in a right hand column, with the page name and link below it. In this case, the size is available by rollover. Under that are “Related images” (similar but not copies of the same image), and “Related Searches”.

Google image search interface

The Camera icon in the search bar is for visual image search. Upload or paste the URL of an image (the image itself, not a page containing an image), and returns an array of copies of the image with the source page underneath.

If you right click (or Control-click on Mac) on an image in Google Chrome, you will see a choice to “Search Googe for image”. There are plugins that provide the same functionality for other browsers.

Yahoo Image Search

Yahoo Image Search interface

Yahoo Image Search exists. Why, I’m not sure.

The initial search term results look much like Bing or Google, but there is no page or size information. Clicking on “Advanced” at right provides filters for color, size and image type. Sizes are S,M,L. (The others let you search by color as well, from the sub-menus.)

Clicking on an image returns a detail panel with the page and size info and the option to “Visit page” or View image”. There is no visual image search that I can find.

Tin Eye reverse Image Search

Tin Eye reverse Image Search interface

Tin Eye is a venerable visual image search engine that provided that service before the big guys, um… borrowed the idea. I mention it primarily out of respect for that. It still does a good job in its initial mission, but there is no provision for image size choices. Tin Eye offers plugins to put their reverse image search in browser menus. Tin Eye offers a service to track your own images and notify you if it finds they’re being used elsewhere, but the service is expensive, probably mostly of use to corporate intellectual property holders.

Tip for searching by site

All three of the above major search engines allow you to search for images (or other content) from a particular site. In the regular search bar, enter the search terms, followed by a space and then the word site, a colon (no space) and the URL of the site. For example: “dutch landscape paintings site:sothebys.com”. This will return a page with results for that topic only from the Sothebys auction site.

Other sources for high res art images

General search engines are just one avenue for searching out art images on the web. Another, often more fruitful way to find large art images is to do local searches on the sites of major museums, or on art image agglomeration sites, such as the Google Art Project, Wikimedia Commons of the Art Renewal Center. These should be the topic of another post.

Happy image searching!

(Oh yes, and Time Sink Warning!)

 
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TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, James Gurney

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, art instruction video by James Gurney

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, art instruction video by James Gurney

In his latest instructional video, TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors, painter James Gurney explores three-color palettes and gives a good introduction to the basic concepts of painting with limited palettes.

Though not specifically about triadic color schemes in the classic sense (in which the colors are evenly spaced around the color wheel), his exploration of palettes with three colors points out one of the strengths of this approach: a palette of three colors can mix a broad range of additional colors, and yet remain manageable when you’re trying to wrap your head around how to mix them. (Like many painters, Gurney chooses to regard white as not a color, and I think wisely so.)

TRIADS is a follow up to Gurney’s previous video, Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements (link is to my review), and serves as second in a planned series. Here, he is painting with gouache, transparent watercolor and casein, but the principles are applicable to other mediums.

Initially painting with a palette of three colors similar to the cyan, magenta and yellow colors used in printing inks to produce a wide range of colors, he starts with a demo painting of brightly colored still life subjects in sunlight. The initially chosen palette creates a broad gamut (range of colors), but like any limited palette, has areas of weakness.

Gurney supplements the demo painting with the creation of a “triad test”, a simple diamond shaped set of test patches of the colors in the palette, and mixtures of the colors as well as tints (the color plus white) and mixtures of the tints.

He then moves on to a different set of “primaries”, richer in the colors that are weak in the previous palette, creates another “triad test” and goes back into the same demo painting, pointing out how the two palettes differ in areas of strength.

He goes on with other demos and studio exercises to explore various three color combinations — some unusual, using secondaries in place of primaries — as well as the creation of grays and low chroma colors from high chroma palettes, making swatches of test colors as he goes. He goes through about ten demo paintings in the course of the video, some quite briefly, others in more depth.

As is often the case with Gurney’s videos, I find myself learning from aspects of the visuals that aren’t specifically part of the video’s primary subject. At one point in the creation of grays from triads of colors, he makes a couple of grays in transparent watercolor by layering three transparent layers of pure color, one over another, letting them mix optically rather than mixing on the palette. I found the resulting grayed tones particularly rich with subtle variations of color, and came away eager to experiment with that aspect of applying paint.

You’ll find other off-topic but valuable painting techniques in the creation of the demos, such as the way he uses large brushes in areas where a less experienced painter might be reaching for smaller ones, the creation of texture with split hair dry brush, using a mahl stick to steady the brush for drawing the lines like those of siding on a house, and his process of using interesting color variations as colored grounds before blocking in.

TRIADS: Painting with Three Colors takes the seemingly simple concept of painting with three color palettes and through it opens a window into a range of concepts of value to students of painting.

The 90 minute video is available as a digital download through Gumroad or Sellfy for $17.98 and comes with a PDF study guide.

You can find previews of the video, along with supplementary information, on Gurney’s blog, Gurney Journey.

In addition, Gurney is promoting a just-for-fun Sunny Still Life “challenge” for those interested to paint a sunny still life with a triad palette and post their paintings online. The challenge deadline is October 20, 2020.

 
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James Gurney’s Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

James Gurney's Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

Screen captures from James Gurney's Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements

Anyone who has read my previous reviews of books and videos by James Gurney will not be surprised that I have high praise for his latest instructional video.

Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements is — quite obviously by its title — part of a multi-part tutorial. Whether it is to consist of two parts or more, I don’t know.

Gurney covers a fair bit of information in this video, starting from the ground up and breaking the complexities of painting in color into more easily digestible stages that logically build on one another.

Many artists’ instructional videos on color want to start out running and dazzle the student (i.e. prospective buyer) with promises of color mastery, but undeservedly breeze past these important stages, the most fundamental of which, of course, is black and white, or value.

Gurney starts there, with easily grasped exercises like comparing transparent and opaque methods of making value steps in the form of simple charts. He shows the effectiveness of these basic techniques in a painting of a storefront entirely in grays.

He then steps up to a simple grid of black and white on a light brown toned ground, and proceeds to paint a fully realized painting using the same method with only a few touches of a bright red.

Another painting works in black and white with a few touches of brown and blue, but over a brighter underpainting.

The video moves into transparent and opaque combinations, explores the fundamentals of complementary colors and finishes with a painting in a dramatically unusual combination of bright yellow green and complementary violet. There are additional, more briefly featured paintings and subjects along the way.

Gurney has an uncanny knack for what I think of as “teaching within teaching”. In the process of covering basics, he touches on more complex concepts like like chroma, alternative color wheels, color temperature and color gamuts — not in depth, but in a context that allows a basic understanding and prepares the student for more a extensive explanation later. He lets you absorb these secondary concepts almost unconsciously as you follow his main thread.

There is a discussion of materials, and in the process of showing Gurney painting, the video also captures his brushwork, the choice of brush size and shape, dry brush effects and more.

Gurney is working here primarily in watercolor and gouache, but the principles would carry over into other mediums as well.

Throughout, he encourages you to participate, talks about how to practice and delves into the concept of failure as an important part of the learning process. Gurney’s instructional videos are approaching the structure of a virtual class, a learn at your own speed session with a highly experienced teacher.

The video is accompanied by a PDF “Learning Supplement” that covers materials, outlines exercises and includes a lot of resource links. There is also, as always, more material relevant to the video on Gurney’s blog, Gurney Journey.

There is a trailer for the video on Gurney Journey, was well as on YouTube.

Color in Practice, Part 1, Black, White, and Complements is $17.99 for a digital download on Gumroad that includes the Learning Supplement PDF.

Gurney has also started a Facebook group, Color in Practice, for students to discuss the video and related topics among themselves.

If you are interested in pursuing some of these concepts — and much more — in greater depth, a terrific resource to accompany this, and any subsequent videos on the subject, is Gurney’s superb book, Color and Light: A Guide for Realist Painters (see my review here).

 
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